NATO chief warns EU over defense pact

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned the EU its new defense cooperation pact must not undermine the alliance, as US officials voiced fresh concerns about the flagship initiative. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2018
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NATO chief warns EU over defense pact

BRUSSELS: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday warned the EU its new defense cooperation pact must not undermine the alliance, as US officials voiced fresh concerns about the flagship initiative.
The European Union launched the scheme with great fanfare in December, touting it as a way to get member states to work more closely post-Brexit and spend more effectively on defense projects.
But the plan has come under fire in recent days from US officials who fear it could draw resources away from NATO and even become a “protectionist” umbrella for European defense manufacturers.
Stoltenberg, speaking on the eve of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, said there was “no way” the EU could replace the transatlantic alliance in guaranteeing European security.
Efforts to boost European defense spending were welcome, he said, but only if they were coordinated with NATO plans.
“It will be absolutely without any meaning if NATO and the EU start to compete,” the former Norwegian premier told reporters.
“European allies are absolutely aware that the defense, the protection of Europe is dependent on NATO.”
The EU’s so-called permanent structured cooperation on defense agreement, known as PESCO, has projects in view already to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
But on Sunday Katie Wheelbarger, a senior official at the US Department of Defense, said Washington regarded some of the proposed initiatives as “pulling resources or capabilities away from NATO.”
And the US stepped up its criticism on Monday, with Ambassador to NATO Kay Baliey Hutchison warning the EU there could be serious consequences if it shut US defense companies out of cooperation projects.
“Certainly we do not want this to be a protectionist vehicle for the EU and we’re going to watch carefully because if that becomes the case then it could splinter the strong security alliance that we have,” she told reporters.
“We want the Europeans to have capabilities and strength but not to fence off American products or Norwegian products or potentially UK products.”
Britain, which is leaving the EU, is one of only three member states along with Denmark and Malta not to sign up to the pact.
Under the rules of the cooperation agreement, as a non-EU state Britain will be able to take part in specific missions but will have no decision-making role.


Death toll from anti-Vedanta protests in south India rises to 13

Updated 9 min 16 sec ago
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Death toll from anti-Vedanta protests in south India rises to 13

TUTICORIN, India: A protester shot during demonstrations against a copper plant in southern India died of his injuries Thursday, officials said, the 13th victim killed by police fire.
A curfew remained in pockets of Tuticorin city in Tamil Nadu state where police used live ammunition to disperse protesters this week, provoking international outrage and demands for an immediate investigation.
Calls for the copper smelting plant owned by British mining giant Vedanta Resources to be closed had been building in recent months, with residents complaining it was polluting their city.
The resistance came to a head Tuesday when police stopped a crowd of thousands from protesting outside the factory.
Cars and buildings were set ablaze and rocks hurled at police, who responded with live fire. Eleven demonstrators were shot dead and many people injured in the melee, including 20 police.
Another protester died Wednesday when he was struck by rubber bullets in a second day of protests.
The latest victim died in hospital Thursday, two days after being injured, doctors said.
“He was brought in a critical condition with bullet injuries and died today,” a doctor at the local hospital said.
The chief minister of Tamil Nadu has ordered an inquiry but defended the actions of police, which the state’s opposition leader called “mass murder.”
“The police have a duty during protests to maintain law and order, but lethal force can only be used if there is an imminent threat to life,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“Tamil Nadu authorities need to carry out a prompt and credible investigation to determine if police used excessive force.”
Internet services have been blocked across the city for five days. Police justified the blackout to stop the spread of information that could incite further violence as they search for those behind Tuesday’s arson attacks.
Environmentalists and locals say the factory contaminates water and air, claims its owners deny.
The company has sought to renew the license of the temporarily non-operational plant and hopes to double its production capacity.
But a state court Wednesday ordered that it cease any further construction at the new site.
The ruling came just hours after Tamil Nadu’s pollution board ordered the existing plant be shut and its power supply cut until a verdict is made on its licensing application.