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As Belarus votes in tightly controlled elections, its leader accuses the West of fueling unrest

As Belarus votes in tightly controlled elections, its leader accuses the West of fueling unrest

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As Belarus votes in tightly controlled elections, its leader accuses the West of fueling unrest

The authoritarian leader of Belarus on Tuesday accused the West of trying to foment protests during parliamentary and local elections this month in order to undermine his rule, while the country’s opposition leader-in-exile denounced the vote as a “cynical farce” and called for its boycott.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for nearly 30 years, charged that the West will try to use “new triggers to destabilize the society” after the Feb. 25 vote.

Early balloting began Tuesday in the tightly-controlled parliamentary and local vote, in which only those who follow Lukashenko’s political course were allowed to compete. Most candidates belong to the four officially registered parties, which all support Lukashenko’s policies: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labor and Justice.

This is the first election in Belarus since the contentious 2020 presidential vote that handed Lukashenko his sixth term in office and triggered an unprecedented wave of mass demonstrations.

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Protests swept the country for months, bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets. More than 35,000 people were arrested, thousands were beaten in police custody, and hundreds of independent media outlets and nongovernmental organizations were shut down and outlawed.

Lukashenko has relied on Russian subsidies and political support to survive the protests. He allowed the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

This month’s election takes place amid a relentless crackdown on dissent. Over 1,400 political prisoners remain behind bars, including leaders of opposition parties and renowned human rights advocate and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski.

The Viasna human rights center reported Tuesday that Ihar Lednik, one of the leaders of the opposition Social Democratic Party, had died in prison at age 64. Lednik, who was serving a three-year sentence after being convicted of slandering Lukashenko, has died of cardiac arrest following a surgery in prison. 

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Ukraine sharply boosts delivery of drones to armed forces

Ukraine sharply boosts delivery of drones to armed forces

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Ukraine sharply boosts delivery of drones to armed forces

Ukraine has delivered three times more drones to its armed forces so far this year than in the whole of 2023, a top commander said, as Ukrainian forces accelerate the use of unmanned craft in the war against Russia.

“This process continues and will only grow,” said Colonel Vadym Sukharevskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s drone forces.

Ukraine, which has been fighting off a full-scale Russian invasion for nearly 26 months, is seeking to ramp up its domestic arms manufacturing and use of innovative technologies to compete against its much larger and wealthier enemy.

He was speaking at an exhibition on Saturday showcasing Ukrainian-made unmanned vehicles for land, sea and air, electronic warfare systems and armoured vehicles.

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Ninety-nine percent of drones used by the Ukrainian military are produced domestically, Sukharevskyi said.

“It’s no secret that our resource limitations in artillery are compensated by drones, such as FPVs (first-person view) and (bomber) drop drones,” he told reporters, referencing an imbalance of artillery firepower between Ukraine and Russia which analysts put at six to one in Russia’s favour.

As the Ukrainian military is outgunned and outmanned on the battlefield, Moscow’s forces have been increasing pressure along the entire frontline and making gradual gains.

The increased use of drones by both sides has been shifting the conflict away from the battlefield to strikes on each other’s military, energy and transport infrastructure.

Ukrainian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), used to hit targets inside Russia in recent months, can now hit targets more than 1,200 km (750 miles) away, Sukharevskyi said.

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Tesla will lay off more than 10% of its workforce.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine’s Minister of Strategic Industries, said Ukrainian weapons manufacturers had fuelled both military and economic progress in the country.

Ukraine’s booming military-industrial complex grew GDP by 1.5% in 2023, a significant chunk of the total GDP growth last year of around 5%.
Kamyshin said he was confident that figure would double to 3% of GDP growth this year. But he warned Ukraine’s government could not afford to buy up all its domestic weapons production.

Ukraine was in discussions with international allies about the purchase of weapons for Ukraine from Ukrainian makers to cover the financial shortfall, he said.

“I am convinced that we will start purchases from Ukrainian manufacturers with foreign funds in the new future,” he said. 

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Aseefa Bhutto Zardari sworn in MNA

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari sworn in MNA

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Aseefa Bhutto Zardari sworn in MNA

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari was sworn in as a member of the National Assembly.

NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq administered the oath.

During the session, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari provided headphones to Aseefa Bhutto Zardari to reduce the noise disturbances as PTI MNAs raised slogans calling for the release of the PTI founder.

Following Aseefa Zardari’s swearing-in, PPP members also chanted slogans in support of the Bhutto family like ‘jiye Bhutto’. 

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British jets shot down Iranian drones, PM Sunak says

British jets shot down Iranian drones, PM Sunak says

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British jets shot down Iranian drones, PM Sunak says

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that British military jets shot down drones launched by Iran in its attack on Israel and called for “calm heads to prevail” to avoid an escalation of the conflict.

“I can confirm that our planes did shoot down a number of Iranian attack drones,” Sunak told broadcasters.

“If this attack had been successful, the fallout for regional stability would be hard to overstate. We stand by the security of Israel and the wider region, which is of course important for our security here at home, too. What we now need is for calm heads to prevail.”

Sunak was due to join discussions between Group of Seven leaders later on Sunday.

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“It’s important that we coordinate with allies and we’ll be discussing next steps at that moment,” he said

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