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PRESSURE ON PUTIN AS RESERVISTS CALLED UP FOR WAR

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Police officers detain demonstrators in Saint Petersburg on September 21, 2022, following calls to protest against partial mobilisation announced by President Vladimir Putin. – President Vladimir Putin called up Russian military reservists on September 21, saying his promise to use all military means in Ukraine was “no bluff,” and hinting that Moscow was prepared to use nuclear weapons. His mobilisation call comes as Moscow-held regions of Ukraine prepare to hold annexation referendums this week, dramatically upping the stakes in the seven-month conflict by allowing Moscow to accuse Ukraine of attacking Russian territory. (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP)

Pressure ratcheted up on President Vladimir Putin as his decision to send reservists to Ukraine triggered spreading protests and hundreds of arrests at home, and Western leaders tore into the Russian leader at the United Nations.

Training his fire on Putin as he addressed the General Assembly, US President Joe Biden accused him of “shamelessly” violating the UN Charter with a war aimed at “extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state.”

Speaking in unison with fellow NATO leaders, Biden on Wednesday denounced Putin for making “overt nuclear threats against Europe” as part of his latest escalation, and warned that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Addressing the assembly later via video — the sole leader allowed to do so — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the UN to punish Russia for the invasion, calling for a special tribunal and compensation fund and for Moscow to be stripped of its veto.

“A crime has been committed against Ukraine and we demand just punishment,” said Zelensky, who earned a standing ovation.

The high-profile addresses came hours after Putin dramatically upped the stakes in his seven-month war by calling up 300,000 military reservists — a step Western powers portrayed as desperation and that drew protesters into the streets across Russia.

In Russia, more than 1,300 people were arrested in 38 different cities, according to the OVD-Info monitoring group — the largest protests seen since Putin launched his offensive in February.

AFP journalists in central Moscow saw at least 50 people detained by police in anti-riot gear, while in the former imperial capital Saint Petersburg, police surrounded and detained a small group of protesters, loading them onto a bus as they chanted, “No mobilization!”

“Everyone is scared. I am for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student wearing a pacifist symbol on his chest.

Flights out of Russia were nearly fully booked this week, airline and travel agent data showed, in an apparent exodus of people unwilling to join the conflict.

– Prisoners released –

On the same day as Putin’s mobilization order, Ukraine announced the exchange of a record-high 215 imprisoned soldiers with Russia, including fighters who led the defense of Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks that became an icon of Ukrainian resistance.

Ten freed prisoners — including two from the United States, five from Britain, and others from Sweden, Morocco and Croatia — were transferred to Saudi Arabia from Russia, Riyadh said, without specifying when they would be returned home.

But the diplomatic breakthroughs did little to lower the temperature as Western leaders voiced outrage at Putin’s latest moves — and Moscow’s plan to stage annexation referendums this week in Russian-held regions of Ukraine.

Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south are holding votes over five days beginning Friday — a move that would allow Moscow to accuse Ukraine of attacking supposedly Russian territory.

Turkey was the latest NATO member to speak out Wednesday against Russia’s referendum plans, slamming them as “illegitimate.”

The referendums follow a pattern established in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine after a similar vote.

Like in 2014, Washington, Berlin and Paris denounced the latest ballots, saying the international community would never recognize the results.

– ‘Not a bluff’ –

In a pre-recorded address early Wednesday, Putin accused the West of trying to “destroy” Russia through its backing of Kyiv as he announced a partial military mobilization.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff,” Putin said.

“Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can also turn in their direction.”

On the sidelines of the UN gathering, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the world to “put maximum pressure” on Putin, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz denounced the call-up as “an act of desperation”.

And British Prime Minister Liz Truss — in her first trip since succeeding Boris Johnson — vowed before the UN to keep up “our military support to Ukraine for as long as it takes”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile, condemned Putin’s “dangerous and reckless nuclear rhetoric.”

Top European Union diplomats held an emergency meeting late Wednesday on the UN sidelines to discuss potential new sanctions against Russia.

“We will study, we will adopt new restrictive measures, both personal and sectoral,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said post-meeting, adding that a final decision needed to be made formally.

Russia’s “seizure and militarization” of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — Europe’s largest — also drew condemnation as a “root cause” for nuclear instability from several countries, including the United States, France, and Britain.

“(The) heightened risks of a nuclear incident will remain dangerously high as long as Russia remains present on the site of (the nuclear plant),” they said in a joint statement calling for Moscow’s withdrawal.

– ‘Liberate us from what?’ –

The flurry of announcements by Moscow came with Russian forces in Ukraine facing their biggest challenge since the start of the conflict.

During a sweeping counter-offensive in recent weeks, Kyiv’s forces have retaken hundreds of towns and villages.

In a rare admission, Moscow said Wednesday 5,937 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine since February.

As Putin made his announcement, residents were clearing rubble and broken glass from a nine-story apartment block hit by an overnight missile strike in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

“They want to liberate us from what? From our homes? From our relatives? From friends?” a 50-year-old resident, who gave her name as Galina, raged. “They want to free us from being alive?”

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Foreign

UKRAINE FORCES BREAK THROUGH RUSSIAN DEFENCES IN SOUTH, ADVANCE IN EAST

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Ukrainian forces have broken through Russian defences in the south of the country while expanding their rapid offensive in the east, seizing back more territory in areas annexed by Russia and threatening its troops’ supply lines.

Making their biggest breakthrough in the south since the war began, Ukrainian forces recaptured several villages in an advance along the strategic Dnipro River on Monday, Ukrainian officials and a Russian-installed leader in the area said.

Ukrainian forces in the south destroyed 31 Russian tanks and one multiple rocket launcher, the military’s southern operational command said in a nightly update, without providing details of where the fighting occurred.

Reuters could not immediately verify the battlefield accounts.

The southern breakthrough mirrors recent Ukrainian advances in the east even as Russia has tried to raise the stakes by annexing land, ordering mobilisation, and threatening nuclear retaliation.

Ukraine has made significant advances in two of the four Russian-occupied regions Moscow last week annexed after what it called referendums – votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.

In a sign Ukraine is building momentum on the eastern front, Reuters saw columns of Ukrainian military vehicles heading on Monday to reinforce the rail hub of Lyman, retaken at the weekend, and a staging post to press into the Donbas region.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine’s army had seized back towns in a number of areas, without giving details.

“New population centres have been liberated in several regions.

“Heavy fighting is going on in several sectors of the front,” Zelensky said in a video address.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk – one of two regions that make up the Donbas – said Russian forces had taken over a psychiatric hospital in the town of Svatovo, a target en route to recapturing the major cities of Lysychansk and Sivierodonetsk.

“There is quite a network of underground rooms in the building and they have taken up defensive positions,” he told Ukrainian television.

In the south, Ukrainian troops recaptured the town of Dudchany along the west bank of the Dnipro River, which bisects the country, Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed leader in occupied parts of Ukraine’s Kherson province, told Russian state television.

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50 MILLION PEOPLE WORLDWIDE IN MODERN SLAVERY —ILO

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Latest estimates show that forced labour and forced marriage have increased significantly in the last five years, according to the International Labour Organisation, Walk Free and the International Organisation for Migration.

Fifty million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, according to the latest Global Estimates of Modern Slavery. Of these people, 28 million were in forced labour and 22 million were trapped in forced marriage.

The number of people in modern slavery has risen significantly in the last five years. Ten million more people were in modern slavery in 2021 compared to 2016 global estimates. Women and children remain disproportionately vulnerable.

Modern slavery occurs in almost every country in the world, and cuts across ethnic, cultural and religious lines. More than half (52 per cent) of all forced labour and a quarter of all forced marriages can be found in upper-middle income or high-income countries.

Most cases of forced labour (86 per cent) are found in the private sector. Forced labour in sectors other than commercial sexual exploitation accounts for 63 per cent of all forced labour, while forced commercial sexual exploitation represents 23 per cent of all forced labour. Almost four out of five of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation are women or girls.

State-imposed forced labour accounts for 14 per cent of people in forced labour. Almost one in eight of all those in forced labour are children (3.3 million). More than half of these are in commercial sexual exploitation.

An estimated 22 million people were living in forced marriage on any given day in 2021. This indicates an increase of 6.6 million since the 2016 global estimates.

The true incidence of forced marriage, particularly involving children aged 16 and younger, is likely far greater than current estimates can capture. These are based on a narrow definition and do not include all child marriages. Child marriages are considered to be forced because a child cannot legally give consent to marry.

Forced marriage is closely linked to long-established patriarchal attitudes and practices and is highly context specific. The overwhelming majority of forced marriages (more than 85 per cent) was driven by family pressure. Although two-thirds (65 per cent) of forced marriages are found in Asia and the Pacific, when regional population size is considered, the prevalence is highest in the Arab States, with 4.8 people out of every 1,000 in the region in forced marriage.

Migrant workers are more than three times likely to be in forced labour than non-migrant adult workers. While labour migration has a largely positive effect on individuals, households, communities and societies, this finding demonstrates how migrants are particularly vulnerable to forced labour and trafficking, whether because of irregular or poorly governed migration, or unfair and unethical recruitment practices.

“It is shocking that the situation of modern slavery is not improving. Nothing can justify the persistence of this fundamental abuse of human rights,” said ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder.

“We know what needs to be done, and we know it can be done. Effective national policies and regulation are fundamental. But governments cannot do this alone. International standards provide a sound basis, and an all-hands-on-deck approach is needed. Trade unions, employers’ organisations, civil society and ordinary people all have critical roles to play.”

António Vitorino, IOM Director-General, said, “This report underscores the urgency of ensuring that all migration is safe, orderly, and regular. Reducing the vulnerability of migrants to forced labour and trafficking in persons depends first and foremost on national policy and legal frameworks that respect, protect, and fulfil the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants – and potential migrants – at all stages of the migration process, regardless of their migration status. The whole of society must work together to reverse these shocking trends, including through implementation of the Global Compact on Migration.”

Grace Forrest, Founding Director of Walk Free, said, “Modern slavery is the antithesis of sustainable development. Yet, in 2022, it continues to underpin our global economy. It is a man-made problem, connected to both historical slavery and persisting structural inequality. In a time of compounding crises, genuine political will is the key to ending these human rights abuses.”

The report proposes a number of recommended actions which, taken together and swiftly, would mark significant progress towards ending modern slavery. They include: improving and enforcing laws and labour inspections; ending state-imposed forced labour; stronger measures to combat forced labour and trafficking in business and supply chains; extending social protection, and strengthening legal protections, including raising the legal age of marriage to 18 without exception. Other measures include addressing the increased risk of trafficking and forced labour for migrant workers, promoting fair and ethical recruitment, and greater support for women, girls and vulnerable individuals.

Modern slavery, as defined for the report, is comprised of two principal components – forced labour and forced marriage. Both refer to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, or abuse of power.

Forced labour, as defined in the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29), refers to “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which they said person has not offered himself voluntarily.” The ‘private economy’ includes all forms of forced labour other than state-imposed forced labour.

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NORTH KOREA FIRES MISSILE OVER JAPAN

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North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, prompting Tokyo to activate the country’s missile alert system and order people to take shelter.

The last time North Korea fired a missile over Japan was in 2017, at the height of a period of “fire and fury” when Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un traded insults with then-US president Donald Trump.

South Korea’s military said it had detected the launch of an IRBM, which flew around 4,500 km (2800 miles) at an altitude of about 970 km and speeds of around Mach 17.

“Specific details are under close analysis by South Korean and US intelligence,” the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff added in a statement.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol called the launch a “provocation” that violated UN regulations

Yoon “ordered a stern response and to take corresponding measures in cooperation with the United States and the international community”, his office said in a statement.

Tokyo also confirmed the launch of an IRBM, activating the country’s missile alert warning system and urging people to take shelter.

“North Korea appears to have launched a missile. Please evacuate into buildings or underground,” the government said in an alert issued at 7:29 am (2229 GMT Monday).

National broadcaster NHK said the alert was in effect for two northern regions of the country.

“A ballistic missile is believed to have passed over our country and fallen in the Pacific Ocean. This is an act of violence following recent repeated launches of ballistic missiles. We strongly condemn this,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said that North Korea “has in the past launched Hwasong 12-type missiles four times, so this could be the same type”.

If so, the flight distance, which Tokyo estimated at 4,600 km, was thought to be a new record for that particular missile.

The last two times North Korea fired Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan, in September and August 2017, they travelled 3,700 km and 2,700 km respectively, Chad O’Carroll of Seoul-based specialist site NK News wrote on Twitter.

“This is the 8th test of the Hwasong-12 and the 3rd time it has overflown Japan,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies wrote on Twitter.

– Military drills –

With talks long-stalled, nuclear-armed North Korea has doubled down on Kim’s military modernisation plans this year, testing a string of banned weaponry, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.

Last week, Pyongyang fired short-range ballistic missiles on four occasions, including just hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris flew out of Seoul.

The latest bout of intense weapons testing by Pyongyang comes as Seoul, Tokyo and Washington ramp up joint military drills to counter growing threats from the North.

South Korea, Japan and the United States staged anti-submarine drills Friday — the first in five years — just days after Washington and Seoul’s navies conducted large-scale exercises in waters off the peninsula, involving a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier.

Such drills infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.

Harris toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula while on a trip that aimed to underscore her country’s “ironclad” commitment to South Korea’s defence against the North.

Washington has stationed about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the North.

– Significant escalation –

“If Pyongyang has fired a missile over Japan, that would represent a significant escalation over its recent provocations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle,” he added.

“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outrun South Korea in an arms race and drive wedges among US allies.”

South Korean and US officials have also been warning for months that Kim was preparing to conduct another nuclear test.

The officials said they believed this could happen soon after China’s upcoming party congress on October 16.

North Korea, which is under multiple UN sanctions for its weapons programmes, typically seeks to maximise the geopolitical impact of its tests with careful timing.

The isolated country has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017.

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