Ukraine pleads for air defence as Russia turns sights on Lysychansk

  • This is not an accidental hit, Zelenskiy says of strike on mall
  • Russian attack on frontline eastern city kills eight: Ukraine
  • G7 leaders promise nearly $30 billion in new aid for Kyiv

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine, June 27 (Reuters) – Russian missiles struck a crowded shopping mall in central Ukraine on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, as Moscow fought for control of a key eastern city and Western leaders promised to support Kyiv in the war “as long as it takes”.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in the city of Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv, Zelenskiy wrote on Telegram. At least 16 people were killed and 59 injured, Ukraine’s emergency services said. Rescuers trawled through mangled metal and debris for survivors.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address, adding there were women and children inside. He said the death count could rise.

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Russia has not commented on the strike, which was condemned by the United Nations and Ukraine’s Western allies. But its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain sympathy ahead of a June 28-30 summit of the NATO military alliance.

“One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already,” Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

As night fell in Kremenchuk, firefighters and soldiers brought lights and generators to continue the search. Family members, some close to tears and with hands over their mouths, lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.

Kiril Zhebolovsky, 24, was looking for his friend, Ruslan, 22, who worked at the Comfy electronics store and had not been heard from since the blast.

“We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” he said. He left his name and phone number with the rescue workers in case his friend is found.

The United Nations Security Council will meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack on the shopping mall. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the attack was “deplorable”.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, gathered for their annual summit in Germany, condemned what they called an “abominable” attack.

“We stand united with Ukraine in mourning the innocent victims of this brutal attack,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson. “Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account.”

Dmyto Lunin, governor for Poltava which includes Kremenchuk, said it was the most tragic day for region in more than four months of war.

“(We) will never forgive our enemies … This tragedy should strengthen and unite us around one goal: victory,” Lunin said on Telegram.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery was pounding Lysychansk, its twin across the Siverskyi Donets River. Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in the eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war.

A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in Lysychansk on Monday, the area’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south. Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow’s troops had already entered the city.

‘AS LONG AS IT TAKES’

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security. The war has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing and laid waste to cities.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify international pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

The United States said it was finalising another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems – arms that Zelenskiy specifically requested when he addressed the leaders by video link on Monday. read more

In his address to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy asked again for more arms, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia’s finances further – including a deal to cap the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was “close” – and promised up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine. read more

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” a G7 statement said.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive. read more

The war has created difficulties for countries way beyond Europe’s borders, with disruptions to food and energy exports hitting the global economy. read more

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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Angus MacSwan, Nick Macfie and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Catherine Evans

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U.S. likely to announce this week purchase of missile defense system for Ukraine

U.S. and Ukrainian flags are pictured prior to the start of the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group meeting hosted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, at U.S. Airbase in Ramstein, Germany, April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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WASHINGTON, June 26 (Reuters) – The United States is likely to announce this week the purchase of an advanced medium to long range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.

Washington is also expected to announce other security assistance for Ukraine, including additional artillery ammunition and counter-battery radars to address needs expressed by the Ukrainian military, the source added.

The weaponry is the latest assistance to be offered to Ukraine by the United States since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbor in February.

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This month, President Joe Biden agreed to provide Ukraine with $700 million in military aid, including advanced rocket systems that can strike with precision at long-range targets.

Ammunition, counter fire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armor weapons are also part of that package, officials said.

Another effort, to sell four large, armable drones to Ukraine, was paused earlier this month amid concerns that their radar and surveillance equipment could create a security risk for the United States if it fell into Russian hands. read more

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Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., writing by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Ross Colvin and Himani Sarkar

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G7 aims to raise $600 bln to counter China’s Belt and Road

SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – Group of Seven leaders pledged on Sunday to raise $600 billion in private and public funds over five years to finance needed infrastructure in developing countries and counter China’s older, multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road project.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders relaunched the newly renamed “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment,” at their annual gathering being held this year at Schloss Elmau in southern Germany.

Biden said the United States would mobilize $200 billion in grants, federal funds and private investment over five years to support projects in low- and middle-income countries that help tackle climate change as well as improve global health, gender equity and digital infrastructure.

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“I want to be clear. This isn’t aid or charity. It’s an investment that will deliver returns for everyone,” Biden said, adding that it would allow countries to “see the concrete benefits of partnering with democracies.”

Biden said hundreds of billions of additional dollars could come from multilateral development banks, development finance institutions, sovereign wealth funds and others.

Europe will mobilize 300 billion euros ($317.28 billion) for the initiative over the same period to build up a sustainable alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative scheme, which Chinese President Xi Jinping launched in 2013, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the gathering.

The leaders of Italy, Canada and Japan also spoke about their plans, some of which have already been announced separately. French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were not present, but their countries are also participating.

China’s investment scheme involves development and programs in over 100 countries aimed at creating a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route from Asia to Europe.

White House officials said the plan has provided little tangible benefit for many developing countries.

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a working lunch with other G7 leaders to discuss shaping the global economy at the Yoga Pavilion, Schloss Elmau in Kuren, Germany, June 26, 2022. Kenny Holston/Pool via REUTERS

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian defended the track record of BRI when asked for comment at a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday.

“China continues to welcome all initiatives to promote global infrastructure development,” Zhao said of the G7’s $600 billion plan.

“We believe that there is no question that various related initiatives will replace each other. We are opposed to pushing forward geopolitical calculations under the pretext of infrastructure construction or smearing the Belt and Road Initiative.”

Biden highlighted several flagship projects, including a $2 billion solar development project in Angola with support from the Commerce Department, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, U.S. firm AfricaGlobal Schaffer, and U.S. project developer Sun Africa.

Together with G7 members and the EU, Washington will also provide $3.3 million in technical assistance to Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal as it develops an industrial-scale flexible multi-vaccine manufacturing facility in that country that can eventually produce COVID-19 and other vaccines, a project that also involves the EU.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will also commit up to $50 million over five years to the World Bank’s global Childcare Incentive Fund.

Friederike Roder, vice president of the non-profit group Global Citizen, said the pledges of investment could be “a good start” toward greater engagement by G7 countries in developing nations and could underpin stronger global growth for all.

G7 countries on average provide only 0.32% of their gross national income, less than half of the 0.7% promised, in development assistance, she said.

“But without developing countries, there will be no sustainable recovery of the world economy,” she said.

($1 = 0.9455 euros)

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Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing; Editing by Mark Porter, Lisa Shumaker and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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Legal clashes await U.S. companies covering workers’ abortion costs

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June 27 (Reuters) – A growing number of large U.S. companies have said they will cover travel costs for employees who must leave their home states to get abortions, but these new policies could expose businesses to lawsuits and even potential criminal liability, legal experts said.

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Lyft Inc (LYFT.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) were among companies that announced plans to provide those benefits through their health insurance plans in anticipation of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide. read more

Within an hour of the decision being released, Conde Nast Chief Executive Roger Lynch sent a memo to staff announcing a travel reimbursement policy and calling the court’s ruling “a crushing blow to reproductive rights.” Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) unveiled a similar policy on Friday, telling employees that it recognizes the impact of the abortion ruling but remains committed to providing comprehensive access to quality healthcare, according to a spokesman. read more

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Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N), Paypal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O), Alaska Airlines Inc (DKS.N) also announced reimbursement policies on Friday.

Abortion restrictions that were already on the books in 13 states went into effect as a result of Friday’s ruling and at least a dozen other Republican-led states are expected to ban abortion.

The court’s decision, driven by its conservative majority, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. Meanwhile, some Democratic-led states are moving to bolster access to abortion.

Companies will have to navigate that patchwork of state laws and are likely to draw the ire of anti-abortion groups and Republican-led states if they adopt policies supportive of employees having abortions.

State lawmakers in Texas have already threatened Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Lyft, which had earlier announced travel reimbursement policies, with legal repercussions. A group of Republican lawmakers in a letter last month to Lyft Chief Executive Logan Green said Texas “will take swift and decisive action” if the ride-hailing company implements the policy.

The legislators also outlined a series of abortion-related proposals, including a bill that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for residents of the state to receive abortions elsewhere.

LAWSUITS LOOMING

It is likely only a matter of time before companies face lawsuits from states or anti-abortion campaigners claiming that abortion-related payments violate state bans on facilitating or aiding and abetting abortions, according to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois and expert on healthcare law.

“If you can sue me as a person for carrying your daughter across state lines, you can sue Amazon for paying for it,” Wilson said.

Amazon, Citigroup and other companies that have announced reimbursement policies did not respond to requests for comment. A Lyft spokesperson said: “We believe access to healthcare is essential and transportation should never be a barrier to that access.”

For many large companies that fund their own health plans, the federal law regulating employee benefits will provide crucial cover in civil lawsuits over their reimbursement policies, several lawyers and other legal experts said.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) prohibits states from adopting requirements that “relate to” employer-sponsored health plans. Courts have for decades interpreted that language to bar state laws that dictate what health plans can and cannot cover.

ERISA regulates benefit plans that are funded directly by employers, known as self-insured plans. In 2021, 64% of U.S. workers with employer-sponsored health insurance were covered by self-insured plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Any company sued over an abortion travel reimbursement requirement will likely cite ERISA as a defense, according to Katy Johnson, senior counsel for health policy at the American Benefits Council trade group. And that will be a strong argument, she said, particularly for businesses with general reimbursement policies for necessary medical-related travel rather than those that single out abortion.

Johnson said reimbursements for other kinds of medical-related travel, such as visits to hospitals designated “centers of excellence,” are already common even though policies related to abortion are still relatively rare.

“While this may seem new, it’s not in the general sense and the law already tells us how to handle it,” Johnson said.

LIMITS

The argument has its limits. Fully-insured health plans, in which employers purchase coverage through a commercial insurer, cover about one-third of workers with insurance and are regulated by state law and not ERISA.

Most small and medium-sized U.S. businesses have fully-insured plans and could not argue that ERISA prevents states from limiting abortion coverage.

And, ERISA cannot prevent states from enforcing criminal laws, such as those in several states that make it a crime to aid and abet abortion. So employers who adopt reimbursement policies are vulnerable to criminal charges from state and local prosecutors.

But since most criminal abortion laws have not been enforced in decades, since Roe was decided, it is unclear whether officials would attempt to prosecute companies, according to Danita Merlau, a Chicago-based lawyer who advises companies on benefits issues.

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Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot

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Ukraine News: More Brutal Fighting Expected in East

Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times
Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times
Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

LVIV, Ukraine — Artemiy Dymyd’s closest friends unwrapped his parachute and spread it gently over his grave. The red, silky material swaddled his coffin as it was lowered down.

The men, many soldiers themselves, covered the freshly dug hole with dirt. The first shovelfuls landed with a thud.

The funeral for Mr. Dymyd, a marine killed in action, was the first funeral of the day in Lviv, a western city in Ukraine where residents have seen a relentless stream of their sons killed in the war with Russia. By Tuesday’s end, three other freshly dug graves near Mr. Dymyd’s would also be filled with young soldiers who had died in battle for the country’s east, hundreds of miles away.

The funeral had begun in a Greek Catholic church, an eastern branch of Catholicism that is widespread in Lviv. Mr. Dymyd’s father, a priest, delivered his eulogy. And then his mother, her voice thick with emotion, sang a final lullaby for her son.

The procession then made an all-too-familiar journey from the church to the city’s main market square, where dozens of young people in scouting uniforms formed a honor guard. Mr. Dymyd, 27, had been a part of Ukraine’s scout organization since the age of 7. Young children, teenagers and adults from the group were there to say a final goodbye.

At the bottom of the square, four white placards announced the details of the military funerals to be held in the city on Tuesday, all for men killed in the battle for the country’s east in recent weeks. Three of them never reached their 30th birthday.

Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

One young woman, wearing the distinctive green scarf of the scouts, closed her eyes, drew sharp breaths and clenched her fists to keep her tears at bay as she joined the slow procession for Mr. Dymyd.

Scouting was just one part of his life. Mr. Dymyd also loved traveling and adventure, and extreme sports like parachuting. His nickname was Kurka, which means chicken. Friends said that Metallica music would have been more fitting for his funeral than the military dirges that now play in Lviv’s Lychakiv cemetery daily.

“He is one of the most decent men I’ve ever met,” said Dmytro Paschuk, 26. “He lived many lives in his 27 years. People write books about characters like him, and maybe there will be books soon.”

Mr. Paschuk, who ran a wine bar before the war, served alongside Mr. Dymyd in a special operation unit of the Ukrainian marines. They had become like brothers in the last few months, he said.

On the night of the attack that ended his friend’s life, Mr. Paschuk said, he woke to the sound of an explosion and soon knew that something was wrong. He immediately looked for Mr. Dymyd and saw that another friend was giving him first aid. When he saw Mr. Dymyd’s eyes, he knew it was bad.

“I was scared to be beside him,” he said slowly. “Because when I saw him I felt that he wouldn’t make it.”

Mr. Dymyd died a short time later.

Mr. Paschuk said he had mixed feelings about returning to the front lines in a few days. He described waves of emotions, but he said he was not angry or vengeful.

“I don’t have the feeling I want to kill everyone because this happened,” Mr. Paschuk said. “Thanks to Kurka. He taught me to remain calm.”

Roman Lozynskyi, a fellow marine, had been a friend of Mr. Dymyd for two decades, having met him when they were young scouts. Mr. Lozynskyi, who is a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, volunteered for the military three months ago and served in the same unit as Mr. Dymyd and Mr. Paschuk.

He described his lifelong friend as a “crazy man” with a lust for life who had raced back to Ukraine from a parachuting trip in Brazil to enlist when the war began. Mr. Dymyd wanted to continue parachuting during the war and finally had a chance last month as part of a mission, his friends said.

It was Mr. Dymyd’s brother, Dmytro Dymyd, who thought of placing the parachute in his grave, Mr. Lozynskyi said, in a nod to Mr. Dymyd’s passion for the sport of parachuting. The brother, who is also a soldier, was given permission to attend the funeral but would return to the Donetsk region in a few days.

As the mourners slowly made their way from the cemetery, the grave diggers tamped down the earth on Mr. Dymyd’s grave to a sturdy mound.

There were still three more to go.

Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

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Ukraine News: Zelensky Celebrates Support for Kyiv’s Path to E.U.

Credit…Alexey Furman/Getty Images

Speaking to the press after his meetings with European leaders on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the support they showed for Ukraine’s candidacy to join the European Union but said more immediate military aid would be needed to stand against Russia.

“The very course of European history has proved the correctness of the E.U.’s positive response to Ukraine’s aspirations,” he said. It will, he said, “strengthen freedom in Europe and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century.”

At the same time, he appealed again for more heavy weapons, especially for the battlefields in eastern Ukraine.

“We expect new supplies, especially heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery and missile defense systems,” he said. “Each batch of supplies saves people’s lives. And every day of delays or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians.”

Talks, he said, will not end the war. “We touched on the theme of diplomatic efforts of various countries to achieve peace,” he said. “Everybody sees the only obstacle to all these efforts is the unreadiness of the Russian Federation for real actions, for real negotiations.”

In his nightly address, Mr. Zelensky said that the meeting was a “big step,” and thanked the leaders of Italy, Romania, France and Germany for their defense aid. Mr. Zelensky also said that Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, would assist Ukraine in the transit of its goods, including exporting grain.

Before the visit, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky said far more weaponry would be needed to turn the tide in battles in the east. Ukraine will need 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 300 rocket artillery systems, the aide said.

During NATO minister meetings on Wednesday, the United States promised more than $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine, including many long-range artillery and missile systems. So far, the United States has provided 108 towed howitzers, 200 armored personnel carriers, 800 Stinger antiaircraft missiles and 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles.

But European weapons transfers have lagged, comparatively. Mr. Macron on Thursday promised an additional six self-propelled Caesar howitzers, in addition to 12 already supplied. Germany has provided 14 armored personnel carriers and 2,500 antiaircraft missiles, including Stingers.

A sense of disappointment was palpable among Ukrainian commentators and even some officials in Mr. Zelensky’s government on Thursday over perceived attempts in Europe to push Ukraine toward negotiations with Russia at this stage.

Viktor Andrusiv, an adviser to the interior minister, posted on social media that “Macron, Scholz and Draghi are bringing us candidacy for the E.U. and a request to return to the negotiating process with Putin.”

The European Commission is expected to unveil its official recommendation on Ukraine’s application to become a member of the European Union on Friday and, officials say, it is likely to recommend that the nation be granted candidate status.

Still, though overshadowed now by war, the expected acceptance of Ukraine’s application to join the bloc was widely celebrated as a breakthrough for Ukraine, even though the process of joining the bloc is arduous and can take as long as a decade.

To join, a country must also make its political system, judiciary and economy compatible with the bloc by adopting the E.U.’s system of common law, as well as more than 80,000 pages of rules and regulations.

Nevertheless, the desire to link Ukraine more closely to Europe was the issue that animated street protesters who toppled a pro-Russian president eight years ago.

And the prospect of eventually joining would help rally Ukrainians today by signaling a postwar future within the European Union and an end to perceptions of Ukraine as a security buffer zone with Russia, Oleksiy Honcharenko, a member of Parliament, said in an interview.

“It’s a psychological weapon to demonstrate that Ukraine has a future,” he said.

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North Korea sends aid to 800 families suffering from intestinal epidemic

SEOUL, June 17 (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other senior officials prepared aid to send to 800 families suffering from an unidentified intestinal epidemic, state media reported on Friday, as the country also battles its first COVID-19 outbreak.

North Korea revealed this week it was facing an “acute enteric epidemic” on top of a weeks-long outbreak of COVID. It did not elaborate what the disease was, but enteric refers to the gastrointestinal tract.

“The officials … prepared medicines, foodstuff and daily necessities needed for the treatment of the epidemic and stable life to render aid to the people in Haeju City and Kangryong County (of South Hwanghae Province),” the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

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Leader Kim called upon officials “to fulfil their duty in the work for easing the people’s misfortune and sufferings as soon as possible,” it added.

On Thursday, an official at South Korea’s Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said Seoul is monitoring the outbreak, suspected to be cholera or typhoid.

South Hwanghae Province is North Korea’s key agricultural region and the outbreak raised concerns may add to chronic food shortages amid the wave of COVID-19 infections. read more

North Korea has been reporting patient numbers with fever symptoms, rather than confirmed COVID cases, potentially due to a lack of testing ability.

KCNA on Friday reported 23,160 more people with fever symptoms, bringing the total number in the country since late April to above 4.58 million. The death toll linked to the outbreak is at 73.

The North has said more than 99% of fever patients have recovered and that the COVID wave has shown signs of subsiding, but the World Health Organization cast doubts on Pyongyang’s claims earlier this month, saying it believes the situation is getting worse. read more

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Reporting by Joori Roh; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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European leaders visit Ukraine, dangling hope of EU membership

  • Zelenskiy thanks EU leaders for solidarity visit
  • Leaders tour ruined town of Irpin
  • Fighting rages in Sievierodonetsk and southern Ukraine

KYIV/IRPIN, Ukraine, June 16 (Reuters) – The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, all criticised in the past by Kyiv for support viewed as too cautious, visited Ukraine on Thursday and offered the hope of EU membership to a country pleading for weapons to fend off Russia’s invasion.

Air raid sirens blared in Kyiv as the visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Italy’s Mario Draghi began, with the leaders touring a nearby town wrecked early in the war. read more

After holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the leaders signalled that Ukraine should be granted European Union candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would draw Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.

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Scholz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees who had fled the conflict and would continue to support Ukraine as long as it needs.

“Ukraine belongs to the European family,” he said.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, and described new progress in a counteroffensive in the south.

But they said battles on both main fronts depended on receiving more aid from the West, especially artillery to counter Russia’s big advantage in firepower.

“We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems,” Zelenskiy said after the talks with his European counterparts.

“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land,” he said.

Macron said France would step up arms deliveries to Kyiv, while NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels pledged more weapons for Ukraine while making plans to bolster the U.S.-led military alliance’s eastern flank.

“This will mean more NATO forward deployed combat formations… More air, sea and cyber defences, as well as pre-positioned equipment and weapon stockpiles,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

‘MAKE EUROPE, NOT WAR’

The visit to Ukraine by the three most powerful EU leaders had taken weeks to organise while they fended off criticism over positions described as too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders, who were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, devastated soon after the invasion began on Feb. 24.

Noting graffiti on a wall that read “Make Europe, not war”, Macron said: “It’s very moving to see that. This is the right message.”

Scholz, Macron and Draghi all say they are strong supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticised Scholz over what it regards as Germany’s slow delivery of weapons and reluctance to sever economic ties with Moscow, and was furious this month at Macron for saying in an interview that Russia must not be “humiliated”.

Italy has also proposed a peace plan which Ukrainians fear could lead to pressure on them to give up territory. After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said some sort of communication channel was still needed with Putin.

While Europe’s leaders attempted a show of solidarity for Ukraine, the continent’s dependency on Russia for much of its energy supplies was laid bare, with gas deliveries through a major pipeline falling in recent days. read more

A lack of grain shipments from Ukraine, meanwhile, has created an emerging global food crisis.

Russia blames sanctions for both, while Italy’s Draghi said Moscow was making “political use” of the situation.

In an interview with Reuters, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktoria Abramchenko said Moscow was facilitating the export of grain and oilseeds through Russian-held transit points on the Azov Sea, without explaining who was providing the foodstuffs for export. read more

‘GHOST VILLAGES’

Ukraine is taking hundreds of casualties a day as the war has entered a brutal attritional phase in the east.

The main battle in recent weeks has been over the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces are holed up in a chemical factory with hundreds of civilians.

“Every day it becomes more and more difficult because the Russians are pulling more and more weapons into the city,” Sievierodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on Thursday.

An airstrike on Thursday hit a building sheltering civilians in Lysychansk across the river, killing at least four and wounding seven, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

In the south, Ukraine says its forces have been making inroads into Kherson province, which Russia occupied early in its invasion. There has been little independent reporting to confirm battlefield positions in the area.

Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote in a tweet that he had visited an area some 3 to 4 kilometres (around 2 miles) from Russian positions, where dozens of “ghost villages” were depopulated by the combat.

“Our guys on the ground – the mood is fighting. Even with limited resources, we are pushing back the enemy. One thing is missing – long-range weapons. In any case, we will throw them out of the south,” he wrote.

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Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff, Toby Chopra and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alex Richardson and Rosalba O’Brien

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U.S. labor market appears to cool; homebuilding slumps as rates surge

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A “Now hiring” sign is displayed on the window of an IN-N-OUT fast food restaurant in Encinitas, California, U.S., May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake

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  • Weekly jobless claims fall 3,000 to 229,000
  • Continuing claims rise 3,000 to 1.312 million
  • Housing starts plunge 14.4% in May; permits drop 7.0%

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week, suggesting some cooling in the labor market, though conditions remain tight.

There are growing signs the Federal Reserve’s aggressive efforts to slow demand and bring down inflation to its 2% target are starting to have an impact. Homebuilding slumped to a 13-month low in May, while a gauge of factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region contracted for the first time in two years in June. read more

The U.S. central bank on Wednesday raised its policy interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point, the biggest hike since 1994. read more

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“The Fed is getting what it wants as financial market conditions tighten and interest rate-sensitive parts of the economy respond to the removal of monetary policy accommodation,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester Pennsylvania.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 229,000 for the week ended June 11, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 215,000 applications for the latest week.

The decline left the bulk of the prior week’s jump intact, which had lifted filings close to a five-month high. California reported a surge in unadjusted claims last week. There were notable rises in Ohio and Michigan, potentially related to the auto industry. Claims also increased considerably in Illinois and Pennsylvania, but fell in Missouri.

Jobless claims

There has been a steady rise in reports of job cuts, mostly in the technology and housing sectors. Still, claims have remained locked in a tight range since plunging to more than a 53-year low of 166,000 in March.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday that “the labor market has remained extremely tight,” and that “labor demand is very strong.” The U.S. central bank has increased its benchmark overnight interest rate by 150 basis points since March.

There were 11.4 million job openings at the end of April. The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 3,000 to 1.312 million during the week ending June 4.

“For now, supply and demand mismatches will keep filings low,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics in White Plains, New York. “But the level could start to trend up as the Fed continues to remove policy accommodation to slow demand.”

Thursday’s data followed on the heels of news this week of a surprise decline in U.S. retail sales in May, amplifying fears of a recession.

Stocks on Wall Street tumbled. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury yields fell.

LOSING SPEED

The housing market, the sector most sensitive to interest rates, is losing speed. But this could help to bring housing supply and demand back into alignment and lower prices.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed housing starts plunged 14.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.549 million units last month, the lowest level since April 2021. Economists had forecast starts would slide to a rate of 1.701 million units.

Permits for future homebuilding declined 7.0% to a rate of 1.695 million units. A survey on Wednesday showed the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market sentiment index hit a two-year low in June, with a gauge of prospective buyer traffic falling below the break-even level of 50 for the first time since June 2020. read more

Single-family housing starts, which account for the biggest share of homebuilding, tumbled 9.2% to a rate of 1.051 million units last month, the lowest since August 2020. Starts rose in the Northeast, but fell in the Midwest, South and West regions.

housing starts and building permits

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage jumped 55 basis points this week to a 13-1/2-year high of 5.78%, mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac reported on Thursday. That was the largest one-week increase since 1987.

“Rising rates aren’t all bad news, however,” said Jacob Channel, senior economist at LendingTree. “Though it’s unlikely that home prices will majorly slump, an increase in housing supply will likely significantly slow home price growth and give would-be buyers more housing options to chose from.”

Building permits for single-family homes declined 5.5% to a rate of 1.048 million units, the lowest since July 2020.

Starts for housing projects with five units or more dove 26.8% to a rate 469,000 units. Multi-family housing permits dropped 10.0% to a rate of 592,000 units.

The number of houses approved for construction that are yet to be started increased 0.7% to 283,000 units. Housing completions were the highest since 2007, which together with slowing demand could help to lower prices.

Goldman Sachs trimmed its second-quarter gross domestic product estimate by two-tenths of a percentage point to a 2.8% annualized rate. The economy contracted at a 1.5% pace in the January-March quarter.

“The Fed’s aggressive and abrupt policy tightening may soon be criticized for letting in the winds of recession,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York.

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Reporting by Lucia Mutikani
Editing by Nick Zieminski and Paul Simao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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