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Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s referendums: ‘Of course I didn’t vote, damn them!’ | International

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Constantin, a 28-year-old internet installer, decided he had had enough. On Tuesday, he packed his gray Lada 110 and its roof rack with everything he feasibly could, then put his brother, his wife, his son and his daughter in the car and drove away, leaving behind his home in Ivanivka, a Russian-occupied town in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine. Tuesday was the last of five days during which Moscow had organized annexation referendums in the occupied zone and three other regions partially under the control of Russian troops to decide if those territories would become part of Russia. The Kremlin’s next step will be to impose mandatory enlistment from October 1 on men aged between 18 and 35, forcing them to fight in Russian uniform against Ukrainian forces defending their own country.

Constantin did not open the door of his home on Monday, when two armed men and a woman, a ballot box in her hand, went house to house to coerce residents into participating in the illegal vote. Neither does he intend to wear the uniform of his country’s enemy. The Kherson region has now been occupied for seven months and the ongoing war, which has resulted in insecurity, inflation and harsh living conditions, have now been brought to the doorsteps of residents suffering harassment in the face of the Kremlin’s designs. “I was scared,” Constantin admits, hours after arriving safely in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast of Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia, capital of the eponymous region, is also playing host to officials of the Kyiv government who fled their municipalities after refusing to collaborate with the Russians. Moscow’s agenda “will not change our lives or those of our troops in any way. Berdyansk will remain Ukrainian. We will fight until victory”, says Viktor Tsukanov, the ousted head of the Berdyansk City Council. The 40-year-old, who served as mayor of the city before it was taken by Russian troops in February, plays down Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric. The Russian president plans to announce on Friday – unilaterally and without official backing from beyond Moscow – that the areas currently occupied by his soldiers in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson will become part of Russia.

Nevertheless, thousands of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied zone, like Constantin and his family, are not waiting for Putin’s pronouncement. Long lines of vehicles trying to reach unoccupied soil resemble those of Russians fleeing their country to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in Ukraine after Putin ordered a partial mobilization in Russia, the country’s first since World War II. To reach Zaporizhzhia, refugees first have to navigate Vasylivka, where hundreds of vehicles are backed up. As dozens of interviewees attest, it is a kind of border hell of draconian controls where Russian troops go out of their way to make passage difficult for the population they have supposedly come to rescue from the “Nazism” of the Kyiv government. Constantin says he was forced to strip to his underpants so that the soldiers could examine his tattoos, as he has several that are clearly visible. It is the occupiers’ method of detecting patriotic or nationalistic symbolism not to their liking, and as such an excuse to make an arrest. Other men consulted by this newspaper described similar experiences.

Ina, 24, is Constantin’s wife. She deals as best she can with Danil, their four-year-old boy, while carrying little Vladislava, nine months old, in her arms. The family has arrived at a transit center set up in an abandoned factory, where they ill remain until they find a place to settle. There are several of these halfway houses in Zaporizhzhia, where refugees are organized according to their place of origin. At one point during the interview, Constantin gets up to help the rest of the volunteers unload a truck that has arrived carrying aid.

Ina holds her daughter Vladislava in her arms at the transit center where she is sheltering with her husband and son.
Ina holds her daughter Vladislava in her arms at the transit center where she is sheltering with her husband and son.

His wife recalles the hours they spent in Vasylivka with dread. They even tried to elicit sympathy from the Russian soldiers by pretending Danil had a broken leg. The worst of the four controls was the second, Ina says. There, the car was turned inside out and all of the family’s electronic devices were confiscated, even Danil’s tablet. The soldiers scanned social networks, phone contacts and Google and YouTube history, finding something they didn’t like on Ina’s cell phone. “One of the soldiers went crazy and starting shouting aggressively, telling me to get out of the car,” Ina recalls. “Please, I am a mother with two children, one with a broken leg. Let me go on,” she implored. Then came a moment that almost saw them turned back, as had happened to four of the cars that were part of their convoy of 16 vehicles. The Russians became suspicious of Artem, Constantin’s brother, because he wasn’t carrying a phone. In the view of the soldiers, that meant he had something to hide. The nightmare of fleeing through Vasylivka finally ended when they passed the last checkpoint, “which was controlled by Chechens,” says Ina with evident relief.

Viktor Tsukanov and a group of municipal employees and volunteers from Berdyansk, a city in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, celebrate a birthday at the offices where they help refugees
Viktor Tsukanov and a group of municipal employees and volunteers from Berdyansk, a city in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, celebrate a birthday at the offices where they help refugeesLuis de Vega

Also at the makeshift refugee center is Sergei Tatarnikov, a 36-year-old who walks leaning on an old wooden crutch with his left leg bandaged. He was wounded by shrapnel during an attack on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day, which was also the the six-month anniversary of the invasion. He was evacuated from Orikhiv, a town the Russians have not yet managed to capture but which is under a permanent state of siege. “It’s a war zone,” says Tatarnikov, who estimates that only 5% of Orikhiv’s 50,000 inhabitants remain there.

In the same facility where the former inhabitants of Berdyansk are receiving help, Irina, 44, recalls how in Vasylivka the Russian troops humiliated them by mocking the use of “Slava Ukaine!” (Glory to Ukraine) that the locals would greet each other with. Another Irina, a 69-year-old nursery school teacher, watched as her neighbor opened the door during the referendum, which the international community has branded a “farce,” and was forced to drop in a ballot. She was accompanied on the bus journey by her son-in-law, Oleksei, 38, a newspaper advertising employee who lost his job because of the war and is also fleeing the Russian draft. He recounts bitterly how “many” acquaintances and former classmates are now collaborating with the occupiers.

A woman in the parking lot of a shopping center in Zaporizhzhia, converted into a reception area for people arriving from the occupied zone.
A woman in the parking lot of a shopping center in Zaporizhzhia, converted into a reception area for people arriving from the occupied zone. Luis de Vega

Night falls over the old Zaporizhzhia factory while dinner is distributed in the dining room provided by the NGO World Central Kitchen, led by the Spanish chef José Andres. Even at night the trickle of refugees arriving at the ten-storey high facility continues. Valentina, 65, a philologist with a doctorate in the Ukrainian language, managed to leave the city of Kherson by crossing the Dnieper River on a small ferry, one of few routes out after the bridge was bombed. Her group had to stop for two days in Vasylivka, where an old woman welcomed them into her home. “In Kherson most people are still with Ukraine. They are waiting for our army to arrive to liberate us”, says Valentina, a retiree who hopes that in Zaporizhzhia she will be able to recover her pension, which it is impossible to receive under the Russian occupying authorities. When she set out last Sunday, the ballot boxes of the illegal referendum were still being carried from house to house, with a military escort. “Only a few people opened the door to vote,” Valentina says, making it abundantly clear she was not one of them: “Of course I didn’t vote, damn them!”

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BJP Set for Record Gujarat Win, But Likely Suffer Jolt in Himachal Pradesh

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bharatiya janata party (bjp), indian national congress, gujarat, himachal pradesh, aam aadmi party, narendra modi, narendra modi, state, state, prime minister, prime minister, arvind kejriwal, elections, elections, polls, polls

bharatiya janata party (bjp), indian national congress, gujarat, himachal pradesh, aam aadmi party, narendra modi, narendra modi, state, state, prime minister, prime minister, arvind kejriwal, elections, elections, polls, polls

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ruled Gujarat for 27 consecutive years after winning its first election in 1995, and is on course to secure a seventh term.

The BJP was set to achieve its best-ever mandate in Indian state of Gujarat’s legislative assembly elections on Thursday. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party had already won 35 seats in his home state till afternoon, it was maintaining a lead in 121 other seats.

If the BJP does manage to claim victories on 150 seats, the federally ruling and Gujarat’s incumbent party will break Congress’ previous record of winning 149 constituencies in the assembly polls in 1985.

The BJP’s impending monster triumph in Gujarat can be understood from the fact that the party’s vote share in the state has further increased by at least 4 percent in this poll.

In 2017, the BJP secured 49.1 percent votes in the state, winning a simple majority with 99 seats. On the other hand, the main opposition party, Congress was at 41.4 percent, bagging wins in 77 constituencies.

But this time round, the Congress’ vote share suffered a huge dip as it dropped to 27 percent from more than 41 percent in 2017 and that’s perhaps the reason it is only in a position to win 17 seats in the state right now.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, waves from a truck as he campaigns for the Gujarat state elections in Ahmedabad, India, Thursday, Dec.1, 2022. - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.12.2022

BJP Wins Over Three Ex-Congress Seats as Gujarat Polls Underway

Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which campaigned vigorously to make the fight three-cornered, seem to have fallen flat in Gujarat as it is only leading on 5 seats at present. Notably, Kejriwal had predicted 90-plus seats for his party in the state. But all his tall claims seemed to have fallen flat.

In more embarrassment for AAP, its candidate for the state chief’s position Isudan Gadhvi is currently trailing the BJP’s Ayar Mulubhai Hardasbhai Bera by nearly 20,000 votes in the Khambhalia constituency.

But the AAP still has something to cheer about its performance in the western coastal state. The party is set to open its account in the Gujarat legislature with its five candidates leading till afternoon: “Aam Aadmi Party is becoming a national party today with the votes of the people of Gujarat,” AAP No.2 and Delhi State Deputy Chief Manish Sisodia tweeted.

Meanwhile, in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP was expected to suffer a massive jolt as the Congress took a sizable lead in the hill state – 26 to 39 and was heading to form its government there.

Himachal has alternated between the BJP and Congress since 1985 and looking at the current trends, it appears that the former may fail to buck the trend. The only big solace for the BJP in Himachal Pradesh is that its outgoing State Chief Jairam Thakur has won from his traditional Seraj seat by a margin of more than 20,000 votes.



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What led to the downfall of Peru’s Pedro Castillo? | International

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Pedro Castillo – the recently-impeached president of Peru – during a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Pedro Castillo – the recently-impeached president of Peru – during a televised address to the nation on Wednesday, December 7, 2022– (AFP)

On the morning of Wednesday, December 7, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo announced five measures in a televised address. The first was that he was going to “temporarily dissolve” his country’s Congress, so as to install an “emergency government.”

Shortly afterwards, Castillo’s cabinet resigned and he was denounced by the country’s judiciary. He is currently under arrest.

The same day he announced his plans, a vote was set to be held in Congress over whether or not the president should be impeached. This was the third attempt by the legislative branch to remove the highly unpopular Castillo since he began his term in July of 2021.

In his address to the country – just hours before the vote – Castillo accused the parliamentarians of “destroying the rule of law” and trying to “establish a congressional dictatorship.”

Over the past 16 months, the political tensions in the Andean country have been high. After winning the 2021 presidential elections by a margin of less than half-a-percent, Castillo – a former union leader – has constantly clashed with the Congress, which is dominated by centrist and center-right parties who oppose his Marxist “Free Peru” party. This has led to political gridlock, with hardly any legislation being passed.

During his Wednesday address, Castillo claimed that, because of the Peruvian Congress – which has an approval rating of about 20%, almost as low as his – the situation in the country had become “intolerable” and that the people were demanding exceptional measures to preserve democracy and the rule of law.

In addition to announcing the closure of the Congress, Castillo noted his intention of holding new legislative elections “as soon as possible.” This constituent assembly, he explained, would be responsible for drafting a new federal constitution within a period of no more than nine months.

“From today onwards, until the inauguration of a new national Congress, [I] will govern by decree,” he added.

Castillo also announced a curfew across the country, which would have come into effect at 10PM and lasted until 4AM.

“Everyone who possesses illegal weapons should turn them over to the National Police within a period of 72 hours. Whoever doesn’t comply will be subject to punishment consisting of prison time – a measure which will be established by decree,” he added, in a nod to high crime rates. This was in an attempt to get popular support for his shuttering of the legislature.

Another measure mentioned was in relation to the total reorganization of the justice system, the judiciary, the Attorney General’s office, the National Board of Justice and the Constitutional Court. However, Castillo did not offer further details on the scope of this planned unilateral reform, which caused widespread fear among much of the population.

Castillo called on the National Police – with the help of the Armed Forces – to dedicate all their efforts to a “real and effective fight” against crime, corruption and drug trafficking. Within this same point, he stressed that private property and freedom of commerce would be guaranteed and respected within the framework of a social market economy. Given that most of Castillo’s family is under investigation for corruption, while his party leadership expresses support for nationalization policies, none of these promises generated public confidence.

During his address, Castillo also asked civil society institutions and associations to support his decisions to “set Peru on course.” He specifically mentioned the “rondas campesinas” – the lightly-armed rural peasant militias that have been existence since the war against the Shining Path terrorist group (1980-92). Although Castillo was once a rondero, these groups also broke with Castillo, refusing to endorse his attempt to rule by decree and demanding that new elections be held immediately.

Castillo said that he had informed the Organization of American States about his decision, bizarrely linking it to the American Convention on Human Rights. The document mentions that “in case of war, public danger or other emergencies that threaten the independence or security of the state, [the executive] may adopt measures that, for the time strictly limited to the exigencies of the situation, suspend the obligations contracted by virtue of this Convention.” As Peru is facing no public emergency, this justification was rejected unanimously by all ministers, congresspeople and judges – including those from Castillo’s political bloc – who were supported by the police and army.

Castillo was arrested by the Peruvian National Police in the afternoon following his address, while en route to the Mexican Embassy to seek asylum.

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Women’s football in Africa is in danger of being left on the touchline | Juliet Bawuah

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I have been following women’s football in Africa for almost 15 years. And I’m sad to say that there has been little progress in supporting or promoting it in that time. The complaints are familiar now: lack of representation, lack of infrastructure, poor wages and underfunding are among the myriad failings that have held back the women’s game.

This sorry state of affairs is continent-wide. Yet talent abounds: four-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year and Barcelona player Asisat Oshoala from Nigeria and Ghana striker Evelyn Badu, who plays for Norwegian club Avaldsnes IL and was named 2022 Young Player of the Year and Interclub player of the year by the Confederation of African Football (CAF), are among the best. But these stars succeeded against the odds. Where is the grassroots investment to ensure the girls of today have open opportunities instead of having to sneak out of their homes to play the game they love? It shouldn’t all be left to the players themselves to nurture future stars, as Oshoala is doing through her Lagos-based academy, or former Super Falcons player Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire with her SheFootball Initiative.

Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda has made history in Qatar as one of four female referees, the first women to officiate at a World Cup.
Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda has made history in Qatar as one of four female referees, the first women to officiate at a World Cup. Photograph: Sarah Stier/FIFA/Getty Images

It’s not just underfunding at entry level. For years, the women’s league in Ghana went without a major sponsor, only to be bailed out this year by a brewery company. When the women’s league winners in Ghana qualified for the inaugural CAF Women’s Champions League in Ivory Coast in 2021, it took the intervention of the vice-president of Ghana and some private individuals to come to their aid with donations before they could make the tournament.

Time and again, female players have to fight not just for decent pay, but to be paid at all. In 2016, members of Ghana’s national senior women’s team, the Black Queens, staged a protest at the country’s sports ministry over unpaid bonuses. The players, who placed third in the Women’s Africa Nations Cup that same year, were also protesting over outstanding pay from their participation in the African Games the previous year. It was a shameful spectacle. The bonuses were eventually paid in 2020.

At the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco in July, Nigeria’s women’s team, the Super Falcons, boycotted training in protest over outstanding pay. It was not the first time they have acted over late payments. In 2019, Nigerian players refused to leave their hotel during the Women’s World Cup in France until they were paid the bonuses they were owed.

Recent efforts by some countries such as Senegal and Morocco, as well as by CAF, to invest in the women’s game are welcome developments. But much more could be done to develop talent, commercial opportunities and infrastructure.

But Africa is not alone in failure to address inequalities in sport. World Cup host Qatar is still playing catch-up when it comes to women’s football. Its national women’s team is unranked by Fifa, and while opportunities for girls to play are improving, they remain limited.

But there have also been reasons to celebrate: six female referees, including Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan, have made history during this tournament as the first women to officiate at a World Cup.

Behind the scenes, women such as Sarah Cheadle, the only female director on the World Cup production team, are an inspiration. I’ve found it encouraging to see an increase in the number of female sports journalists, commentators and administrators compared with previous World Cups.

I have been fortunate to work at football tournaments and have often left excited at the potential for African female sports journalists. Qatar is another opportunity to shape our careers. With a bigger platform we can add our voices to calls for better support for women’s football. I am also mindful that I need to ensure that the door stays open for others to follow.

The torch we hold is not for ourselves but for all.



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