French voters head to the polls
Some 48.7 million people are eligible to vote in today’s Fench presidential election, choosing from a field of 12 candidates who are vying to lead the European Union’s second-largest economy, its only nuclear power and one which has a UN Security Counci veto. President Emmanuel Macron is seeking to become the first incumbent to win re-election since Jacques Chirac in 2002. His challengers range from a Communist on the left to anti-immigration candidates on the far right. The main conteder to Macron is Marine Le Pen, who is making a third run for the Élysée Palace. Polls opened across mainland France at 8am and will close at 8pm. The sinking purchasing power of many French families has emerged as voters’ top concern amid rising food and energy prices – with the war in Ukraine spurring galloping global inflation. The two candidates who garner the most votes will qualify for the election’s second and final round on April 24.
Australians go to the polls on May 21
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a federal election for May 21. His ruling coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power. Polls suggest there will be a change of government, with the opposition Labour party, led by Anthony Albanese, tipped to take office.
Pakistan PM ousted in no-confidence vote
Pakistan’s embattled Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted as the country’s leader Sunday following a parliamentary vote of no confidence as opponents blamed him for a slumping economy and failure to meet campaign promises. Opposition parties were able to secure 174 votes in the country’s 342-member lower house of Parliament – two more than required – to oust the charismatic cricket star-turned-conservative-Islamist-politician after many former Khan supporters decided to desert him as he claimed US officials conspired to toss him out of his post. Khan’s foreign policy choices have routinely seemed to favour Russia and China over the US.
Tens of thousands march in Sri Lanka
Tens of thousands marched on beleaguered Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office on Saturday, in the biggest protest to date over the country’s dire economic and political crisis. Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have seen weeks of power blackouts and severe shortages of food, fuel and other essentials in the country’s worst downturn since independence in 1948.
Asylum seekers found dead off Tunisia
Six women and six children were among 13 sub-Saharan African migrants and asylum seekers found dead off the Tunisian coast after two vessels capsised while trying to make it to Italy. Tunisian authorities have recovered the bodies of the asylum seekers, who had set off in two boats. Rescuers pulled 37 migrants from the water on Friday and Saturday but a dozen more remained unaccounted for. The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, has said that around 1,300 refugees drowned or went missing in the central Mediterranean in 2021, making it the world’s deadliest migration route.
Eastern Ukraine residents told to flee ‘immediately’
Residents of eastern Ukraine have been warned by the region’s governor to evacuate immediately as Russia increases shelling in the area. Governor Serhiy Gaidai told a public television station Russia was “amassing an offensive” on the one-third of the population that remained in Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
Appeal for ‘firm global response’
At least 52 people, including five children, died on Friday, with scores more injured while trying to evacuate as two missiles hit a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the strike a deliberate attack on civilians and said he expected a “firm global response” to what he labeled “a war crime.” Russia denied carrying out the missile strike and in turn blamed Ukraine, saying it does not use the short-range kind of missile – the Tochka-U – that hit the station.
Accusations of war crimes continue
Rescuers found 132 bodies of people tortured and killed in Makariv, in the Kiev region. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence called the discovery “a new, monstrous war crime”. In Makariv, a city freed a few days ago, rescuers are also looking for the victims of Russian bombing who remained under the rubble. The city, the ministry says, is half destroyed. Its mayor, Vadano Tokar, told ANSA there had been several tortures, with bodies found with their hands tied, and at least two cases of women raped and then killed. “One of these was slaughtered. We found the bodies.” There has been no comment from the Russians but officials had called the Bucha killings a “monstrous forgery.” Russia is also denying the killing of patients at a destroyed maternity hospital in Mariupol and has blamed Ukrainian missile strikes. Mariupol’s mayor says 50 people burned to death in shelling of the city. The Municipality of the Ukrainian city said, “The scale of the crimes of the Russian forces in Mariupol is ten times worse than the Bucha genocide.” It added a photo of “an underpass in the peripheral district of Sadkiv”, with bodies lined up on the ground. “Here the occupants have set up a collection point for the bodies of the killed residents. Hundreds of corpses are brought to these points every day and then destroyed in mobile crematoria or buried in mass graves.”
Online archive on war crimes created
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said they had created “an online archive to document Russia’s war crimes”. He tweeted, “The evidence gathered of the atrocities committed by the Russian military in Ukraine will ensure that these war criminals do not escape justice.” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, spoke Saturday after seeing the devastation in Bucha, a town near Kyiv. Mass graves of civilians were unearthed in Bucha after Russian forces left the area. Von der Leyen said, “If this is not a war crime, what is?”
Zelensky frustrated over weapons from the West
In an interview Saturday with The Associated Press, President Zelensky expressed frustration when asked whether his country had received enough weapons and other equipment from the West. “Not yet,” he said, switching to English for emphasis. “Of course, it’s not enough.” In an interview scheduled to air on US television Sunday on the CBS programme “60 Minutes,” Zelensky said, “We are defending the right to live. I never thought this right was so costly.” He says in the interview that Ukraine has imprisoned Russian pilots who had maps with civilian targets designated for bombing.
British PM visits Kyiv, gives more aid
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Saturday in Kyiv with Zelensky. After Friday’s attack on the Kramatorsk railway station, Britain announced additional financial and military aid for Ukraine, to include anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and nearly $130 million worth of high-tech equipment. Johnson called the shelling of the station “unconscionable” and said it is “a war crime indiscriminately to attack civilians.” The city’s mayor estimated there were 4,000 women, children, and elderly inside the station trying to evacuate the vulnerable region when it was struck. Before Johnson’s visit, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer also met face-to-face with Zelensky Saturday and promised more EU sanctions against Russia.
Almost 4.5 million Ukrainian refugees
Ukrainian refugees who fled the country since the beginning of the Russian invasion have reached the 4.5 million mark, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced Saturday. Europe had not seen such an influx of refugees since the Second World War. According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 210,000 non-Ukrainians also left the country. The United Nations also estimates that there are 7.1 million internally displaced people in Ukraine.