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Ukraine War: Russia Denies It Plans to Declare War on 9 May

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Reuters

Russia has dismissed speculation that it will declare all-out war in Ukraine in the coming days as “nonsense”.

Moscow has up until now denied it is at war, instead referring to the invasion as a “special military operation”.

But Western officials have speculated that President Vladimir Putin could use the 9 May Victory Parade to announce an escalation of military action.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, said there was no truth to the rumours “at all”.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said last week that the Moscow parade – commemorating the defeat of the Nazis and end of World War Two – might be used to drum up support for a mass mobilisation of troops and renewed push into Ukraine.

“I would not be surprised, and I don’t have any information about this, that he is probably going to declare on this May Day that ‘we are now at war with the world’s Nazis and we need to mass mobilise the Russian people’,” he told LBC radio.

Russian officials only refer to the invasion as a “special military operation” to “demilitarise” or “de-Nazify” the country, referencing a baseless claim about Nazis in the Ukrainian government which Moscow used to justify the invasion.

As well as the annual parade in Moscow, there are also long-standing reports that the Kremlin is planning some sort of additional parade in the city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, almost all of which is now under Russian control. Ukrainian forces remain in one area of the city – a vast industrial steelworks called Azovstal.

Latest reports suggest that after the recent successful evacuation of some civilians, attacks on the steelworks have resumed and contact has been lost with the last remaining soldiers inside.

Ukrainian officials say the streets of the city centre are being cleared of debris, bodies, and unexploded bombs. Large parts of the city lie in ruins, after Russian forces bombarded it relentlessly for weeks under siege.

Ukrainian politician Alyona Shkrum told the BBC she was expecting things to become more difficult alongside Russia’s victory day celebrations.

“For Putin and for the empire he’s trying to build, basically this is a symbolic day, right?” she said.

“So he takes some kind of victory day and he turns it into a big fight right now against Nazis, which is obviously Russian propaganda and completely ridiculous.

“We are expecting that there will be quite tough times here in Kyiv and in Odesa and in Mariupol, and in other cities for 9 May.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, there is only one person who can be absolutely sure of how Russia plans to mark its annual Victory Day on 9 May and that is Vladimir Putin. And he is keeping his cards close to his chest.

Moscow’s denial that it plans to declare war that day need to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

In the days leading up to the invasion on 24 February Russian officials queued up to ridicule suggestions of an imminent invasion as “western hysteria and propaganda”. Yet invade they did, catching even many Ukrainians by surprise.

So the very least we can expect is some triumphant announcements of objectives achieved and enemies (real or imagined) vanquished.

Blame for the slow pace of Russian advance in the eastern Donbas region will likely be placed on Nato and there will probably be further warnings to the West to stop helping Ukraine defend itself.

Whatever happens on 9 May it is hard to see this war ending any time soon.

War in Ukraine: More coverage

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Original Source: bbc.co.uk

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Kabul Mosque Attack: ‘Many Casualties Feared’

Cassandra Sherman

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A huge explosion has ripped through a mosque in the Afghan capital Kabul, police say.

The blast is thought to have occurred during evening prayers, killing at least three people and injuring dozens more, according to the NGO Emergency.

Khalid Zadran, the Taliban’s Kabul police spokesman, was quoted by local media as saying there had been an explosion in the city’s north-west.

Reports say the Siddiqi mosque’s imam was among the dead.

It is unclear who was behind the attack, which comes the week after a prominent pro-Taliban cleric was killed in a suicide bomb blast, also in Kabul. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the earlier attack.

Security forces have arrived at the scene, in a northern Kabul neighbourhood, the spokesman added.

Italian NGO Emergency – which operates in Kabul – said three deaths have been recorded so far.

The NGO also tweeted to say it had received 27 people wounded in the blast, including children. “Five children [were] among them, including a seven-year-old,” it said.

A Taliban intelligence official told news agency Reuters that as many as 35 people may have been wounded or killed, and the toll could rise further.

Witnesses described hearing a powerful explosion which shattered windows in nearby buildings.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the explosion took place at a mosque among worshippers in the Khair Khana area of Kabul.

Intelligence teams were at the blast site and investigations are ongoing, they added.

A spokesman for the Taliban said it strongly condemned the attack.

IS focus seems to be widening

The mosque was crowded, the bomb powerful, and another cleric seems to have been in the sights of IS (Islamic State), the group which has emerged as the Taliban’s most potent enemy.

In the past month, three prominent religious leaders were targeted in Kabul and there were assassinations in other cities.

Last week it was Sheikh Rahimullah Haqqani, known to be close to the Taliban. This time it’s Amir Muhammad Kabuli, said to be an adherent of the more moderate Sufi faith.

Video posted on social media showed a scene of carnage.

One religious student who was just outside the mosque told the BBC he saw the bodies of the dead and injured sprawled inside, including children attending evening prayers.

IS’s signature has been its devastating attacks on the minority Shia Hazara community. But their focus now seems to be widening just as the Taliban celebrate their one year in power – a takeover which ended one chapter of a long bloody war but only ushered in yet another.

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Source: bbc.co.uk

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Liz Cheney: Trump Critic Blasts Republican ‘personality Cult’ After Defeat

Cassandra Sherman

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A leading Republican critic of Donald Trump says the party has “embraced his cult of personality” after she was ousted in a primary election.

Liz Cheney, 56, was defeated by the political newcomer and Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman in Wyoming.

She had faced an uphill battle to win re-election after joining the congressional committee investigating Mr Trump’s attempts to cling to power.

Ms Cheney – once a rising star in the party – also voted to impeach Mr Trump.

The primary election in the broadly conservative state highlighted the competing wings of the Republican Party – with more traditional conservatives facing off against Trump-backed candidates around the country ahead of mid-term elections in November.

The result means Ms Cheney, a three-term congresswoman and the eldest daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, will not contest her seat in the US House of Representatives which she has held since 2017.

It illustrated the continuing influence of Mr Trump, who has backed dozens of candidates ahead of the mid-term elections that will determine control of Congress as well as governorships and state legislatures.

And those candidates – who have mostly repeated his false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election and defended him amid mounting legal troubles – have performed well.

“I think the Republican Party today is in very bad shape,” Ms Cheney told the Today programme on NBC. “The party… embraced Donald Trump [and] embraced his cult of personality.”

Ms Cheney won her primary in 2020 by a wide margin, and she told the programme that she believed she would have been successful once again had she repeated Mr Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud.

“That path would have required that I accept, that I embrace, that I perpetuate the Big Lie,” she said.

Ms Hageman – who ran to be Wyoming governor in 2018 – was handpicked by the former president and has said she believes the election Mr Trump ultimately lost to President Joe Biden was “rigged”.

In her victory speech, she said the primary result showed Republicans will “hold our elected officials accountable for their actions” and “dislodge entrenched politicians”.

The 59-year-old spent decades as a trial lawyer, with a particular focus on defending the interests of the energy and mining sector while opposing environmental policies.

While she has since praised Mr Trump’s record as president, Ms Hageman described the former president as “racist and xenophobic” before the 2016 election.

“[I] heard and believed the lies the Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media were telling at the time,” she told the New York Times last year.

Image source, Reuters

Ms Cheney became a virtual outcast within her party over her criticism of Mr Trump. Only two of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach him after his supporters attacked the US Capitol last year have successfully maintained their places on the ticket for re-election.

Speaking to Today, Ms Cheney said it was “dangerous” to elect officials who questioned the result of that election and described it as a “red line” that she would continue to resist.

“I am absolutely going to continue this battle,” she said, before vowing to do “whatever it takes” to stop Mr Trump from returning to the White House.

There had been speculation in the lead-up to the primary that Ms Cheney was preparing to challenge Mr Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. “[It] is something I’m thinking about and I’ll make a decision in the coming months,” she told Today.

Mr Trump earlier congratulated Ms Hageman on her victory in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.

“Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself, the way she acted, and her spiteful, sanctimonious words and actions towards others,” he wrote. “Now she can finally disappear into the depths of political oblivion.”

Elsewhere, Republican Sarah Palin – who is eyeing a political comeback – has advanced to November’s election in Alaska in the race to represent the state in the House of Representatives.

She rose to prominence as a vice-presidential candidate in 2008, and Mr Trump is her key ally and supporter.

In the state’s Senate race, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, 65, who has defied Mr Trump, is through to November’s poll.

But under new voting rules one of her opponents will be another Republican, Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka, 42.

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Original Article: bbc.co.uk

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North Korea Leader Kim Jong-un ‘suffered Fever’ During Covid Outbreak, Says Sister

Cassandra Sherman

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Image source, Getty Images

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un suffered from “fever” during the Covid outbreak, his sister has said – in what appears to be the first suggestion he had the virus.

Sister Kim Yo-jong said her brother had been “seriously ill” but praised him for carrying on, state media reported.

Her comments came in a speech as the North Korean leader declared victory in the country’s battle against Covid.

Mr Kim ordered restrictions to be lifted and hailed the “miracle” of just 74 virus deaths.

Speaking on Wednesday at a meeting with health workers and scientists, he declared a “shining victory” over the virus and praised the “indomitable tenacity” of North Koreans, KCNA reported.

North Korea refers to “fever” rather than coronavirus patients due to a lack of testing equipment.

The secretive country announced its first Covid outbreak in May and has reported fever infections and deaths since. But there is widespread doubt over the data, especially the number of deaths.

In a speech reported by state news agency KCNA, Ms Kim praised her brother, saying: “Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not lie down for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of until the end in the face of the anti-epidemic war.”

In her speech Ms Kim also blamed leaflets from South Korea for causing the outbreak in the North.

North Korea has not reported any new suspected cases since 29 July – but international observers say the country has limited testing.

KCNA claims there have been 4.8 million infections since late April, but only 74 deaths, which is a fatality rate of 0.002% – the lowest in the world.

Many experts find these statistics hard to believe. They say the country has one of the world’s worst healthcare systems with few intensive care units and no Covid treatment drugs or vaccines.

The country has not rolled out any vaccination programme during the pandemic, relying instead on lockdowns, homegrown treatments, and what Mr Kim has called the “advantageous Korean-style socialist system”.

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Original Post: bbc.co.uk

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