More than 1,000 victims made claims against a late athletic physician.January 19, 2022, 7:03 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe University of Michigan announced on Wednesday that it’s reached a $490 million settlement in connection with allegations against the late Dr. Robert Anderson, who served as the school’s sports team physician from 1966 to 2003.At least 1,050 victims have come forward with accounts, stretching back decades, that Anderson molested or sexually abused them. Anderson died in 2008.Some of Anderson’s victims filed lawsuits two years ago. Jamie White, an attorney representing 100 of the survivors, said in a statement that the school should be commended for taking responsibility financially.In this June 16, 2021, file photo, Jon Vaughn, a former University of Michigan football player from 1988 to 1991 speaks during a news conference in Ann Arbor, Mich.”Most of our clients had a strong love for the university and did not want to see permanent damage, but wanted accountability. I believe we accomplished those goals,” White said in a statement.The settlement is pending approvals by the university’s board of agents, 98% of the claimants and the court, according to the University of Michigan, which said $460 million will be made available to the 1,050 claimants and $30 million will be set aside for future claimants who choose to participate in the settlement before July 31, 2023.This undated file photo provided by the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan shows Dr. Robert E. Anderson.”This agreement is a critical step among many the university has taken to improve support for survivors and more effectively prevent and address misconduct,” University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement.The accusations against Anderson came after Michigan State University athletes and Team USA gymnasts came forward in 2016 alleging years of sexual abuse by physician Larry Nassar.In this Aug. 10, 2020, file phoot, an entrance to Michigan Stadium is seen on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich.Nassar was sentenced in 2018 to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple sex crimes. In December, Nassar’s victims reached a $380 million settlement with USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Oakland County prosecutors have not brought charges against the school district.January 19, 2022, 6:57 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe leader of Oxford Community Schools fired back on Tuesday at a lawsuit alleging that the district failed to heed warning signs before the shooting that killed four students in November.In a letter to parents, Superintendent Tim Throne said that the district was unaware of a message on Ethan Crumbley’s Twitter account the night before the shooting that read: “See you tomorrow, Oxford,” until after the shooting occurred.A memorial outside of Oxford High School, Dec. 7, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.Throne’s statement contradicts allegations made by attorney Geoffrey Fieger, on behalf of two Oxford High School students, that Throne and the principal “reviewed the social media posts of Crumbley prior to November 30, 2021, which threatened Oxford High School students.”Throne also said that an investigation into an incident three weeks before the shooting, in which a severed bird’s head was found in a bathroom at the school, “determined there was no threat to the high school.” Law enforcement was “unable to determine when or how the jar was delivered,” he added.The lawsuit contended that Crumbley placed the bird’s head in the bathroom and that school leaders assured parents afterward that there was “absolutely no threat at the high school,” even though parents voiced concerns about their children’s safety.Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., Dec. 7, 2021.On Tuesday, Throne said he was “proud” of school administrators, who, he said, “ran toward the incident to effectively save children, administer aid to injured parties, and locate the perpetrator, putting themselves in harm’s way.”Oakland County prosecutors have not brought charges against the school district.
The family claimed Bulger was “deliberately” put in harm’s way.January 19, 2022, 6:24 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleA federal judge in West Virginia has dismissed a lawsuit by the estate of Whitey Bulger that accused Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials of “deliberately” sending him to his death.The notorious Boston gangster was brutally killed within hours of his arrival at United States Penitentiary, Hazelton in 2018. He was 89.The leader of Boston’s Winter Hill Gang, Bulger was convicted on numerous racketeering charges and for involvement in 11 murders in 2013. He was serving two life sentences plus five years.In October 2018, Bulger was transferred to USP Hazelton, which his family’s lawsuit described as a “violent,” “volatile” and “understaffed” facility with a “gang-run yard” and a long history of inmate-on-inmate assaults.Upon arrival, Bulger was placed in the general population. The family, including former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger, alleged that Whitey Bulger was beaten and killed within hours of the transfer by inmates who were “believed” to have been from New England and sympathetic to the Boston Mafia.Bulger’s medical status was lowered in early October to a notch below where it had been prior to his transfers that month, the last of which culminated in his arrival at Hazelton, according to Bureau of Prisons documents obtained by ABC News in 2019.Booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James “Whitey” Bulger.U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey said in his Jan. 12 ruling that federal law did not allow the family to sue BOP officials who decided to transfer Bulger because Congress expressly puts custody of inmates in the hands of the BOP. Ruling otherwise “would be in strong tension with Congress’s decisions to give the BOP discretion over inmate placement, prohibit courts from reviewing inmate placement, and omit an individual-capacity damages remedy,” Bailey’s decision said.“Congress had many opportunities to create a damages remedy for situations where a housing decision leads to injury. But it did not do so. Instead, it has repeatedly limited judicial authority to review BOP housing decisions and to entertain claims brought by prisoners.”The BOP has refused to comment on the lawsuit and has never officially released information about who killed Bulger.Bulger’s family has not yet commented on the decision or on whether it plans to appeal.
A judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation on Simon Martial. January 19, 2022, 5:09 PM• 6 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleThe man accused of pushing a woman to her death on a New York City subway track was arraigned from his hospital bed on second-degree murder charges.Simon Martial, 61, was seen using “two hands to push another woman onto the train tracks as a train approached” at the Times Square station on the southbound N/Q/W/R train platform Saturday morning, prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said during the arraignment. The Asian woman, 40-year-old Michelle Go, was struck by the incoming train and killed.Thee attack was “completely unprovoked” and Go, a New York City resident, was looking down at her phone at the time she was shoved, police said. Go suffered severe trauma to her body and was pronounced dead at the scene, New York Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell told reporters after the attack.Martial, who is believed to be homeless, fled the scene but later turned himself in at a police station. Martial had a warrant out for parole violation and two prior violent felony convictions.Simon Martial was arrested by the police on Jan. 18, 2022, after witnesses say he approached Michelle Go from behind at the Times Square Subway station and shoved her into the path of a South bound R train.A judged remanded Martial Wednesday and ordered a psychiatric evaluation on him.Prosecutors said they’re still working to determine whether Martial was motivated by racial bias. ABC News could not immediately reach an attorney for Martial for comment. His next court appearance is Feb. 23.New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday that while Go’s death shocked “the entire city,” it highlights the need to address the city’s mental health crisis.”We have to do a better job in having those that are disruptive on the system, [who] appear to have real mental health crisis, we have to do a better job to give them the services they need and not leave them on the system,” Adams said.Local politicians, activists and members of the public attend an evening vigil for Michelle Go, who was killed in a Times Square subway station on Jan. 18, 2022 in New York City. Forty-year-old Go, an Asian American, was pushed by a stranger in front of a train at the Times Square subway station.The mayor added that the city cannot rely solely on police and is asking the governor for more resources to employ mental health professionals.Mourners gathered at a vigil in Times Square Tuesday to honor Go. Her smiling face was featured on a big-screen billboard and members of the crowd carried her picture in their hands.Go, a consultant for Deloitte, spent her free time volunteering as an advocate for the homeless.Local politicians, activists and members of the public attend an evening vigil for Michelle Go, who was killed in a Times Square subway station on Jan. 18, 2022 in New York City. Forty-year-old Go, an Asian American, was pushed by a stranger in front of a train at the Times Square subway station.Her family said in a statement that they remembered her as a “beautiful, brilliant, kind, and intelligent woman who loved her family and friends, loved to travel the world and help others.”ABC News’ Kiara Alfonseca and Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Major international airlines canceled flights heading to the U.S. or changed the planes they’re using Wednesday, the latest complication in a dispute over concerns that new 5G mobile phone service could interfere with aircraft technology.Carriers took widely different approaches to the brewing crisis affecting international travel, from Middle Eastern airline Emirates drastically reducing its U.S.-bound flights to Air France saying it would fly as normal.It wasn’t immediately clear why the airlines made those decisions — or whether they took into account that mobile carriers AT&T and Verizon agreed this week to pause the rollout of the new high-speed wireless service near key airports.U.S. officials had said that even with the concession, there could be some cancellations and delays because of limitations of equipment on certain planes. Some airlines said Wednesday they received warnings from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or Boeing that the plane maker’s 777 was particularly affected by the new wireless service.It was also not clear how disruptive the cancellations would be. Several airlines said they would try to merely use different planes to maintain their schedules.Similar mobile networks have been deployed in dozens of other countries — but there are some key differences in how the U.S. network works that could make it more likely to cause problems for airlines.The new 5G network uses a segment of the radio spectrum that is close to that used by radio altimeters, which measure the height of aircraft above the ground and help pilots land in low visibility. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which sets a buffer between the frequency that 5G uses and the one that altimeters use, determined that it could be used safely in the vicinity of air traffic.AT&T and Verizon have said their equipment will not interfere with aircraft electronics.But FAA officials saw a potential problem, and the telecom companies agreed to a pause Tuesday while it is addressed.On Wednesday, Emirates announced it would halt flights to several American cities due to “operational concerns associated with the planned deployment of 5G mobile network services in the U.S. at certain airports.” It said it would continue flights to Los Angeles, New York and Washington.“We are working closely with aircraft manufacturers and the relevant authorities to alleviate operational concerns, and we hope to resume our U.S. services as soon as possible,” the state-owned airline said.Tim Clark, president of Emirates, pulled no punches when discussing the issue. He told CNN it was “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” situations he’d ever seen as it involved a failure by government, science and industry.Of particular concern appears to be the Boeing 777. Emirates only flies that model and the Airbus A380 jumbo jet — and it was among one of the most affected airlines.Japan’s All Nippon Airways said that the FAA “has indicated that radio waves from the 5G wireless service may interfere with aircraft altimeters.” It added that Boeing announced restrictions on airlines flying its 777s, and said it canceled 20 flights over the issue to cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.Japan Airlines similarly said that it had been informed there could be interference with the 777.It said it will stop using the model in the continental U.S. for now. Eight of its flights were affected Wednesday. Taiwan’s EVA Air also said the FAA specifically said 777s may be affected, but it did not spell out how it would adjust its schedule.But Air France said it planned to continue flying its 777s into American airports. It did not explain why it didn’t change its aircraft as many other carriers have.In a statement, Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it would work with airlines, the FAA and others to find a solution that would allow all planes to fly safely as 5G is rolled out. It did not respond questions about its 777.Air India also announced on Twitter it would cancel flights to Chicago, Newark, New York and San Francisco because of the 5G issue.But it also said it would try to use other aircraft on U.S. routes — a course several other airlines took.Korean Air, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific and Austrian Airlines said they substituted different planes for flights that were scheduled to use 777s. Korean Air spokeswoman Jill Chung said the airline was also avoiding operating some kinds of 747s at affected airports. Germany’s Lufthansa also swapped out one kind of 747 for another on some U.S.-bound flights.British Airways canceled several planned U.S.-bound Boeing 777 flights and changed aircraft on others.The FAA has said it will allow planes with accurate, reliable altimeters to operate around high-power 5G. But planes with older altimeters will not be allowed to make landings under low-visibility conditions.Among the problems that may make the 5G rollout an issue in the U.S. and not other countries, according to the FAA, are that American towers use a more powerful signal strength than those elsewhere, the network operates on a frequency closer to the one altimeters use, and tower antennae point up at a higher angle.“Base stations in rural areas of the United States are permitted to emit at higher levels in comparison to other countries which may affect radio altimeter equipment accuracy and reliability,” the FAA said in December.France, for example, reduces the power of the networks near airports.The FCC’s chairwoman said in a statement that the 5G “deployment can safely co-exist with aviation technologies in the United States, just as it does in other countries around the world.” However, Jessica Rosenworcel urged the FAA to conduct its safety checks with “both care and speed.”The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it was “not aware of any in-service incidents caused by 5G interference.””Until the 5G initiation in the U.S., the technical data received from EU manufacturers offers no conclusive evidence for immediate safety concerns at this time,” it said.AT&T and Verizon spent tens of billions of dollars for the 5G spectrum known as C-Band in a government auction last year.Choi Jong-yun, a spokeswoman of Asiana Airlines, said the company hasn’t been affected so far because it uses Airbus planes for passenger flights to the U.S.However, Choi raised a new wrinkle, saying airlines have also been instructed by the FAA to avoid automatic landings at affected U.S. airports during bad weather conditions, regardless of plane type. Asiana will redirect its planes to nearby airports during those conditions, she said.———Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris, Kelvin Chan in London and Isabel DeBre in Dubai contributed to this report.———Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
The victim texted a friend that someone in the store gave her a “bad vibe.”January 19, 2022, 3:05 PM• 6 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLos Angeles police are searching for the man they say killed a 24-year-old woman while she worked alone in a furniture store.The suspect, believed to be homeless, attacked Brianna Kupfer with a knife just before 2 p.m. Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department said.Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Sonia Monico speaks at a news conference about Brianna Kupfer, Jan. 18, 2022, in Los Angeles.Flowers are placed outside Croft House furniture store in memory of graduate student Brianna Kupfer, Jan. 17, 2022.He fled through the store’s back door and Kupfer’s body was soon found on the floor by a customer, police said.Police on Tuesday identified the suspect as 31-year-old Shawn Laval Smith, saying he should be considered armed and dangerous.The suspect in the murder of Brianna Kupfer has been identified as Shawn Laval Smith seen here in this image released by LAPD.There is no known motive, police said, adding that the suspect had randomly walked into the store.Kupfer texted a friend that afternoon saying someone in the store was giving her a “bad vibe,” LAPD Lt. John Radke said at a Tuesday news conference.”Brianna, who was born, educated and was building her career here in Los Angeles, was a rising star in this community,” Kupfer’s family said in a statement read on their behalf at the news conference. “Brianna was a smart, funny, driven and kind soul who only wanted to better herself and her community on a daily basis.”The slaying has “shaken and shocked our community to its core,” Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz said at the news conference.”We will find this vicious criminal,” he vowed.Anyone with information is asked to call the LAPD at 213-382-9470. A reward of $250,000 has been offered.
Starbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this monthBy DEE-ANN DURBIN AP Business WriterJanuary 19, 2022, 4:39 PM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleStarbucks is no longer requiring its U.S. workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, reversing a policy it announced earlier this month.In a memo sent Tuesday to employees, the Seattle coffee giant said it was responding to last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 vote, the court rejected the Biden administration’s plan to require vaccines or regular COVID testing at companies with more than 100 workers.“We respect the court’s ruling and will comply,” Starbucks Chief Operating Officer John Culver wrote in the memo.On Jan. 3, Starbucks said it would require all employees to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or face a weekly COVID test requirement. At the time, Culver said it was the responsibility of Starbucks’ leadership “to do whatever we can to help keep you safe and create the safest work environment possible.”In Tuesday’s memo, Culver said the company continues to strongly encourage vaccinations and booster shots.Starbucks required workers to reveal their vaccination status by Jan. 10. The company said Wednesday that 90% have reported and the “vast majority” are fully vaccinated. Starbucks wouldn’t say what percent of workers are not fully vaccinated.Starbucks employs 228,000 people in the U.S.
In an effort to keep a newly-arrested member of the Oath Keepers militia group charged in last week’s seditious conspiracy indictment behind bars — the Justice Department in a new court filing Wednesday revealed even more details behind the group’s alleged plotting in advance of the Jan. 6 insurrection.Prosecutors argue in the filing that Edward Vallejo, who will appear in federal court in Phoenix for his detention hearing Thursday, would present both a threat to the safety of the general public and a risk of obstruction of justice if released pending further legal proceedings in his case.Vallejo is not alleged to have joined the Oath Keepers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 — he instead is accused of waiting with a so-called ‘Quick Reaction Force’ of heavily armed individuals at a hotel in Virginia just outside the city, waiting to be activated once the militia’s members in D.C. called for help.He was arrested last week along with the Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes on charges of seditious conspiracy among other federal felony charges, in the most serious indictment brought by the Justice Department thus far out of the Capitol attack.The day after the riot, prosecutors say Vallejo performed a “Recon” mission in an area near the Capitol to “probe [the] defense line” being put up by law enforcement who were trying to prevent the building from being attacked again.In an initial court appearance last week, a public defender representing Vallejo said he intends to plead not guilty to all charges against him, he has still not been arraigned on the four felony charges against him.In a new court filing, prosecutors say these photos show Oath Keepers member Edward Vallejo carting away weapons, ammunition and essential supplies to last 30 days in the QRF hotel in Virginia. Vallejo will appear in federal court in Phoenix for his detention hearing Jan. 20, 2022.The filing Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney for D.C. includes new photos showing Vallejo carting what prosecutors say are weapons, ammunition and essential supplies to last 30 days into the QRF hotel in Virginia.Vallejo, according to prosecutors, allegedly brought a drone “with a 720p cam” that he sought to use as part of his “recon” mission but failed to launch it as the riot was ongoing.Investigators say there were “at least” three regional QRF teams stationed at the Comfort Inn hotel in Arlington, the filing says. One team from North Carolina, “consisted of four men who kept their rifles ready to go in a vehicle parked in the hotel lot.”Alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia group are seen in security camera footage from a Virginia hotel with what prosecutors describe as a cache of weapons, in photographs included in the Department of Justice court filings regarding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.On a podcast the morning of the riot, when asked by another QRF member why they were there, Vallejo allegedly answered they “have a little bit of inside information with the powers that would oppose the powers that be.”This appears to be in reference to the alleged belief among the Oath Keepers that Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act on Jan. 6 to mobilize the military to overturn the election.According to the filing, while law enforcement was still trying to secure the Capitol, one member of the Oath Keepers allegedly texted their Signal chat, “so why are we leaving??? It does NO good to go show up and say your there to defend and then just leave.”Vallejo then responded, “Leaving?!? I ain’t goin nowhere” and later added, “we will monitor all night and transport anyone that meets us on the perimeter curfew be damned,” the filing said.Alleged members of the Oath Keepers militia group are seen in security camera footage from a Virginia hotel with what prosecutors describe as a cache of weapons, in photographs included in the Department of Justice court filings regarding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.On the morning after the riot, Vallejo again appeared on a podcast where he allegedly discussed their recon mission to case the perimeter being set up by law enforcement after the insurrection, prosecutors said.Vallejo explained that he and others “got up before dawn, and we went to the Capitol … we did what we needed to do, did our check in, and then we got back here to take care of business,” the filing said.When asked on the podcast if he was returning to Arizona, prosecutors say Vallejo “remained ready to act” explaining, “I don’t know. We’ve got to figure out what happens on the 20th.” Ultimately, Vallejo noted, “I’m never done … I’m waiting for orders from Stewart Rhodes,” according to prosecutors.They argue Vallejo continues to remain a danger to the public, in part citing his tweets they argue attempt to “sanitize the Capitol attack” as well as his anti-vaccine comments on social media.”… as recently as January 8, 2022, Vallejo continued to sanitize the Capitol attack and specifically focus on the 2020 Presidential Election, retweeting, “The real insurrection happened in the wee hours of Nov. 4, 2020,” prosecutors said.”There is no evidence that he has renounced violence or that he no longer believes in the necessity of guerilla warfare after January 6,” the government said. “That is what makes him a danger today.”
The underwater fiber-optic cable linked Tonga to the outside world.January 19, 2022, 1:17 PM• 6 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleLONDON — It may take weeks to repair an undersea fiber-optic cable connecting Tonga to the rest of the world, which was severed during Saturday’s massive eruption of a submarine volcano near the South Pacific archipelago nation.New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement Wednesday that U.S.-based company SubCom, which builds underwater cable networks across the globe and is the repair contractor for more than 31,000 miles of cable in the South Pacific Ocean, “advises it will take at least four weeks for Tonga’s cable connection to be repaired.”The foreign ministry added that Caribbean-based mobile network provider Digicel has set up an interim system on Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, using the University of South Pacific’s satellite dish, which may allow a 2G connection to be established Wednesday, though the ministry said it will be “limited and patchy.”Domestic and international communications for Tonga were cut off due to damage to the undersea cable. While limited communication within Tonga has been restored through satellite telephones and high-frequency radio, the internet is still down, the Tongan government said in a statement Tuesday.A grab taken from the NOAA GOES-West satellite on Jan. 15, 2022 and obtained via NASA shows the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in Tonga that provoked a tsunami.Satellite images captured the blast of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Saturday evening, with NASA’s Earth Observatory calling it “one of the most potent volcanic eruptions in decades.”The explosion “obliterated” the small, uninhabited South Pacific island where the submarine volcano was located, about 40 miles north of Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, and “produced an atmospheric shock wave and tsunami that traveled around the world,” the observatory said in a statement Saturday.Nearly 50-foot tsunami waves crashed ashore on several of Tonga’s 170 islands, devastating villages, while a huge mushroom-shaped cloud of volcanic ash, steam and gas covered the entire Polynesian kingdom, according to the Tongan government. A search-and-rescue mission was launched the following morning and at least three people have been confirmed dead — a British national and two Tongan citizens. There were also a number of injuries reported, the Tongan government said.New Zealand’s foreign ministry confirmed Wednesday that no further deaths were reported in Tonga.The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement Wednesday that its humanitarian partners on the ground reported the entire population of Tonga — more than 100,00 people — had been impacted by volcanic ash and tsunami waves. There’s been no reported evidence of ongoing volcanic or tsunami activity within the region in the last 24 hours, according to OCHA.”However, activity could resume at any time without warning,” the agency said.This photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force shows volcanic ash covering roof tops and vegetation in an area of Tonga on Jan. 17, 2022, two days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami.Data from surveillance flights over Tonga showed up to 100 homes “severely damaged” on Tongatapu and 50 on the nearby island of ‘Eua. Mango and Niniva were also “heavily impacted” with structures destroyed and trees uprooted, but those islands are only thinly populated, according to OCHA.The Tongan government has declared a state of emergency that will last until at least Feb. 13.Sea and air transportation have been impacted due to continuing large waves in the waters surrounding Tonga as well as volcanic ash blanketing airport runways. Water supplies have also been “seriously affected,” the Tongan government said.Emergency response operations, including distribution of disaster relief supplies, initial assessments of the damages and clean-up of the airports, were still underway Tuesday, according to the Tongan government. New Zealand’s foreign ministry said the work to clear airport runways in Tonga is expected to be completed Wednesday.Australia and New Zealand have dispatched naval ships carrying relief supplies and clean drinking water to Tonga, their South Pacific neighbor. New Zealand’s vessels are expected to arrive by Friday, depending on weather conditions, according to New Zealand’s foreign ministry.OCHA said it is understood that ships will be able to dock at Tonga’s ports. Meanwhile, relief flights from both Australia and New Zealand are on standby until the Fuaʻamotu International Airport on Tongatapul is operational, according to OCHA.
KYIV, Ukraine — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged western nations on Wednesday to remain united in the face of what he called “relentless” Russian aggression against Ukraine and reassured Ukraine’s leader of their support while calling for Ukrainians to stand strong.Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to Kyiv that the U.S. and its allies were steadfast in backing his country and its democratic aspirations amid growing fears of a potentially imminent Russian invasion.Blinken said Russia had plans to boost its military presence of some 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border and suggested that number could double soon. Blinken also said he would not be presenting a formal written response to Russia’s demands when he meets on Friday with Russia’s foreign minister.“The Ukrainian people chose a democratic and European path in 1991. They took to the Maidan to defend that choice in 2013, and unfortunately ever since you have faced relentless aggression from Moscow,” Blinken said, referring to Ukraine’s trajectory since the collapse of the Soviet Union.“Our strength depends on preserving our unity and that includes unity within Ukraine,” he told Zelenskyy. “I think one of Moscow’s long-standing goals has been to try to sow divisions between and within our countries and quite simply, we cannot and will not let them do that.”The Biden administration said earlier it was providing an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine to help protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.Zelenskyy thanked Blinken for the assistance, which was approved in late December but not formally confirmed until Wednesday, as well as for his visit and assurances of support.“This (military) support not only speaks to our strategic plans of Ukraine joining the alliance, but more importantly to the level of our military, our military supplies,” he said, referring to Kyiv’s desire to join NATO over Russia’s strong objections.“If we want dramatically fast steps in modernizing the military, we need help especially in these tough times,” Zelenskyy said. “Your visit is very important. It underlines once again your powerful support of our independence and sovereignty.”The aid announcement came at the start of Blinken’s hastily arranged visit as U.S. and western officials stepped up increasingly dire warnings about a possible Russian invasion.Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin is now in position to launch military action against Ukraine at will and at very short notice with more than 100,000 troops massed on its border and plans to add more. He said that number “could double on relatively short order,” but he did not provide details.“We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Blinken told staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.After his meetings with Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials, Blinken plans a short trip to Berlin for talks with German and other European allies on Thursday, He is scheduled to see his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva on Friday. That meeting is aimed at testing Russia’s willingness to resolve the crisis diplomatically, officials said.The administration and its European allies have accused Putin of creating the crisis by massing troops along Ukraine’s borders and it is up to him and the Russians to decide whether to invade and suffer severe economic consequences.Russia has brushed off calls to withdraw its troops by saying it has a right to deploy its forces wherever it likes on its own territory. It also has rejected U.S. allegations that it’s preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Lavrov dismissed the U.S. claim as “total disinformation.”The U.S. has not concluded whether Putin plans to invade or whether the show of force is intended to squeeze security concessions without an actual conflict. Inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week failed to resolve stark disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters.Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied the charge.CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last week to consult with his Ukrainian counterparts and discuss current assessments of the risk to Ukraine, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Burns’ schedule, which is classified.Ahead of his face-to-face meeting with L avrov, Blinken spoke to the Russian foreign minister by phone on Tuesday and “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions,” the State Department said.Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the U.S. and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet countries or station its forces and weapons there.Blinken underscored to Lavrov on Tuesday that any discussion of European security “must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine,” the State Department said.The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov emphasized in the call with Blinken the key aspects of Russian draft documents envisaging “legally binding guarantees of Russia’s security in line with the principle of indivisibility of security approved by all countries in the Euro-Atlantic.” It said Lavrov stressed the importance for Washington to quickly deliver a written response to the Russian proposals.Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels and it does not appear likely the Biden administration will reply to Russia in written form.Meanwhile, the White House is accusing Russia of deploying operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a pretext for possible invasion.Ahead of Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, a delegation of U.S. senators was visiting Ukraine to emphasize congressional support for the country.Russia in 2014 seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stonewalls its demands.———Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.