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Russia ‘tightening noose’ on Mariupol; Biden tells China not to fuel assault

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(Last Updated On: March 19, 2022)

Russia said its forces were “tightening the noose” around the besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol on Friday and concern grew over mass civilian casualties as the United States again warned China against aiding Moscow in its invasion.

Russia’s advance in Ukraine has largely stalled, and its troops, frustrated by fierce Ukrainian resistance, have blasted residential areas to rubble. On Friday, missiles landed near Lviv, a western city where thousands have fled for refuge, Reuters reported.

In Mariupol, the scene of heavy bombardment, officials estimated 80% of the city’s homes had been damaged and that 1,000 people may still be trapped in makeshift bomb shelters beneath a destroyed theatre.

Nearly 5,000 Ukrainians were evacuated from Mariupol on Friday, officials said, and residents reported seeing dead bodies along the roadside as they fled the city.

“We were careful and didn’t want the children to see the bodies, so we tried to shield their eyes,” said Nick Osychenko, the CEO of a Mariupol TV station who fled the city with six members of his family.

“We were nervous the whole journey. It was frightening, just frightening.”

Ukraine said it had rescued 130 people from the basement of a Mariupol theatre that was flattened by Russian strikes two days ago. Russia denied hitting the theatre and says it does not target civilians.

China is the one big power that has yet to condemn Russia’s assault, and Washington fears Beijing may be considering giving Moscow financial and military support, something that both Russia and China deny, Reuters reported.

In a video call that lasted around two hours, US President Joe Biden warned China’s President Xi Jinping on Friday of “implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia” in Ukraine, the White House said.

The White House later said that sanctioning Beijing, the world’s largest exporter, was an option, though it did not detail what constituted material support, Reuters reported.

The mayor of Mariupol confirmed to the BBC that fighting had reached the centre of the city, where some 400,000 people have been trapped for over two weeks, sheltering from bombardment that has cut electricity, heating and water supply.

Regional Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said around 35,000 people had managed to leave the city in recent days, many on foot or in convoys of private cars, but near-constant shelling was preventing humanitarian aid from getting in.

Jakob Kern, emergency coordinator for the crisis at the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), said Ukraine’s “food supply chain is falling apart” with insecurity and fear of attack hindering the movement of goods.

WFP buys nearly half of its wheat from Ukraine to feed people in global crisis zones, and Kern said the war could cause “collateral hunger” in poor countries worldwide.

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Swastika-wearing ex-pupil kills 15 in Russian school shooting

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2022)

A gunman with a swastika on his teeshirt killed 15 people, including 11 children, and wounded 24 at a school in Russia on Monday before committing suicide, investigators said.

The attacker, a man in his early thirties who was named by authorities as Artem Kazantsev, killed two security guards and then opened fire on students and teachers at School Number 88 in Izhevsk, where he had once been a pupil, Reuters reported.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles major crimes, said it was looking into the perpetrator’s suspected neo-Nazi links, read the report.

“Currently investigators…are conducting a search of his residence and studying the personality of the attacker, his views and surrounding milieu,” the committee said in a statement. “Checks are being made into his adherence to neo-fascist views and Nazi ideology.”

Investigators released a video showing the man’s body lying in a classroom with overturned furniture and papers strewn on the bloodstained floor. He was dressed all in black, with a red swastika in a circle drawn on his teeshirt.

The Investigative Committee said that of the 24 people wounded, all but two were children. Regional governor Alexander Brechalov said surgeons had carried out a number of operations.

He said the attacker had been registered with a “psycho-neurological” treatment facility. Investigators said the man was armed with two pistols and a large supply of ammunition.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin “deeply mourns” the deaths. He described the incident as “a terrorist act by a person who apparently belongs to a neo-fascist organisation or group”, Reuters reported.

He said doctors, psychologists and neurosurgeons had been sent on Putin’s orders to the location of the shooting in Izhevsk, about 970 km (600 miles) east of Moscow.

Russia has seen several school shootings in recent years, read the report.

In May 2021, a teenage gunman killed seven children and two adults in the city of Kazan. In September last year, a student armed with a hunting rifle shot dead at least six people at a university in the Urals city of Perm.

In April 2022, an armed man killed two children and a teacher at a kindergarten in the central Ulyanovsk region before committing suicide.

In 2018, an 18-year-old student killed 20 people, mostly fellow pupils, in a mass shooting at a college in Russian-occupied Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

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Iran says US attempting to use unrest to weaken country

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(Last Updated On: September 27, 2022)

Iran faced more international criticism on Monday over the death of a woman in police custody that triggered nationwide protests after Tehran accused the United States of using the unrest to try to destabilise the country, Reuters reported.

Iran has cracked down on the biggest demonstrations since 2019, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 after she was detained by morality police enforcing the Islamic Republic’s strict restrictions on women’s dress. The case has drawn widespread condemnation.

But the measures have not stopped Iranians from calling for the fall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the rest of the clerical establishment, read the report.

Canada will impose sanctions on those responsible for the death of Amini, including Iran’s morality police unit and its leadership, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday.

“We’ve seen Iran disregarding human rights time and time again, now we see it with the death of Mahsa Amini and the crackdown on protests,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

Activist Twitter account 1500tasvir posted videos it said showed street protests late on Monday in different parts of Tehran, and footage where residents could be heard shouting “Death to Khamenei” from their homes. Reuters could not verify the videos.

Women have played a prominent role in the protests, waving and burning their veils, Reuters reported.

Human rights group Hengaw posted a video which it said showed protesters cheering in Sanandaj, capital of Kurdistan province, as women took off their headscarves to protest forced hijab. In a later video, heavy shooting could be heard as streets appeared to be filled with tear gas.

Another video posted on social media purported to show security forces opening fire late on Monday during protests in Sardasht, a town with a large Kurdish population. Reuters could not verify the videos.

Iran said the United States was supporting rioters and seeking to destabilise the Islamic Republic.

“Washington is always trying to weaken Iran’s stability and security although it has been unsuccessful,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said in a statement.

On his Instagram page, Kanaani accused the leaders of the United States and some European countries of abusing a tragic incident in support of “rioters” and ignoring “the presence of millions of people in the streets and squares of the country in support of the system”.

Also on Monday, Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin to urge Tehran to stop its crackdown and allow peaceful protests. Asked about the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran in response to the violence, a German foreign ministry spokesperson had earlier said, “We will consider all options” with other European Union states.

According to Reuters last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of Amini.

Students from the Dentistry Faculty of the University of Tabriz, with the exception of the emergency department, took part in a strike on Monday and refused to participate in classes, said the activist Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).

The strikes were conducted to protest against widespread arrests of students and forceful encounters with security forces in Iranian universities, it said.

On Sunday, Iran summoned the British and Norwegian ambassadors over what it called interference and hostile media coverage of the unrest, Reuters reported.

The anti-government protests are the largest to sweep Iran since demonstrations over fuel prices in 2019, when Reuters reported 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown on protesters – the bloodiest bout of internal unrest in the Islamic Republic’s history.

At least 41 people have been killed since Sept. 17, according to state TV.

President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran ensures freedom of expression and that he has ordered an investigation into Amini’s death.

A leading Iranian teachers’ union, in a statement posted on social media on Sunday, called for teachers and students to stage the first national strike since the unrest began, on Monday and Wednesday, Reuters reported.

In a video circulating on social media, the sister of a man killed in the anti-government demonstrations, Javad Heydari, cut her hair on his grave in defiance of Iran’s Islamic dress code. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.

The state has organised rallies to try to defuse the crisis.

Although the demonstrations over Amini’s death are a major challenge to the government, analysts see no immediate threat to Iran’s leaders because the elite security forces have stamped out protests in the past.

Iran has blamed armed Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the unrest, particularly in the northwest where most of Iran’s up to 10 million Kurds live.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched an artillery and drone attack on Iranian militant opposition bases in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the second such attack in two days, state media said.

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Six Pakistan Army officers killed in Balochistan helicopter crash

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(Last Updated On: September 26, 2022)

Six Pakistan Army officials, including two majors, have been killed in a helicopter crash in Balochistan.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on Monday the helicopter crashed during a mission near Khost in Harnai, Balochistan.

“All six personnel on board, including two pilots, have embraced shahadat,” the military’s media affairs wing said.

The ISPR has released details about the cause of the crash which comes just over a month after a similar incident occurred in Balochistan.

On August 1, a Pakistan Army helicopter with six people on board, including Commander 12 Corps Lieutenant General Sarfraz Ali, lost contact with the air traffic control in Balochistan’s Lasbela district.

A day later, the wreckage of the helicopter was found near Musa Goth. All personnel on board had been killed.

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