Trudeau announces $250 million in food aid and blames Russia for skyrocketing prices

KIGALI, RWANDA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $250 million in new food aid on Thursday and squarely blamed Russia for the growing threat of famine as he prepared to meet with leaders whose nations are feeling the pangs of famine.

The prime minister is in Kigali, Rwanda, for a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government, where he hopes to rally support for Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion and provide assistance in combating the geopolitical fallout from the conflict.

Trudeau insisted on blaming Russia for skyrocketing energy and food prices that have left millions of people in Africa and other parts of the world struggling to feed themselves.

The Commonwealth is made up of 54 independent countries with historical ties to the British Crown, together representing around 2.5 billion people. They range from some of the richest economies in the world to some of the poorest.

However, 10 of those countries abstained from voting at the UN in March condemning Russia’s attack, and Trudeau sought to use the difficulty they now face in feeding their populations to galvanize international opposition to Moscow.

“Russia is responsible for the world food crisis that we are facing right now,” he said during a news conference on Thursday.

“The illegal invasion of Ukraine, the choice to bomb grain silos in Ukraine in recent days, the continuous blockade of the port of Odessa by Russian ships to prevent grain from leaving, to the Middle East, Africa, elsewhere . around the world – these are real concerns for all of us here.”

The new funding to tackle the food crisis, which Trudeau said would include money for the UN World Food Programme, comes on top of the roughly $500 million Canada has donated since January to help address food insecurity in the developing world.

As Trudeau seeks more allies to oppose Russia’s invasion, he is also facing questions about his plans to raise concerns about the actions of some Commonwealth members, starting with the host country, Rwanda.

On Thursday, Trudeau became the first Canadian prime minister to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which is the final resting place for more than 250,000 of the country’s more than 800,000 Rwandans, including Tutsis, moderate Hutus and others, for 100 days. .

The prime minister laid a wreath on one of the graves and crossed himself as members of the Rwandan army stood guard and played a somber tune on the bugle.

Contemporary concerns about human rights violations in Rwanda under the presidency of Paul Kagame have been raised for years. That has included the arrest and prosecution of opposition figures and dissident bloggers and commentators.

Trudeau and Kagame, whose country abstained in the UN vote on Russia, attended a roundtable discussion on Thursday to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on business and plans to reinvigorate the global economy.

But a one-on-one meeting scheduled for Thursday was delayed.

Asked what he plans to say about Rwanda’s human rights record when he meets Kagame, who has been in power since 2000, Trudeau suggested his focus would be to look at ways Canada can help the country.

“We are there to support each other and to advance the bar for human rights,” he said. “Of course, we will take a hard look in every conversation at the challenges various countries are facing and look at ways that Canada can help.”

This is the first time Commonwealth heads of government have met in person since 2018. The 2020 summit, like most events, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau arrived in Kigali on Wednesday, but the official welcoming ceremony begins on Friday. Leaders are expected to sit down for a series of closed-door meetings on Friday and Saturday.

Many world leaders, including Trudeau and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, attended a welcome reception and state dinner at the Kigali Convention Center on Thursday night, but others chose to stay home.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese were among those absent.

Instead of the Commonwealth summit, Modi and Ramaphosa met virtually with Russia, China and Brazil to solidify ties between their nations as part of the BRICS summit hosted by Beijing on Thursday, named after the countries involved.

Although most of the leaders arrived without one, Trudeau wore a mask as he walked down the hall of the convention center toward the reception. He tested positive for COVID-19 almost two weeks ago.

Rwanda is the first stop on a three-country tour for Trudeau that will also include attending the G7 in Germany and a NATO summit in Spain, both of which will involve a strong focus on Russia and Ukraine.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.

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