US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, Thursday pledged their continued support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion as they held talks at the White House.
“France and the United States are facing down Vladimir Putin’s ambition,” Biden said after warmly greeting the French leader, the first to make a state visit during Biden’s presidency.
“The alliance between our two nations remains essential for our defence,” Biden said. “The US could not ask for a better partner than France.” He described France as “our oldest ally and unwavering partner in freedom’s cause.”
Macron, speaking on a sunny but chilly morning in Washington, said that with Putin’s invasion now in its 10th month, the United States and France “need to become brothers in arms once more.”
He said Washington and Paris “share the same faith in freedom and democratic values.”
South Africa’s President Risks Impeachment Inquiry
A report by an independent panel appointed by South Africa’s parliament contends that President Cyril Ramaphosa violated his oath of office, which could lead to an impeachment inquiry. The panel finds the president has to answer for the theft of at least a half-million dollars from his game farm that may not have been declared in his taxes.
Following the release of the report, Ramaphosa maintained his innocence and said in a statement that he categorically denies violating his oath.
The panel’s report stated that while it did not have all the answers, nor the authority to pursue them, it recommended an impeachment inquiry should proceed to get to the truth.
It noted there are many questions left unanswered, including where the money stolen from the farm had come from and the exact amount in question.
A former spy boss, Arthur Fraser, first brought the issue to light, claiming that between $4 million and $8 million was stolen from a sofa in the president’s farmhouse where it was hidden.
Fraser claimed the money was collected by Ramaphosa’s adviser Bejani Chauke for both him and the president during several trips he made to Middle Eastern and African countries, and it was not declared to authorities.
Ramaphosa said it was from selling 20 buffalo to a Sudanese businessman known as Mr Hazim, who paid $580,000 for them on Christmas Day in 2019. The president said he was not at the farm at the time of the sale.
India Dismisses Chinese Objections to India-US Military Drills Near Border
India has dismissed Beijing’s objections to US-India military exercises being held close to India’s disputed border with China.
The drills between Indian and US soldiers began mid-November and are due to conclude Friday. Part of annual exercises held by the two sides, this year’s manoeuvres are taking place in the Himalayan mountains in Auli in Uttarakhand state, about 100km from the border area known as the Line of Actual Control.
China said on Wednesday that the joint exercises “violated the spirit of relevant agreements” between Beijing and New Delhi. “It does not serve the mutual trust between China and India. China has expressed concerns to the Indian side over the military exercise,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing.
Responding to China’s comments, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Thursday that “India exercises with whomsoever it chooses to, and it does not give a veto to third countries on this issue.”
Bagchi said the exercises had nothing to do with the agreements China had referred to.
Tensions between India and China have escalated since a bloody border clash in 2020 killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers in the Ladakh area. As a result, both sides continue to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the disputed border and are rapidly building infrastructure in the Himalayan mountains.
Following several rounds of talks between the military commanders of the two countries, soldiers have pulled back from some so-called “friction points” along the border where they were posted close to each other, but heavy deployments continue at other points that are of strategic significance to both sides.
Spain Investigating Letter Bombs Sent to Prime Minister, Ukraine Embassy
Ukraine’s foreign minister said Thursday that a letter bomb sent to the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid was an act of terror and pledged to ensure that those responsible receive the maximum punishment.
Authorities in Spain say the bomb was one of several that went to various addresses around the Spanish capital, including that of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and were intercepted. The one that arrived at the Ukrainian embassy exploded Wednesday, injuring an employee.
Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Romania, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the letter bomb was a serious matter, and they were carefully following it.
He said, “This is an attack against the diplomatic establishment that is defended by international law,” and he had ordered all foreign diplomatic Ukrainian establishments to immediately increase security measures.
Kuleba pledged to “defend each Ukrainian not only in Ukraine but also abroad with all available means.”
Spanish officials said packages also arrived Thursday at Spain’s defence ministry and the Torrejon de Ardoz air base. Another package arrived Wednesday at Instalaza, a company making grenade launchers Spain sent to Ukraine.
The investigation into who sent the packages is continuing.
Ukraine Urges EU to Sanction Russian Missile Production
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Thursday he had called on the European Union to sanction Russia’s missile production industry.
Kuleba tweeted that Russia’s missile production “must be put to a halt.”
He said he communicated the message in a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and also thanked the EU for defence aid it has provided to Ukraine.
Russia has used missiles to attack Ukrainian cities, including striking key infrastructure sites such as parts of the country’s electrical grid.
Ukraine’s military said Thursday that Russian forces were shelling several towns in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, including Bakhmut, Soledar and Opytne. The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces also said Russia was using tanks and artillery to target Ukrainian positions in the southern city of Kherson.
The United States said Wednesday that Russia’s weekslong campaign targeting attacks on Ukraine’s vital heating, electrical, and water infrastructure would not diminish Western resolve to support Kyiv in its nine-month fight against Moscow’s invasion.
Zambians to Sue Mining Giant Anglo American for Lead Poisoning
A court in South Africa last week ruled that UN experts can intervene in a class action lawsuit against mining giant Anglo American over lead poisoning in Zambia. South African and British lawyers filed the lawsuit on behalf of about 140,000 Zambian children and women whose health was allegedly damaged by a colonial-era lead mine. Anglo American has denied wrongdoing at the Kabwe mine, which it was involved in from the 1920s to 1970s.
It’s a busy morning in Chowa township in Kabwe, which looks like an ordinary Zambian town on the surface.
But rights experts and lawyers say Kabwe is one of the areas in the world most polluted by lead poisoning.
Rachel Kutayaya said her three boys, aged 12, 14, and 16, were sickened by lead, but she’s unemployed and can’t afford treatment.
Kutayaya struggles to feed her kids with the $20 she makes per week selling tomatoes.
She said her children’s IQs had been affected. In school, Kutayaya said, they did not focus well, so their performance is poor. She says one of them often has stomach problems and blames lead poisoning.
Britain-based rights law firm Leigh Day estimates 140,000 Zambian children and women of childbearing age were sickened by the colonial-era lead mine in Kabwe.
Modi’s Home State Votes in Local Polls Projected as Easy Win for BJP
In India’s western state of Gujarat, voters began choosing a new state government on Thursday in an election where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is expected to cruise to an easy victory.
Political analysts say that while there is disenchantment with the BJP in a state that it has ruled for 27 years, the party is on course to win an unprecedented seventh term, mainly due to the popularity of the Indian leader.
Gujarat is Modi’s home state, which he headed for about 13 years as chief minister before he became the country’s prime minister in 2014, and the BJP depends on his charisma to pull in votes. In recent weeks, Modi has addressed dozens of rallies in the state.
“Overall, the Modi magic remains. A lot of people want change, and those who are voting for the BJP are only doing it because of those three words: Narendra Damodardas Modi,” Neerja Chowdhury, an independent political analyst, said. “If the party is in the reckoning, it is only because of him.”
Observers say there is dissatisfaction with the government’s track record, particularly among poorer groups. Although Gujarat is a bustling hub of commerce and one of India’s most prosperous states, it has also witnessed growing economic distress and joblessness in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Inflation and high fuel prices are hurting poor households.
However, the lack of strong opposition is helping the BJP in its bastion. Two opinion polls conducted in the run-up to the polls have projected that the party will win a larger share of seats than it holds in the present state assembly.
Taliban Defend Ban on VOA, RFE/RL Broadcasts
The Islamist Taliban government has defended banning FM radio broadcasts from two U.S.-funded news media, including the Voice of America, in Afghanistan, alleging they were offending local laws.
The ban on VOA and Azadi Radio, an Afghan extension of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, went into effect Thursday, a day after the Taliban’s ministry of information and culture said it had received complaints about programming content but shared no specifics.
It is unclear whether the ban will apply to other international broadcasters that have used the same system for FM broadcasts in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan has press laws, and any network found repeatedly contravening these laws will have their privilege of reporting from and broadcasting within Afghanistan taken away,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban, foreign ministry spokesman, said in his written comments to VOA.
“VOA and Azadi Radio failed to adhere to these laws, were found as repeat offenders, failed to show professionalism and were therefore shut down,” Balkhi asserted.
The two US government-funded news organizations operate with journalistic independence and aim to provide comprehensive, balanced coverage.
Hong Kong Delays Jimmy Lai Trial
A court in Hong Kong has adjourned the trial of newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai until December 13 after the government sought to block a British lawyer from representing Lai.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee asked China’s top lawmaking body to decide whether foreign lawyers could participate in national security cases.
Authorities accuse Lai of colluding with foreign forces, and he is also facing a charge of sedition. If convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.
Lai is the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, which was forced to close in 2021 after its assets were frozen under a security law imposed after pro-democracy protests.