After delay, Congress sends $40 billion Ukraine aid package to Biden (AUDIO)

May 19th, 2022

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate approved nearly $40 billion in aid for Ukraine on Thursday sending the bill to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign into law as Washington races to keep military assistance flowing nearly three months after Russia’s invasion.

The Senate voted 86-11 in favor of the package of military, economic and humanitarian assistance, by far the largest U.S. aid package for Ukraine to date. All 11 no votes were from Republicans.

“This is a large package, and it will meet the large needs of the Ukrainian people as they fight for their survival,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, urging support for the emergency supplemental spending bill before the vote.

“By passing this emergency aid, the Senate can now say to the Ukrainian people: help is on the way. Real help. Significant help. Help that could make sure that the Ukrainians are victorious,” Schumer said.

The House of Representatives passed the spending bill on May 10, also with every “no” vote from Republicans. It stalled in the Senate after Republican Senator Rand Paul refused to allow a quick vote. Biden’s fellow Democrats narrowly control both the House and Senate, but Senate rules require unanimous consent to move quickly to a final vote on most legislation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had urged lawmakers to work quickly, telling congressional leaders in a letter that the military had enough funds to send weapons to Kyiv only until Thursday, May 19.

When Biden signs the supplemental spending bill into law, it will bring the total amount of U.S. aid approved for Ukraine to well over $50 billion since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.

The package includes $6 billion for security assistance, including training, equipment, weapons and support; $8.7 billion to replenish stocks of U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine, and $3.9 billion for European Command operations.

In addition, the legislation authorizes a further $11 billion in Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows Biden to authorize the transfer of articles and services from U.S. stocks without congressional approval in response to an emergency.

It also includes $5 billion to address food insecurity globally due to the conflict and nearly $9 billion for an economic support fund for Ukraine.

The war has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions of Ukrainians from their homes and reduced cities to rubble. Moscow has little to show for it beyond a strip of territory in the south and marginal gains in the east.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Daniel Wallis)


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Sudanese communist leader arrested as protests rage in Khartoum

May 19th, 2022

By Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A leading Sudanese politician was arrested on Thursday as protests raged in the capital Khartoum for the seventh month against military rule, with tear gas and heavy security force deployment.

A military coup in October effectively ended a 2019 power-sharing deal between generals who overthrew President Omar al-Bashir, and political parties that opposed him.

One of those parties, the Sudanese Communist Party, said its leader Mohamed Mukhtar Al-Khatib had been arrested on Thursday, following a visit to Juba where he met with leading Sudanese rebel leaders.

The party, which has been the most hardline against the coup and any future deal, was pursuing a unified front against the coup, it said.

Sudan’s economy has spiralled as its government has gone without a prime minister since January. Businesses are stagnating while citizens face steep increases in the prices of food, electricity and fuel.

“The military has failed economically, politically and psychologically – in every way,” said a 30-year-old protester and unemployed engineer who declined to give his name for fear of retribution. “They are just being stubborn now, but we are more stubborn.”

The protesters marched under the harsh sun as security forces, including the U.S.-sanctioned Central Reserve Police, were deployed at key points along the protest route.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Richard Chang)


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U.S. FDA says Abbott baby formula plant on track to reopen in 1-2 weeks

May 19th, 2022

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Abbott Laboratories and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are on track to reopen the company’s Sturgis, Michigan, baby formula manufacturing plant within one or two weeks, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said on Thursday.

Abbott, the biggest U.S. supplier of powder infant formula including Similac, on Monday agreed with the FDA on steps needed to resume production at the manufacturing plant.

“I’m pleased to say today we’ve already made significant progress and I think we are on track to get it open within the next week to two weeks, most likely at the outer bound two weeks,” Califf told a U.S. House of Representatives panel.

The company recalled infant formula products and closed the plant in February after reports of serious bacterial infections in four infants, worsening a shortage among multiple manufacturers that began with pandemic supply chain issues.

The FDA was investigating Abbott after reports that four babies who had been fed formula made there became ill from Cronobacter sakazakii infections.

The agency cannot conclude whether cases of ill babies are directly related to the Abbott plant until its investigation is concluded, Califf said.

“Abbott has remedied a number of issues,” after three days of working closely with the FDA, Califf said.

The FDA is confident more product “can quickly hit U.S. stores,” he said, but it will still be weeks until formula supplies are back to normal. People are buying more formula now than before the recall, making distribution harder, he added.

The nationwide shortage has left parents scrambling to feed their babies and the U.S. government searching for short-term fixes while grappling with longer-term solutions.

President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on Wednesday to help manufacturers obtain ingredients to ramp up supply.

The House on Wednesday passed two bills, including one providing $28 million in emergency FDA funds supported by 219 Democrats and 12 Republicans. It was opposed by 192 Republicans.

A second measure, passed 414-9, would guarantee low-income families can continue using their benefits to buy formula under a federal program for women, infants, and children known as WIC.

Both bills must also pass in the closely divided Senate.

‘DERELICTION OF DUTY’

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro grilled Califf, who appeared before an Appropriations subcommittee to discuss the FDA’s budget request for the 2023 fiscal year, over its response to the shortage.

The FDA said on Monday it would allow baby formula imports from foreign makers that do not usually sell their products in the United States to help ease the shortage.

“I remain concerned about the safety of the formulas that end up on our shelves,” said DeLauro, adding she was worried “the FDA’s recently released guidance does not go far enough to ensure formula is safe.”

Califf said formula would only be imported after the FDA reviews it and determines it is safe.

DeLauro also criticized the FDA for acting too slowly, having received a whistleblower report in October. DeLauro cited the report last month when she sought a government probe.

“Whomever looked at that report felt that there was no need to respond at all from October to February until there was a recall. That is a dereliction of duty, in my view,” she said.

The United States had been facing stress on the formula supply chain before the Abbott recall in February because of the pandemic and other factors, Califf said, but that there was room for improvement with regards to how quickly the FDA responds to such issues.

“We could do better than we did.”

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)


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