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Watching Ukraine, Bosnians relive the trauma of their war

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Provided by Associated Press A view of the Jajce barracks damaged during the Bosnian war in the capital Sarajevo, Bosnia, Friday, March 4, 2022. Survivors of the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo cannot look away from what they say is a very similar tragedy now unfolding in Ukraine. Bosnian Serbs laid siege to Sarajevo in the early 1990s, leaving some 350,000 people trapped in the city, subjected to daily shelling and sniper attacks and cut off from regular access to electricity, food, water, medicine, and the outside world. (AP Photo/Armin Durgut)

“Not so long ago, we were them,” said Amra Muftic who survived the 1992-95 siege, watching news reports showing civilians taking refuge from Russian rocket attacks, shelling and gunfire in basements and metro stations.

“If our experience is anything to go by — and I have a gut feeling that it is — things are about to get much worse,” for them, she added.

Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo in the early 1990s, during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia. Some 350,000 people were trapped, for 46 months, in their multiethnic city, subjected to daily shelling and sniper attacks and cut off from regular access to electricity, food, water, medicine, and the outside world.

More than 11,000 people were killed during the siege, including over 1,000 children. Countless others were wounded.

“We know how they feel. We survived the longest siege in modern history” said Elma Vukotic, an anesthesiologist, as she and her fellow healthcare workers stood earlier this week outside their Sarajevo hospital, clad in their medical robes and holding balloons in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flat — and, coincidentally, also the Bosnian one. Vukotic said their spontaneous show of solidarity was the least they could do for their Ukrainian colleagues.

“All wars are painful, all attacks against civilians abhorrent, but what is happening to Ukrainians right now is especially traumatic for us because they are so near and in a situation very similar to ours” three decades ago, Vukotic said.

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“Television images of pregnant women waiting to give birth in the basement of the Kyiv hospital, hastily converted into an emergency bomb shelter, gave me a strong sense of deja vu; I know exactly how they feel, how terrified they must be,” she added. “Also, I think we all can empathize with how unwilling ordinary Ukrainians were to accept that the war was coming until Russian rockets and bombs started raining down on their homes, schools and hospitals.”

The Bosnian war started when Bosnian Serbs, with the help of the Yugoslav army, tried to create ethnically pure territories with the aim of joining neighboring Serbia. More than 100,000 people were killed and 2 million — more than a half of the country’s population — were left homeless during the conflict.

The Serb leadership argued throughout the war that multiethnic Bosnia was not a country at all and that, along with its Catholic Croats and its Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim and account for about half of the population, it should be split between neighboring Serbia and Croatia. Bosniaks, they insisted, were just treacherous Serb converts who centuries ago abandoned their original (Orthodox Christian) faith.

Many in Sarajevo heard the echoes of those old insults in Vladimir Putin’s recent statements, offered to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A United Nations arms embargo maintained in Bosnia throughout the 1990s conflict gave Bosnian Serb militias, armed and backed by the Serbia-controlled Yugoslav Army, an edge in the fight. They conquered 60% of Bosnia’s territory in less than two months, committing horrendous atrocities against their Bosniak and Croat compatriots.

In 1995, the U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace agreement put an end to the bloodshed in Bosnia by dividing the country into two semi-autonomous parts — one run by the Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The two are linked by weak multiethnic institutions.

But living together in the aftermath of a brutal, fratricidal conflict has proven to be difficult.

The postwar power-sharing system perpetuates the polarized and venomous political climate in Bosnia, while its entrenched nationalist leaders continuously stoke ethnic animosities for political gain.

With Moscow’s backing, the strongly pro-Russian Bosnian Serbs, in particular, have been advocating for years for the independence of their region. Meanwhile, sectarian networks of patronage and pervasive corruption, which gradually became integral to the system, ensure that Bosnia remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, increasingly hemorrhaging its best and brightest.

“Right now, Ukrainians are subjected to torture, they are pleading for help and hoping for who knows what,” said Zoka Catic, a film-maker and journalist from Sarajevo who has spent years documenting the devastating impact of war on the mental health of Bosnians of all ethnic stripes.

No matter how the conflict in Ukraine ends, he argued, there is no such thing as a happy ending to a war.

“It is just a matter of time…before (Ukrainians) turn into us: sad, unhappy people who experienced the worst feeling in the world — helplessness.”

International

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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US announces $1bn military aid for Ukraine in largest arms delivery

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U.S. President, Joe Biden

The White House has pledged another $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine – the largest delivery of rockets, ammunition and other arms from the nation to date.

It takes the total US security assistance to Ukraine under the Biden administration to more than $9 billion since Russia’s invasion in February.

The aid includes additional rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, as well as thousands of artillery rounds, mortar systems, Javelins and other ammunition and equipment.

The announcement comes as analysts warn that Russia is moving troops and equipment to southern port cities to stave off a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“At every stage of this conflict, we have been focused on getting the Ukrainians what they need, depending on the evolving conditions on the battlefield,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, said.

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Monday’s package allows the US to deliver weapons systems and other equipment more quickly since it takes them off the Defense Department shelves.

For the last four months of the war, Russia has concentrated on capturing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have controlled some territory as self-proclaimed republics for eight years.

Russian forces have made gradual headway in the region while launching missile and rocket attacks to curtail the movements of Ukrainian fighters elsewhere.

Mr Kahl estimated that Russian forces have sustained up to 80,000 deaths and injuries in the fighting, though he did not break down the figure with an estimate of forces killed.

He said the Russian troops have managed to gain “incremental” ground in eastern Ukraine, although not in recent weeks.

“But that has come at extraordinary cost to the Russian military because of how well the Ukrainian military has performed and all the assistance that the Ukrainian military has gotten.

And I think now, conditions in the east have essentially stabilised and the focus is really shifting to the south.”

The US and allies still are evaluating whether to supply aircraft to Ukraine, Kahl said. It’s “not inconceivable that western aircraft down the road could be part of the mix,” he said.

Evening Standard
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