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Macron says French forces killed ISIS leader in Sahara

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2021)

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that French military forces had killed Islamic State (ISIS) militant Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the leader of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

“It’s another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel,” Macron said in a tweet, without disclosing the location of the operation.

Sahrawi was the historic leader of ISIS in the Sahel region of West Africa and his group targeted U.S. soldiers in a deadly attack in 2017, Macron’s office said.

In August 2020, Sahrawi personally ordered the killing of six French charity workers and their Nigerien driver, it added.

Macron said in July that France would soon begin reshaping its force in the Sahel, where it has been on the front line of the fight against ISIS, and would ultimately halve its military presence, Reuters reported.

With no apparent end in sight to France’s operations and political turmoil especially in Mali, Paris had grown frustrated.

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Almost 60 million people displaced worldwide, study finds

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(Last Updated On: May 21, 2022)

The number of people displaced within their own borders rose to an all-time high by the end of last year, with a total at least 59.1 million people having left their homes, a new study has shown.

According to data collated by the internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), this has been as a result of violence or disasters.

This is up from the 55 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) recorded in the IDMC’s previous annual world survey and includes high numbers of new IDPs in Afghanistan, Burkino Faso, Ethiopia and Yemen, the IDMC said.

More than half of all IDPs are now under the age of 25, while 25.2 million of this group are under the age of 18, raising significant questions about the effects of global instability on younger generations.

Of all the internal displacements driven by conflict and violence last year, 80 per cent of them occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa due to fighting in places including the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Commenting on the report, Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which set up the IDMC 24 years ago to document IDPs who would otherwise go “unseen”, said the findings showed the world was in a state of ill health.

“The world is falling apart, too many countries are falling apart,” he said. “2021 was, as we documented here, a very bleak year and 2022 is proving to become even worse,” he said, adding that the war in Ukraine would lead to a new record this year.

These figures don’t include the millions displaced in the past two months in Ukraine.

Between the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion on 24 February and 5 May, the UN estimates that more than 6 million people fled Ukraine, while another 7.7 million people had become internally displaced.

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Blinken accuses Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine

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(Last Updated On: May 20, 2022)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia on Thursday of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding “hostage” supplies for not just Ukrainians, but also millions around the world.

A senior official in Moscow later rejected the allegations, saying Russians were “not idiots” and would not export food while being subject to tough sanctions.

Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Blinken appealed to Russia to stop blockading Ukrainian ports.

“The Russian government seems to think that using food as a weapon will help accomplish what its invasion has not – to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

“The food supply for millions of Ukrainians and millions more around the world has quite literally been held hostage.”

The war in Ukraine has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertilizer to soar.

Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn, barley, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil, while Russia and Belarus – which has backed Moscow in its war in Ukraine – account for more than 40% of global exports of potash, a crop nutrient.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said Russians were skilled at producing food needed throughout the world under the right circumstances.

“Everything turns out to be illogical – on the one hand, crazy sanctions are introduced while on the other hand there are demands to supply food,” wrote Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council.

“Things don’t work like that. We are not idiots.”

Medvedev said producing harvests required people skilled in agriculture, as well as proper equipment and fertilizer.

“Russia knows how to do this,” he wrote. “We have all the opportunities to ensure there is food in other countries, so that there are no crises. Just don’t prevent us from working.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, dismissed as “absolutely false” any suggestion that Russia was to blame for a global food crisis that had been brewing for several years.

He accused Ukraine of holding foreign vessels in its ports and mining the waters.

“The decision to weaponize food is Moscow’s and Moscow’s alone,” Blinken said.

“Some 20 million tons of grain sit unused in Ukrainian silos as global food supply dwindle (and) prices skyrocket.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is trying to broker a deal allowing Ukraine to resume food exports and revive Russian food and fertilizer production to world markets.

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More Ukraine fighters surrendering in Mariupol, Russia says

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(Last Updated On: May 19, 2022)

Moscow said nearly 700 more Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Russian-held Mariupol as it shored up a key gain in the south, while the United States became the latest Western country to reopen its embassy in Kyiv.

Ukraine has ordered its garrison in Mariupol to stand down, but the ultimate outcome of Europe’s bloodiest battle for decades remains unresolved.

Top commanders of Ukrainian fighters who had made their last stand at the Azovstal steelworks in the port city are still inside the plant, according to the leader of pro-Russian separatists in control of the area, Denis Pushilin, quoted by local news agency DNA on Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials have declined to comment publicly on the fate of the fighters.

“The state is making utmost efforts to carry out the rescue of our service personnel,” military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzaynik told a news conference. “Any information to the public could endanger that process.”

Ukraine confirmed the surrender of more than 250 fighters on Tuesday but did not say how many more were inside.

Russia said on Wednesday an additional 694 more fighters had surrendered, bringing the total number to 959. Its defence ministry posted videos of what it said were Ukrainian fighters receiving hospital treatment after surrendering at Azovstal.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Red Cross and the United Nations were involved in talks, Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said, but gave no details.

Mariupol is the biggest city Russia has captured so far and allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in the invasion it began on Feb. 24.

Moscow has focussed on the southeast in recent offensives after pulling away from Kyiv, where, in a further sign of normalisation, the United States said it had resumed operations at its embassy on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainian people … have defended their homeland in the face of Russia’s unconscionable invasion, and, as a result, the Stars and Stripes are flying over the Embassy once again,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

A small number of diplomats would return initially to staff the mission but consular operations will not resume immediately, said embassy spokesperson Daniel Langenkamp. The U.S. Senate later approved veteran diplomat Bridget Brink as ambassador to Ukraine, filling a post that has been vacant for three years.

Canada, Britain and others have also recently resumed embassy operations.

Moscow says it is engaged in a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. The West and Kyiv call that a false pretext for invasion.

NATO APPLICATION

Finland and Sweden formally applied for NATO membership on Wednesday, a decision made in the wake of the Ukrainian invasion and the very kind of expansion that Putin cited as a reason for attacking Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith called for an expedited accession process that could be “done in a couple of months”, but NATO member Turkey said its approval depended on the return of “terrorists”, namely Kurdish militants and Fethullah Gulen followers.

Finland and Sweden were both militarily non-aligned throughout the Cold War.

Although Russia had threatened retaliation against the plans, Putin said on Monday their NATO membership would not be an issue unless the alliance sent more troops or weapons there.

Russia could, however, cut off gas supplies to Finland this week, Finland’s state-owned energy provider Gasum said.

The European Commission announced a 210 billion euro ($220 billion) plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian oil, gas and coal by 2027.

Meanwhile, Google (GOOGL.O) became the latest big Western company to pull out of Russia, saying its local unit had filed for bankruptcy and was forced to shut operations after its bank accounts were seized. read more

DONBAS ATTACKS

On the battle front, Russian forces pressed on with their main offensive, trying to capture more territory in the eastern Donbas region which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukrainian saboteurs had blown up the tracks ahead of an armoured train carrying Russian troops in the occupied southern city of Melitopol. read more

“The partisans got it, although they did not blow up the armoured train itself,” he said in a video posted on social media, contradicting an earlier statement from Ukraine’s territorial defence force that the train had been blown up.

Arestovych said the incident showed that the partisan movement was actively disrupting Russian forces.

The capture of Mariupol, the main port for the Donbas, has given Moscow full control of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken swathe of territory across Ukraine’s east and south.

The governor of the Luhansk region, part of the Donbas, said there had been a number of attacks there.

“Most of the shelling today was conducted in Severodonetsk and villages nearby… The Russians are still trying to cut the “road of life” through the centre of Luhansk region linking Lysychansk and Bakhmut,” Serhity Gaidai wrote on Telegram.

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