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Ukraine braces for Russian ‘storm’ in east in run-up to EU meeting

KYIV, June 21 (Reuters) – Ukraine acknowledged on Tuesday difficulties in fighting in its east as Russian forces regrouped after stepping up pressure and making advances on two cities ahead of an EU summit this week expected to welcome Kyiv’s bid to join the bloc.

The governor of the Luhansk region, scene of the heaviest Russian onslaughts in recent weeks, said Russian forces had launched a massive attack and gained some territory on Monday though it was relatively quiet overnight.

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“It’s a calm before the storm,” the governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had predicted Russia would step up attacks ahead of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday. He was defiant in a late Monday address to the nation, though referring to “difficult” fighting in Luhansk for Sievierodonetsk and its sister city, Lysychansk.

“We are defending Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk, this whole area, the most difficult one. We have the most difficult fighting there,” he said. “But we have our strong guys and girls there.”

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Gaidai said Russian forces controlled most of Sievierodonetsk, apart from the Azot chemical plant, where more than 500 civilians, including 38 children, have been sheltering for weeks. The road connecting Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk to the city of Bakhmut was under constant shell fire, he said.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said its forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with firefights erupting in a number of towns.

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“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

ATTRITIONAL PHASE

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a “special operation” to degrade its military capabilities and root out what it calls dangerous nationalists.

It has also introduced a law making the spread of “knowingly fake” information or reporting that could discredit the Russian military an offence.

Dmitry Muratov, the co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and editor of an independent Russian newspaper, auctioned off his Nobel medal for a record $103.5 million to aid children displaced by the war. His paper, fiercely critical of President Vladimir Putin, suspended operations in Russia in March after warnings over its coverage of the war. read more

The war has entered a brutal attritional phase in recent weeks, with Russian forces concentrating on Ukrainian-controlled parts of the Donbas, which Russia claims on behalf of separatists.

In Odesa, Ukraine’s biggest Black Sea port, which is blockaded by the Russian navy, a Russian missile destroyed a food warehouse on Monday, Ukraine’s military said.

The United States and its European allies have provided weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine but avoided direct involvement in the conflict.

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region
A view shows a damaged residential building in Donetsk
Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region

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A man stands outside a damaged residential building located in Panfilova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

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British military intelligence said Ukraine forces claimed their first successful use of Western-donated Harpoon anti-ship missiles, destroying a tug delivering weapons and personnel to a Russian held island in the Black Sea. read more

“Ukrainian coastal defence capability has largely neutralised Russia’s ability to establish sea control and project maritime force in the north-western Black Sea,” it said.

CAPTURED AMERICANS

Some foreign citizens have volunteered to fight for Ukraine.

On Monday, the Kremlin said two Americans detained in Ukraine were mercenaries not covered by the Geneva convention who should face responsibility for their actions. read more

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s comments were the first formal acknowledgment that the two, identified in U.S. reports as Andy Huynh, 27, and Alexander Drueke, 39, were being held.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said they had been in touch with Russian authorities regarding any U.S. citizens who may have been captured and called on Russia and its proxies “to live up to their international obligations” in their treatment of any captive.

This month, a separatist court sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan to death after they were caught fighting for Ukraine.

International concern has focused on trying to restore Ukrainian exports of food, now shut by a de facto Russian blockade. Ukraine is one of the world’s main sources of grain and food oils, leading to fears of global shortages.

Russia blames the food crisis on Western sanctions.

The war has also disrupted energy markets, including Russian shipments of oil and gas to Europe, still the continent’s main source of energy and Russia’s primary income source. Russia says EU sanctions prevented it from restoring pipeline equipment.

Russia threatened to retaliate against EU member Lithuania for banning transport of coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology to Kaliningrad, a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea surrounded by EU territory.

Russia’s foreign ministry summoned Lithuania’s top diplomat and demanded it reverse the “openly hostile” move or Russia “reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests.” Lithuania said EU sanctions obliged it to enforce the ban.

Pakistani rupee storms past 211 barrier against US dollar in interbank trade

KARACHI: The US dollar on Tuesday continued its flight against the rupee amid a delay in the revival of International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) loan programme and soared to the all-time high of Rs211 as of 11:15am in the interbank trade.

The Pakistani rupee remained highly volatile and continued its losing streak against the US dollar today despite Finance Minister Miftah Ismail claiming that the IMF programme will be revived within the next two days.

According to the Tresmark, the dollar was trading at Rs211, after appreciating nearly Rs1.10 against Monday’s record high of Rs209.96. It also stormed past 212-mark during intra-day trade.

The rupee continues its downtrend, which has also been attributed to the quarter-end payments due to the country’s rising import bill, widening current account deficit and depleting foreign exchange reserves other than the delay in the revival of the IMF programme.

The latest fall since the start of the week in the rupee’s value against the greenback comes after traders resorted to panic buying on reports that some commercial banks had run out of foreign currency.

Businessmen have urged the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to play its due role in controlling the free-fall of the rupee. However, the central bank seems helpless to control the situation as it cannot supply dollars in the market to support the rupee since its own stock of dollars also stands at a depleted level.

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves (held by the SBP) have depleted to a critical level and the country has less than six weeks of import cover remaining. The reserves are currently below $9 billion.

The country is fulfilling the prerequisite conditions to revive the IMF loan programme to avoid default on international payments.

“The currency will continue to fall until Pakistan manages to strike a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” AA Commodities Director Adnan Agar said earlier while speaking to Geo.tv.

The analyst was of the view that the investors’ confidence is completely shattered which can only be strengthened by positive development on the IMF front.

Agar also mentioned that depleting foreign exchange reserves have triggered panic buying, giving speculators a chance to play with the demand and supply of the greenback.

Since the beginning of this fiscal year (July 1, 2021) to date, the rupee has collectively dropped by over 30% (or over Rs52) compared to the previous fiscal year’s close at Rs157.54.

SBP tightens restrictions

In an attempt to ease dollar shortages and conserve eroding foreign exchange reserves amid IMF loan uncertainty, commercial banks have been asked to seek the central bank’s permission before initiating import transactions worth $100,000.

“Earlier, banks were needed to inform the SBP if they wanted to start processing the trade documents such as a letter of credits (LCs), other papers and making payments for the imports of certain goods worth $500,000,” a banking source familiar with the development told The News.

“It seems the central bank wants to discourage imports to save cash as banks are facing a dearth of dollars following a sharp depletion in the foreign currency reserves,” the source added.

The reserves held by the central bank fell by $241 million or 2.6% to $8.98 billion as of June 10 — a cover for 1.32 months’ of imports. The SBP, however, said it had not stopped banks from making import payments.

Pakistan ‘genuinely and seriously’ wants to boost trade ties with Turkey: PM Shehbaz

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday said Pakistan “genuinely and seriously” wanted to boost bilateral, trade and cultural ties with Turkey as he made the case for the Turkish business community to invest in Pakistan.

“Suffice to say, we are here to convey this message to our Turkish brothers and sisters, President Tayyip Erdogan and his team, and to the Turkish business community that we genuinely and seriously want to work with you,” PM Shehbaz said while speaking at the Turkey-Pakistan Business Council in Ankara.

The premier is currently on a three-day official visit to Turkey.

He is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Minister for Investment Board Chaudhry Salik Hussain and special assistants to the prime minister Tariq Fatemi and Fahd Husain.

He stated that it was important to transform the brotherly relations between the two countries by promoting trade, investment and cultural relations. He went on to say that even though the countries don’t speak the same language, the nations hail from the same culture and have a shared history.

“We have been partners and have supported each other through thick and thin,” he said, adding that he had received “hundreds of businessmen” between 2008 and 2018.

“Your active participation in investments in Pakistan is highly appreciated. And above all your participation in humanitarian projects in Pakistan is very well-known.”

He added: “Today, we are here to seriously engage ourselves with you because you are very serious-minded business people, and your achievements are outstanding and a shining example for all of us.”

He called for the two countries to collaborate and cooperate in various sectors, including the automobile industry, agriculture, textile and alternative energy.

“I am here today with my great team to convey this message to you in no uncertain terms, absolutely loud and clear, that we will welcome you with both arms to come and invest in Pakistan, promote trade,” he said.

The premier said that Pakistan’s populace is primarily very young, pointing toward the “mass opportunities that remained undiscovered”.

“I have requested the trade minister, before we conclude this meeting, we must sign a letter of intent that through our untiring efforts we shall achieve bilateral trade of $5 billion in two years to come. [It is] difficult but not impossible,” he declared.

PM, Turkish FM discuss bilateral ties

Earlier today, a high-level Turkish delegation led by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on PM Shehbaz. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other members of Pakistani delegation were also present for the meeting.

Both sides discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties between Pakistan and Turkey, Radio Pakistan reported.

The meeting also discussed the promotion of cooperation in different sectors, particularly trade, investment, education, communication and culture.

PM Shehbaz said the historical and brotherly relations between Pakistan and Turkey were acquiring a new dimension, leading to progress for both nations. He said Pakistan and Turkey had similar views on international issues and the people of both the countries stood by each other in difficult times.

He said there was a strong relationship of mutual trust and respect between Pakistan and Turkey, which had turned into strong economic relations. The premier added that Turkey made rapid progress under the leadership of President Erdogan, terming it a role model for other nations.

Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign minister said the two countries had deep-rooted relations and expressed his government’s desire to strengthen ties in a multitude of areas.

Violence on rise in India-occupied Kashmir after Yasin Malik’s sentencing

SRINAGAR: Indian forces killed six fighters in occupied Kashmir over the past 24 hours while the fighters shot dead a female TV performer and a police officer, officials said on Thursday, following the conviction of the region’s best-known leader.

A New Delhi court on Wednesday ordered life in jail for Yasin Malik for funding “terrorist” activities and on several other counts. The sentencing prompted warnings from politicians that it would promote alienation in the Muslim-majority region.

Shops and businesses in India-held Kashmir remained closed for a second day of protests against the verdict, while police detained 10 people for throwing stones and for sloganeering outside Yasin Malik’s residence.

“Three militants each of Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba were killed in two separate gun battles in [occupied] Kashmir since yesterday,” Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar said, referring to the two organisations. “We have also lost a cop in one of the operations.”

Kumar said Kashmiri fighters had shot dead 35-year-old television and social-media performer Amreen Bhat on Wednesday evening. They have allegedly killed at least 12 people, mostly police, in occupied Kashmir this year. One of the dead was a Kashmiri Hindu government employee, worrying the disputed region’s tiny minority community.

More than 3,400 Hindus from occupied Kashmir have been given government jobs there in recent years, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government tries to lure them back into the region after attacks forced them to flee during the 1990s. But Hindus have been holding street protests demanding relocation out of held Kashmir.

“We are not secure here,” Amit, a protesting Hindu government emplo­yee, said. “Our colleague was shot dead in his office. Our demand is relocation outside Kashmir, because every so often there is a targeted killing.”

Indian forces have already stepped up their operations, killing 78 fighters this year, according to the administration of held Kashmir. For the whole of last year, 193 were killed, while 232 were shot dead in 2020.

Meanwhile, representatives of Pakistan and India got into a fresh verbal duel in the UN Security Council on Wednesday after Pakistan’s Ambassador Munir Akram castigated New Delhi’s continued oppression in occupied Kashmir, drawing attention to the life sentence awarded to Kashmiri leader Yasin Malik by an Indian court.

Qasim Aziz Butt, who represented Pakistan, rejected India’s claim about Jammu and Kashmir being its integral part, saying it was a disputed territory, as per all United Nations maps and official documents.

The Pakistani representative accused India of being one of the world’s largest purveyors of state terrorism, notably against each of its neighbours, including Pakistan. At home, state-directed terrorism is being unleashed against all minorities, he said.—Agencies

Our Staff Correspondent in Muzaffarabad adds: Business community members across Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) kept their shutters down on Wednesday and joined people from other walks of life in staging rallies and demonstrations to condemn the illegal sentencing of incarcerated JKLF chairman Yasin Malik by an Indian court.

JKLF activists took out a rally from Burhan Wani Chowk which culminated at the UN Military Observers Mission office where the party leaders handed over a memorandum calling for the UN secretary general’s immediate intervention to save the life of the popular Kashmiri leader.

Traders, political workers, students and other citizens took out a rally from Upper Adda to Bank Road to express solidarity with Yasin Malik.

Entrepreneur Tanzila Khan wins Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment Award at The Prince’s Trust Awards 2022

Pakistani activist and entrepreneur Tanzila Khan has been awarded the Amal Clooney Women’s Empowerment Award winner at The Prince’s Trust Awards 2022 for her work on increasing women’s access to menstrual, pregnancy and reproductive health products.

Human rights attorney Amal Clooney joined Prince Charles to present the award to her. Khan, who uses a wheelchair, made headlines earlier for her travel adventures to Egypt with a group of other women in wheelchairs.

Khan received the award for her company Girlythings through which she works to increase women’s access to menstrual, pregnancy and reproductive health products. Her company delivers menstrual and other products to your doorstep.

The activist took to Instagram and shared photos from the event where she met Clooney and the British royal.

She wrote that the award hopes to “lay foundation for future young changemakers in years to come” and that the ceremony will air on 8:30pm on ITV where people can watch her and others receive their awards.

Khan had told Images that she is an activist and entrepreneur from Punjab who is on a mission to help improve women’s health. “I run Girlythings, a service that delivers menstrual health products to women across Pakistan. I am the writer, producer and actor behind Pakistan’s first short comedy on disability called Fruit Chaat. I’m also a public speaker and do many other ventures on disability and empowerment.”

Khan along with Zargoona Wadood and Afshan Afridi made waves online for their adventurous vacation in Egypt as the friends posed by the pyramids.