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Putin orders partial military call-up, sparking protests

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists Wednesday to bolster his forces in Ukraine, a deeply unpopular move that sparked rare protests across the country and led to almost 1,200 arrests.

The risky order follows humiliating setbacks for Putin’s troops nearly seven months after they invaded Ukraine. The first such call-up in Russia since World War II heightened tensions with Ukraine’s Western backers, who derided it as an act of weakness and desperation.

The move also sent some Russians scrambling to buy plane tickets to flee the country.

In his 14-minute nationally televised address, Putin also warned the West that he isn’t bluffing about using everything at his disposal to protect Russia — an apparent reference to his nuclear arsenal. He has previously rebuked NATO countries for supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Confronted with steep battlefield losses, expanding front lines and a conflict that has raged longer than expected, the Kremlin has struggled to replenish its troops in Ukraine, reportedly even resorting to widespread recruitment in prisons.

The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. However, Putin’s decree authorizing the partial mobilization, which took effect immediately, offered few details, raising suspicions that the draft could be broadened at any moment. Notably, one clause was kept secret.

Despite Russia’s harsh laws against criticizing the military and the war, protesters outraged by the mobilization overcame their fear of arrest to stage protests in cities across the country. Nearly 1,200 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in cities including Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.

Associated Press journalists in Moscow witnessed at least a dozen arrests in the first 15 minutes of a nighttime protest in the capital, with police in heavy body armor tackling demonstrators in front of shops, hauling some away as they chanted, “No to war!”

“I’m not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing that they can take from us is the life of our children. I won’t give them life of my child,” said one Muscovite, who declined to give her name.

Asked whether protesting would help, she said: “It won’t help, but it’s my civic duty to express my stance. No to war!”

In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police hauled onto buses some of the 40 protesters who were detained at an anti-war rally. One woman in a wheelchair shouted, referring to the Russian president: “Goddamn bald-headed ‘nut job’. He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough.”

The Vesna opposition movement called for protests, saying: “Thousands of Russian men — our fathers, brothers and husbands — will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?”

The Moscow prosecutor’s office warned that organizing or participating in protests could lead to up to 15 years in prison. Authorities have issued similar warnings ahead of other protests. Wednesday’s were the first nationwide anti-war protests since the fighting began in late February.

Other Russians responded by trying to leave the country, and flights out quickly became booked.

In Armenia, Sergey arrived with his 17-year-old son, saying they had prepared for such a scenario. Another Russian, Valery, said his wife’s family lives in Kyiv, and mobilization is out of the question for him “just for the moral aspect alone.” Both men declined to give their last names.

The state communication watchdog Roskomnadzor warned media that access to their websites would be blocked for transmitting “false information” about the mobilization.

Residents in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, appeared despondent about the mobilization as they watched emergency workers clear debris from Russian rocket attacks on two apartment buildings.

“You just don’t know what to expect from him,” said Kharkiv resident Olena Milevska, 66. “But you do understand that it’s something personal for him.”

In calling for the mobilization, Putin cited the length of the front line, which he said exceeds 1,000 kilometers (more than 620 miles). He also said Russia is effectively fighting the combined military might of Western countries.

Western leaders said the mobilization was in response to Russia’s recent battlefield losses.

President Joe Biden told the U.N. General Assembly that Putin’s new nuclear threats showed “reckless disregard” for Russia’s responsibilities as a signer of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Hours later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged world leaders at the gathering to strip Russia of its vote in international institutions and its U.N. Security Council veto, saying that aggressors need to be punished and isolated.

Speaking by video, Zelenskyy said his forces “can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms. But we need time.”

Putin did not attend the meeting.

Following an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers Wednesday night, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell promised more sanctions on Russia over its escalation of the Ukraine conflict. He said he was certain there would be “unanimous agreement” for sanctioning both Russia’s economy and individual Russians.

“It’s clear that Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine. Hes trying to destroy the country by different means since he’s failing militarily,” Borrell said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the mobilization means the war “is getting worse, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible. … It’s being done just to let one person keep his grip on personal power.”

The partial mobilization order came two days before Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine plan to hold referendums on becoming part of Russia — a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. The votes start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

Foreign leaders are already calling the votes illegitimate and nonbinding. Zelenskyy said they were a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

Michael Kofman, head of Russian studies at the CNA think tank in Washington, said Putin has staked his regime on the war, and that annexation “is a point of no return,” as is mobilization “to an extent.”

“Partial mobilization affects everybody. And everybody in Russia understands … that they could be the next wave, and this is only the first wave,” Kofman said.

Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, said only some of those with relevant combat and service experience will be mobilized. He said about 25 million people fit that criteria, but only about 1% of them will be mobilized.

It wasn’t clear how many years of combat experience or what level of training soldiers must have to be mobilized. Another clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts until after the partial mobilization.

Putin’s mobilization gambit could backfire by making the war unpopular at home and hurting his own standing. It also concedes Russia’s underlying military shortcomings.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive this month seized the military initiative from Russia and captured large areas in Ukraine from Russian forces.

The Russian mobilization is unlikely to produce any consequences on the battlefield for months because of a lack of training facilities and equipment.

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said it seemed “an act of desperation.”

“People will evade this mobilization in every possible way, bribe their way out of this mobilization, leave the country,” he said.

He described the announcement as “a huge personal blow to Russian citizens, who until recently (took part in the hostilities) with pleasure, sitting on their couches, (watching) TV. And now the war has come into their home.”

In his address, Putin accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and cited alleged “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”

He did not elaborate.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.

In other developments, relatives of two U.S. military veterans who disappeared while fighting Russia with Ukrainian forces said they had been released after about three months in captivity. They were part of a swap arranged by Saudi Arabia of 10 prisoners from the U.S., Morocco, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Croatia.

And in another release, Ukraine announced early Thursday that it had won freedom from Russian custody of 215 Ukrainian and foreign citizens, including fighters who had defended a besieged steel plant in the city of Mariupol for months. Zelenskyy posted a video showing an official briefing him on the freeing of the citizens, in exchange for pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 others held by Ukraine.

—-

Yesica Fisch in Kharkiv contributed to this story.

———

Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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With 52% of Brazil votes tallied, far-right incumbent Bolsonaro has a slight lead over ex-President Lula da Silva

With 52% of Brazil votes tallied, far-right incumbent Bolsonaro has a slight lead over ex-President Lula da Silva

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Haiti reports cholera deaths for first time in 3 years

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s government on Sunday announced that at least eight people have died from cholera, raising concerns about another potentially catastrophic epidemic like the one that broke out a decade ago and killed nearly 10,000 people.

The cases – the first cholera deaths reported in three years – came in a community called Dekayet in southern Port-au-Prince and in the gang-controlled seaside slum of Cite de Soleil, where thousands of people live in cramped, unsanitary conditions.

“Cholera is something that can spread very, very quickly,” warned Laure Adrien, director general of Haiti’s health ministry.

Food or water contaminated with the cholera bacteria can lead to severe diarrhea and dehydration that can be deadly.

The United Nations said in a statement that it is working with Haiti’s government to “mount an emergency response to this potential outbreak,” stressing that health teams need to be guaranteed safe access to areas where cases have been reported.

The deaths come as a lack of fuel and ongoing protests shut down the availability of basic services across Haiti, including medical care and clean water, which is key to helping fight cholera and keep patients alive.

Haiti’s most powerful gang continues to control the entrance to a main fuel terminal in the capital of Port-au-Prince, leading to a lack of fuel amid soaring prices that have unleashed widespread protests that have paralyzed the country for more than two weeks.

The absence of fuel and increasing number of roadblocks have prevented water trucks from visiting neighborhoods to provide potable water to those who can afford it. It also has prompted some companies to temporarily shut down operations.

On Sunday, Caribbean Bottling Company said it could no longer produce or distribute potable water because its diesel reserves were “completely depleted,” adding that the lack of such a vital resource would affect “all sectors of society.”

Adrien said health officials were trying to visit communities where cholera has been reported, but that his agency, too, has been affected by a lack of fuel as he called on people blocking the gas terminal and organizing protests to “have a conscience.”

“This is a real problem,” he said of how the country has virtually been paralyzed. “We’re hoping this will not spread.”

Adrien noted that all those who died were unable to reach a hospital in time.

Haiti Health Minister Alex Larsen said people have a right to protest but asked Haitians to allow potable water supplies into neighborhoods that have been cut off by roadblocks and protests.

“Water has not been in these areas for a long time, and people are not drinking treated water,” he said, adding that cholera cases could spike again. “We ask people who can afford it to add a little chlorine to the water.”

Haiti’s last cholera epidemic sickened more than 850,000 people in a country of more than 11 million, marking one of the world’s worst outbreaks of the preventable disease in recent history.

United Nations peacekeepers from Nepal were blamed for introducing cholera into Haiti’s largest river in October 2010 by sewage. The U.N. has since acknowledged it played a role in the epidemic and that is has not done enough to help fight it, but it has not specifically said it introduced the disease.

Haiti would have been declared cholera-free by the World Health Organization only after reaching three consecutive years with no new cases.

———

Associated Press writer Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.

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‘Dilemma for the Russians’ after surrendering key Ukraine city | Russia-Ukraine war News

The recapture of Lyman city in the east – in territory recently annexed by Moscow – raises questions about how Russia can hold surrounding areas with supply routes severed.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops pulled back.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential staging post for increased attacks to the east while heaping further pressure on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had taken over Lyman after encircling it the day before.

“As of 12:30pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the previous day it was withdrawing its forces there to move to “more favourable positions”.

‘Sort of a dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, who have used the city for months as a crucial logistics and rail hub in the Donetsk region to move military equipment, troops, and other necessary supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult so it presents a sort of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions or oblasts that Russia annexed on Friday after people there voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think-tank, said the fall of Lyman suggested Russia was “deprioritizing defending Luhansk” to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine. 

“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” it said

‘Courage, bravery, skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a city within territory of President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are able to push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with American broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retaken swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war.

A pomp-filled Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday has failed to stem a wave of criticism within Russia of how its “special military operation” is being handled.

Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, on Saturday called for a change of strategy “right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Other hawkish Russian figures criticised Russian generals and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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