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Ukraine war, absence of Putin and Xi set to dent G20 summit



(Last Updated On: September 4, 2023)

Deeper and more entrenched divisions over Russia’s war in Ukraine risk derailing progress on issues such as food security, debt distress and global cooperation on climate change when the world’s most powerful nations meet this weekend in New Delhi.

The hardened stance on the war has prevented agreement on even a single communique at the 20 or so ministerial meetings of the G20 during India’s presidency this year, leaving it to the leaders to find a way around, if possible, Reuters reported.

But China will be represented by Premier Li Qiang, not President Xi Jinping, while Russia has confirmed President Vladimir Putin’s absence, suggesting that neither nation is likely to join any consensus.

That means the two-day summit from September 9 will be dominated by the West and its allies. The G20 leaders who will attend include U.S. President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman and Japan’s Fumio Kishida.

A failed summit would expose the limits of cooperation between Western and non-Western powers, and prompt countries to double down on the groups they are more comfortable with, analysts said.

To tackle global threats “breaking off into Western and non-Western blocs isn’t what you want,” said Michael Kugelman, the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Failing to forge a consensus will also hurt the diplomatic credentials of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is using the presidency to bolster New Delhi’s position as economic powerhouse and a leader of the global south.

“If the leaders’ summit is a flop, New Delhi and especially Modi will have suffered a major diplomatic, and political, setback,” Kugelman said.

India, which has not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will have to either convince the bloc to agree to a joint statement – the so-called Leaders Declaration – or allow its presidency to be the first to end without such a communique since 2008.

“The positions have hardened since the Bali Summit,” a senior Indian government official told Reuters, referring to the 2022 summit held in Indonesia. “Russia and China have toughened their position since then, a consensus would be very hard.”

In Bali, Indonesian President Joko Widodo clinched a last minute joint statement from the bloc. India is hoping that the leaders can again work something out at the last minute, another government official said.

The Bali Leaders’ Declaration said “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”

It also said that “there were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”

Another Indian official said that in Bali, “Russia and China were more flexible.” But as the war completes 18 months, countries “are not agreeing even to the language used in the Bali Declaration”.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who will come in place of Putin, have already drawn battlelines.

Trudeau, while confirming that he will travel to India for the meeting in a call with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said that he was disappointed that the Ukrainian president was not invited.

“As you know, we will be speaking up strongly for you, and we will continue to make sure that the world is standing with Ukraine,” Trudeau said in the call with Zelenskiy.

Lavrov said last week Russia will block the final declaration of the G20 summit unless it reflects Moscow’s position on Kyiv and other crises. Diplomats said any acceptance of Moscow’s stance was highly improbable, and the summit would most likely end up issuing a non-binding or partial communique.

Last month, the BRICS group of nations, where China is the heavyweight, added half a dozen more countries to the bloc in a push to reshuffle a world order it sees as outdated.

“Xi’s absence may be Beijing’s attempt to put a nail in the G20’s coffin, only weeks after expanding the BRICS organization which is more aligned with China’s world view,” said David Boling, director at consulting firm Eurasia Group.

India is a member of BRICS, along with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa, and had some concerns about the bloc’s expansion earlier. But at the summit in Johannesburg last month, it joined a consensus on the criteria for new entrants.


Gunmen kill 14, kidnap 60 in attacks in northern Nigeria



(Last Updated On: September 25, 2023)

Gunmen in Nigeria killed eight people on Sunday and abducted at least 60 others in two communities of northwest Zamfara state, residents and a local traditional leader said, two days after armed men kidnapped dozens from a university in the state.

Elsewhere, in the northeast of the country suspected Islamist insurgents ambushed a convoy of vehicles under military escort, killing two soldiers and four civilians, said a police source and a motorist who witnessed the attack, Reuters reported.

The attackers set fire to five vehicles and drove off with one truck, the witness said.

President Bola Tinubu is yet to spell out how he will tackle widespread insecurity. His economic reforms, including the removal of a costly fuel subsidy and freeing the naira currency, have increased the cost of leaving, angering citizens.

Residents said gunmen early on Sunday tried to attack a forward army base in a rural Magami community of Zamfara, but were repelled. Zamfara is one of the states worst affected by kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs known locally as bandits.

The gunmen in three groups attacked the army base and the communities of Magami and Kabasa, said a traditional leader who declined to be named for security reasons, read the report.

He said 60 people, mostly women and children, were kidnapped.

“The bandits rode many motorcycles with guns and other weapons (and) were shooting sporadically,” Shuaibu Haruna, a resident of Magami, told Reuters by telephone.

Four people were killed during the attack, said Haruna, who attended their burial.

Isa Mohd from Kabasa community said four people were also killed and dozens of others kidnapped.

Police and army did not respond to requests for comment, Reuters reported.

Attacks in the northwest are part of widespread insecurity in Nigeria. Islamist fighters still carry out deadly attacks in the northeast, gangs and separatists attack security forces and government buildings in the southeast, and clashes involving farmers and herders continue to claim lives.

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Fire in shop kills 35 people in southeastern Benin



(Last Updated On: September 24, 2023)

At least 35 people were killed in southeastern Benin on Saturday after a fire broke out at a shop where witnesses said gasoline was being unloaded, a justice ministry representative said.

The fire broke out at 0930 local time in Seme-Podji municipality, near the border with Nigeria, Reuters reported.

“The fire burned down the store and according to an initial assessment resulted in 35 deaths including one child,” said Prosecutor Abdoubaki Adam-Bongle in a ministry statement, adding that an investigation had been opened to determine the cause.

“According to the witnesses interviewed, the fire was probably started during the unloading of bags of gasoline.”

More than a dozen others were seriously injured and are being treated in hospital, he said.

A video shared widely on social media, purportedly of the fire, shows a tower of black smoke and flames spewing into the air above what appears to be a market place as shocked people watch from a safe distance.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the video.

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Polish PM tells Ukraine’s Zelenskiy ‘never to insult Poles again’



(Last Updated On: September 23, 2023)

Poland’s prime minister told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday not to “insult” Poles, maintaining harsh rhetoric towards Kyiv after the Polish president had sought to defuse a simmering row over grain imports.

Poland decided last week to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports, shaking Kyiv’s relationship with a neighbour that has been seen as one of its staunchest allies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Reuters reported.

Zelenskiy angered his neighbours when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Kyiv was working to preserve land routes for grain exports, but that the “political theatre” around grain imports was only helping Moscow.

“I… want to tell President Zelenskiy never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the U.N.,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told an election rally.

Poland holds a parliamentary election on Oct. 15, and Morawiecki’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has come in for criticism from the far right for what it says is the government’s subservient attitude to Ukraine.

Analysts say this has forced PiS, which looks set to remain the biggest party but may not secure a majority, to adopt a more confrontational approach to Kyiv in the closely fought campaign.

Earlier on Friday, President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, had said the dispute between Poland and Ukraine over grain imports would not significantly affect good bilateral relations, in an apparent move to ease tensions.

“I have no doubt that the dispute over the supply of grain from Ukraine to the Polish market is an absolute fragment of the entire Polish-Ukrainian relations,” Duda told a business conference.

“I don’t believe that it can have a significant impact on them, so we need to solve this matter between us.”

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