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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video message late on July 6 that artillery that Ukraine has received from Western partners has had an effect on the battlefield.

“Finally, it is felt that the Western artillery — the weapons we received from our partners — has worked very powerfully,” he said, praising its accuracy.

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The Ukrainian military has inflicted “very noticeable blows on warehouses and other points that are important for the logistics of the occupiers,” he said. “And this significantly reduces the offensive potential of the Russian Army.”

Ukrainian forces are currently advancing in several directions, including in the south in the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhya, he said.

“We are fighting for our entire south, for the entire Ukrainian Donbas,” he said, noting a “most brutal confrontation” near Slovyansk and Bakhmut and adding that Ukrainian forces also are fighting for the Kharkiv region.

“Let the occupiers not think that their time on this land is long, and the superiority of their artillery is eternal,” Zelenskiy said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that he spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on July 6, and they “coordinated steps to accelerate the delivery of heavy weapons from the U.S. and other partners.”

Kuleba said he had a similar conversation with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in which he emphasized the urgent need to increase supplies of German self-propelled howitzers and multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) to Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials earlier called on civilians to urgently evacuate the city of Slovyansk and other parts of the Donetsk region as Russia escalates its offensive in the east.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said in a Telegram post that two people died in the city of Avdyivka, which is north of the regional capital.

The Donetsk cities of Slovyansk, Krasnohorivka, and Kurakhove each reported one civilian killed on July 6.

Slovyansk has been subjected to “massive” Russian bombardment in recent days, with at least two people killed and seven others wounded in an attack on a marketplace on July 5, officials said.

“Russia has turned the entire Donetsk region into a hot spot where it is dangerous to remain a civilian,” Kyrylenko said on Telegram. “I call on everyone to evacuate. Evacuation saves lives.”

Moscow-backed separatists in the region said attacks by Ukrainian forces killed four civilians. The claims could not be independently verified.

An intelligence report from the British Defense Ministry on July 6 said that “there is a realistic possibility that the battle for [Slovyansk] will be the next key contest in the struggle for the Donbas.”

“Russian forces from the Eastern and Western Groups of Forces are likely now around 16 km north from the town of [Slovyansk],” the intelligence report said.

Speaking on July 6, officials said Ukraine had so far thwarted an attempted Russian advance into the north of the Donetsk region. Russia-backed separatists and Russian forces are already in control of the southern part of the Donetsk region.

“We are holding back the enemy on the border of Luhansk region and Donetsk region,” Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Hayday told Ukrainian television.

He said Russian regular army and reserve forces had been sent there in an apparent effort to cross the Siverskiy Donets River and that two small settlements just inside Luhansk’s borders were the scene of fierce fighting.

“Luhansk region even now is fighting. Almost all the territory has been captured, but in two settlements fighting is ongoing” he told a video briefing.

Vadym Lyakh, the mayor of Slovyansk, told a video briefing on July 6 that the city had been shelled for the last two weeks.

“The situation is tense,” he said.

The southern port city of Mykolayiv was also being heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, told a briefing. Russian forces were using multiple-launch rocket systems to shell the city, which has shed about half of its prewar population of half a million people, he said.

“There are no safe areas in Mykolayiv,” he said. “I am telling the people of the city that they need to leave.”

To the north of Donetsk, Russian forces also hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with missile strikes overnight, the regional governor said on July 6 on Telegram.

Three districts of the city were targeted, Oleh Synyehubov said. Three people, including a toddler, sustained injuries, he added.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces killed up to 100 Ukrainian troops and destroyed four armored vehicles in Kharkiv, and in the Mykolayiv region struck a Ukrainian air-defense radar and a camp housing foreign fighters.

Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said air-launched high-precision missiles also destroyed two HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems sent by the United States along with ammunition for the systems. The Ukrainian military denied Moscow’s claims.

Zelenskiy, speaking at a briefing in Kyiv with visiting Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, said the terms of how the war will end depend on international sanctions pressure on Russia and the supply of weapons to Ukraine.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hold a press conference in Kyiv on July 6.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hold a press conference in Kyiv on July 6.

He said the answer to how long the war will last depends on “how quickly we can make Russia think about peace because we believe that they have not even begun to think about it.”

Russia has yet to feel the effects of powerful sanctions in part because “unfortunately, there are still some allies who help the Russian Federation or their business,” he added.

Martin used the visit to restate Ireland’s full backing for continued sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and for Ukraine’s path to membership in the European Union.

“I am grateful that Ireland stands by our side in this crucial time for our country,” Zelenskiy told Martin.

Ireland has taken in more than 36,000 Ukrainian refugees and has given 20 million euros ($20.4 million) in humanitarian support and assistance to the country in addition to health equipment and medical donations worth more than 4.5 million euros.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and TASS




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In Vietnam, ‘feeding the police’ just a cost of doing business | Corruption

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Hanoi, Vietnam – When Ngan saw a police car passing by her coffee shop in Hanoi’s Old Quarter on a recent afternoon, she hurriedly grabbed the chairs cluttering the pavement and brought them inside.

After the police passed out of sight moments later, she put the chairs back out on the pavement, where they would stay until the arrival of the next patrol warning vendors to keep the area clear. By using the space in front of her 16-metre square shop, Ngan can double the number of customers that can be seated at a time.

“Everyday, we have to ‘act’ for a few seconds,” Ngan, who asked to use a pseudonym, told Al Jazeera. “They would not punish us anyway, since our ‘fees’ have been duly paid.”

Ngan, whose business supports a family of seven, pays VND 6 million ($260) in cash every 6 months to a police officer in charge of the neighborhood where her shop is located. On a number of occasions, she has even helped him collect money from other shops in the area.

“He would never tell me the amount he wanted. It is always I who offered the amount, and he would bargain afterwards, if dissatisfied,” said Ngan, who has been selling coffee at the same spot for more than a decade.

For many shop owners and street vendors in Hanoi, greasing the palms of local law enforcement on a regular basis, known colloquially as “nuôi công an” or “feeding the police”, is just another cost of doing business.

Vietnam was ranked 104 out of 180 countries in last year’s Corruption Perceptions Index compiled by Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit that combats global corruption, with a score of 36 out of 100, where 100 is considered most clean. The police are widely perceived as among the most corrupt sectors in the country.

When Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong launched his “furnace blazing” anti-corruption campaign in 2018, resulting in the prosecution of more than 11,700 economic crimes, the police and military were among the major targets alongside the upper echelons of the ruling communist party.

Vietnam has cracked down on high-level corruption in recent years [File: Kham/Reuters]

The campaign, however, has not wiped out petty corruption, which remains widely tolerated by businesses and authorities alike.

Although taking bribes by public officials and managers at state and non-state organisations was criminalized under a 2018 anti-corruption law, payments to police and other low-level civil servants are commonly construed as “protection fees”.

While strong anti-corruption measures have been carried out at the national level — including the establishment of a hotline to report police corruption — provincial authorities have refrained from tackling the issue, according to national officials.

Other measures have shown signs of progress. In 2019, the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index, which interviewed 14,138 citizens in 63 provinces and cities, reported the biggest decline in corruption since 2011. The rate of respondents who reported a decrease in corruption was five percentage points higher than in 2018.

The Hanoi Municipal Police Department and Ministry of Public Security did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

For Tu, the owner of a small hotpot restaurant in Hoa Bình city, gifts and payments are insurance against police harassment.

“In a restaurant, noise is inevitable. We might be fined for disturbing the peace of the neighborhood at any time,” she said. “It is better to pay and be left alone.”

Being on good terms with the local police saves Tu from mounds of paperwork, trips to administrative offices and other bureaucratic burdens that come with following the strict letter of the law.

“I do not have a lot of education. I do not know how to meet their requirements,” said Tu, who asked to use a pseudonym. “Those requirements are never transparent and might change on their whim. My business might be legal today and illegal the next day.”

‘Reciprocity’

A good relationship with the police can also encourage authorities to be flexible when it comes to bribes.

During a two-month lockdown that lifted in September, Ngan’s police officer contact waived “fees” as restrictions deprived her family of income.

Earlier this month, a local police officer called Ngan to inform him that he would “pay a visit”. Explaining that the shop was not doing good business due to a surge in coronavirus cases, Ngan asked for a “discount”. The police officer agreed, but told her she would need to make up for it when things get back to normal.

A former police officer in Hanoi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that local police rely on small businesses for bribes as the owners of big businesses are too well connected to shake down.

He said that while he was allowed to keep a small portion of the bribes he collected, most of the money would be handed over to those “above him”, especially the chief police officer of the ward where he was posted.

“My boss asked us [subordinates] to pay him a certain amount of money each month,” the former police officer, who quit the force last year, said. “If we did not, we would be in trouble.”

Hung, who runs a coffee shop in the Đống Đa district of Hanoi, finds it difficult to blame lower-level police officers for the culture of corruption, which he sees as a form of “tán lộc” or sharing one’s fortune, that is necessary to avoid bad karma.

“In order to survive in the business world, you need to know how to pay respect to local authorities,” Hung, who asked to use a pseudonym, told Al Jazeera. “Reciprocity makes everyone happy.”

Hung is certain the bulk of the “unofficial fees” of $40 he pays to police each quarter go to higher-ranking officials.

“Police do not need you to abide by the law,” Hung said.  “They want you to break the law so that they will get the money to submit to their superiors.”

“We cannot blame them if their bosses are indecent,” he added, describing such petty corruption as “nothing compared to the corruption of higher-ranked officials”.


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Afghan refugees in the UK told to find homes on real estate portals

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LONDON: Thousands of Afghan refugees who have been housed in hotels in the UK following the Kabul evacuation last year have been told by authorities to look for new accommodation on online real estate portals.

The UK Home Office has told refugees to find accommodation on Rightmove or Zoopla, The Guardian reported.

On the first anniversary of the Taliban takeover, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 Afghan refugees, with only 7,000 having been rehoused.

Although charities have welcomed government moves to end the use of hotels to accommodate the refugees, charity officials are concerned that many will fail to find suitable accommodation in the private rented sector and may end up homeless.

Afghan families with children will struggle to find affordable accommodation that is large enough using the housing benefit provided.

Charities also highlighted the fact that refugees may not be able to negotiate their own rental agreements due to language barriers, and would not have paperwork such as passports and bank statements that are required to rent a property.

Home Office sources say that in addition to encouraging Afghan families living in hotels to look for their own housing, they aim to offer each family two choices of accommodation somewhere in the UK. However, it is not known if they will be given a choice of location.

The Home Office said the accommodation offers would be “good, decent proposals,” but that if families rejected the offers, they would be provided with a further two months of hotel accommodation. It did not say what would happen if the families failed to secure accommodation after that.

Home Office sources say they are trying to encourage Afghan families to move to other parts of the UK, such as Wales, but this may be problematic for families with children who are attending school in large cities such as London.

Waiting lists for council housing are long, especially for larger properties that can accommodate Afghan families with three or more children.

Despite Afghan families having the right to rent under immigration rules and landlords being able to check this using an online tool, some are reluctant to rent to people who do not have a British passport, or evidence of life in the UK such as utility bills and payslips.

A letter sent to Afghan refugees from the Home Office says that not all councils will accept a request to put families on social housing waiting lists, urging them to start looking in the private rental sector.

“Not all councils will support you so it’s important to check,” the letters said. They urged the refugees to search for multiple properties to increase their chances of finding accommodation as the UK housing market is “very competitive.”

Eva Tabbasam, director of Gender Action for Peace and Security, expressed concern about the plans.

“Afghan families couldn’t have imagined that one year after arriving they’d still be warehoused in unsuitable accommodation, without space, privacy and stability. There is also a serious risk of homelessness for these families if suitable accommodation is not offered under the current Home Office plans, Tabbasam said.

“The government has had a year to sort things out — instead, it’s getting worse. If suitable accommodation was readily available for the 9,500 people still in hotels, families would already have been moved into it. We don’t yet know what kind of move on accommodation families will be offered,” she added.

London Councils’ executive member for communities, Claire Holland, said: “Boroughs are very concerned by the lack of alternative housing options for these families — a particular challenge in the capital due to the chronic shortage of affordable housing here.”

A Home Office spokesperson said that the use of hotels to house those resettling from Afghanistan is a temporary solution.

“We continue to work with over 350 local authorities to move Afghan families from hotels to permanent accommodation as quickly as possible,” they said.

“To support the resettlement of Afghan families, local authorities are given £20,520 ($24,789) per person over a three-year period. They have the flexibility to use this funding to contribute toward renting accommodation, including deposits, letting fees and furnishing.”


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