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Ukraine wages counteroffensive against Russian forces in east

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3/3

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian servicemen carry bodies of Russian soldiers killed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before putting them in a refrigerated rail car, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 13, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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By Tom Balmforth and Jonathan Landay

KYIV/BEZRUKY, Ukraine (Reuters) -Ukrainian forces have launched a counteroffensive near the Russian-held town of Izium in eastern Ukraine, a regional governor said on Saturday, in what could prove a serious setback for Moscow’s plans to capture the entire Donbas region.

Russian forces have focused much of their firepower on the Donbas in a “second phase” of their invasion that was announced on April 19, after they failed to reach the capital Kyiv from the north in the early weeks of the war.

But Ukraine has been retaking territory in its northeast, driving the Russians away from the second-largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Keeping up pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines will make it harder for Moscow to encircle battle-hardened Ukrainian troops on the eastern front in the Donbas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also said complex talks were underway to find a way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steel works in the port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war.

Mariupol, which has suffered the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands but hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are still holding out at the Azovstal steel works despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.

Western military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate such fierce Ukrainian resistance when they launched the invasion on Feb. 24.

As well as losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia has been hit by economic sanctions. The Group of Seven leading Western economies pledged in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply more weapons to Ukraine.

Commenting on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine, regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in comments aired on social media: “The hottest spot remains the Izium direction.”

“Our armed forces have switched to a counteroffensive there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts and this is the result of the character of our armed forces,” he said.

DIPLOMATIC TREMORS

Moscow’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has jolted European security. Kyiv and its Western allies say the fascism assertion is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression.

The war has prompted Finland to abandon its military neutrality and seek membership of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Sweden is widely expected to follow suit.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told Putin by phone that his country, which shares a 1,300 km (800 mile) border with Russia, wanted to join NATO to bolster its own security.

Putin told Niinisto it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutrality, the Kremlin said, adding that the move could harm bilateral relations.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was not possible for his country, a NATO member, to support enlarging the alliance because Finland and Sweden were “home to many terrorist organisations”.

The foreign ministers of Finland and Turkey were due to meet in Berlin later on Saturday to try to resolve their differences over NATO accession.

Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Saturday that Turkey had not shut the door to Sweden and Finland joining but wants negotiations with both countries and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities in Europe.

Kalin said the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – was fundraising and recruiting in Europe and its presence was “strong and open” in Sweden in particular.

“What needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to … exist in those countries,” Kalin said.

G7 MINISTERS BACK MORE AID

One of the aims of Russia’s action in Ukraine was to prevent the former Soviet republic ever joining NATO.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke to Putin by phone on Friday, said he detected no sign of any change in the Russian leader’s thinking on the conflict.

In an interview for the t-online news website published on Saturday, Scholz said Western sanctions on Russia would remain in place until it reached an agreement with Ukraine, adding: “Our aim is for this invasion to fail.”

Meeting in Germany, foreign ministers from the G7 group of rich nations backed giving Ukraine more aid and arms.

In their statement, the G7 ministers – from the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada – also pledged to “expedite our efforts to reduce and end reliance on Russian energy supplies”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the West’s sanctions amounted to a “total hybrid war” against Moscow but Russia would withstand sanctions by forging deeper partnerships with China, India and others.

As Russian and Ukrainian forces fought artillery duels on Saturday close to their shared border north of Kharkiv, Vera Kosolapenko, 67, wept as she stood in the still-smouldering ruins of her small home, struck by a Russian missile on Friday.

“I don’t know how I will rebuild this house,” she said as explosions echoed over her leafy village of Bezruky.

“I loved this place.”

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy said complex negotiations were under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission from the Azovtal steel works in Mariupol, with international intermediaries involved in the talks.

Erdogan’s spokesman said Turkey had two weeks ago proposed carrying out a maritime evacuation of wounded fighters from the plant. The proposal remains “on the table” although Moscow has not agreed to it, he said.

Russia’s defence ministry said its forces had hit Ukrainian command posts, ammunition depots and other military equipment in several regions, including the Donbas, killing at least 100 Ukrainian “nationalists”.

Reuters could not independently verify the report.

World

Trump’s sway faces biggest midterm test in Georgia’s Republican races

Published

on

4/4

© Reuters. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp waves to the crowd following a rally ahead of the state’s Republican primary, in Kennesaw, Georgia, U.S. May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer

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By Alexandra Ulmer

ATLANTA (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s campaign to play kingmaker in this year’s midterm elections faced its biggest test yet in Georgia on Tuesday as Republican voters decide whether to heed his demands to oust Governor Brian Kemp.

Trump has backed former U.S. Senator David Perdue’s primary challenge against Kemp, who angered the former president by refusing to try to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

While opinion polls show Kemp holding a wide lead over Perdue, another Trump-endorsed candidate, former football star Herschel Walker, is favored to snag the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate — though some party leaders are worried he could prove to be a flawed general election candidate.

Trump’s obsession over his loss in Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden has extended to other Republican statewide races, including for secretary of state, the state’s top election official.

Incumbent Brad Raffensperger, who rejected Trump’s plea to “find” enough votes to alter the outcome, faces U.S. Representative Jody Hice, who earned Trump’s endorsement and has echoed his fraud claims, in a race that polls suggest is tight.

Trump has made more than 190 endorsements since leaving office, mostly for incumbent Republicans who face no serious primary opposition.

He has amassed a mixed record in competitive contests; most recently, his nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, the television host Dr. Mehmet Oz, is in a race still too close to call a week after voting.

Republicans are favored to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 8, though analysts say Democrats have a better chance of holding onto control of the Senate.

The loss of either chamber would bring Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda to a halt and give Republicans the power to launch distracting and potentially politically damaging investigations.

KEMP POISED FOR VICTORY

Opinion polls show Georgia incumbent Kemp well above the 50% threshold required to win the nomination outright and avoid a run-off against Perdue, who has repeated Trump’s falsehoods about losing Georgia due to widespread voter fraud.

In a radio interview on Monday, Perdue criticized Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is expected to face off against Kemp in a rematch of the 2018 election, after she decried Georgia’s high incarceration and maternal mortality rates.

“She ain’t from here. Let her go back where she came from if she doesn’t like it here,” he said. Abrams, who is Black, was born in Wisconsin and moved to Georgia with her family as a child.

Kemp’s surging campaign has drawn support from some high-profile Republicans who have themselves been targets for Trump’s ire, including Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence.

“Elections are about the future. There are those who want to make this election about the past,” Pence said at an election-eve rally for Kemp in Kennesaw on Monday night.

Echoing other Kemp supporters, retired tech sales executive Brian Seifried, 52, said in an interview in Atlanta that he liked Kemp’s pro-business policies, his hard line on immigration and his move to enact a sweeping set of voting restrictions after the 2020 election.

“President Trump’s endorsement did not have any sway over what I think is best for Georgia,” Seifried said.

Four other states – Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and Minnesota – were also holding primary elections on Tuesday.

In Alabama, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, who lost Trump’s endorsement after saying it was time to move on from the 2020 election, is among those battling for a Senate seat. Trump-era White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders is favored to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Arkansas.

In Texas, a Democrat-on-Democrat congressional runoff election pits Henry Cuellar, the only House Democrat who opposes abortion rights, against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.

Herschel Walker, a former star running back at the University of Georgia and in the National Football League, has held a comfortable lead in opinion polls and would face incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock in November.

FACTBOX-Seven races to watch in Georgia, Alabama midterm primaries, Texas run-offsFACTBOX-Power of Trump’s endorsements faces test in 12 U.S. midterm primariesTexas AG Paxton squares off against Bush in Republican run-off

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World

Tedros re-elected as head of World Health Organization

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus addresses the 75th World Health Assembly at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization’s (WHO) members re-elected Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Director General by a strong majority for another five years, the president of the World Health Assembly said on Tuesday.

The vote by secret ballot, announced by Ahmed Robleh Abdilleh from Djibouti at a major annual meeting, was seen as a formality since Tedros was the only candidate running.

Ministers and delegates took turns to shake hands and hug Tedros, a former health minister from Ethiopia, who has steered the UN agency through a turbulent period dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The president had to use a gavel several times to interrupt the applause.

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach tweeted on Tuesday: “Just re-elected as ⁦Director General of #WHO: @DrTedros⁩. 155/160 votes, spectacular result. Congratulations, fully deserved. Germany recently overtook the United States as the UN health agency’s top donor.

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World

U.S. Senate candidate sues over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania midterms primary

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on

2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick speaks to reporters after voting in the primary election at a polling station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Quinn Glabicki/File Photo

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(Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick (NYSE:MKC) has filed a lawsuit in a Pennsylvania court to compel counties to count undated mail-in ballots in his primary race against TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom he trails by less than 1,000 votes.

The race between McCormick, a former hedge fund executive, and Oz, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, for the Republican party nomination is close enough to trigger an automatic recount under Pennsylvania state law.

While McCormick is slightly behind Oz after the May 17 vote, he is well ahead of his opponent in absentee ballots, according to polling firm Edison Research. McCormick has received 45,794 mail-in votes, compared with Oz, who has 32,944.

In a statement, McCormick’s campaign said it sued on Monday in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court “to compel the counties to follow the Republican-leaning (Third Circuit Court) order from last week stating that undated ballots returned on time be counted.”

The statement added that the ballots “are postmarked upon arrival to county boards of elections and, therefore, already dated and proven to be timely.”

It was not clear how many mail-in ballots lack a handwritten date, and whether counting them could help McCormick or make a recount less likely. State election officials expect to know this week whether a recount will be needed.

Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees elections, said it agreed that undated ballots must be counted in the May 17 race, but advised they be “segregated” and “appropriately logged pending litigation.”

“A determination on whether the segregated tabulations will be used in certifying elections has not yet been made, given the ongoing litigation,” it said.

The Pennsylvania Republican Party said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that they “absolutely object to the counting of mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania law and our courts have been very clear that undated ballots are not to be counted.”

In a statement on Twitter, Oz called McCormick’s lawsuit “a tactic that could have long-term harmful consequences for elections in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

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