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Putin accuses West of “nuclear blackmail”, mobilises more troops for Ukraine

LONDON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine and backed a plan to annex parts of the country, hinting to the West he was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.
It was Russia’s first such mobilisation since World War Two and signified the biggest escalation of the Ukraine war since Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion.
It followed mounting casualties and battlefield setbacks for Russian forces, who have been driven from areas they had captured in northeast Ukraine in a Ukrainian counter-offensive this month and are bogged down in the south.
In an address to the Russian nation, Putin said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff”. Russia had “lots of weapons to reply”, he said.
Ukraine and its Western allies responded by saying the move showed Russia’s campaign in Ukraine was failing. The allies pledged further support for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government.
Russia’s defence minister said the partial mobilisation would see 300,000 reservists with previous military experience called up.
Although Russia has been involved in a number of conflicts since World War Two, this was the first such call-up since then.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it was a predictable step that would prove extremely unpopular.
“Absolutely predictable appeal, which looks more like an attempt to justify their own failure,” Podolyak told Reuters. “The war is clearly not going according to Russia’s scenario.”
Before Putin’s address, world leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine and plans for four occupied regions to hold referendums in the coming days on joining Russia.
Putin said the partial mobilisation of its 2 million-strong military reservists was to defend Russia and its territories. The West did not want peace in Ukraine, he said.
He accused Washington, London, Brussels of pushing Kyiv to “transfer military operations to our territory”. Ukraine has sporadically struck targets inside Russia throughout the conflict, using long-range weapons supplied by the West.
“Nuclear blackmail has also been used,” Putin said, citing Ukraine’s Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of endangering the plant in the fighting.
He also accused officials of NATO countries of making statements about “the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia – nuclear weapons”.
“I want to remind you that our country also has various ...

Ukraine, West denounce Russian referendum plans for occupied regions

KYIV, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Moscow-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions plan to hold referendums on joining Russia in coming days, a challenge to the West that could sharply escalate the war and which drew condemnation from Ukraine and its allies.
Four Russia-occupied regions announce referendum plans
Votes to be held on whether to become part of Russia
Ukraine and the West regard votes as sham and illegal
Russian invasion tramples U.N. charter – Japan PM
By Pavel Polityuk
In the apparently coordinated move, pro-Russian figures announced referendums for Sept. 23-27 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces, representing around 15% of Ukrainian territory, or an area about the size of Hungary.
“The Russians can do whatever they want. It will not change anything,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday in response to reporters’ questions at the United Nations.
In a tweet, he added: “Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.”
Some pro-Kremlin figures framed the referendums as an ultimatum to the West to accept Russian territorial gains or face an all-out war with a nuclear-armed foe.
“Encroachment onto Russian territory is a crime which allows you to use all the forces of self–defence,” Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and now hawkish deputy chairman of President Vladimir Putin’s Security Council, said on social media.
Reframing the fighting in occupied territory as an attack on Russia could give Moscow a justification to mobilise its 2 million-strong military reserves. Moscow has so far resisted such a move despite mounting losses in what it calls a limited “special military operation” rather than a war.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington rejected any such referendums “unequivocally”. Washington was aware of reports Putin might be considering ordering a mobilisation, Sullivan said, adding it would do nothing to undermine Ukraine’s ability to push back Russian aggression.
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas region Moscow partially occupied in 2014, to be independent states. Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.
Russia now holds about 60% of Donetsk and had captured nearly all of Luhansk by July after slow advances during months of intense fighting.
Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven from neighbouring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk ...

Eight hospitalized in Chicago building explosion

Sept 20 (Reuters) - A red-brick building partially collapsed in an explosion on Chicago's West Side on Tuesday, sending eight people to the hospital, including three who were in a serious or critical condition, the city's fire department said.
Images and a video clip posted by the fire department showed damaged top floors at West Washington Boulevard and North Central Avenue. The video showed bricks scattered around the corner building and parked cars damaged from fallen debris.
The cause of the explosion, which prompted the evacuation of an adjacent building, was unknown, the Chicago Fire Department said on Twitter.
Chicago’s bomb squad and officers from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were on the scene, the fire department said. At least 10 ambulances were at the site while authorities searched for trapped people.
Firefighters were believed to have rescued everyone from the collapsed building, made up of about 35 units, NBC News said, citing Deputy Fire Commissioner Marc Ferman.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)

Hundreds of Liverpool dockworkers launch two-week strike over pay

Sept 20 (Reuters) - Over 500 dockworkers at the Port of Liverpool, one of Britain's largest container ports, have launched a two-week strike over pay, the Unite trade union said on Tuesday, adding to a wave of industrial unrest caused by soaring inflation.
The Liverpool strike from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3, which was announced earlier this month, will overlap a second walkout by workers at Felixstowe, Britain’s top container port, which starts on Sept. 27.
More than 560 port operatives and maintenance engineers employed by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) are striking in Liverpool over a pay rise equating to about 8.3%, Unite said.
With inflation having topped 10% in July and projected by the Bank of England to exceed 13% next month, Unite says MDHC’s pay offer represents a “real terms pay cut.”
Peel Ports Group, which owns MDHC, said that the union’s pay rise demands equate to about 20%.
“We urge the union to work with us at the negotiating table so together we can find a resolution,” Peel Ports said in a statement.
Unite’s Liverpool port workers are also striking over MDHC’s failure to honour the 2021 pay agreement, the union said in its statement.

Russia triggers plan to formally annex occupied Ukrainian regions

LONDON/KYIV, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Two Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine announced plans to hold referendums on joining Russia later this week and an ally of President Vladimir Putin said the votes would alter the geopolitical landscape in Moscow's favour forever.
The move, which seriously escalates Moscow’s standoff with the West, comes after Russia suffered a battlefield reversal in northeast Ukraine and as Putin ponders his next steps in a nearly seven-month-old conflict that has caused the most serious East-West rift since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Russian-backed, self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the neighbouring Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) said the planned referendums would be held from Sept. 23-27.
In a post on social media addressed to Putin, DPR head Denis Pushilin wrote: “I ask you, as soon as possible, in the event of a positive decision in the referendum – which we have no doubt about – to consider the DPR becoming a part of Russia.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Russian-installed officials in the southern Kherson region, where Moscow’s forces control around 95% of the territory, said they had also decided to hold a referendum. Pro-Russian authorities in part of Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region were expected to follow suit.
Ukraine and the United States have said such referendums would be an illegal sham and have made clear that they and many other countries would not recognise the results.
Dmitry Medvedev, a former president who is currently deputy chairman of the Security Council, suggested before the announcements that the outcome of such votes would be irreversible and give Moscow – which has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world – carte blanche to defend what it would regard as legally its own territory.
“Encroachment onto Russian territory is a crime which allows you to use all the forces of self–defence,” Medvedev said in a post on Telegram. “This is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and the West.”
No future Russian leader would be able to constitutionally reverse their outcome, he added.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the head of Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said that his chamber would support the two regions joining Russia if they voted to do so.
Washington and the West have so far been careful not to supply Ukraine with weapons that could be used to shell Russian territory, and Medvedev’s interpretation of what de facto annexation would legally mean from Moscow’s point of view looked like a future warning ...

Equatorial Guinea scraps death penalty eight years after last execution

MALABO, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea has abolished the death penalty, according to a new criminal code signed by veteran President Teodoro Obiang eight years after the last executions took place.
With a population of about 1.4 million split between a mainland on the Central African coast and an island in the Gulf of Guinea, Equatorial Guinea has a poor record on human rights. Campaign groups and foreign powers have accused the Obiang government of torture, arbitrary detentions and sham trials.
Amnesty International says the last executions there took place in the tiny, oil-producing state in 2014. Obiang had said in 2019 that he would propose a law to end capital punishment.
The new penal law, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, is dated Aug. 17 but was officially published over the weekend. It will come into force 90 days after publication, the document said.
Obiang’s son, Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, described the abolition as “historical and memorable”.
“I write it with capital letters to seal this unique moment,” he tweeted on Monday. “EQUATORIAL GUINEA HAS ABOLISHED THE DEATH PENALTY.”
Capital punishment remains legal in just over 30 African countries, but more than 20 of those have not carried out executions for at least 10 years, according to data provider Statista.
Obiang, 80, has ruled Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, since he seized power in a coup in 1979, making him the world’s longest-serving president in office.
Political dissent is suppressed under Obiang, and the wealth he and his family have acquired from offshore oil wells has failed to benefit most of the population.
Obiang Mangue was tried in absentia and convicted of embezzlement by a French court in 2020 in relation to luxury assets seized in France, including a mansion in the heart of Paris. He denies any wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Bernardino Ndze Biyoa; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Mark Heinrich)

Hurricane Fiona slams Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico; three dead

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/Santo Domingo, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Hurricane Fiona was churning north on Monday night after bringing torrential rain and powerful winds to the Dominican Republic and a total power outage in neighboring Puerto Rico, killing at least three.
The first hurricane to score a direct hit on the Dominican Republic since Jeanne left severe damage in September 2004, Fiona caused severe floods, cutting off villages, forcing about 12,500 from their homes and leaving 709,000 without power.
“The damage is considerable,” said President Luis Abinader, who plans to declare a state of disaster in the provinces of La Altagracia, home to the famed resort of Punta Cana, El Seibo and Hato Mayor.
One man was killed in a treefall in the coastal town of Matancitas north of capital Santo Domingo, emergency operations official Juan Manuel Mendez told reporters.
The Category 2 hurricane, packing maximum wind speeds of 110 mph (177 kph), was about 80 miles (129 km) southeast of Grand Turk Island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, and is expected to strengthen to Category 3 as it heads across warm Caribbean waters to the Turks and Caicos.
On Tuesday, the center of Fiona is expected to pass near the archipelago, where a hurricane warning has been declared, the NHC said, with tropical storm conditions also expected in the Bahamas.
After strafing Puerto Rico, Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic near Boca Yuma early on Monday, with its center reaching the northern coast of Hispaniola before noon.
In La Altagracia, in the extreme east, the overflow of the Yuma River damaged farms and left several towns isolated.
Electric and water utilities are working to restore services in affected areas.
Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, is still being lashed by strong winds, frequent lightning and heavy rain after Fiona made landfall there on Sunday afternoon, dumping up to 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain in some areas.
The storm comes five years after Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, which triggered the worst power blackout in U.S. history.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi on Monday, promising to add more support personnel sent to the island over the next few days.
“The president said that he will ensure the federal team remains on the job to get it done,” the White House said in a statement.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel there on Tuesday.
Jeannette Rivera, 54, ...

Myanmar military threatens jail for online ‘likes’ for opponents

Sept 20 (Reuters) - Myanmar's ruling junta on Tuesday warned the public against showing moral support for a "terrorist" resistance movement, threatening jail terms of up to 10 years just for liking or sharing its content on social media.
Myanmar has been plagued by violence since the military seized power early last year, with clashes on multiple fronts between junta forces and militias allied with a shadow government and pro-democracy groups.
The junta’s information minister and spokesperson Zaw Min Tin said “terrorists” were seeking funds to kill innocent people in their campaign to destabilise the country, so support for them would be dealt with severely.
He said social media endorsements of the National Unity Government (NUG) or its armed affiliates, the People’s Defence Forces (PDF), could lead to prison terms of three to 10 years, and worse for those providing even small amounts of money.
“If you donate money or support terrorists and their acts, you will face harsher punishments. We’re doing this to protect innocent civilians,” he told a televised news briefing, which included a presentation detailing the penalties for aiding resistance groups.
Since the coup, opponents of the military have used social media platforms to try to communicate their message more widely, with citizen journalists often posting images of protests and alleged atrocities by the army.
The United Nations has accused the junta of mass killings and crimes against humanity in its crackdown on opponents since its coup last year. Thousands have been arrested and many imprisoned during secret trials.
It recently executed four democracy activists, accusing them of facilitating attacks by militia groups.
International calls have grown for deeper engagement with NUG and for it to be included in any peace process in Myanmar, which the junta refuses to allow, citing the need to restore order.
The U.N. Human Rights office in a report last week called for the military to be isolated further and said it had failed to govern the country in a meaningful and sustainable way, or resolve a “profound financial sector crisis”.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Martin PettyEditing by Ed Davies)

Ukraine marches farther into liberated lands, separatist calls for urgent referendum

IZIUM, Ukraine, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Ukraine said its troops have marched farther east into territory recently abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a potential assault on Moscow's occupation forces in the Donbas region as Kyiv seeks more Western arms.
Ukraine says its forces capture village near Lysychansk
Separatist leader calls for urgent referendum to join Russia
“Occupiers are clearly in a panic,” Zelensky
By Tom Balmforth
“The occupiers are clearly in a panic,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised address late on Monday, adding that he was now focused on “speed” in liberated areas.
“The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed in restoring normal life,” Zelensky said.
The Ukrainian leader also hinted he would use a video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to call on countries to accelerate weapons and aid deliveries.
“We are doing everything to ensure Ukraine’s needs are met at all levels – defence, financial, economic, diplomatic,” Zelensky said.
Ukraine’s armed forces had regained complete control of the village of Bilohorivka, and were preparing to retake all of Luhansk province from Russian occupiers, provincial Governor Serhiy Gaidai said. The village is only 10 km (6 miles) west of Lysychansk city, which fell to the Russians after weeks of grinding battles in July.
“There will be fighting for every centimetre,” Gaidai wrote on Telegram. “The enemy is preparing their defence. So we will not simply march in.”
Luhansk and the neighbouring province of Donetsk comprise the industrialised eastern region of Donbas, which Moscow says it intends to seize as a primary aim of what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Ukrainian troops have begun to push into Luhansk since driving Russian forces out of northeastern Kharkiv province in a lightning counter-offensive this month.
In a sign of nervousness from a Moscow-backed administration in Donbas about the success of Ukraine’s recent offensive, its leader called for urgent referendums on the region becoming part of Russia.
Denis Pushilin, head of the Moscow-based separatist administration in Donetsk, called on his fellow separatist leader in Luhansk to combine efforts toward preparing a referendum on joining Russia. Read full story
In the south, where another Ukrainian counter-offensive has been making slower progress, Ukraine’s armed forces said they had sunk a barge carrying Russian troops and equipment across a river near Nova Kakhovka in the Kherson region.
“Attempts to build a crossing failed to withstand fire from Ukrainian forces and were halted. The barge . became an ...

Liz Cheney Introduces Electoral Vote Bill to Avoid Repeat of Jan. 6

Republican Representative Liz Cheney introduced a bill Monday that would change how Congress counts presidential electors to reduce the chances of another effort to overturn election results like that mounted by former President Donald Trump last year.
Co-sponsored with Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, the legislation would direct challenges to state elections to courts and limit the vice president’s role in electoral vote-counting as “ministerial.” That grew out of Trump’s attempt to pressure his vice president, Mike Pence, to take action as the Senate’s presiding officer during the counting of the Electoral College results to obstruct or delay formal certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.It also would raise the bar to challenge a state’s electors to one-third of both the House and Senate. Currently, if one member of Congress from each chamber objects to a presidential election during the arcane certification process, the chambers have to debate and hold a vote on the objection, as was done in 2021.
The bill is broadly similar to legislation being written by a bipartisan group of senators that is expected to be voted on during the lame-duck session between the November midterm election and the end of the year. Both bills would limit the kind of maneuvers used by Trump and his allies to overturn his loss in 2020 presidential election, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as Congress certified the Electoral College vote.
Cheney, of Wyoming, and Lofgren, of California, are members of the House committee that has been investigating the Jan. 6, 2020, insurrection at the US Capitol.
Cheney, who lost the Wyoming Republican primary in August to an election denier, has been among the most prominent GOP critics of Trump’s attempts to undermine the election.
In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal Monday, she and Lofgren wrote that the bill would ensure that “self-interested politicians cannot steal from the people the guarantee that our government derives its power from the consent of the governed.”
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Kyrgyz leader urges calm after deadly conflict with Tajikistan

BISHKEK, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov urged his country on Monday to have trust in its army and strategic partners, and said there was no need for volunteer forces at the border with Tajikistan after deadly clashes there last week.
At least 100 people were killed between Sept. 14 and 16 in fighting involving the use of tanks, aviation and rocket artillery on a disputed section of the border in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken province. Read full story
“We continue our efforts to resolve the Kyrgyz-Tajik border issues in a purely peaceful way,” Japarov said in a televised address on a national day of mourning.
“Another point I would like to mention: I urge calm among the men and youths who are willing to go to Batken . We have courageous warriors and enough forces to repel those who violate our borders.”
Japarov also asked Kyrgyz not to trust “provocateurs who slander our strategic partners, friendly nations and peoples who share our position”.
Separately, Russian news agencies reported that both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have agreed to pull out additional military hardware and forces from the border, citing a statement from the head of the Sogdiyskaya region of Tajikistan.
Both sides have also agreed to continue to resolve the border conflict.
Kyrgyz authorities also said they had negotiated on Monday for the release of four border guards who had been captured by Tajik troops during the conflict.
Tajikistan’s foreign ministry said on Monday the key to resolving the conflict lay in negotiations, and it reiterated its position that Kyrgyzstan had instigated the fighting.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sodik Emomi told a briefing that ethnic Tajiks who were not Tajik citizens were being detained in Kyrgyzstan and that Kyrgyz drones had been spotted flying into Tajik territory overnight.
Central Asian border issues largely stem from the Soviet era, when Moscow tried to divide the region between groups whose settlements were often located amid those of other ethnicities.
Emomi said there have been more than 230 border incidents between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over the last 20 years, and that the focus of the latest conflict was an area covering 2,000 square kilometres (772 square miles).
Former Soviet republics Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are both allied to Moscow and host Russian military bases. Russia has avoided taking sides in the conflict and urged the sides to resolve it peacefully.

Two men killed in Iran during protests over death in custody, rights group says

DUBAI, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Two men were killed in Iran on Monday during protests over the death of a young woman while she was in the custody of the morality police, a Kurdish rights group said, as demonstrations ignited by the incident went on for a third day.
Mahsa Amini was detained by morality police last week
Protests erupt in areas including Tehran, Kurdish province
Morality police enforce strict dress rules on women
Mahsa Amini, 22, fell into a coma and died following her arrest in Tehran last week by morality police enforcing strict hijab rules, sparking demonstrations in numerous areas, including the Kurdish region from where she came, Tehran and other cities. Read full story
The Hengaw rights group said the two men were killed in the town of Divandarreh, part of the Kurdish region of Iran where protests have been the most intense.
There was no official confirmation of the deaths. State TV said a number of protesters had been arrested, but rejected “some claims of deaths on social media” by showing two injured youths who denied reports they had been killed. Their names were different than those in Hengaw’s report.
Reuters could not independently verify Hengaw’s report.
“In Monday’s protests in the town of Divandarreh, at least two citizens – Fouad Qadimi and Mohsen Mohammadi – died after being taken to Kosar Hospital in Sanandaj and 15 others were injured,” Hengaw said on Twitter. It did not say how they died.
A video posted on Twitter earlier by Hengaw showed protesters throwing rocks while a man could be heard saying, “There is a war in Divandarreh. The damned (police) agents are attacking”.
Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the video.
Amini’s death has been condemned nationwide, with the Persian hashtag #MahsaAmini reaching nearly 2 million Twitter mentions.
Iranian police said earlier on Monday her death was an “unfortunate incident,” and denied accusations of mistreatment.
Iran’s morality police enforce strict rules imposed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution requiring women to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes in public.
In Washington, a White House spokesperson said there must be accountability for Amini’s death. Read full story
“Mahsa Amini’s death after injuries sustained while in police custody for wearing an ‘improper’ hijab is an appalling and egregious affront to human rights,” a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said.

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