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Ukraine says will meet Russia as Putin puts nuclear defences on alert

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Russian President Vladimir Putin

The conflict has already killed dozens of civilians, forced hundreds of thousands to flee and turned Moscow into a global pariah.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said a Ukrainian delegation would meet the Russian one at the border with Belarus, which has allowed Russian troops passage to attack Ukraine.

The meeting is set to take place near Chernobyl — the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

“The politicians agreed that the Ukrainian delegation would meet the Russian one without preconditions,” Zelensky’s office said in a statement after the president spoke to his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko.

Ukrainian forces earlier said they had fought off a Russian incursion into Ukraine’s second biggest city, Kharkiv, on day four of Russia’s invasion.

As Western countries lined up to send arms into Ukraine and impose ever more stringent sanctions, Putin ordered his defence chiefs to put the country’s nuclear “deterrence forces” on high alert.

Putin accused Western countries of taking “unfriendly” steps against his country.

Ukraine has reported 198 civilian deaths, including three children, since the invasion began.

© Thomson Reuters Demonstrators hold placards amongst others holding Ukrainian flags, during an anti-war protest, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, Germany, February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The UN has put the civilian toll at 64.

“The past night in Ukraine was brutal,” Zelensky said.

“They fight against everyone. They fight against all living things — against kindergartens, against residential buildings and even against ambulances.”

Airspace bans, arms pledges

Several European countries meanwhile banned Russian airlines from their airspace on Sunday and many pledged arms for Ukraine but made it clear that they will not intervene militarily.

In his traditional Sunday message to the faithful in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis called for weapons to “fall silent” in the country and for the opening of humanitarian corridors.

A day after Berlin said it would send anti-tank weapons and Stinger missiles to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the world was in a “new era” and warned of further sanctions.

‘Will drive you crazy’

Machine gun fire and explosions were heard in Kharkiv earlier on Sunday and AFP later saw the wreckage of a Russian armoured vehicle smouldering and several others abandoned.

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“Kharkiv is fully under our control,” the head of the regional administration, Oleg Sinegubov, said on Telegram, adding that the army was expelling Russian forces during a “clean-up” operation.

Moscow also claimed it was “entirely” besieging the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson and the city of Berdyansk in the southeast.

Both are located close the Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian officials also said that a gas pipeline in eastern Kharkiv and an oil depot near the capital Kyiv were targeted by Russian forces overnight.

Ukraine said it was fighting off Russian forces in several other points and that 4,300 Russian troops had been killed.

None of the claims could be independently verified.

In Kyiv, many residents spent another night in shelters or cellars as Ukrainian forces said they were fighting off Russian “sabotage groups”, but Sunday was relatively calm compared to previous days.

The city is under a blanket curfew until Monday morning though some residents ventured out regardless.

Out for a walk in a park, 41-year-old Flora Stepanova said staying at home watching the news all the time “will drive you crazy”.

On Saturday, Russia ordered its forces to advance further into Ukraine “from all directions” but soldiers have encountered fierce resistance from Ukrainian troops

Western sources said the intensity of the resistance seems to have surprised Moscow.

Ukraine’s army said it held the line against an assault on Kyiv, but was using the curfew to fight Russian “sabotage groups” that had infiltrated the city.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s general staff urged any foreigners to come to Ukraine “and fight side-by-side with Ukrainians against Russian war criminals”.

‘I was trembling’

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 368,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries, while more than 160,000 are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine.

Pope Francis called for the “urgent” opening of humanitarian corridors for Ukraine to allow even more to leave.

AFP saw stationary queues of cars stretching for dozens of kilometres on the roads to Ukraine’s border crossings with Poland.

“Attacks were everywhere,” said Diana, 37, who fled the Ukrainian capital. “My mother is still in Kyiv.”

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Poland, Germany and Austria have said Ukrainians can ride for free on their trains until further notice.

In Romania, which also neighbours Ukraine, Olga, 36, was among hundreds to have crossed the Danube river with her three young children to safety.

“My husband came with us as far as the border, before returning to Kyiv to fight,” she said.

Crippling bank sanctions

Responding to the invasion, the West said it would remove some Russian banks from the SWIFT bank messaging system, and froze central bank assets — hitting some of Russia’s global trade.

A senior US official said the measures would turn Russia into a “pariah”, adding that a task force would hunt down Russian oligarchs’ assets.

The conflict has rattled particularly former Soviet satellite countries in Eastern Europe who fear their post Cold War democratic gains could be threatened by Russian aggression.

The NATO alliance has said it will, for the first time, deploy part of its rapid response force to the region to reassure eastern allies.

There have also been sanctions and boycotts in the cultural and sporting spheres as well as international travel, with several countries banning Russian airlines from their airspace.

In the latest punishment for Putin, a keen judoka, the International Judo Federation said he has been suspended as its honorary president.

The Kremlin has so far brushed off sanctions, including those targeting Putin personally, as a sign of Western impotence.

Putin has said Russia’s actions are justified because it is defending Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In an address to parishioners on Sunday, Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill voiced his support, calling Moscow’s opponents “evil forces”.

The rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government forces for eight years in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.

AFP

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Massive explosions rock Russian base in Crimea in major blow to Putin

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Huge columns of smoke were seen rising above the Crimean air base (Picture: Reuters)

Huge explosions have rocked an air base in occupied Crimea, a symbolic blow to Vladimir Putin’s war effort.

Ukrainian authorities have stopped short of formally confirming its missiles hit the target but an advisor to Volodymyr Zelensky strongly hinted this was the case.

It would mark the first major strike on a Russian asset in the peninsula since the February invasion began.

At more than 200km away from any territory held by Ukraine, it will also be seen as a vindication of the West’s strategy to provide Kyiv with long range missiles.

Kremlin troops have occupied the area since 2014 and have used it as a staging ground for its assault on the south of Ukraine.

Tourists at nearby resorts were reportedly evacuated as huge pillars of black smoke rose over the skyline.

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Russian authorities said at least one person was killed when munitions blew up at Saki air base.

The defence ministry insisted the installation had not been shelled, a similar approach to denials issued in the wake of the sinking of the Moskva ship by a Ukrainian missile.

TASS, a Russian news agency, reported a military source claiming it was caused ‘only [by the] violation of fire safety standards.

The Kremlin has consistently claimed a fire which spread to munitions sunk the Moskva, the Black Sea fleet flagship which went down in April and gave Ukrainians a major morale boost.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to the Ukrainian president, wrote on Twitter after the Crimea blast: ‘Demilitarization of the Russian Federation — an integral part of global security ensuring.

‘The future of the Crimea is to be a pearl of the Black Sea, a national park with unique nature and a world resort. Not a military base for terrorists. It is just the beginning.’

Crimea’s head Sergei Aksyonov said ambulances and medical helicopters were sent to the Saki air base and the area was sealed off within a radius of three miles.

It remains to be seen how the Kremlin will response after it previously threatened to strike ‘decision-making centres’ in Kyiv if Crimea was targeted.

Ukrainian officials earlier confirmed three people were killed and 23 more wounded in various shelling incidents, including near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Metro

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Kenya Elections 2022: Raila Odinga and William Ruto in Tight Race for President

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Kenyans are choosing their next president after an intense campaign dominated by debates about living costs, unemployment and corruption.

Outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, having served the constitutionally limited two terms, is backing one-time foe Raila Odinga, 77, to succeed him.

His decision followed a falling out with Deputy President William Ruto, 55, who had expected to be endorsed.

More than 22 million Kenyans have registered to vote.

There are several other elections happening at the same time and a mix-up of ballot papers in some areas for some of those votes has again raised questions about the organisation of the general election.

Polls are open for 11 hours from 06:00 local time (03:00 GMT). Anyone still in the queue at closing time will be allowed to vote.

The results of the last presidential election in 2017 were annulled after the Supreme Court ruled that the electoral commission had not followed the law when it came to the electronic transmission of the vote tallies from the polling stations.

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Judges ruled that “illegalities and irregularities” had taken place.

A re-run was won by Mr Kenyatta, but boycotted by Mr Odinga – the main opposition candidate at the time.

The chairman of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati, who was also in charge of the 2017 vote, has frequently tried to reassure Kenyans that his team will be up to the task this time.

But Monday’s logistical problems have increased the pressure on him.

Baba v Hustler

This election looks like it will be a tight race between frontrunners Mr Odinga and Mr Ruto.

Mr Odinga – a long-serving opposition leader, nicknamed Baba (“father”) by his supporters, is running for president for a fifth time. Mr Ruto, who has tried to emphasise his connection with ordinary Kenyans by calling himself a “hustler”, will be taking his first stab at the presidency.

Two other candidates – David Mwaure and George Wajackoya – are also in the race.

Despite the campaign being dominated by issues, ethnic loyalty may also play a part in determining how people vote.

For the first time in the multi-party era none of the main candidates are from the country’s largest ethnic group – Kikuyu.

But knowing that those votes are vital, both have chosen Kikuyu running mates.

Voting process

To win the presidential race in the first round, a candidate needs:

  • more than half of all the votes cast across the country
  • at least 25% of the votes cast in a minimum of 24 counties.
Voters will also be choosing MPs and senators to go to the national parliament, county governors and county assembly members, as well as 47 women’s representatives to sit in the National Assembly.

On election day, voters will have their fingerprint scanned to check their identity but a printed register can also be used if the machines fail.

Each voter will then be given colour-coded ballot papers for each of the elections, which they will mark in a private booth and drop in the relevant ballot boxes.

Counting will start at the polling stations shortly after voting ends. Officials will then take a photo of the final tally and send the image to both the constituency and national tallying centres.

To ensure transparency the media, political parties and civil society groups have been urged to run their own tallies using final results declared at the more than 40,000 polling stations.

But only the electoral commission can declare the winner of the presidential election after verifying the physical and digital forms sent to the national tallying centre.

The main presidential candidates have vowed to respect the result of the elections.

NPO

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Donald Trump says FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago home

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Donald Trump

Federal investigators searched the contents of Donald Trump’s safe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the former president said in a statement on Monday, the latest indication of an intensifying criminal investigation by the justice department into his affairs.

The FBI executed a search warrant around 6pm ET at Trump’s residence, which appears to have been related to an investigation into Trump unlawfully taking White House documents with him to Mar-a-Lago after his presidency, according to a source familiar with the matter.

“My beautiful home, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents,” Trump said in a bitter statement lashing out at the raid, adding: “They even broke into my safe!”

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During his presidency, Mar-a-Lago was known as Trump’s “winter White House”. Donald and Melania returned to the Florida resort after leaving Washington and since then, the president has made it the center of his political dealings.

The raid comes as Trump has been laying the foundations for another presidential run in 2024, and in the wake of a series of damning public hearings that laid out his and his allies’ role in the events leading up to the storming of the US capitol on 6 January.

In a furious statement, Trump compared the FBI raid to “Watergate” and blamed it on “Radical Left Democrats” who he said “desperately don’t want me to run for president in 2024 … who will do anything to stop Republicans and Conservatives in the upcoming midterms elections”.

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