This comes after weeks of negotiations between the sides, who have been fighting since 2014
To prison and back: Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was jailed on terrorism charges in Russia, gets off a plane on Saturday upon arrival in Kiev after the prisoner swap.REUTERSGleb Garanich
Russia and Ukraine carried out a long-awaited swap of 70 prisoners on Saturday, in a deal hailed by President Volodymyr Zelensky as a “first step” towards ending their conflict. Planes carrying 35 prisoners from each side landed simultaneously in Moscow and , where the passengers emerged under sunny skies.
“We have taken the first step,” Mr. Zelensky said on the tarmac after greeting and hugging former prisoners. “We have to take all the steps to finish this horrible war.”
In emotional scenes at Kiev’s Boryspil airport, family members embraced and handed flowers to the former prisoners, many weeping with joy. Among those swapped were 24 Ukrainian sailors, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Russian-Ukrainian journalist Kyrylo Vyshynsky.
Russian state television showed the Russian prisoners emerging from the plane at Moscow’s Vnukovo-2 airport used for government flights. Ukraine’s SBU security service confirmed that Vladimir Tsemakh — a fighter with Moscow-backed separatists considered a key witness in the downing of flight MH17 — was handed over to Russia despite pleas from the Netherlands.
Anticipation had been building for days for the exchange, which involved weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations. Relations between Kiev and Moscow nosedived in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began backing separatists in the eastern industrial regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Fighting there has claimed more than 13,000 lives over the past five years.
Mr. Zelensky’s election in April has raised hopes that a stalled peace process could be revived.
The comedian-turned-politician vowed during his campaign to have Ukrainian prisoners in Russia returned and has said ending the conflict with Russia is his top priority.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that the exchange would be “a huge step towards normalising relations” with Kiev.
Important step: Moscow
Saturday’s exchange was “a very important step”, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “It’s necessary to maintain this drive to solve problems as much as possible,” she said on Twitter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the swap a “sign of hope” and called for the implementation of a 2015 ceasefire deal that Paris and Berlin helped broker.
The release of Mr. Sentsov will be seen as a major victory for Kiev. He was Ukraine’s most famous political prisoner and the subject of a star-studded international campaign calling for his release. He was arrested in 2014 and had been serving a 20-year sentence in an Arctic penal colony for planning “terrorist attacks” in Crimea.
Move will help it increase n-stockpile
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.AFP-
Iran said on Saturday that it has fired up advanced centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles, in the latest scaling back of commitments under a crumbling 2015 nuclear deal.
The Islamic republic was acting on a threat to further abandon its nuclear commitments based on a deadline it set for European powers to do something to shield it from U.S. sanctions.
The country’s Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said it had activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 advanced centrifuges. “The centrifuge machines, as they are engaged in research and development, will help with increasing the stockpile,” he said. “The capacity of these machines is many times more than the previous machines. This started as of yesterday (Friday),” he said.
Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran was allowed to enrich uranium using only first generation — or IR-1 — centrifuges. Iran also said on Saturday that it was capable of enriching uranium beyond 20% but for now it had no plans to do so. “Our plan is that if the other parties act on their commitments, we too return to our commitments,” said Mr. Kamalvandi.
Despite the decision to further step back from the 2015 deal, Mr. Kamalvandi said Iran would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to continue monitoring its nuclear programme, as it has done under the 2015 accord.
Lawmakers to go to court if Johnson defies Parliament
An anti-government demonstration in London on Saturday.AFPDANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
British lawmakers are preparing legal action in case Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to defy legislation compelling him to seek a further delay to Brexit, Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Saturday.
An Opposition Bill, which would force Mr. Johnson to ask the European Union (EU) for an extension to Britain’s departure to avoid an Oct. 31 exit without a transition deal, was approved by Parliament’s appointed upper chamber, the House of Lords, on Friday. Queen Elizabeth is expected to sign it into law on Monday.
The BBC said earlier that lawmakers, including moderate Conservatives expelled this week from their party for backing the Bill, have lined up a legal team and are willing to go to court to enforce the legislation if necessary. Mr. Johnson has said he has no intention of seeking an extension. Saturday’s Daily Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister is prepared to defy Parliament’s instruction to request an extension to the Brexit process if he fails to agree a new deal.
But a former director of British public prosecutions (DPP) told Sky News that Mr. Johnson could face prison if he refuses to delay Brexit in the face of court action.
Ken MacDonald said that legal action would result in a court ordering that the law should be followed: “A refusal in the face of that would amount to contempt of court, which could find that person in prison.”
Afghanistan has seen a surge in violence after an ‘in-principle’ agreement was reached with militants
The Afghan government on Saturday welcomed a pledge by the Pentagon that the U.S. would only accept a “good deal” from the Taliban after a wave of insurgent attacks sparked concerns of a hasty U.S. withdrawal.
During a wide ranging press conference in Paris earlier on Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper sought to allay fears that Washington was looking for a quick exit from Afghanistan as it inches closer to a potential deal with the Taliban.
“My view, the U.S. view is that the best way forward is a political agreement and that’s what we're working diligently on right now,” Mr. Esper told reporters.
“That doesn’t mean we’ll take any deal, but we want to make sure we have a good deal, a good enough deal that guarantees at least the security of our countries going forward and a brighter future for the Afghan people.”
The remarks were greeted warmly in Afghanistan where the Taliban in the past week has attacked several provincial capitals and targeted Kabul with suicide bombers. “The Afghan Government welcomes the latest remarks made by the Pentagon Chief on Afg peace process,” presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi wrote on Twitter. “We echo the need for sustainable peace, end of violence and a meaningful peace that would guarantee the security of Afghanistan and its allies.”
Kabul has been gripped by a surge in deadly violence even after the U.S. and the insurgents reached an agreement “in principle” that would see the U.S. pull thousands of troops from Afghanistan in return for various Taliban security promises.
According to parts of the deal made public so far, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of its roughly 13,000 or so troops from five bases across Afghanistan by early next year. The insurgents in turn will renounce al-Qaeda, promise to fight the Islamic State (IS) group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.
Zimbabwe ruling party mouthpiece offers a glowing tribute but other newspapers are fiercely critical
Liberator, leader, despot: Children milling around a wall with a mural of Robert Mugabe in Harare on Saturday.Getty ImagesTafadzwa Ufumeli
No date for the funeral has been set, and it’s not clear when Mugabe’s body will arrive from Singapore, where he died on Friday. Mugabe, who was 95, will be buried at the National Heroes Acre, which has been set aside for Zimbabweans who have made huge sacrifices during the war against white-minority rule and who dedicated themselves to the nation.
“We don’t have the date yet,” Deputy Information Minister Energy Mutodi said. “That is still in the hands of the family and the President, but comrade Mugabe will be buried at the Heroes Acre.”
A national hero
Located on a hilltop, the plot features a huge bronze statue of three guerrilla fighters and boasts black marble and granite flourishes. Mugabe is viewed by many as a national hero despite decades of rule that left the country struggling. Flags flew at half-staff Saturday, but there were no public activities to mark the death of a man who singularly shaped the once-prosperous country in his own image and created a repressive system that some say remains even today.
Reaction to his death was mixed, although praise ironically came mostly from ruling party officials and military leaders. The state-run Herald newspaper, which vilified Mugabe when he was forced to resign and when he subsequently voiced support for the Opposition, carried glowing tributes. In a “commemorative edition,” the paper, which often acts as a mouthpiece of the government, carried a montage of his pictures with the headline — “Robert Mugabe-1924-2019” on its front page and glowing reports throughout.
“Whatever happened towards the end of his leadership should not be used to rubbish the good things that he did during his life,” the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces was quoted as saying in a separate story in the newspaper.
‘95 and out’
Others were less charitable. “95 and out,” read the privately-owned Newsday newspaper. “Despite his intellectual prowess, Mugabe’s failure to let go of power when it was time was his major undoing . In short, he was a liberator who turned villain. Leaders need to know when to draw the line,” it said in an editorial.
“End of an era as Mugabe dies, leaves Zim poor, divided,” read the front page headline of another newspaper, the Daily News. “Notwithstanding the many mistakes that he made, many Zimbabweans will probably agree that had he not held on to power beyond the 1990s, he would today be largely remembered as one of Africa’s best leaders in history,” the paper said in an editorial.
Both newspapers were major targets of Mugabe’s vitriol, with editors and reporters routinely arrested during Mugabe’s rule.
On the streets of the capital, Harare, few seemed bothered as people struggled to cope with biting economic problems largely blamed by critics on Mugabe’s rule and perpetuated by his successor and an ally who later turned foe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa took power in 2017 with the help of the military.
“Who cares?” said Percy Maute, a street vendor pushing a cart full of tomatoes along a busy street named after the former President. “I don’t care. I am too busy looking for money to mourn a man who put me in this position.”