Northern Irish parties making progress in last-ditch talks

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams leaves Parliament buildings at Stormont in Belfast for the last time in his role as Sinn Fein President. (Reuters)
Updated 10 February 2018

Northern Irish parties making progress in last-ditch talks

BELFAST: Northern Ireland’s two main parties reported on Friday that they had made progress in a last-ditch attempt to restore devolved government, with the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein saying talks would conclude one way or another next week.
Northern Ireland has been without an executive and assembly for over a year since Sinn Fein withdrew from the power-sharing government, saying it was not being treated as an equal partner by the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The two parties, representing mainly Catholic proponents of uniting with the rest of Ireland and mostly Protestant supporters of continued rule by Britain, have failed to meet a number of deadlines to reach agreement since then.
“We have had a very intensive week of discussions. Progress has been made. We have more work to do and our negotiating team will continue working next week,” DUP leader Arlene Foster said in a statement.
A Sinn Fein spokesman also said some differences had been overcome and that talks “should conclude next week.”
Before the latest round of talks, disagreement remained on a range of issues including same-sex marriage, which is illegal in Northern Ireland despite being legal in the rest of Britain and Ireland, rights for Irish-language speakers, and funding for inquests into deaths during decades of Protestant-Catholic sectarian violence before a 1998 peace deal.
The British government, which is overseeing the talks alongside the Irish government, has already had to take steps toward ruling the region directly from London for the first time in a decade, setting its budget late last year.
Many in the province fear that direct rule would further destabilize the delicate political balance between the two sides who, until last year, had run the province since 2007 under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.
The absence of an executive has also limited the province’s say in Britain’s negotiations to leave the European Union, which are set to have a bigger impact on Northern Ireland than on any other part of the United Kingdom.
Friday’s talks were Gerry Adams’ last as Sinn Fein president as he prepares to step down on Saturday, having led the party since 1983.
“We’re not there yet,” Adams, who will be succeeded by Mary Lou McDonald, told the Irish national broadcaster RTE. “There are still obstacles and difficulties, and the fact that it’s taken so long shows how difficult it is.”

Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

Updated 22 min 1 sec ago

Seoul on alert over possible Uzbek terrorists

  • South Korean diplomatic missions increases scrutiny of visa applicants
  • Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea is on high alert after a UN Security Council report warned hundreds of Uzbeks linked to terrorist networks could have entered the country.

The report on Daesh and Al-Qaeda stated members of the Katibat Imam Al-Bukhari and Katibat Al-Tawhid wal Jihad groups had requested entry to South Korea via Turkey. The militants chose the South due to the large Uzbek community already living there.

“Many ethnic Uzbeks request deportation from Turkey to the Republic of Korea, where the total number of Uzbeks is estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000,” the reports states. “Some Uzbek migrant workers in the Republic of Korea are reported to have been radicalized, and to be a source of financing for the travel of extremists to the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Seoul has asked South Korean diplomatic missions overseas to increase scrutiny of Uzbeks applying for South Korean visas.

“Upon receiving the UN report, we ordered the immigration office to tighten its screening of Uzbek travelers from Turkey,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement. 

“We also asked our embassy in Turkey and other diplomatic offices overseas to thoroughly examine the travel documents of Uzbek visa applicants while closely watching any unusual movements (regarding Uzbeks) here and abroad.”

Uzbek nationals are not subject to visa exemptions in South Korea, so they are required to apply at the South Korean Embassy in Uzbekistan. If they have permanent residence or long-term residency in another country, however, they can apply for a visa in a third country.

“We’ll limit issuing visas to Uzbek citizens confirmed to have visited banned countries, including Syria,” a ministry spokeswoman told Arab News. “In addition, we’ll try to block the entry of terror suspects while strengthening cooperation with foreign governments to stop any influx of terrorists to our nation.”

Terrorism is rare in South Korea, but fear and hatred toward terrorism prevail though the nation has a very small Muslim community of about 135,000, 0.3 percent of the population.

South Korea sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s at the request of the US. In 2004, a South Korean worker in Iraq was beheaded by militants who called for the withdrawal of South Korean troops from their country.

In 2007, 23 South Korean missionaries were abducted by members of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Two of the hostages were executed before a deal was reached for their return.

In 2015, an Indonesian was arrested by Korean police for suspected links to a terrorist group. The 32-year-old was suspected to have links to Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. In that same year, the National Intelligence Service revealed that 10 South Koreans had tried to contact Daesh.