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Russia to require foreigners to sign ‘loyalty agreement’

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Russia to require foreigners to sign ‘loyalty agreement’

Russia is reported to be preparing to introduce laws that would require foreign visitors to sign a “loyalty agreement”.

The interior ministry is preparing the legislation that would bar visitors from criticising Russian policy or discrediting Soviet history. It would also require that they respect traditional Russian family values, culture and environment, state news agency TASS reported on Wednesday.

All foreigners would have to sign the pledge, which would, in effect, control what they can say and do while in Russia.

This means visitors would be prohibited from “interfering with the activities of public authorities of the Russian Federation, discrediting in any form the foreign and domestic state policy of the Russian Federation, public authorities and their officials,” the report said.

For the draft to become law, the document has to be introduced to the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, and to go through committee review and several readings before being submitted to President Vladimir Putin for signing.

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Officials told state news agency Interfax that the legislation is being worked on by the interior ministry, the government, and the presidential administration and is well advanced.

Lieutenant General Valentina Kazakova, head of the ministry’s Main Directorate for Migration, told TASS, “The bill is currently under discussion and will be submitted to the State Duma shortly.”

Silent history

In particular, foreigners would be barred from “distorting the historical truth about the feat of the Soviet people in the defence of the Fatherland and its contribution to the victory over fascism,” the draft bill reads, according to TASS.

The triumph over Nazism, under the Soviet leadership of Joseph Stalin, has been constantly compared with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Putin has utilised this historical moment as an effective tool in his resurgent war on the West and the liberal values mostly associated with it.

Even critics and scholars within Russia, who document his totalitarian regime’s atrocities, have lost access to Kremlin-controlled media and are branded “foreign agents”.

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As the 2024 presidential election approaches, Putin has cast the war as part of an existential battle with the West, saying he will defend Russia’s “sacred” civilisation from what he portrays as the West’s decadence.

Traditional family

Under the law, foreigners would have to uphold and abide by “traditional family values”, the “institution of marriage” and “traditional sexual relations”, according to TASS.

Russia under President Putin has touted itself as a country home to more conservative moral and family values, backed by the Russian Orthodox Church.

To this end, the authorities have cracked down on the LGBTQ community, passing legislation outlawing gender-affirming surgeries and banning “gay propaganda”.

Lawmakers, in recent months have also been working on legislation to limit access to reproductive care and abortions as a way of improving the “demographic situation” and countering the low birth rate.

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Culture and environment

“The legislative initiative proposes prohibiting activities that encourage a neglectful attitude toward Russia’s environment or natural resources … Russia’s regional and ethno-cultural diversity [and] traditional Russian moral and spiritual values,” reported TASS.

Russia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with nearly 200 ethnic groups residing on the territory of the Russian Federation, according to the United Nations.

Following the October Revolution in 1917, and the fall of Russia’s imperialist monarchy, Stalin embraced Russian nationalism based on the old imperial myth of the greatness of the Russian people, wrote Botakoz Kassymbekova.

Bolshevik Moscow made ethnic Russians the most privileged group in the Soviet Union and sent Russian settlers to populate and control non-Russian regions.

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Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, minority groups have accused authorities of using them as fodder for the war.

Reports of men being rounded up highlighted the disproportionate impact the war has had on Russians from impoverished regions and ethnic minorities.

According to data collected by Russian independent media, a number of areas with high minority populations have suffered the most casualties in the war.

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Greek authorities rescue 100 migrants found in vessel off southern mainland

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Greek authorities rescue 100 migrants found in vessel off southern mainland

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities on Monday rescued 100 migrants found on a smuggling vessel in distress off the country’s southern mainland, officials said.

GREECE LEGALIZES SAME-SEX CIVIL MARRIAGE DESPITE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH OPPOSITION

The coast guard said the migrants were taken off their vessel by a tugboat that had been ordered to the area and safely carried them to the southeastern village of Monemvasia. No injuries were reported.

The Greek flag as seen on a flagpole waving in the blue sky during a summer sunny day at the Greek capital city Athens. July 2022  (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The smuggling vessel was located off Cape Maleas, at the southeastern tip of the Peloponnese region, the coast guard said.

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No further detail was immediately known on the nationalities of the migrants, the type of vessel they were on or where they had sailed from.

The area where the incident occurred is on a route used by smugglers to send migrants in overcrowded sailing yachts from Turkey to Italy, skirting southern Greece and avoiding the heavily patrolled waters off the eastern Aegean Sea islands.

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India’s unrealistic demands sank WTO agri talks, claims commissioner

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India’s unrealistic demands sank WTO agri talks, claims commissioner

EU executive blamed India’s hard stance on food stockpiling for lack of breakthrough at World Trade Organisation’s biennial agriculture ministerial.

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Despite an eleventh-hour attempt, the more than 1000 WTO delegates gathered in Abu Dhabi last week failed to agree to a major reform of the global trade rules for food subsidies.

“We did not progress on an agriculture package, to the detriment of most vulnerable countries, despite our pragmatic engagement. Divergences were too large to be solved,” said Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis in a statement.

The bloc’s Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski went further, saying the reason WTO members could not finally agree fell to “to unrealistic demands, in particular on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes”.

Throughout the negotiations, India played hardball on the matter and led countries seeking to find a permanent solution to the so-called public stockholding (PSH).

This is a policy tool used to stockpile and distribute food, such as providing quantities of grain at subsidised prices to vulnerable population groups to lower the price of food for the most exposed.

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Current WTO rules set a limit to the percentage of a country’s production that can be used for this form of agricultural subsidy – a threshold that India and other less-developed countries want to see raised.

Experts backing these countries argue that stricter WTO rules on PHS will not allow governments to build and manage public food reserves.

Such stockpiling is seen as running counter to free trade principles, however, particularly during crises, and has always been a red line in EU trade talks involving global food security.

“While public stockholding programs may be essential to contribute to domestic food security, if implemented as support to producers’ prices, they may negatively affect agricultural trade and impact food security of other countries,” the Commission said in a note.

The topic received renewed attention after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine which severely impacted food commodity markets.

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In the aftermath of Ukraine’s war, the EU and other Western countries stressed the need for trade flow to continue for all stocks, while India and its allies defended their right to safeguard food stocks for their populations.

During the talks, India argued that a permanent solution on food stockpiling has been pending for 11 years since 2013.

A source close to the negotiations told Euronews that the most likely outcome at the beginning of the talks was a commitment to a new deadline for a PHS agreement without any substantial decision on the matter.

Contrary to expectations India’s Trade Minister Piyush Goyal stood firm on its negotiating mandate and refused to compromise on the matter.

The issue was sensitive for the Indian government as country’s farmers have been protesting for more than 12 months and Indian premier Narendra Modi is seeking re-election in a national poll slated for this April and May.

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Lives Ended in Gaza

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Lives Ended in Gaza

They served cappuccinos, repaired cars and acted onstage. They raised children and took care of older parents. They treated wounds, made pizza and put too much sugar in their tea. They loved living in Gaza or sought to leave it behind.

They represent a fraction of the more than 30,000 people the local authorities say have been killed in Gaza in four and a half months of war. Their stories offer a snapshot of the vast human loss — one in every 73 of Gaza’s 2.2 million people.

More than two-thirds of the total deaths were women and children, the local authorities say. Often, they were killed with their families in Israeli airstrikes. Many thousands were fighters for Hamas, according to Israel, which says it is trying to eliminate the group that led the Oct. 7 attacks while limiting civilian casualties.

Hamas ruled Gaza and ran a covert military organization, the identity of its fighters unclear, even to other Gazans. Some residents supported it, some opposed it, everyone had to live with it. After decades of conflict, hatred of Israel was common, and many Gazans, including some of those below, cheered the fighters who attacked Israel.

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Here are some of the people who have been killed in Gaza, as recalled by friends and relatives and documented in social media posts, news articles and other sources.

Gaza is a youthful place, with nearly half of the population under 18, according to UNICEF. Gaza’s health authorities say that more than 13,000 children have been killed in the war.

She and her twin sister had names that rhymed. She loved to adorn her outfits with colorful accessories and relished the attention she and her sister received from neighbors. She was killed in a strike on her family’s building. Her sister, Marah, survived, as did their father and mother, who gave birth to a third daughter a few weeks later. They named her Farah. Farah Alkhatib, 12

The older sister loved Kinder chocolate, Pringles and strawberry juice. The younger loved to play with a plastic jeep embellished with a duck. Siwar and Selena al-Raiss, 3 years and 21 months

Her father bought her a violin, and she loved it, taking lessons at a Palestinian music school. She dreamed of becoming a star. Lubna Elian, 14

He was close with his father and tagged along with his mother to the gym where she worked as a trainer. She called him “medallion,” because he was always hanging on his parents. He wanted to be a doctor, like his father. Yousef Abu Moussa, 6

She was a top student who liked to draw nature scenes, rollerblade and jump on her trampoline. During the war, she played teacher to her siblings and cousins to distract them. She was killed in a strike that destroyed her family’s home. Her sister, Leen, 8, died four days later, trapped in the rubble. Nada Abdulhadi, 10

She was the center of attention. Her mother, Maram, loved to dress her up for pictures. She was killed in October. Her mother was killed in a separate strike 11 days later. Youmna Shaqalih, 4 months

Gaza’s isolation and its school system gave it an uncommon mix: an educated population with high poverty and unemployment rates. Many Gazans with strong credentials struggled to find suitable employment.

He studied engineering in Gaza and Spain before trying unsuccessfully to settle in Norway, where he worked in an Italian restaurant. Back in Gaza, with engineering jobs scarce, he opened an eatery, Italiano, that served pizza, calzones, salads and shawarma. It was so successful that in 2021 it moved into a shiny new location, with dozens of employees, three floors and rooms for private events. He was killed with his parents and two brothers in a strike on the building. His wife and two children, 3 and 6, survived. Abdulrahman Abuamara, 39

In the two years before the war, she earned a university degree in software engineering, got married and became pregnant with her first child. She was killed alongside her husband before the baby was born. Ghadeer Mohammed Mansour, 24

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The twins did not find work related to their university degrees in English literature, so they started a business importing clothes, shoes and accessories to resell from their family’s apartment, often delivering orders themselves. They pumped iron at Oxygen Gym and posted their workouts on Instagram. Salah and Khaled Jadallah, 27
The twins’ sister, killed in the same strike as her brothers and her father, worked as a medical laboratory analyst at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza and at a private lab, which featured her smile in its advertisements to encourage patients to come in for tests. She cherished her financial independence and dreamed of earning a master’s degree. Doaa Jadallah, 29
He did translation for a human rights group and worked for a think tank focused on improving Palestinians’ lives. Shortly before the war, he received a scholarship for a master’s degree in international relations in Australia. He hoped to become a diplomat. He was killed alongside 20 family members in a strike that destroyed his family’s home. Mahmoud Alnaouq, 25

She worked in graphic design to help support her family while studying multimedia at a Gaza university. She hoped to teach there one day. Jannat Iyad Abu Zbeada, 21

He had a degree in business administration but took construction jobs he hated and helped his family fish off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast. He loved soccer and supported F.C. Barcelona. His life’s longest trip took about an hour, a drive to a friend’s wedding elsewhere in Gaza. Rami Abu Reyaleh, 32

He tried to start a new life outside Gaza, spending time in Egypt, Turkey, Bolivia and Argentina and crossing the dangerous Darién Gap in Panama to reach the U.S.-Mexico border. He claimed political asylum, telling the U.S. authorities that he had been a member of Hamas’s military wing for a few years before fleeing Gaza to escape the group. He was denied asylum and returned to Gaza before the war. He chipped in at his family’s furniture business and considered getting married. “I wanted to get out, I swear to God, because I don’t bet on Gaza,” he wrote on Facebook as the war raged. “But unfortunately I couldn’t get out and it was my shitty fate that I am living through a third war on this cursed land.” Motaz Alhelou, 31

Gaza has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized control in 2007. The blockade has shaped nearly every aspect of life, limiting the movement of goods in and out of the territory and making it difficult, if not impossible, for many Gazans to leave. In that period, there have also been several wars and deadly clashes with Israel.

She raised five children — four boys and a girl — who gave her 15 grandchildren. She was set to leave Gaza for the first time, to visit Turkey with her husband to see two of their adult sons and their families. She had packed several suitcases with traditional Palestinian foods: olive oil, a spice mix called za’atar and local greens used to make stew. But the war broke out three days before the trip. She never left. Faida AlKrunz, 60

His parents were displaced to Gaza from what became Israel in 1948. He never finished high school but worked to support his 12 siblings. His experience gave him an enduring faith in education for his five children, to make sure they had better lives. Later, he mediated family conflicts, often siding with his sons’ wives over his sons. He was killed in October alongside his wife, Faida (above), and nine of their children and grandchildren. Saud AlKrunz, 61

He was a car mechanic who loved to tinker, including making the gate to his family’s home automatic. He left Gaza only once, for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where his brother lived. He didn’t know how to scan his passport at the airport. It was his first time on an airplane. “Everything was new to him,” his brother said. Ahmed Abu Shaeera, 39

An Islamic scholar, he preached at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a holy site cherished by Palestinians. He later served as the minister of religious affairs for the Palestinian Authority and remained committed to Jerusalem. “Palestine has no value without Jerusalem, which is the pearl of Palestine, and Jerusalem has no value without Al Aqsa,” he said. Youssef Salama, 69

She focused on mental health, a rare but much-needed specialty in Gaza, at the Palestine Red Crescent Society. She worked with people who had been wounded and displaced by Israeli attacks on Gaza as well as with first responders. Hedaya Hamad, 43
Enchanted by online videos of parkour enthusiasts doing stunts in urban spaces around the world, he tried it himself on Gaza’s beaches. After the 2021 Israel-Gaza conflict, he practiced on the rubble, leaping, landing and rolling on buildings brought down by Israeli airstrikes. “When Salah played, he felt free,” recalled a friend from the Free Gaza Circus Center, where he taught circus arts to children. Salah Abo Harbed, 23

Born into a refugee family and a member of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Christian minority, he lived through several wars but still believed that all humans, including the Israelis who occupied and imposed a blockade on Gaza, were created in God’s image. He fondly recalled working as a bank accountant in Israel decades ago and thought it was still possible for the peoples of the Holy Land to live together. He died from an undiagnosed health crisis after clashes prevented him from reaching a hospital. Jeries Sayegh, 67

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Many residents had differing views about what Gaza could be.

She broke barriers in Gaza’s socially conservative society as an actor, playwright and artist. She performed in plays in Gaza and elsewhere and starred in films, including “Sara” in 2014, which addressed the taboo topic of femicide. She taught theater and arts in Gaza and at the ASHTAR theater in Jerusalem. She moved to Egypt after the 2014 Gaza war but returned a few months before the current war. She was killed in her home with three of her five children. Inas Al-Saqqa, 53

While studying law, he hosted planning meetings and designed banners for protests under the slogan “We Want to Live,” which criticized Hamas’s governance of Gaza and called for better living conditions. But reflecting the complex views many Gazans hold toward Hamas, he lauded “the men of the resistance” on Oct. 7. “Officially, today is the greatest day in our generation’s entire life.” Sayel Al-Hinnawi, 22

He founded a media production company and worked as a filmmaker and photographer. He served as a camera assistant on Ai Weiwei’s 2017 documentary “Human Flow” and liked to show Gaza in a positive light, especially with drone footage shot near the sea. He was on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia with his wife and baby daughter when the war broke out, and returned home to document the conflict, posting a video that called the Oct. 7 attackers “Palestinian freedom fighters.” Roshdi al-Sarraj, 31

She made paintings in bold colors about Palestinian themes, showing mosques and churches side by side and the Old City of Jerusalem, which she was never able to visit. She had four sons, supported her family as an art teacher and was trying to put on her first exhibition. Heba Zagout, 38

For a decade and a half, he served coffee at Mazaj, an upscale cafe in downtown Gaza City, helping it reopen swiftly after each conflict. “So we meet again,” he told returning customers. “We are all alive.” Ali al-Sharawi, 45

Gaza is a small place, about six times the size of Manhattan, with a higher population density than Chicago. People forged close ties with large, extended families and their neighbors, often depending on one another.

She was a jokester who took care of her siblings and mother, a widow, with whom she ran a business doing traditional Palestinian embroidery. She had recently completed a pilgrimage to Mecca. Amneh al-Hana, 38
He was a fitness enthusiast who taught physical education at the American International School in Gaza and volunteered as the coach of the Palestine Athletics Federation. He kept his athletes going despite poor facilities, often buying them training shoes with his own money. He called Oct. 7 “a bright morning for the Palestinians and the resounding fall of Israel” in a post on Facebook. Belal Abu Samaan, 38

He performed complicated operations on Gaza’s war wounded while running Abu Yousef Al-Najjar Hospital in Rafah until his retirement. His wife, also a doctor, died of cancer, and he dealt with loneliness by hosting large meals to bring people into his home. Dr. Abdallah Shehada, 69

A member of Gaza’s Greek Orthodox Christian minority, he studied aviation engineering in Egypt and worked for airlines in Libya and Uganda before returning to Gaza and managing an aid program for the United Nations. He lived near the sea and swam often when the weather was warm. He sheltered with other Christians in a church during the war and died after clashes prevented him from reaching a hospital after his gallbladder ruptured. Farajallah Tarazi, 80

She was a physical therapist who was working toward certification to teach yoga to other women. She dreamed of visiting Ireland. Heba Jourany, 29 (center)

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He opened his first marble workshop in his garage and expanded his business to produce marble and granite countertops, sinks and stairs at a factory in Gaza City. He raised pigeons and goats. Osama Al-Haddad, 50

He worked in factories and on construction sites in Israel before the Gaza blockade and spoke fondly of that time, saying he wished the situation would improve so that he could go back. In the meantime, he loved to sit in the sun, smoke cigarettes and drink tea with so much sugar that it became a family joke. Riyad Alkhatib, 58

The father of the child violinist, he worked for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, coordinating rare treatment outside Gaza for patients with serious illnesses. He told a friend, “There is something beautiful in Gaza despite everything that happens.” Mahmoud Elian, 47

Photos, memories, documents, photos and information about the dead were provided in interviews with relatives, friends and other associates. Those sources include Mohamed Shamiya (friend of Abdulrahman Abuamara), Khaled Abu Shaeera (brother of Ahmed Abu Shaeera), Asmaa Alkaisi (friend of Ali al-Sharawi and Mahmoud Elian), Beirut Hana (cousin of Amneh al-Hana), Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib (relative of Farah Alkhatib, nephew of Riyad Alkhatib and nephew of Dr. Abdallah Shehada), Ali Jadallah (brother of Doaa, Salah and Khaled Jadallah), Khalid Balata (cousin of Dua, Salah and Khaled Jadallah), Tarek Masoud (friend of Salah and Khaled Jadallah), Mahmoud AlKrunz (son of Faida and Saud AlKrunz), Ruba Tarazi (daughter of Farajallah Tarazi), Ola Salama (friend of Ghadeer Mohammed Mansour and niece of Youssef Salama), Amal Khayal (teacher of Heba Jourany), Maysaa Ghazi (sister of Heba Zagout), Osama Al-Kahlout (colleague of Hedaya Hamad), Farah Sedo (daughter of Inas Al-Saqqa), Rawaa Iyad (sister of Jannat Iyad Abu Zbeada), Khalil Sayegh (son of Jeries Sayegh), Khitam Attaallah (aunt of Lubna Elian), Ahmed Alnaouq (brother of Mahmoud Alnaouq), Maha Hussaini (work supervisor of Mahmoud Alnaouq), Mahmoud Alhelou (brother of Motaz Alhelou), Ramsey Judah (lawyer of Motaz Alhelou), Said Shoaib (uncle of Nada Abdulhadi), Mohammed Al-Haddad (son of Osama Al-Haddad), Yazan Ahmed (friend of Rami Abu Reyaleh), Shrouq Aila (wife of Roshdi al-Sarraj), Mahmod al-Sarraj (brother of Roshdi al-Sarraj), Mohammad Khader (Gaza Circus member with Salah Abo Harbed), Mohammed Altooli (friend of Sayel Al-Hinnawi), Mohammad al-Raiss (father of Siwar and Selena al-Raiss), Madlian Shaqalih (aunt of Youmna Shaqalih) and Mohammed Abu Moussa (father of Yousef Abu Moussa).

Additional photo source: Reuters (photo of Youssef Salama)

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