Wolfgang Petersen, Blockbuster Filmmaker of ‘Das Boot,’ Dies

Wolfgang Petersen, the German filmmaker whose World War II submarine epic “Das Boot” propelled him into a blockbuster Hollywood career that included the films “In the Line of Fire,” “Air Force One” and “The Perfect Storm,” has died. He was 81.

Petersen died Friday at his home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood after a battle with pancreatic cancer, said representative Michelle Bega.

Petersen, born in the north German port city of Emden, made two features before his 1982 breakthrough, “Das Boot,” then the most expensive movie in German film history. The 149-minute film (the original cut ran 210 minutes) chronicled the intense claustrophobia of life aboard a doomed German U-boat during the Battle of the Atlantic, with Jürgen Prochnow as the submarine’s commander.

Heralded as an antiwar masterpiece, “Das Boot” was nominated for six Oscars, including for Petersen’s direction and his adaptation of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s best-selling 1973 novel.

Petersen, born in 1941, recalled as a child running alongside American ships as they threw down food. In the confusion of postwar Germany, Petersen — who started out in theater before attending Berlin’s Film and Television Academy in the late 1960s — gravitated toward Hollywood films with clear clashes of good and evil. John Ford was a major influence.

“In school, they never talked about the time of Hitler. They just blocked it out of their minds and concentrated on rebuilding Germany,” Petersen told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “We kids were looking for more glamorous dreams than rebuilding a destroyed country, though, so we were really ready for it when American pop culture came to Germany. We all lived for American movies, and by the time I was 11, I’d decided I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

“Das Boot” launched Petersen as a filmmaker in Hollywood, where he became one of the top makers of cataclysmic action adventures in films spanning war (2004’s “Troy,” with Brad Pitt), pandemic (the 1995 ebola virus-inspired “Outbreak”) and other ocean-set disasters (2000’s “The Perfect Storm” and 2006’s “Poseidon,” a remake of “The Poseidon Adventure,” about the capsizing of an ocean liner).

But Petersen’s first foray in American moviemaking was child fantasy: the enchanting 1984 film “The NeverEnding Story.”

Arguably Petersen’s finest Hollywood film came almost a decade later in 1993’s “In the Line of Fire,” starring Clint Eastwood as a Secret Service agent protecting the president of the United States from John Malkovich’s assassin. In it, Petersen marshaled his substantial skill in building suspense for a more open-air but just as taut thriller that careened across rooftops and past Washington, D.C., monuments.

“In the Line of Fire” was a major hit, grossing $177 million worldwide and landing three Oscar nominations.

“You sometimes have seven-year cycles. You look at other directors; they don’t have the big successes all the time. Up to ‘NeverEnding Story,’ my career was one success after another,” Petersen told The Associated Press in 1993. “Then I came into the stormy international scene. I needed time to get a feeling for this work — it’s not Germany anymore.”

After “Outbreak,” with Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, Petersen returned to the presidency in 1997’s “Air Force One.” Harrison Ford starred as a president forced into a fight with terrorists who hijack Air Force One.

“Air Force One,” with $315 million in global box office, was a hit, too, but Petersen went for something even bigger in 2000’s “The Perfect Storm,” the true-life tale of a Massachusetts fishing boat lost at sea. The cast included George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, but its main attraction was a 100-foot computer-generated wave. With a budget of $120 million, “The Perfect Storm” made $328.7 million.

For Peterson, who grew up on the northern coast of Germany, the sea long held his fascination.

“The power of water is unbelievable,” he said in a 2009 interview. “I was always impressed as a kid how strong it is, all the damage the water could do when it just turned within a couple of hours and smashed against the shore.”

Petersen followed “The Perfect Storm” with “Troy,” a sprawling epic based on Homer’s The Iliad that found less favor among critics but still made nearly $500 million worldwide. The big-budget “Poseidon,” a high-priced flop for Warner Bros., was Petersen’s last Hollywood film. His final film was 2016’s “Four Against the Bank,” a German film that remade Petersen’s own 1976 German TV movie.

Petersen was first married to German actress Ursula Sieg. When they divorced in 1978, he married Maria-Antoinette Borgel, a German script supervisor and assistant director. He’s survived by Borgel, son Daniel Petersen and two grandchildren.

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At Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant, Ukrainians Work Under Russian Guns, Technician Says

Ukrainian technicians at the Russian-held nuclear power plant hit by shelling work under the barrels of Russian guns and face huge pressure, but they are staying on to make sure there is no Chernobyl-style disaster, one of them said.

The technician, who asked that his identity not be disclosed for fear of Russian reprisals, offered a rare glimpse into the fraught working conditions at the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Moscow and Kyiv accuse each other of shelling.

Europe’s biggest nuclear plant was captured by Russia in March, and the bouts of shelling have been widely condemned, prompting calls for an urgent mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the facility in southern Ukraine.

The technician told Reuters that many workers had sent their families away from the town of Enerhodar where the plant is located but had stayed on themselves to ensure the station’s safe operation.

“The employees understand they need to get their families out, but they themselves come back. They have to work because of the possibility of a major catastrophe like Chernobyl in 1986 and that would be much worse,” the technician said.

Heavily armed Russian troops are everywhere at the site, which is in itself highly unnerving, and armored personnel carriers have their barrels pointed at the entrance as workers enter, he added.

The Russian forces sometimes don’t immediately allow workers home after their shifts, he said.

“They find a reason not to let (employees) out — shelling, or they come up with something else,” he said.

“They’re constantly walking around the premises with guns. It’s very hard when you go into the plant and see these people and have to be there. It’s very mentally and psychologically taxing.”

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for a comment.

Energoatom, the top Ukrainian state body that normally oversees the plant, said it believed the facility’s workers were being pressured and were also in danger.

It referred Reuters to comments made by its chief Petro Kotin on August 2 in which he said staff members were working under “intense psychological and physical pressure” and complained about the Russian military presence at the site.

The nuclear power plant had 11,000 personnel before Russia invaded on February 24. Ukrainian authorities are not disclosing the current number of workers, citing security reasons.

One of the constant fears is the electricity lines to the plant could be severed because the pumps that cool the reactor core and spent fuel pools need electricity to function, the technician said.

There is a backup electricity station that runs on diesel, but the technician said he did not know how much diesel fuel was left at the site.

Enerhodar had a pre-war population of more than 50,000. The town’s mayor, Dmytro Orlov, told Reuters that around 25,000 people remain.

Around 1,000 of the plant’s employees had left the town by July, Energoatom’s spokesperson Leonid Oliynyk told Reuters, adding that he had no data for their family members.

Even though only two of the six reactors are functioning currently, there is still a huge amount of important safety work for staff to do, the technician said. Four of the plant’s six reactors are not working at normal capacity currently, but they still require proper maintenance, he said.

“The staff came back to maintain control because the security of Ukraine is at stake and that of the whole European continent and the world,” the technician said.

As several bouts of shelling have hit the complex of the nuclear power plant, Ukraine and Russia have said they want IAEA inspectors to visit the facility, and the agency’s chief, Rafael Grossi, has said he is ready to lead a mission.

The United Nations has said it can facilitate such a trip, but that Ukraine and Russia have to agree on it.  

The technician voiced skepticism that a trip to the facility by an IAEA mission would help much.

“Only the full de-occupation of the town, the nuclear station, the thermal power plant, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions and others, only then will people actually be safe,” he said.

There was no immediate response from the IAEA to a Reuters request for comment.

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UN Chief, Ukrainian and Turkish Presidents to Meet

The United Nations said Tuesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet Thursday in western Ukraine with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the invitation to the tripartite meeting was made by Zelenskyy.

The leaders represent three of the four members in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Russia is the fourth member. The deal, signed in Istanbul on July 22, has allowed for the resumption of Ukrainian grain exports to the international market, while removing some obstacles to the sale of Russian fertilizer and food stuffs.

Some 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain has been stuck in silos and on about two dozen ships in the country’s southern ports since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

The situation has driven up the price of food on global markets at a time when the World Food Program warns that a record 345 million people in 82 countries are now facing acute food insecurity, while up to 50 million people in 45 countries are on the brink of famine. Before the war, Ukrainian food exports fed an estimated 400 million people worldwide.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has been working smoothly since the Joint Coordination Center that oversees the operation went online on July 27. Since then, the JCC has authorized 21 vessels to leave Ukraine’s southern ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Pivdennyi (also known as Yuzhny) carrying 563,317 metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs. Fifteen more ships have been cleared to enter the ports to pick up food cargo. They are moving through a maritime humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea.

On Friday, Guterres will go to the port of Odesa to see the operation in action. Then he will travel to Istanbul where he will visit the JCC on Saturday.

Dujarric said the U.N. chief will have a bilateral meeting with Zelenskyy, during which a number of issues are likely to be raised, including the need for a political solution to the conflict and the urgent need for a technical mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency to go to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. That facility is in currently Russian-controlled territory and has been the subject of shelling in recent weeks, which the IAEA says risks a “nuclear catastrophe.”

Moscow has accused the U.N. secretariat of blocking the visit, an accusation the U.N. denies. 

“On the power plant, there’s been no change, though, in our position as stated yesterday that we are there to support the IAEA’s implementation of its mandate,” Dujarric told reporters. “We are ready to support it logistically and security-wise from Kyiv.”

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Greek Phone-Hacking Scandal: Investigative Media’s Key Role

Investigative journalism has emerged as a powerful force during Greece’s phone-hacking scandal, rocking a government that tries to “control” the media landscape, experts say.

The long-rumbling “Predatorgate” affair reignited at the end of July when Nikos Androulakis, leader of the opposition Socialists, told journalists about the attempted surveillance of his mobile phone via spyware Predator, having filed a legal complaint.

The spyware can hack into a target’s phone and access messages and conversations.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged last week that the intelligence service’s surveillance had been “politically unacceptable,” claiming he had not been informed.

He was speaking three days after two key members of his conservative government resigned over the matter.

Earlier this year two Greek journalists launched legal action, saying they had fallen prey to similar attacks on their phones.

Months-long probes by Greek investigative media have played a crucial part in shedding light on the phone-hacking.

Eliza Triantafyllou, a journalist with the Inside Story website, began investigating the case in January after the publication of two reports by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Meta (Facebook) referring to a new spyware, Predator, with clients and targets in Greece.

“These reports went unnoticed by the [mainstream] Greek media at the time, though they revealed that the Greek government had probably bought Predator,” she wrote in a recent article.

Last April, Inside Story published “the first confirmed case of Predator use in 2021 against a European citizen”—Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis, who specializes in reporting on corruption.

Online investigative news site Reporters United followed up by reporting that the journalist’s phone was monitored by the Greek intelligence service, EYP, in 2020.

Stories first published online by investigative journalists are now making headlines in Greek newspapers.

The country’s media landscape is marked by the connivance of traditional media groups with public authorities in line with political and financial interests.

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) non-profit gives Greece the lowest press freedom rank in Europe.

RSF and the Media Freedom Rapid Response NGO have said the ruling party is “obsessed with controlling the message” and “minimizing critical and dissenting voices.”

But investigative outlets are “a hope for freedom of expression” in Greece, according to Katerina Batzeli, a member of the Pasok-Kinal central committee, former minister and European Parliamentarian.

“These innovative media have taken risks and done an extraordinary job,” she said.

Greek investigative media, including Inside Story, Solomon and Reporters United, have been on the rise in recent years, using subscriptions to promote “independent and analytical information.”

With disinformation rife, “investigative media dare to control the power,” said media analyst Georges Tzogopoulos.

He said investigative sites had played a “key role” and called for support through crowdfunding.

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Europe Drought: German Industry at Risk as Rhine Level Falls

Germany’s main industry lobby group warned Tuesday that factories may have to throttle production or halt it completely because plunging water levels on the Rhine River are making it harder to transport cargo.

The Rhine’s level at Emmerich, near the Dutch border, dropped by a further 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) in 24 hours, hitting zero on the depth gauge.

Authorities say the shipping lane itself still has a depth of almost 200 centimeters (6 feet, 6 inches), but the record low measurement Tuesday morning highlights the extreme lack of water caused by months of drought affecting much of Europe.

“The ongoing drought and the low water levels threaten the supply security of industry,” said Holger Loesch, deputy head of the BDI business lobby group.

Loesch said shifting cargo from river to train or transport was difficult because of limited rail capacity and a lack of drivers.

“It’s only a question of time before facilities in the chemical and steel industry have to be switched off, petroleum and construction materials won’t reach their destination, and high-capacity and heavy-goods transports can’t be carried out anymore,” he said, adding that this could lead to supply bottlenecks and short-time work might result.

Loesch warned that energy supplies could also be further strained as ships carrying coal and gasoline along the Rhine are affected.

Drivers in southern Germany already have to pay considerably more for fuel than those further north, according to Germany’s biggest motor club. The ADAC said diesel was being sold for under 1.82 euros ($1.84) per liter in Hamburg, while in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg it cost on average 1.97 euros.

The BDI said droughts such as that seen this year could become more frequent in the future and urged the government to help closely monitor water levels and react early to potential transportation problems on Germany’s waterways.

Experts say climate change is making extreme weather, including heatwaves and droughts, more likely.

Germany’s weather service has forecast heavy rain toward the end of the week that could provide some relief to river shipping companies.

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Ukraine Urges New Sanctions Amid Power Plant Shelling Worries

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for fresh sanctions against Russia’s nuclear sector amid concerns about shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy, in an address late Monday, warned of a potential “catastrophe” that would threaten other countries in the region. 

“If now the world does not show strength and decisiveness to defend one nuclear power station, it will mean that the world has lost,” Zelenskyy said. 

Both Russia and Ukraine have accused the other side of firing weapons near the facility. 

That continued Monday with a Russia-installed official in Enerhodar saying Ukrainian artillery strikes landed near the plant, while a Ukrainian official said it was actually Russian forces that shelled the area in an attempt to make it look like a Ukrainian attack. 

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told VOA’s Ukrainian Service that “it makes no sense for us” to shell the facility “because today we understand the full level of nuclear danger to humanity. We survived the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986. It is the Ukrainians who know what the Chernobyl tragedy was in the first place and how many people died later from the radiation.   

“That’s why we are calling on everyone to intervene, and we ask not only the [International Atomic Energy Agency] but also the entire international community to intervene and influence in order for this not to become another cause of a nuclear disaster in Europe,” Reznikov said.    

With the fear of a disaster, Reznikov said, “We are convinced that Russian units should not be concentrated there and that what is happening now is simply a provocation and a kind of game to test the ‘nuclear nerves’ of the world’s society as a whole.”   

The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed the conditions for the safe operations of the plant in a phone call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. 

Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters there exists the logistics and security capacity in Ukraine to support a visit by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the plant, should both Russia and Ukraine agree. 

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia would do “everything necessary” for IAEA personnel to visit the site. Russian state media later quoted Igor Vishnevetsky, deputy head of the foreign ministry’s nuclear proliferation and arms control department, saying it would be too dangerous for an IAEA mission to travel through Kyiv to reach the plant. 

Ukraine’s military reported heavy shelling Monday by Russian forces, with at least three more Ukrainian civilians killed and another 20 wounded.     

The three deaths and 13 of the injuries were recorded in the eastern Donetsk region, the scene of intense fighting for weeks, as Moscow’s forces targeted numerous towns and villages since Sunday and hit dozens of residential buildings.  

Another seven people were wounded in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, where Russia also shelled residential buildings and an area near a bus stop.   

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Moscow’s forces fighting in Ukraine, saying at an arms show that they are “fulfilling all the tasks that were set, liberating the Donbas step by step.” The Donbas is Ukraine’s eastern industrialized region that includes the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.  

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters. 

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Far-Right Italian Leader Meloni Rides Popular Wave in Polls 

With a message that blends Christianity, motherhood and patriotism, Giorgia Meloni is riding a wave of popularity that next month could see her become Italy’s first female prime minister and its first far-right leader since World War II.

Even though her Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots, Meloni has sought to dispel concerns about its legacy, saying voters have grown tired of such discussions.

Still, there are nagging signs that such a legacy can’t be shaken off so easily: Her party’s symbol includes an image of a tricolored flame, borrowed from a neo-fascist party formed shortly after the end of the war.

If Brothers of Italy prevails at the polls on Sept. 25 and the 45-year-old Meloni becomes premier, it will come almost 100 years to the month after Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator, came to power in October 1922.

In 2019, Meloni proudly introduced Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, a great-grandson of the dictator, as one of her candidates for the European Parliament, although he eventually lost.

For most Italian voters, questions about anti-fascism and neo-fascism aren’t “a key driver of whom to vote for,” said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of the YouTrend polling company. ”They don’t see that as part of the present. They see that as part of the past.”

Still, Meloni is sensitive to international scrutiny about her possible premiership and prefers the term conservative instead of far right to describe her party.

She recently recorded video messages in English, French and Spanish that said the Italian right “has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”

That was a reference to the 1938 laws banning Italy’s small Jewish community from participating in business, education and other facets of everyday life. The laws paved the way for the deportation of many Italian Jews to Nazi death camps during the German occupation of Rome in the waning years of World War II.

Yet by keeping the tri-colored flame in her party’s logo, “she is symbolically playing on that heritage,” said David Art, a Tufts University political science professor who studies Europe’s far right. “But then she wants to say, ‘We’re not racist.’”

Unlike Germany, which worked to come to terms with its devastating Nazi legacy, the fascist period is little scrutinized in Italian schools and universities, says Gastone Malaguti. Now 96, he fought as a teenager against Mussolini’s forces. In his decades of visiting classrooms to talk about Italy’s anti-fascist Resistance, he found many students “ignorant” of that history.

Only five years ago, Brothers of Italy — its name is inspired by the opening words of the national anthem — was viewed as a fringe force, winning 4.4% of the vote. Now, opinion polls indicate it could come in first place in September and capture as much as 24% support, just ahead of the center-left Democrat Party led by former Premier Enrico Letta.

Under Italy’s complex, partially proportional electoral system, campaign coalitions are what propels party leaders into the premiership, not just votes. Right-wing politicians have done a far better job this year than the Democrats of forging wide-ranging electoral partnerships.

Meloni has allied with the right-wing League party led by Matteo Salvini, who, like her, favors crackdowns on illegal migration. Her other electoral ally is the center-right Forza Italia party of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Last year, her party was the only major one to refuse to join Italy’s national pandemic unity coalition led by Premier Mario Draghi, the former European Central Bank chief. Draghi’s government collapsed last month, abruptly abandoned by Salvini, Berlusconi and 5-Star leader Giuseppe Conte, who are all preoccupied with their parties’ slipping fortunes in opinion polls and local elections.

In opinion surveys, Meloni is “credited with a consistent and coherent approach to politics. She didn’t compromise,” Pregliasco said, adding that she also is perceived as “a leader who has clear ideas — not everyone agrees with those ideas, of course.”

She has apologized for the “tone” but not the content of a blistering speech she delivered in June in Spain to drum up support for far-right party Vox.

“They will say we are dangerous, extremists, racists, fascists, deniers and homophobes,″ Meloni thundered, in an apparent reference to Holocaust deniers. She ended with a crescendo of shouted slogans: “Yes to natural families! No to LGBT lobbies! Yes to sexual identity! No to gender ideology!”

Meloni slammed ”bureaucrats in Brussels″ and “climate fundamentalism.” Meloni, who has a young daughter, claimed that “the most censured” phrase is “woman and motherhood.”

Abortion hasn’t emerged as a campaign issue in Italy, where it’s legal. But Meloni has decried Italy’s shrinking birth rate, which would be even lower without immigrant women having babies.

At a rally of right-wing supporters in Rome in 2019, Meloni drew roars of approval when she yelled in a staccato pace: “I am Giorgia! I am a woman. I am a mother. I am Italian, and I am Christian. And you cannot take that away from me!”

Within days, her proclamation became fodder for a rap song’s lyrics. While some saw that as a parody, Meloni loved it and even sang a few bars on a state radio program.

According to her 2021 memoir “I am Giorgia,” much of her identity was forged by growing up in Rome’s working-class Garbatella neighborhood. At 15, she joined a youth branch of the Italian Social Movement, the neo-fascist party with the flame symbol, and plastered political posters in the capital.

When she was 31, Berlusconi made her the minister of youth in his third and last government. But she soon blazed her own path, co-founding Brothers of Italy in 2012.

Both Salvini and Meloni say they are safeguarding what they call Europe’s Christian identity. Salvini kisses dangling rosaries and wears a large cross on his often-bared chest, while Meloni’s tiny cross sometimes peeks out from her loose-fitting blouses.

Her party staunchly backed Draghi’s moves to send weapons to Ukraine, even as Salvini and Berlusconi, open admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin, issued only tepid support. Meloni also defends the NATO alliance anchored by the United States, a fellow Group of Seven country. But she often views European Union rules as an infringement on Italy’s sovereignty.

If Meloni’s far-right forces dominate Italy’s next government, there’s concern about the support Italy will give to right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland “for their deeply conservative agendas″ amid fears about a ”democratic backsliding” in the EU, Art said.

For her part, Meloni says she will “fiercely oppose any anti-democratic drift.”

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Al-Qaida Affiliate Claims It Killed Four Russian Mercenaries in Mali

Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Mali claimed Monday it had killed four mercenaries from Russia’s private military firm, the Wagner Group, in an ambush around Bandiagara in central Mali.

The media unit for Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), said in a statement its fighters clashed with the mercenaries Saturday in the Mopti region, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist statements.

Wagner has no public representation and could not be reached for comment.

Mali is struggling to stem an Islamist insurgency that took root after a 2012 uprising and has since spread to neighboring countries, killing thousands and displacing millions across West Africa’s Sahel region.

Wagner began supplying hundreds of fighters last year to support the Malian military and has since been accused by human rights groups and local residents of participating in massacres of civilians — accusations it has not responded to.

The Russian government has acknowledged Wagner personnel are in Mali, but the Malian government has described them as instructors from the Russian military rather than private security contractors.

In July, JNIM claimed responsibility for an attack on Mali’s main military base, which it said was a response to governmental collaboration with Wagner.

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Cameroon Blames War in Ukraine for Food Price Spikes

Officials in Cameroon are urging people to eat local foods instead of imports, following protests over shortages and price spikes caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  

President Paul Biya last week ordered ministers to explain to the public that Russia’s Black Sea blockade, not local taxes, has caused a nearly 60% increase in prices for fertilizer and imported foods.   

Hundreds of people, a majority of them women, listened to explanations offered by government officials dispatched to the Mfoundi market in the capital Yaounde.  

Harouna Nyandji Mgbatou, the top official in Yaounde’s first district, called on the public to consume locally grown food, which he sai was cheaper than imported food.  

Asta Koumam, a 30-year old medical laboratory technician, was among those listening.  She said that the price of a liter of imported vegetable oil has increased from less than two dollars to about three and a half. She said she and her children have decided to measure vegetable oil in a spoon no matter the quantity of food they are cooking because they cannot cope with food price hikes.    

Territorial administration minister Paul Atanga Nji outlined the scope of the problem.

Nji said a 50-kilogram bag of imported rice that sold at $25 in February now sells at $55. He said the same quantity of rice grown in Cameroon has seen a 5% price increase to $25 because the price of fertilizer imported from Ukraine and Russia has also increased from $30 to more than $70.     

Cameroon’s trade ministry reports that the central African country imported more than 850,000 tons of cereals from Russia and Ukraine in 2020. In contrast, the Cameroon Importers Union said less than 45,000 tons have been imported since January of this year.  

Last week, five government officials, including the ministers of agriculture, trade, finance and mines, held a press conference to explain the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The press conference, ordered by President Biya, was to help quell protests against price hikes in several towns and villages across Cameroon.

Rene Emmanuel Sadi, spokesperson for Cameroon’s government, said that Yaounde has provisionally suspended the export of cereal crops, palm oil and other staple foods to neighboring countries to make sure that there is enough food for its own population. He said the government has also removed or suspended import duties and taxes on rice, fish, palm oil and building material to protect consumers from skyrocketing prices.

Julienne Gregoire Onguene Ateba, an economist and international transport and logistic specialist at Cameroon’s seaport in Douala, said that the current situation could have been avoided with more foresight.     

He said if Cameroon’s government had invested in local production, especially of food as economists suggested to cushion the effects of COVID-19, the population should have been spared the price spikes and food scarcity that has resulted from Russia’s war in Ukraine.  

In July, Cameroon’s government called for emergency food support for more than two million people facing hunger. Authorities said destitute civilians threatened by food insecurity along the northern borders with Chad and Nigeria are finding it especially hard to cope with the rising prices.

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South Africa’s Defense Minister in Russia for Security Conference 

South Africa’s Defense Minister Thandi Modise has arrived in Russia for a Moscow-hosted conference on international security. The visit comes amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and as Russian forces there are occupying Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. It also comes just days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Africa in part to try to win more African support against Russia’s invasion.

Despite South Africa repeatedly proclaiming its neutrality in the Russia/Ukraine war, several analysts say Modise’s attendance at the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security shows the country is siding with Russia.

“We have not seen any condemnation of Russia, despite the dire impact of the war on the supply of goods and services in South Africa, said Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at Geopolitical Intelligence Services. “And, also, when you look at attending a defense-kind of a forum in a moment such as this, I mean I cannot imagine any stronger indication of support of Russia,” he said.

Mathekga believes it’s a blow to South African-U.S. relations, considering U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Africa just last week.

“It actually says that South Africa is nailing its colors to the mast.,” he said. “I think it was a frustrating visit for the secretary of state because South Africa did not hold back on their indication that they are not going to pick sides on this, they are not going to be bullied by global powers in their continued cold war as it’s being called.”

Mathekga warns that while South Africa may be willing to rely on its bigger partners in the BRICS alliance, namely China and India, to help it through these turbulent economic times, it should not ignore the reality that the European Union and America are two of its biggest trading partners.

Sipho Mantula, a researcher at the Thabo Mbeki African School on Public and International Affairs, says it’s likely South Africa couldn’t ignore the invitation because of its status as a member of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council.

He says Russia also has a close relationship with many African states whose freedom fighters it helped train during the 1960s and 1970s.

“The conflict of Russia and Ukraine is absent from this official program. The key issues that will come out will be around dealing with international global terrorism, the issues of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.

However, he conceded that while South Africa may call for peaceful negotiations to end the Russian/Ukraine war, the gathering in Moscow may be a sign of a potential military alliance.

“One will assume so because Russia is trying by all means to galvanize its support politically, economically, militarily. So one would assume that they are trying by all means because this is a very high-level technical meeting that is taking place. And one will assume yes, it is part of mobilizing allies, mobilize those who can say they are friendly states towards Russia,” he said.

Defense Minister Modise is due to address the Moscow security conference Tuesday.


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Boredom, Loneliness Plague Ukrainian Youth Near Front Line

Anastasiia Aleksandrova doesn’t even look up from her phone when the thunder of nearby artillery booms through the modest home the 12-year-old shares with her grandparents on the outskirts of Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine.

With no one her age left in her neighborhood and classes only online since Russia’s invasion, video games and social media have taken the place of the walks and bike rides she once enjoyed with friends who have since fled.

“She communicates less and goes out walking less. She usually stays at home playing games on her phone,” Anastasiia’s grandmother, Olena Aleksandrova, 57, said of the shy, lanky girl who likes to paint and has a picture of a Siberian tiger hanging on the wall of her bedroom.

Anastasiia’s retreat into digital technology to cope with the isolation and stress of war that rages on the front line just 12 kilometers away is increasingly common among young people in Ukraine’s embattled Donetsk region.

‘My friends left’ 

With cities largely emptied after hundreds of thousands have evacuated to safety, the young people who remain face loneliness and boredom as painful counterpoints to the fear and violence Moscow has unleashed on Ukraine.

“I don’t have anyone to hang out with. I sit with the phone all day,” Anastasiia said from the bank of a lake where she sometimes swims with her grandparents. “My friends left and my life has changed. It became worse due to this war.”

More than 6 million Ukrainians, overwhelmingly women and children, have fled the country and millions more are internally displaced, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

The mass displacement has upended countless childhoods, not only for those having to start a new life after seeking safety elsewhere, but also for the thousands who stayed behind.

‘Everything collapsed in an instant’ 

In the industrial city of Kramatorsk, 12 kilometers south of Sloviansk, the friendship between 19-year-old Roman Kovalenko and 18-year-old Oleksandr Pruzhyna has become closer as all of their other friends have left the city.

The two teenagers walk together through the mostly deserted city, sitting to talk on park benches. Both described being cut off from the social lives they enjoyed before the war.

“It’s a completely different feeling when you go outside. There is almost no one on the streets, I have the feeling of being in an apocalypse,” said Pruzhyna, who lost his job at a barber shop after the invasion and now spends most of his time at home playing computer games.

“I feel like everything I was going to do became impossible, everything collapsed in an instant.”

Of the roughly 275,000 children age 17 or younger in the Donetsk region before Russia’s invasion, just 40,000 remain, the province’s regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told The Associated Press last week.

According to official figures, 361 children have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its war on Feb. 24, and 711 others have been injured.

Authorities are urging all remaining families in Donetsk, but especially those with children, to evacuate immediately as Russian forces continue to bombard civilian areas as they press for control of the region.

A special police force has been tasked with individually contacting households with children and urging them to flee to safer areas, Kyrylenko said.

“As a father, I feel that children should not be in the Donetsk region,” he said. “This is an active war zone.”

In Kramatorsk, 16-year-old Sofia Mariia Bondar spends most days sitting in the shoe section of a clothing shop where her mother works.

A pianist and singer who wants to study art at university after she finishes her final year of high school, Sofia Mariia said there is “nowhere to go and nothing to do” now that her friends have left.

“I wish I could go back in time and make everything like it was before. I understand that most of my friends who left will never come back, no matter what happens in the future,” she said. “Of course it’s very sad that I can’t have all the fun like other teenagers do, but I can’t do anything about it, only cope with it.”

Her mother, Viktoriia, said that since the city has mostly emptied out, she manages to sell only one or two items per week.

But with the danger of shelling and soldiers plying the streets, her daughter is no longer allowed to go out alone and spends most of her time by her mother’s side in the store or at their home on the outskirts of Kramatorsk where the threat of rocket strikes is lower.

“I keep her near me all the time so that in case something happens, at least we will be together,” she said.

Of the roughly 18,000 school-age children in Kramatorsk before Russia’s invasion, only around 3,200 remain, including 600 preschoolers, said the city’s head of military administration, Oleksandr Goncharenko.

While officials continue to push residents to evacuate and provide information on transportation and accommodation, “parents cannot be forced to leave with their children,” Goncharenko said. When the school semester begins on Sept. 1, he said lessons will be offered online for those who stay.

In Kramatorsk’s verdant but nearly empty Pushkin Park, Rodion Kucherian, 14, performed tricks on his scooter on an otherwise deserted set of ramps, quarter pipes and grind rails.

Before the war, he said, he and his friends would do tricks in the bustling park alongside many other children. But now his only connection to his friends — who have fled to countries like Poland and Germany — is on social media.

He’s taken up other solitary activities just to keep himself busy, he said.

“It’s very sad not to see my friends. I haven’t seen my best friend for more than four months,” he said. “I started cycling at home, so I don’t miss them as much.”

In Sloviansk, 12-year-old Anastasiia said she can’t remember the last time she played with someone her own age, but she’s made some new friends through the games she plays online.

“It’s not the same. It’s way better to go outside to play with your friends than just talking online,” she said.

Her best friend, Yeva, used to live on her street, but has evacuated with her family to Lviv in western Ukraine.

Anastasiia wears a silver pendant around her neck — half of a broken heart with the word “Love” engraved on the front — and Yeva, she said, wears the other half.

“I never take it off, and Yeva doesn’t either,” she said.

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New Study Reveals Britain’s Health Inequalities

People who live in the poorest regions of England are diagnosed with serious illnesses earlier and die sooner than their counterparts in more affluent regions, according to a new study.

The Health Foundation study, published Monday, found that “A 60-year-old woman in the poorest areas of England has a level of ‘diagnosed illness’ equivalent to that of a 76-year-old woman in the wealthiest areas . . . While a 60-year-old man in the poorest areas of England will on average have a level of diagnosed illness equivalent to that of a 70- year-old man in the wealthiest areas.”

The Health Foundation is an independent charity dedicated to improving “the health and healthcare of the people in the UK.”

The foundation said while previous studies about health inequalities in England have mostly relied on self-reported health outcomes, their study “linked hospital and primary care data to examine socioeconomic, regional and ethnic variations in the prevalence of diagnosed long-term illnesses.”

The study also uncovered “significant ethnic disparities in diagnosed illness” in populations of people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and black Caribbean backgrounds.  This group had higher levels of long-term illness than the white population.

People from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds also had “the highest rates of diagnosed chronic pain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The Health Foundation, however, also found that the white population “had the highest levels of diagnosed anxiety or depression, and alcohol problems.”

“White people are also more likely to be living with cancer,” according to the study’s findings. This may be occurring because of “the increased survival rates associated with cancers that are more prevalent in this group and due to more diagnoses resulting from greater access to cancer screening in the white population.”

‘The NHS wasn’t set up to carry the burden of policy failings in other parts of society,” Jo Bibby, director of Healthy Lives at the Health Foundation said in a statement. “A healthy, thriving society must have all the right building blocks in place, including good quality jobs, housing and education. Without these, people face shorter lives, in poorer health”.

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Russian Forces Shell Eastern, Southern Ukraine

Ukraine’s military reported Monday heavy shelling by Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region, as well as in areas in southern Ukraine, including towns around Kherson and Mykolaiv.

The report from the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces also cited tank fire and aerial attacks in towns to the east and south of Zaporizhzhia.

Tensions have been high around Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with the two sides continuing to accuse each other of firing weapons near the plant. Russia captured the facility in March, shortly after it invaded Ukraine.

The plant’s operator reported the facility was at risk of violating radiation and fire standards after a surge in rocket fire in the last week.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said there’s “a real risk of nuclear disaster” unless the fighting stops and inspectors are allowed inside the facility.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used part of his nightly video address Sunday to call on Russians to oppose the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched in late February. Zelenskyy said Russian citizens who are silent about the war are supporting it.

“And no matter where you are — on the territory of Russia or abroad — your voice should sound in support of Ukraine, and therefore against this war,” Zelenskyy said.

He also voiced support for a potential European Union visa ban for Russian travelers.

Grain shipments

A United Nations-chartered ship loaded with 23,000 metric tons of Ukrainian grain set sail Sunday for Ethiopia in the first such shipment from war-ravaged Ukraine, aimed at helping a nation facing famine.

The Liberia-flagged Brave Commander left from the Ukrainian port of Yuzhne, east of Odesa, and plans to sail to Djibouti, where the grain will be unloaded and transferred to Ethiopia under the U.N.’s World Food Program initiative.

Ukraine and Russia reached a deal with Turkey and the United Nations three weeks ago to restart Black Sea grain deliveries to end major export disruptions occurring since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

Ethiopia is one of five countries that the U.N. considers at risk of starvation.

“The capacity is there. The grain is there. The demand is there across the world and in particular, these countries,” WFP Ukraine coordinator Denise Brown told The Associated Press. “So, if the stars are aligned, we are very, very hopeful that all the actors around this agreement will come together on what is really an issue for humanity. So today was very positive.”

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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Fireworks Blast at Market in Armenia Kills 2, Injures 60

A strong explosion at a fireworks storage area tore through a popular market in Armenia’s capital Sunday, killing at least two people, injuring 60 others and setting off a large fire.

Firefighters labored into the night after the early afternoon blast at the Surmalu market to put out the blaze that sent a towering column of thick smoke over the center of Yerevan. Rescue workers and volunteers searched amid still-exploding fireworks for victims who might be trapped under slabs of concrete and twisted metal.

Emergencies Minister Armen Pambukhchyan said the ministry has received 20 reports from people who said they could not locate their relatives after the blast. Ten injured people and one dead victim were pulled from the rubble, according to the national health ministry, which also gave the casualty toll.

A reporter from The Associated Press at the scene saw two people pulled from the rubble — a woman with an injured leg and a young man who appeared to be unconscious.

The market, located 2 kilometers south of the city center, is popular for its low prices and variety of goods.

There was no immediate word on what caused the fireworks to ignite. 

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