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Cambodian court jails activists for plotting against government, insulting king

Cambodian court jails activists for plotting against government, insulting king

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Cambodian court jails activists for plotting against government, insulting king

A Cambodian court handed jail terms of up to eight years to 10 activists of environmental group Mother Nature, on charges of plotting against the government and insulting the king, the group’s founder and a lawyer said on Tuesday.

The verdict comes amid growing concerns about freedom of expression in Cambodia under Prime Minister Hun Manet, who took power last year after the decades-long rule of his father, Hun Sen.

Five defendants who belonged to the group, which had called the case politically motivated, were arrested outside the court in Phnom Penh immediately after the verdict, as supporters dressed in white held placards reading, “Justice is Dead”.

The group’s lawyer, Sam Chomreun, confirmed the sentences for the 10 activists.

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“This regime is not only disconnected from reality, it has also shown us how inhumane and cruel it can be towards those who dare to stand up for what is right,” the group’s founder, Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson, said of the court decision.

“However, this will not be in vain. Today, a new generation of activists has been created.”

A Spanish national, Gonzales-Davidson told Reuters he was one of three activists held guilty of infringing Cambodia’s lese majeste law and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Seven received six-year jail terms for plotting against the government, added Gonzales-Davidson, who was sentenced in absentia after having been deported from Cambodia almost a decade ago.

The government was not targeting its critics, but only those who broke the law, its spokesman, Pen Bona, said.

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“I appeal to civil society groups to differentiate between criticisms and crimes,” he added. “They are two different things.”

The government has previously denied the trial was politically motivated, saying it did not prosecute critics, only those who commit crimes.

Mother Nature has long campaigned against environmental destruction in Cambodia, highlighting deforestation, illegal sand mining and corruption in development projects.

The accusations of plotting against the state had not been clarified in court, said Gonzales-Davidson, but three members were arrested after documenting suspected pollution run-off into the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh, the capital, in 2021.

The lese majeste charges relate to an internal Zoom meeting about political cartooning that was leaked.

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The European Union expressed concern about increasing persecution and arrests of human rights defenders in Cambodia.

“We call for the upholding of democratic standards and respect for human rights, including the right to peaceful protest,” its Cambodia mission added in a statement on Facebook.

Tuesday’s verdict was devastating, said New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“It also sends an appalling message to Cambodia’s youth that the government will side with special interests over the environment every chance it gets,” it added in a statement.

The rights group had previously warned that Hun Manet, like his father, appeared intent on muzzling criticism of the government.

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Under Hun Sen, the opposition was all but dismantled, independent media shuttered and dozens of activists jailed.

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UK’s Rwanda asylum scheme has cost 700 million pounds

UK’s Rwanda asylum scheme has cost 700 million pounds

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UK's Rwanda asylum scheme has cost 700 million pounds

 Britain’s now-scrapped plan to deport migrants who arrive illegally on British shores to Rwanda has cost taxpayers 700 million pounds ($904 million), new interior minister Yvette Cooper said on Monday.

“Two and a half years after the previous government launched (the Rwanda plan), I can report it has already cost the British taxpayer 700 million pounds,” she told parliament. 

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Hungary, Slovakia ask European Commission to mediate with Ukraine over Lukoil

Hungary, Slovakia ask European Commission to mediate with Ukraine over Lukoil

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Hungary, Slovakia ask European Commission to mediate with Ukraine over Lukoil

Hungary and Slovakia have asked the European Commission to mediate a consultation procedure with Ukraine, Hungary’s foreign minister said on Monday, after Kyiv placed Russian group Lukoil on a sanctions list, stopping its supplies to the two countries.

Slovakia and Hungary have stepped up pressure on Kyiv after they said last week they had stopped receiving oil from Lukoil via Ukraine. Hungary receives 2 million metric tonnes of oil from the Russian group annually, around a third of its total oil imports, Peter Szijjarto said.

“I spoke with the Ukrainian foreign minister yesterday, he said they allow every oil transfer through, but it’s not true,” Szijjarto told reporters while in Brussels.

The two countries have now initiated a consultation with the European Commission, he said. “The Commission has three days to execute our request, after which we will bring the issue to court.”

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Szijjarto said if the consultation procedure did not bear fruit, Hungary and Slovakia would bring the issue to an international court of their choosing instead.

In an attempt to sell the freed-up crude volumes, Lukoil has added some 140,000 metric tonnes of crude oil to its original lifting plan for the Black Sea port of Novorossiis for July, market sources said.

Lukoil’s oil supplies via Druzhba’s southern spur account for some 50% of the pipeline’s flows. MOL’s refineries in Slovakia and Hungary totally depend on supplies from Lukoil.

As an alternative, Hungary may import oil from Croatia’s Omisalj sea port via the Adria pipeline, while Slovakia is landlocked and is only able to get oil via Hungary.

Since April, oil imports via Omisalj were at around 500,000 metric tons each month. Supplies include such oil grades as Basrah, Azeri BTC and CPC Blend.

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Russia continues to supply natural gas and oil to landlocked Hungary and Slovakia via Ukraine despite the war in the country and existing EU sanctions on Russian crude.

The countries have exemptions from oil sanctions to give them more time to transition to alternative sources of supply.

Both Slovakia and Hungary also supply energy to Ukraine. Szijjarto said Hungary provided 42% of Ukrainian electricity imports last month.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said over the weekend that his country helped supply diesel to Ukraine, in comments in which he blasted the sanctions and said Slovakia would not be “hostage” to Ukraine-Russia relations.

On Monday Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar reiterated some of Fico’s comments, saying that the sanction had a bigger impact on Slovakia and the EU than Russia itself.

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Ukraine’s ban does not affect other Russian oil exporters whose oil was still allowed to transit through Ukraine.

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Russian troops mount pressure on Ukrainian logistics hub of Pokrovsk

Russian troops mount pressure on Ukrainian logistics hub of Pokrovsk

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Russian troops mount pressure on Ukrainian logistics hub of Pokrovsk

Ukraine’s top commander said on Monday that Russian forces were staging relentless assaults to try to advance towards the town of Pokrovsk, a logistics hub in the east and that there was active fighting taking place along the entire front line.

Nearly 29 months after the full-scale invasion, Ukraine has stepped up its mobilisation effort to address its manpower shortages and been reinforced by supplies of Western artillery shells, but Russian troops have continued to inch forward.

“The enemy pays no attention to their fairly high level of losses and continues to push through towards Pokrovsk,” Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a statement from the eastern front.

Pokrovsk is less than 25 km (15 miles) from Russian-occupied land, according to open-source intelligence battlefield maps, and lies at an intersection of roads and a railway that makes it an important logistics point for the military and for civilians in the east.

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“Active combat operations of varying intensity are taking place along the entire front,” Syrskyi said, noting that Russian forces were also trying to capture floodplain islands near the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.

FIGHTING RAGES IN EAST

Fierce battles, he said, also raged near several eastern villages and towns, including Krasnohorivka and Chasiv Yar, a strategic hilltop town whose capture would bring Russia closer to threatening important Kyiv-held Donetsk region cities.

That’s a balance to be found between perfect security, which is the priority. And there is no discussion.

Russia staged 39 assaults on the Pokrovsk front in the last 24 hours of a total of 117 registered along the front line, the military said in its daily battlefield readout.

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Russian forces captured two villages in the east over the weekend, Russian media said, citing the Defence Ministry.

Though Kyiv’s weary troops have been on the backfoot this year with Russia again on the offensive and keeping up the pressure, Moscow’s progress has been slow.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who travels to China this week on a diplomatic trip, estimated on Friday that Russia controlled 17.68% of Ukrainian territory compared with 17.61% on Jan. 1, 2024.

A senior NATO official said this month that Russia lacked the munitions and troops for a major offensive in Ukraine and would need to secure significant ammunition supplies from other countries beyond what it already has to do so.

LONG-RANGE STRIKES

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Russia has pounded Ukraine’s electricity system with airstrikes in recent months, causing regular power cuts across the country.

Ukraine has used domestic-made drones to attack targets in Russia and staged a major overnight strike that damaged its Tuapse oil refinery, its biggest on the Black Sea.

In his statement, Syrskyi said it was vital for Kyiv to conduct long-range strikes on Russian forces, echoing Ukrainian officials who have appealed to allies to allow Kyiv to use Western-supplied weapons to attack military targets inside Russia.

Russia has warned that the use of U.S. and Western weapons against targets inside Russia could trigger a new level of confrontation.

Ukraine is also grappling with a shortage of short-range anti-aircraft missiles to repel Russian reconnaissance drones and is having to rely on drones and other electronic warfare systems for defence, he said. 

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