Black Friday Faces Green Backlash in Belgium

Black Friday deals have prompted a backlash in Belgium where some businesses rejected promotions and chose to close for the day or even offered to repair used clothes for free.

At the Xandres clothing store, in the Flemish city of Ghent, a sign on the window read “Green Friday – closed on November 25 – get your clothes repaired for free.”

Signs in the apparel chain’s outlets have invited customers in recent weeks to take torn or worn clothing to the store to get it repaired for free. On Friday company staff were fixing customers’ clothes at the company’s headquarters.

In the coming days, customers can collect their repaired clothing at the company’s stores.

“The idea behind Black Friday is to buy as much clothing as possible at the biggest discount possible. That does not match our sustainability philosophy,” Xandres Chief Executive Patrick Desrumaux, 50, told Reuters.

“You cannot buy anything at all from us today. All our shops are closed, the web shop is closed and instead of selling we are going to grant a longer life to clothes by repairing all the clothes that were brought in,” he said.

Many shoppers in the medieval port city could not agree more.

“If I need something, I’ll buy it when I need it. I don’t believe in Black Friday prices. I’ve always had the feeling we’re being ripped off: first prices go up, then you get a discount on that,” said retired florist Bart Vanderelsken.

Xandres was not the only outlet resisting the Black Friday frenzy.

Home and garden accessories chain Dille & Kamille closed all its shops in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as its web shop, and suggested customers take a nature walk, feed the birds or volunteer at environmental organizations.

“You will find happiness in nature, not in discounts,” read a sign on its Ghent shop.

Tycho Van Hauwaert, a circular economy expert at environmental group BBL, said he expects more stores will join the Green Friday trend as consumers make the link between their purchasing behavior and climate change.

“Black Friday only fans the flame of consumption of throwaway goods … circularity should become the norm, which means products that last longer, products that can be repaired, products that are recyclable,” he said.

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Death Toll Revised; 1 Dead, up to 12 Missing in Italian Landslide

Italian officials on Saturday revised downward the death toll from a landslide on the island of Ischia.

Italian officials now say one woman has died, while 10-12 people are missing, Naples prefect Claudio Palomba told reporters Saturday. 

“Currently the confirmed death toll is one, a woman. Eight missing persons have been found, including a child, and there still are around 10 missing,” Palomba said, adding that around 100 people living close to the landslide area had been evacuated.

There was confusion earlier over the death toll, when Vice Premier Matteo Salvini said eight people were dead, but the interior minister said no one had died but that about a dozen people were missing.

“The situation is very complicated and very serious because probably some of those people are under the mud,” Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told RAI state TV from an emergency command center in Rome.

Heavy rain, as much as 126 millimeters in six hours, triggered the landslide. A wave of mud hit Casamicciola Terme, one of the island’s six towns, engulfed at least one house and swept several cars out to sea. 

Officials have asked residents who live in the island’s other towns, but have not been affected by the landslide, to stay home to avoid hindering the rescue operation.  

Ischia is a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and is about 30 kilometers from Naples, the nearest major city.

Emergency workers from Naples have been dispatched to the island, but weather conditions are making it difficult to reach the island. 

In 2017, an earthquake in Casamicciola Terme killed two people. 

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Vatican Says China Bishop Appointment Violates 2018 Deal

The Vatican on Saturday expressed regret at the appointment of a bishop in a diocese in China that the Holy see does not recognize, saying it violated a 2018 deal with Beijing and hinting at political pressure.

The Vatican last month said it had renewed for the second time the reportedly secretive deal allowing both Beijing and the Holy See a say in appointing bishops in China.

“The Holy See noted with surprise and regret the news of the ‘installation ceremony’ on November 24 in Nanchang of Monsignor Giovanni Peng Weizhao, bishop of Yujiang (Jiangxi Province) as ‘auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi,’ the Vatican said in a statement.

“This event did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue that exists between the Vatican parties and the Chinese parties and with what was stipulated in the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops” of 2018.

For decades, there have been two Catholic churches in China, one that answers to Beijing, and an “underground” congregation that remains loyal to Rome — often at huge personal risk.

The Vatican said the “civil recognition” of the new bishop “was proceeded, according to reports received, by prolonged and intense pressure from the local authorities,” without elaborating.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated” the statement said, adding that the Vatican was awaiting a communication on the matter from the Chinese authorities.

The Vatican “reaffirms its full availability to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all issues of common interest.”

The 2018 deal was renewed despite tensions over the arrest of retired cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the most senior Catholic cardinals in Asia, by authorities in Hong Kong in May.

The 90-year-old cardinal was among six dissidents convicted Friday over their running of a multi-million-dollar defense fund for arrested anti-government protesters.

They were arrested under sweeping national security legislation that Beijing imposed in 2020, a year after the outbreak of huge and often violent protests.

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Syrian Kurds Say They Have Stopped Operations Against IS

The commander of the main U.S.-backed Kurdish-led force in Syria said Saturday they have halted operations against the Islamic State group due to Turkish attacks on northern Syria over the past week.

Mazloum Abdi of the Syrian Democratic Forces told reporters that after nearly a week of Turkish airstrikes on northern Syria, Ankara is now preparing for a ground offensive. He said Turkey-backed opposition fighters are getting ready to take part in the operations.

Abdi added that Turkish strikes over the past week have caused severe damage to the region’s infrastructure.

Abdi said Turkey is taking advantage of the deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups. Kurdish organizations have denied any involvement in the Istanbul attack that killed six and wounded dozens.

Over the past week, Turkey launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the Istanbul attack.

“The forces that work symbolically with the international coalition in the fight against Daesh are now targets for the Turkish state and therefore (military) operations have stopped,” Abdi said, using an Arabic acronym of the Islamic State group. “Anti-Daesh operations have stopped.”

His comments came hours after the U.S. military said two rockets targeted U.S.-led coalition forces at bases in the northeastern Syrian town of Shaddadah resulting in no “injuries or damage to the base or coalition property.”

The U.S. military statement said SDF fighters visited the site of the rocket’s origin and found a third unfired rocket.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, blamed IS sleeper cells for the Friday night attack on the U.S. base.

“Attacks of this kind place coalition forces and the civilian populace at risk and undermine the hard-earned stability and security of Syria and the region,” said Col. Joe Buccino, CENTCOM spokesman.

The SDF said in a statement before midnight Friday that as Turkish drones flew over the al-Hol camp that is home to tens of thousands of mostly wives, widows and children of IS fighters, some IS family members attacked security forces and managed to escape from the sprawling facility. The SDF did not say how many escaped but that they were later detained.

Kurdish authorities operate more than two dozen detention facilities scattered across northeastern Syria holding about 10,000 IS fighters. Among the detainees are some 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them, including about 800 Europeans.

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UK: Russia Likely Removing Nukes to Fire Aging, Unarmed Munitions at Ukraine

“Russia is likely removing the nuclear warheads from ageing nuclear cruise missiles and firing the unarmed munitions at Ukraine,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday in an intelligence update posted on Twitter about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Open source imagery shows wreckage of an apparently shot-down AS-15 KENT air launched cruise missile (ALCM), designed in the 1980s exclusively as a nuclear delivery system. The warhead had probably been substituted for ballast.”

The ministry said, “Although such an inert system will still produce some damage through the missile’s kinetic energy and any unspent fuel, it is unlikely to achieve reliable effects against intended targets. Russia almost certainly hopes such missiles will function as decoys and divert Ukrainian air defenses.”

“Whatever Russia’s intent,” the British agency said, “this improvisation highlights the level of depletion in Russia’s stock of long-range missiles.

Ukrainian authorities have worked to restore power throughout the country, making some progress to repair the electric grid following Russian missile attacks, but are still unable to immediately help millions of Ukrainians in the dark.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Friday that workers had managed to halve the number of people whose electricity had been cut off since Wednesday. However, he said 6 million Ukrainians were still without power.

National power grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram on Friday, “Repairs crews are working around the clock.”

It said 30% of electricity supplies were still out, and asked people to conserve energy.

Zelenskyy also pleaded with people to cut back on the amount of energy they use.

“If there is electricity, this doesn’t mean you can turn on several powerful electrical appliances at once,” he said.

Russian forces unleashed yet another devastating missile barrage against Ukraine on Wednesday, causing Kyiv’s biggest outages since the invasion began nine months ago.

Ukraine said the attacks are clearly intended to harm civilians, making them a war crime. Russia has said it targets only military-linked infrastructure and has blamed Kyiv for the blackouts.

The weather forecast across much of Ukraine for coming days calls for rain and snow and temperatures in the single digits, Celsius.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that Russian missile attacks on civilian infrastructure are leaving the country’s population without heat, lights and food in a “horrific start” to the winter.

Speaking in Brussels, Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is failing in Ukraine, and he is responding with more brutality.”

Stoltenberg said NATO would continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. He said the members of the alliance have been “providing unprecedented military support” and other aid for Ukraine.

NATO countries have also been delivering fuel, generators, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone-jamming devices, he said, but added that more will be needed as winter closes in, particularly as Russia continues to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

In other developments Friday, missiles struck the recently liberated city of Kherson for the second day.

At least 11 people were killed in the strikes, which began Thursday and continued into Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Russia withdrew its forces from the city two weeks ago, however Russian troops remain on the other side of the Dnieper River, where they can fire missiles at Kherhson.

On the diplomatic front, European leaders pledged more support for Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced a new aid package for Ukraine during his visit to Kyiv on Friday.

The package — worth about $60 million, according to Britain — includes radar and other technology to counter the Iranian-supplied exploding drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets, especially the power grid. The aid comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 surface-to-air missiles that Britain announced earlier in November.

“Words are not enough. Words won’t keep the lights on this winter. Words won’t defend against Russian missiles,” Cleverly said in a tweet about the military aid. He added that “as winter sets in, Russia is continuing to try and break Ukrainian resolve through its brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals, and energy infrastructure.”

France will send 100 high-powered generators to Ukraine to help people get through the winter, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna also announced Friday. She said Russia is “weaponizing” winter and plunging Ukraine’s civilian population into hardship.

In addition to European aid, the United Nations humanitarian office said the global body and its partners were sending hundreds of generators to Ukraine to help Kyiv in its efforts to keep people warm and maintain essential services, such as health care. The World Health Organization said it is sending generators to hospitals in Ukraine.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Friday he was shocked at the depth of civilian suffering caused by the bombing, amid broader allegations of abuses.

“Millions are being plunged into extreme hardship and appalling conditions of life by these strikes,” Türk said in a statement Friday.

“Taken as a whole, this raises serious problems under international humanitarian law, which requires a concrete and direct military advantage for each object attacked,” he said.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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At Least 8 Die in Italian Landslide

Italian officials say eight people on the island of Ischia have died in a landslide caused by heavy rains. 

A wave of mud in Casamicciola Terme, one of the island’s six towns, engulfed at least one house and swept several cars out to sea. 

Two occupants of one of the cars were reported to have been rescued. 

Earlier reports said that 13 people were missing, including a newborn.  

Officials have asked residents who live in the island’s other towns, but have not been affected by the landslide, to stay home to avoid hindering the rescue operation. 

Ischia is a volcanic island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and is about 30 kilometers from Naples, the nearest major city.

Emergency workers from Naples have been dispatched to the island, but the weather conditions are making it difficult to reach the island. 

In 2017, an earthquake in Casamicciola Terme killed two people. 

 

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Ukraine Gradually Restores Power After Russian Strikes

Ukrainian authorities have worked to restore power throughout the country, making some progress to repair the electric grid following Russian missile attacks but are still unable to immediately help millions of Ukrainians in the dark.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Friday that workers had managed to halve the number of people whose electricity had been cut off since Wednesday. However, he said 6 million Ukrainians were still without power.

National power grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram on Friday, “Repairs crews are working around the clock.”

It said 30% of electricity supplies were still out and asked people to conserve energy.

Zelenskyy also pleaded with people to cut back on the amount of energy they use.

“If there is electricity, this doesn’t mean you can turn on several powerful electrical appliances at once,” he said.

Russian forces unleashed yet another devastating missile barrage against Ukraine on Wednesday, causing Kyiv’s biggest outages since the invasion began nine months ago.

Ukraine said the attacks are clearly intended to harm civilians, making them a war crime. Russia has said it targets only military-linked infrastructure and has blamed Kyiv for the blackouts.

The weather forecast across much of Ukraine for coming days calls for rain and snow and temperatures in the single digits, Celsius.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that Russian missile attacks on civilian infrastructure are leaving the country’s population without heat, lights and food in a “horrific start” to the winter.

Speaking in Brussels, Stoltenberg said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is failing in Ukraine, and he is responding with more brutality.”

Stoltenberg said NATO would continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. He said the members of the alliance have been “providing unprecedented military support” and other aid for Ukraine.

NATO countries have also been delivering fuel, generators, medical supplies, winter equipment and drone-jamming devices, he said, but added that more will be needed as winter closes in, particularly as Russia continues to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

In other developments Friday, missiles struck the recently liberated city of Kherson for the second day.

At least 11 people were killed in the strikes, which began Thursday and continued into Friday, according to The Associated Press.

Russia withdrew its forces from the city two weeks ago, however Russian troops remain on the other side of the Dnieper River, where they can fire missiles at Kherhson.

On the diplomatic front, European leaders pledged more support for Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced a new aid package for Ukraine during his visit to Kyiv on Friday.

The package — worth about $60 million, according to Britain — includes radar and other technology to counter the Iranian-supplied exploding drones that Russia has used against Ukrainian targets, especially the power grid. The aid comes on top of a delivery of more than 1,000 surface-to-air missiles that Britain announced earlier in November.

“Words are not enough. Words won’t keep the lights on this winter. Words won’t defend against Russian missiles,” Cleverly said in a tweet about the military aid. He added that “as winter sets in, Russia is continuing to try and break Ukrainian resolve through its brutal attacks on civilians, hospitals, and energy infrastructure.”

France will send 100 high-powered generators to Ukraine to help people get through the winter, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna also announced Friday. She said Russia is “weaponizing” winter and plunging Ukraine’s civilian population into hardship.

In addition to European aid, the United Nations humanitarian office said the global body and its partners were sending hundreds of generators to Ukraine to help Kyiv in its efforts to keep people warm and maintain essential services, such as health care. The World Health Organization said it is sending generators to hospitals in Ukraine.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Friday he was shocked at the depth of civilian suffering caused by the bombing, amid broader allegations of abuses.

“Millions are being plunged into extreme hardship and appalling conditions of life by these strikes,” Türk said in a statement Friday.

“Taken as a whole, this raises serious problems under international humanitarian law, which requires a concrete and direct military advantage for each object attacked,” he said.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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London to Expand Vehicle Pollution Zone to Cover 9 Million People

Older and more heavily polluting vehicles will have to pay to enter the entire metropolitan area of London starting next August, the British capital’s mayor said Friday.

Sadiq Khan said the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) would be expanded beyond its current confines starting August 29 to encompass the entire 9 million people of greater London.

Announcing a parallel expansion of bus services in outer London, he argued that air pollution from older and heavier vehicles was making Londoners “sick from cradle to the grave.”

The ULEZ has proved transformational, the mayor said, and its extension would mean “5 million more people will be able to breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives.”

But the plan has prompted a fierce backlash from political opponents and some residents in the capital, who point to a survey indicating that most Londoners opposed extending the zone.

The two-month outreach exercise was held earlier this year by Transport for London, which runs the capital’s various transport systems. The survey heard from 57,913 people, including nearly 12,000 campaigners on either side of the issue.

Although it found 55% of respondents had “some concern” about their local air quality, the survey also recorded 59% as opposed to the ULEZ being expanded.

That rose to 70% in the outer London areas set to be part of the enlargement.

“Sadiq Khan has broken his promise to listen to Londoners,” the Conservative grouping in London’s lawmaking assembly said on Twitter.

“He must U-TURN on the ULEZ expansion.”

The zone has been expanded once since it was introduced in April 2019 and currently covers a large area within London’s North and South Circular inner ring-roads and the city center.

Unless their vehicles are exempt, drivers entering the zone must pay a daily charge of $15.

Gasoline cars first registered after 2005, and diesel cars after September 2015, typically meet the ULEZ standards for nitrous oxide emissions and are exempt.

Air pollution caused around 1,000 annual hospital admissions for asthma and serious lung conditions in London between 2014 and 2016, according to a 2019 report.

A coroner ruled in 2020 that air pollution made a “material contribution” to the death of a 9-year-old London girl in 2013, the first time in Britain that air pollution was officially listed as a cause of death.

Air pollution is “affecting children before they’re even born, and giving them lifelong health issues,” the campaign group Mums for Lungs tweeted.

“Good news for the health of all Londoners,” it said in response to the ULEZ announcement.

Billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, a U.N. climate envoy and former mayor of New York, said Khan was “helping to clean London’s air and set an example for cities around the world.”

But opponents of the ULEZ argue it amounts to a tax on poorer drivers least able to afford to replace their polluting vehicles and has hurt small businesses.

The announcement will be “a hammer-blow for desperate drivers and businesses already struggling with crippling fuel costs” during a cost-of-living crisis, said the head of roads policy for motoring body the RAC, Nicholas Lyes.

All cars and vans entering central London during the daytime also pay a “congestion charge” of 15 pounds, a measure first introduced in 2003.

Similar programs have been set up in several other British towns and cities to reduce emission levels and improve air quality.

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EU Ministers Endorse New Migrant Plan After France-Italy Spat

European interior ministers welcomed Friday an EU plan to better coordinate the handling of migrant arrivals, after a furious argument over a refugee rescue boat erupted between Italy and France.

France has accused Italy of failing to respect the law of the sea by turning away the vessel operated by a non-governmental organization earlier this month, triggering crisis talks in Brussels to head off a new EU dispute over the politically fraught issue.

All sides described the meeting as productive, although Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan, whose country holds the EU presidency, later said all participants had agreed that “more can and must be done” to find a lasting solution.

The ministers will gather again at a Dec. 8 meeting to pursue the “difficult discussion,” he said.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, the commissioner charged with “promoting our European way of life,” said Europe could no longer settle for just another ad hoc solution.

“We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route,” he said.

The numbers of asylum-seekers are still far lower than the levels of 2015 and 2016, but the dispute has undermined a stop-gap pact to redistribute arrivals more evenly around the 27-nation bloc.

Brussels has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum-seekers, but the recent argument has brought the issue to the fore.

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum-seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s interim solution and led to Paris calling Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

“The Ocean Viking crisis was a bit of improvisation,” Schinas admitted, defending the new plan from his commission to better coordinate rescues and migrant and refugee arrivals.

“We have 20 specific actions, we have an important political agreement, everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation.”

The previous plan was drawn up after Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores, like Italy and Greece, complained that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants.

A dozen EU members agreed to take in 8,000 asylum seekers — with France and Germany accepting 3,500 each, but so far just 117 relocations have happened.

On Monday, the European Commission unveiled a new action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean Sea route.

It was not well-received by aid agencies. Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work.”

And a European diplomat said that plan “contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

The ministers nevertheless accepted it, and Schinas said it should prevent more crises as Europe once again attempts to negotiate a global migration plan that would have the force of EU law.

The plan would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic sea rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160%, according to the EU border force Frontex.

Greek Interior Minister Notis Mitarachi, meanwhile, complained that Turkey is not complying with a 2016 migration agreement that includes taking back migrants who are not entitled to asylum. 

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Putin Decries Media ‘Lies’ at Meeting with Soldiers’ Mothers 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday criticized what he said were skewed media portrayals of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine as he met with mothers of Russian soldiers fighting there. 

“Life is more difficult and diverse than what is shown on TV screens or even on the internet. There are many fakes, cheating, lies there,” Putin said. 

The meeting with more than a dozen women came as uncertainty persists over whether enlistment efforts may resume in the face of recent battlefield setbacks. 

Putin said that he sometimes speaks with troops directly by telephone, according to a Kremlin transcript and photos of the meeting. 

“I’ve spoken to [troops] who surprised me with their mood, their attitude to the matter. They didn’t expect these calls from me … [the calls] give me every reason to say that they are heroes,” Putin said. 

Some soldiers’ relatives complained of not being invited to the meeting, and they have directly criticized Putin’s leadership as well as the recent “partial mobilization” that defense officials said resulted in 300,000 reservists being called up. 

‘We are waiting’

Olga Tsukanova of the Council of Mothers and Wives, a movement formed by relatives of mobilized soldiers, said in a video message on the Telegram messaging app that authorities had ignored queries and requests from her organization. 

“We are here in Moscow, ready to meet with you. We are waiting for your reply,” she said, addressing Putin directly. 

“We have men in the ministry of defense, in the military prosecutor’s office, powerful guys in the presidential administration … and mothers on the other side. Will you start a dialogue or will you hide?” she said in her message.  

Unconfirmed reports by some Russian media outlets suggested that some of the women meeting with Putin on Friday were members of pro-Kremlin social movements, the ruling United Russia party, or local officials backing Putin’s government. 

Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, a Russian rights organization, told the independent Verstka publication earlier this week that its members were also not invited to the meeting. 

Since October, relatives of mobilized soldiers have organized protests in more than a dozen Russian regions, calling on the authorities to release their relatives from front-line duty and ensure they had appropriate food rations, shelter and equipment. 

Reports by the AP, independent Russian media and activists have suggested that many of the mobilized reservists are inexperienced, were told to procure basic items such as medical kits and flak jackets themselves and did not receive proper training before deployment. Some were reported killed within days. 

Concerns persist in Russia about whether the Kremlin may renew its mobilization efforts, as Ukrainian forces continue to press a counteroffensive in the country’s south and east. Moscow has suffered a string of battlefield setbacks, losing territory in the northeastern Kharkiv and southern Kherson regions. 

While Russian officials last month declared the “partial mobilization” complete, critics have warned it could resume after military enlistment offices are freed up from processing conscripts from Russia’s annual fall draft.

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US Official Urges ‘De-escalation’ as Turkey Strikes Syria

A U.S. official in Syria on Friday called for an “immediate de-escalation” following days of deadly airstrikes and shelling along the Syria-Turkey border, saying the actions destabilize the region and undermine the fight against the Islamic State group. 

Turkey this week launched a wave of airstrikes on suspected Kurdish rebels hiding in neighboring Syria and Iraq, in retaliation for a deadly November 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blamed on the Kurdish groups. 

The groups denied involvement in the bombing and said the Turkish strikes had killed civilians and threatened the anti-IS fight. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said that 67 civilians, gunmen and soldiers had been killed in Turkish attacks in northern Syria since the airstrikes began. 

Nikolas Granger, the U.S. senior representative to northeastern Syria, said Washington “strongly opposes military action that further destabilizes the lives of communities and families in Syria and we want immediate de-escalation.” 

The developments are “unacceptably dangerous and we are deeply concerned,” said Granger, who is currently in Syria. He added that the strikes also were endangering U.S. military personnel there. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened a new land invasion of northern Syria targeting Kurdish groups. On Friday, he said Turkey would continue its “struggle against all kinds of terror inside and outside our borders.” 

Turkey and the United States both consider the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a terror group for the decades-long insurgency and attacks the group has staged within Turkey’s borders. 

But they disagree on the status of the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. The Syrian Kurdish group has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against IS. 

Turkey has carried out three major incursions into northern Syria since 2016 and its forces still control part of the country. 

Kurdish officials in Syria have been warning that any new Turkish incursion would disrupt the fight against IS, which still has sleeper cells and has carried out deadly attacks in recent months against the Syrian Kurdish-led opposition forces as well as Syrian government forces. 

“We take these threats seriously and prepare to confront any ground attacks,” Siamand Ali, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told The Associated Press.

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Wife of Jailed Belarusian Nobel Winner to Accept His Award

The wife of jailed Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, one of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners, will accept the award on his behalf at the upcoming ceremony, organizers said Friday.

Bialiatski, 60, won the prestigious prize in October together with Russian rights group Memorial and Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties, which is documenting “Russian war crimes” against the Ukrainian people.

The prize will be presented to the trio at a formal ceremony in Oslo on December 10.

Bialiatski was jailed after large-scale demonstrations against the regime in 2020, when Belarus’ authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, claimed victory in elections the international community deemed fraudulent.

His wife, Natalia Pinchuk, will represent him in Norway.

“We are very happy that she has gotten out of Belarus and everything is arranged for her to be able to participate in the (Nobel) ceremony at Oslo City Hall on December 10,” the head of the Nobel Institute, Olav Njolstad, told AFP in an email.

Memorial will be represented by its chairman, Yan Rachinsky, and the CCL by its director, Oleskandra Matviychuk, the institute said.

A highly symbolic choice for this year’s prize, the trio represent the three nations at the center of the war in Ukraine, which has plunged Europe into its worst security crisis since World War II.

The committee said it honored the three for their struggle for “human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence in the neighbor countries Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.”

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At 9-Month Mark of Invasion, Zelenskyy Says Russia Won’t ‘Break Us’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday in his nightly address, nine months to the day into Russia’s full-scale invasion, that the enemy had failed to find a way to “break us, and will not find one,” adding the Ukrainian military was holding “key lines” in all directions.

He said that Ukrainian advances were planned in some unnamed areas.

The grim nine-month milestone came with much of Ukraine still plunged in darkness and without reliable water supplies as a result of a furious series of Russian missile attacks on civilian infrastructure that cut off power all over the country Wednesday.

“Together we have endured nine months of full-scale war and Russia has not found any way to break us, and it will not find one,” Zelenskyy said.

He said Russian forces were heavily bombing the city of Kherson, which occupying forces abandoned earlier this month. It was the only regional capital they have captured so far in the full-scale invasion.

Zelenskyy said “almost every hour” brings reports of new Russian air strikes on the city, and seven people had been killed and 21 more wounded there Thursday, according to local officials.

“Such terror began immediately after the Russian Army was forced to flee from the Kherson region. This is the revenge of the losers,” Zelenskyy said. “They do not know how to fight. The only thing they can do for now is terrorize. Either energy terror, or artillery, or missile terror — that’s all that Russia has degraded to under its current leaders.”

Zelenskyy said Ukrainian troops “are holding key milestones in all directions…and there are directions in which we are preparing to move forward.”

He said the Russian side appeared to be transferring additional forces to certain areas.

RFE/RL was unable to confirm battlefield claims and casualty reports on either side in areas of heavy fighting.

The Ukrainian Army’s General Staff reported that the Russians have “intensified counter-sabotage and policing measures” in the occupied area of Skadovskiy in the Kherson region.

It said Russian troops were also strengthening fortification equipment and logistical support of advanced units in the Kherson, Kryviy Rih, and Kryvorizka areas.

It said Russians were concentrating their main efforts on offensives in the areas of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka.

Some information for this story came from Reuters.

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France Takes First Step to Add Abortion Right to Constitution

Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament on Thursday adopted a bill to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a lengthy and uncertain legislative battle prompted by the rollback of abortion rights in the United States. 

The vote was 337-32 in the 557-member National Assembly. 

To be added into the constitution, any measure must be first approved by majorities in the National Assembly and the upper house, the Senate, and then in a nationwide referendum. 

Authors of the proposal, from a left-wing coalition, argued the measure was aimed at “protecting and guaranteeing the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy.” 

Abortion in France was decriminalized under a key 1975 law, but there is nothing in the constitution that would guarantee abortion rights. 

Mathilde Panot, head of the hard-left France Unbowed group at the National Assembly and co-signatory of the proposal, said that “our intent is clear: we want not to leave any chance to people opposed to the right to abortion.” 

French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the centrist government supports the initiative. 

He referred to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June, which eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision to the states. 

“The right to abortion we thought was acquired for 50 years [in the U.S.] was in reality not at all acquired,” he said. 

A recent poll showed that more than 80% of the French population supported the right to abortion. The results were consistent with those in previous surveys. The same poll also showed that a solid majority of people were in favor of enshrining it in the constitution. 

Centrists’ proposal dropped

French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, Renaissance, on Thursday decided to withdraw a similar proposal that was meant to be debated Monday also in the National Assembly. Centrist and leftist lawmakers agreed instead on supporting a single bill saying that “the law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy.” 

Success isn’t guaranteed for supporters of the bill. The Senate, where the conservative party, the Republicans, has a majority, rejected a similar bill in September. The Republican senators argued the measure was not needed since the right to abortion was not under threat in France. 

Dupond-Moretti said he was “hopeful” that some senators could change their minds and form a majority in favor. 

He and other proponents of constitutional change argue that French lawmakers should not take any chances on fundamental rights, since it is easier to change the law than the constitution. 

The right to abortion enjoys broad support across the French political spectrum, including from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Yet Le Pen in recent days said she was opposed to the leftist proposal because she thought it could lead to extending or abolishing the time limit at which a pregnancy can be terminated. 

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, Macron had tweeted that “abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected.”

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