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US justifies Ukraine embassy drawdown amid Russia tensions

US justifies Ukraine embassy drawdown amid Russia tensions

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United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the risk of Russian military action in Ukraine is high enough to justify the departure of much of the staff at the US embassy in Kyiv, but said a diplomatic solution to the crisis is still possible.

“The diplomatic path remains open. The way for Moscow to show that it wants to pursue that path is simple. It should de-escalate rather than escalate,” Blinken said on Sunday.


A one-hour phone call on Saturday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden ended with no breakthrough.

The White House insists Moscow faces “swift and severe costs” if it pushes ahead with aggression, while the Kremlin has denounced the US’s “peak hysteria” over the Ukraine conflict and has denied it has plans to invade.

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Meanwhile, the Australian government temporarily suspended operations at its Kyiv embassy on Sunday as fears of a Russian invasion rise.

U.S. politics

Iraqi court bars veteran Zebari from running for presidency

Iraqi court bars veteran Zebari from running for presidency

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Iraq’s Supreme Court has barred veteran politician Hoshyar Zebari from running for presidency after a complaint filed against him over corruption charges.

Zebari was previously “suspended” from the race on February 6, on the eve of the scheduled presidential vote in parliament, in which he was the favourite.

MPs submitted a complaint against Zebari before the court on the grounds that his participation would have been “unconstitutional” because of the outstanding corruption charges and on the basis of reputation.

The court cited his 2016 dismissal from the post of finance minister by parliament “over charges linked to financial and administrative corruption”.

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“The federal court decided in its verdict to invalidate the candidacy of Hoshyar Zebari to the post of president of the republic,” state news agency INA announced on Sunday.

The 68-year-old was accused of diverting $1.8m worth of public funds to pay for airline tickets for his personal security detail.

Zebari has denied all corruption accusations.

“I have not been convicted in any court,” Zebari said in a television interview last week.

The presidency, with a four-year mandate, is by convention held by a member of Iraq’s Kurdish minority.

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Zebari was one of two main contenders out of 25 for the largely ceremonial post. The other frontrunner is incumbent President Barham Saleh.

The presidential vote was postponed following Zebari’s suspension, and follows October legislative elections that were marred by record-low turnout, post-election threats and violence.

The final results were confirmed in late December.

Last Tuesday, the office of parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbussi announced the “reopening of registration for candidates for the post of president of the republic from Wednesday, February 9 and for a period of three days”.

However, a new date for MPs to elect a president has yet to be announced, and no new candidate list has been released.

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