Iran Condemns France for ‘Repression’ of Protests

Iran on Friday condemned what it called France’s repression of protests after more than 450 people were arrested and nearly as many police were injured in demonstrations against pension reforms.

Protesters clashed with French security forces Thursday in the most serious violence yet of a three-month revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to change the retirement age from 62 to 64.

“We strongly condemn the repression of the peaceful demonstrations of the French people,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian tweeted in French.

“We call on the French government to respect human rights and refrain from using force against the people of the country who are peacefully pursuing their claims,” he added.

His ministry’s spokesman Nasser Kanani had previously urged the French government to “talk to its people and listen to their voices.”

“We do not support destruction or rioting, but we maintain that instead of creating chaos in other countries, listen to the voice of your people and avoid violence against them,” he said.

Kanani was referring to criticism, including from France, of Iran’s response to months-long protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini after the 22-year-old’s arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Hundreds of people have been killed, including dozens of security personnel, and thousands arrested in connection with what Iranian officials described as “riots” fomented by Israel and the West.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran for its response to the protest movement, led mostly by women.

“Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind,” Kanani said, adding that such “violence contradicts sitting on the chair of morality lessons and preaching to others.”

On Friday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 457 people had been arrested and 441 members of the security forces injured the day before during the protests.

Darmanin dismissed calls from protesters to withdraw the pension reform.

“I don’t think we should withdraw this law because of violence,” he said. “If so, that means there’s no state. We should accept a democratic, social debate, but not a violent debate.”

Los Angeles Schools, Union Leaders Reach Deal After Strike

The Los Angeles Unified School District and union leaders said Friday that they had reached a deal on pay raises for bus drivers, custodians and other support staff after a three-day strike that shut down the nation’s second-largest school system.

The deal includes a series of retroactive raises going back to 2021 that will collectively hike worker pay by about 30%, said Max Arias, executive director of Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union.

The deal also provides workers with a one-time $1,000 raise, sets the district’s minimum wage at $22.52 and creates a $3 million educational and professional development fund for union members, district Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. Free health care will be provided for any employee working at least four hours a day, he said.

“I have no doubt that this contract will be seen as a precedent-setting, historic contract that elevates the dignity, the humanity of our workforce, respects the needs of our students, but also guarantees the fiscal viability of our district for years to come,” Carvalho said.

He announced the deal alongside Max Arias, executive director of Local 99, and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass. Both sides credited Bass, who took office in December, with helping reach the agreement.

The deal must still be voted on by the full union, which represents about 30,000 workers who also include cafeteria workers, special education assistants and other support staff. Those workers walked off the job Tuesday through Thursday amid stalled talks, and classes resumed Friday.

Members of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing 35,000 educators, counselors and other staff, joined the picket lines in solidarity.

The union said district support staffers earn, on average, about $25,000 per year and many live in poverty because of low pay or limited work hours while struggling with inflation and the area’s high cost of housing.

The deal came just days after the union accused the district of engaging in unfair labor practices. Arias noted that another contract must be negotiated next year.

“Thanks to the parents of Los Angeles and the students of Los Angeles and everyone who stood shoulder to shoulder with our members,” he said.

SEIU members have been working without a contract since June 2020, while the contract for teachers expired in June 2022. The unions decided last week to stop accepting extensions.

Teachers waged a six-day strike in 2019 over pay and contract issues, but schools remained open.

Ukrainian Mother Faces Worst Fear: Child Deported to Russia

According to Ukrainian officials, more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported to Russia or Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories. As of March 24, only 324 have been returned, including Olena Dudnik’s son, Andriy. Lesia Bakalets reports on one mother’s ordeal.

US, Canada Announce Deal on Asylum-Seekers During Biden Trip 

U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an immigration deal Friday to stop asylum-seekers from crossing the U.S.-Canada border at unofficial crossings.

The United States and Canada are working to “address historic levels of migration in our hemisphere,” Biden told reporters at a joint news conference Friday in Ottawa during his first visit to Canada as president.

The migration agreement allows each country to turn away asylum-seekers who reach the border at unofficial crossings and is aimed at helping Canada limit the rising number of asylum-seekers who have crossed into the country from the United States after entering the U.S. elsewhere.

Under the previous migration pact, U.S. and Canadian officials were able to turn back asylum-seekers in both directions at formal points of entry, but this did not apply to unofficial crossings. Canada had been pressing the United States to expand the deal, called the Safe Third Country Agreement, to include unofficial crossings.

Trudeau has faced growing pressure to stem the rising number of asylum-seekers coming to Canada, many of them traveling on Roxham Road, a dirt path between New York State and Quebec.

Nearly 40,000 asylum-seekers crossed into Canada from the United States in 2022, the highest number since Canada began tracking such crossings in 2017.

Trudeau said the agreement would go into effect after midnight Saturday. The quick implementation is aimed at avoiding a surge of migrants trying to cross the border before the change takes effect.

As part of the deal, Canada has agreed to create a pathway for 15,000 refugees from Latin America to enter the country, to try to ease pressure on the U.S. southern border.

“We continue to be open to regular migrants. And we will increase the number of asylum-seekers we accept from the Western Hemisphere in order to compensate for closing these irregular crossings,” Trudeau said.

Critics of the migration deal say asylum-seekers will still attempt to cross the border undetected but will now do so in more dangerous ways.

In addition to immigration, Biden and Trudeau discussed a range of issues Friday, including the war in Ukraine, efforts to counter Russia and China, and a worsening security situation in Haiti.

Trudeau announced Canada would invest an additional $100 million in Haiti to support the country’s national police amid increasing gang violence in the country.

Biden said “gangs have essentially taken the place of the government” in Haiti.

He said that the idea of deploying an international force to Haiti was “not in play at the moment” but that it had not been taken off the table.

“We also are looking at whether or not the international community through the United Nations could play a larger role,” Biden said.

On the economic front, Trudeau said Canada had signed an agreement with IBM to expand research and development to build semiconductors to counter China’s growing economic power.

“With growing competition, including from an increasingly assertive China, there’s no doubt why it matters that we turn to each other now, to build up a North American market, on everything from semiconductors to solar panel batteries,” Trudeau said in a speech to the Canadian Parliament earlier in the day.

Also addressing the parliament Friday, Biden hailed the relationship between the two countries, saying Canadians and Americans are “two people … sharing one heart.”

In his nearly 40-minute speech, Biden said “no two nations on Earth are bound by such close ties, friendship, family, commerce and culture.” He was warmly welcomed by Canada’s Parliament, which gave the U.S. president loud cheers and a standing ovation.

Biden and his wife, Jill, traveled to Canada on Thursday and met Trudeau and his family at their Ottawa home.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Росія заявляє про зростання виробництва стратегічних бомбардувальників

«Оновлені літаки мають значно розширені бойові можливості, значний потенціал» – корпорація «Ростех»

UN Weekly Roundup: March 18-24, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Activists thirsty for action at water conference

A major U.N. water conference concluded Friday with more than 700 commitments for action across many sectors to stem a growing global water crisis. Thousands of participants from government, the private sector, academia and civil society participated in the three days of meetings that resulted in a new Water Action Agenda. However, calls by at least 150 countries for the U.N. secretary-general to create a special U.N. envoy for water have so far gone unheeded, although U.N. officials said Antonio Guterres is giving the proposal serious consideration.

UN Seeks Game Changers to Address Global Water Crisis

Black Sea grain deal continues, but for how long?

On March 18, the United Nations announced that the Black Sea Grain Initiative would continue but did not specify for how long. Turkey, which, along with the U.N., helped broker the deal, also did not specify the length of the extension. Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said it is for 120 days (which is what the agreement calls for) but Russia’s foreign ministry said it has agreed to only a 60-day extension. The package deal facilitates the export of Ukrainian grain and Russian food and fertilizer products to international markets.

Black Sea Grain Deal Extended, Russia Says for 60 Days

Tensions increasing on Korean Peninsula

A senior United Nations official warned Monday that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is heading in the “wrong direction” days after North Korea fired its second intermediate-range ballistic missile of the year, followed by a short-range ballistic missile test Sunday. U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenca told the Security Council that tensions are increasing, with no off-ramps in sight. On Friday, North Korea claimed it had tested a new underwater nuclear attack drone, which it said would create a “radioactive tsunami” on enemy shores.

UN: Tensions on Korean Peninsula Headed in ‘Wrong Direction’

Guterres meets with EU Commission, presses climate action

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres brought an urgent climate message to the European Union summit Thursday in Brussels, encouraging leaders of the bloc’s 27 member nations to take dramatic action. Following the release earlier in the week of a grim report by the organization’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Guterres said dramatic action is needed, as the planet gets closer to the “tipping point” that will make it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

UN’s Guterres Brings Climate Warning to EU Summit

Calls for investigation of rights violations in northern Ethiopia

U.N. human rights experts warned Wednesday that peace in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region will not last unless violations committed during more than two years of armed conflict are investigated and the perpetrators are held to account.

Rights Experts: Violations in Ethiopia Must Be Investigated to Ensure Durable Peace

World Tuberculosis Day

After decades of progress, cases of the lung infection tuberculosis are on the rise again. Last year 1.6 million people died from the disease. India has the highest number of cases, with more than half-a-million related deaths in 2021 — about a third of the global total. March 24 is World TB Day and there is hope of a vaccine being developed in the next few years. The World Health Organization has set a target for eradicating TB by 2030, primarily through diagnosis, treatment and the development of a vaccine. Watch this report from VOA’s Henry Ridgwell for more:

World TB Day Sees Global Push to Eradicate Disease By 2030

Good news

Nearly 420 million children benefited from free school meals last year, a new World Food Program report said Tuesday, providing an important safety net as hunger reaches unprecedented crisis levels worldwide. The WFP said governments seem to be realizing the value of protecting the health and nutrition of children.

UN: School Meal Programs More than Just a Plate of Food

In brief

— Ukraine and the International Criminal Court signed a cooperation agreement Thursday on the establishment of a country office for The Hague-based tribunal in Ukraine. The court has been investigating a wide range of possible international crimes carried out since Russia’s invasion February 24, 2022. Earlier this week, the court made headlines when it issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another senior Russian official, charging them with criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. The Kremlin rejected the court’s move saying, like many other states, Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court.

— The U.N., the World Bank, the European Union and the government of Ukraine said in the second Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment report that after a year of war, direct damage to infrastructure and people’s lives is calculated at more than $135 billion and social and economic losses amount to $290 billion. The country’s agriculture sector was hard hit, estimated to have lost $40 billion, overwhelmingly from destroyed equipment and mined farmland.

— The World Health Organization expressed concern this week at the rising number of cholera cases, especially in countries that have not had outbreaks in decades. As of March 20, two dozen countries have reported cases. The WHO says the response is hampered in part due to the global shortage of the oral cholera vaccine, as well as overstretched medical personnel, who are dealing with multiple health emergencies.

— As gang violence continues unabated in Haiti hindering people’s ability to access water and food, the World Food Program said Thursday that half of the population – nearly 5 million people – are struggling to feed themselves. Inflation and food prices are also hitting Haitians hard. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification of IPC, says 1.8 million people are estimated to be at emergency Phase 4 levels. The WFP says it urgently needs $125 million for the next six months to assist the most vulnerable.

— As the new school year got underway in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, called on de facto Taliban authorities “to allow all girls to return to school with immediate effect.” It said the “unjustified and shortsighted decision” to continue to bar more than 1 million Afghan girls from attending classes “marks another grim milestone in the steady erosion of girls’ and women’s rights nationwide.”

— WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on China Saturday to be transparent in sharing data on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data recently made public suggests that raccoon dogs were present in the Wuhan animal market and may have been infected with the coronavirus. The Chinese city was where the first infections were reported and many of the first human cases were centered around the animal market. The WHO says the information is not conclusive but could shed new light on the origins of the virus and should have been shared three years ago.

What we are watching next week

On March 29, the General Assembly will take up a proposal from Vanuatu and backed by more than 100 countries that would seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice clarifying the legal obligations and consequences of and to states on protecting the rights of current and future generations from climate change. The resolution began in 2019 as the brainchild of students from the Pacific Island nation, which is among several small island states that are suffering the effects of the climate crisis but have contributed little to it.

New Russian Attacks Kill Civilians in Ukraine’s Donbas Region

Russian forces fired a barrage of missiles Friday on northern and southern sections of the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

At least 10 civilians were killed and 20 were wounded in several parts of Ukraine by the missile strikes, according to regional officials. Five people died in Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province when a missile hit an aid station.

Officials in Kyiv said the Russians attacked with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. According to Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko, the Russians targeted the Center for the Registration of Homeless Persons, which recently also worked as the Point of Invincibility, where war-stricken residents could warm up, recharge their cellphones and get food. Five refugees lived in the destroyed wing at the time of the attack.

Russian forces also used air-launched missiles, exploding drones and gliding bombs to attack several regions, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat said.

Two civilians were killed and nine were wounded in the town of Bilopillia in Sumy province overnight in airstrikes and rocket and artillery attacks, according to officials in the northeastern region. In southern Ukraine, Russian shelling killed one person in the city of Kherson.

Ukrainian forces are poised for a counteroffensive in the spring as warmer weather sets in and new weapons, including tanks, are coming in from the West to dislodge Russian troops from occupied areas.

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and now deputy head of the country’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, said its forces were ready to repel a counterattack.

“Our General Staff is assessing all that,” he said. Medvedev asserted that any Ukrainian attempt to take Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, could trigger a nuclear response from Moscow.

“An attempt to split part of the state away means an encroachment at the very existence of the state,” he said. “Quite obviously, it warrants the use of any weapons. I hope our ‘friends’ across the ocean realize that.”

Medvedev’s warning echoes Russia’s security doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack or one with conventional weapons that threatens “the very existence of the Russian state.”

Additionally, Medvedev said Western weapons, such as the U.S.-made Patriot air defense missile systems supplied to Ukraine, could be targeted. Russian officials claim that foreign instructors stationed in Ukraine to train Ukrainian soldiers would also be targeted.

“If Patriot or other weapons are delivered to the territory of Ukraine along with foreign experts, they certainly make legitimate targets, which must be destroyed,” Medvedev said in video posted to his messaging app channel. “They are combatants, they are the enemies of our state, and they must be destroyed.”

Kyiv denies this assertion and says soldiers are receiving their training in the U.S.

Medvedev disclosed that the Kremlin wants to create a “sanitary cordon” of up to 100 kilometers around Russian-held areas, so that short- and medium-range weapons can’t hit them.

He asserted that Moscow may even try to grab a chunk of Ukrainian territory stretching all the way to the Polish border.

In an attempt to counter the rising threat from Russia, air force commanders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark said Friday that they had signed a letter of intent to create a unified Nordic air defense.

The intention is to be able to operate jointly based on known ways under NATO, according to statements by the four countries’ armed forces.

The move to integrate the air forces was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year, commander of the Danish air force, Major General Jan Dam, told Reuters.

In its daily assessment of the war, Britain’s Defense Ministry said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “severely dislocated the Russian military’s training system.”

In a Twitter post Friday, the ministry said Russia has “likely redeployed at least 1,000 troops who had been training at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in southwestern Belarus.”

Russia has likely not dismantled the tented training camp, the British intelligence update said, suggesting that Russia “is considering continuing the training program” under the “much less experienced Belarusian army.”

Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

US Vice President to Tour Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia

Vice President Kamala Harris will become the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit the African continent when she begins a tour of Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia next week. Her office says she will work on strengthening partnerships, security and economic prosperity, and analysts say her mere presence – as the first female vice president who has ancestral ties to the continent – is significant in itself. VOA’s Anita Powell, who will be traveling with the vice president, reports from Washington.

Elderly Ukrainian Helicopters Pummel Russians From Afar

Skimming the treetops, three Soviet-era attack helicopters bank and swoop down on a field after an early-morning mission to the front lines in the fight against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Each day, they might fly three or four sorties, says the commander, whose two-crew Mi-24 helicopter, built about 40 years ago, is older than he is.

“We are carrying out combat tasks to destroy enemy vehicles, enemy personnel, we are working with pitch-up attacks from a distance from where the enemy can’t get us with their air defense system,” said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity for operational security reasons, in line with military regulations.

The conflict in Ukraine is largely an artillery war, with territory being fought for inch by inch under a barrage of shells and missiles. But Ukraine’s aviation capabilities play a significant role in the fight, the pilot said.

“The importance of the helicopters is huge,” said the commander, who is part of Ukraine’s 12th Army Aviation Brigade.

Footage from a camera attached to the helicopter during a recent combat mission shows it flying over fields pockmarked with craters from artillery bombing, and firing missiles at Russian trenches that cut through the landscape.

“We are shooting from the big distance and hit the target clearly, like there’s a cross on the target and (the missiles) go by themselves where they should go,” the commander said.

He would, however, like to fly a newer model.

“We need to master something new, something from abroad,” the commander said. “It has better characteristics. You can maneuver more on it, there are more rockets on it and the weapons are more powerful. We can do more tasks with better quality and with less risk for us.”

Several countries, including the United States and Britain, have pledged to send, or have already sent, helicopters to Ukraine as part of military aid since the start of the war sparked by Russia’s invasion in Feb 2022.