Germany, France urge Russia to pressure Syria for ‘immediate’ cease-fire

German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses with French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (C). The three leaders agreed to exert “maximum pressure” on Syria for an “immediate” implementation of a UN cease-fire. (File Photo: AFP)
Updated 25 February 2018

Germany, France urge Russia to pressure Syria for ‘immediate’ cease-fire

BERLIN: The leaders of Germany and France urged Russia Sunday to exert “maximum pressure” on Syria for an “immediate” implementation of a UN cease-fire in the war-ravaged country, Berlin said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron stressed in a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin “that it is crucial that the (UN) resolution be implemented quickly and comprehensively,” Merkel’s office said in a statement.
“They call on Russia in this context to exercise maximum pressure on the Syrian regime to achieve an immediate suspension of air raids and fighting.”
The statement said Merkel, Macron and Putin had all welcomed the UN resolution on an at least 30-day cease-fire “particularly to allow humanitarian aid into and evacuations out of the war zone.”
Merkel and Macron stressed that a cease-fire could be “the basis to advance efforts toward a political solution in the context of the UN-led Geneva peace process.”
“Germany and France continue to be willing to work with Russia and other international partners toward this goal,” Merkel’s office added.
The leaders held talks after the UN Security Council on Saturday unanimously demanded a 30-day truce in Syria.
More than 500 civilians are thought to have died in a week of heavy bombardment by Syria’s regime of the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus.
After the council vote, which had support from Moscow, Syrian warplanes backed by Russian air power launched new raids on Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitor said at least 41 civilians were killed in Saturday’s strikes, including eight children. Russia has denied taking part in the assault.
France and Germany have pushed for Russia to throw its weight behind the Syria cease-fire, which is mainly to allow aid to reach the besieged area and allow evacuations.


Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

Search and rescue personnel work at the site of a collapsed building, after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 in Elazig, Turkey, on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 1 min 33 sec ago

Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

  • Special taxes following the 1999 earthquake became a permanent tax in 2004

JEDDAH: Rescue operations continue amidst mountains of debris in eastern Turkey, following the deadly earthquake that hit the region on Friday with a magnitude of 6.8.

The quake, which followed two others in the western city of Manisa and the capital Ankara, has killed 33 people so far in Elazig province, and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.
The country remains poised for further trouble, with a large quake in or around Istanbul feared possible in the coming days. “We’re expecting a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul,” Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned in a live broadcast.
Turkey, which has a history of powerful earthquakes, faced a 7.6 magnitude quake in August 1999 in the western city of Izmit, which killed over 17,000 people, while another in 2011 in eastern city of Van killed more than 500.
However, not all lessons have been learned. Now, as then, authorities have been quick to criticize people who have questioned spending of funds raised by special earthquake taxes, meant to make vulnerable areas more resistant.
Turkish prosecutors were quick to launch an investigation against Turkish actress Berna Lacin, after she shared her views on earthquake taxes on social media platform Twitter, asking: “Where are they spending all the quake taxes that have been collected so far?”
About 63 billion lira ($10.598 billion) was collected in special taxes following the 1999 earthquake, which became a permanent tax in 2004.
Turkish politician Mahmut Tanal criticized the lack of transparency over the collection and allocation of funds, saying: “The taxes are not used as promised, but they are still being collected although humanitarian assistance … is not conducted anymore.”
He suggested that funds meant for earthquake relief and damage mitigation were being channeled toward other government budgets.
Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, a political scientist at TOBB University in Ankara, was also critical of the use of earthquake funds.

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33 - people killed so far by the earthquake that rocked Elazig province and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.

“Elazig’s reconstruction … has not been planned well by the municipality, and the result has been a disorganized city. That is the real danger. The fight against earthquakes should start first by the construction policies of municipalities,” he said.
Award-winning scientist Naci Gorur criticized Turkey’s lack of policies concerning preparation for potential earthquakes.
Gorur, who has conducted extensive research on fault lines in the country, had alerted authorities of the possibility of an earthquake in Elazig, where he is from, three months before the Jan. 24 quake struck.
Meanwhile, the natural disaster has served as a point of contention in ongoing political hostilities between the Turkish government and separatist Kurdish factions.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, claiming it had attempted to send aid to the region to assist beleaguered residents, released an official statement on Sunday, saying: “Delivery of two aid trucks … for Elazig earthquake victims has been obstructed by the Interior Ministry.
“There can be no explanation for blocking humanitarian aid to people in need. We call on the government to stop such practices at once.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, visited Malatya in the aftermath of the earthquake on Saturday.