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Putin vows revenge for concert hall attack, as death toll climbs to 133

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday vowed to punish those behind a “barbaric terrorist attack” on a Moscow concert hall that killed more than 130, saying Russia had arrested four gunmen who were trying to flee to Ukraine.

Kyiv has strongly denied any connection, and Putin made no reference to claims of responsibility by the Islamic State group (IS) in his first public remarks on the attack.

At least 133 people were killed when camouflaged gunmen stormed the Crocus City Hall, in Moscow’s northern suburb of Krasnogorsk, and then set fire to the building on Friday evening.

The jihadist group has claimed the attack, writing Saturday on a Telegram channel that it was “carried out by four IS fighters armed with machine guns, a pistol, knives and firebombs,” as part of “the raging war” with “countries fighting Islam”.

It is the deadliest attack in Russia for almost two decades and the deadliest in Europe to have been claimed by IS.

Russian officials expect the death toll to rise further, with more than 100 injured in hospital.

“Terrorists, murderers, non-humans … have only one unenviable fate: retribution and oblivion,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation on Saturday.

‘Barbaric’
Calling the attack a “barbaric, terrorist act”, he said “all four direct perpetrators … all those who shot and killed people, have been found and detained”.

“They tried to escape and were travelling towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” he added.

Putin also compared the attackers to “Nazis” and said the attack was an “atrocity, a strike against Russia and our people”.

He named Sunday a day of national mourning.

Russia arrested 11 people in connection with the attack on Saturday, the FSB security service said.

“All the perpetrators, organisers and those who ordered this crime will be justly and inevitably punished,” Putin said.

The FSB said earlier that the assailants had “contacts” in Ukraine, without providing further details.

Kyiv, facing a Russian military offensive for the past two years, had “nothing to do” with the attack, presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said in a statement.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Saturday he hoped “this terrible tragedy will not become a pretext for anyone to escalate violence and aggression.”

At least 133 killed

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said rescue workers were still pulling bodies from the burnt-out building on Saturday.

“The emergency services have found more bodies while clearing the debris,” it said in a statement on Telegram.

“The number of people killed in the terrorist attack has risen to 133. Search operations continue.”

The governor of the Moscow region said rescuers would continue to scour the site for “several days.”

Some 107 people were still in hospital, many in a critical condition, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said.

IS had first claimed responsibility for the attack on Friday night, repeating its claim again on Saturday.

Some witnesses filmed the gunmen from the upper floors as they walked through the stalls shooting people, footage shared on social media showed.

Then “the terrorists used a flammable liquid to set fire to the concert hall’s premises, where spectators were located, including wounded,” the Investigative Committee said.

Investigators said people died both from gunshot wounds and smoke inhalation after a fire engulfed the 6,000-seater venue.

Flames quickly spread through the venue on Friday, with screaming concert-goers rushing to emergency exits.

Investigators also said they would issue an award to a man who had jumped on one of the attackers while he was shooting at the concert-goers, “immobilising” the gunman and “saving the lives of people around him”.

Blood queues

A woman places a placard reading as ‘Belgorod mourns. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP)

Putin did not address IS’s claim of responsibility in his first public remarks on Saturday, which came more than 18 hours after the start of the attack.

The head of the state-run RT media outlet, Margarita Simonyan posted two videos claiming to be interrogations of two handcuffed suspects, who both admitted to the attack but did not say who organised it.

The interior ministry said all four of the suspected gunmen were foreign nationals, as Russian Telegram channels — including those with links to the security services — said they were from Tajikistan, a country that borders Afghanistan and where the jihadist group is active.

Tajikistan’s foreign ministry told Russia’s TASS news agency that authorities were “in close contact” with Moscow about the “supposed participation of the country’s citizens in the terrorist attack”.

In Moscow, residents stood in long lines in the rain to donate blood for those hospitalised, and mourners came to lay flowers outside the concert hall.

Memorial posters featuring a single candle replaced some advertising billboards in the capital.

Major events were cancelled across the country, including a friendly football match between Russia and Paraguay set to take place in Moscow on Monday.

Statements of condemnation from world leaders continued to roll in.

US warning dismissed

Russia’s powerful intelligence services were also in the spotlight in the wake of the attack.

Just three days earlier, Putin had publicly dismissed a US warning of an “imminent” attack in Moscow as propaganda designed to scare Russian citizens.

The US embassy in Russia had warned on 7 March that “extremists have imminent plans to target large gatherings in Moscow, to include concerts”.

Washington said after the attack it had also shared details directly with Moscow.

But speaking to FSB chiefs last Tuesday, Putin had called it a “provocative” statement and “outright blackmail… to intimidate and destabilise our society”.

AFP

 

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IMF confirms Kristalina Georgieva for second 5-Year term

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IMF confirms Kristalina Georgieva for second 5-Year term

It means that Georgieva, who was the sole candidate in the running to lead the International Monetary Fund, will continue in office when her current term ends on September 30, 2024.

The decision was taken by consensus, the IMF said in a statement confirming the board’s decision.

“I am deeply grateful for the trust and support of the Fund’s Executive Board, representing our 190 members, and honored to continue to lead the IMF as Managing Director,” Georgieva said in a statement.

“I look forward to continue serving our membership, together with the highly professional and committed staff of the IMF,” she added.

Georgieva, a 70-year-old Bulgarian, has run the IMF since 2019, and told AFP last month that she was making herself “available to serve, if people want me to serve.”

During her tenure, the IMF has helped countries facing financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the havoc wrought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially in Europe.

Under a controversial, decades-old agreement between Europe and the United States, the International Monetary Fund has historically been led by a European, and the World Bank by a US citizen.

This arrangement was reaffirmed last year when the Biden administration nominated Ajay Banga, an Indian-born, naturalized US citizen, to run the World Bank, which sits just across the street from the IMF in Washington.

Georgieva faced allegations in 2021 — which she strongly denied — that she had been involved in amending a popular World Bank business report in order to favor China when she worked at the development lender.

But after reviewing the World Bank report into the incident, the IMF executive board dismissed the allegations and reaffirmed its confidence in Georgieva, allowing her to remain in post.

The board’s announcement means that next week’s IMF and World Bank-hosted meetings of the world’s financial leaders in Washington can proceed without a distracting battle over the future of the Fund running in the background.

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Real estate tycoon sentence to death in largest-ever fraud case

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Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s

Real estate tycoon Truong My Lan was sentenced Thursday to death by a court in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam in the country’s largest financial fraud case ever, state media Vietnam Net said.

The 67-year-old chair of the real estate company Van Thinh Phat was formally charged with fraud amounting to $12.5 billion — nearly 3% of the country’s 2022 GDP.

Lan illegally controlled Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank between 2012 and 2022 and allowed 2,500 loans that resulted in losses of $27 billion to the bank, reported state media VnExpress. The court asked her to compensate the bank $26.9 million.

Despite mitigating circumstances — this was a first-time offense and Lan participated in charity activities — the court attributed its harsh sentence to the seriousness of the case, saying Lan was at the helm of an orchestrated and sophisticated criminal enterprise that had serious consequences with no possibility of the money being recovered, VnExpress said.

Her actions “not only violate the property management rights of individuals and organizations but also push SCB [Saigon Joint Stock Commercial Bank] into a state of special control; eroding people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and State,” VnExpress quoted the judgment as saying.

Her niece, Truong Hue Van, the chief executive of Van Thinh Phat, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for aiding her aunt.

Lan and her family established the Van Thinh Phat company in 1992 after Vietnam shed its state-run economy in favor of a more market-oriented approach that was open to foreigners. She had started out helping her mother, a Chinese businesswoman, to sell cosmetics in Ho Chi Minh City’s oldest market, according to state media Tien Phong.

Van Thinh Phat would grow to become one of Vietnam’s richest real estate firms, with projects including luxury residential buildings, offices, hotels and shopping centers. This made her a key player in the country’s financial industry. She orchestrated the 2011 merger of the beleaguered SCB bank with two other lenders in coordination with Vietnam’s central bank.

The court found that she used this approach to tap SCB for cash. She indirectly owned more than 90% of the bank — a charge she denied — and approved thousands of loans to “ghost companies,” according to government documents. These loans then found their way back to her, state media VNExpress reported, citing the court’s findings.

She then bribed officials to cover her tracks, it added.

Former central bank official Do Thi Nhan was also sentenced Thursday to life in prison for accepting $5.2 million in bribes.

Lan’s arrest in October 2022 was among the most high-profile in an ongoing anti-corruption drive in Vietnam that has intensified since 2022. The so-called Blazing Furnace campaign has touched the highest echelons of Vietnamese politics. Former President Vo Van Thuong resigned in March after being implicated in the campaign.

But Lan’s trial shocked the nation. Analysts said the scale of the scam raised questions about whether other banks or businesses had similarly erred, dampening Vietnam’s economic outlook and making foreign investors jittery at a time when Vietnam has been trying to position itself as the ideal home for businesses trying to pivot their supply chains away from China.

The real estate sector in Vietnam has been hit particularly hard. An estimated 1,300 property firms withdrew from the market in 2023, developers have been offering discounts and gold as gifts to attract buyers, and despite rents for mixed-use properties known in Southeast Asia as shophouses falling by a third in Ho Chi Minh City, many in the city center are still empty, according to state media.

In November, Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Vietnam’s top politician, said that the anti-corruption fight would “continue for the long term.”

 

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US sends seized Iran weapons, ammunition to Ukraine

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US sends seized Iran weapons, ammunition to Ukraine

The United States has given Ukraine small arms and ammunition that were seized while being sent from Iranian forces to Tehran-backed rebels in Yemen, the US military said Tuesday.

The transfer last week came as Ukraine suffers from significant shortages of ammunition and US Republican lawmakers block new aid funding, but it does not address Kyiv’s need for key items such as artillery and air defense munitions.

“The US government transferred over 5,000 AK-47s, machine guns, sniper rifles, RPG-7s and over 500,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition to the Ukrainian armed forces” on Thursday, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.

“These weapons will help Ukraine defend against Russia’s invasion” and are enough material to equip a brigade, it said.

The arms and ammunition were seized between May 2021 and February 2023 from four “stateless vessels” as the supplies were being transferred from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to Yemen’s Huthi rebels, CENTCOM said.

“The government obtained ownership of these munitions on December 1, 2023, through the Department of Justice’s civil forfeiture claims,” it said.

The Huthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they say are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza — a significant international security challenge that threatens a major shipping lane.

Congressional impasse
“Iran’s support for armed groups threatens international and regional security, our forces, diplomatic personnel, and citizens in the region, as well as those of our partners. We will continue to do whatever we can to shed light on and stop Iran’s destabilizing activities,” CENTCOM said.

Washington made a similar transfer to Ukraine in early October, providing 1.1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition that was seized from Iranian forces on the way to Yemen.

But funding for crucial artillery and air defense munitions for Ukraine has been held up by Republican lawmakers who have stalled a $60 billion support package in the US Congress since last year.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified during a Senate hearing Tuesday that Washington not living up to its commitment to Kyiv would encourage America’s foes.

“It would be a signal that the United States is an unreliable partner, and that would encourage and embolden autocrats around the globe to do the types of things that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has done,” Austin said.

The United States announced a $300 million assistance package for Kyiv on March 12 — the first since December — that included anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and artillery shells, but warned at the time that it would run out after a few weeks.

That package was funded by using money that the Pentagon saved on other purchases, allowing the US government to provide aid despite the congressional impasse.

US officials have spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging a coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded in 2022 and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.

Washington has been by far Kyiv’s biggest donor of security aid, committing tens of billions of dollars to aid Ukraine since the invasion

Source: VANGUARD NEWS

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Total solar eclipse hits Mexico before moving to US, Canada

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Total solar eclipse hits Mexico before moving to US, Canada

A rare total solar eclipse plunged the Pacific coast of Mexico into complete darkness at 11:07 am (1807 GMT).

The “path of totality,” where the Moon completely obscures the Sun’s light, will streak across Mexico and the United States, before returning to the ocean over Canada’s Atlantic coast, in a celestial spectacle witnessed by tens of millions of people.

Source: PUNCH NEWS

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Senegal’s president names new government

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Senegal’s President Names New Government

Senegal’s President Bassirou Diomaye Faye named a “breakaway” government on Friday, appointing a host of fresh faces to top roles following his landslide election win last month.

The 44-year-old, who has never before held elected office, swept to a first-round victory on a promise of radical reform, becoming the country’s youngest president.

Faye looks set to share responsibilities with his appointed prime minister and former mentor Ousmane Sonko, who helped propel the political newcomer’s rise to power.

Sonko unveiled on Friday a cabinet of 25 ministers, hailing it as a break from the past.

“The government set up here on April 5 is a breakaway government… that embodies the project, a systemic transformation voted for by the Senegalese people,” said Sonko.

Sonko, 49, spearheaded Senegal’s anti-establishment movement but endorsed Faye on the presidential ballot after he was barred from running himself due to a defamation conviction.

Birame Souleye Diop was appointed energy minister, a strategic position in a country that is due to start producing oil and gas in 2024.

Ousmane Diagne, a former public prosecutor at the Dakar Court of Appeal, becomes justice minister.

The government included four women, who were handed the portfolios of foreign affairs, fisheries, family and youth and culture.

Senegal is facing a host of major challenges, including an official unemployment rate of 20 per cent.

Sonko said on Friday the government’s priorities would include employment for young people, lowering the cost of living and protecting human rights.

Source: DAILY TRUST

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Russia preparing to mobilize 300, 000 troops to Ukraine by June 1 – President Zelensky

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Russia preparing to mobilize 300, 000 troops to Ukraine by June 1 – President Zelensky

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of preparing to mobilize an additional 300,000 troops to the battle line in his country by the beginning of June.

Zelensky disclosed this during a press conference in Kyiv on Wednesday.

He, however, said that it was unclear how many troops Ukraine plans to mobilize this year, but backtracked on his previous goals, saying, “we don’t need half a million.”

He said Kyiv “clearly” understands why Russia is looking to draft additional soldiers, and urged that the months of May and June “should be a time of activity for the sake of Ukraine, for the sake of achieving our goals in this war.”

“We clearly understand what Russia is preparing for, what they want, and what they will be drafting soldiers into their army for. Russia is preparing to mobilize 300,000 additional soldiers by June 1.

“And we, all of us, our partners, must have a strong response to Russian operations— any Russian operations. We must win this war,” he said.

This is coming a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a routine spring conscription campaign into action, which called up 150,000 citizens for military service.

Ukraine’s military intelligence also recently reported that Russia was likely aiming to ramp up its mobilization efforts following the country’s presidential election, in which Putin won over 87 percent of the vote.

The Kremlin has faced backlash from Russian citizens in the past over military recruitment efforts to bolster its defenses against Ukraine.

 

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