Ukraine air defenses battle fresh wave of Russian attacks

KYIV (Reuters) - Russia launched another wave of attacks on Kyiv in the early hours of Tuesday and the city's air defense systems were shooting down incoming missiles, while air raid sirens blared in several other regions.

"A massive attack!" Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging app. "Do not leave shelters."

Falling debris hit several districts of the capital including the historic Podil and Pecherskyi neighbourhoods, and a 27-year-old woman was injured in southwestern Holosiivskyi district, officials said.

Russia has repeatedly attacked the Ukrainian capital in May using a combination of drones and missiles, mostly at night, in an apparent attempt to undermine Ukrainians' will to fight after more than 15 months of war.

Tuesday's strikes were Russia's 17th air assault on the capital this month and came after the city was attacked twice on Monday, including an unusual daytime strike.

In a rare acknowledgement of damage to a military "target", Ukraine said a runway was damaged and five aircraft were taken out of service on Monday in western Khmelnitskiy region.

Russian state-owned news agency RIA cited the defence ministry as saying more than one air base had been hit. There was no confirmation from Ukraine of damage to other air bases.

Ukrainian officials said most of the drones and missiles fired on Sunday and Monday had been shot down and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised U.S.-supplied Patriot anti-missile defences.

"When Patriots in the hands of Ukrainians ensure a 100% interception rate of any Russian missile, terror will be defeated," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address on Monday.


The air attacks come as Ukraine prepares a counter-offensive backed with Western weapons to try to drive Russian occupiers out of territory seized since Moscow launched what it calls its "special military operation" in February 2022.

"With these constant attacks, the enemy seeks to keep the civilian population in deep psychological tension," said Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv's military administration.

On the eastern frontlines, Russian paratroops and motorised units were replacing Wagner mercenary units in the eastern city of Bakhmut, according to Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for the eastern group of Ukrainian Forces.

Wagner began handing over positions to regular troops this week after declaring full control of Bakhmut following the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.

Moscow said it invaded Ukraine to "denazify" its neighbour and protect Russian speakers. Western opponents say the invasion is an imperialist land grab in which tens of thousands have been killed, millions uprooted and cities reduced to ruins.

Russia says it is open to resuming stalled peace talks with Kyiv and has welcomed mediation efforts from Brazil and China.

But a top aide to Zelenskiy said Kyiv's peace plan, envisaging the full withdrawal of Russian troops, was the only way to end the war.

"There cannot be a Brazilian peace plan, a Chinese peace plan, a South African peace plan when you are talking about the war in Ukraine," chief diplomatic adviser Ihor Zhovkva told Reuters in an interview late on Friday.


Another Zelenskiy aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, wrote on Twitter that any post-war settlement should include a demilitarised zone of 100-120 km (62-75 miles) inside Russia along the border.

The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said he believed Russia would not want to negotiate while it was still trying to win the war.

Ukraine's military said an attack on Odesa port had caused a fire and damaged infrastructure but did not specify whether the damage threatened grain exports.

Ukraine is an key global grain supplier and the port is vital for shipping. It is also one of three countries in a U.N.-brokered deal on the safe export of grain via the Black Sea.

Russia said on Monday the grain deal would no longer be operational unless a U.N. agreement with Moscow to overcome obstacles to Russian grain and fertiliser exports was fulfilled.

This month, Moscow reluctantly agreed to extend the grain deal until July 17.

(Additional reporting by Olena Harmash, Pavel Polityuk and Lidia Kelly; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Ron Popeski and Lincoln Feast)

Erdogan positioned to extend rule in Turkey runoff election

By Ece Toksabay and Daren Butler

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turks vote on Sunday in a presidential runoff that could see Tayyip Erdogan extend his rule into a third decade and intensify Turkey's increasingly authoritarian path, muscular foreign policy and unorthodox economic governance.

Erdogan, 69, defied opinion polls and came out comfortably ahead with an almost five-point lead over his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the first round on May 14. But he fell just short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff, in a race with profound consequences for Turkey itself and global geopolitics.

His unexpectedly strong showing amid a deep cost of living crisis, and a win in parliamentary elections for a coalition of his conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP), the nationalist MHP and others, buoyed the veteran campaigner who says a vote for him is a vote for stability.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, is the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, and leads the Republican People's Party (CHP) created by Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. His camp has struggled to regain momentum after the shock of trailing Erdogan in the first round.

The election will decide not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed after its currency plunged to one tenth of its value against the dollar in a decade, and the shape of its foreign policy, which has seen Turkey irk the West by cultivating ties with Russia and Gulf states.

The initial election showed larger-than-expected support for nationalism - a powerful force in Turkish politics which has been hardened by years of hostilities with Kurdish militants, an attempted coup in 2016 and the influx of millions of refugees from Syria since war began there in 2011.

Turkey is the world's largest host of refugees, with some 5 million migrants, of whom 3.3 million are Syrians, according to Interior Ministry data.

Third-place presidential candidate and hardline nationalist Sinan Ogan said he endorsed Erdogan based on a principle of "non-stop struggle (against) terrorism", referring to pro-Kurdish groups. He achieved 5.17% of the vote.

Another nationalist, Umit Ozdag, leader of the anti-immigrant Victory Party (ZP), announced a deal declaring ZP's support for Kilicdaroglu, after he said he would repatriate immigrants. The ZP won 2.2% of votes in this month's parliamentary election.

A closely-watched survey by pollster Konda for the runoff put support for Erdogan on 52.7% and Kilicdaroglu on 47.3% after distributing undecided voters. The survey was carried out on May 20-21, before Ogan and Ozdag revealed their endorsements.

Another key is how Turkey's Kurds, at about a fifth of the population, will vote.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) party endorsed Kilicdaroglu in the first round but, after his lurch to the right to win nationalist votes, it did not explicitly name him and urged voters rather to reject Erdogan's "one-man regime" in the runoff.


Polls will open at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT). By late on Sunday there should be a clear indication of the winner.

"Turkey has a longstanding democratic tradition and a longstanding nationalist tradition, and right now it's clearly the nationalist one that's winning out. Erdogan has fused religious and national pride, offering voters an aggressive anti-elitism," said Nicholas Danforth, Turkey historian and non-resident fellow at think tank ELIAMEP.

"More Erdogan means more Erdogan. People know who he is and what his vision for the country is, and it seems a lot of them approve."

Turkey's president has pulled out all the stops on the campaign trail as he battles to survive his toughest political test. He commands fierce loyalty from pious Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey and his political career has survived the failed coup and corruption scandals.

Erdogan has taken tight control of most of Turkey's institutions and sidelined liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2022, said Erdogan's government has set back Turkey's human rights record by decades.

However, if Turks do oust Erdogan, it will be largely because they saw their prosperity, equality and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation that topped 85% in October 2022.

Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant, has pledged to roll back much of Erdogan's sweeping changes to Turkish domestic, foreign and economic policies.

He would also revert to the parliamentary system of governance, from Erdogan's executive presidential system, narrowly passed in a referendum in 2017.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Nick Macfie)

Russia blames US, EU for escalating tensions in Kosovo

(Reuters) - Russia on Saturday blamed Kosovo, the United States and European Union for escalating tensions in the Balkans and said it was watching with concern after violent clashes between Kosovan police and protesters opposed to ethnic Albanian mayors.

The United States and allies on Friday rebuked Kosovo, saying the use of force to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas undermined efforts to improve troubled relations with neighbouring Serbia. NATO on Saturday urged Kosovo to dial down tensions.

The clashes led Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday to place the army on full combat alert and ordered units to move closer to the border.

"We decisively condemn Pristina's provocative steps, which have brought the situation close to the hot phase and directly threaten the security of the whole Balkans region," Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

"The responsibility for this lies fully with the United States and the European Union," she said, adding that rebukes of Kosovo by "Western mediators" had come too late.

Serbia and its traditional ally Russia do not recognise Kosovo's independence, and Moscow has blocked the country's bid to become a member of the United Nations. Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Conor Humphries)

Western Australia to compensate Aboriginal group for historic mining damage

MELBOURNE (Reuters) — Western Australia state has agreed to compensate an Aboriginal group for historic acts including issuing mining leases on their traditional lands, setting a precedent that is set to allow Indigenous groups a greater say in future developments.

The state has been strengthening its laws to protect Indigenous cultural heritage since iron ore mining operations by Rio Tinto three years ago destroyed historic rock shelters that showed human habitation dating back 46,000 years.

The Western Australian government said it had reached a "historic settlement" with the Tjiwarl people of the state's northern Goldfield's region for three native title compensation claims and had finalised an agreement for land use in future.

The state will pay the Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation A$25.5 million ($17.3 million) for acts such as approving roads and issuing leases that damaged or destroyed the group's legal rights over their traditional lands.

The new agreement sets out a greater say for the Tjiwarl on future developments by miners and others on issues including water management and mining or petroleum leases, and removes the need for future compensation claims. It also returns some land parcels to Tjiwarl and expands the group's conservation area.

Bellevue Gold and lithium developer Liontown Resources Ltd, which operate on Tjiwarl lands were involved in the compensation litigation.

BHP Group, which declined to comment, struck a land use agreement in 2018 for its nickel operations and was not part of the settlement. Its Mt Keith and Leinster nickel operations are on Tjiwarl lands.

Comment was being sought from Bellevue and Liontown.

"(The agreement) lays the foundation for a strong relationship between the WA Government and Tjiwarl Native Title holders into the future," the state government said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation was pleased to have reached the settlement, Chief Executive Greg Ryan-Gadsden said in a statement.

"We are hopeful it provides a foundation to guide other native title groups to reach similar outcomes."

Lawyer Malcolm O’Dell of Central Desert Native Title Services, who was involved in the negotiations, almost all the mining parties who may have had a liability as part of the original compensation claim have now settled that liability.

($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

Canada and Saudi Arabia normalize diplomatic relations after 2018 split

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada and Saudi Arabia have agreed to restore full diplomatic ties and appoint new ambassadors, both countries said on Wednesday, bringing to a close a 2018 dispute that damaged relations and trade.

The decision follows discussions held between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok in November last year, according to statements from Canada and Saudi Arabia.

The decision stems from "the desire for both sides to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect and common interests," the statements said.

The 2018 row pre-dated the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi later that year, which Canada and all Western countries condemned. It started when Canada's embassy in Riyadh published a tweet in Arabic urging the immediate release of women's rights activists held by Saudi Arabia.

That prompted Riyadh to recall its ambassador and bar the envoy from returning, and to institute a ban on new trade.

"Punitive trade measures will be lifted," said a Canadian government source familiar with the agreement who was not authorized to speak on the record. It is unclear what effect the dispute had on trade.

Saudi Arabia was the biggest export market for Canada in the region in 2021, according to official data, when they totaled C$2.2 billion ($1.65 billion). Imports were $2.4 billion. Almost all Canada's imports were oil and petrochemicals. More than 80% of exports to Saudi Arabia were transportation equipment.

"Empty chairs at the end of the day don't push our interests forward, and they don't push things like human rights forward," the source added.

The normalization comes as the Saudi prince, known as MbS, seeks to reassert Saudi Arabia as a regional power by using his place atop an energy giant in an oil-dependent world consumed by the war in Ukraine.

"Saudi Arabia is pivotal within its region. It's an important player," said Roland Paris, Trudeau's former foreign policy adviser and professor of international affairs at University of Ottawa. "It only makes sense to have ambassadors back in place in order to keep channels of communication open."

Canada will appoint Jean-Philippe Linteau as its new ambassador in Riyadh.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly has said "we need to have conversations with people we don't always agree with on everything in order to find global solutions to global problems," the source added.

($1 = 1.3372 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Nick Zieminski)

How could a U.S. debt ceiling default hit regular Americans?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - What could happen on Main Street if Washington's political showdown over the debt ceiling stopped the government from cutting checks that fund a quarter of the economy?

Americans could quickly notice painful blows dealt to their retirement accounts as stock markets swooned, and within days the lack of federal payments could weigh heavily on doctors' offices, retirees and workplaces throughout the country.

How would it start?

If the U.S. Congress and the White House failed to lift the self-imposed $31.4 trillion legal limit on federal debt, the Treasury Department could start missing payments on its obligations as soon as June 1, according to the department's chief, Janet Yellen.

At that point, Washington would be under severe pressure to keep making payments on U.S. bonds, which underpin the global financial system. Missing a payment would trigger a Wall Street meltdown of historic proportions. "It would be downright cataclysmic," said Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody's Analytics.

Even if the Treasury paid bondholders on time, as most observers expect it would try to, the political dysfunction driving the crisis would sow distrust in America's economic prospects, and the value of most everything owned by Americans, from their homes to their retirement portfolios, would drop. "Stock prices would fall, commercial real estate values, house prices. Everything would fall," Zandi said.

Interest rates would increase, making it harder to buy a home or car or borrow money to start a business.

Within days, the financial mayhem would be a principal force putting the economy on the path to recession, Zandi said.

Could it get worse?

The mass layoffs that normally come with recession could be weeks away following a default. More immediately, hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending could be withheld from the economy.

Doctors' offices, hospitals and insurance companies could be among the first to get stiffed. On June 1, they are due about $47 billion in payments through Medicare, America's public health insurance program for older Americans, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank that estimates Washington's day-to-day schedule of bills due.

Because Medicare funds about a fifth of U.S. healthcare, some doctors might not have money to pay staff and other bills. Hard decisions would have to be made on scheduling surgeries and other procedures without being able to pay for them. "The longer this goes on, the more disruptive it could be," said Tricia Neuman, a health policy expert at the KFF research group.

Who else could take a direct hit?

On June 2, about a quarter of the nation's retirees could check their bank accounts and see that $25 billion in expected Social Security payments were not deposited.

Payments could also stop going out to government contractors, including $1 billion due to defense contractors on June 2. On June 9, $4 billion in salaries could go unpaid for parts of the 2-million-strong federal workforce and schools expecting $1 billion in federal funding could have to do without. Some payments could go out with significant delays.

People would keep one eye on their bank accounts for missed deposits and the other on Wall Street, where concerns over the nation's creditworthiness could be savaging the value of people's life savings.

"One is days of delays for their Social Security check, and the other is a 20% drop in their 401(k)," said Shai Akabas, the director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone and Stephen Coates)

China's Xi calls for 'new socialist Tibet'

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called on Tibet to build a prosperous, harmonious and "new socialist Tibet" underpinned by unity and civility, days after Group of Seven (G7) nations expressed concern over human rights in the region.

In rare comments on Tibet, Xi said the region should step up efforts to promote high-quality development after overcoming "centuries" of extreme poverty, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Tibet's economy expanded to 216.5 billion yuan ($31 billion) by value last year, matching China's national growth rate of 3%. Despite Tibet's rapid economic development in recent years, China is often accused of stifling religious and cultural freedoms in a predominantly Buddhist region, an accusation which Beijing rejects.

In a communique released after a gathering of G7 leaders in Hiroshima over the weekend, the group said it will keep voicing its concerns about the human rights situation in China, including in Tibet, angering Beijing, which regards affairs related to the region as purely internal.

"People's happiness is the ultimate human right, while development holds the key to delivering better lives to the people," Xinhua cited Xi as saying in a congratulatory letter to a forum in Beijing on Tibet's development.

In 2021, Xi made a visit to Tibet - the first by a national leader in three decades. At the time, Xi called for respect for the religious beliefs of the people.

He also stressed governing religious affairs in accordance with the law and guiding Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to a socialist society.

Beijing says it "peacefully liberated" Tibet in 1951 after sending Chinese troops into the region. China says its intervention ended a "backward feudal serfdom", and denied wrongdoing.

In 1959, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled the region after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, with Beijing labelling him a dangerous separatist since.

($1 = 6.9121 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Sharon Singleton)

Warner Bros Discovery chief booed at Boston University graduation, videos show

Warner Bros Discovery Chief Executive David Zaslav was booed by students after taking the stage at Boston University to accept his honorary degree and give the 2023 commencement speech, amid an ongoing strike by film and television writers over pay, videos that surfaced on social media show.

The Hollywood Reporter first reported the incident on Sunday. Boston University did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Thousands of members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike on earlier in May after the union failed to reach a deal with Walt Disney Co, Netflix Inc and other media companies for higher pay and safeguards around the use of artificial intelligence in the streaming TV era.

Zaslav, who is an alumnus of the school, was repeatedly disrupted by angry chants and boos from Boston University students, including cries of “we don’t want you here” and “pay your writers”, the report said.

"I am grateful to my alma mater, Boston University, for inviting me to be part of today's commencement and for giving me an honorary degree, and, as I have often said, I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value," Zaslav said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

The Writers Guild of America had earlier said they would be picketing the ceremony when Boston University announced Zaslav would be giving the commencement speech at the graduation, the report added.

The writers' strike has disrupted production of late-night shows and some TV series, but some filming is continuing.

The last WGA strike in 2007 and 2008 lasted 100 days. The action cost the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion as productions shut down and out-of-work writers, actors and producers cut back spending.

(Reporting by Jyoti Narayan in Bengaluru; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Stephen Coates)

Yellen says June 1 is 'hard deadline' for raising debt ceiling

WASHINGTON — U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday said June 1 remains a "hard deadline" for raising the federal debt limit, with the odds quite low that the government will collect enough revenue to bridge to June 15, when more tax receipts are due.

Yellen, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" program, said there would be hard choices to make about payments to Americans if Congress failed to raise the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling before Treasury ran out of cash and was forced to default.

"I indicated in my last letter to Congress that we expect to be unable to pay all of our bills in early June and possibly as soon as June 1. And I will continue to update Congress, but I certainly haven't changed my assessment. So I think that that's a hard deadline," she said.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday called Republicans' latest offers in talks on lifting the government's debt ceiling "unacceptable," but said he would be willing to cut spending together with tax adjustments to reach a deal.

He said he would speak to top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy on his flight home from his meeting with leaders from the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations in Hiroshima, Japan.

Less than two weeks remain until June 1, when the Treasury Department has warned that the federal government could be unable to pay all its debts. That would trigger a default that could cause chaos in financial markets and spike interest rates.

Asked if Treasury could possibly reach June 15 before running out of cash, Yellen said there was some uncertainty about the exact so-called x-date, but she doubted the money would last through June 15.

"There's always uncertainty about tax receipts and spending, and so it's hard to be absolutely certain about this, but my assessment is that the odds of reaching June 15 while being able to pay all of our bills is quite low," she said.

Biden told reporters in Japan that he believed he had the authority to invoke the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to raise the debt ceiling without Congress, but said it was unclear that enough time remained to try to use that untested legal theory to avoid default.

Yellen said invoking the amendment "doesn't seem like something that could be appropriately used in these circumstances, given the legal uncertainty around it, and given the tight time frame we're on."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot)

Biden: Zelenskiy has promised Ukraine won't use F-16 planes to go into Russia

By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt

HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday said he had received a "flat assurance" from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he would not use Western-provided F-16 fighter jets to go into Russian territory.

Biden told reporters in Hiroshima, Japan, at the conclusion of a meeting of world leaders that F-16 warplanes could be used "wherever Russian troops are within Ukraine and the area".

He said it was "highly unlikely" the planes would be used in any Ukrainian offensive in the coming weeks, but that Ukrainian troops could need such weapons to defend themselves against Russian forces beyond their current reach.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) richest democracies on Sunday said they would not back down from supporting Ukraine, in a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he claimed to have taken the eastern city of Bakhmut, something Kyiv denied.

Biden announced a $375 million package of military aid, including artillery and armoured vehicles, for Ukraine during the final day of a three-day G7 summit.

Biden told G7 leaders during the summit Washington supports joint allied training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s warplanes, although Kyiv has not won specific, public commitments for delivery of the fighter jets.

Zelenskiy said on Sunday he was confident Kyiv would receive F-16 fighter jets from the West after months of lobbying for the planes.

Biden told reporters he discussed the issue with Zelenskiy during their private meeting. He said F-16s would not have helped Ukrainian forces with regard to Bakhmut, for instance, but could "make a big difference in terms of being able to deal with what is coming down the road".

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason in Japan and Andrea Shalal in Washignton; Editing by Barbara Lewis)

Russia's war on Ukraine latest: Ukraine says still controls part of Bakhmut

(Reuters) - Russia and Ukraine gave conflicting accounts of the situation in Bakhmut with Kyiv saying its forces still controlled part of the besieged eastern city, while Moscow congratulated the Wagner mercenary force and Russian troops for "liberating" it.


* Ukrainian forces have partly encircled Bakhmut along the flanks and still control a part of the city, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Sunday.

* Russia claimed on Saturday to have fully captured the destroyed city, which would mark an end to the longest and bloodiest battle of the 15-month war and Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated troops.

* U.S. President Joe Biden said the Russians had suffered over 100,000 casualties in Bakhmut.

* A Russian-installed official in Ukraine's southern Zaporizhzhia region said on Sunday that Kyiv had struck the Russian-held port city of Berdyansk with British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

* Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.


* Leaders of the world's richest democracies at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Hiroshima, Japan said on Sunday they would not back down from supporting Ukraine.

* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was confident that Kyiv would receive supplies of F-16 fighter jets from the West and Biden said he had received a "flat assurance" from Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not use them to go into Russian territory.

* Zelenskiy played down the fact he did not meet Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on the sidelines of the G7 summit and said it was likely because of scheduling.


* INSIGHT-Communities torn as Ukraine turns its back on Moscow-linked church.

* INSIGHT-How Russians end up in a far-right militia fighting in Ukraine.

* INSIGHT-Ukraine farms lose workers to war, complicating a tough harvest

* EXPLAINER-Why the EU is restricting grain imports from Ukraine

(Compiled by Reuters editors; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Animal health body urges bird flu vaccination to avoid pandemic

By Sybille de La Hamaide

PARIS (Reuters) - Governments should consider vaccinating birds against bird flu to avoid the virus - which has already killed hundreds of millions of birds and infected mammals worldwide - turning into a new pandemic, the head of the World Animal Health Organisation (WOAH) said.

The severity of the current outbreak of avian influenza, commonly called bird flu, and the economic and personal damage it has caused, has led governments to reconsider vaccinating poultry. However, some, like the United States, remain reluctant mainly because of the trade curbs this would entail.

"We are coming out of a COVID crisis where every country realised the hypothesis of a pandemic was real," WOAH Director General Monique Eloit told Reuters in an interview.

"Since almost every country that does international trade has now been infected, maybe it's time to discuss vaccination, in addition to systematic culling which remains the main tool (to control the disease)," she said.

The WOAH is holding a five-day general session from Sunday, and will be focus on global control of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI.

A WOAH survey showed only 25% of its member states would accept imports of products from poultry vaccinated against HPAI.

The European Union's 27 member states agreed last year to implement a bird flu vaccine strategy. France is set to be the first one, starting with ducks in the autumn.

"If a bloc like the EU, which is a large exporter, starts moving in that direction, it will have a ricochet impact," Eloit said.

The U.S. department of Agriculture (USDA) told Reuters on Friday that "in the interest of leaving no stone unturned in the fight against HPAI, USDA continues to research vaccine options that can protect poultry from this persistent threat".

However, it still considers biosecurity measures to be the most effective tool for mitigating the virus in commercial flocks, it said in emailed answers.

The risk to humans from bird flu remains low but countries must prepare for any change in the status quo, the World Health Organization has said.

Eloit said vaccination should focus on free-range poultry, mainly ducks, since bird flu is transmitted by infected migrating wild birds. Vaccinating broilers, which account for about 60% of global poultry output, makes less sense, she said.

The H5N1 strain that has been prevalent in the current HPAI outbreak has been detected in a larger number of mammals and killed thousands of them, including sea lions, foxes, otters and cats.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Biden, House Speaker McCarthy could speak Sunday on debt limit

By Trevor Hunnicutt

HIROSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy could speak as soon as Sunday in talks over raising the federal $31.4 trillion debt ceiling.

Biden, who is traveling in Japan for the Group of Seven (G7) summit, sought the call after his negotiating team briefed him on the status of talks that broke up on Friday with no signs of progress, according to a White House official.

There are less than two weeks before June 1, when the U.S. Treasury Department has warned that the federal government could be unable to pay all its debts. That would trigger a default that could cause chaos in financial markets and spike interest rates.

Officials did not meet on Saturday, and they announced no progress from their prior meetings on Friday or any plan to talk again. Instead, both sides cast the other's proposals as too extreme.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted in a statement that Biden and McCarthy, the speaker of the House of Representatives, had agreed that any budget agreement would need to be bipartisan and accused Republicans of offering proposals too far to the right to pass Congress.

Late Saturday afternoon, McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol that he did not think talks could move forward until Biden was back in the country from the G7 meeting. He accused Democrats of taking a position that was too extreme toward the left.

White House officials said they were expecting the call between Biden and McCarthy would take place on Sunday morning, Washington time, after the president is scheduled to hold a press conference following the G7 meetings in Japan.

Biden will be headed back to Washington on Sunday after cutting his trip to Asia short to focus on the debt limit talks.

McCarthy's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Republican-led House last month passed legislation would cut a wide swath of government spending by 8% next year. Democrats say that would force average cuts of at least 22% on programs like education and law enforcement, a figure top Republicans have not disputed.

Republicans hold a slim majority of seats in the House and Biden's fellow Democrats have narrow control of the Senate, so no deal can pass without bipartisan support.

A source familiar with the negotiations said Republicans had proposed an increase in defense spending, while cutting overall spending. The source also said House Republicans want to extend tax cuts passed under former President Donald Trump, which would add $3.5 trillion to the federal debt.

The source said the Biden administration had proposed keeping non-defense discretionary spending flat for the next year, which would cut spending when adjustments are made for inflation.

U.S. Representative Patrick McHenry, a Republican negotiator, had said Republicans leaders were "going to huddle as a team and assess" where things stood.

Republicans are pushing for sharp spending cuts in many domestic programs in exchange for the increase in the government's self-imposed borrowing limit, which is needed regularly to cover costs of spending and tax cuts previously approved by lawmakers.

Congressional Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling three times, with no budget cut pre-conditions, when Republican President Donald Trump was in the White House.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Christian Schmollinger)

Sandy Hook families seek to reverse payments Alex Jones made to wife

By Dietrich Knauth

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The families of Sandy Hook shooting victims said they had a strong case to reverse payments received by Alex Jones' wife and others in his family to help satisfy $1.5 billion in judgments they won against the bankrupt right wing conspiracy theorist over his lies about the 2012 elementary school massacre.

Jones has engaged in "financial gymnastics" to hide his assets and avoid paying the judgments, spreading money to friends, family members, and shell companies, David Zensky, a lawyer for the families, said on Friday during a bankruptcy court hearing in Houston.

The families of the children killed by a gunman in Newtown, Connecticut, have a "very strong case" to claw back certain payments to Jones' family, including a $1 million payment from Jones to his wife, Zensky said.

U.S. bankruptcy law allows debtors or their creditors to unwind asset transfers that were made before bankruptcy in an attempt to avoid paying debts.

The Sandy Hook families have investigated $62 million that Jones has transferred out of his company, Free Speech Systems (FSS), and they accuse Jones of beginning to shift more money to friends and family members as the defamation cases neared trial.

Jones' attorney, Vickie Driver, said Jones was not opposed to reversing payments if they were proven to be improper, but he would prefer to appoint an independent expert for that work.

"You can imagine that if someone was to sue their wife over transfers, that's a little hard in the home," Driver said.

The families have accused Jones and FSS of profiting off lies about the shooting for years and sued him for defamation. They have won about $1.5 billion in two trials so far. Jones and his company filed for bankruptcy protection in December and July of last year.

Jones had claimed the killing of 20 students and six staff members in the December 2012 shooting was staged with actors as part of a government plot to seize Americans' guns. Jones has since acknowledged the shooting occurred.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez, who is overseeing the bankruptcies, said Jones and the Sandy Hook families should make one last effort to reach a settlement.

"It's time for everyone to put their cards on the table," said Lopez, who set a July 21 deadline for mediation.

In addition to clawing back payments to insiders, the Sandy Hook families are also seeking a ruling that Jones cannot use bankruptcy to escape the defamation verdicts.

(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Grant McCool)

Griner greeted by Kamala Harris in return to court

By Rory Carroll

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Brittney Griner returned to the WNBA hardwood on Friday night in Los Angeles to cheers from a raucous crowd that included U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

The mood was celebratory as Griner, who was released from a Russian penal colony in a high profile prisoner exchange with the U.S. late last year, was embraced by Harris on the court before the game.

Griner looked emotional when she was introduced and despite her Phoenix Mercury being the visiting team, saw the crowd erupt when she hit a 17-foot jumper on her first attempt of the contest.

"It felt good, it felt real good," Griner said of making the shot after missing all of last season while detained in Russia.

"If felt like the last time I played."

Outside the arena, Nike billboards displayed a photo of Griner with the caption "Basketball is Home."

Griner was taken into custody at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and subsequently convicted of narcotics possession and trafficking after she was found to have been carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.

She said she was prescribed medical cannabis in the United States for a chronic injury and never intended to break the law. U.S. officials said she was wrongly detained and was being used as a political pawn amid increasingly strained relations with Moscow.

Griner, 32, kicked off her 10th season with the Mercury on Friday after playing in a pre-season game one week ago.

Tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King and Lakers legend Magic Johnson were among others on hand for the game, which the Sparks won 94-71.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)