Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his Albanian counterpart Edi Rama review the guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at the Palace of Brigades in Tirana, Albania. (Reuters)
Updated 18 October 2019

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana

Anger over EU’s ‘historic mistake’ on Skopje, Tirana
  • A handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania
  • EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt ‘really embarrassed’ but urged the two countries not to lose heart

BRUSSELS: The EU has made a “historic mistake” that risks destabilising the Balkans, senior officials warned Friday, after a handful of countries led by French President Emmanuel Macron again blocked membership talks for North Macedonia and Albania.
There was widespread frustration and disappointment, particularly among eastern European countries keen to broaden the EU club, at the failure of the 28 leaders to agree to start formal accession negotiations with Skopje and Tirana.
Leaders were deadlocked after some seven hours of heated backroom wrangling at a Brussels summit, with France alone in rejecting North Macedonia but joined by Denmark and the Netherlands in refusing Albania.
“It’s a major historic mistake and I hope it will only be temporary and won’t become engraved in the collective memory as a historic mistake,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner who has led efforts to push the two countries to reform to fit EU norms, said it had left the bloc’s credibility damaged “not only in the Western Balkans but beyond.”
“This is a matter of extreme disappointment,” he tweeted.
“To refuse acknowledgement of proven progress will have negative consequences, including the risk of destabilization of the Western Balkans, with full impact on the EU.”
North Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski urged his people to push on with reform despite the disappointment, while his Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov urged the EU to come clean about its true intentions.
“If there is no more consensus on the European future of the Western Balkans... the citizens deserve to know,” he tweeted.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said EU leaders would look again at the matter before a summit with Western Balkans leaders in Zagreb early next year.
The summit deadlock came days after EU ministers hit a similar impasse at talks in Luxembourg — following two earlier delays by EU countries on making a decision.
Apart from France, all the other EU states accept that North Macedonia has made enough progress on reforms — including changing its name from Macedonia to appease Greece — to start talks.
But Albania has less support, with the Netherlands and Denmark joining France in voicing serious reservations about its efforts against corruption and organized crime.
Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said the summit failure was “extremely regrettable.”
“I have spoken to the two prime ministers to express my great disappointment, and they are also extremely disappointed,” she told reporters in Brussels.
“This is not a good sign for the solidarity of the EU or the stability of the region.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters he felt “really embarrassed” but urged the two countries not to lose heart, saying he had “absolutely no doubt” they would one day join the bloc.
“Both countries, they passed their exams, I can’t say this about our member states,” Tusk said.
The European Commission has said both countries have done enough to at least begin talks, but Macron now says this should not happen until the whole accession process has been reformed, arguing that it does not work properly.
But diplomats suspect the French are playing tough for domestic political reasons linked to immigration, and there is frustration that Macron appears to be trying to move the goalposts.
“These countries deserve it, they fulfil the criteria, the momentum is right,” said one diplomatic source.
“It’s not fair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game.”
Another said “there’s no logic to it. It’s incoherent — an excuse.”
After the earlier failure in Luxembourg another diplomat accused France of “repeating the same stupid arguments again and again,” warning Paris would bear “responsibility for the consequences of this.”
Politicians in North Macedonia and Albania have warned that their people’s patience with the EU is not unlimited and repeated rejections risk emboldening nationalist and pro-Russian forces.


Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt

Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt
Updated 10 min 28 sec ago

Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt

Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt
  • Nasheed is the Maldives’ first democratically elected president
  • He has undergone 16 hours of life-saving operations in the capital Male for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs after the explosion

MALÉ, Maldives: Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed was in a “critical” condition on Friday following an assassination attempt, doctors said.
Nasheed, 53, the Maldives’ first democratically elected president and still an important figure in the island nation’s murky politics, was rushed to hospital after an explosion late Thursday.
Since then he has undergone 16 hours of life-saving operations in the capital Male for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs.
The private ADK hospital said Friday evening that Nasheed was “in a critical condition in intensive care.”
In a televised address to the nation, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced that a team from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) would arrive Saturday to help with the investigation into the blast.
Solih described the attack as an assault on the fledgling democracy, promising the perpetrators “would face the full force of the law.”
Police said officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have also been asked to assist in the investigation.
Maldivian police said they were treating Thursday’s bomb attack as a “deliberate act of terror” and urged the public to provide any information that could identify the perpetrators.
Police said a device attached to a motorcycle was detonated as Nasheed got into a car in the capital.
The hospital said earlier that shrapnel had been removed from one of his lungs and from his liver but that another piece was still in the same organ.
“We are hopeful of a full recovery,” said a family member who did not want to be named, adding that Nasheed was responsive and spoke with doctors when he was admitted.
One of his bodyguards as well as a British national were also wounded and taken to hospital.
The Indian Ocean nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims is best known for its luxury holiday resorts popular with honeymooners, but it suffers from regular political turmoil.
There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday’s bomb attack, but officials close to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said they suspected vested political interests opposed to his anti-corruption drive.
Nasheed had vowed to investigate a $90-million theft from the state’s tourism promotion authority during the tenure of former president Abdulla Yameen.
“There are some dormant Islamists who could have collaborated with political elements threatened by Nasheed’s anti-corruption drive,” an MDP source told AFP.
The government has cracked down on extremism and foreign preachers are banned.
Violent attacks have been rare, though a dozen foreign tourists were wounded by a bomb blast in Male in 2007.
The Islamic State claimed a boat arson attack last year, but there is little evidence the group has a presence in the archipelago.
Nasheed, a liberal, is maybe best known internationally for holding a 2009 underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the threat of global warming, signing documents as officials wore scuba gear against a backdrop of coral reefs.
He was toppled in a military-backed coup in February 2012, convicted on a charge of terrorism and jailed for 13 years.
He left the country on prison leave for medical treatment and sought refuge in Britain.
He returned after his nominee Solih won the presidency in 2018, winning parliamentary elections the next year to become speaker.
Messages of support for Nasheed poured in on Friday from neighboring India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well as Western nations, which have strongly backed his pro-democracy and environmental activism.


German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
Updated 07 May 2021

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods

German report reveals how Iran uses proliferation to smuggle illegal goods
  • The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers
  • Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer”

DUBAI: An intelligence report from Germany revealed on Friday details of how the Islamic Republic uses proliferation techniques to smuggle illicit technology for deadly weapons.
“Proliferation-relevant countries such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, but also Pakistan, try to circumvent safety precautions and legal export regulations and to disguise illegal procurement activities. To do this, they turn to mostly conspiratorial means and methods,” wrote the intelligence agency in northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein,” the report explains.
“Proliferation is still one of the central tasks of counter-espionage in Schleswig-Holstein,” the report adds.
According to the agency, proliferation is the “spread of weapons of mass destruction (ABC weapons) and the necessary know-how, as well as the products used for their manufacture and associated carrier technologies.”
ABC commonly refers to atomic, biological and chemical weapons.
The report states that Iran creates state-controlled “neutral” companies to hide the true nature of the purchase from buyers and establishes “illegal procurement networks which belong to the front companies and middlemen.”
Iran also uses “detour deliveries over ‘third states’ in order not to identify the final buyer” and “the use and misuse of inexperienced freight deliverers and transporters,” the report added.
Iran also breaks down the deliveries of illegal deliveries into several “individual non-suspicious deliveries to avoid exposing the entire business.” 
The report also said that Iran “conceals the end user” and the “individual, company or institution with which the goods ultimately remain.”
The report cited Iran 19 times in the 218-page report, covering security threats to the state’s democracy.
It also said that states such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria and Russia strive to acquire dual-use goods, items which have both civil and military use.
“Proliferation is a serious threat to security in many regions of the world, including the Federal Republic of Germany and thus for the state of Schleswig-Holstein. The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the most important export nations in the world. The export of military as well as civilian goods are subject therefore to special control,” the report added.


China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry
Updated 07 May 2021

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

China says ‘extremely low’ risk of damage on Earth from rocket re-entry

BEIJING: China said Friday the risk of damage on Earth from a rocket which fell out of orbit after separating from Beijing's space station was "extremely low", after the United States warned it could crash down onto an inhabited area.
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said "most of the components will be destroyed by ablation during the re-entry" into the atmosphere and "the probability of causing harm to aviation activities or people... on the ground is extremely low".


Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
Updated 07 May 2021

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India

Australia to end ban on citizens returning from India
  • Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals
  • The prime minister’s move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens

SYDNEY: Australia will not extend a controversial ban on citizens returning from COVID-hit India, the prime minister said Friday following widespread public outrage.
Scott Morrison this week barred all travel from India, fearing a large number of COVID-positive arrivals would overwhelm Australia’s already strained quarantine facilities.
The move stranded an estimated 9,000 Australian citizens and threatened them with large fines and jail time if they tried to dodge the ban and return on non-direct flights.
The conservative prime minister on Friday said that the measures would remain in place until May 15 as planned, but then repatriation flights could resume.
“The determination was designed to be a temporary measure and the medical advice... is that it will be safe to allow it to expire as planned on 15 May,” he said.
Three flights are being planned to return the most vulnerable Australians still in India, bringing them to a remote Outback quarantine facility.
No decision has been taken yet on whether commercial flights will also resume.
Morrison’s ban caused widespread outrage, with even allies describing it as racist and an abandonment of vulnerable Australians overseas.
He had already walked back the threats to prosecute returning Australians, saying it was “highly unlikely” the punishment would ever be meted out.
The legality of the ban is being challenged in federal court, with a hearing set to take place on Monday.
Australia has no widespread community transmission of COVID-19, but has seen several outbreaks emerge from hotel quarantine facilities, causing disruptive city lockdowns.
Since March 2020, Australians have been barred from traveling overseas and a hard-to-get individual exemption is needed for foreign visitors to enter the country.


India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
Updated 07 May 2021

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown

India’s coronavirus surge pressures Narendra Modi to impose strict lockdown
  • Lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns
  • On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours

NEW DELHI: With coronavirus cases still surging to record levels, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing pressure to impose a harsh nationwide lockdown amid a debate whether restrictions imposed by individual states are enough.
Many medical experts, opposition leaders and some of the Supreme Court judges have suggested the lockdown seems to be the only option with the virus raging in cities and towns, where hospitals are forced to turn patients away while relatives scramble to find oxygen. Crematoriums and burial grounds are struggling to handle the dead.
On Friday, India recorded a new record of 414,188 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours. Its tally has risen to more than 21.4 million since the pandemic began with faint hopes of the curve going down quickly. The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 additional deaths, bringing the total to 234,083. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.
The official daily death count has stayed over 3,000 for the past 10 days.
Over the past month, nearly a dozen out of India’s 28 federal states have announced less stringent restrictions than the nationwide lockdown imposed for two months in March last year.
Modi, who held consultations with top elected leaders and officials of the worst-hit states on Thursday, has so far left the responsibility for fighting the virus to poorly equipped state governments.
Dr. Randeep Guleria, a government health expert, said a complete, aggressive lockdown is needed in India just like last year, especially in areas where more than 10 percent of those tested have contracted COVID-19.
Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a public-private consultancy, acknowledged that different states were experiencing different intensities of the epidemic, but said a “coordinated countrywide strategy” was still needed.
According to Reddy, decisions need to be based on local conditions but should be closely coordinated by the center. “Like an orchestra which plays the same sheet music but with different instruments,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, also suggested that a complete shutdown in India may be needed two to four weeks to help ease the surge of infections.
“As soon as the cases start coming down, you can vaccinate more people and get ahead of the trajectory of the outbreak of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with the Indian television CNN News18 news channel on Thursday. He did not provide specifics of what a shutdown should entail.
He said it appears there are at least two types of virus variants circulating in India. He said B117, which is the UK variant, tends to be concentrated in New Delhi and that the 617 variant is concentrated in the worst-hit western Maharashtra state.
“Both of those have increasing capability of transmitting better and more efficiently than the original Wuhan strain a year ago,” Fauci said.
Modi imposed a two-month stringent lockdown last year on four hours’ notice. It stranded tens of millions of migrant workers who were left jobless and fled to villages with many dying along the way. Experts say the decision helped contain the virus and bought time for the government.
Modi’s policy of selected lockdowns is being supported by some experts, including Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. She said different states have different needs, and local particularities need to be taken into account for any policy to work.
In most instances, in places where health infrastructure and expertise are good, localized restrictions at the level of a state, or even a district, are a better way to curb the spread of infections, said Bal. “A centrally mandated lockdown will just be inappropriate,” she said.
Dr. Yogesh Jain Ganiyari of the Peoples Health Support Group, a low-cost public health program in the central state of Chhattisgarh, said that scientifically, lockdowns are the most effective way of curbing infections.
“But we don’t live in a lab. We need to take into account the humanitarian aspect,” said Ganiyari. “Those who look at lockdowns just as disease control mechanisms are heartless. You have to think about the people.”