Russia pounded a Ukrainian rocket factory following the sinking of its Black Sea flagship, as President Volodymyr Zelensky said his allies could shorten the war by delivering the weapons he had requested.
The Vizar factory, near Kyiv’s international airport, was seriously damaged in the overnight strikes, an AFP journalist saw on Friday.
Russia said it had used sea-based long-range missiles to hit the plant, which Ukraine’s state weapons manufacturer says produced Neptune cruise missiles — the projectiles both Kyiv and Washington say were used to sink the Moskva warship.
“There were five hits. My employee was in the office and got thrown off his feet by the blast,” Andrei Sizov, the 47-year-old owner of a nearby wood workshop, told AFP.
“They are making us pay for destroying the Moskva,” he said.
A Pentagon official briefing reporters said the ship had been hit with two Neptunes — contradicting Russia’s claim that the ship lost balance in rough seas as it was towed to port after ammunition exploded.
The Moskva had been leading Russia’s naval effort in the seven-week conflict, and the fate of its crew of more than 500 was uncertain.
The Pentagon official said survivors were observed being recovered by other Russian vessels, but Ukrainian authorities said bad weather had made rescue operations impossible.
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The Russian fleet in the Black Sea has been blockading the besieged port city of Mariupol, where Russian officials say they are in full control although Ukrainian fighters are still holed up in the city’s fortress-like steelworks.
– Weapons plea –
In his nightly address, Zelensky made another plea for allies to send more firepower to boost the defence efforts.
“You can make the war much shorter,” he said. “The more and the sooner we get all the weapons we have requested, the stronger our position will be and the sooner peace will come.”
The head of Ukraine’s army had made a similar point in a phone call to the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, the military said on Saturday.
The United States has already pledged a new $800-million military aid package for Ukraine this week, including helicopters, howitzers and armoured personnel carriers, and on Friday the German government said it plans to release more than a billion euros ($1.1 billion) in aid as well.
US media reported that Russia had sent a formal complaint to Washington about its support of Kyiv this week.
In the diplomatic note, Moscow warned the United States and NATO against sending the “most sensitive” weapons, saying such shipments were “adding fuel” to the situation and could come with “unpredictable consequences”, the Washington Post reported.
Zelensky warned Friday that Russia might use nuclear weapons out of desperation as its invasion falters, echoing recent comments by CIA director William Burns.
“They could do it, I mean they can,” Zelensky told CNN. “For them, life of the people is nothing.”
– ‘Wait for quieter times’ –
The attack on the Vizar factory was the first major Russian strike around the Ukrainian capital in more than two weeks.
Russian forces last month started withdrawing from around Kyiv as they were redeployed to focus on the east of the country, but the city remains vulnerable to missiles.
Kyiv regional governor Oleksandr Pavliuk said there were at least two other Russian strikes on the city Friday, adding civilians thinking about returning should “wait for quieter times.”
The Russian defence ministry has in fact warned it will target Kyiv “in response to any terrorist attacks or sabotage committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime on Russian territory”.
For now, Russia’s military focus seems set on seizing the eastern Donbas region, where Russian-backed separatists control the Donetsk and Lugansk areas.
This would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Ukrainian authorities have been urging people in the region to quickly move west in advance of a large-scale Russian offensive.
The UN’s World Food Programme has appealed for access to those who cannot get out.
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“It’s one thing when people are suffering from the devastation of war. It’s another thing when they’re being starved to death,” WFP director David Beasley said in a statement.
– Shelling in Kharkiv –
Ahead of the anticipated Russian push, towns and cities in the east been subjected to what residents say is incessant shelling.
On Friday AFP witnessed the aftermath of several strikes in the industrial district of Kharkiv, where authorities said 10 people were killed and 35 injured.
The charred remains of three rockets were visible, and around a dozen football-sized craters were spotted across the area AFP saw in a short visit.
One 38-year-old man was killed when shrapnel burst into his apartment as he smoked by the window.
“Everything started, the glass fell down and I saw him lying in a pool of blood,” his mother said. “I told him before that we should leave. He said we should stay.”
For its part, Russia on Friday claimed Ukraine was preparing a missile strike on its own refugees at a railway station in the Kharkiv region, in the town of Lozova.
The allegations echoed Russia’s widely dismissed claim that Kyiv was responsible for a missile strike on April 18 that killed scores at another railway station.
Moscow has been accused of widespread war crimes by Ukraine and its allies, and international experts have already arrived in the country to begin investigations.
A team of French experts has been working for several days in the town of Bucha, which has become synonymous with alleged Russian atrocities.
Local authorities say hundreds were killed there, and on Friday the region’s police chief said 95 percent died from gunshot wounds.
– Financial support –
As well as military aid, Zelensky appealed for financial support in his address late Friday.
“The sooner the democratic world recognises that the oil embargo against Russia and the complete blockade of its banking sector are necessary steps towards peace, the sooner the war will end,” he said.
Last week European countries announced expanded efforts to wean themselves off Russian gas, and Germany on Friday released nearly three billion euros ($3.2 billion) to acquire floating liquefied natural gas import terminals.
But Berlin does not consider it realistic to be able to do without Russian gas before mid-2024.
The war in Ukraine has also had a profound effect on European countries’ security considerations, with Finland and Sweden considering joining NATO.
Moscow, which invaded Ukraine partly because of deepening ties between Kyiv and NATO, on Friday warned of consequences should they join the US-led defence alliance.
“They will automatically find themselves on the NATO frontline,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Shortly afterwards, Finland’s European Affairs Minister Tytti Tuppurainen said it was “highly likely” that her country would apply for NATO membership.
Unlike Sweden, Finland neighbours Russia, from which it declared independence in 1917 after 150 years of Russian rule.
Comoros ex-president Sambi jailed for life for ‘high treason’
A court in the Comoros on Monday handed down a life sentence for high treason to ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who was convicted of selling passports to stateless people living in the Gulf.
Sambi, 64, an arch-rival of President Azali Assoumani, was sentenced by the State Security Court, a special judicial body whose rulings cannot be appealed.
“He betrayed the mission entrusted to him by the Comorians,” public prosecutor Ali Mohamed Djounaid told the court last week as he requested a life sentence.
Sambi, who led the small Indian Ocean archipelago between 2006 and 2011, pushed through a law in 2008 allowing the sale of passports for high fees.
The scheme aimed at the so-called bidoon — an Arab minority numbering in the tens of thousands who cannot obtain citizenship.
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The former president was accused of embezzling millions of dollars under the scheme.
The prosecution said the cost was more than $1.8 billion — more than the impoverished nation’s GDP.
“They gave thugs the right to sell Comorian nationality as if they were selling peanuts,” said Eric Emmanuel Sossa, a lawyer for civilian plaintiffs.
But Sambi’s French lawyer Jean-Gilles Halimi said “no evidence” of missing money or bank accounts had been put forward to suggest a crime.
Sambi refused to attend the trial after a brief appearance at the first hearing, as his lawyers said there were no guarantees he would be judged fairly.
He was originally prosecuted for corruption, but the charges were reclassified as high treason, a crime that “does not exist in Comorian law,” Halimi said.
Sambi had already spent four years behind bars before he faced trial, far exceeding the maximum eight months. He was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.
UK university workers begin strike over ‘falling pay, brutal workloads’
Thousands of university and college staff in the United Kingdom, including lecturers, librarians and researchers, have declared a strike to demand pay increase and improved working conditions.
The University and College Union (UCU), the UK trade union for university staff, said the strike, referred to as the biggest in decades, is to improve quality in the education sector.
The UCU “represents over 120,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians, technicians, professional staff and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK”.
“This is the biggest week in our history. Every single university takes strike action on Thursday and Friday. We need every member, student and supporter on our picket lines on Thursday to show the employers that this time is different,” the union said in a statement.
Announcing the strike on Wednesday, Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, warned of a “bigger action” unless employers improved their offers.
“Staff are burnt out but they are fighting back and they will bring the whole sector to a standstill,” she said.
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“Vice-chancellors only have themselves to blame. Their woeful leadership has led to the biggest vote for strike action ever in our sector. Students are standing with staff because they know this can’t go on.”
The strike, which began on Thursday, will also hold on November 25 and November 30.
Commenting on the development on Thursday, Grady expressed satisfaction with the turnout of university staff.
“Today’s picket lines are huge. 70,000 university staff have turned out like never before, defying bullying tactics from management to show they will no longer accept falling pay, pension cuts, brutal workloads and gig-economy working conditions,” she was quoted as saying, according to UCL.
“If vice-chancellors doubted the determination of university staff to save our sector, then today has been a rude awakening for them.”
The strike has affected over 2.5 million students, some of who are standing in solidarity with their lecturers.
Lawyers, nurses, postal workers and many others have also protested to seek pay rises that match the soaring inflation in the country.
The latest protests come after the UK’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers announced on Tuesday that more than 40,000 rail workers will stage strikes in December and January, disrupting travel for scores of people during the festive season.
The union said members will have demonstrations for four days from December 13 and in the first week of January.
The UK has been battling difficult economic situations due to surging energy costs arising from the Russia-Ukraine war.
Earlier in August, the Bank of England warned that inflation would climb to just over 13 percent in 2022.
It also projected that the country would enter a recession from the fourth quarter of 2022 until late 2023.
In November, the country’s inflation rate jumped in the last 12 months to 11.1 percent in October — up by one percent from August’s inflation rate.
Gunman kills 10 in US Walmart store
A gunman has killed up to 10 people in a Walmart superstore in Chesapeake, in the US state of Virginia, police say.
Reports say the man, a store manager, opened fire then turned the gun on himself and is now dead.
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