UN Chief Appeals for Peace in the New Year

As the old year gives way to the new, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has issued a heartfelt appeal to the citizens of the world to put peace at the center of their words and actions in 2023.

Every new year is a moment of rebirth and hope. It is a time for reflection and for resolve to make things better in the year to come than they were in the year gone by.

In reviewing the events of 2022, U.N. chief Antonio Guterres considered the difficulties and the heartbreak of the past year.  In his New Year’s message, he said millions of people around the world have literally swept out the ashes of the old year.

He said they are preparing for a new dawn and a brighter day in the year ahead.

“From Ukraine to Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond, people left the ruins of their homes and lives in search of something better.  Around the world, one hundred million people were on the move, fleeing wars, wildfires, droughts, poverty, and hunger.  In 2023, we need peace, now more than ever,” said Guterres.

He said conflicts can end and peace can be assured through dialogue.  He said a more sustainable world can be achieved by making peace with nature and climate.  He appeals for peace in the home, so women and girls can live in dignity and safety.

Guterres said peace on the streets and communities, peace in places of worship, and freedom from hate speech and abuse online depend upon the full protection of human rights.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Tuerk echoes those sentiments. He said the shape of the New Year will be determined by the individual and collective actions people take.

His hope for the next year, he said, is for people to lead their lives with kindness, empathy, unity, and protection of human rights.

“We must ensure women’s rights, for example, are respected at home and in public, that women and girls have full equality and freedom from discrimination.  We must open our children’s eyes to the mistakes of the past, we can inspire them to write a story of hope and unity and instill in them a commitment to creating a better world,” said Guterres.

The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be celebrated in 2023.  The core message inherent in this document – that there cannot be progress and peace without human rights – is as relevant now as it was in 1948.

U.N. rights chief Tuerk appeals to all nations and peoples to strive to make the world more dignified, to create a world where everyone’s rights are respected.

Despite War, Some Ukrainian Families Reunite for New Year

For millions of Ukrainians, many of them under Russian bombardment and grappling with power and water shortages, New Year’s celebrations will be muted as Russia’s 10-month war rumbles on with no end in sight.

But for some families, it is a chance to reunite, however briefly, after months apart.

At Kyiv’s central railway station on Saturday morning, Mykyta, still in his uniform, gripped a bouquet of pink roses tightly as he waited on platform 9 for his wife Valeriia to arrive from Poland. He hadn’t seen her in six months.

“It actually was really tough, you know, to wait so long,” he told The Associated Press after hugging and kissing Valeriia.

Nearby, another soldier, Vasyl Khomko, 42, joyously met his daughter Yana and wife Galyna who have been living in Slovakia because of the war, but they returned to Kyiv to spend New Year’s Eve together.

The mood contrasted starkly with that from 10 months ago when families were torn apart by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Back in February, fathers, husbands and sons had to stay behind as their wives, mothers and daughters boarded trains with small children seeking safety outside the country. Scenes of tearful goodbyes seared television screens and front pages of newspapers across the world.

But on the last day of the year marked by the brutal war, many returned to the capital to spend New Year’s Eve with their loved ones.

As Russian attacks continue to target power supplies leaving millions without electricity, no big celebrations are expected, and a curfew will be in place as the clock rings in the new year. But for most Ukrainians being together with their families is already a luxury.

Valeriia first sought refuge from the conflict in Spain but later moved to Poland. Asked what their New Year’s Eve plans were, she answered simply: “Just to be together.”

The couple declined not to share their family name for security reasons as Mykyta has been fighting on the front lines in both southern and eastern Ukraine.

On platform 8, another young couple reunited. University student Arseniia Kolomiiets, 23, has been living in Italy. Despite longing to see her boyfriend Daniel Liashchenko in Kyiv, Kolomiiets was scared of Russian missiles and drone attacks.

“He was like, ‘Please come! Please come! Please come!’” she recalled. “I decided that (being) scared is one part but being with beloved ones on the holidays is the most important part. So, I overcome my fear and here I am now.”

Although they have no electricity at home, Liashchenko said they were looking forward to welcoming 2023 together with his family and their cat.

In an attempt to ensure residents have light during their celebrations, the regional government of Ukraine’s southwestern Odesa province is planning to limit the work of the most energy-intensive industries on Dec. 31 and Jan 1.

Regional head Maksym Marchenko made the announcement on Friday via Telegram and said that power engineers in the province had used all means possible to “eliminate the consequences” of Russia’s barrage of attacks on Ukraine on Thursday and reinstate the power supply.

In Kyiv, recent attacks have left many on edge, unsure about whether the skies will be peaceful on the last day of the year.

“We are hoping there will be no surprises today,” said Natalya Kontonenko who had traveled from Finland. It was the first time she had seen her brother Serhii Kontonenko since the full-scale invasion began on February 24. Serhii and other relatives traveled from Mykolaiv to Kyiv to meet Natalya.

“We are not concerned about the electricity, because we are together and that I think is the most important,” he said.

Cristiano Ronaldo Makes Big-Money Move to Saudi Arabian Club

Cristiano Ronaldo completed a lucrative move to Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr on Friday in a deal that is a landmark moment for Middle Eastern soccer but will see one of Europe’s biggest stars disappear from the sport’s elite stage.

Al Nassr posted a picture on social media of the five-time Ballon d’Or holding up the team’s jersey after Ronaldo signed a deal until June 2025, with the club hailing the move as “history in the making.”

“This is a signing that will not only inspire our club to achieve even greater success but inspire our league, our nation and future generations, boys and girls to be the best version of themselves,” the club wrote.

It also gives the 37-year-old Ronaldo a massive payday in what could be the final contract of his career. Media reports have claimed the Portugal star could be earning up to $200 million a year from the deal, which would make him the highest-paid soccer player in history.

Ronaldo said in a statement that he was “eager to experience a new football league in a different country.”

“I am fortunate that I have won everything I set out to win in European football and feel now that this is the right moment to share my experience in Asia,” the forward added.

While the signing is a massive boost for Middle Eastern soccer, it will also fuel the debate about Saudi Arabia using so-called “sportswashing” to boost the country’s image internationally. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund owns Premier League team Newcastle, and the country is considering a bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

Ronaldo had been a free agent after his contract was terminated by Manchester United following an explosive TV interview in which he criticized manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s owners after having been repeatedly benched and even temporarily suspended by the club.

He is also coming off a disappointing World Cup where he was benched in the knockout rounds and left the field in tears after Portugal lost in the quarterfinals to Morocco.

And after a storied career that saw him win the Champions League with both United and Real Madrid, along with league and cup titles in England, Spain and Italy, he will now seemingly see out the last years of his career far away from the spotlight of top European soccer.

While Saudi Arabia earned its biggest international soccer win ever at the World Cup in Qatar last month when it beat eventual champion Argentina in its first group-stage game, the domestic league has few other stars and is not watched by a major international audience.

Highlights from the Life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the first pope in 600 years to resign, has died. Below are highlights from his life.

April 16, 1927: Born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in Marktl am Inn, Germany, youngest of three children to Joseph and Maria Ratzinger.

1943-45: Assistant in Germany’s anti-aircraft defense and infantry soldier; imprisoned in 1945 in American POW camp in Neu-Ulm.

June 29, 1951: Ordained along with brother Georg Ratzinger in Freising.

1969-77: Professor at University of Regensburg.

March 25, 1977: Named archbishop of Munich and Freising.

June 27, 1977: Made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.

Nov. 25, 1981: Named prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Pope John Paul II; takes up post in March 1982.

April 2, 2005: Pope John Paul II dies.

April 8, 2005: As dean of the College of Cardinals, Ratzinger presides over John Paul’s funeral.

April 19, 2005: Elected 265th pope in one of the fastest conclaves in history. Choosing name Benedict XVI, he says he is merely a “simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.”

April 24, 2005: Installed as pope with Mass.

Aug. 18-21, 2005: First foreign trip, to World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.

Sept. 24, 2005: Meets with dissident theologian Hans Kung at papal summer residence.

Dec. 25, 2005: First encyclical, God is Love, signed. Released Jan. 25, 2006.

May 28, 2006: During trip to Poland, visits Auschwitz concentration camp.

Sept. 12, 2006: During visit to Germany, delivers speech at University of Regensburg that enrages Muslims; quoting a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”

April 16, 2007: First volume of Jesus of Nazareth completed on his 80th birthday. Released April 13.

May 27, 2007: Signs letter to China’s Catholics, urging them to unite under his authority. Published June 30.

July 7, 2007: Removes restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass in major gesture to traditional Catholics.

April 20, 2008: During visit to United States, prays for victims of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks at ground zero.

July 19, 2008: During visit to Australia for World Youth Day, meets with victims of priestly sex abuse and during a Mass apologizes for their suffering.

Jan. 21, 2009: Lifts excommunication of Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson and three other ultra-traditionalist bishops of Society of St. Pius X, igniting outrage. Decree released Jan. 24.

March 10, 2009: Acknowledges Vatican mistakes in Williamson affair, says Vatican must make better use of Internet to prevent future controversies. Letter released March 12.

March 17, 2009: En route to Cameroon, tells reporters aboard papal plane that condoms are not the solution to AIDS and can make problem worse, prompting widespread criticism.

May 11, 2009: During visit to the Holy Land, lays wreath at Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, says Holocaust victims “lost their lives but they will never lose their names.”

June 29, 2009: Third encyclical, Charity in Truth, signed. Released July 7, 2009.

July 17, 2009: Breaks right wrist in late-night fall at summer vacation home.

Oct. 20, 2009: Vatican announces pope is making it easier for Anglicans to convert en masse to Catholicism.

March 19, 2010: Rebukes Irish bishops for “grave errors of judgment” in handling clerical sex abuse but makes no mention of Vatican responsibility in letter to Irish faithful. Released March 20.

May 1, 2010: Orders major overhaul of Legion of Christ after Vatican investigation determines founder was a fraud.

Sept. 16-19, 2010: During first state visit by a pope to Britain, meets with Queen Elizabeth II, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and beatifies Anglican convert John Henry Newman.

Nov. 20, 2010: Revises controversial condom-AIDS comments in book and says male prostitutes who use condoms may be taking a first step toward a more responsible sexuality.

March 2, 2011: Issues sweeping exoneration of Jews for the death of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth-Part II. Book released March 10.

May 1, 2011: Beatifies John Paul II before 1.5 million people.

June 28, 2011: Tweets for the first time, announcing launch of Vatican news information portal.

Oct. 6, 2012: Pope’s former butler is convicted on charges he stole the pontiff’s private letters and leaked them to a journalist.

Feb. 11, 2013: Reveals in Latin that he is stepping down Feb. 28 during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators.

Feb. 28, 2013: Departs Vatican City in a helicopter bound for Castel Gandolfo, where he begins his final journey as a “simple pilgrim.”

March 23, 2013: Receives Pope Francis for lunch at Castel Gandolfo; the two men pray side by side and Francis insists “We are brothers.”

April 28, 2014: Joins Francis on altar to canonize St. John Paul II and St. John XXIII, the first time a reigning and retired pope celebrate Mass together.

April 11, 2019: In an essay, blames the clergy sex abuse scandal on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and an absence of God.

January 2020: Contributes to a book reaffirming celibacy for priests at a time when Francis was considering an exception, sparking calls for rules governing future “popes emeritus.”

June 18, 2020: Travels to Germany to visit his ailing brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, who dies two weeks later, on July 1.

July 16, 2021: Has his signature relaxation of restrictions on celebration of old Latin Mass reversed by Pope Francis.

Jan. 21, 2022: Is faulted for his handling of four sex abuse cases while bishop of Munich in the 1970s and 1980s by independent report commissioned by German church.

Feb. 8, 2022: Asks forgiveness for any “grievous faults” in handling of Munich priests, but denies personal or specific wrongdoing.

Dec. 28, 2022: Pope Francis announces Benedict is “very ill,” asks for special prayers and visits him at his home.

Dec. 31, 2022: Benedict dies at 9:34 a.m. at his home in the Vatican Gardens at age 95.

Nuremberg Prosecutor to Receive Congressional Gold Medal

Congress has signed off on the Congressional Gold Medal for the chief prosecutor in what was regarded as “the biggest murder trial in history.”

South Floridian Benjamin Ferencz was 27 years old in 1948 when he had secured enough evidence to prosecute 22 members of Nazi killing squads responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Jewish, Roma, Soviet, and others in shooting massacres in occupied Soviet territory.

“Mr. Ferencz is a hero of the Jewish community who has dedicated decades of his life to combatting antisemitism, prosecuting those who act on their hatred, and keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat who represents most of Palm Beach County and co-led the bipartisan effort. “It is a privilege to recognize his remarkable, lifelong commitment to justice, peace, and human dignity with the Congressional Gold Medal — Congress’s highest expression of honor.”

The award was included in the $1.66 trillion government funding bill that provides assistance for victims of natural disasters, funding for those struggling with drug addiction, and sends emergency aid to Ukraine, approved hours before a midnight deadline Friday to avoid a partial shutdown of federal agencies.

Ferencz was born on March 11, 1920, in Transylvania, in what is now Hungary. That same year his family fled to “Hell’s Kitchen” on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to avoid the persecution of Hungarian Jews by Romania.

“The neighborhood was known for having one of the highest crime rates in America. I decided early on that if my choices were to either be a crook or be a lawyer, I would choose law,” he once said in a newspaper interview.

In 1940 he received a scholarship to Harvard Law School. With the onset of World War II, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1943, eventually transferring to a newly created War Crimes Branch of the Army to gather evidence that could be used in court.

Ferencz documented Nazi Germany’s crimes and visited concentration camps as they were liberated.

In 1946, the United States government recruited him to work on the Nuremberg tribunals.

In his role as a war crimes investigator, Ferencz visited concentration camps as they were liberated to gather evidence of atrocities carried out by the Nazis. They kept death registries, and Ferencz was assigned to collect these registries which contained victims’ names.

He became the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg’s Einsatzgruppen Trial, where he tried Nazi defendants for perpetrating the worst crimes against humanity. Einsatzgruppen was the ninth of 12 trials held by the U.S. government in occupied Germany.

“The defendants were commanders and officers of special SS groups known as Einsatzgruppen-established for the specific purpose of massacring human beings because they were Jews, or because they were for some other reason regarded as inferior peoples,” he said in his opening remarks presented before the trial.

The court found 20 defendants guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and two guilty of a lesser charge. Fourteen defendants were sentenced to death, more than in any other of the Nuremberg proceedings.

In the decades since the Nuremberg Trials, Ferencz has dedicated his life to ending war and promoting justice.

“I fought for compensation for victims and survivors of the Holocaust, the return of stolen assets, and other forms of restitution for those who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis,” he said in a newspaper interview earlier this year.

And since the 1970s, he contributed to the establishment of the International Criminal Court and to the recognition of aggression as an international crime.

In April, right after his 102nd birthday, in an interview with the Florida Jewish Journal, Ferencz said when he publicly presents his life story, he always tells his audience, “There are three important lessons I wish to transmit: One, never give up, Two, never give up, and three, never give up.”

Images the Delray Beach resident saw during the Holocaust are still vivid, he told the newspaper.

“Camps like Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and Dachau are vividly imprinted in my mind’s eye. Even today, when I close my eyes, I witness a deadly vision I can never forget,” he said.

He was honored by Florida’s Palm Beach County commissioners last year, who declared Nov. 5, 2021, as “Benjamin Ferencz Law Not War Day,” a shout-out to his motto: “Law. Not War.”

And in April, 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis awarded him the governor’s medal of freedom.

Social Media Personality Detained in Romania on Trafficking, Rape Charges

Romanian authorities have arrested divisive social media personality Andrew Tate on suspicion of human trafficking and rape.

Prosecutors in Bucharest asked a court Friday to extend by 30 days Tate’s detention.


Tate, a former professional kickboxer, was detained along with his brother and two other men.  


Tate did not comment but his attorney confirmed he had been detained.


Tate has been barred from some media platforms because of his misogynistic comments and hate speech.  


Reuters reports that prosecutors say they found six sexually exploited women when they detained the four men.   


Tate recently was involved in an online exchange with 19-year-old environmentalist Greta Thunberg, after he said he owned 33 cars.  



Vivienne Westwood, Britain’s Provocative Dame of Fashion, Dies at 81

As the person who dressed the Sex Pistols, Vivienne Westwood, who died Thursday at 81, was synonymous with 1970s punk rock, a rebelliousness that remained the hallmark of an unapologetically political designer who became one of British fashion’s biggest names.

“Vivienne Westwood died today, peacefully and surrounded by her family, in Clapham, South London. The world needs people like Vivienne to make a change for the better,” her fashion house said on Twitter.

Climate change, pollution and her support for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were all fodder for protest T-shirts or banners carried by her models on the runway.

She dressed up as then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for a magazine cover in 1989 and drove a white tank near the country home of a later British leader, David Cameron, to protest fracking.

The rebel was inducted into Britain’s establishment in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth, who awarded her the Order of the British Empire medal. But, ever keen to shock, Westwood turned up at Buckingham Palace without underwear — a fact she proved to photographers by a revealing twirl of her skirt.

“The only reason I am in fashion is to destroy the word ‘conformity,'” Westwood said in her 2014 biography. “Nothing is interesting to me unless it’s got that element.”

Instantly recognizable with her orange or white hair, Westwood first made a name for herself in punk fashion in 1970s London, dressing the punk rock band that defined the genre.

Together with the Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, she defied the hippie trends of the time to sell rock ‘n’ roll-inspired clothing.

They moved on to torn outfits adorned with chains as well as latex and fetish pieces that they sold at their shop in London’s King’s Road variously called “Let It Rock,” “Sex” and “Seditionaries,” among other names.

They used prints of swastikas, naked breasts and, perhaps most well-known, an image of the queen with a safety pin through her lips. Favorite items included sleeveless black T-shirts, studded, with zips, safety pins or bleached chicken bones.

“There was no punk before me and Malcolm,” Westwood said in the biography. “And the other thing you should know about punk too: it was a total blast.”

‘Buy less’

Born Vivienne Isabel Swire on April 8, 1941, in the English Midlands town of Glossop, Westwood grew up at a time of rationing during and after World War II.

A recycling mentality pervaded her work, and she repeatedly told fashionistas to “choose well” and “buy less.” From the late 1960s, she lived in a small flat in south London for some 30 years and cycled to work.

When she was a teenager, her parents, a greengrocer and a cotton weaver, moved the family to north London where she studied jewelry-making and silversmithing before retraining as a teacher.

While she taught at a primary school, she met her first husband, Derek Westwood, marrying him in a homemade dress. Their son, Ben, was born in 1963, and the couple divorced in 1966.

Now a single mother, Westwood was selling jewelry on London’s Portobello Road when she met art student McLaren, who would go on to be her partner romantically and professionally. They had a son, Joe Corre, co-founder of lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.

After the Sex Pistols split, the two held their first catwalk show in 1981, presenting a “new romantic” look of African-style patterns, buccaneer trousers and sashes.

Westwood, by then in her 40s, began to slowly forge her own path in fashion, eventually separating from McLaren in the early 1980s.

Often looking to history, her influential designs have included corsets, Harris Tweed suits and taffeta ballgowns.

Her 1985 “Mini-Crini” line introduced her short puffed skirt and a more fitted silhouette. Her sky-high platform shoes garnered worldwide attention in 1993 when model Naomi Campbell stumbled on the catwalk in a pair.

“My clothes have a story. They have an identity. They have character and a purpose,” Westwood said.

“That’s why they become classics. Because they keep on telling a story. They are still telling it.”

The Westwood brand flourished in the 1990s, with fashionistas flocking to her runway shows in Paris, and stores opening around the world selling her lines, accessories and perfumes.

She met her second husband, Andreas Kronthaler, teaching fashion in Vienna. They married in 1993, and he later became her creative partner.

Westwood used her public profile to champion issues including nuclear disarmament and to protest anti-terrorism laws and government spending policies that hit the poor. She held a large “climate revolution” banner at the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony in London, and frequently turned her models into catwalk eco-warriors.

“I’ve always had a political agenda,” Westwood told L’Officiel fashion magazine in 2018.

“I’ve used fashion to challenge the status quo.”

Ukraine Says Most Missiles Shot Down in Massive Russian Attack

A new wave of Russian missile strikes pounded cities throughout Ukraine on Thursday, damaging power stations and other critical infrastructure during freezing winter weather.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said a number of energy facilities were damaged and that “Russia is trying to deprive Ukrainians of light before the new year.”

However, the Ukrainian military said it had managed to neutralize most of the missiles, avoiding much larger damage.

“According to preliminary data, 69 missiles were launched in total. Fifty-four enemy cruise missiles were shot down,” said Ukraine’s top military general, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy.

“The enemy is attacking Ukraine from various directions with air- and sea-based cruise missiles from strategic aircraft and ships,” Ukrainian air defense said on social media, describing the scope of the attack as massive.

‘Senseless barbarism’

Officials earlier said more than 120 missiles were fired, according to Reuters. In addition to the cruise missiles, Ukraine’s military said anti-aircraft and S-300 ADMS (air defense missile system) were used.

Russia has repeatedly used missiles to target Ukrainian cities, including strikes that have destroyed critical infrastructure sites, though it denies targeting civilians.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the attacks “senseless barbarism.”

“These are the only words that come to mind seeing Russia launch another missile barrage at peaceful Ukrainian cities ahead of New Year,” he said.

Several people were wounded in the capital, as rescuers continued search-and-rescue operations.

“At the moment, there are three victims in Kyiv, including a 14-year-old girl. Everyone was hospitalized,” said Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

He warned of potential electricity cuts and called on residents to stock up on water and to charge their electronic devices.

Kharkiv, other cities attacked

Russian kamikaze drones targeted infrastructure in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, where there were numerous explosions throughout the city.

“The Russian occupiers once again struck the energy infrastructure of Kharkiv, using 13 Iranian Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicles in the attack. Ukrainian defense shot down 11 of these drones,” the Ukraine General Staff said.

Local officials said the attacks killed at least two people around Kharkiv.

The strikes also targeted Zaporizhzhia and the Dnipropetrovsk regions, but most of them were downed by the Ukrainian military, the General Staff said, and five drones were shot down around the Dnipropetrovsk region.

Additional strikes were aimed at the Black Sea port city of Odesa and Lviv, where Russian attacks are rare, which was left without power. There were power cuts in the Odesa and Dnipropetrovsk regions to reduce potential damage to the power infrastructure.

Andriy Sadovyi, mayor of Lviv, said the attack left his city near the Polish border about 90% without electricity.

Shelling on the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia damaged electricity lines and gas pipelines and damaged houses.

Russia has attacked Ukrainian power and water supplies almost weekly since October while its ground forces struggle to hold ground and advance.

As heavy fighting in the Donbas region continued without significant advances on either side, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces rained scores of missile and rocket salvos along the whole front line in the east, while attempting to push ahead with their stalemated offensive in the Bakhmut and Avdiyivka areas of Donetsk.

Ukraine leader promotes peace plan

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been advocating a 10-point peace plan that calls for Russia to recognize Ukraine’s territory and withdraw its troops.

The Kremlin reiterated its dismissal of the proposal Wednesday, doubling down on its stance that Ukraine must accept the annexation Russia claimed in September after referendums rejected by Ukraine and most other nations as shams. The four Ukrainian regions include Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

“There can be no peace plan for Ukraine that does not take into account today’s realities regarding Russian territory, with the entry of four regions into Russia,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. “Plans that do not take these realities into account cannot be peaceful.”

After the latest Russian air strikes, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, “There can be no ‘neutrality’ in the face of such mass war crimes. Pretending to be ‘neutral’ equals taking Russia’s side.”

Some material for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Pele or Maradona? Debate Will Continue Raging Over Who Was Greater

Before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo came along, the enduring debate in soccer about who was the greatest player centered on two men: Pele and Diego Maradona.

It was an argument that played out for years on terraces and in bars, on radio and on television.

Brazil’s Pele, a prolific goal scorer who died aged 82 on Thursday in Sao Paulo, won the World Cup an unprecedented three times as a player in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and put the small town of Santos on the map before conquering the United States with the New York Cosmos.

Maradona, who died at the age of 60 in 2020, guided Argentina to the World Cup in 1986 with perhaps the most influential performance ever at a major tournament and lifted Napoli to unparalleled heights in Italy and Europe.

The argument about whose legacy was greater so divided the football world that when Maradona was voted the player of the 20th century in a FIFA internet poll, there was widespread outrage, with many griping that Pele’s earlier career put him at a disadvantage with younger fans.

FIFA held another poll voted on by its own “football family,” won by Pele, allowing the pair to share the glory.

“Here Pele, the striker whose territory was the penalty box, a player who scored goals for fun and became Minister of Sport, more your quiet type of person,” FIFA wrote at the time.

“There Maradona, possibly the most complete player ever, playmaker and goal-scorer, technically brilliant, unpredictable and impulsive, both on and off the field, a player plagued by a variety of problems for many years.”

The cases made on both sides came with a host of subtexts: the Argentine versus the Brazilian, the man of the people versus the establishment figure, the party animal versus the quiet man, the rebel versus the conformist.

Everyone took a side, and the two protagonists were not shy about making their own feelings known.

Pele thought Maradona was gauche and undignified, and Maradona thought Pele was a sellout.

“As a player he was great. … But he thinks politically,” Maradona said, in one of his kinder criticisms.

Pele called the Argentine, who struggled with addiction, “a bad example” and much more besides.

Still, the two South Americans got on well when they met for the first time in 1979, Maradona flying to Rio to meet Pele.

Pele was happy to counsel the budding star, and Maradona excited to be fulfilling his dream of meeting the Brazilian.

But their relationship soured in 1982 after Pele criticized Maradona when he was sent off for stamping on a Brazilian in a World Cup tie in Spain.

From then on, they spent decades criticizing each other and then making up, with the praise as sincere as the insults.

Pele was magnanimous on hearing of Maradona’s death, saying: “I lost a great friend, and the world lost a legend.”

Messi, who strengthened his own claim to sporting immortality by leading Argentina to their third World Cup victory this month, shared a photo of himself with Pele in a terse tribute to the Brazilian star on Instagram, saying: “Rest in peace Pele.”

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, eclipsed by Messi at the Qatar World Cup, was more expansive, calling the Brazilian “King Pelé” and an inspiration to millions. “He will never be forgotten, and his memory will last forever in all of us football lovers,” he said.

Football Legend Pelé Dies

Brazilian football legend Pelé, who burst onto the world scene as a goal-scoring teenager and led his national team to an unprecedented three World Cup titles, died Thursday at the age of 82.

He was hospitalized in late November, and doctors said in December he was dealing with cancer that had advanced along with kidney and cardiac problems.  In September 2021, he had surgery to remove a tumor from his colon.

Widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time, Pelé dazzled on the World Cup stage for Brazil and in club games and international tours with his team Santos before helping generate a surge of excitement around the sport in the United States with a late-career stint with the New York Cosmos.

Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940 in Três Corações, about 250 kilometers northwest of Rio de Janeiro, Pelé signed with Santos at the age of 15.

By 16, he was part of Brazil’s national team, and in 1958 he made his World Cup debut at age 17, announcing himself on football’s biggest stage with a goal in his first match.  He is the youngest player to ever score in the men’s World Cup and the youngest to ever score three goals in one game, which he accomplished in Brazil’s second match of the tournament.

Two more goals in the tournament’s final match helped Pelé lead Brazil to the championship.  He won two more World Cups with Brazil, in 1962 and 1970.

His international career included 77 goals in 92 matches, and he was named FIFA’s co-player of the 20th century along with Argentina’s Diego Maradona.

After retiring from Santos and international duty, Pelé joined the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in 1975 and played three seasons there.

In his post-football life, Pelé served as Brazil’s sports minister and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization appointed him UNESCO Champion for Sport for what it said was his “outstanding commitment to promote sport and help disadvantaged children.”

In 2020, Pelé tweeted that he was proud of his relationship with the U.N., as well as his involvement in campaigns to promote breastfeeding in Brazil and eradicate illiteracy.

“Today, I insist on being involved in good causes, both with NGO’s, Public institutions and my sponsors. This is part of my legacy and I applaud other football legends that have also been following this path, using the beautiful game to make the world better,” he posted.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Kosovo Reopens Serbia Border Crossing, Roadblocks Yet To Go

Kosovo reopened the country’s main border crossing with Serbia on Thursday after a nearby barricade that led to its closure was removed, while Serbia’s president said more than a dozen other Serb roadblocks in northern Kosovo also would be dismantled. 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Serbs would start removing their barricades on Thursday. The move could defuse weeks of tensions between Kosovo and Serbia that triggered fears of new clashes in the Balkans.

Kosovo had demanded that NATO-led peacekeepers remove the barricades or said its forces would do it. Serbia then raised combat readiness of its troops on the border with Kosovo, demanding an end to “attacks” against Kosovo Serbs.

The removal agreement was reached at a late-night crisis meeting with the leaders of Kosovo’s Serbs, Vucic said. 

It followed the release from jail of a former Kosovo Serb police officer, whose detention on a terrorism change triggered protests and clashes in northern Kosovo. A court ordered him placed under house arrest Wednesday.

The roadblocks, which consist mostly of loaded heavy trucks, other vehicles and tents, were still in place as of mid-morning Thursday. Unknown assailants set fire to two trucks on a roadblock in the northern town of Mitrovica, Kosovo police said.

The former police officer, Dejan Pantic, was detained Dec. 10 for “terrorism” after allegedly assaulting a Kosovo police officer during an earlier protest. 

Kosovo’s president and prime minister have criticized a Kosovo court’s decision to release Pantic from jail. 

“How is it possible for someone who is accused of terrorism to go from detention to house arrest,” President Vjosa Osmani said late Wednesday.

The main Merdare border crossing with Serbia closed down earlier this week because of a roadblock a few kilometers away, on the Serbian side of the border. 

Kosovo police told expatriates heading to Kosovo from European countries for the holidays that they could again use that route instead of going through North Macedonia or other entry points.

The unrest over Pantic’s detention sparked tense standoffs and gunshots but no major clashes. However, international concerns grew of a new conflict in the Balkans while the war in Ukraine is raging as well.

A separatist rebellion by Kosovo’s majority Albanians led to a 1998-99 war that featured a brutal Serbian crackdown in the territory that was its province at the time.

NATO intervened in 1999 to stop the onslaught and push Serbia out of Kosovo. But Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence and has relied on Russia and China for backing.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have been told they must normalize relations in order to become members of the EU. Washington and Brussels recently have stepped up efforts to push forward EU-mediated dialogue between the former war foes. 

Russia Targets Ukraine with Missile Barrage

Russia attacked Ukraine with a barrage of missiles Thursday, including ones that targeted the capital, Kyiv, as well as the city of Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s military said it shot down 54 of 69 missiles launched by Russia.

“Senseless barbarism. These are the only words that come to mind seeing Russia launch another missile barrage at peaceful Ukrainian cities ahead of New Year,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.  “There can be no ‘neutrality’ in the face of such mass war crimes. Pretending to be ‘neutral’ equals taking Russia’s side.”

Ukrainian presidential aide Miykhailo Podolyak tweeted that Russia launched at least 120 missiles “to destroy critical infrastructure and kill civilians en masse.”

The attack prompted air raid sirens across the country, and Ukrainian officials said air defense systems were able to knock down incoming missiles.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov reported explosions in his city and said authorities were determining what had been hit and whether there were any casualties.

Russia has repeatedly used missiles to target Ukrainian cities, including strikes that have destroyed critical infrastructure sites.

“At some point terrorist Russians will run out of missiles, but Ukrainians will never run out of courage, devotion to freedom and democracy and love to our country,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, tweeted Thursday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is advocating a 10-point peace plan that calls for Russia to recognize Ukraine’s territory and withdraw its troops.

The Kremlin reiterated its dismissal of the proposal Wednesday, doubling down on its stance that Ukraine must accept the annexation Russia claimed in September after referendums rejected by Ukraine and most other nations as shams. The four Ukrainian regions include Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south.

“There can be no peace plan for Ukraine that does not take into account today’s realities regarding Russian territory, with the entry of four regions into Russia,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday. “Plans that do not take these realities into account cannot be peaceful.”

Also on Wednesday, Zelenskyy addressed the Ukrainian parliament in a closed-door session, urging lawmakers to remain united against Russia’s aggression, while praising Ukrainians for leading the West to “find itself again.”

“Our national colors are today an international symbol of courage and indomitability of the whole world,” he said in his 45-minute speech, his last of the year.

“In any country, in any continent, when you see blue and yellow, you know it’s about freedom. About the people who did not surrender, who stood, who united the world, and which will win,” he said.

Zelenskyy said the world had seen that freedom can be triumphant through Ukraine’s gains on the battlefield, and he thanked Ukraine’s military.

Zelenskyy noted Ukraine has gained the release of 1,456 prisoners of war since Russia’s invasion 10 months ago. Russia is believed to have thousands of Ukrainian prisoners of war, though actual figures are not known.

Some material for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

Belarusian Regiment Fights Against Russia in Ukraine

Recent Russian-Belarusian military exercises have raised fears of a second invasion of Ukraine from the north. While Ukrainians see Belarus as an aggressor, some observers and members of the Belarusian opposition say that not all Belarusians side with Russia. In fact, some Belarusians decided to prove their allegiance to Ukraine by joining its army. Myroslava Gongadze met with members of a Belarusian regiment before they were sent to the front lines.

Father of Tourist Detained in Iran: ‘I Am Afraid I Will Never See Him Again’

Bernard Phelan, a French Irish tour operator who has been detained in Iran for the past three months, was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his sister said Wednesday.

Phelan’s family spoke with The Irish Times about the diplomatic dispute he is involved in.

According to the Times, Phelan, 64, was arrested by Iranian police on Oct. 3. He is being held in Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, in northeast Iran, and is sharing a cell with 15 other people, the Times reported.

Iran has leveled multiple charges against Phelan, including spreading propaganda against Iran and taking photos of police officers, all of which he denies.

Irish security sources believe he was detained on trumped-up charges in order to send a message to the French government: “Stay out of our business,” the paper reported.

Phelan lives in France and had arrived in Iran with a French passport.

In September, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, died while in police custody. She had been detained by the country’s morality police for violating the dress code. Her death sparked continuing protests in Iran and around the globe.

Tehran has accused France, among other Western nations, of attempting to stir up the protests, while the French government has said its nationals – at least seven — are being held as state hostages.

Irish and French diplomats have been working behind the scenes to secure Phelan’s release, the Times reported.

Phelan was traveling through the city of Mashhad on Oct. 3 as part of a research trip, when he was arrested for allegedly taking photographs of police officers and a mosque that had been burned, The Irish Times reported.

The paper reported that Phelan was held in solitary confinement for two weeks before being transferred to Vakilabad prison.

After a month in custody, officials charged Phelan with engaging in propaganda against the Iranian regime and with sending photographs to the Guardian newspaper, the Times reported.

“It’s a political issue,” Caroline Massé-Phelan, Bernard Phelan’s sister, told the Times. “On the Irish side, there is no reason for him to be held because the Iranians have a fairly good relationship with Ireland. He should be released.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told the Times the department “is aware of the case and has been providing consular assistance, in close coordination with France.

The French and Iranian embassies in Dublin did not respond to requests for comment.

His family told the newspaper they have only had two phone calls from Phelan in the 84 days he has been detained.

“Bernard was supposed to be with me for my 97th birthday in November and also with me for Christmas,” Vincent Phelan, Bernard’s father, said Tuesday. “I fear that I will never see him again.”

US Marks 4 Years Since Paul Whelan’s Detention in Russia

The Biden administration is marking the four-year anniversary of the detention in Russia of American businessman Paul Whelan, whose continued imprisonment is one of several major irritants in tattered relations between Washington and Moscow.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that securing Whelan’s release remains a top administration priority.

U.S. officials had hoped to include Whelan in a prisoner swap earlier this month in which they traded detained WNBA star Brittney Griner for a convicted Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. The administration considers Whelan, like Griner, to have been wrongfully detained.

See related video by VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara:

Blinken said Whelan and his family are “suffering through an unfathomable ordeal,” and he again condemned the American’s conviction, which was based on secret evidence, and 16-year prison sentence.

“His detention remains unacceptable, and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity,” Blinken said. “Our efforts to secure Paul’s release will not cease until he is back home with his family where he belongs.”

Charges of espionage

Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, is jailed in Russia on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless. U.S. officials said Russia refused to consider including Whelan in the Griner deal, calling it a “one or none” decision.

“Paul and the Whelan family recently showed the entire country the meaning of generosity of spirit in celebrating a fellow American’s return while Russia continues its deplorable treatment of Paul as a bargaining chip,” said President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

The Whelan family supported the exchange that freed Griner but expressed fears that Whelan would not be released for years.

His brother, David Whelan, said when the swap was announced, “I think we all realize that the math is not going to work out for Paul to come home anytime soon, unless the U.S. government is able to find concessions.”

1,461 days

Paul Whelan, 52, was sentenced in 2020.

In a statement Wednesday, David Whelan said, “Today is the 1,461st day that Paul has been held hostage by the Russian Federation. Russian authorities entrapped him four years ago today. How do you mark such an awful milestone when there is no resolution in sight?”

The anniversary, he said, “is both awful and mundane, just another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”