First foreign diplomatic post opens in Western Sahara

First foreign diplomatic post opens in Western Sahara
A rocket is pictured near an earth wall that separates areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario Front in Western Sahara. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 December 2019

First foreign diplomatic post opens in Western Sahara

First foreign diplomatic post opens in Western Sahara
  • For Rabat, the tiny African island nation inaugurating an office in the city of Laayoune supports Moroccan claims to Western Sahara
  • The Polisario Front, an Algeria-backed independence movement, insists on a referendum on full independence

RABAT: Comoros opened a consulate Wednesday in Western Sahara, the first foreign diplomatic post to open in the Moroccan-controlled part of the former Spanish territory, an official said.
For Rabat, the tiny African island nation inaugurating an office in the city of Laayoune represented “a supreme expression” of Moroccan claims to Western Sahara, a Moroccan diplomatic source told AFP.
The kingdom maintains that Western Sahara, mostly under Morocco’s control, is an integral part of its territory. The Polisario Front campaigns for its independence.
The Gambia also plans to open a consulate in the Western Saharan port city of Dakhla, according to Moroccan state news agency MAP.
The opening “will take place as soon as possible,” Gambian Foreign Minister Mamadou Tangara said at a recent Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Rabat, according to MAP.
The United Nations refers to the vast desert territory as a non-self-governing territory and the international community has long advocated a referendum to decide its status.
The Polisario Front, an Algeria-backed independence movement, insists on a referendum on full independence, while Morocco has instead offered autonomy.
After a long break, a UN-led dialogue between Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania resumed in Switzerland in December 2018, followed by a second round in March, but no breakthrough was made.
Determined to “protect its supreme interests,” Morocco is preparing laws establishing jurisdiction over territorial waters stretching “from Tangiers to Lagouira” on the border with Mauritania, according to MAP.
Polisario supporters claim that 92 percent of Moroccan fishing is done in “pillaged” Western Saharan waters.


UK Supreme Court rejects Daesh bride Shamima Begum’s legal bid to return

UK Supreme Court rejects Daesh bride Shamima Begum’s legal bid to return
Updated 14 min 41 sec ago

UK Supreme Court rejects Daesh bride Shamima Begum’s legal bid to return

UK Supreme Court rejects Daesh bride Shamima Begum’s legal bid to return
  • ‘The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation appeal to be stayed’
  • Britain revoked Shamima Begum’s citizenship in 2019 on national security grounds

LONDON: Britain’s highest court on Friday rejected a bid by a woman who was stripped of her UK citizenship for joining the Daesh group to return to challenge the decision.
Five judges at the Supreme Court gave a unanimous decision in the case of Shamima Begum, whose legal battles have come to be seen as a test of how countries treat nationals who joined the extremists.
“Ms Begum’s appeal against the leave to enter decision is dismissed,” the head of the Supreme Court, judge Robert Reed, said in a written judgment.
The judges said the right to a fair hearing did not override other considerations such as the safety of the public.
“The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation appeal to be stayed until Ms Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised,” they added.
“That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.”
Now 21, Begum left her home in east London at the age of 15 to travel to Syria with two school friends, and married a Daesh fighter.
In 2019 she told The Times newspaper that she did not regret traveling to Syria and had not been “fazed” by seeing a severed head dumped in a bin.
Britain revoked her citizenship in 2019 on national security grounds amid an outcry led by right-wing newspapers.
Begum is being held in a camp in poor conditions, while her husband is reportedly in jail in Syria, and her three children have died.
She appealed to be allowed back into the UK so that she can legally challenge her loss of citizenship.
She argued that the decision was unlawful as it has made her stateless and exposed her to the risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment.
Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage but the country’s foreign minister has said he will not consider granting her citizenship.
The Court of Appeal ruled in July last year that Begum needed to come back to mount a fair and effective appeal.
But the interior ministry in turn appealed against this decision, insisting she remained “aligned” with the proscribed terrorist organization.
A government lawyer told the Supreme Court in November her return would create “an increased risk of terrorism.”
Her legal team argued that this did not override the need for a fair hearing.
Rights groups have argued human rights principles are at stake and Begum should answer for any crimes in her home country.
The tabloid newspaper The Sun has called her a “vile fanatic” who has “no place on our soil.”
Begum claims she married a Dutch convert soon after arriving in Daesh-held territory. She was discovered, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Her newborn baby died soon after she gave birth. Her two other children also died in infancy under Daesh rule.


Russian diplomats return from North Korea on rail trolley

Russian diplomats return from North Korea on rail trolley
Updated 22 min 58 sec ago

Russian diplomats return from North Korea on rail trolley

Russian diplomats return from North Korea on rail trolley
  • The group of eight people took a 32-hour train ride, followed by two hours on a bus
  • Interfax news agency reported on Friday morning that the group later took a flight to Moscow from the far-eastern city of Vladivostok
MOSCOW: A group of Russian diplomats and their family members returned to Russia from North Korea on a hand-pushed rail trolley on Thursday because of COVID-19 restrictions in the country, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a Facebook post.
“Since the borders have been closed for over a year and passenger traffic has been halted,” staff members of the Russian embassy in North Korea and their family members embarked on “a long and difficult journey to get home,” the ministry said.
The group of eight people took a 32-hour train ride, followed by two hours on a bus. They then boarded a rail trolley and pushed themselves for about a kilometer (half a mile) across the border into Russia.
A video posted by the ministry showed embassy staff with their children and suitcases on a trolley, cheering as two people pushed it across a railway bridge. The Interfax news agency reported on Friday morning that the group later took a flight to Moscow from the far-eastern city of Vladivostok.
North Korea has claimed to be coronavirus-free, but has sealed its borders and halted passenger traffic with other countries. Outside experts are highly skeptical of the North’s zero-virus case claim.

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman
Updated 26 February 2021

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman

Kidnappers abduct schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria: State governor spokesman
  • Police have not yet confirmed the incident

ABUJA: Kidnappers have abducted schoolchildren in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state, the state governor’s spokesman said on Friday, the second such kidnapping in little over a week.

It was not clear how many children had been seized.

Zailani Bappa, a spokesman for Zamfara’s state governor, said he saw reports of the attack on social media and checked with a police official who told him there had been abductions at a school in the state. He was unable to provide further details.

A police spokesman for the state did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.

A surge in armed militancy in the northwest has led to a breakdown of security in the north of Africa’s most populous country.

Last week, unidentified gunmen killed a student in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger and kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. The hostages are yet to be released.

Hundreds of people have been killed in northern Nigeria by criminal gangs carrying out robberies and kidnappings. The country is also struggling to contain Islamist insurgencies in the northeast and communal violence over grazing rights in central states.

President Muhammadu Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this month amid worsening violence, with the armed forces fighting to reclaim northeastern towns overrun by insurgents.


Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow
Updated 26 February 2021

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow

Boeing 777 aircraft with engine trouble makes emergency landing in Moscow
  • Incident came just days after Boeing confirmed that dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded globally.

MOSCOW: A Boeing 777 airliner on Friday made an emergency landing in Moscow with engine problems, the operating airline said, days after another model rained down engine debris over the United States.
State-owned Rossiya airline said the crew had registered the “incorrect operation of the engine control sensor” on a cargo flight from Hong Kong to Madrid and that they “decided to make an emergency landing in Moscow.”
Online flight trackers confirmed the flight was carried out with a Boeing 777.
The airline said the unscheduled landing went ahead without incident and that no one was injured.
The aircraft will continue its onward journey to Madrid after a delay of several hours, it added.
The incident came just days after Boeing confirmed that dozens of its 777 aircraft were grounded globally resulting from the engine of a United Airlines plane catching fire and scattering debris over a suburb of Denver, Colorado.
It was not immediately clear whether the Boeing 777 that made the emergency landing in Moscow on Friday was equipped with the same engine that shed parts over Colorado last week.
The United Flight engine failure was a fresh blow for the beleaguered US aviation giant that was forced to ground another fleet of planes after a series of deadly crashes.


Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab
Updated 26 February 2021

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab

Hong Kong kicks off COVID-19 vaccinations with Sinovac jab
  • People age 60 and older and health care workers are among currently prioritized to receive vaccines
  • The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines

HONG KONG: Hong Kong began administering its first COVID-19 vaccines to the public Friday, kicking off its program that will eventually offer free vaccinations to all 7.5 million residents.
People age 60 and older and health care workers are among the some 2.4 million people currently prioritized to receive vaccines at community centers and outpatient clinics across Hong Kong. The government said registrations for the first two weeks of the program are full.
Participants so far will be receiving the vaccine by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac. A million doses arrived in the city last week, and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other top government officials were vaccinated first in a bid to bolster confidence in the program.
A poll published in January by the University of Hong Kong found that a majority of respondents in the city concerned about the Chinese vaccine’s efficacy.
“I don’t think I’ll get the vaccine for the time being. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach,” said Ken Cheung, a Hong Kong resident.
“I would like to see if others experience any side-effects after the injection. I’ll only consider the vaccine only when I’m sure that it has a high efficacy rate and no side-effect.”
Billy Au, a resident in his 60s, had no such concerns and was inoculated on Friday
“I’m never hesitant to receive the vaccination because I believe that there are many people in China who have received Chinese vaccines. I don’t see why I shouldn’t take it,” he said.
A panel of Hong Kong experts said the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine after two doses, 21 days apart, was 62.3 percent. In contrast, a study in Israel found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has 92 percent effectiveness.
Hong Kong has since struck deals to buy a total of 22.5 million doses of vaccines, with 7.5 million shots each from Sinovac, AstraZeneca and Fosun Pharma, which will deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to the city.
The government has so far approved the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The first million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been slated to arrive Thursday but was delayed by export procedures, the government said in a statement.
“The latest scheduled arrival date is tomorrow, so we hope that the vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong as scheduled,” Patrick Nip, Hong Kong’s civil service minister, said at a news briefing Friday.
He said such a short delay was unlikely to impact the vaccination rollout.
Another 200,000 vaccination slots will be open for booking Monday next week, Nip said.