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Putin says US wants to ‘hold back’ Russia as Biden meeting looms | Joe Biden News

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Russian president says he wants to improve strained ties with the US but sets a tough tone ahead of Geneva summit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he wants to improve Moscow’s ties with Washington when he holds his first summit with US counterpart Joe Biden later this month, but he set a tough tone ahead of the meeting and said the US wants to “hold back” Russia’s development.

The face-to-face meeting scheduled to take place in Geneva on June 16 comes amid deeply strained relations between the United States and Russia.

Tensions are running high over a litany of issues including the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and the conflict in Ukraine, as well as allegations of hacking and election meddling.

“We need to find ways of looking for a settlement in our relations, which are at an extremely low level now,” Putin told the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.

Putin said that disarmament, the coronavirus pandemic and environmental issues will also be on the agenda.

The 68-year-old said Russia had “no issues with the United States”.

“But it has an issue with us: they want to hold back our development, they talk about it publicly,” he said.

 

Both Russia and the US have downplayed expectations of any breakthrough at the Geneva meeting.

The Kremlin has said that differences between Moscow and Washington run too deep for a major “reset” in relations, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warning earlier this week that Russia would send what he described as “uncomfortable” signals to the US ahead of the summit.

Ryabkov’s comments on Monday came a day after Biden said he would press Putin to respect human rights when the two leaders meet.

Since taking office in January, Biden has imposed new sanctions on Moscow over alleged election meddling and cyberattacks.

Putin on Friday said the measures were driven by domestic political competition in the US and were an “enigma” to Moscow.

Putin denounces ‘political’ use of dollar

Speaking on other issues, Putin announced that the laying of pipes for the first of two lines of the prospective Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany has now been fully completed, leaving only welding works to finalise its construction. He said the second line will follow suit soon.

The Russian leader hailed the project as a better economic option than an existing pipeline via Ukraine, rejecting Ukrainian and Western criticism that it is designed to rob Ukraine of transit fees.

Putin said Russia will continue pumping 40 billion cubic metres of gas via Ukraine a year in line with the existing five-year contract, and could continue doing so after it expires if Ukraine shows “goodwill”.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a tense tug-of-war following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its support for separatists in the country’s east.

The US has strongly opposed construction of the new Russian pipeline, but last month waived some sanctions on the project – a move Biden justified by saying that the project was nearly complete, and that continuing sanctions could have harmed ties with Europe.

The Kremlin has hailed that decision as a “positive signal” before the Putin-Biden summit.

Putin also said European nations should pay for Russian gas in euros, as Moscow pursues its de-dollarisation efforts amid US sanctions.

“The euro is completely acceptable for us in terms of gas payments. This can be done, of course, and probably should be done,” he said.

Putin went on to deplore what he said was Washington’s use of the dollar as an economic and political tool, saying that “its use as an instrument of competition and political struggle has hurt its role as the world reserve currency”.

Russia announced on Thursday it will completely remove the US dollar from its National Wealth Fund and turn the dollar-denominated assets into euros, yuan and gold.

Russia has long moved to reduce the dollar’s share in its hard currency reserves amid the waves of US sanctions imposed on the country.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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UAE-produced film slammed for depicting Qatar a ‘terrorist state’ | GCC News

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The Misfits, a Hollywood film co-produced by an Emirati company, condemned as ‘immoral’ and ‘absurd’.

A Hollywood film co-produced by an Emirati film company has been condemned as “immoral” and “absurd” for portraying Qatar as a “terrorist state”.

The Misfits, co-produced, filmed, and financed by the UAE-based FilmGate Production in partnership with Paramount Pictures and Highland Film Group, tells the story of savvy thief Richard Pace, played by Pierce Brosnan, who escapes from a high-security US prison and goes on to steal millions from the world’s most secure facilities.

In the film, the director refers to Qatar as “Jazeeristan” and accuses its citizens of supporting “terrorist organisations” while Abu Dhabi’s mercenaries are depicted as heroes, Doha News reported.

It added that the film portrays Qatar-based Egyptian Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as “the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and the sponsor of global terrorism”.

‘Absurd’

The report cited Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Nasser, as saying in a video posted online that The Misfits is nothing more than an attempt by the UAE to “destroy Qatar’s reputation”.

A Twitter user, who watched a leaked copy of the movie, describes it as “absurd” and not worthy of feedback.

“Shame on whoever funded this nonsense,” he added.

Palestinian journalist Jamal Rayyan described the film as “immoral”.

In a series of tweets, Qatari scholar Muhammad al-Kubaisi also slammed the film.

“May God never bless the Emirati leadership. They are using Hollywood and producing a movie called The Misfits, which cost them more than $50m dollars to damage Qatar’s reputation and accuse its peaceful society of terrorism,” he said.

“I do not know why exactly the UAE wants to damage Qatar’s reputation? Is it because we are Muslims and united with God and it wants to eliminate Islam and Muslims? Does the UAE want to distance Qatar from the essence of Islam and support of Muslims everywhere?”

The development came just months after Qatar and its neighbours renewed ties after more than three years of a blockade imposed on Doha by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE.

Qatari and UAE officials held their first meeting since the detente in February this year. In January, the UAE resumed air and sea entry points to Qatar.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Air raid kills dozens in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, say witnesses | Ethiopia News

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Witnesses say Tuesday’s attack targeted a busy market in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray village of Togoga.

Dozens of people have been reportedly killed after an air attack targeted a busy market in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray village of Togoga on Tuesday, a day after residents said fighting had flared north of the regional capital Mekelle.

The bomb hit the market at approximately 1pm (10:00 GMT), according to a woman who told Reuters news agency that her husband and two-year-old daughter were injured in the attack.

“We didn’t see the plane but we heard it,” she said. “When the explosion happened, everyone ran out. Later, we came back and were trying to pick up the injured.”

Two doctors and a nurse in Mekelle told the Associated Press (AP) they were unable to confirm how many people were killed, but one doctor said health workers at the scene reported “more than 80 civilian deaths”.

The health workers spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Increased fighting

The reported air attack comes amid some of the fiercest fighting in the Tigray region since the conflict began in November as Ethiopian forces supported by those from neighbouring Eritrea pursue Tigray’s former leaders.

Reuters reported that Ethiopian military spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane did not confirm or deny the incident. He said air attacks were a common military tactic and the force does not target civilians.

Three other health workers told Reuters that the Ethiopian military was blocking ambulances from reaching the scene.

Wounded patients being treated at Mekele’s Ayder Hospital told health workers that a plane dropped a bomb on Togoga’s marketplace.

A nurse at the hospital said the wounded included a two-year-old child with “abdominal trauma” and a six-year-old. She added that an ambulance carrying a wounded baby to Mekelle was blocked for two hours and the baby died on the way.

Hailu Kebede, foreign affairs head for the Salsay Woyane Tigray opposition party and who comes from Togoga, told AP that one fleeing witness had counted more than 30 bodies and other witnesses were reporting more than 50 people killed.

“It was horrific,” said an official for an international aid group who told the AP he had spoken with a colleague and others at the scene.

“We don’t know if the jets were coming from Ethiopia or Eritrea. They are still looking for bodies by hand. More than 50 people were killed, maybe more.”

Witnesses said several more ambulances were turned back later in the day and on Wednesday morning, but one group of medical workers reached the site on Tuesday evening via a different route.

“We have been asking, but until now we didn’t get permission to go, so we don’t know how many people are dead,” said one of the doctors in Mekelle.

Another doctor said the Red Cross ambulance he was travelling in on Tuesday, trying to reach the scene, was shot at twice by Ethiopian soldiers who held his team for 45 minutes before ordering them back to Mekelle.

“We are not allowed to go,” he said. “They told us whoever goes, they are helping the troops of the TPLF.”

The TPLF refers to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which governed Tigray until it was overthrown by a federal government offensive in November. The subsequent fighting has killed thousands and forced more than two million people from their homes.

While the United Nations has said all sides have been accused of abuses, Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have been repeatedly accused by witnesses of looting and destroying health centres across Tigray and denying civilians access to care.

This month, humanitarian agencies warned that 350,00 people in Tigray are facing famine. Aid workers have said they have been repeatedly denied access to several parts of the region by soldiers.

The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says it has nearly defeated the rebels. But forces loyal to the TPLF recently announced an offensive in parts of Tigray and have claimed a string of victories.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Deadly blast in Pakistan near residence of armed group founder | Pakistan News

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Three killed and 13 others wounded after explosion near house of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed in Lahore.

At least three people have been killed and 13 others wounded after an explosion near the residence of the founder of armed group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, hospital and police officials said.

The blast took place in the Johar Town area of the city, Pakistan’s second largest, on Wednesday, provincial police chief Inam Ghani said.

“The [Counter Terrorism Department] has taken over the site of the attack completely,” Ghani told reporters at the site of the blast shortly after it took place.

“The CTD will ascertain what it was, what material it was, what was used … and secondly, was it an [improvised explosive device] lodged in a vehicle, and whether it is a suicide attack or not.”

Ghani said a police picket that was set up near the home of a “high-value target” was the apparent target of the attack.

Television footage from the scene showed significant damage to a number of homes near the blast site [Arif Ali / AFP]

A residence belonging to Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of LeT that is designated as a “terrorist” group under Pakistani law and by the United Nations, is located near the site of the blast.

“The biggest target that we see right now is that they are targeting law enforcement agencies,” Ghani said.

Television footage from the scene showed massive damage to a number of homes near the blast site, with windows smashed in, doors blown open and extensive damage to buildings close to the blast epicentre.

At least 16 wounded people were shifted to the nearby government-run Jinnah Hospital, with three of them succumbing to their wounds, a hospital official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera.

Six of the wounded were in a critical condition, the official said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Security officials inspect the site of the blast near Saeed’s residence [Rahat Dar/EPA]

LeT founder Saeed is blamed by the United States and India for being the “mastermind” behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 160 people in a series of coordinated bombings and shootings across the Indian financial capital.

Saeed has denied any wrongdoing and currently runs the charitable wing of the LeT, called Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which has been designated by both Pakistan and the UN as a front for the armed group.

He was convicted and jailed last year in a series of terrorism financing cases lodged by the Pakistani government as it tightened financial laws and restrictions as part of its review by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) inter-governmental body.

A JuD spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that Saeed was in prison and therefore not in the residence that may have been targeted in Wednesday’s bombing.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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