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Putin warns of ‘serious response’ to Ukraine ‘terror acts’ | Russia-Ukraine war News

Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to stay the course in his campaign against Ukraine, warning if counterattacks continue a “more serious” military response will be unleashed.

Putin remained steadfast despite strong evidence that his forces incurred heavy losses in the Ukraine counteroffensive this month.

The Russian leader said the main goal of the campaign continues to be “the liberation of the entire territory of Donbas” – the areas of eastern Ukraine including Donetsk and Luhansk that are largely Russian speaking.

“The plan is not subject to adjustment,” Putin said. “Our offensive operations in Donbas itself do not stop. They are going at a slow pace … The Russian army is occupying newer and newer territories.”

He accused Ukrainian forces of attempts to carry out “terrorist acts” and causing damage to Russian civilian infrastructure.

“We are really quite restrained in our response to this for the time being,” Putin said at a news conference on Friday. “If the situation continues to develop in this way, the response will be more serious.”

‘Imperialist goal’

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke to Putin on the phone on Tuesday after a break of several months. According to the German government, the conversation lasted 90 minutes.

“The Russian president is pursuing his imperialist goal of annexing part of the neighbouring territory,” Scholz told German broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

Scholz insisted on a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine, telling Putin it had to include a ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Russian troops, and respect for the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine.

German weapons have helped make “the difference and made possible the successes, the current successes, that Ukraine is recording”, he added.

Scholz said there had “definitely been movement” in Putin’s tone about the war but it was not significant.

‘Stubborn’ Russian defence

Russian forces are setting up a new defensive line in Ukraine’s northeast after Kyiv’s troops broke through the previous one, defence officials and analysts said on Saturday.

The new line of defence is likely between the Oskil River and Svatove, 150km (90 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the UK defence ministry said in an intelligence brief.

The front-line readjustment comes after a Ukrainian counteroffensive punched a hole through the previous one in the war and recaptured large swaths of land in the northeastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia.

Moscow “likely sees maintaining control of this zone as important because it is transited by one of the few main resupply routes Russia still controls from the Belgorod region of Russia”, the British military said.

“A stubborn defence of this area” was likely but it remained unclear whether the Russians would be able to withstand another concerted Ukrainian assault, it said.

‘Likely too weak’

Ukrainian forces continue to cross the key Oskil River in the Kharkiv region as they try to press on in a counteroffensive targeting Russian-occupied territory, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

The institute said in its Saturday report that satellite imagery it examined suggests Ukrainian forces have crossed over to the east bank of the Oskil in Kupiansk, placing artillery there. The river, which flows south from Russia into Ukraine, had been a natural break in the newly emerged front lines since Ukraine launched its push about a week ago.

“Russian forces are likely too weak to prevent further Ukrainian advances along the entire Oskil River if Ukrainian forces choose to resume offensive operations,” the institute said.

Videos circulating online on Saturday indicated that Ukrainian forces are also continuing to take land in the country’s embattled east.

One video showed a Ukrainian soldier walking past a building, its roof destroyed, then pointing up over his shoulder at a colleague hanging the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag over a mobile phone tower. The soldier in the video identified the seized village as Dibrova, just northeast of the city of Sloviansk and southeast of the embattled city of Lyman in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Another online video showed two Ukrainian soldiers in what appeared to be a bell tower. A Ukrainian flag hung as a soldier said they had taken the village of Shchurove, just northeast of Sloviansk.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces continued to pound cities and villages with missile strikes and shelling.Kharkiv area maps

‘Closer to victory and peace’

Western military aid to Ukraine has been crucial in its fight against Russia’s invasion, and the political will to keep sending it must not falter, said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas on Saturday at a NATO Military Committee meeting.

“The ongoing counteroffensive proves that military aid takes Ukraine closer to victory and peace. Our focus must be scaling up our aid and weapons deliveries to push back the Russian aggression as soon as possible,” Kallas said in a speech.

Admiral Rob Bauer, chair of the NATO Military Committee, also praised Kyiv’s recent battlefield successes.

“We are all in awe of the immense courage of the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people who outmanoeuvre their opponent time and time again … Winter is coming but our support shall remain unwavering. It is crystal clear in that this conflict is bigger than Ukraine. The entire international rules-based order is under attack,” said Bauer.

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Malaysian defence contractor ‘Fat Leonard’ seeks Venezuela asylum | News

Local media reported that Leonard Glenn Francis had requested to remain in Venezuela on health and political grounds.

A fugitive Malaysian defence contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard” who orchestrated a huge bribery scheme involving dozens of United States Navy officials, has requested asylum in Venezuela almost a week after he was arrested in the South American country.

Leonard Glenn Francis — arrested on September 21 at Caracas international airport as he prepared to depart for Russia — appeared in court the day after his arrest and announced that he wished to remain in Venezuela on medical and political grounds, local media reported on Monday.

Venezuela’s government-allied newspaper Ultimas Noticias, citing judicial sources in its report, said that Francis told the court hearing that he wanted to appeal for political asylum and that he was suffering from metastatic kidney cancer.

Agencia Venezuela News also carried the report by Ultimas Noticias, adding that Francis told the court that he wished to remain in Venezuela and reunite with his wife and family.

Neither Venezuela’s Information Ministry nor its Attorney General’s Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

By law, the Venezuelan government must consider the asylum request.

Francis fled his home in San Diego, California, on September 4, just weeks before he was to be sentenced in a bribery case where he acknowledged overbilling the US Navy by $35m with the help of dozens of US naval officers.

Francis admitted to providing prostitutes, luxury travel, expensive meals and cigars, and other bribes to the naval officials who in return directed US Navy ships to ports Francis controlled in Southeast Asia.

The owner of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd, which supplied food, water and fuel to naval vessels for decades, Francis pleaded guilty in 2015 and faced up to 25 years in prison.

While awaiting sentencing, he was given home confinement in San Diego to receive medical care as he cooperated with the prosecution, which led to the convictions of 33 of 34 defendants.

After removing a GPS ankle monitor and fleeing his home, the US issued an Interpol red-notice request for his arrest which led to his capture in Caracas last week.

Francis had arrived in Venezuela via Mexico and Cuba, and planned to continue on to Russia, Venezuela’s Interpol office said in a statement.

Though US President Joe Biden’s administration does not officially recognise Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, Venezuela and the US have an extradition agreement.

US authorities have 30 days to formally request that he be extradited.

Washington does not have an embassy in Venezuela and has imposed crushing sanctions on Caracas, which has further embittered relations between the two countries.

That Maduro could use Francis’ extradition as a bargaining chip to have sanctions reduced or lifted by Washington has been mooted in Venezuela and abroad.

Agencia Venezuela News tweeted a cartoon over the weekend depicting Maduro holding a basketball emblazoned with the name “Fat Leonard” over the head of Uncle Sam.

Neither US nor Venezuelan officials have yet commented on Francis’s request for asylum.

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Why is the British pound tanking as the US dollar soars? | Business and Economy

As the British pound plummets in value, the US dollar is flying high.

Against a tumultuous backdrop that includes the Ukraine war, soaring prices and China’s COVID lockdowns, sharp fluctuations of some of the world’s major currencies are injecting new uncertainty into the global economic outlook.

Why is the British pound in freefall?

On Monday, the pound sank to a record low against the United States dollar as investors rushed to sell the currency and government bonds in a major vote of no confidence in new Prime Minister Liz Truss’s economic plans, which include large tax cuts funded by steep increases in government borrowing.

The pound at one point in Asian trading sank as low as $1.0327, surpassing the previous record low reached in 1985, before making back some of its value.

The price of 5-year UK bonds — through which investors loan money to the government — recorded the sharpest fall since at least 1991.

Under Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng’s “mini budget” announced on Friday, the UK is proposing the biggest tax cuts in 50 years, including abolishing the 45 percent tax rate on incomes over 150,000 pounds ($162,000).

The tax cuts, along with a plan to support household’s rising energy bills, will require the government to borrow an extra 72 billion pounds ($77.7bn) in the next six months alone.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng has proposed the biggest tax cuts in 50 years [File: Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters]

As with other goods and services, the value of most of the world’s major currencies operates on the principle of supply and demand.

When demand for a particular currency is high, the price goes up and vice versa.

The pound’s plummeting value indicates that investors are concerned about the UK’s ability to manage so much extra debt, especially as rising interest rates make borrowing much more costly.

On Monday, Raphael Bostic, a top official at the US Fed, warned that the tax overhaul had “really increased uncertainty” and raised the risk of a global recession.

“Confidence in the UK economy is low right now,” Pao-Lin Tien, an assistant professor of economics at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera.

“The new prime minister’s economic policy of lowering taxes on the wealthy is not too popular, and the consensus is that it will not work in stimulating the economy.”

While the UK’s tax plans were the initial trigger of the pound’s freefall, economists say that investors’ confidence in the British economy has been waning for some time due to developments such as Brexit.

“The British pound has long been suffering for political decisions in the UK,” Alexander Tziamalis, a senior economics lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, told Al Jazeera.

“It has been hit by Brexit and is also facing the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum and a potential trade war with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.”

What can the UK do to stop the pound’s decline?

The main tool available to prop up the pound, or any other falling currency, is to raise interest rates in order to attract foreign investors with better yields.

On Monday, Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said the central bank would not hesitate to lift rates as necessary.

But despite calls from some economists for emergency action, the UK’s central bank opted against an unscheduled rate hike, sending the pound down to $1.06 after it made some earlier gains.

“Both the Bank of England and Bank of Japan can decide to raise rates to match the rising US interest rates,” said Tien, the professor at George Washington University.

“This will help, but if investors don’t see aggressive enough actions from BoE or BoJ — so not just an increase in rates, but a larger than expected increase in rates — it won’t help much with the currency values. The issue with aggressively large interest rate hikes is that it’s likely to push the economy into a recession, which no one wants to see.”

Governments can also intervene by buying up their own currency to prop up its value, although this is frowned on by many economies and risks invoking trade penalties.

“The pound and yen are officially floating exchange rates, governments should not and do not often intervene in the forex market,” Tien said.

Why is the US dollar so strong?

The strength of the US dollar, which has been on an upward trajectory since mid-2021 and last month hit a 20-year high against six major currencies, has two main drivers.

The first is confidence in the US economy relative to its peers.

Much in the same way a weakening currency reflects declining investor confidence in a country’s economy, a strengthening currency points to a vote of confidence in an economy’s fundamentals.

While the US economy is battling high inflation and flagging growth, the dollar has long been seen by investors as a reliable bet.

“The US dollar has always been seen as a safe haven for investors because the US is such a strong and large economy, so if there is global uncertainty, it’s always a safe bet to hold US dollars because it retains value well,” Tien said.

“So with the war in Ukraine, economic and political problems in Europe, high inflation, etc, it is not surprising investors are turning to the US dollar.”

Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at financial consultancy Bannockburn Global Forex, said that the US seemed like a safe bet to investors in light of global events even if it recorded negative growth during the last two quarters.

“The US biggest rivals have shot themselves in the foot. Here I am thinking of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s zero-Covid policy that has disrupted growth,” Chandler told Al Jazeera.

“The US allies are also having serious struggles. Japan is the only G10 country not to raise interest rates.  China actually cut rates recently.  Europe is on the verge of a recession and the UK’s new government has stirred crisis talk with its fiscal stimulus adding to its current account deficit.”

The second driver of the dollar’s rise is interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve, which has been raising the cost of borrowing in an effort to tame soaring inflation.

With depositors at US banks benefitting from interest rates, investors have been further encouraged to swap other currencies for dollars, pushing up the price of the greenback.

“Of course, central banks in other jurisdictions such as the UK have also been raising interest rates, and the eurozone is planning to do likewise. But they are not acting as aggressively as the US,” said Tziamalis, the economics lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.

“Meanwhile Japan is not tightening at all, so the net result is still greater overseas demand for greenbacks.”

Who are the winners and losers?

For US consumers, a stronger dollar means cheaper imported goods in the shops and more affordable holidays abroad.

For everyone else, the picture is less rosy.

Not only does a stronger dollar mean pricier American imports and travel in the US, it is likely to exacerbate inflation generally in other countries.

Oil and other commodities such as metals and timber are usually traded in dollars, raising their cost in local currency. Higher energy prices will in turn push up the cost of other goods and services.

“The only exception is the US, where a stronger dollar makes it cheaper to import consumer products and therefore could help to tame inflation,” Tziamalis said.

The strength of the dollar also makes it more difficult for many developing countries to repay their debts, which are often held in US currency.

“As a result, many countries will struggle to find an ever-increasing amount of local currency to service their debts,” Tziamalis said.

“These countries will either have to tax their economies more, issue inflationary local money or simply borrow more. The results could be deep recession, hyper-inflation, a sovereign debt crisis or all three together, depending on the path chosen.”

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Japan honours Shinzo Abe with controversial state funeral | News

Japan prepares to bid farewell to assassinated leader as anger grows over the cost of the state funeral and his party’s ties to the Unification Church.

Japan is set to honour former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was killed while on the campaign trail in July, with a rare state funeral that has deeply split the nation.

Some 4,000 mourners — including United States Vice President Kamala Harris and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — are expected to attend Tuesday’s ceremony for Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. Hundreds of Japanese lined up outside the funeral venue in the capital, Tokyo, ahead of the official ceremony to offer floral tributes to Abe.

But the event, which is costing taxpayers some $11.5m, as well as revelations about ties between Abe, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the South Korean Unification Church, has prompted a huge public outcry in Japan.

Critics consider the religious group a “predatory cult” responsible for forcibly extracting exorbitant donations from its followers in Japan.

The relatives of Abe’s assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, say the 41-year-old’s mother donated some 100 million yen ($692,000) to the group, bankrupting his family. Yamagami has told investigators that he shot Abe on July 8 because of the prime minister’s support for the church. An internal LDP survey has since found that nearly half the governing party’s 379 national legislators also have ties with the church and affiliated groups. These range from attending the church’s events to receiving donations and accepting volunteers for election support.

Protesters took to the streets of Tokyo on Tuesday hours before Abe’s state funeral was due to get underway [Issei Kato/Reuters]

The revelations have caused Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s approval ratings to plunge below 30 percent.

But Kishida has defended the state funeral as necessary because of Abe’s achievements.

The incumbent leader, the heads of Japan’s lower and upper houses of parliament, and the chief justice will speak at Tuesday’s event.

It will begin at 2pm local time (05:00 GMT) with Abe’s ashes carried into the venue as an honour guard fires 19 rounds from a cannon.

Security has been tightened in Tokyo, with schools in the vicinity of the funeral venue closed and some 20,000 police officers mobilised to ensure security for the event. Protests against the funeral are expected, with some 62 percent of respondents surveyed by the Mainichi newspaper saying they do not approve of holding such an event.

Critics say Abe is also not deserving of the honour because of his legacy of divisive policies.

These include Abe’s push to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, and nationalistic rhetoric that soured relations with neighbouring countries, including South Korea.

Members of Japan Self-Defense Forces stand in front of sacred funeral curtains creating shadows on the ground during a rehearsal for Abe's state funeral
Members of Japan Self-Defence Forces will take part in the funeral, which has divided opinion in Japan and led to a sharp drop in support for the government [Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

The former leader, at the time of his resignation for health reasons in 2020, had also become mired in scandals in which he was alleged to have misused political funds and engaged in cronyism. He was also facing criticism at the time for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his determination to hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics despite the outbreak of the disease.

“Kishida’s decision to honour Abe with a state funeral without consulting the Diet or judiciary smacks of exactly the arrogance of power that the public associates with Abe. By a 2-1 margin the public opposes the state funeral and much of this opposition can be attributed to Abe’s toxic legacies and limited achievements,” said Jeffrey Kingston, professor of history and Asian studies at Temple University in Japan.

“Polls suggest few believe Kishida has handled the Church issue competently and this is part of the reason he has plunged in the polls. Supporters hope it will all blow over but the media spotlight may sustain the anger and now there are the Olympic bribery scandals that provide further reminders about the sleazy ways and means of the Abe government.”

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