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The British government has been accused of “dragging its heels” over trade linked to forced labour. 

A Chinese labour camp survivor is preparing to sue the UK’s trade secretary for allowing cotton imports from the western Chinese province of Xinjiang, where it has been alleged local minority groups such as the Uyghurs have been subjected to human rights violations.

Erbakit Otarbay has spoken out despite warnings it could put his family in danger.

His lawyer, Paul Conrathe, says it is “outrageous” that the UK government is “hiding behind manifestly inadequate legislation”. The former leader of the Conservatives, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, says the UK is “lagging behind other countries”.

Mr Otarbay, who is Chinese but ethnically Kazakh, was forced to work in a clothing factory after being arrested in Xinjiang in 2017. He has written a pre-action letter to Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, demanding she address the “ongoing failure” of the UK to impose any restrictions on cotton imports from the region.

He says: “I’m lucky I’m in a free country now. But I can’t not think about people who I left behind. I don’t know what happened to them, what kind of horrors they have been subjected to.”

Mr Otarbay was sent to a detention centre in Xinjiang after being accused of watching illegal videos on Islam and installing WhatsApp on his phone. He says he “wished he died quickly”, and was “chained and shackled” and tortured, on a number of occasions, until he passed out.

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Over 280 organisations, including the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), are also calling for all products from Xinjiang to be removed from supply chains.

They said “virtually the entire UK apparel industry” is at risk of being linked to forced labour.

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Mr Otarbay says he was “chained and shackled” and tortured on a number of occasions

Ban on all cotton products from Xinjiang

Last year the US announced an import ban on all cotton products from Xinjiang; firms also have to prove any imports from the region are not produced using forced labour.

UK companies above a certain size must show they are avoiding using slavery in their supply chains. But there is currently no penalty if they fail to do so. A coordinated campaign is being launched in Ireland, where EU rules have also been criticised for not being strong enough.

Sir Iain said the UK is “very closely linked” to slave labour, and the government needs to make clear companies face “serious penalties” for not declaring where they are getting their goods from.

He said the UK “led the world” with the Modern Day Slavery Act, but “the key Achilles heel to our bill is that we need to have companies taking full responsibility for their supply chains”.

Earlier this year the United Nation’s human rights office said China’s treatment of its Uyghur population “may constitute crimes against humanity” and last December a tribunal in the UK found China guilty of genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.

China has always denied human rights violations. The government insists that the camps – which for a long time it denied even existed – are vocational training centres and part of a programme to fight extremism.

Read more:
Who are the Uyghur people and why do they face oppression by China?
Nike and H&M pay the price as China says Xinjiang forced labour is ‘nonsense’
‘I thought I had died’: Kazakhs say they were dragged in shackles and mistreated in Chinese detention centres

‘We approve of forced labour products’

Twenty percent of the world’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang, according to Laura Murphy, a human rights professor at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She says not strengthening the UK import rules is “tantamount to saying we approve of forced labour products entering into our borders”.

In a statement, a government spokesperson said: “The evidence of the scale and severity of human rights violations being perpetrated in Xinjiang against Uyghur Muslims paints a truly harrowing picture which we absolutely condemn.

“The UK is absolutely committed to tackling the issue of Uyghur forced labour in supply chains and we have taken decisive action.

“Over the last year, we have introduced new guidance on the risks of doing business in Xinjiang as well as enhanced export controls, and have committed to introduce financial penalties for organisations that do not comply with modern slavery reporting requirements.”

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Zelenskyy calls on Biden and Xi to join Ukraine peace summit

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Zelenskyy calls on Biden and Xi to join Ukraine peace summit

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has directly called on his US and Chinese counterparts to join his latest summit for peace in Ukraine.

Speaking from Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine on Friday, Mr Zelenskyy announced a “global peace summit”, co-hosted by Switzerland, starting on 15 June.

He claimed 80 countries have already confirmed their attendance.

But he said: “I am appealing to the global leaders of the world who are still outside the global efforts of the global peace summit.

“To President Biden, the leader of the United States, and to President Xi, the leader of China, we do not want the UN charter to be burned.

“Please show your leadership in advancing the peace.”

Residents evacuated from a building hit by strikes in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
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Residents evacuated from a building hit by strikes in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

He added that it must be “real peace – not just a pause in the strikes” after various ceasefire breaches by the Russians.

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Finally, he urged: “The efforts of the global majority are the best guarantee that all commitments will be fulfilled.”

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Shopping mall hit by strike in Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

Printworks and shopping centre targeted this week

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, with a pre-war population of 1.5 million people, is close to the frontline, and has been consistently targeted since the initial invasion in February 2022.

On Thursday, its ‘Vivat’ printworks, which is the country’s largest, was hit by missiles, killing seven people, and destroying an estimated 50,000 books. A further 21 people were injured, Ukrainian officials said.

On Saturday, a strike on a shopping centre killed six people, injured 40, and left a further 16 unaccounted for, local authorities said.

Elsewhere in the city, an additional 11 people were injured as a result of strikes, including a 13-year-old boy.

Just over the border, in Russia’s Belgorod region, the regional governor there said four residents died as a result of Ukrainian attacks on Saturday.

Aftermath of Russian strike on Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
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Aftermath of Russian strike on Kharkiv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters

Read more
Crowded DIY stores hit by strikes
Ukrainians training without firing due to shortages
Putin thanks Xi for his Ukraine efforts

Mr Zelenskyy warned a new Russian offensive is being planned northwest of Kharkiv.

Ukrainians and military analysts have repeatedly warned of depleting weapon supplies on the frontline.

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Earlier this month the US agreed to a further $2bn (£1.6bn) in military support for Ukraine.

It has consistently resisted calls to send US troops there, in line with NATO’s refusal for direct involvement in the conflict.

China has resisted calls by NATO and its member states to take a direct stance against Russia in support of Ukraine.

President Xi hosted Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a show of “friendship” earlier this month.

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Hamas launches first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in months

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Hamas launches first rocket attack on Israel from Gaza in months

Hamas has launched rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza for the first time in months.

The barrage of rockets set off air raid sirens in cities as far away as Tel Aviv.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January, although Palestinian militants have continued to sporadically fire rockets and mortar rounds at communities along the Gaza border since then.

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from the area of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli forces recently launched an incursion.

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India: Newborn babies killed in fire at hospital in Delhi after ‘chain of explosions’

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India: Newborn babies killed in fire at hospital in Delhi after 'chain of explosions'

At least six newborn babies have died after a fire broke out at a children’s hospital in India, according to reports.

Firefighters said they carried 12 newborns out of the centre in the Vivek Vihar district of east New Delhi late on Saturday night, but five of them died due to smoke inhalation.

Two other infants are believed to have already died, according to local media. There are differing reports as to whether six or seven infants have been killed so far.

Another five survived and are being treated in a nearby hospital, Delhi fire department chief Atul Garg said.

The blaze, which broke out on the first floor of the hospital, was put out after about an hour.

Burnt registration cards lie on the floor of a baby care center in New Delhi, India, Sunday, May 26, 2024. A fire broke out in the care center on Saturday night killing six infants, a fire service officer said on Sunday. (AP Photo/Dinesh Joshi)
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Burnt registration cards lie on the floor of the hospital. Pic: AP

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Mr Garg told the ANI news agency that an oxygen cylinder blast was the likely cause of the fire, but there has been no official confirmation.

“It was a very tough operation,” he was quoted as saying by India Today.

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“We made two teams. One team started firefighting because there was a blast of cylinders. We can say it was a chain of blasts of cylinders.

“We had to save ourselves also. We started rescue operations for babies as well. Unfortunately, we could not save all the children… That is a regrettable incident.”

The owner of the baby hospital has fled, according to Delhi police.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s chief minister, called the fire “heartbreaking”, adding that the “causes of the incident are being investigated and whoever is responsible for this negligence will not be spared”.

Machines move the debris following a fire in a gaming zone in Rajkot, in the western state of Gujarat, India, May 26, 2024. REUTERS/Amit Dave
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Machines move debris after a fire in Rajkot. Pic: Reuters

Earlier on Saturday, at least 27 people were killed in a fire at a crowded amusement park in the city of Rajkot in Gujarat state in western India.

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