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European powers on Friday vowed to intensify support for Ukraine as it battles to repel Russia, with France’s president underlining at a major security conference that the time was not ripe for talks with Moscow.Days ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia sending its forces into Ukraine, Moscow chalked up a small gain in its grinding offensive.

The head of Russian mercenary group Wagner claimed the capture of a village near Bakhmut — the eastern city that is the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle of Moscow’s offensive.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted that lives were at stake as he opened the Munich Security Conference with an impassioned plea for allies to speed up support.

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“We need speed — speed of our agreements, speed of our delivery… speed of decisions to limit Russian potential,” he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron joined in the call for allies to “intensify our support” for Ukraine to aid its forces in launching a counter-offensive.

“It is not the time for dialogue because we have a Russia which has chosen war, which has chosen to intensify the war, and which has chosen to go as far as committing war crimes and to attacking civilian infrastructure,” he said.

While insisting he did not want to see a drawn-out war, he said France was ready for a “prolonged conflict”.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz meanwhile insisted that German support was “designed to last”, and urged allies to speed up deliveries of heavy tanks promised to Ukraine.

– Scholz tank turnaround –

The conference in Munich is also being attended by US Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Russian delegates including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was a regular attendee in the past, were not invited.

Scholz’s pleas for allies to step up deliveries of tanks underlined a recent reversal of his political fortunes.

Up until last month, he was facing accusations of foot-dragging over his reluctance to permit delivery of the German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, despite increasing pressure from Kyiv.

Berlin finally agreed to allow the armaments, widely used in Europe, to be sent to Ukraine, and pledged to deliver some of the most modern ones from its military stocks.

Under German law, Berlin must give permission for other countries that use the tanks to re-export them.

However, it is now struggling to persuade allies to follow suit.

“Those who can send such battle tanks should really do so now,” Scholz told the conference, where he said he would be “intensively campaigning” to get allies to move on the issue.

– ‘Need Ukraine in EU’ –

Scholz and Macron later held talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda on the sidelines, with the German leader hailing the “good cooperation” between the trio in providing support for Ukraine.

In his address, Zelensky reiterated his ambitions for Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO. Ukraine was recently granted candidate status for the EU, although full membership is a long way off.

Speaking at a panel discussion, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki backed Ukraine’s drive to join the bloc and said the “normal route to accession” should be abandoned given Kyiv’s “extraordinary” position.

“We need Ukraine as part of the European Union and as part of NATO eventually as well. From our point of view the quicker the better,” he said.

US-China ties are also in focus at the gathering, with tensions sky-high after Washington shot down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon over US territory.

With high-level US and Chinese delegations in town, there has been speculation of talks on the sidelines to ease tensions.

The huge white balloon from China was spotted over a series of secret nuclear weapons sites earlier this month, before being shot down just off the eastern US coast.

The incident prompted a diplomatic rift, with Blinken cancelling a rare China visit. Beijing, however, says the balloon was just a stray weather research craft.


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*Former US President fires back, says it’s witch-hunt that will backfire massively on Joe Biden

Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter – the first time in American history that a current or former president has faced criminal charges. But in a swift reaction, Trump released a statement in response to the indictment claiming it was “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.” The former President  faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud the  indictment, according to two sources familiar with the case The indictment has been filed under seal and would be announced in the coming days. The charges are not publicly known at this time, one source told CNN. Manhattan District Attorney (DA), Alvin Bragg’s office would reach out to Trump’s attorneys to discuss his surrender to face an arraignment, CNN disclosed, adding that it had reached out to Trump’s attorneys for comment. Bragg said the office has contacted Trump’s attorney to “coordinate his surrender” for arraignment on “a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal.” “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected,” it added. The DA’s office has been investigating the former president in connection with his alleged role in a hush money payment scheme and cover-up involving adult film star Stormy Daniels that dates to the 2016 presidential election. Manhattan grand jury votes to indict Trump, sources tell CNN The decision is sure to send shockwaves across the country, pushing the American political system – which has never seen one of its ex-leaders confronted with criminal charges, let alone while running again for president – into uncharted waters. The legal action against Trump jolts the 2024 presidential campaign into a new phase – where the former president has vowed to keep running in the face of criminal charges. Trump has frequently called the various investigations surrounding him a “witch hunt,” attempting to sway public opinion on them by casting himself as a victim of what he’s claimed are political probes led by Democratic prosecutors. As the indictment reportedly neared, Trump urged his supporters to protest his arrest, echoing his calls to action following the 2020 election as he tried to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden. Trump has long avoided legal consequences in his personal, professional and political lives. He has settled a number of private civil lawsuits through the years and paid his way out of disputes concerning the Trump Organisation, his namesake company. As president, he was twice impeached by the Democratic-led House, but avoided conviction by the Senate. In December, the Trump Organisation was convicted on multiple charges of tax fraud, though Trump himself was not charged in that case. Trump’s Republican allies – as well as his 2024 GOP rivals – have condemned the Manhattan district attorney’s office over the looming indictment, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has vowed to launch an investigation into the matter. Bragg’s office had signaled as recently as early March that they were close to bringing charges against Trump after they invited the ex-president to testify before the grand jury probing the hush money scheme. Potential defendants in New York are required by law to be notified and invited to appear before a grand jury weighing charges. But Trump ultimately declined to appear before the panel. The long-running investigation first began under Bragg’s predecessor, Cy Vance, when Trump was in office. It relates to a $130,000 payment made by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to Daniels in late October 2016, days before the 2016 presidential election, to silence her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair. At issue in the investigation was the payment made to Daniels and the Trump Organization’s reimbursement to Cohen. According to court filings in Cohen’s own federal prosecution, Trump Organisation executives authorised payments to him totaling $420,000 to cover his original $130,000 payment and tax liabilities and reward him with a bonus. The Trump Organisation noted the reimbursements as a legal expense in its internal books. Trump has denied knowledge of the payment. Meanwhile, Trump in response to the indictment claiming it was “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.” “I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” the former president said. “The American people realise exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing here. Everyone can see it. So our Movement, and our party – united and strong – will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden, and we are going to throw every last one of these Crooked Democrats out of office so we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement that Trump ,“is a victim of a corrupt and distorted version of the American justice system and history. He will be vindicated.” Trump was caught off guard by the grand jury’s decision to indict him, according to a person who spoke directly with him While the former president was bracing for an indictment last week, he began to believe news reports that a potential indictment was weeks – or more – away.

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Ben Llewellyn Jones

Mr Llewellyn-Jones said the strength of Lagos is its diversity as Nigeria’s cosmopolitan city.

The government of the United Kingdom has condemned ethnic profiling and disenfranchisement of Igbos in Lagos during the just concluded governorship election held on March 18.

“People chanting anti-Igbo messages and walking on the streets by polling units on election day is totally unacceptable. Not just in Lagos, but also in Enugu and Rivers where we had our teams as well and many other places,” Ben Llewellyn-Jones, British deputy high commissioner to Nigeria, said.

Mr Llewellyn-Jones, in an interview with Nigeria Info FM on Sunday, said the strength of Lagos is its diversity as Nigeria’s  cosmopolitan city. 

“Why is it that people who pay taxes, who work, who provide teachers, who build businesses, who create jobs, who live in Lagos, who happen to be from a different ethnicity to some other people are not Lagosians? Of course, they are. 

“The strength of Lagos is its diversity, and if Lagos can’t be that kind of cosmopolitan melting pot of culture and language and all the things it should be, then really how is Lagos going to succeed?

“If you live in London, you are a Londoner, a British-Pakistan is a Londoner. The British Prime Minister lives in London. My boss, the British foreign Secretary, is clearly British-Sierra Leone and lives in London, they are Londoners,” Mr Llewellyn-Jones said.

The UK and United States have condemned violence and voter intimidation that marred the March 18 election across the country, threatening sanctions against political actors responsible for it. 

Ethnic tension rocked Lagos in the days running up to the governorship election as operatives of the All Progressives Congress parroted ethnic-laced rhetoric to scare opposition voters away from the election. On the voting day proper, APC thugs roamed the streets unfettered, warning those who will not vote for their party to stay indoors.

Before the election, Musiliu ‘MC Oluomo, a notorious All Progressives Congress thug in Lagos, threatened Igbos who would not vote for the APC to stay indoors. However, Nigerian Police dismissed his threat as a joke.

After the election, Bayo Onanuga, spokesman for President-elect Bola Tinubu took to Twitter to push a toxic anti-Igbo message, calling for total exclusion of Igbos from politics of Lagos, Nigeria’ commercial and cosmopolitan city.

Condemned for his divisive statement, Mr Onanuga doubled down on his position, calling Igbos “existential threats to Yorubas”. Contrary to Mr Onanuga’s stance, the Igbos and Yorubas have coexisted peacefully for decades in Lagos and other parts of the country. 

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The United Kingdom, UK, said it had embarked on an exercise of collating information with the aim to impose visa bans and other sanctions against politicians that engaged in electoral fraud and anti-democratic exercises.

According to the UK, the individuals to be punished were those who engaged in violence and voter suppression in the governorship and state assembly elections in Nigeria.

In a statement by the British High Commission in Abuja, the UK said there were positives to take away from the elections but noted that violence and voter suppression were observed in many states including Lagos, Enugu and Rivers.

The UK was following suit initiated earlier by the United States in condemning the “use of inflammatory ethnoreligious language by some public and political figures”.

The British High Commission said, “These are positive markers to build on for future elections. However, there were notable points of concern. Members of our observation mission personally observed violence, and voter suppression in numerous voting locations.

“We witnessed and received credible reports from other observer missions and civil society organisations of vote buying and voter intimidation the destruction and hijacking of election materials and the general disruption of the process in numerous states including Lagos, Enugu and Rivers.

“In addition, we observed incidents of harassment of journalists. Freedom of speech and a free press are crucial for a healthy democracy, and journalists must be able to go about their work without being threatened.

“The UK is concerned by the use of inflammatory ethnoreligious language by some public and political figures.  We call on all leaders not just to distance themselves from this kind of language, but to prevent those who speak on their behalf from doing so in this way.

“It is a testament to their commitment to democracy that many Nigerians were prepared to vote despite being faced with intimidation and hostility.

“The UK Minister of State for Development and Africa, Andrew Mitchell MP, said on 21 February, that the UK is prepared to take action against those who engage in or incite electoral violence and other anti-democratic behaviours, and action could include preventing people from obtaining UK visas or imposing sanctions under our human rights sanctions regime.

“We can confirm that we are collating relevant information, with a view to taking action against some individuals.”

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