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India's economy 5th biggest in the world: Jaishankar

NEW YORK, Sept 24: External affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday while in the 20th century, colonialism ensured that India was one of the poorest nations, it stood proudly as the 5th biggest economy in the world at the moment.

In his address in New York on a special ‘India@75’ Showcasing India-UN Partnership in Action’ event on the sidelines of UNGA in New York, Jaishankar said India today envisions itself as a developed country by 2047, the 100th year of its independence.

"In the 18th century, India accounted for a quarter of the global GDP. By the middle of the 20th, colonialism ensured that we were one of the poorest nations in the world. That was our state when we became the founding member of the United Nations," the minister said.

Jaishankar said in the 75th year of its independence, India stands before the UN today "proudly as the fifth biggest economy in the world" and is still rising as the "strongest, most enthusiastic and definitely the most argumentative democracy".

On September 2, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that India had surged past the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest economy in the world. The latest change in rankings is based on quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) numbers in current dollars for the period ending December 2021. India increased its lead over the UK in the quarter ending March, IMF data showed.

Jaishankar also spoke of the progress of digital public infrastructure in India and said it is designed to ensure that "no one is left behind."

“In recent days digital technology has successfully advanced our food safety net to 800 million Indians. More than USD 300 billion of benefits have been distributed digitally, 400 million people get food regularly,” he said.

"India today envisions itself as a developed country by 2047, at the 100 years of our independence. We dream of digitising our most remote villages and landing on the moon," he said and smiled saying "perhaps digitising" the moon as well.

India stands committed to strengthen its partnership with United Nations to ensure a brighter future for the planet, he said. “We have full faith in the principles of UN and its charter. The world in our view is one family today,” Jasihankar said.

“The conflict in Ukraine has aggravated food and energy inflation to make it one of the biggest challenges of our times. India has responded by supplying food grains including as grant assistance in recent years to Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Yemen and several other countries,” he said.

The event was attended by dignitaries from the UN, including president of the 77th session of UN General Assembly Csaba Korosi, UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohammed, Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid and UNDP administrator Achim Steiner.

Jaishankar said India believes that development is a public good and open sourcing is the best way forward.

China Blockade Would Be An Act Of War; Won't Surrender, Says Taiwan: Report

TAIPEI, Sept 23: A Chinese blockade of Taiwan or the seizure of an offshore island would be considered an act of war and Taiwan would not surrender, a senior Taiwanese security official said using unusually strong and direct language.

While Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and others in her administration have repeatedly said that while they want peace they would defend themselves if attacked, the details of what Taiwan would consider an attack warranting a response have generally been left unsaid, given the many scenarios.

Chinese military action might not be as straightforward as a full frontal assault on Taiwan: it could include actions like a blockade to try to force Taiwan to accept China's rule, strategists say.

Tension between Beijing, which views Taiwan as its own territory, and Taipei have spiked since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in early August.

To show its anger, China mounted military exercises around Taiwan that included firing missiles and steps to mount a blockade. China has since then continued its military activities, though on a smaller scale.

That has focused attention in Taiwan and capitals of friendly countries, like the United States and Japan, on how a any conflict with China could play out, and how Taiwan and its allies might respond.

The senior Taiwanese security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China's drills after the Pelosi visit had shown what might happen in case the worst came to the worst, and focused thought on how Taiwan would react.

"A blockade is an act of war; seizing an offshore island is an act of war," the official said, adding Taipei believed Beijing was unlikely to take either of those actions at the moment.

"Their only purpose to seize (offshore islands) is to force us to negotiate or surrender. But we will not surrender or negotiate."

Short of an outright invasion, many military strategists, and even Taiwan's defence ministry, have said China could try and seize one of Taiwan's offshore islands, like the Kinmen and Matsu archipelagos, just off China's coast.

"Those are military actions. There is no room for ambiguity," the official said.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The official said Taipei did not rule out the possibility of Beijing launching large-scale military exercises near Taiwan next year, when the island gears up for a presidential election in early 2024.

"This is what we are worried about at the moment," the official said, adding other possible Chinese actions could include stepping up its "grey-zone" tactics near Taiwan including incursions with militia boats or cyber attacks.

The official said countries other than the United States, which sails warships through the Taiwan Strait about once a month, should show Beijing that an attack on Taiwan would not go unanswered.

"Building up deterrence is very important. Not just America, European countries and Japan should join the force of deterrence."

US President Joe Biden said in comments broadcast on Sunday that US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, his most explicit statement on the issue.

With the world's most advanced semiconductors produced in Taiwan, it is in the world's interest to ensure stability, the official said. "Pressure in the Taiwan Strait is pressuring chip supplies."

Tsai, who has said Taiwan would not provoke China or "rashly advance", has made bolstering defence a priority, including a double-digit increase in defence spending next year.

While China has said it prefers peaceful "reunification" and has offered Taiwan a Hong Kong-style autonomy deal, it has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Taiwan's democratically elected government says only Taiwan's people can decide their future.

50 killed in Iran protest crackdown, says NGO; thousands join pro-hijab rallies

TEHRAN, Sept 23: Hundreds of Iranians across at least 13 cities from Tehran to Mahsa Amini's hometown of Saqez have poured into the streets, voicing pent-up anger over social and political repression. Authorities have alleged that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to foment unrest.

At least 50 people have been killed after Iranian security forces cracked down on protests which erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the morality police, Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) NGO said on Friday.

The NGO said the number of deaths went up after six people were killed by fire from the security forces in Rezvanshahr town, northern Gilan province, on Thursday night, with other deaths recorded in Babol and Amol, also in northern Iran. State TV, meanwhile, suggested the death toll from this week's unrest could be as high as 26.

There had been protests in some 80 cities and other urban centres since the demonstrations started one week ago, it added.

Iranian counterprotesters gathered across the country on Friday in a show of support for authorities after nearly a week of anti-government protests and unrest over the death of a young woman who was being held by the morality police.

A few thousand people attended a rally in the capital, Tehran, where they waved Iranian flags, and similar demonstrations were held in other cities. The government claimed the demonstrations of support were spontaneous. Similar rallies have been held during past periods of widespread protests.

The pro-government demonstrators chanted against America and Israel, according to state media, reflecting the official line that foreign countries are fomenting the latest unrest.

The crisis unfolding in Iran began as a public outpouring of anger over the death of Amini, a young woman who was arrested by the morality police in Tehran last week for allegedly wearing her Islamic headscarf too loosely. The police said she died of a heart attack and was not mistreated, but her family has cast doubt on that account.

Amini's death has sparked sharp condemnation from Western countries and the United Nations and touched a national nerve. Hundreds of Iranians across at least 13 cities from Tehran to Amini's northwest Kurdish hometown of Saqez have poured into the streets, voicing pent-up anger over social and political repression. Authorities have alleged that unnamed foreign countries and opposition groups are trying to foment unrest.

Videos on social media show protesters in Tehran torching a police car and confronting officers at close range. Elsewhere in the capital, videos show gunfire sounding out as protesters bolt from riot police, shouting: “They are shooting at people! Oh my God, they're killing people!”

Biden vows to defend Taiwan, shatters Xi’s unification dream

WASHINGTON, Sept 20: Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dream of unifying the breakaway Republic Taiwan with the mainland may turn into a nightmare with President Joe Biden saying that US troops would defend Taipei in case of an “unprecedented attack” by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Despite clarification by the White House post Biden statement, this is the fourth time that the US President and Chief Executive has openly said that America would defend Taiwan. White House, as in the past, added that there was no change in US policy towards Taiwan post statement.

In his most explicit statement, President Joe Biden in an interview with CBS’s 60 minutes, aired on Sunday, said ‘yes’ to US forces defending the island republic if there was an unprecedented attack by the Chinese Army.

Despite the convulsions with the US State Department over his statement, President Joe Biden’s emphatic words provide much-needed succor to Taiwan, Japan and some Southeast Asian countries who are at the receiving end of Beijing’s wolf warrior diplomacy and military belligerence of the PLA in the Indo-Pacific.

The PLA has also been involved in a 28-month military stand-off with the Indian Army in the East Ladakh sector after Beijing decided to unilaterally change the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in East Ladakh sector beefing up its military positions all along the 3488 km line.

President Biden’s statement clearly indicates that America is as much focused on China in the context of Taiwan as it is on Russia in the context of the ongoing Ukraine war.

But the fundamental difference is that while in Ukraine, the US is supplying billions of dollars worth of weapons to Kyviv to defend itself from the Red Army invasion, the US President in case of Taiwan is willing to commit American troops on the ground to defend against the PLA. This means that US military presence in the Indo-Pacific will grow to deter any Chinese aggression against Taiwan or Japan.

President Biden’s unequivocal statement will add more strength to the QUAD grouping as all the four partners face either military or diplomatic or trade friction with China. Given the proximity of Japanese territory to Taiwan, any military emergency on Taipei will drag Tokyo into the conflict and this was reflected in Chinese missiles landing in the Japanese EEZ post visit of Nancy Pelosi to the island republic.

The continued pressure from President Biden will also refrain China from opening fronts with other democratic countries and deter newfound supporters of Beijing in the Indian sub-continent and within the Asean.

Queen Elizabeth Laid To Rest At Windsor Castle

LONDON, Sept 20: Queen Elizabeth II's coffin was on Monday lowered into the Royal Vault at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle - her final resting place, bringing to an end public mourning for Britain's longest-reigning monarch.

The "instruments of state" with which she was crowned in 1953 -- the Imperial State Crown, orb and sceptre -- were removed from the coffin and placed on the high altar.
Her eldest son and successor, King Charles III, placed The Queen's Company Camp Colour of the Grenadier of Guards on the coffin. As the coffin was lowered, a lone piper played a haunting lament.

The queen's titles were read publicly for the last time: "The late Most High, Most Mighty, and Most Excellent Monarch, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter."

Later in the evening, in a private family service, the coffin of Elizabeth and her husband of more than seven decades, Prince Philip, who died last year aged 99, will be buried together in the same chapel where her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, also rest.

Queen Elizabeth's coffin arrived at Windsor Castle, her final resting place, on Monday after a day of matchless pageantry that drew world leaders to her funeral and hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to say farewell to a revered monarch.

Inside the majestic Westminster Abbey where the funeral was held, some 500 presidents, prime ministers, foreign royal family members and dignitaries, including Joe Biden of the United States, were among the 2,000 congregation

After the funeral, her flag-draped casket was pulled by sailors through London's streets on a gun carriage in one of the largest military processions seen in Britain, involving thousands of members of the armed forces dressed in ceremonial finery.

Hundreds of thousands of well-wishers lined the route her hearse took from London, throwing flowers, cheering and clapping as it passed from the city to the English countryside that she so loved much.

Queen Elizabeth died on September 8 at Balmoral Castle, her summer home in the Scottish highlands. Her health had been in decline, and for months the monarch who had carried out hundreds of official engagements well into her 90s had withdrawn from public life.

She was photographed just two days before she died, looking frail but smiling and holding a walking stick as she appointed Liz Truss as her 15th and final prime minister.

Putin, Xi Agree To Inject Stability, Positive Energy into World

SAMARKAND, Sept 15: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met for their first face-to-face talks since the start of the conflict in Ukraine on Thursday, hailing their strategic ties in defiance of the West.

Sitting across from each other at two long rounded tables and flanked by aides, the two leaders met on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan.

The meeting was part of Xi's first trip abroad since the early days of the pandemic and for Putin a chance to show Russia has not been fully isolated despite Western efforts.

"China is willing to make efforts with Russia to assume the role of great powers, and play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil," Xi told Putin at the talks.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV also quoted Xi as saying China was willing to work with Russia to support "each other's core interests".

Putin took a clear broadside at the United States, which has been leading efforts to support Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia.

"Attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly form and are completely unacceptable," Putin said.

"We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis," Putin told Xi, while reiterating Moscow's backing for China on Taiwan.

"We adhere to the principle of one China. We condemn the provocation of the US and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait," Putin said, after a US Senate committee on Wednesday took the first step towards Washington directly providing billions of dollars in military aid to Taiwan.

It was the first in-person meeting between the two leaders since Putin saw Xi in early February for the Winter Olympic Games, days before the Russian leader launched the military offensive in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has touted the SCO summit in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand as showing there is an "alternative" to Western dominated international institutions.

The SCO -- made up of China, India, Pakistan, Russia and the ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- was set up in 2001 as a political, economic and security organisation to rival Western institutions.

The leaders of those countries were to attend, as well as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.

Putin met with the leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan earlier Thursday, as well as with Raisi and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

With both Raisi and Sharif he said ties were "developing positively", while the Iranian leader told Putin that US-backed sanctions on both countries would only make their relationship "stronger".

"The Americans think whichever country they impose sanctions on, it will be stopped, their perception is a wrong one," Raisi said.

For Putin, the summit comes at an important time, as his forces face major battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and amid a continued Western push to make Russia an international pariah.

For Xi, it is an opportunity to shore up his credentials as a global statesman ahead of a pivotal congress of the ruling Communist Party in October.

The Chinese leader also met Thursday with Belarus's strongman leader Lukashenko, who was quoted by state news agency Belta as thanking Xi for China's "serious support in these difficult times".

Lukashenko has been shunned by Western leaders after a fierce crackdown on the opposition two years ago and for backing Russia on Ukraine.

Formerly Cold War allies with a tempestuous relationship, China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years as part of what they call a "no-limits" relationship acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States.

The two countries have also stepped up military cooperation, with China sending hundreds of troops to take part in military exercises last month in Russia's Far East.

The defence ministry in Moscow said Thursday that Russian and Chinese warships were on a joint patrol in the Pacific and planning a live-fire artillery exercise at sea.

The main day of the SCO summit will be on Friday, with sessions involving all the attending leaders.

Putin was also set to hold talks Friday with Erdogan and Indian premier Narendra Modi.

Security was tight in Samarkand, a city of grand tiled mosques that was one of the hubs of Silk Road trade routes between China and Europe, with a huge police presence on the streets and armoured vehicles parked downtown.

Modi To Meet Putin In Samarkand

SAMARKAND, Sept 15: Trade and geopolitics will be on the agenda when Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a regional summit in Uzbekistan's Samarkand on Friday.

Putin and Modi will attend the two-day 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that begins on Thursday.

This is the first in-person summit of the bloc in two years, shaking off the Covid fears and providing a rare opportunity for all its eight heads of state to meet on the sidelines of the event to have face-to-face talks on pressing global and regional issues of common concern.

"Russian President Putin is going to participate in the forthcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit. PM Modi is also going. We've already announced that there will be a number of meetings in Samarkand, including with PM Modi," said Russian Ambassador to India Denis Alipov.

Earlier, the official Russian news agency TASS had quoted Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov as saying, "A conversation on the international agenda with Modi will also take place, the sides will discuss issues of strategic stability, the situation in the Asia Pacific Region, and, of course, cooperation within major multilateral formats, such as the UN, the G20 and the SCO."

"This is particularly important, because India will preside in the UN Security Council in December, and, in 2023, India will lead the SCO and will also chair the G20," Ushakov told reporters on Tuesday.

The two leaders had spoken to each other in July and reviewed the implementation of the decisions taken during President Putin's visit to India in December 2021. Before that, Modi and Putin talked over the phone on February 24 after Russia attacked Ukraine.

Modi left for Samarkand on Thursday, tweeting, "Leaving for Samarkand, Uzbekistan to attend the SCO Summit, which will witness the exchange of views on a wide range of regional and global issues."

In his pre-departure statement, Modi said he was looking forward to exchanging views on topical regional and international issues, as well as on expansion and further deepening of multifaceted and mutually beneficial cooperation within the grouping.

The Beijing-headquartered SCO is an eight-member economic and security bloc consisting of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.

‘One problem less’: Jaishankar’s measured response on Hot Springs disengagement'

NEW DELHI, Sept 14: The disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops at Patrolling Point (PP)-15 in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has resulted in “one problem less at the border”, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday.

Jaishankar’s remarks, made at a joint media interaction with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna, came a day ahead of the participation of the leaders of India and China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit at Samarkand in Uzbekistan. There has been no official word of a possible bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping on the margins of the summit.

Colonna said the situation in the Indo-Pacific and the “many challenges that have emerged because of China” figured in her discussions with Jaishankar. “We have basically the same analyses, we share the same concerns because we know the role that the Chinese are playing and we want to make sure there is no imbalance in the Indo-Pacific,” she said, speaking in French.

Referring to the withdrawal of Indian and Chinese troops at PP-15 in Hot Springs area, Jaishankar said: “I don’t think I would say anything new...today except I would recognise that we have had disengagement at PP-15. The disengagement, as I understand, was completed. And that is one problem less on the border.”

The two sides completed pulling back their troops at PP-15 on September 12. Indian officials have described the disengagement at this friction point as a “positive development” but have said the two sides need to take forward their talks to address the remaining friction points on the LAC.

Responding to a question on China blocking efforts by India and its partners to sanction Pakistan-based terrorists at the UN Security Council, Jaishankar said India and France have cooperated on this issue for many years.

“I think the listing of terrorists is done because the terrorists are a threat to the entire international community. So it is not something which countries necessarily do in pursuit of a narrow national agenda. If somebody blocks listing, particularly in cases where the merits of going ahead are very apparent, I think they do so frankly at peril to their own interests and to their own reputation,” he said.

Colonna highlighted France’s interests in the Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean and said France and India will continue to support each other to ensure a “balance of powers” in the region. This will also enable both countries to develop their own strategic autonomy to secure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, she said.

“Of course, we need to do more with India and with other partners as well so that we are more present [in the Indo-Pacific],” Colonna said. “We want to be more active so that we can present an alternative to the countries in the Pacific, whether it is in development, culture or any other areas.”

France has stepped up its engagement in the Indo-Pacific as the region is home to some 1.5 million French citizens on its island territories and 93% of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Ukraine Recaptures More Ground After Russia's Stunning Military Setback

KRAMATORSK, Sept 12: Ukrainian forces said Monday their lightning counter-offensive took back yet more ground in the past 24 hours, as Russia responded with strikes on some of the recaptured areas.

The territorial shifts marked one of Russia's biggest reversals since its troops were turned back from Kyiv in the earliest days of the nearly seven months of fighting, yet Moscow signalled it was no closer to agreeing a negotiated peace.

The retreat of Russian troops in recent days has drawn weeping and relieved locals into bomb-cratered streets, including on Sunday in the strategic but heavily damaged town of Izyum.

"It's not enough to say I'm happy. I just don't have enough words to express myself," said Yuriy Kurochka, 64.

Yet by Monday Moscow had announced air, rocket and artillery attacks on reclaimed areas in the Kharkiv region, a day after Kyiv said Russian strikes on electricity infrastructure caused power failures.

The retaliatory fire came as Ukraine said forces had retaken more than 20 additional settlements, claiming "Russian troops are hastily abandoning their positions and fleeing".

Kyiv had already announced the recapture of Izyum in the country's east, while Ukraine said 3,000 square kilometers of its territory (1,158 square miles) had been prised from Russian control since September's start.

"Ukraine has turned the tide in its favour, but the current counter-offensive will not end the war," US think tank Institute for the Study of War tweeted.

Ukraine also said on Monday its forces recaptured 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) in the southern Kherson region which were in addition to the huge gains in the east at the weekend.

Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told French daily Le Monde, in an interview published Monday, the war has entered a new phase with the help of Western weapons.

"We started by using the HIMARS mobile artillery systems [from the US] to cut off enemy supply lines and destroy fuel and weapon depots," he reportedly said.

Moscow conceded having lost territory, which experts saw as a serious blow to its war ambitions, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saw no prospects for negotiations.

"The special military operation continues and will continue until the objectives that were originally set are achieved," he added, using Russia's terminology for the internationally condemned war.

Eastern parts of Ukraine were hit with widespread electricity blackouts on Sunday evening, which President Volodymyr Zelensky said deliberately hit civilian infrastructure. He blamed "Russian terrorists".

The blackouts hit regions with an estimated combined population of nine million people -- including territory controlled by Russia.

'Weapons, weapons, weapons'

The Russian strikes hit 15 locations on Sunday, from Kramatorsk in the east to Mykolaiv in the south and Dnipro in between, Ukraine's military said.

Ukraine had already lost all power from the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, threatened by shelling since February's invasion.

The country's nuclear energy agency said the final reactor at the plant, Europe's largest nuclear power station, had been shut off as a safety measure.

Kyiv and Moscow have shown "signs that they are interested" in creating a security zone around the Zaporizhzhia plant, the UN atomic watchdog said Monday.

"What we need here really is Ukraine and Russia to agree on a very simple principle of not attacking or not shelling the plant," IAEA director general Rafael Grossi told reporters.

The speed of Ukraine's fightback has apparently caught Russia's military off-guard, bringing swathes of territory Moscow had controlled for months back into Kyiv's fold.

Images posted by the Ukrainian military showed crates of munitions and military hardware scattered across territory abandoned by Russian forces.

In his evening address Sunday, Zelensky praised the soldiers who had "liberated hundreds of our cities and villages... and most recently Balakliya, Izyum and Kupiansk".

Around Balakliya, one of the first towns to be retaken by Ukrainian troops, AFP journalists saw evidence of fierce battles, with buildings destroyed or damaged and streets mostly deserted.

The country's foreign minister used the momentum to appeal to Western allies for more stockpiles of sophisticated weapons.

"Weapons, weapons, weapons have been on our agenda since spring. I am grateful to partners who have answered our call: Ukraine's battlefield successes are our shared ones," Dmytro Kuleba said.

King Charles Leads Procession Of Queen Elizabeth's Coffin

EDINBURGH, Sept 12: On foot and flanked by his three siblings, King Charles III on Monday led a sombre procession carrying Queen Elizabeth II's body through hushed Edinburgh streets packed with mourners.

The queen's oak coffin had on Sunday been driven to the Scottish capital from the Balmoral estate where she died last week aged 96, and held overnight at the royal residence of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

After a regimental band played "God Save The King", her four children -- Charles, Princess Anne, Princes Edward and Andrew -- stepped out behind the hearse flanked by kilted soldiers.

Thousands of people lined the route to watch as the procession made its way to the 12th-century St Giles' Cathedral as cannon fired at one-minute intervals from Edinburgh Castle.

The royals were joined by Prime Minister Liz Truss and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for a service of prayer and reflection for the monarch who reigned for a record-breaking 70 years.

Later, the king and senior royals will stand vigil at the cathedral, with the coffin draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland and topped with a wreath including heather from Balmoral, and the ancient Crown of Scotland.

The public will also be able to pay their respects to the monarch known as "Queen of Scots" until the coffin is flown to London on Tuesday ahead of the state funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 19.

Russia Loses Key Ukraine City, May Prove To Be War's Turning Point

KYIV, Sept 11: Moscow abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, in a sudden collapse of one of the war's principal front lines after Ukrainian forces made a rapid advance.

The swift fall of Izium in Kharkiv province was Moscow's worst defeat since its troops were forced back from the capital Kyiv in March. This could prove a decisive turning point in the 6-month-old war, with thousands of Russian soldiers abandoning ammunition stockpiles and equipment as they fled.

Russian forces used Izium as the logistics base for one of their main campaigns - a months-long assault from the north on the adjacent Donbas region comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The state-run TASS news agency quoted Russia's defence ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the vicinity and reinforce operations elsewhere in neighbouring Donetsk.

The head of Russia's administration in Kharkiv told residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to "save lives," TASS reported. Witnesses described traffic jams of cars with people leaving Russian-held territory.

The Russian withdrawal was heralded by Ukrainian leaders.

"The Russian army these days is demonstrating its best ability - to show its back," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address Saturday evening.

Ukraine's armed forces have liberated around 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles) of territory since a counter-offensive against Russia started earlier this month, he said.

Ukrainian officials stopped short of confirming they had recaptured Izium, but Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy's chief of staff, posted a photo of troops on its outskirts and tweeted an emoji of grapes. The city's name means "raisin."

"The Russian army is claiming the title of fastest army in the world ... keep running!" Yermak wrote on Twitter later.

The Russian withdrawal announcement came hours after Ukrainian troops captured the city of Kupiansk farther north, the sole railway hub supplying Russia's entire front line across northeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials posted photos early on Saturday of their troops raising the country's blue-and-yellow flag in front of Kupiansk's city hall.

That left thousands of Russian troops abruptly cut off from supplies along a front that has seen some of the most intense battles of the war.

There were signs of trouble for Russia elsewhere along its remaining positions at the eastern front, with pro-Russian officials acknowledging difficulties at other locations.

Ukrainian armed forces are continuing to advance in different areas along the front, Zelenskiy said.

Days ago, Kyiv's forces burst through the front line and have since recaptured dozens of towns and villages in a swift mechanised assault, surging forward dozens of kilometres (miles) a day.

"To achieve the stated goals of the Special Military Operation for the liberation of Donbas, it was decided to regroup the Russian troops located in the districts of Balakliia and Izium for the purpose of increasing efforts in the Donetsk direction," TASS quoted Russia's defence ministry as saying.

Russian forces had already abandoned Balakliia days ago.

Ukraine's deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, sounded a cautionary note, urging people not to report prematurely that towns have been "taken" just because Ukrainian troops have entered, as in Balakliia.

"A few days ago it was reported that troops had entered the town. Today we have finally established control in the city, carried out all the necessary activities, and raised the flag," she said.

In Hrakove, one of dozens of villages recaptured in the Ukrainian advance, Reuters saw burnt-out vehicles bearing the "Z" symbol of Russia's invasion. Boxes of ammunition were scattered along with rubbish at positions the Russians had abandoned in evident haste.

"Hello everyone, we are from Russia," was spray-painted on a wall. Three bodies lay in white body bags in a yard.

The regional chief of police, Volodymyr Tymoshenko, said Ukrainian police moved in the previous day, and checked the identities of local residents who had lived under Russian occupation since the invasion's second day.

"The first function is to provide help that they need. The next job is to document the crimes committed by Russian invaders on the territories which they temporarily occupied," he said.

A witness in Valuyki, a town in Russia's Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, said she saw families from Kupiansk eating and sleeping in their cars along roads.

"I was at the market today and saw a lot of people from Kupiansk. They say half of the city was taken by the Ukrainian army and Russia is retreating... the fighting is getting closer," the witness said.

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said officials were giving food and medical aid to people queuing at a crossing into Russia. Senator Andrey Turchak, from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, reported more than 400 vehicles at the frontier.

Russian rocket fire hit Kharkiv city on Saturday evening, killing at least one person and damaging several homes, part of a surge in shelling since Kyiv's counter-offensive, Ukrainian officials said.

Russia's abrupt abandonment of the front line south of Kharkiv city brought a sudden end to a period when the war was fought as a relentless grind on a static front, favouring Moscow's advantage in raw firepower.

Macron asks Putin to withdraw weapons from Ukraine nuclear plant

PARIS, Sept 11: French President Emmanuel Macron asked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday to withdraw Russian heavy and light weaponry from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in a Russian-controlled area of Ukraine, Macron's office said.

The Elysee said Macron had told the Russian leader in a call that "the Russian occupation was the reason for the risks" facing the largest nuclear power plant in Europe which has been a focal point of fighting in recent weeks, raising concerns of a potential nuclear incident.


Named King At Royal Ceremony, Charles Says 'Deeply Aware' Of Duties

LONDON, Sept 10: Charles III was formally proclaimed Britain's new king by the Accession Council on Saturday in a history-laden ceremony following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II.

The council, televised for the first time, is a centuries-old formality to recognise the new king's sovereignty even though he automatically became monarch after the queen's passing.

The 73-year-old Charles officially took his vow as the new king, saying he was "deeply aware" of the "duties and heavy responsibility of sovereignty".

Several hundred privy councillors including current Prime Minister Liz Truss and all of her living predecessors, Charles's wife Camilla and his eldest son and heir William all attended.

King Charles said his mother, who died on Thursday in Balmoral aged 96, "gave an example of lifelong love and of selfless service" that he promised to emulate.

"I know that I shall be upheld by the affection and loyalty of the peoples whose sovereign I have been called to be," he said.

He added he was "profoundly encouraged by the support of my beloved wife".

Held in a grand room at St James's Palace decked out in crimson and gold, the Accession Council took place in two parts, the first of which Charles was absent while they proclaimed him king.

The clerk of the council announced that "Prince Charles Philip Arthur George is now, by the death of our lady sovereign of happy memory, become our King Charles III... God save the king!"

The assembled councillors then repeated "God save the king".

Ukraine Makes 'Lightning' Advances In Russia-Held East, Says Kyiv

KYIV, Sept 10: Kyiv said Saturday its forces were making lightning gains in the east of the country in a shock counter-offensive to recapture territory that fell to Russia shortly after Moscow's February invasion.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock meanwhile arrived in the Ukrainian capital for a surprise visit, which she said was to demonstrate Berlin's support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia.

"Ukrainian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, liberating more cities and villages. Their courage coupled with Western military support brings astonishing results," foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement on social media.

"It's crucial to keep sending arms to Ukraine. Defeating Russia on the battlefield means winning peace in Ukraine," he added.

His assessment of the pace of the Ukrainian gains came after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced late Friday that his troops had retaken some 30 towns and villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region as part of the sweep.

Ukraine's push appears to have caught Russian troops largely off guard.

Moscow made the surprise announcement it was dispatching reinforcements to Kharkiv, with images on state media showing tanks and artillery and support vehicles moving in columns on dirt roads.

The largest city so far to fall into Ukrainian hands again is Balakliya with an estimated pre-war population of around 30,000.

There were unconfirmed reports that Ukrainians were advancing further east.

The capture of urban hubs like Kupiansk and Izium would be a significant blow to Russia's ability to effectively supply positions on the eastern frontline.

In one village captured by the advancing Ukrainians, electric pylons were toppled and cables strewn lay across the ground and houses were destroyed, journalists reported.

"It was frightening," said 61-year-old Anatoli Vasiliev recalling the battle earlier this week that saw Ukrainian forces recapture the village from the Russians.

"There were bombings and explosions everywhere."

'We will stand by Ukraine'

Baerbock was in Kyiv Saturday for her second trip to Ukraine, which comes a week after Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal's trip to Berlin where he had repeated Kyiv's call for weapons.

"I have travelled to Kyiv today to show that they can continue to rely on us. That we will continue to stand by Ukraine for as long as necessary with deliveries of weapons, and with humanitarian and financial support," she said.

Over the last weeks, Germany has sent howitzers, rocket launchers and anti-aircraft missiles to Kyiv, part of an arsenal of Western-supplied weapons that observers say have hurt Russia's supply and command abilities.

Baerbock's visit comes on the heels of a trip from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who promised a nearly $3 billion military package for Ukraine.

In a meeting in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Blinken said Russia's push to send reinforcements showed Moscow was paying "huge costs" in its bid to capture and then hold Ukrainian territory.

However, Russian forces were still inflicting serious damage with a campaign of shelling in Kharkiv city and in the industrial region of Donbas in the east.

Oleg Synegubov, the head of the Kharkiv said Russian shelling had left 14 civilians injured.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk region, which is part of Donbas, said Russian shelling meanwhile had left two dead.

King Charles Vows Lifelong Service, Says 'Thank You' To 'Darling Mama'

LONDON, Sept 9: Britain's new monarch, King Charles III, addressed a mourning nation and the Commonwealth for the first time Friday, a day after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Here is his statement, pre-recorded in the Blue Drawing Room in Buckingham Palace during the afternoon and broadcast at 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) on UK television:

"I speak to you today with feelings of profound sorrow. Throughout her life, Her Majesty the Queen -- my beloved Mother -- was an inspiration and example to me and to all my family, and we owe her the most heartfelt debt any family can owe to their mother; for her love, affection, guidance, understanding and example.

"Queen Elizabeth's was a life well lived, a promise with destiny kept, and she is mourned most deeply in her passing. That promise of lifelong service I renew to you all today.

"Alongside the personal grief that all my family are feeling, we also share with so many of you in the United Kingdom, in all the countries where the queen was head of state, in the Commonwealth and across the world, a deep sense of gratitude for the more than 70 years in which my mother, as queen, served the people of so many nations.

"In 1947, on her 21st birthday, she pledged in a broadcast from Cape Town to the Commonwealth to devote her life, whether it be short or long, to the service of her people.

"That was more than a promise: it was a profound personal commitment which defined her whole life. She made sacrifices for duty.

"Her dedication and devotion as sovereign never wavered, through times of change and progress, through times of joy and celebration, and through times of sadness and loss.

"In her life of service, we saw that abiding love of tradition, together with that fearless embrace of progress, which make us great as nations. The affection, admiration and respect she inspired became the hallmark of her reign.

"And, as every member of my family can testify, she combined these qualities with warmth, humour and an unerring ability always to see the best in people.

"I pay tribute to my mother's memory and I honour her life of service. I know that her death brings great sadness to so many of you and I share that sense of loss, beyond measure, with you all.

"When the queen came to the throne, Britain and the world were still coping with the privations and aftermath of the Second World War, and still living by the conventions of earlier times.

"In the course of the last 70 years, we have seen our society become one of many cultures and many faiths.

"The institutions of the State have changed in turn. But, through all changes and challenges, our nation and the wider family of Realms -- of whose talents, traditions and achievements I am so inexpressibly proud -- have prospered and flourished. Our values have remained and must remain, constant.

"The role and the duties of monarchy also remain, as does the Sovereign's particular relationship and responsibility towards the Church of England -- the Church in which my own faith is so deeply rooted.

"In that faith and the values it inspires, I have been brought up to cherish a sense of duty to others, and to hold in the greatest respect the precious traditions, freedoms and responsibilities of our unique history and our system of parliamentary government.

"As the queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I too now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.

"And wherever you may live in the United Kingdom, or in the Realms and territories across the world, and whatever may be your background or beliefs, I shall endeavour to serve you with loyalty, respect and love, as I have throughout my life.

"My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities.

"It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.

"This is also a time of change for my family. I count on the loving help of my darling wife, Camilla.

"In recognition of her own loyal public service since our marriage 17 years ago, she becomes my Queen Consort.

"I know she will bring to the demands of her new role the steadfast devotion to duty on which I have come to rely so much.

"As my heir, William now assumes the Scottish titles which have meant so much to me.

"He succeeds me as Duke of Cornwall and takes on the responsibilities for the Duchy of Cornwall which I have undertaken for more than five decades.

"Today, I am proud to create him Prince of Wales, Tywysog Cymru, the country whose title I have been so greatly privileged to bear during so much of my life and duty.

"With Catherine beside him, our new Prince and Princess of Wales will, I know, continue to inspire and lead our national conversations, helping to bring the marginal to the centre ground where vital help can be given.

"I want also to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas.

"In a little over a week's time, we will come together as a nation, as a Commonwealth and indeed a global community, to lay my beloved mother to rest.

"In our sorrow, let us remember and draw strength from the light of her example.

"On behalf of all my family, I can only offer the most sincere and heartfelt thanks for your condolences and support.

"They mean more to me than I can ever possibly express.

"And to my darling Mama, as you begin your last great journey to join my dear late Papa, I want simply to say this: thank you.

"Thank you for your love and devotion to our family and to the family of nations you have served so diligently all these years.

"May 'flights of angels sing thee to thy rest'."

Charles To Be Formally Proclaimed King Tomorrow

LONDON, Sept 9: Charles III will be officially proclaimed monarch on Saturday morning at a meeting of the Accession Council, Buckingham Palace said.

The formal body overseeing the succession from Queen Elizabeth II will meet from 10:00 am (0900 GMT), with a first public pronouncement from a balcony of St James's Palace in London at 11:00 am.

Queen Elizabeth, Britain's longest-serving monarch died at the age of 96 on Thursday, with her son succeeding her as the king.

Charles succeeds to the throne immediately after the death of the monarch. An Accession Council is convened as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours and held at St James's Palace, the official residence of the sovereign, to proclaim the successor.

The new King Charles III is the third British monarch to share the name. Charles I was the only British monarch to be executed, Charles I's reign led to a brutal civil war and the abolition of the royal family.

The man who would become King Charles II joined his father in battle during the Civil War but left England as it became clear that defeat was inevitable and moved to The Hague in 1649.

Despite the abolition of the monarchy in England following his father's execution, Charles was crowned King of Scotland on January 1, 1651.

Prince Harry And Meghan Markle's Children Can Now Use Royal Titles

Under protocols established by King George V in 1917, the children and grandchildren of a sovereign have the automatic right to the title Her Royal Highness or His Royal Highness (HRH) and prince or princess.

LONDON, Sept 9: Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, the son of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, is now technically a prince following the death of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, according to media reports on Friday, over an year after his mother controversially claimed that he was denied the title because of his race.

His younger sister, Lilibet “Lili” Mountbatten-Windsor, is also entitled to be a princess after the death and the accession of her grandfather Charles, the Prince of Wales, to the throne, The Guardian newspaper reported.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex Harry and Meghan Markle will see no change in their Royal titles.

Meghan had spoken during an interview in March last year with the US broadcaster Oprah Winfrey of her shock at being told Archie would not get police protection because he did not have a title, and suggested that the decision was taken because of his mixed race.

The Sussexes indicated in the interview that they had expected Archie would be given the title of prince after Charles acceded the throne, but that they had been told that protocols would be changed – in line with Charles's wish for a slimmed-down monarchy – so that the child would be excluded from becoming an HRH and prince.

Under protocols established by King George V in 1917, the children and grandchildren of a sovereign have the automatic right to the title Her Royal Highness or His Royal Highness (HRH) and prince or princess.

At the time Archie was born, he was the great-grandchild of a sovereign, not a grandchild. But to prevent him from becoming a prince, the King would have to issue a Letters Patent amending Archie's right to be a prince and Lili's right to be a princess.

George V's declaration meant that only Prince George, as a great-grandson of the monarch down the direct line of succession to the throne, was originally entitled to be a prince, as he is the eldest son of the eldest son of the Prince of Wales.

The line of succession has also been reshuffled after the Queen's death, and sees Prince William move up to next in line for the throne, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

He is followed by Prince George (9), Princess Charlotte (7), Prince Louis (4), Prince Harry, and Master Archie, (3).

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's Longest Reigning Monarch, Dies At 96

LONDON, Sept 8: Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest serving monarch, has died at 96. She reigned for 70 years.

The royal family - the Queen's son and heir Prince Charles, grandsons William and Harry and their families - have gathered at her Balmoral retreat in the Scottish highlands, where she spent her last days.

The UK celebrated the Queen's Platinum Jubilee to mark 70 years of service to the nation with grand events in June.

In 2015, Queen Elizabeth became the longest-serving British monarch, surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria. This year, she became the world's second longest reigning monarch.

As UK celebrated her Platinum Jubilee milestone with royal parades, street parties and pageantry, the Queen thanked the nation in a letter, saying that she had been "humbled and deeply touched".

"When it comes to how to mark 70 years as your Queen, there is no guidebook to follow. It really is a first," she wrote.

The Queen missed some of the events because of her health, and Prince Charles and second in line Prince William attended them. She did appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the end of the Jubilee Pageant.

For most of her subjects, she was the only monarch they had ever known, featuring on stamps, banknotes and coins, and immortalised in popular culture.

She lived through some of the biggest royal scandals - from the divorce of Charles and Diana to her second son Prince Andrew's alleged links to convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and Harry and Meghan quitting royal life.

But she was witness to some of the most eventful moments in modern history, from the assassination of US President John F Kennedy, to the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin wall and the Covid pandemic. She saw 14 Prime Ministers of UK during her reign, from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss. In a first, she appointed Liz Truss in Balmoral in Scotland as she was too ill to return to London.

Her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, died in April 2021, just weeks short of his 100th birthday.

An image of the Queen sitting alone in the quire of St. George's Chapel during his funeral, due to COVID protocol, moved the world.

Charles Is King

LONDON, Sept 8: Queen Elizabeth II's eldest son, Charles, 73, succeeds as king immediately, according to centuries of protocol, beginning a new, less certain chapter for the royal family after the queen's record-breaking 70-year reign.

Charles' coronation, an elaborate ritual steeped in tradition and history, will take place in the same historic surroundings, as it has for centuries, on a date to be fixed.

Russia Halts Europe Gas Pipeline, Putin Says Not Using Energy As 'Weapon'

MOSCOW, Sept 7: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday denied that Moscow was using energy as a "weapon", days after Russia halted natural gas deliveries via a key pipeline to Europe.

"They say that Russia uses energy as a weapon. More nonsense! What weapon do we use? We supply as much as required according to requests" from importers, Putin told the Eastern Economic Forum in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said Friday that the Nord Stream pipeline due to reopen at the weekend after three days of maintenance would remain shut for repairs.

The Kremlin says sanctions have blocked the return of a Siemens turbine that had been undergoing repairs in Canada.

"Give as a turbine, we will turn Nord Stream on tomorrow, Putin said.

"We are ready to do this tomorrow, just need to press a button. But we were not the ones who introduced sanctions," Putin added.

Speaking about the possibility of a price cap on Russian natural gas, Putin said it was "another stupidity" and "another non-market solution with no prospects".

"If European countries want to give up their competitive advantages, that's up to them," Putin said, adding that Russia is ready to cooperate with "any country".

Following the imposition of economic sanctions over the Kremlin's offensive of Ukraine, Russia has reduced or halted supplies to different European nations, causing energy prices to soar.

The EU has accused Moscow of using energy as blackmail.

Liz Truss Promises Imminent Action On Energy Crisis

LONDON, Sept 7: At her first parliamentary grilling as British prime minister, Liz Truss on Wednesday confirmed plans to stem huge rises in the cost of energy that threaten to plunge her new government into a winter of discontent.

Jousting with opposition Labour chief Keir Starmer for the first time since she succeeded Boris Johnson, Truss also revelled in her status as the UK government's third female prime minister, noting Labour has still to elect a woman leader.

Truss ruled out a windfall tax on energy firms' gargantuan profits, but said details of her plan would be released on Thursday to ensure consumers and businesses can still afford heating in the coming months.

Whereas Johnson used the weekly session of "Prime Minister's Questions" to theatrically attack Starmer, Truss was more business-like as she pledged a right-wing programme of tax cuts to revitalise the UK economy.

Starmer cast Truss as the inheritor of 12 years of Tory government leading up to the present crisis in inflation, which is tied to Russia's war in Ukraine, and said there was "nothing new" about her policies.

"There's nothing new about a Labour leader who is calling for more tax rises," Truss retorted, earning roars of approval from Conservative MPs -- most of whom had initially backed her leadership rival, Rishi Sunak.

Johnson's predecessor Theresa May archly asked Truss why only the Conservatives had managed to elect women leaders -- May herself, and Margaret Thatcher. One Tory backbencher shouted "3-0!"

Starmer's deputy Angela Rayner looked on with a pained expression as Truss said it was "extraordinary" that Labour could not find a woman leader, or one who did not live in left-leaning North London.

Earlier Wednesday, Truss convened her new-look cabinet, which includes the most diverse top team in British history: Kwasi Kwarteng as finance minister, James Cleverly as foreign secretary and Suella Braverman as interior minister.

Under the costly plans developed by Truss and Kwarteng, gas and electricity bills for both households and businesses are expected to be capped near current levels for the coming winter at least.

The government would lend or guarantee private-sector loans to energy providers to make up the difference they pay from soaring global wholesale prices, which have driven UK inflation above 10 percent.

The spike in inflation to 40-year highs has stoked a wave of strikes, including by railway workers and criminal lawyers, with more sectors threatening to walk out in an early challenge to Truss's administration.

On the eve of Truss's energy plan announcement, the British pound slumped to its lowest dollar level since 1985, tanking to $1.1406 at about 1400 GMT.

Along with the urgent issue of energy prices, Truss's government must also navigate the combustible problem of post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

In her first contacts with foreign leaders, the new Conservative leader spoke late Tuesday by phone to Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky and then US President Joe Biden.

According to Downing Street, she agreed with Biden "on the importance of protecting" peace in Northern Ireland.

In parliament, Truss said she was "determined" to break through the impasse, and favoured a "negotiated settlement" with the EU.

To Zelensky, Truss vowed to maintain the full-throated support for Ukraine against Russia given by Johnson before he was forced out following a series of scandals.

Truss, 47, won an internal ballot of Tory members on Monday, securing 57 percent of the vote, after a gruelling contest against former finance minister Sunak that began in July.

She now faces a tough challenge reuniting the ruling Tories following the leadership battle, but observers noted that she had expelled almost every Sunak supporter from the cabinet.

IAEA report says safety principles were violated at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and calls for safety zone

VIENNA, Sept 6: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it remains “gravely concerned” about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Ukraine and says there is an “urgent need” for measures to prevent a nuclear accident, namely the establishment of a nuclear safety and protection zone around the Russian-occupied site, Director General Rafael Grossi said in a report following a visit to the site.

The agency emphasized the urgent need for interim measures "to prevent a nuclear accident arising from physical damage caused by military means."

To achieve this, the IAEA called for the establishment of "a nuclear safety and security protection zone.”

The agency says its team saw first-hand the damage shelling has caused to the facility and “noted with concern that the shelling could have impacted safety related structures, systems and components, and could have caused safety significant impacts, loss of lives and personnel injuries.”

In addition to the danger of the continued fighting around the facility, the agency says staff at Zaporizhzhia and other nuclear plants in Ukraine “have continued to show endurance and resilience in keeping the sites running in a safe and secure way amid the conflict.”

"While the ongoing shelling has not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it continues to represent a constant threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may lead to radiological consequences with great safety significance," the report notes about the situation at the plant.

It listed some damages that the inspectors observed during their mission to the plant.

The UN agency's report recommended that shelling on site and its vicinity "should be stopped immediately to avoid any further damages to the plant and associated facilities, for the safety of the operating staff and to maintain the physical integrity to support safe and secure operation. This requires agreement by all relevant parties to the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP."

Liz Truss Brings Tougher UK Stance On China

LONDON, Sept 6: One of British politics' firmest critics of China became prime minister on Tuesday as Liz Truss, a self-styled defender of the post-war western world order, replaced Boris Johnson whose policy towards Beijing failed to harden fast enough for many in his party.

Relations between London and Beijing have worsened in the last decade as Britain has grown worried that an open door to Chinese investment could pose national security risks, and that China's military and economic assertiveness may be acting against its post-Brexit free trade agenda.

Truss views China as a threat to the rules-based international order that has governed post-World War Two trade and diplomacy, and she sees it as her role to build a bulwark against that.

"Countries must play by the rules and that includes China," she said in a high-profile speech earlier this year, adding that Beijing was "rapidly building a military capable of projecting power deep into areas of European strategic interest".

Truss warned that if China failed to play by global rules it would cut short its rise as a superpower and it should learn from the West's robust economic response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

She said that China's rise was not inevitable and the West should ensure that Taiwan, which Beijing says is its own territory, can defend itself.

The Global Times, published by China's Communist Party's official newspaper the People's Daily, has dubbed Truss a "radical populist" and said she should drop the "outdated imperial mentality".

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Tuesday that she hopes relations with Britain will remain "on the right track".

James Rogers, co-founder of the London-based Council on Geostrategy think tank, said Truss would impose more restrictions on China buying up British companies and would do more to bind together countries to counter China's rise.

"She understands the way short-term economic benefits may have a long-term strategic and political impact, and will try to balance those more effectively than in the past," he said.

Under Prime Minister David Cameron, Britain and China forged what he called the "golden era" of relations. He said in 2015 he wanted to be Beijing's closest friend in the West.

But in the last seven years, with three changes of prime minister along with growing criticism of Beijing's trade practices and rows over freedoms in Hong Kong and Xingang, Britain has moved from being China's greatestsupporter in Europe to one of its fiercest critics.

The Conservative Party has become more hostile to China even as Johnson called himself "fervently Sinophile".

The government has recently moved to limit China's involvement in Britain's nuclear power sector. Truss also signed the defence pact to supply Australia with the technology to build nuclear submarines to help push back against China's growing power and influence.

Last year as trade secretary, Truss warned that the West could lose control of global trade unless it got tough with Beijing and drove through World Trade Organization reform.

"If we fail to act, then we risk global trade fragmenting under the tyranny of the largest," she said.

Later in 2021, she convinced fellow G7 foreign ministers to include a line in their closing communique that condemned China's economic policies - a reference to Beijing's global investment policy that critics say can leave poorer countries caught in debt traps.

Truss is expected to appoint a foreign secretary aligned with her world view - with ally James Cleverly tipped to be in line for the job and assisted by Tom Tugendhat, a known China hawk, as security minister.

Charles Parton, a former UK diplomat who spent 22 years analysing China and is now an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said although China was likely to make threats about withdrawing investment this is unlikely to happen.

"China is not a charity. It doesn't invest because it likes the colour of our eyes. It does it with very specific reasons," he said. "It will continue to invest, and our job is to see if that investment continues to suit our interests."

Liz Truss Is New UK PM

LONDON, Sept 5: UK foreign secretary Liz Truss defeated Indian-origin former chancellor Rishi Sunak to be named the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest on Monday and will now go on to formally take charge as British Prime Minister as Boris Johnson's successor.

The 47-year-old senior Cabinet minister was widely expected to clinch the ballot of an estimated 160,000 online and postal votes cast by Tory members, ending Sunak's historic run as the first member of Parliament of Indian heritage to compete for the top job at 10 Downing Street.

She is the third female Prime Minister in Britain, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

The result was formally announced by the returning officer of the leadership contest and chair of the Conservative Party's powerful 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, Sir Graham Brady, at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre near Downing Street.

He said Truss won 81,326 votes compared to Sunak's share of 60,399 votes.

However, for pollsters, political analysts and media outlets it came as little surprise as Truss was widely expected to beat 42-year-old Sunak in pre-poll surveys and bookmaker odds on the race.

A combination of the Tory membership base's lingering loyalty towards outgoing Prime Minister Johnson, whom they see as being betrayed by former close ally Sunak, and Truss' pledge to cut taxes are among the key factors behind the British Indian MP failing to clinch the race.

While the over 1.5-million-strong Indian diaspora stood firmly behind the UK-born MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, other sections of the Conservative Party including those who trace their roots to other parts of the sub-continent were expected to be more divided.

Truss' campaign pledge to reverse Sunak's tax hike plans while he was Chancellor to tackle the cost-of-living crisis facing the country seems to have worked in favour. While Sunak's approach of wanting to focus on fighting soaring inflation and using targeted measures to offer support to those most in need did connect with audiences at the nearly dozen party hustings, that clearly wasn't enough to turn the tide in his favour.

Now elected party leader, it won't be until Tuesday afternoon that Truss can formally lay claim to her new office at 10 Downing Street - after predecessor Boris Johnson hands in his formal resignation to the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

It will be followed soon after by Truss' first audience as PM-elect with the 96-year-old monarch, after which she will be flown back to London to begin announcing her new Cabinet top team.

Ukraine Nuclear Plant's Last Reactor Disconnects After Shelling: Operator

KYIV, Sept 5: The final working reactor at the vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was disconnected from Ukraine's grid on Monday after Russian shelling disrupted power lines, state nuclear company Energoatom said.

The imperilled six-reactor facility in southern Ukraine, which is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, was captured by Moscow in March, but is still run by Ukrainian staff.

"Today, as a result of a fire caused by shelling, the (last working) transmission line was disconnected," Energoatom said in a statement on Telegram.

"As a result, (reactor) unit No. 6, which currently supplies the (plant's) own needs, was unloaded and disconnected from the grid," it said.

Ukraine was unable to repair the power lines now because of fighting raging around the station, Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko wrote on Facebook.

"Any repairs of the power lines are currently impossible- fighting is ongoing around the station," he said.

Galushchenko complained that the fresh shelling had hit soon after most of the inspectors from a mission by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, left the plant earlier on Monday.

"As soon as the IAEA mission left the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant- the station has once again been disconnected," he added.

Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other of risking a nuclear disaster as the plant's territory has been regularly shelled over the past month.

Ukraine has also repeatedly accused Russia of basing troops and military equipment at the power station.

Two reactors at the plant, number five and six, remain in use but are currently disconnected from the grid. They have suffered repeated disconnections due to shelling over the last fortnight.

46 Dead In 6.6 Magnitude Earthquake In China

BEIJING, Sept 5: At least 46 people were killed when a strong earthquake struck southwestern China on Monday, state media reported, as violent tremors in a remote region damaged homes and left some areas without electricity.

The magnitude 6.6 quake hit about 43 kilometres (26 miles) southeast of the city of Kangding in Sichuan province at a depth of 10 kilometres, according to the US Geological Survey.

Tremors shook buildings in the provincial capital of Chengdu -- where millions are confined to their homes under a strict Covid lockdown -- and in the nearby megacity of Chongqing, said local residents.

"I felt it quite strongly. Some of my neighbours on the ground floor said they felt it very noticeably," said Chen, a resident of Chengdu.

"But because Chengdu is currently under epidemic management, people aren't allowed to leave their residential compounds, so many of them rushed out into their courtyards," she added.

At least one town had suffered "severe damage" from landslides triggered by the quake, CCTV reported.

A road to another town was blocked and telecommunications lines in areas home to more than 10,000 people were severed, the broadcaster said, adding that shocks also forced some power stations offline in the areas of Garze and Ya'an.

Footage broadcast by CCTV appeared to show damaged buildings and a street strewn with fallen masonry in Garze.

A video posted online by the China Earthquake Networks Center showed boulders thundering down mountainsides in Luding county, kicking up clouds of dust as tremors swayed roadside telephone wires.

State media reported that several aftershocks were recorded in nearby areas. A smaller magnitude 4.6 tremor hit eastern Tibet less than an hour after the initial quake, according to the USGS.

UN Inspection Team Heads To Ukraine Nuclear Plant Despite Shelling

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Sept 1: UN inspectors pressed on towards a Russian-held nuclear plant in southern Ukraine Thursday despite an early shelling attack, as the ICRC warned the consequences of a strike on the facility could be "catastrophic".

Just before the 14-strong team from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) left for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Ukraine said Russian troops had shelled the town next door.

The area around the plant -- Europe's largest nuclear facility -- has suffered repeated shelling, with both sides accusing the other of responsibility, sparking global concern over the risk of an accident.

"It is high time to stop playing with fire and instead take concrete measures to protect this facility.. from any military operations," ICRC chief Robert Mardini told reporters in Kyiv.

"The slightest miscalculation could trigger devastation that we will regret for decades."

Ukraine's nuclear agency Energoatom said later that one of the six reactors at the Russian-held nuclear plant was shut down Thursday as an emergency protection measure following the shelling in the area.

"Today at 4:57 am (0157 GMT), due to another mortar shelling by the Russian occupying forces at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant site, the emergency protection was activated and operating power unit 5 was shut down," it said.

Mardini said it was "encouraging" that the IAEA team was en route to inspect the plant because the stakes were "immense".

"When hazardous sites become battlegrounds, the consequences for millions of people and the environment can be catastrophic and last many years," he said.

Just before leaving the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said his team had been updated about the shelling but would press on anyway.

"We are not stopping," he vowed, despite being aware there that in crossing the frontline into Russian-held territory, there was a security "grey area.. where the risks are significant".

"I believe we have to proceed with this. We have a very important mission to accomplish."

Earlier, the mayor of Energodar, the town next to the plant, said it had come under sustained attack early on Thursday.

In an 8:00 am (0500 GMT) update on Telegram, Mayor Dmytro Orlov said that since dawn, Russian troops had "shelled Energodar with mortars and used automatic weapons and rockets," posting images of damaged buildings and spiralling smoke.

But Moscow accused Kyiv of smuggling in up to 60 military "saboteurs", saying they reached the area near the plant just after dawn and that Russian troops had taken "measures to annihilate the enemy".

Grossi on Wednesday said the IAEA would seek to establish a "permanent presence" at the plant to avoid a nuclear disaster at the facility which is located on the frontline of the fighting.

"My mission is... to prevent a nuclear accident and preserve the largest nuclear power plant in Europe," he said.

Although Zaporizhzhia is normally about a two-hour drive from the plant, it was not immediately long it would take the IAEA team to get there after crossing the frontline into Russian-held areas.

The plant has been occupied by Russian troops since March and Ukraine has accused Russia of deploying hundreds of soldiers and storing ammunition there.

Both Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of staging "provocations" aimed at disrupting the work of the IAEA mission.

"Sadly, Russia is not stopping its provocations precisely in the direction the mission needs to travel to reach the plant," President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Tuesday after meeting Grossi.

And in Moscow, the Russian defence ministry accused Kyiv of "continued provocations aimed at disrupting the work of the IAEA mission" saying it had shelled the area around the plant on Tuesday hitting a building containing "the solid radioactive waste processing complex".

Meanwhile, intensive fighting raged across the nearby southern region of Kherson where Ukraine began a counteroffensive on Monday.

Most of the region and its provincial capital of the same name were seized by Russian forces at the start of the invasion six months ago.

With the war in the eastern Donbas region largely stalled, analysts have said for weeks that combat is likely to shift south to break the stalemate before winter comes.

Meanwhile, a British medic volunteering in Ukraine died in the fighting, the foreign ministry in London said on Thursday. It said he had died on August 24 but gave no further details.



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