US defense chief to visit Macedonia, concerned about Russian ‘mischief’

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis holds a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on August 28, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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US defense chief to visit Macedonia, concerned about Russian ‘mischief’

  • NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday he would visit Macedonia before a Sept. 30 referendum on changing the country’s name, also expressing concern about suspected Russian interference in the vote, which Moscow denies.
Macedonia scheduled the referendum on the government’s deal in June with neighboring Greece to change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia which would open the door for it to join NATO and the European Union.
“I am concerned about it... The kind of mischief that Russia has practiced from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia, it always has adapted to the specific situation and it’s always beyond the pale,” Mattis, who will visit Macedonia over the weekend, told reporters.
Mattis said he wanted to make it clear the United States supported the Macedonian people.
NATO invited Macedonia to begin accession talks with the alliance, but said it would have to change its constitution and adopt the new name first. The EU has also said it would set a date for Macedonian accession talks pending implementation of the name deal.
Moscow’s ambassador to Skopje has criticized Macedonia’s ambitions to join NATO, saying it could become “a legitimate target” if relations between NATO and Russia deteriorate further.
Greece, a member of both NATO and the EU, has refused to accept the Balkan country’s name, saying it implies territorial claims on the Greek province of Macedonia and amounts to an appropriation of its ancient civilization.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government, elected in 2017, pushed for an agreement with Greece. Nationalists, including President Gjorge Ivanov, oppose the deal saying it is against the constitution.
In July, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other people from entering the country, accusing them of having meddled by encouraging demonstrations and bribing unidentified officials to thwart the Macedonia agreement.
Russia has denied wrongdoing and responded in kind with expulsions of Greeks.


Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

Updated 23 April 2019
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Unspeakable grief: A husband, wife and three children wiped out in Sri Lanka

  • The Gomez family gather for funeral of a husband and wife and their three sons
  • They were brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine

COLOMBO: The dark wooden coffins, sitting side by side, attested to one family’s unspeakable grief.
The Gomez family gathered Tuesday to say a final farewell to five loved ones — a son, a daughter-in-law and three young grandsons — brutally killed as they attended Easter Sunday Mass at Colombo’s St. Joseph’s Shrine.
“All family, all generation, is lost,” said Joseph Gomez, the family patriarch, as tears welled in his eyes. Dozens of family members and neighbors were gathered in his simple home, where the sound of hymns sung by mourners gently wafted in the background and candles flickered beside three coffins. The bodies of two grandsons have yet to be recovered.
Across Sri Lanka, Tuesday was a national day of mourning as families began to lay to rest the more than 320 victims of the bomb blasts that struck a half-dozen churches and hotels in the island nation.
For the Gomez family, the loss was unfathomable: A 33-year-old son, Berlington Joseph, the young man’s 31-year-old wife Chandrika Arumugam, and their three boys, 9-year-old Bevon, 6-year-old Clavon and baby Avon, who would have turned 1 next week. A funeral card with a photo of the family clutched in his hands, the elder Gomez wailed: “I can’t bear this on me, I can’t bear this.”
“My eldest son, my eldest son,” he sobbed as he laid bouquets of red roses and brightly colored daisies on the largest coffin. Next to it was a tiny coffin, a photo of little Avon tucked into a wooden frame nearby.
The coffins, draped with long white tassels, were then carried to a Colombo cemetery and lowered into side-by-side graves.
At St. Joseph’s Shrine, dozens of mourners gathered outside, lighting candles and praying in unison for the victims of Sunday’s blasts as heavily armed soldiers stood guard.
At St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, a funeral service was held Tuesday for victims killed there as they worshipped, led by Cardinal Malcom Ranjith. The church was heavily guarded by hundreds of army, air force and police troops, and soldiers were deployed every 15 feet along the streets of the city some 20 miles north of Colombo.
Throughout the country, people observed a three-minute silence for the victims of the near-simultaneous attacks at three churches and three luxury hotels, and three other related blasts, the deadliest violence to strike Sri Lanka in a decade.
The Sri Lankan government has blamed the attack on National Towheed Jamaar, a little-known local extremist group, and on Tuesday, the Daesh group also claimed responsibility, though it provided no proof it was involved and has made unsubstantiated claims in the past.