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Ukraine war

Russia blocks Facebook; 'fake news' law prompts BBC to halt reports

CNN and CBS to stop broadcasting in Russia as Putin wages war on Ukraine

Russia said that Meta Platforms' Facebook was being blocked for restricting state-backed channels.   © Reuters

LVIV/KYIV, Ukraine (Reuters) -- Russia blocked Facebook and some other websites and passed a law that gave Moscow much stronger powers to crack down on independent journalism, prompting the BBC, Bloomberg and other foreign media to suspend reporting in the country.

War raged in Ukraine for a 10th day on Saturday as Russian troops besieged and bombarded cities, in the biggest attack on a European state since World War II.

The fighting has created over 1 million refugees, a barrage of sanctions that are increasingly isolating Moscow and fears in the West of a wider conflict that has been unthought-of for decades.

Moscow says its invasion is a "special operation" to capture individuals it regards as dangerous nationalists, and has denied targeting civilians.

Kyiv, in the path of a Russian armored column that has been stalled outside the Ukrainian capital for days, came under renewed assault, with explosions audible from the city center.

Russian forces have encircled and shelled the southeastern port city of Mariupol - a key prize. There is no water, heat or electricity and it is running out of food after five days under attack, according to Mayor Vadym Boychenko.

"We are simply being destroyed," he said.

President Vladimir Putin's actions have drawn almost universal condemnation, and many countries have imposed heavy sanctions as the West balances punishment with avoiding a widening of the conflict.

Fighting back in the information war, Russia's parliament passed a law on Friday imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally "fake" news about the military.

"This law will force punishment - and very tough punishment - on those who lied and made statements which discredited our armed forces," said Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.

Russia is blocking Facebook for restricting state-backed channels and the websites of the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.

CNN and CBS News said they would stop broadcasting in Russia, and other outlets removed Russian-based journalists' bylines as they assessed the situation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to press Washington for more help in a Zoom call with the full U.S. Senate at 9:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT) on Saturday.

The United States is weighing cuts to imports of Russian oil and ways to minimize the impact on global supplies and consumers as lawmakers fast-track a bill that would ban Russian energy imports. Global oil prices surged over 20% this week on concerns over a supply crunch.

At a meeting on Friday, NATO allies rejected Ukraine's appeal for no-fly zones, saying they were increasing support but that stepping in directly could make the situation worse.

"We have a responsibility ... to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Zelenskiy slammed the summit as "weak" and "confused."

"It was clear that not everyone considers the battle for Europe's freedom to be the number one goal," he said.

More EU sanctions were coming, potentially including a ban on Russian-flagged ships in European ports and blocking imports of steel, timber, aluminum or coal, said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday that talks with Ukraine on peacefully ending the conflict had "not moved from the starting point," Tass news agency said.

A humanitarian disaster is unfolding, with more than 1 million people seeking refuge in western Ukraine and in neighboring countries.

A Friday attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, about 140 miles (230 km) west of Mariupol, brought the conflict to a perilous moment, but officials later said the facility was safe.

The plant and adjacent territory were now being guarded by Russian troops, Moscow's envoy to the United Nations said.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the world had narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe.

The attack reflected a "dangerous new escalation" in Russia's invasion, she said during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, demanding assurances from Moscow that such an assault would not happen again.

Russian forces have made their biggest advances in the south, where they captured their first sizable Ukrainian city, Kherson, this week. Bombing has worsened in recent days in the northeast cities of Kharkiv and Chernihiv.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said an advance had been halted on the southern port of Mykolayiv. If captured, the city of 500,000 people would be the biggest yet to fall.

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