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US Congress includes $300 mln for Ukraine, addresses China in massive defense bill

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US lawmakers included a range of efforts to push back against Russia and China in a massive annual defense bill released on Tuesday, including $300 million for Ukraine’s military and a statement of support for the defense of Taiwan.

The text of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes $770 billion in military spending, including provisions such as a 2.7 percent pay increase for the troops, reforms of the military justice system to combat sexual assault and initiatives to address geopolitical threats.

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The NDAA normally passes with strong bipartisan support. It is closely watched by a broad swath of industry and other interests because it is one of the only major pieces of legislation that becomes law every year and because it addresses such a wide range of issues.

This year’s bill was released shortly after US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes.

The 2022 NDAA includes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides support to Ukraine’s armed forces, includes $4 billion for the European Defense Initiative and proposes $150 million for Baltic security cooperation.

It does not include a provision that would force Biden to impose sanctions over the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Germany. Republican lawmakers had wanted the measure included in the NDAA, arguing that the pipeline would be harmful to European allies.

Eyes on China

On China, the bill includes $7.1 billion for programs in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and a statement of congressional support for the defense of Taiwan, as well as a ban on the Department of Defense procuring products produced with forced labor from China’s Xinjiang region.

The United States has labeled China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang as genocide, and lawmakers have been pushing a ban on imports of products that may have been made with forced labor from Uyghurs. China denies abusing minorities and dismisses the genocide charge as part of slanderous assertions about conditions in Xinjiang.

The compromise text omits a proposal to subject women to the military draft that was included in earlier versions.

The proposal faced stiff opposition from socially conservative lawmakers that threatened to block the entire NDAA.

The compromise bill does include a significant overhaul of the military justice system to take decisions on whether to prosecute cases of rape, sexual assault and some other major crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

The change is the result of a years-long push, led by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, in response to the thousands of cases of sexual assault and related crimes among service members every year, many of which are never prosecuted.

The compromise NDAA was negotiated by leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees after weeks of delay while Democrats and Republicans argued over what should be included in the bill.

To become law for the 61st straight year, the NDAA must pass the House and Senate and be signed into law by Biden.

Read more: US announces diplomatic boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics in China

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Stampede at Liberian church gathering kills 29

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A stampede has killed at least 29 people at a religious event in the suburbs of the Liberian capital Monrovia, police said on Thursday.

Those who died from the incident include 11 children and a pregnant woman.

The bodies have been taken to the morgue of Redemption Hospital, close to where the incident occurred in a beach area called New Kru Town.

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The stampede erupted when a gang of thugs armed with knives attacked some of the hundreds attending the ceremony at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night, police spokesman Moses Carter told The Associated Press.

One person has been arrested, he said.

Local media said it was a Christian prayer gathering, known in Liberia as a “crusade,” held in a football field.

Witness Emmanuel Gray, 26, told AFP he heard “heavy noise” towards the end and saw several dead bodies.

Street gangs have become an increasing problem in Monrovia and other Liberian cities in recent years, according to residents.

President George Weah was expected to visit the scene Thursday, according to Liberian media reports.

Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, is an impoverished country that is still recovering after back-to-back civil wars between 1989-2003, as well as the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic.

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UN chief cites ‘demonstrable effort’ at peace in Ethiopia

Britain steps up Kenya investments with railway hub, eyes $1 bln deals

US sanctions Liberia’s ex-warlord and senator Prince Johnson

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US approves ballistic requests to ship US weapons to Ukraine

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The US has approved requests by Baltic nations to ship US-made weapons to Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion, officials said Thursday.

A State Department official in Berlin, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken was holding talks on Ukraine, said the US was “expediting authorized transfers of US-origin equipment from other allies.”

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“European allies have what they need to move forward on additional security assistance (to) Ukraine in the coming days and weeks,” the official said.

A source familiar with the authorisations said the approval was for urgent requests by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to assist Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic.

The exact amounts and types of weapons were not specified, but the Baltic nations’ arsenals include Javelins, portable missiles capable of destroying tanks.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops, along with tanks and artillery, have been deployed near the Ukrainian border since late last year, rattling the three Baltic nations, which are members of NATO.

President Joe Biden’s administration since last year has approved $650 million in weapons to Ukraine, $200 million of it last month amid fears of war.

While the Biden administration boasts that the shipments are the most ever by the US, Ukraine has voiced hope for military supplies as quickly as possible, with shipments from nearby countries especially valuable.

Britain has also rushed to support Ukraine, announcing on Monday that it was sending anti-tank weapons.

Read more:

Explainer: What are US military options to help Ukraine if Russia invades

US senators work on bipartisan bill to aid Ukraine

Ukrainian president thanks US for help during ‘difficult time’

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Bomb blast in Pakistan’s Lahore kills two, injures 16

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At least two people were killed and 16 injured Thursday by a bomb blast in a busy shopping district of the Pakistani city of Lahore, police said.

“Initial investigations show that it was a time-controlled device on a motorbike which was the cause of the blast,” Rana Arif, spokesman for Lahore police, told AFP.

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