Tension as Russia urges Ukrainian troops: ‘Lay down arms… or else’
The world is on edge as a 5am Malta time ultimatum, given by the Russians to the remaining 2,500 Ukrainian troops holed up inside a steelworks in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, passed. Russia’s Defence Ministry had said if Ukrainian forces in the Azovstal steelworks laid down their arms, their lives would be spared. The Russian Armed Forces offered Mariupol’s defenders to cease hostilities and lay down their arms by 6am Moscow time today (5am in Malta). “In return they will be spared their lives,” General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the siege, said in a statement. A senior Russian officer was quoted as saying the offer, made after weeks of fierce fighting, was prompted by “the catastrophic situation” in the steelworks as well as “purely humane principles”. President Zelenskyy has warned Russia not to “eliminate” the last Ukrainian troops in Mariupol, or it would mean the end of peace talks. “The situation is very difficult” in Mariupol, Zelensky has told the Ukrainska Pravda news portal. “Our soldiers are blocked, the wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis … Nevertheless, the guys are defending themselves.”
‘Mariupol cleared of Ukrainian forces’ – Russia
Russia had earlier said its troops had cleared the urban area of Mariupol and only a small contingent of Ukrainian fighters remained inside a steelworks compound, as missile strikes hit Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and other cities. Moscow’s claim to have all but taken control of Mariupol, scene of the war’s heaviest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe, could not be independently verified. It would be the first major city to have fallen to Russian forces since the February 24 invasion.
‘Russia is committing genocide’ – Zelensky
In an interview with CNN, which will be broadcast at 3pm (Malta time) today, President Zelensky accused Russia of committing genocide in Ukraine. “They do not kill soldiers, they kill civilians. We have audio and video evidence in which the Russians are heard saying that they hate us and that they will destroy us”, Zelensky said. In his latest video speech to the Ukrainian people President Zelensky said the situation in Mariupol “remains as serious as possible. Simply inhumane. Russia is deliberately trying to destroy everyone there,” he said. The Ukrainian president said his government tried every day to end the siege of Mariupol: “Military or diplomats: anything to save the people. Although we have heard many intentions from those who they wanted to help and that they are really in positions of international influence, none of them have been realised yet, “he added.
In other developments…
- A person was killed and several wounded in Russian strikes on targets in eastern Kyiv, the city’s mayor says. Russia’s defence ministry claimed its forces struck a military equipment factory in the Ukrainian capital.
- The governor of the Lviv region in western Ukraine reported Russian air strikes in the region on Saturday morning. He claimed Ukrainian air defences downed four cruise missiles.
- Russia has banned UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and several other leading politicians from entering the country.
- CIA Director William Burns has said no one “can take lightly” the threat that Russia could use tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons but he has seen no “practical evidence” suggesting it is imminent. Zelensky echoed those words, saying the world should be worried about how Putin might react to military setbacks.
- Remains of alleged chemical weapons, Sarin and other substances, were found in the village of Bilka, in the Sumy region, after its liberation from the Russian occupiers, according to what was declared by the mayor of Trostyanets Yuriy Bova on Ukrainian radio.
- The first weapons of the latest $800 million package of US military aid to Kiev “have begun to arrive”, a White House official told CNN. In this new package of military aid, the United States has included, for the first time, high-powered weapons including 11 Mi-17 helicopters, 18 howitzers and another 300 Switchblade ‘kamikaze’ drones. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has said its forces “shot down a Ukrainian military plane near Odessa carrying weapons supplied by Westerners”.
- 200 Ukrainian children have been killed and 360 others have been injured since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Human Rights Commissioner Liudmyla Denisova wrote on Facebook.
- The Ukrainian commission for freedom of the press has announced that since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, 21 journalists have been killed.
OLAF accuses Marine Le Pen of embezzlement
The EU’s anti-fraud body, OLAF, has accused French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and associates of embezzling around €600,000 during their time as MEPs, French website Mediapart said, quoting a new report. According to the report, Le Pen personally embezzled around €137,000 worth of public money from the Strasbourg parliament when she was an MEP between 2004 and 2017. Her lawyer dismissed the accusations, raising suspicions over the “timing” of the report.
6 dead, 29 others missing after boat capsizes off Libya: UN
At least six people were killed and 29 others are missing after a migrant boat capsized off the coast of Libya, the International Organization for Migration has reported. It said a small wooden boat carrying around 35 migrants capsized off Sabratha, Libya on Friday. Meanwhile, the agency stated that at least 53 migrants had been reported dead or missing off Libya this week alone. Libya is considered one of the most heavily used routes by irregular migrants who want to cross illegally from North Africa to Europe.
Fuel-laden ship sinks off Tunisia coast
A tanker carrying 750 tonnes of diesel fuel from Egypt to Malta sank Saturday in the Gulf of Gabes off Tunisia’s southeast coast, sparking a rush to avoid a spill. The Equatorial Guinea-flagged Xelo was headed to Malta when it requested entry to Tunisian waters on Friday evening due to bad weather. The tanker began taking water around seven kilometres offshore in the Gulf of Gabes and the Tunisian authorities evacuated the seven-member crew.
Police arrest mall South Carolina shopping mall shooting suspect
Police in the capital of the US state of South Carolina, Columbia, arrested a 22-year-old male in connection with a shooting at a busy shopping mall on Saturday. Nine people were shot and five others suffered injuries while attempting to flee the mall for safety, police said. No fatalities have been reported. Eight individuals required hospitalization, with two in critical but stable condition. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 73.
Archbishop slams UK’s Rwanda refugee plan
The British government’s plan to send some asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda is “the opposite of the nature of God”, the Archbishop of Canterbury is to say. In his Easter sermon, Justin Welby will say that Christ’s resurrection is not a time for “subcontracting our responsibilities”. The government says change is needed to protect lives from people smugglers. He will also call for a ceasefire in Ukraine and speak of his concern over the cost of living crisis.