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UKRAINE

Thousands gather in Florence and Paris to show support for Ukraine

Thousands of people gathered in the Italian city of Florence on Saturday to show their support for Ukraine following Russia's invasion, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appearing via videolink.

People watch a giant screen (not in picture) displaying an image of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking through a video link in Florence. 
People watch a giant screen (not in picture) displaying an image of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking through a video link, addressing people taking part in a peace rally for Ukraine on March 12th, 2022 in Florence. Carlo BRESSAN / AFP

The square outside the Santa Croce basilica became a sea of rainbow peace flags peppered with blue and yellow, the colours of Ukraine’s national flag.

In an address shown on a big screen, Zelensky told the crowd his country was under bombardment “24 hours a day”, targeting schools, hospitals and residential areas, “even churches, even squares like yours”.

According to an Italian translation, he said 79 children had been killed in the conflict so far, saying Europe must “not forget”.

A Ukrainian woman takes part in a peace rally for Ukraine on March 12th, 2022 in Florence. Similar rallies took place simultaneously in several European cities to demand a ceasefire in Ukraine and an end to the war. (Photo by Carlo BRESSAN / AFP)

The demonstration was organised by Florence mayor Dario Nardella, also president of the Eurocities network of more than 200 cities across 38 countries.

In France, meanwhile, nearly 10,000 people demonstrated in cities across France to show their support for the people of Ukraine.

Protesters deploy a giant Ukrainian national flag and hold placards during a support demonstration in Paris on March 12th, 2022. (Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP)

Around a thousand gathered in Paris to denounce the Russian invasion, many carrying blue and yellow badges, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Some carried placards calling for a boycott of Russian oil and gas.

Last weekend, more than 40,000 people turned out across France, including 16,000 in Paris.

Across France, people also came out in force to call for more attention to the climate crisis in the run-up to presidential polls next month.

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ENERGY

Italian energy company to start paying for Russian gas in rubles

Italian energy company Eni confirmed it is opening accounts in rubles with Gazprombank to pay for gas supplies, complying with Moscow's demands.

Italian energy company to start paying for Russian gas in rubles

Eni said in a statement on Tuesday it was opening accounts in rubles and euros with Gazprom Bank “on a precautionary basis” as “deadlines for the payment of gas supplies are scheduled for the next few days”.

It was not immediately clear whether the move would fall foul of European Union sanctions, although Eni said it was “not incompatible”.

The company said its decision to open the accounts was “taken in compliance with the current international sanctions framework” and that Italian authorities had been informed.

READ ALSO: Italy will ‘soon’ stop buying gas from Russia, says minister

Vladimir Putin demanded at the end of March that payment be made in rubles or the gas supply to European countries would be cut off, as he hit back at sanctions placed on Russia by EU countries following its invasion of Ukraine.
 
Eni’s CEO Claudio Descalzi said at the time that his company would not comply with the demands, saying “Eni doesn’t have rubles” and “the contracts say fuel payments should be made in euros”.
 
But many European companies and their lawyers have since been looking at ways to meet the demand without breaching sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for the war in Ukraine, reports Bloomberg.
 
EU officials had said opening a ruble account would breach sanctions. But its latest guidelines, to be published this week, are expected to stop short of banning bank accounts in rubles and  therefore allow companies to keep buying Russian gas, Bloomberg reports.
 
 
Like other European countries, Italy says it is working to reduce its heavy reliance on Russian energy imports in the wake of the Ukraine war.
 

But the Italian government has so far resisted calls to boycott Russian oil and gas.

Italy is highly dependent on Russian gas, importing 95 percent of the gas it consumes, of which around 40 percent comes from Russia.

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