Evidence links Russia to dam bomb. Musk satellite to boost Indonesia’s internet. Daesh ties to Ugandan massacre. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Hundreds dead in sinking as Greek coastguard under fire

A man and teenage boy hold each other through steel bars. The teenage boy is distressed and has a severely sunburnt face.
A Syrian teenager, rescued after a boat capsized off the coast of Greece, cries as he reunites with his brother, who travelled from the Netherlands.
Credit: Stelios Misinas / Reuters

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: A photograph released by the Ukrainian military this week showed a car filled with explosives beside a dam before it exploded earlier this month – adding to evidence that Russia was behind the bombing, which killed at least 52 people and forced 11,000 to evacuate.

The photograph, taken by a drone, showed a car that appeared to have landmines inside and was attached to a cable that ran towards an area occupied by Russian forces. The destruction of the dam, in Russian-held territory, caused catastrophic flooding and blocked Ukrainian troops from attempting to regain the area.

Russian president Vladimir Putin recently denied destroying the dam but said the flooding hindered Ukraine’s plans for an offensive, though he said the offensive would have failed.

The bombing is believed to have been caused by explosives placed inside the dam’s machine room, which was controlled by Russian troops. Ukraine’s military said the car may have been used to block Ukrainian access to the dam and to amplify the bombing.

Illia Zelinsky, a Ukrainian commander, told Associated Press this week: “It’s a regular practice, to mine [places] before a retreat.”

Ukrainian troops this week made small but costly advances as part of a counteroffensive in the country’s east and south. The Ukrainian military said it had regained eight villages and 113 square kilometres of territory.

“The biggest blow is yet to come,” Hanna Maliar, Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, wrote on the Telegram app.

Meanwhile, United States President Joe Biden this week described Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator”, saying Xi had been embarrassed by a Chinese spy balloon that blew off course above the US this year.

“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down … was he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told a fundraiser on Tuesday.

The comments came a day after the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, met Xi and senior Chinese officials in Beijing. The visit had been postponed from February due to the balloon incident.

Blinken and Xi said the talks helped to stabilise US–China ties. But there was little sign of a genuine thaw.

Blinken told reporters before leaving Beijing: “None of this gets resolved in one visit, one trip, one conversation. It’s a process.”

The neighbourhood

Indonesia: Internet usage has been soaring in recent years in Indonesia, which now has as many as 220 million internet users out of a population of 279 million. Indonesians are the world’s third-largest users of Facebook and made almost three billion visits to Google last month.

But the internet is still unavailable or difficult to access in many parts of the country, which has an estimated 18,000 islands.

To improve connectivity, the government and SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket company, this week launched the country’s largest telecommunication satellite. The 4.5 tonne satellite, which will sit above the eastern Papua region, was sent into orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida by a SpaceX rocket.

The $US540 million project is expected to improve access to education, health and public services. It is expected to provide internet connections to 94,000 schools and 50,000 government offices and hospitals.

Mahfud MD, Indonesia’s acting communications minister, said the satellite would boost internet access in disadvantaged and remote regions across the country.

“Satellite technology will accelerate internet access to villages in areas that cannot be reached by fibre optics in the next 10 years,” he said.

Democracy in retreat

Uganda: A rebel group linked to Daesh is believed to be behind an attack on a boarding school in Uganda that killed 42 people, including 37 students.

The massacre – one of the worst in Uganda’s history – occurred at night on Friday last week at the Lhubiriha Secondary School in Kasese, a town near the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The rebels initially shot at a boys’ dormitory and then set it alight before entering a girls’ dormitory, attacking victims with machetes and knives. The students were aged 12 to 18. Eight were kidnapped, though two were freed this week by the Ugandan military.

Authorities in Uganda believe the massacre was conducted by the Allied Democratic Forces, which is mostly based across the border in DRC and aims to overthrow Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986. The group formed in 1995, accusing Museveni of persecuting Uganda’s Muslim minority, and developed ties with Daesh in about 2016.

Police believe the group planned the school attack using information provided by locals. Twenty suspected collaborators of the rebels were arrested on Monday, including the school’s head teacher and director.

Julius Isingoma, a student who survived the attack, told the BBC this week he hid on top of a bunk bed and saw his fellow students being murdered. He said the attackers left the dormitory but returned because he passed out due to smoke inhalation and fell to the floor, causing a loud noise.

“I smeared the blood of my dead colleagues in my mouth, ears and on my head so that the attackers would think I was dead,” he said.

Spotlight: Greek boat tragedy

Greece’s coastguard is facing questions about its failure to assist a distressed fishing trawler packed with migrants that eventually sank, killing up to 800 people and marking one of the worst shipwrecks in modern Mediterranean history.

The coastguard has admitted it was in regular contact with the boat for hours before it capsized, but insisted the vessel was moving “at a steady course and speed” towards Italy. Greek officials insisted those aboard the boat said they did not want help.

But analysis of tracking data this week showed the boat did not move for at least seven hours before it sank off the southern coast of Greece about 2am on Wednesday last week. Local organisations that support migrants said those aboard had been demanding help for 15 hours. Alarm Phone, a hotline for refugees in distress, said it alerted Greek authorities at 5.53pm local time after being contacted by those onboard.

The Greek government has promised to conduct an investigation, saying it will be completed by next week. The European Commission said any investigation should be “thorough and transparent”.

The trawler left Libya on June 9, carrying people from Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Pakistan. As of Wednesday, 81 bodies of passengers had been recovered. There were 104 survivors.

Police in Pakistan this week said an initial investigation – based on interviews with survivors, grieving families and suspected Pakistani people-smugglers – found there were 800 people aboard the boat. The ship had a capacity of 300-350 people.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 24, 2023 as "Hundreds dead in sinking as Greek coastguard under fire".

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