US demands more from Taliban on cease-fire before deal

US demands more from Taliban on cease-fire before deal
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said a deal is close but that they have been close before and failed because the Taliban was unable to demonstrate seriousness. (AFP)
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Updated 03 February 2020

US demands more from Taliban on cease-fire before deal

US demands more from Taliban on cease-fire before deal
  • ‘What we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of their will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat’
  • Talks in recent weeks have focused on finding a way to reduce hostilities and bring both sides in the conflict to the negotiating table

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday demanded “demonstrable evidence” from the Taliban that they can and will reduce violence before signing a deal that would lead to Afghanistan peace talks and a withdrawal of American troops from the country.
Speaking at a news conference in neighboring Uzbekistan, Pompeo said a deal is close but that they have been close before and failed because the Taliban was unable to demonstrate seriousness. He said more work remains to be done so that peace talks can get started.
“We’re working on a peace and reconciliation plan, putting the commas in the right place, getting the sentences right,” he said. “We got close once before to having an agreement: a piece of paper that we mutually executed and the Taliban were unable to demonstrate either their will or capacity or both to deliver on a reduction in violence.”
“So, what we are demanding now is demonstrable evidence of their will and capacity to reduce violence, to take down the threat, so the inter-Afghan talks ... will have a less violent context,” he said. “We’re hopeful we can achieve that but we’re not there yet, and work certainly remains.”
Pompeo’s comments came just two days after US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul and told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani there has been “no notable progress” in talks with the Taliban. However, Khalilzad said he was hopeful of reaching an understanding with them on a reduction of hostilities, without offering any time frame.
Khalilzad had been in Pakistan last week to rally support for getting an agreement with the Taliban to reduce their attacks, as a first step toward a peace agreement to end 18 years of war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Earlier, the Taliban said they offered Khalilzad a 10-day cease-fire window in which to sign a peace agreement that would be followed by intra-Afghan negotiations.
Khalilzad was appointed by the White House in 2018 to find a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s war that would allow the United States to bring home its estimated 13,000 soldiers and end its longest military engagement.
He has held multiple rounds of talks with the Taliban in the Mideastern state of Qatar where the militant group maintains a political office.
Talks in recent weeks have focused on finding a way to reduce hostilities and bring both sides in the conflict to the negotiating table. Until now the Taliban have refused to talk to Afghan President Ghani’s government. Ghani has also been unable to agree on a negotiating team with Abdullah who is currently his partner in Afghanistan’s so-called Unity Government. Abdallah accuses the president of foiling efforts at peace by imposing new conditions on talks.
Ghani and Abdullah were the leading contenders in last September’s presidential polls. The voting was mired in controversy and is still without a final result.


Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations

Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations
Updated 25 min 16 sec ago

Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations

Greek police clash with protesters in rally against mandatory vaccinations
  • Over 4,000 people rallied outside Greek parliament to oppose mandatory inoculations for healthcare workers and nursing staff
  • A rally on Wednesday was marred by violence

ATHENS: Greek police used teargas and water cannon to disperse people who had gathered in central Athens on Saturday to protest against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations.
More than 4,000 people rallied outside the Greek parliament for a third time this month to oppose mandatory inoculations for some workers, such as health care and nursing staff.
A police official, who asked not to be named, said some protesters had thrown petrol bombs, prompting the police to respond with tear gas.
A rally on Wednesday was also marred by violence.
Recent polls showed the majority of Greeks would get the shot against the COVID-19 which has claimed 12,890 lives in Greece since the pandemic broke out last year. About 45 percent of a population of 11 million are fully vaccinated.
Greece has ordered the vaccination of health care and nursing home staff as cases have risen and urged school teachers to get the shot in time for the start of the school year in September.
Nearly 2,500 cases were reported on Saturday, bringing the total number of infected people to 474,366.


What Turkey and EU’s conflicting visions mean for Cyprus’ future

Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute. (AFP)
Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute. (AFP)
Updated 28 min 17 sec ago

What Turkey and EU’s conflicting visions mean for Cyprus’ future

Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute. (AFP)
  • Turkish President Erdogan repeated his demand for a two-state solution during a recent visit to the northern part of Cyprus
  • UN Security Council responded by condemning “the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area” of derelict Varosha town

ANKARA / DUBAI: Europe’s longest frozen conflict is once again in the spotlight following a visit to the northern part of Cyprus by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which he repeated his demand for a two-state solution and backed moves to rebuild a ghost town that lies within the island’s military buffer zone.

Erdogan’s appearance at a military parade on July 20 in the northern part of the capital, Nicosia, might have passed off without incident had he not reiterated his contentious position on the Cyprus dispute with remarks that were echoed and elaborated on by his ally, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.

Attempts to resolve the conflict suffered a blow in 2004 when Greek Cypriots voted against a UN proposal to reunite the Turkish and Greek sides of the nation, while Turkish Cypriots approved it. Three out of four Greek Cypriots rejected the plan put forward by Kofi Annan, the UN chief, that would have given tens of thousands of Cypriots the right to return to homes they lost in 1974.

That was the year Turkish troops occupied the northern third of Cyprus in response to an abortive coup engineered by a military junta in Athens that aimed to unite the island with Greece. The ghost town undergoing a controversial reopening is Varosha, a suburb of Famagusta, once the Mediterranean island’s top coastal resort whose Greek Cypriot population fled with the Turkish invasion.

Budding hopes of a UN-sponsored settlement in the aftermath of the invasion had been nipped by the unilateral establishment in 1983 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey. While Cyprus has been largely at peace since the de-facto partition of 1974, the “frozen conflict” has proved so intractable, it has come to be known as the “graveyard of diplomats.”

Now, in addition to playing the nationalist card to humor their domestic constituencies, Erdogan and the Turkish Cypriot leadership may well be signaling their loss of faith in time and negotiations to bring the breakaway north’s international isolation and a decades-old economic embargo to an end.

For a start, they intend to convert part of Varosha into a resettlement site and to allow people to reclaim properties vacated during the 1974 invasion. In November 2020, Turkish Cypriot authorities reopened a small area of Varosha. Now Erdogan says “a new era will begin in Maras (the Turkish name for Varosha) which will benefit everyone.”

During his latest visit to the northern part of Nicosia, Erdogan, who as Turkey’s prime minister in 2004 had backed the Annan reunification plan, asserted that Ankara does not have “another 50 years to waste.”

On Wednesday, in a video address to members of his AK Party, he said: “We will make every possible effort to ensure recognition of the Turkish Cypriot state as soon as possible. All other offers and proposals are not valid anymore.”

Erdogan vowed to make no "concession" as he pressed for a two-state solution for Cyprus, during a visit to the divided eastern Mediterranean island. (AFP)

Tatar got down to the nitty-gritty of the regeneration plans, saying that an initial 3.5 percent of Varosha, whose abandoned hotels, residences and shops lie under Turkish control, would be removed from its military status.

An earlier version of the buffer zone where Varosha is situated was created in 1964 by a UN peacekeeping force in response to a spate of inter-communal violence. Following the 1974 Turkish invasion, this so-called Green Line became the de-facto line of partition.

While an estimated 165,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, about 45,000 Turkish Cypriots relocated to the north, where they established their own independent administration. Despite a unanimous UN Security Council resolution, Turkey refused to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.

According to the UN resolutions, Varosha should be handed over to UN administration and the town’s vacant properties should be returned to their legal owners. In a statement on Friday, the Security Council condemned “the further reopening of a part of the fenced-off area of Varosha” and expressed “deep regret regarding these unilateral actions.”

THENUMBER

* 1,281,506 - Current total population of Cyprus.

Some analysts think Erdogan’s rhetoric is designed to encourage Greek Cypriots to deal with the Turkish side on an equal footing.

Ahmet Sozen, professor of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, says the pressure tactics might push Greek Cypriots to enter into negotiations, albeit gradually.

“This is a game-changing move. It is just a beginning, because Greek Cypriots do not welcome it,” he told Arab News, “But, at the end of the day, there are 300 individual claims by Greek Cypriots to their properties in this area and it should encourage the Greek side to negotiate with Turkey over these property rights.”

Sozen believes Turkey intends to use the Varosha issue to launch future rounds of negotiation with a stronger hand with the goal of achieving a two-state solution.

“This move also aims to prevent thousands of applications to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg by those who claim their property rights in Varosha. By opening a part of the military zone to civilian use, it will give Turkish Cyprus’ Immovable Property Commission (IPC) the authority to deal with the compensation issue,” he said.

The IPC is the only Turkish Cypriot institution recognized by the ECHR, which dropped several applications lodged by displaced Greek Cypriots after it was established for redressal of such grievances. If Varosha is partially returned to civilian use, the IPC will likely be in charge of resolving property issues.

People cross the Ledras crossing point in the Cypriot capital Nicosia from the southern part towards the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), on June 4, 2021, as the country opens its crossing points following the easing of restriction in the divided island amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)

But as demonstrated by the Security Council condemnation, Turkey is facing strong pushback from NATO allies, EU members and even the UN. Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, who discussed the developments with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Christodoulides, has called the Varosha move “unacceptable and inconsistent” with UN resolutions.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” and appealed to “all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions.”

Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, described any moves to open up Varosha as “illegal and unacceptable.” If Turkey’s real concern was returning properties to their legal owners, “they should have adopted UN resolutions and handed the city over to the UN, allowing them to return in conditions of safety,” he said.

Dimitris Tsarouhas, an expert at Bilkent University, in Ankara, describes the new approach to the Varosha issue as “strange although not unexpected,” since it is “not really a Turkish Cypriot decision but a Turkish one.”

Derelict hotels, restaurants, and residential buildings remain abandoned at the fenced-off beachfront eastern town of Varosha, in the Turkish-held north of the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on October 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“The enclave had been abandoned by its Greek Cypriot owners in 1974 and they have lived in hope of returning ever since, not least because Turkey did not send in settlers,” he said.

“I am guessing that this small reopening aims at enticing Greek Cypriots to move back in, or at least to claim their property through the Turkish Cypriot authorities, thus partially legitimizing the TRNC.”

Noting that the EU and the US “both have been explicit in condemning a move contradicting decades of UN work on Cyprus,” Tsarouhas said: “It seems to me that Erdogan’s goal is to consolidate the nationalist coalition at home and show to the world that he really means the two-state policy he elaborated on for the first time a few years back.”

Once famous as a playground of Hollywood celebrities, Varosha may yet rise from the ruins of war. But for now, its new lease of life is mainly as a bargaining chip in a geopolitical game.


Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Far-right and others march against French virus rules
Updated 24 July 2021

Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Far-right and others march against French virus rules
  • Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday
  • French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns

PARIS: Far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement protested Saturday against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and other venues and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalizations are rising anew. The French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns.
Most French adults are fully vaccinated and polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures. But not everyone.
Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations Saturday around France. Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organized by a former top official in Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party.
While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march. Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles could also be seen in a video of the incident.
Many marchers focused their anger on a French “health pass” that is required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues. To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.
Lawmakers have debated the measure amid divisions over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations.
Last weekend, more than 100,000 people protested around France against the measures. They included far-right politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron for various reasons.
Remaining members of France’s yellow vest movement, largely from political extremes, are using the virus bill to try to rekindle its flame. The movement started in 2018 as a broad uprising against perceived economic injustice and led to months of protests marked by violence between demonstrators and police, but subsided after the French government addressed many of the protesters’ concerns.


Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
Updated 24 July 2021

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
  • The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time
  • The resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts

KABUL: Afghan authorities on Saturday imposed a night-time curfew across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces to curb surging violence unleashed by a sweeping Taliban offensive in recent months, the interior ministry said.
“To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces across the country,” except in Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time, Ahmad Zia Zia, deputy interior ministry spokesman said in a separate audio statement to reporters.
Since early May, the Taliban have launched a widespread offensive across the country that has seen the insurgents capture border crossings, dozens of districts and encircle several provincial capitals.
With the withdrawal of American-led foreign forces all but complete, the resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.


Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise
Updated 24 July 2021

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise
  • The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public
  • In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam announced a 15-day lockdown in the capital Hanoi starting Saturday as a coronavirus surge spread from the southern Mekong Delta region.
The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public. Only government offices, hospitals and essential businesses are allowed to stay open.
Earlier in the week, the city had suspended all outdoor activities and ordered non-essential businesses to close following an increase in cases. On Friday, Hanoi reported 70 confirmed infections, the city’s highest, part of a record 7,295 cases in the country in the last 24 hours.
Nearly 5,000 of them are from Vietnam’s largest metropolis, southern Ho Chi Minh City, which has also extended its lockdown until Aug. 1.
In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths.
A meeting of the National Assembly that opened in Hanoi on Tuesday with 499 delegates is going ahead, although it was shortened to 12 from the original 17 days.
The delegates have been vaccinated, are regularly tested for the coronavirus and are traveling in a bubble, and are isolated at hotels, according to the National Assembly.