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News24.com | Smartphone in Hand, Ukraine’s President Takes Centre Stage in a Capital Under Attack

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People gather during a demonstration in support of Ukraine, following Russia’s military intervention, on February 24, 2022, in Paris, France.

Esra TaÅkın/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday addressed the country via a video taken on his mobile phone.He has assured his citizens that he is not calling on the army to leave their duty, as some fake reports have said.Commentators responded to his video, which circulated widely on social media.

The morning after Russian missiles rained down on Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the nation in his favourite style: the selfie video.

Unshaven, wearing a khaki jacket and flashing a smile, he told the nation that contrary to reports of him trying to flee, he was staying put in the capital.

“Good morning to all Ukrainians! Lately there has been a lot of fake information online that I am calling on our army to lay down their arms and to evacuate. Listen. I am here,” he said, in a video that received 3 million views on Instagram in an hour.

The setting was suitably eerie, with Zelenskiy standing in the morning light in front of the “House with Chimeras”, an Art Nouveau landmark covered in otherworldly animal figures across the road from his presidential office in Kyiv.

It has been an unlikely transformation for the 44-year-old, who was a comedian and actor with no political experience before he was elected as president in 2019 – except when he played a fictional president in a satirical TV series.

READ | Pope leads crowds in prayer for peace in Ukraine

At the beginning of the crisis, some Ukrainians on social media feared Zelenskiy was out of his depth against veteran Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Moscow massed troops on the border to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He had been criticised for taking public swipes at the United States and other friendly powers when he felt they were not being sufficiently supportive.

But Zelenskiy’s refusal to evacuate with Russian troops closing in on Kyiv and his calm presence in social media videos has won plaudits, even from self-described sceptics.

“Whatever happens next, history will remember the simple physical courage Volodymyr Zelens’kyi displays in remaining in his capital, with his people, amidst a horrible invasion, knowing that he is its target,” Timothy Snyder, a history professor specialising in Ukraine at Yale said on Twitter.

Olena Halushka, an activist at a well-known Ukrainian anti-corruption organisation, said on Twitter she had misjudged him. “I couldn’t imagine I’ll be proud of him as the supreme commander. He is worthy of our incredible nation.”

Stays

Zelenskiy has been a prolific social media user throughout his time in politics, goading his rivals during the election campaign in 2019, snapping pictures and videos of himself at the gym, in his office or addressing the nation with instructions during the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics and political rivals have often sought to label him as a “clown” unsuited for high office.

Before 2019, he dressed up in buffoonish costumes on stage, performed song and dance acts and, as the fictional president on TV, drunkenly fell into a swimming pool after a meeting with the head of the International Monetary Fund.

Now, he is posting videos trying to give reassurance.

In a previous selfie video, he stood on the street with his inner circle, showing them that his chief of staff, prime minister and closest advisers had also not left the capital.

His style stands in contrast with Putin, who has often kept even close officials on the other side of a long table during meetings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nassim Taleb, the best-selling author of the book “The Black Swan”, compared Zelenskiy to the images that Putin has used in the past to project strength, including images of him riding bare-chested on horseback.

“Putin the poseur on horseback is hiding in his remote bunker, while Zelenski, the former comedian, is risking his life on the frontline,” he said.

On camera, Zelenskiy has spoken mainly in Ukrainian but also switched to Russian to address the Russian people, urging them to come out into the streets to protest the war.

Vyachslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, asserted on Saturday without evidence that Zelenskiy had fled to the western city of Lviv and that his self-recorded video appearances were in fact pre-recorded.

There was heavy fighting in several parts of the country on Saturday including clashes in the capital, and there have been media reports of Zelenskiy declining offers from foreign governments to be evacuated.

Asked to comment on the reports, Zelenskiy’s spokesman said: “The president stays in Kyiv, the president stays with his people. No one will run away or drop weapons.” 

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News24.com | Thousands Protest in Madrid Against NATO Summit

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A crowd demonstrates against NATO.

Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto

Carrying the hammer and sickle flags of the former Soviet Union, thousands protested in Madrid on Sunday against a NATO summit which will take place in the Spanish capital next week.

Amid tight security, leaders of the member countries will meet in Madrid between 29-30 June as the organisation faces the unprecedented challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is expected to consider the bid, opposed by alliance-member Turkey, for Finland and Sweden to join.

The Nordic nations applied in the wake of the Russian assault on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a special military operation he says in part responds to the accession to NATO of other countries near post-Soviet Russia’s borders since the 1990s.

READ | Biden said Putin’s goal of weakening NATO by invading Ukraine backfired spectacularly

“Tanks yes, but of beer with tapas,” sang demonstrators, who claimed an increase in defence spending in Europe urged by NATO was a threat to peace.

“I am fed up (with) this business of arms and killing people. The solution they propose is more arms and wars and we always pay for it. So, no NATO, no (army) bases, let the Americans go and leave us alone without wars and weapons,” said Concha Hoyos, a retired Madrid resident, told Reuters.

Another protester, Jaled, 29, said NATO was not the solution to the war in Ukraine.

Organisers claimed 5,000 people joined the march, but authorities in Madrid put the number at 2 200.

READ | Pandor says Finland’s bid to join NATO indicates a decline in international security

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that the summit would also focus on the threat from Europe’s southern flank in Africa, in which he said Russia posed a threat to Europe.

“The foreign ministers’ dinner on the 29th will be centred on the southern flank,” he told El Pais newspaper.

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News24.com | Turkey Police Break up Istanbul Pride March, Detain Dozens: AFP

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Hakan Akgun/dia images

Turkish police on Sunday forcibly intervened in a Pride march in Istanbul, detaining dozens of demonstrators and an AFP photographer, AFP journalists on the ground said.

The governor’s office had banned the march around Taksim square in the heart of Istanbul but protesters gathered nearby under heavy police presence earlier than scheduled.

Police detained protesters, loading them into buses. AFP journalists saw two buses of people who had been held, including AFP’s chief photographer Bulent Kilic, who had been handcuffed from the back.

Kilic, who was also detained last year during the Pride march, is currently in police custody.

Hundreds of protesters carrying rainbow flags pressed ahead with the rally in defiance of police.

Although homosexuality has been legal throughout the period of the modern Turkish republic, LGBTQ individuals point to regular harassment and abuse.

Istanbul Pride has taken place every year since 2003.

The last march which took place without a ban – in 2014 – drew tens of thousands of participants in one of the biggest LGBTQ events in the majority Muslim region.

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News24.com | NASA Blasts Off From Australian Outback in ‘historic’ Launch

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NASA’s first-ever launch from a commercial site outside of the United States blasted off from Australia’s Outback late Sunday, in a “historic” moment for the country’s space industry.

In the first of three planned launches from the Arnhem Space Centre, the rocket, carrying technology likened to a “mini Hubble” telescope, lifted off — blasted about 350 kilometres (218 miles) into the night sky.

“It is a momentous occasion for us as a company in particular, but it’s historic for Australia,” Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Michael Jones told AFP ahead of the lift-off.

Jones, whose company owns and operates the launch site in the far north of Australia, described it as a “coming out” party for the country’s space industry and said the chance to work with NASA was a milestone for commercial space firms in the country.

After a series of rain and wind delays, the suborbital sounding rocket soared into the sky to study x-rays emanating from the Alpha Centauri A and B systems.

After reaching its apogee, the rocket’s payload was to capture data on the star systems before parachuting back to earth.

READ | NASA is slowly powering down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 photos from its 45-year mission.

According to NASA, the launch offers a unique glimpse of the distant systems and unlocked fresh possibilities for scientists.

“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the Southern Hemisphere and see targets that we can’t from the United States,” Nicky Fox, NASA’s Heliophysics Division director in Washington, said on announcing the mission.

Jones said the unique location had made preparations hard, with years of work to get regulatory approval and the need to haul rockets on barges to the launch site – about 28 hours drive from Darwin in northern Australia.

“I think for the team, it’s gonna be, you know, a huge relief that it’s done,” he said.

READ | ‘Giant leap forward’ – South Korea space rocket launch puts satellites in orbit

But with the next launch already looming on July 4, the break would be short-lived.

“We need to, you know, dust ourselves off, take a day off and then get back into it in readiness for the next launch because it’s just as important.”

It is the first NASA rocket to launch from Australia since 1995, and the project was hailed as the start of a “new era” for the country’s space industry by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

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