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NATO allies vow to back Moldova, Georgia, and Bosnia

BUCHAREST (AP) — Apart from Ukraine, Moldova has been hit hardest by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor, the Moldavian foreign minister said Wednesday, as NATO offered fresh support to three countries shaken by the effects of Moscow’s 10-month-old war.

Nicu Popescu told The Associated Press in an interview in Romania’s capital that “we want to be expanding our cooperation with partners who support Moldova … that includes the European Union (and) NATO.”

That support for Moldova — as well as Georgia and Bosnia — came from NATO allies also on Wednesday when the three countries’ foreign ministers met with their NATO counterparts to discuss how the world’s biggest security organization could help them in the face of political, energy and territorial uncertainty precipitated by the war.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after talks that the allies discussed shared security concerns with the three countries which he said are facing Russian pressure. Stoltenberg said alliance members agreed to help train and improve the three nations’ security and defense institutions.

“If there is one lesson learned from Ukraine it’s that we need to support them now … when we have seen developments going in the absolutely wrong direction as we saw with the invasion of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said at the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has had a particularly troubling effect on Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbor, which is currently facing a severe energy crisis due to its reliance on Russian energy.

In recent weeks it has suffered massive power outages as a result of Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy grid. Russian missiles have also traversed its skies, missile debris has landed on its soil, and in April blasts occurred in the country’s Russian-backed breakaway region of Transnistria — where Moscow bases around 1,500 troops.

“Every week there is something new, there’s a new negative effect of this war on us,” Popescu said. “Last week … almost 80-90% of the country was plunged into darkness for most of a day. This is a really, totally unacceptable, very aggressive Russian campaign that targets Ukraine but also in complete disregard of our security.”

Moldova was granted E.U. candidate status in June, the same day as Ukraine, and is constitutionally neutral, but “neutrality does not mean demilitarisation, we need the military means and all the other means to defend our country, to defend our peace, to defend our people from aggression,” Popescu added.

Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday that Bosnia — which has long been wracked by political instability, Russian interference, and ethnic tensions — is “important for stability in the whole of the Western Balkans.” Protests rocked the Bosnian Serb half of the ethnically divided country last month after some voters alleged that a pro-Russian Bosnian Serb leader rigged an election in the Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic said her country, where a government is in the process of being formed following the elections, “is very concerned about the future.”

“We have proxies, or we had the proxies, in our government, Russian proxies. So division in the country is deep and we hope that we will be able to overcome it. NATO’s presence is extremely important for Bosnia-Herzegovina because it is a guarantor of our security,” she said.

NATO has promised Georgia that, like Ukraine, it will join the 30-nation alliance one day, but Russian troops swept into Georgia after that pledge was made 14 years ago. A breakaway Georgian region has this year threatened to hold a referendum on joining Russia.

At an international aid conference in Paris last week co-chaired by France, Germany and Romania raised more than 100 million euros ($103 million) to support Moldova, Europe’s poorest country. Earlier this month, the European Union also pledged the country 250 million euros (nearly $258 million) in aid.

“We are working with all the partners … and that is helping us,” Popescu said Wednesday. “At the same time, the truth is that between now and April (we) still have quite a lot to go in ensuring that we’ll be having an uninterrupted supply of gas and electricity.”


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Zambian killed in Ukraine was employed as Russian mercenary

MOSCOW (AP) — A Zambian student who had been serving a prison sentence in Russia and died fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine had been employed by Russian mercenary group Wagner, its leader said.

Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin said on the Russian social media app VKontake on Tuesday that the student, 23 year-old Lemekhane Nyireda, “died a hero.”

Zambian Foreign Minister Stanley Kakubo said earlier this month that Russian officials had informed the Zambian government of the death of Nyireda, who was a government-sponsored student before he was sentenced in Russia for unspecified crimes in April 2020.

He said the Zambian Embassy in the Russian capital of Moscow had established that Nyirenda died Sept. 22 and that his remains were transported to the Russian border town of Rostov ahead of repatriation to Zambia.

Before his prison sentence, Nyirenda was studying nuclear engineering at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute. He was serving his approximately nine-year sentence at a prison on the outskirts of Moscow, according to the Zambian government.

Reports have circulated that Russia — desperate for more manpower to support what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine — has offered freedom to convicts if they join the fight. Russia has employed the Wagner Group, whose head Prigozhin is said to be a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and has admitted meddling in U.S. elections — in several armed conflicts worldwide.

Prigozhin said he had asked the jailed student why he wanted to join the fight, given a high chance he would be killed, and that the Zambian citizen responded: “You Russians helped us Africans gain independence for many years. When it was difficult for us, you extended your hand to us and continue to do so now … The least I could do, probably, to pay our debts is go to war with you.”


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German gas importer Uniper seeks damages from Gazprom

BERLIN (AP) — German energy company Uniper said Wednesday it’s suing Gazprom for damages over natural gas that hasn’t been delivered since June, when the Russian supplier started reducing amounts to Germany.

Gas importer Uniper said it has initiated proceedings against Gazprom Export at an international arbitration tribunal in Stockholm. It said the cost to replace gas that Russia failed to supply so far totals at least 11.6 billion euros ($12 billion) and that cost will continue to increase until the end of 2024.

Gazprom started reducing gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany in mid-June, citing alleged technical problems. German officials dismissed that explanation as cover for a political decision to push up prices and create uncertainty.

Russia hasn’t delivered any gas to Germany, which is supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion, since the end of August.

Uniper has incurred huge costs as a result of the gas cuts. The government announced the company’s nationalization in late September.

The cuts have contributed to high prices for heating fuel and power generation which, in turn, have raised fears of business closures, rationing and a recession as the weather turns cold. Uniper has been forced to buy gas at far higher market prices to meet is supply contract obligations.

“We are claiming recovery of our significant financial damages in these proceedings. It’s about gas volumes that were contractually agreed with Gazprom but not delivered and for which we had to procure replacements at extremely high market prices and still have to do so,” Uniper CEO Klaus-Dieter Maubach said in a statement.

“We incurred these costs, but they are not our responsibility. We are pursuing these legal proceedings with all due vigor: We owe this to our shareholders, our employees and the taxpayers.”

Uniper also said it has decided to “further distance itself as far as possible” from Russian unit Unipro, saying that a sale was agreed in September with a local buyer but Russian regulatory approval is outstanding and “uncertain.”

Uniper said that Unipro’s management hasn’t been involved in the parent company’s “information processes” for some time and that finances and IT systems also have been separated. It said its board this week launched a process to further separate the two companies “as far as possible.”


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South Africans protest pending release of Hani’s killer

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — More than a thousand people gathered outside the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in South Africa on Wednesday to protest against the pending release of Janusz Walus, the convicted killer of anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani.

Members of the ruling African National Congress party and the South African Communist Party, of which latter Hani was the general secretary when he was killed in 1993, lined the streets of the capital Pretoria to voice their dismay at his scheduled release.

Hani was also the leader of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was shot outside his home in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. The assassination threatened to plunge South Africa into political violence ahead of its transition from white minority rule to democracy.

Police kept a heavy presence at the prison — where Walus, now 69, has spent over 28 years after being sentenced to life imprisonment — while awaiting the marchers to arrive.

Walus was scheduled to be freed on Thursday following a court ruling last week that he should be released on parole within 10 days as he had met the required threshold.

However, he is receiving medical treatment in prison after he was stabbed – allegedly by a fellow inmate – on Tuesday.

Many protesters told The Associated Press that Walus should not be released as they believe he did not fully disclose his motive for killing Hani and who else was involved in the murder.

“We are happy with what has happened, after hearing that he is in hospital. We ask God to do what is necessary,” said protester Nontokozo Shezi, referring to Walus being stabbed in prison.

SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila was among the protesters, and expressed the party’s solidarity with Hani’s family and supporters, saying “Chris Hani gave his life for this country and the manner in which the court judgement was released amounted to killing him for the second time.”

“We are here to express our solidarity with the people of South Africa who feel aggrieved, from across all political parties and institutions who have sent us messages about this matter,” said Mapaila.

Mapaila said the party has briefed its lawyers to file court documents opposing Walus’ release.

Pinky Numa, one of the protesters, said she was not convinced that Walus was remorseful of his actions and that he continues to be respected by racists. “He is hailed as a martyr by racists of our country, by racists of the world. We do not know, upon his release, what other massacres they are planning against our people,” Numa said.

Walus has been granted an extension for residence in South Africa after his citizenship was revoked in 2017 while he was in prison.

According to the government, he will serve the rest of his sentence on parole in South Africa instead of being deported to his home country Poland.


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Buckingham Palace household member resigns amid race comment

LONDON (AP) — An honorary member of the Buckingham Palace household has resigned after repeatedly asking a Black woman who runs a charity for survivors of domestic abuse what country she “came from,” despite her insistence she was a British national.

The conversation was detailed on Twitter by Ngozi Fulani, chief executive of Sistah Space, an east London refuge that provides specialist support for women of African and Caribbean heritage.

The incident took place at a reception hosted by Camilla, the queen consort, for women working to fight domestic violence.

Fulani said that when she told a household member she was from east London, she was asked, “No, what part of Africa are YOU from?”

The palace said it took the incident extremely seriously and investigated the “unacceptable and deeply regrettable comments.’’

The incident will spark concern at the palace following allegations of racism by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who is married to Prince Harry. Meghan, a biracial American, last year said a member of the royal household asked her what color skin her baby would have when she was pregnant with her first child.


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German government mulls stake in Dutch grid operator TenneT

BERLIN (AP) — The German government said Wednesday it is considering taking a stake in Dutch grid operator TenneT, which has a large footprint in Germany.

Germany already has a minority stake in rival grid operator 50 Hertz, via the state-owned investment bank KfW, and Economy Minister Robert Habeck said there were talks with TenneT too.

“These talks aren’t yet such that I’m allowed to comment further on them,” he told reporters in Berlin, but confirmed that he considers it “politically wise and necessary” for the state to support the creation of vital public infrastructure such as transmission networks.

TenneT operates electricity grids across a large swath of Germany, from the North Sea coast to Bavaria in the southeast. Those transmission lines are crucial for Germany’s plans to completely shift its power production from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2045 at the latest.

At present, some of the electricity generated by wind farms in the north of the country can’t be dispatched to consumers in the south due to lack of transmission capacity.

TenneT’s mother company, TenneT Holding, is owned by the Dutch state.


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Russian upper house Duma passes LGBTQ ‘propaganda’ bill

MOSCOW (AP) — The upper house of Russia’s parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill significantly expanding restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights in the country, the latest move in an ongoing crackdown on the country’s embattled LGBTQ community.

The Federation Council quickly rubber-stamped the bill following its equally speedy approval last week by the lower house, the State Duma. It will now go to President Vladimir Putin who will sign it into law.

A 2013 law banned what authorities deem to be spreading “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. The new bill expands that ban to spreading such information to people aged 18 and older.

The new bill outlaws advertising, media and online resources. books, films and theater productions deemed to contain such “propaganda.”

It also broadens the existing restrictions by banning information about gender transitions to be conveyed to minors.

Violations are punishable by fines and, if committed by non-residents, could lead to their expulsion from Russia.

The fines range from 100,000 to 2 million rubles ($1,660-$33,000). For some violations, foreigners could face 15 days’ detention prior to expulsion.

The bill does not make violations a criminal offense as Russian law stipulates that the criminal code can be amended only through an independent bill. Some lawmakers have suggested they favor such a measure.

Russia explicitly outlawed same-sex marriages in 2020 by adopting amendments to the country’s Constitution that, among other things, stipulated that the “institution of marriage is a union between a man and a woman.”


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1 injured by small blast at Ukrainian embassy in Madrid

MADRID (AP) — Spanish police are investigating reports of a small blast at the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid on Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said.

In a statement to media, the ministry said police were told an employee at the embassy was slightly injured while handling a letter.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said that the embassy in Madrid received an envelope as part of a mail delivery.

“During a check, the envelope exploded in the hands of the embassy’s manager,” Nikolenko told The Associated Press. “The manager received light injuries, he was hospitalized and is receiving the necessary medical assistance. His life isn’t in danger.”

Other embassy staff weren’t hurt, he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba quickly ordered the strengthening of the security of all Ukrainian embassies. He also asked his Spanish counterpart to take urgent measures to investigate the attack.

“Whoever stands behind staging this explosion, they won’t succeed in scaring Ukrainian diplomats or halting their daily efforts to strengthen Ukraine and counter the Russian aggression,” Nikolenko said.

The ministry said the worker went unassisted to a health center. Spanish National Television said he was later released.

The National Police told the AP they received a call from Ukrainian embassy at 1:20 p.m. that a letter had burst into flames while being handled by an employee.

National Police deployed officers to the embassy, set up a perimeter around the area, and its TEDAX bomb squad was working at the site, located in a northeastern part of Madrid.

Spain’s state news agency Efe cited unidentified police sources as saying the letter contained a home-made explosive and had been addressed to the ambassador but was opened by a security guard in the embassy’s garden.

____

Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, and Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.


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‘Necessary evil’: France refires coal plant amid energy woes

SAINT-AVOLD, France (AP) — The end of France’s coal era seemed so certain last year that the operator of one of the country’s last coal-burning plants posted an upbeat educational video on YouTube titled “Let’s visit a coal plant that’s going to be destroyed!”

The plant in the northeastern town of Saint-Avold indeed halted coal production as scheduled earlier this year — but not for long. This week, its workers were back at the controls, transporting coal from storage heaps and refiring furnaces, as part of emergency efforts to keep the heat and electricity on this winter.

The energy crisis across Europe unleashed by Russia’s war in Ukraine has paved the way for coal’s comeback in some regions, to the dismay of politicians and activists who warn this endangers climate goals, the climate itself and public health.

“Working here we know the negative impact of the coal plant, but nonetheless we see it as a necessary evil,” said shift supervisor Thomas About at the Emile-Huchet Power Plant in Saint-Avold.

“Given the current state of the electrical network, I nonetheless fear greatly that this production tool is necessary in the medium term,” he told The Associated Press.

Nearby, wheel loaders scooped mounds of coal and dumped it onto conveyor belts, and gray fumes rose from the plant’s smokestacks.

In France the return to coal is surprising because the country started phasing it out decades ago and relies heavily on nuclear power instead. But this year, on top of Russia largely cutting off natural gas to Europe, nearly half of France’s nuclear reactors shut down for maintenance or corrosion and other problems.

Facing a worst-case scenario of rolling power cuts to households, the government issued a decree in September to allow Saint-Avold to start again and continued activity at another coal plant in western France, citing the “exceptional” and “unforeseeable” context of energy supply challenges.

President Emmanuel Macron had initially vowed to close all coal-burning plants in the country by the end of this year due to climate-related concerns.

The impact of the backtrack will largely be felt locally, since coal plays only a minor role in France’s energy mix nationwide. The two coal plants produced a maximum of 3% of France’s electricity Tuesday, according to the national grid operator, compared to some 60% from nuclear plants.

The government has called on the French for a 10% reduction in energy use in the coming months, including by limiting heating, to avoid the risk of rationing and cuts this winter. Government spokesperson Olivier Veran said Wednesday that people reduced on average their electricity consumption by 5% in October.

The government insists the return to coal will be temporary.

The company that operates the Saint-Avold plant, GazelEnergie, is continuing its work to transition the site to the “post-coal” future, with projects for biomass and hydrogen-based energy.

Workers like About hope that future comes soon.

“This page will be turned one day,” he said. “Let’s hope it will be turned quickly, so that this unit produces as little as possible.”

___

Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

___

Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment


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