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EU bans most Russian oil, sanctions alleged Putin girlfriend

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The EU imported more than a quarter of its oil from Russia before the war and has been accused of not moving fast enough to stop funds flowing to Moscow's war machine
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The EU formally adopted a ban on most Russian oil imports on Friday, hitting Moscow with its toughest sanctions over the war on Ukraine after weeks of wrangling with Hungary.

The sanctions — the sixth wave imposed by the 27-nation bloc since the Kremlin launched the invasion in February — include cutting Russia’s biggest bank Sberbank from the global SWIFT messaging system, the text published in the EU’s official journal said.  

President Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriend, former gymnast Alina Kabaeva, was also added to an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist, along with Russian army personnel suspected of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

EU leaders agreed to target Russia’s key oil exports on Monday after weeks of resistance from Hungary, ceding to Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s demand to exempt Russian oil delivered by pipeline. 

The sanctions cover the two-thirds of Russian exports currently being brought in by ship and come into full force in six months for crude oil and eight months for refined products.

Germany and Poland have further committed to stop receiving deliveries by pipeline — meaning that some 90 percent of EU imports of Russian oil are expected to be halted by the end of the year. 

In a bid to prevent Hungary and other countries that will still receive Russian pipeline oil from profiting from their exemption, there is a ban on reselling the cheaper supplies.

The bloc is also looking to curb Moscow’s ability to sell the oil outside the EU by banning financial institutions from insuring and financing ships carrying it to third countries. 

The EU imported more than a quarter of its oil from Russia before the war and has been accused of not moving fast enough to stop funds flowing to Moscow’s war machine, after now 100 days of fighting.  

But the difficulties reaching an oil ban mean there appear few prospects the bloc will move on to hitting Russian gas exports, which are key to powering economies like Germany.  

– Banks, ‘butchers’, broadcasters – 

The new round of sanctions looks to further cut Russia and its ally Belarus off from the global financial system by disconnecting Sberbank and three other lenders from the SWIFT system.

Providing accounting, auditing and consultancy services to Russian entities is also prohibited. 

It adds some high-profile names to a blacklist, including Putin’s alleged girlfriend Kabaeva and 45 Russian military personnel linked to the killings in Bucha. 

Senior Russian commander Mikhail Mizintsev — nicknamed the “butcher of Mariupol” for overseeing the brutal seige of the port city — is also placed under sanctions. 

One name that does not appear, however, is the head of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill, after Hungary demanded he be taken off the list. 

The bloc expands it broadcasting ban on Russian state outlets by including Rossiya RTR, Rossiya 24, and TV Centre International and stops EU firms advertising on the channels. 

Chemicals that could be used to make illegal weapons are added to a list of banned exports.

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Kellogg’s loses court challenge against UK obesity strategy

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The UK government is introducing new rules to reduce the prominence of sugary foods in English shops from October
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Cereals giant Kellogg’s on Monday lost a High Court challenge against new UK rules limiting the prominence of sugary foods in English shops to tackle child obesity.

At a hearing in April, the Frosties and Rice Krispies maker argued against the government’s strategy to calculate fat, salt and sugar content of cereals when eaten dry, not when taken with milk.

But in a ruling on Monday, the court noted that no breakfast cereal manufacturer raised objections to the methodology during the consultation period about the rules.

The judge, Thomas Linden, said there was “no dispute” that breakfast cereals could be part of a healthy diet.

“But the argument that there are nutritional benefits to the consumption of a given breakfast cereal does not affect the point that if it contains excess fat, sugar or salt, that feature of the product is adverse to a child’s health,” he said.

Linden said 54.7 percent of Kellogg’s cereals would be classed as less healthy under the new regulations that take effect from October.

Kellogg’s claimed the change would hit annual profits by about £5 million ($6.1 million).

Welcoming the ruling, the government said it was “committed to tackling obesity, which is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK” and costs the state-funded National Health Service “billions of pounds a year”.

Kellogg’s said it did not intend to appeal but urged the government to rethink its strategy, especially amid soaring inflation.

“By restricting the placement of items in supermarkets, people face less choice and potentially higher prices,” said the group’s UK managing director, Chris Silcock. 

“That’s why, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, we would strongly urge the government to rethink these regulations and put the consumer first.”

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UK drivers in go-slow protest over surging fuel prices

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Strike action by criminal lawyers is fuelling fears of a 'summer of discontent' in Britain
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Protesters snarled up major UK roads on Monday with a slow-moving procession of vehicles to demand government action against rocketing fuel prices.

The action came as senior criminal lawyers staged a second walkout in England and Wales against years of government cuts to their fees, intensifying a “summer of discontent” as strikes sweep Britain.

Rail workers have already staged a series of stoppages to press for better pay as Britain’s headline inflation reaches a 40-year high of just under 10 percent, driven in part by the war in Ukraine.

On the roads, a social media campaign called Fuel Price Stand Against Tax mobilised drivers to drive deliberately slowly on motorways and other arterial routes, demanding the government slash fuel duty.

One of the motorways affected was the M4 including the Prince of Wales Bridge, which links England and Wales.

Welsh police said they had arrested 12 people for driving under 30 miles (48 kilometres) per hour for “a prolonged amount of time”.

Vicky Stamper lost her job as a truck driver last month after the company was forced to cut costs in the face of the surging fuel costs.

“I’m here because I’ve lost my job because of the fuel, and the greedy people at the top taking all of our money,” she told AFP just over the border in England.

Addressing any members of the public inconvenienced by the action, Stamper said “we’re doing this for everyone”. 

“If they want to have a whinge, instead of whinging, join us.”

– ‘No choice’ –

The government insists it has already cut fuel duty once, and is offering other financial support for the public, while blaming Russia for igniting the rapid rise in energy prices.

“People’s day-to-day lives should not be disrupted,” a spokesperson said.

The government also says it is addressing the demands of the criminal barristers by offering a 15-percent rise in fees from the end of September.

But the increase will only apply to new cases, not to tens of thousands piling up in a backlog as British courts wrestle with the fallout of the Covid pandemic.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, barristers in black gowns and wigs insisted the government significantly raise its offer as they walked out for a second week and vowed more strikes ahead.

Protesting barrister Emma Heath, 34, said defence lawyers could spend eight hours in preparation for a client receiving legal aid and get paid only £126 ($153) by the government. 

“We fully appreciate the impact it’s having, but until the government wake up and see what’s actually happening to criminal legal aid funding, we’re left with no choice,” she told AFP.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab — a former lawyer — has called the strike action “regrettable” and said it would “only delay justice for victims”.

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Central African Republic dives into crypto with the Sango

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Crypto fan: President Faustin-Archange Touadera
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Undeterred by the turmoil hitting crypto, the Central African Republic (CAR) — one of the poorest and most troubled countries in the world — has unveiled plans to launch its own digital currency.

President Faustin Archange Touadera, in an “online event” on Sunday, announced CAR would create the Sango Coin and a zero-taxation “crypto-hub”, the first in Africa.

The currency is named after Sango, which with French is one of the two official languages in the landlocked country, rated the world’s second poorest nation under the UN’s Human Development Index.

Through a platform called Crypto Island, the Sango will become “the catalyst for tokenising (CAR’s) vast natural resources,” Touadera declared, providing no timeline or other details.

He hailed Sango and Crypto Island as “a new digital system fed by blockchain,” the internet-based ledger that underpins crypto currencies.

“Sango Coin will give the whole world direct access to our resources,” attracting investors and “getting the engines of the economy going,” he enthused.

On April 27, Touadera’s office abruptly announced that the CAR had adopted Bitcoin as legal tender alongside the CFA franc, a currency the country shares with five other central African economies.

It became the first country in Africa to embrace Bitcoin as a national currency, and the second in the world after El Salvador last September.

The April announcement sparked bemusement among analysts, given the entrenched poverty and lack of infrastructure in the CAR, where only one person in seven has access to mains electricity. 

They also voiced concern about the impact of crypto volatility on savings.

Virtual currencies have gone into a tailspin as investors look to safer havens at a time of inflation and uncertainty sparked by the Ukraine war.

Bitcoin has lost nearly 60 percent of its value over the past six months.

– ‘Digital gold’ –

Touadera on Sunday said 57 percent of Africa’s population does not have access to a bank.

“The solution,” he said, was “the smartphone, the alternative to the traditional bank, cash and financial red tape”.

On Twitter, he said, “gold served as the engine of our civilisation for ages! In this new age, digital gold will serve the same for the future.”

The CAR’s rush to crypto has been seen by some critics in the context of its closer ties with Russia.

Touadera has been accused of using Russian paramilitaries to buttress his regime and offering CAR’s natural resources in exchange. 

The country has a treasure chest of minerals, ranging from copper and gold to diamonds and uranium.

The CAR, a former French colony, plunged into a civil war along sectarian lines in 2013 after the then-president, Francois Bozize, was ousted.

Touadera was first elected in 2016 after an interim period and re-elected in disputed circumstances in 2020.

Violence diminished in 2018 but rebel forces remain active.

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