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Ukraine braces for new offensive as Russia reinforces military in east

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Ukraine and its international partners are bracing for Russia to launch a new offensive, with the Pentagon on Monday saying there are signs that the Kremlin has begun reinforcing and resupplying its forces in the eastern Donbas region as a top official in Moscow vowed there would be no letup in hostilities before the next round of peace talks.

U.S. intelligence has observed a massive Russian military convoy making its way south toward Izyum, a strategically important town in northeast Ukraine that Russia seized earlier this month and may use now as a staging point to carry out assaults on larger cities to the south, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. The expectation, Kirby added, is that the “same brutal tactics, that same disregard for civilian life and civilian infrastructure, will probably continue” as Russian military commanders concentrate on the Donbas.

The bleak U.S. assessment came amid renewed concerns about the potential for a chemical weapons attack, and as Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer, became the first Western leader to meet face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the incursion began in late February. Nehammer’s trip, according to officials in Vienna, was intended to convey to the Russian leader that, morally, Putin had already lost the war.

“This is not a friendly visit,” the chancellor said in a statement. “I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression.”

Amid the global outrage over accusations that Russian troops committed atrocities targeting civilians in areas around the capital, Kyiv, French law enforcement officials prepared to start working on related investigations after arriving in Ukraine on Monday. Prosecutors in France have opened multiple probes into potential war crimes committed against French nationals there.

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President Biden, meanwhile, met virtually with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him not to increase Russian energy imports, as the international community seeks to impose greater financial pressure on Moscow to call off its war. Biden said after the meeting that the United States and India are in “close consultation” in managing the “destabilizing” effects of Russia’s actions.

While Russia has pulled back from the suburbs of Kyiv and other parts of northern Ukraine, Putin’s forces continue to attack elsewhere.

Russia has continued to fire artillery, rockets and mortars at the northern city of Kharkhiv, Ukrainian military officials said. Russian forces, they said, attempted on Monday to storm the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbas region but were unsuccessful.

In a speech relayed via video to South Korean lawmakers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday said the Russian buildup in eastern Ukraine includes “tens of thousands of soldiers and a huge amount of equipment.” With its new offensive, he said, Russia aims to “break our national resistance.”

Zelensky highlighted the destruction in Mariupol, a port city in the south that has been bombarded for weeks.

“There are tens of thousands of dead,” the Ukrainian leader said in his address. “But even despite this, the Russians do not stop the offensive. They want to make Mariupol a demonstratively destroyed city.”

The mayor of Mariupol, Vadym Boychenko, said in an interview with the Associated Press that 10,000 civilians there have been killed. He estimated that the death toll could double amid the Russians’ unrelenting assault, which has made it difficult for rescue workers to reach the dead and the wounded.

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The Pentagon also assessed that the number of people killed in Mariupol could be as high as Zelensky described.

“I don’t think anybody’s really going to know until Ukrainian authorities are able to get in there and look and see,” Kirby said. “But if you just look at the imagery, and you see how much the Russians have pounded Mariupol from the air, it’s inconceivable to imagine that there aren’t going to be civilian casualties and that it could be a significant number.”

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters Rescuers search for bodies under the rubble of a building destroyed by Russian shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, on April 11.

Zelensky said in a separate video address released late Monday that the government in Kyiv takes “as seriously as possible” an apparent threat to unleash chemical weapons on the Ukrainian units remaining in Mariupol, which earlier in the day claimed on social media that such an attack had already occurred there.

Kirby acknowledged that U.S. officials were aware of those claims but were unable to confirm their veracity, saying that the Pentagon would closely monitor the situation. “These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflective of concerns that we have had about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rescuers on Monday pulled seven more bodies from ruins in Borodyanka, an area northwest of Kyiv that was devastated by airstrikes. The dead there were found in the rubble of two apartment buildings, Ukraine’s emergency services agency said in a Telegram post. Nineteen victims have been removed from the rubble, according to the update, and rescue efforts continue.

A senior European Union official, Josep Borrell, said that he “witnessed the brutal, brutal aggression of the Russian troops against the civilian population” during an official visit to Kyiv with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and that the E.U. would support the work of prosecutors from Ukraine and the International Criminal Court to collect evidence of possible war crimes committed by Russian forces.

Borrell, the E.U.’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, predicted that more bloodshed is in store as Russia masses forces in the east and prepares to intensify operations in the next days.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under terms set by the Pentagon, said that it was unclear when Russia may launch the new assault but that there were signs it was preparing to do so. So far, this official said, Russia has reinforced its military posture around the city of Donetsk, where Ukrainian forces have battled Russian separatists for several years, by adding artillery units to the southwest.

The convoy now pressing south from the Russian border includes a command element, a support battalion, helicopter support and infantrymen for security, the U.S. official said, calling it “clear evidence” that Russia already is pursuing its goal to seize the Donbas after failing to take Kyiv. Russia has focused the majority of its airstrikes in recent days on the Donbas region, the official said.

Moscow’s decision to name Gen. Alexander Dvornikov as its top commander in Ukraine is unlikely to alter Russia’s tactics, U.S. officials said. Dvornikov has been dubbed the “butcher of Syria” for the violence his forces inflicted during Russia’s military campaign there in the last few years.

“We’re probably turning another page in the same book of Russian brutality,” Kirby told reporters Monday.

Russia will not pause its military operations in Ukraine before the next rounds of peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday in an interview with state TV channel Rossiya 24. He added that while Putin had ordered a temporary halt in military action during an early round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegates, Moscow has since changed its stance.

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“After we became convinced that the Ukrainians were not planning to reciprocate, a decision was made that during the next rounds of talks, there would be no pause until a final agreement is reached and signed,” Lavrov said.

In the interview, Lavrov also appeared to recast Moscow’s goals, saying its operations in Ukraine are meant to end a course by the United States “towards world domination.” Russian officials previously justified their invasion by calling it an effort to “denazify” Ukraine.

Amid the bloodshed, the U.N. Development Program announced a new initiative to support Ukraine over the next two years as it seeks to deal with the devastation and rebuild its institutions for a possible postwar future.

The program will provide on-the-ground services including infrastructure repair, debris removal and new ways to generate income for those who have lost their jobs, U.N. officials said. They cited earlier research finding that the war could wipe out 18 years of socioeconomic progress in Ukraine if it is not resolved decisively, and soon.

“The war in Ukraine continues to inflict immense human suffering,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said in a statement. Early estimates, he said, “project that close to two decades of socio-economic progress could be lost if the war continues — with 9 out of 10 people at risk of falling into poverty.”

THE WASHINGTON POST

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Comoros ex-president Sambi jailed for life for ‘high treason’

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Former Comorian President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi (2nd R), escorted by Gendarmes, arrives at the courthouse in Moroni on November 21, 2022. – Sambi, who served as president from 2006-2011 and is the main opponent of current leader Azali Assoumani, has been held under house arrest since May 2018.
Sambi was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.
Three months later he was placed under pre-trial detention for embezzlement, corruption and forgery, over a scandal involving the sale of Comorian passports to stateless people living in Gulf nations. (Photo by Ibrahim YOUSSOUF / AFP)

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.

Guardian

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UK university workers begin strike over ‘falling pay, brutal workloads’

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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.

The Cable

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Gunman kills 10 in US Walmart store

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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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The City of Chesapeake tweeted “police confirm an active shooter incident with fatalities at the Walmart”.

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