Welcome to Friday, where the U.S. confirms that the controversial cluster bombs it provided to Kyiv are being used against Russia, a landslide kills 16 in the Indian region of Maharashtra, and there may be a lioness on the loose in Berlin. Meanwhile, Russian independent news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories looks at the fate of former Russian convicts part of the Wagner group of mercenaries, who are now left to chill — and misbehave — in Belarusian resorts.
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• Ukraine update: U.S. official John Kirby has confirmed that cluster bombs, the controversial weapon banned by more than 100 countries and recently supplied by the U.S. to Kyiv, have been used “quite effectively” against Russian forces. The U.S has also imposed new Russia-related sanctions against nearly 120 entities aimed at blocking Moscow's access to battlefield supplies while EU foreign ministers discussed prolonging Russian sanctions, as well as a 20-billion-euro ($22.4-bn) weapons fund to aid Ukraine over four years. Meanwhile, Kyiv’s ambassador to the UK has been sacked after criticizing President Volodymyr Zelensky during a television interview.
• India landslide kills 16: Heavy rainfall triggered a massive landslide that has killed at least 16 people in a village in Maharashtra, in western India. Local authorities say at least 109 people are still trapped under the debris, as several homes were flattened in the area which has never seen a landslide before.
• French cabinet reshuffle in wake of riots: French President Emmanuel Macron has reorganized his cabinet ministers in response to the riots that broke out across France three weeks ago, after a teenager of North African descent was killed by police in a traffic stop. The ministers of health, education and housing were all replaced and Macron also reinstated the urban affairs ministry, headed by a lawmaker of Algerian descent.
• George Floyd protesters to be compensated over arrests: In what is believed to be the largest class action settlement ever paid to protesters in the U.S., the city of New York will hand over $13 million to the hundreds arrested during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. More than 1,300 people will be paid $9,950 each after having been arrested for protesting the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a police officer.
• Rishi Sunak weakened but not wiped out: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government lost two strategically important parliamentary seats, but avoided a total wipeout in the UK by-elections. In the three elections, the Conservatives lost both the traditionally Conservative Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire to the Labour party, and the Somerset seat of Somerton and Frome to the centrist Liberal Democrats, but unexpectedly retained former Prime Minister Boris Johnson's old constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in London. These elections will set the tone for the national election, a way to see where the Conservatives have kept public support.
• Amsterdam bans cruise ships from city center: To tackle mass tourism and pollution, Amsterdam has banned cruise ships from its city center. Victim of its own success and festive reputation, the Dutch capital has made many decisions of late to curb its 20 million annual visitors, including banning cannabis smoking on red-light district streets and campaigns to dissuade young British men from visiting. Cruise ships became a symbol of this overcrowding, and also go against the city's sustainable ambitions.
• Tourists fined for selfies with dingoes: Two tourists were fined more than $1,500 each by Australian authorities for taking selfies with dingoes on the popular island of K’gari, formerly known as Fraser Island, following a recent spate of ferocious attacks by the native wild dogs.
Venice-based daily Il Gazzettino reports on the hail storms that have wreaked havoc over northeastern Italy, a country already plagued by heat waves in recent weeks. The “hail bombs” were as big as 10-centimeters in diameter, and may become increasingly frequent with extreme weather patterns. Il Gazzettino reports on at least 110 injuries, as well as destroyed car hoods, dented roofs, shattered windows, and damage to local farms.
Italian police have seized a record 5.3-ton cocaine haul, as it was being transferred between a ship that sailed from South America and a fishing trawler off the southern coast of Sicily. The bust, the biggest of its kind in the country and worth an estimated 850 million euros ($946 million), also led to the arrest of five people.
What awaits the ex-prisoners recruited by Wagner? For now, drinking poolside
The last of the former convicts who served under the Wagner mercenary are heading home. According to private Telegram chats of the soldiers' relatives, many are currently staying in resorts and hotels along the Black Sea awaiting pardons, and behaving badly. Some may end up staying on with Wagner in Belarus, reports Russian independent news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories.
🏨 “Project K is closed,” a Wagner representative wrote in a Telegram chat, referring to the name of the convict-recruiting program. Many of the former convicts are now in hotels in or near the coastal town of Anapa on the Black Sea, waiting for official pardons or their contracts to expire. Vazhnyye Istorii learned about this after identifying messages of relatives of mercenary ex-convicts and representatives of the group in their private chats.
💸 The former prisoners are staying in several hotels in the village of Vityazevo. A day’s stay costs between 2,300 and 7,200 rubles ($25–$80), and some hotels have swimming pools. In the chat rooms, the relatives complain that the men lead an out-of-control lifestyle in the hotels. "They go drinking, walk around, pawn their medals, and drink them away. There are so many of them here. They’re disgracing the Wagner company," one local writes. "I personally saw two of them at the bus station — drunk as hell. It’s shameful!"
🇧🇾 According to one of the relatives, all the former prisoners will be sent home, where they must take up to 45 days without work, after which they may choose to extend their contracts with the Wagner group and go to Belarus or Africa. Following Wagner's late June rebellion, its troops are stationed in training camps in Belarus, where they will reportedly train Belarusian reservists.
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