Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat that could help them recover some common ground. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Divided UN council heads to Sweden for farmhouse retreat

  • 15 ambassadors will join Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
  • The three-day retreat will begin on Friday.

United Nations, United States: After a week of bitter acrimony over Syria, UN Security Council ambassadors are heading to a farmhouse in southern Sweden for a retreat to try to break the deadlock over how to end the war.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia will be among the 15 ambassadors joining Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the secluded getaway in a country setting.
The three-day retreat beginning Friday comes after one of the council’s most divisive periods, with the United States and Russia split over the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma that lead to military action by Washington and its allies against Syria.
The council met five times on Syria last week including on Tuesday when Russia vetoed a US-drafted resolution setting up a chemical weapons probe while two other proposed measures failed to pass.
The Russia-US rivalry prompted Guterres to declare that the Cold War was “back with a vengeance.”
Asked whether he expected awkward moments during the Swedish retreat, Nebenzia told reporters: “I will see how they feel about dealing with me after all that happened.”
“It’s not news to anyone that the council is divided on Syria,” said Sweden’s Deputy UN Ambassador Carl Skau. “There is some need for humility and patience at this moment.”
The council will be staying at Backakra, the summer residence of Dag Hammarskjold, who was the United Nations’ second secretary-general.
The residence located on the southern tip of Sweden, far from Stockholm, is a “fitting and inspiring venue” to reconnect with the power of diplomacy, said Skau.
“It’s a place to roll up our sleeves, take off our jackets and ties and come up with some real and meaningful ways forward,” he said.
The annual brainstorming session usually takes place in upstate New York, but Sweden, which is a non-permanent council member, offered to host this year’s gathering.
Guterres had told council members that the focus of the meeting would be his plan for a “surge of diplomacy” to address conflicts worldwide, but the council’s deadlock over Syria is emerging as the top priority.


Police carry out controlled explosion on 'suspect package' near British parliament

Updated 18 October 2018
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Police carry out controlled explosion on 'suspect package' near British parliament

  • The package was later found not to be suspicious

LONDON: Police on Wednesday used a bomb disposal robot and carried out a controlled explosion on a package found in central London near the British parliament.
Although the package was later found not to be suspicious, emergency services were called to gardens next to the River Thames during the afternoon, a police spokesman said.
"We've just been told it's all been stood down -- non-suspicious," he told AFP.
An AFP photographer at the scene saw a bomb disposal robot being deployed and a small explosion was heard.
A building where many MPs have their offices was also cordoned off along with Victoria Embankment which leads to parliament.
The area was targeted in a terror attack last year when Khalid Masood mowed down and killed five pedestrians before fatally stabbing a police officer outside parliament.
Masood was then shot dead by a police bodyguard.
Salih Khater, a Sudanese-born British national, crashed his car into the security barriers outside parliament in August this year in another suspected attack.
He is due to go on trial for attempted murder.