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Serbians vote in election overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine | Elections News

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Pollsters report irregularities including photographing of ballots as incumbent President Vucic is expected to win another term.

Serbians have voted in presidential and parliamentary elections that pit incumbent President Aleksandar Vucic and his Progressive Party (SNS) against an opposition pledging to fight corruption and improve environmental protection.

Vucic is running for a second five-year term on a promise of peace and stability just as Russia has invaded Ukraine, which has put Serbia under pressure from the West to choose between its traditional ties with Moscow and aspirations to join the European Union.

Polling group CRTA said turnout by 7pm (17:00 GMT) on Sunday, an hour before polling stations closed, was 54.6 percent of Serbia’s estimated 6.5 million electorate, compared with 44.9 percent in 2020.

Preliminary results were expected around 9:30pm (19:30 GMT). Exit polls are not allowed by law.

CESiD and CRTA pollsters reported several irregularities, including photographing of ballots.

N1 TV station reported that an opposition leader, Pavle Grbovic, had been attacked and slightly injured not far from his polling station in Belgrade and showed footage of the incident filmed by a mobile phone.

Grbovic confirmed the incident on Twitter.

A woman votes at a polling station in Belgrade
A woman votes at a polling station in Belgrade, Serbia [Marko Drobnjakovic/AP Photo]

Vuvic expected to win

Polls suggested Vucic, a conservative, was on course to win outright in the first round, ahead of Zdravko Ponos, a retired army general representing the pro-European and centrist Alliance for Victory coalition.

The opposition largely boycotted a parliamentary election in 2020, allowing Vucic’s SNS party and its allies to secure 188 seats in the 250-seat parliament.

Vucic has deftly used the return of war in Europe along with the coronavirus pandemic to his advantage, promising voters continued stability amid uncertain headwinds.

“We expect a huge victory. That’s what we worked for in the past four or five years, and we believe that we will continue with the great efforts and the development of this country,” the president said after casting his ballot early on Sunday.

Ponos said he hoped the contest would offer a path to institute “serious change” in the country.

“I hope for a bright future. Elections are the right way to change the situation. I hope the citizens of Serbia will take the chance today,” said Ponos.

Voters from Kosovo – Serbia’s predominantly ethnic Albanian former province, which declared independence in 2008 – were taken to polling stations in Serbia proper by bus.

Shadow of war

Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine has had a big impact on campaigning in Serbia, which is still recovering from the Balkan wars and isolation of the 1990s.

Serbia is almost entirely dependent on Russian gas, while its army maintains ties with Russia’s military.

The Kremlin also supports Belgrade’s opposition to the independence of Kosovo.

Serbian voters queue to cast their ballot
Serbian voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station during general elections in Belgrade [AFP]

Although Serbia backed two United Nations resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it refused to impose sanctions against Moscow.

A veteran politician who served as information minister in 1998 under former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Vucic has transformed himself from a nationalist firebrand to a proponent of EU membership, but also of military neutrality and ties with Russia and China.

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia Zarko Korac told Al Jazeera that Vuvic was in a “very difficult situation” foreign policy wise.

“I don’t think in Europe you can really have a very good relationship with Russia and at the same time push further for EU integration,” he said from Podgorica, Montenegro.

Ponos has accused Vucic of using the war in Ukraine in his campaign to capitalise on people’s fears.

Opposition and rights watchdogs also accuse Vucic and his allies of an autocratic style of rule, corruption, nepotism, controlling the media, attacks on political opponents and ties with organised crime.

Vucic and his allies have repeatedly denied all those allegations.



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What might happen to Ukraine’s Azovstal prisoners of war? | News

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Breaking its recent silence on prisoners of war (POWs), the Red Cross said it has registered “hundreds” of Ukrainian POWs who have left the giant Azovstal steel plant in the southern city of Mariupol after holding out for weeks against besieging Russian forces.

The announcement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday, which acts as a guardian of the Geneva Conventions and its stated aim to limit “the barbarity of war”, came shortly after Russia’s military said 1,730 Ukrainian troops at the steel plant had surrendered.

Attention now is turning to how those prisoners of war might be treated and what rights they have.

Here is a look at some key questions about POWs in Russia’s nearly three-month-old war on Ukraine:

Who is a prisoner of war?

Article 4 of the third Geneva Convention, which focuses on POWs, defines them as any member of armed forces or militias – including organised resistance movements – in a conflict who “who have fallen into the power of the enemy”.

It also includes non-combatant crew members, war correspondents, and even “inhabitants of a non-occupied territory who, on the approach of the enemy, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces”.

What rights do POWS have?

The Geneva Conventions set out requirements to ensure that POWs are treated humanely. They include issues such as where they can be held; the relief they should receive, including medical help for wounded ex-fighters; and legal proceedings they might face.

“In this case, the Russian Federation has an entire list of obligations: To treat them humanely, to let the ICRC (have) access to them, to inform the ICRC of their names, to allow them to write to their families, to care for them if they are wounded and sick, to feed them and so on,” said Marco Sassoli, a professor of international law at the University of Geneva.

“But obviously, the detaining power may deprive them of their liberty until the end of the international armed conflict and may hold them – unlike civilians – on their own territories. So they may be brought to Russia,” he said.

Can POWs be put on trial?

Only under certain conditions, notably if an individual fighter is accused of committing one or more war crimes. Such an accusation must be based on published evidence, Sassoli said.

“They can certainly not be punished for having participated in the hostilities, because that’s the privilege of combatants and of prisoners of war,” he said.

Could POWs become part of prisoner exchanges?

The Geneva Conventions do not set rules for prisoner exchanges. In the past, Red Cross intermediaries have helped carry out agreed-upon POW exchanges. Still, much has been made of the insistence by some Russian officials that detained Ukrainian ex-fighters should face trial and should not be included in any prisoner exchanges.

People and relatives of Azov battalion soldiers
People and relatives of Azov battalion soldiers take part in a rally called ‘Save military of Mariupol’ in Kyiv on May 3, 2022 [Sergei Supinsky/ AFP]

Could Russia claim the Azovstal fighters are not entitled to POWs status?

Some countries have tried to sidestep their Geneva Conventions obligations – or simply argue that they are not bound by them. A prominent case was when the US detained hundreds of fighters allegedly linked to groups like al-Qaeda. They were detained as “enemy combatants” at a US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent US-led military invasion to topple the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.

Sassoli said there are “all kinds of reasons” why an individual might lose their prisoner of war status. For example, if the fighter “didn’t distinguish themselves from the civilian population” during combat.

“But here, to the best of my knowledge, no one claims that these people [detainees from the Azov Regiment in Mariupol] didn’t wear a uniform, or if they don’t belong to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Sassoli said.

“It’s basically Ukraine who decides who belongs to their armed forces.”

Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly touted the regiment’s role in the armed forces and have celebrated what they call its members’ “heroism” for holding out so long against far-larger Russian forces.

The Azov regiment is part of the national guard – does that matter?

Ukraine and Russia have both accepted an important annex to the Geneva Conventions that broadens the definition of what fighters – militia or otherwise – might be considered as part of the national military force, based in part on whether they follow military commands. As for the Azov Regiment fighters, “there’s no doubt” they are part of Ukraine’s military force, said Sassoli, who was on a three-person team commissioned by the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe that travelled to Ukraine in March.

However, Russia has not been fully clear about who is detaining the former Azovstal fighters – Russia itself, or the breakaway pro-Russian areas in Ukraine such as the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” or the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” which could blur such distinctions.

What is the significance of the Red Cross Statement on POWs?

Thursday’s statement was the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 that the ICRC – which plays an often-confidential role to check on prisoners of war – has said anything officially about POWs in the conflict.

“Normally, the ICRC will not tell you how these people are treated, but the ICRC will say whom they visited,” Sassoli said.

“But the ICRC – to the best of my knowledge, until this media release – did not clarify how many people it had access to, on both sides.”

Beyond its communication about the Azovstal fighters, the ICRC has not said whether it has registered other POWs or carried out any visits with POWs on either side of the war.



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Grand jury indicts Buffalo man accused of killing 10 Black people | Gun Violence News

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Payton Gendron, an 18-year-old white man, livestreamed the attack from a helmet camera, 13 people in total were shot.

Payton Gendron, the white man charged with murdering 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York has appeared briefly in court after a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge.

Gendron, 18, wore an orange jail uniform and a mask, and was silent throughout the one-minute proceeding on Thursday, attended by some relatives of the victims.

Assistant District Attorney Gary Hackbush said the indictment of Payton Gendron was handed down on Wednesday.

Someone shouted “Payton, you’re a coward!” as he was led out. He is being held in jail without bail.

The latest US racist mass shooting – at a supermarket on Saturday – has revived a national debate about guns, domestic terrorism, hate and the internet’s role in spreading it.

Thirteen people in all were shot at the Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly Black neighbourhood of Buffalo. Authorities are continuing to investigate the possibility of hate crime and terrorism charges.

Gendron, livestreamed the attack from a helmet camera before surrendering to police outside the store. Shortly before the attack, he posted hundreds of pages of writings to online discussion groups where he detailed his plans for the assault and his racist motivation.

Investigators have been examining those documents, which included a private diary he kept on the chat platform Discord.

In New York, prosecutors can charge a defendant with first-degree murder only under special circumstances, including when multiple people are killed in a single incident, like in the Buffalo shooting. The single count against Gendron covered all 10 deaths at the supermarket.

At his initial court appearance last week, Gendron’s court-appointed lawyer entered a plea of “not guilty” on his behalf. Gendron is due back in court on June 9.

The massacre at the Tops supermarket was unsettling even in a nation that has become almost numb to mass shootings. All but two of the 13 people shot during the attack were Black. Gendron’s online writings said he planned the assault after becoming infatuated with white supremacist ideology that he encountered online.

The diary said Gendron planned his attack in secret, with no outside help, but Discord confirmed Wednesday that an invitation to access his private writings was sent to a small group of people about 30 minutes before the assault began.

Some of them accepted the invitation. It was unclear how many read what he had written or logged on to view the assault live. It also was not clear whether anyone tried to alert law enforcement.

Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia has said investigators were working to obtain, verify and review Gendron’s online postings.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday authorised the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, to investigate social media platforms used by Gendron to determine if they were liable for “providing a platform to plan and promote violence”.

President Joe Biden, in a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, condemned white nationalists, as well as online platforms, media outlets and political rhetoric he criticised for spreading racist conspiracy theories.

“What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism, terrorism, domestic terrorism,” Biden said.



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Not going to fly: Spirit Airlines again rejects JetBlue’s bid | Aviation News

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Spirit shareholders will decide the issue during a June 10 special meeting.

By Bloomberg

Spirit Airlines Inc. rebuffed a hostile $3.3 billion takeover offer from JetBlue Airways Corp., setting the stage for a potentially contentious vote by shareholders on whether to back a JetBlue bid or stand by a pending combination with rival deep discounter Frontier Group Holdings Inc.

Spirit said its board unanimously determined that the JetBlue proposal is not in the best interests of the carrier or its shareholders. The potential transaction “faces substantial regulatory hurdles” and is unlikely to be successfully completed, Spirit said Thursday in a statement. Spirit again recommended shareholders vote in favor of Frontier’s bid.

JetBlue didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Frontier also didn’t immediately respond.

It was the second rejection of a JetBlue bid by Spirit’s board, which stood by Frontier’s $2.9 billion cash-and-stock deal agreed to in February. After an unsuccessful $3.6 billion cash offer, JetBlue on May 16 went hostile, offering the reduced proposal directly to Spirit shareholders in a tender offer.

Spirit shareholders will decide the issue during a June 10 special meeting.

The no-frills carrier stuck by its earlier reasoning that the Frontier offer has a better chance of closing. Market overlap in the eastern US between JetBlue and Spirit could raise antitrust questions at the same time JetBlue battles a federal lawsuit over a business alliance with American Airlines Group Inc.

Spirit shares fell 1.9% to $19.05 as of 7:29 a.m. before regular trading in New York, while JetBlue and Frontier each slipped less than 1%.

With the pursuit of Spirit, JetBlue is seeking a burst of growth it can’t otherwise attain. The rival bid by Frontier would combine similarly focused deep-discounter carriers offering bare-bones low fares while charging for extras like coffee, bottled water and printed boarding passes. Either combination would pass Alaska Air Group Inc. to become the fifth-largest US airline by capacity.

Domestic, Leisure Travel

Spirit’s allure stems in part from an industrywide turn toward domestic markets and leisure travelers — the bread-and-butter of ultra-low-cost airlines — as it’s recovered from a pandemic slump. Bigger carriers have moved more heavily onto that turf amid the slow return of overseas travel demand.

Under the Frontier deal, investors in Miramar, Florida-based Spirit would receive 1.9126 in Frontier stock and $2.13 in cash for each Spirit share. The deal implies a value of $25.83 a share for Spirit. Assumption of net debt and operating lease liabilities push the total value to $6.6 billion. Holders of Denver-based Frontier would own 51.5% of the combined company and name seven of the twelve directors. The agreement includes a $94.2 million breakup fee.

JetBlue has said its offer isn’t subject to approval by its shareholders or to a financing contingency, and includes a $200 million “reverse breakup fee” payable to Spirit if a deal is blocked for antitrust reasons. The proposed deal would generate as much as $700 million in annual synergies, the carrier has said.

A Spirit deal would give JetBlue, hounded by Wall Street analysts for much of its 23-year history over cost creep, access to an organization and management team highly focused on keeping operating expenses in check. JetBlue lost out in its only other takeover attempt when it was outbid by Alaska for Virgin America in 2016.

(Updates with additional details beginning in second paragraph)

–With assistance from Justin Bachman.



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