Middle East countries return stranded citizens, as coronavirus cases rise

A health worker takes a body temperature reading from a driver inside a vehicle at a drive-through COVID-19 coronavirus testing centre in al-Khawaneej district of the gulf emirate of Dubai on April 9, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 April 2020

Middle East countries return stranded citizens, as coronavirus cases rise

  • The UAE’s health ministry has confirmed that 370 people have tested positive for coronavirus

Middle East countries have started repatriating citizens from coronavirus hotspots amid the COVID-19 outbreak, which infected more than 1.5 million people globally.

Saudi Arabia has returned 250 Saudi nationals from Jakarta on Friday, where they arrived in King Khalid International Airport, state news agency SPA reported.

Saturday, April 11 (All times in GMT)

17:20 - A World Health Organization (WHO) official on Saturday urged Belarus to impose new measures to contain the new coronavirus, out of concern that the outbreak in the country has entered a worrying new phase.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held power in the former Soviet nation of 9.5 million people since 1994, has in recent weeks downplayed the need for social distancing and other measures to stem the spread of the virus.

He has said that drinking vodka, driving tractors and bathing in a sauna could help fight it, and he has been shown playing ice hockey matches and embracing other players.

17:00 - Turkey's coronavirus death toll rises by 95 to 1,101 with 5,138 new cases confirmed.

16:10 - The United States overtook Italy on Saturday to become the country with the largest death toll in the coronavirus pandemic, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The outbreak has now claimed the lives of at least 18,860, people in the US, which also leads the world in the number of confirmed infections with 503,594, by the Baltimore-based school's count.

Italy has registered 18,849 deaths according to an AFP tally based on official counts, but with a population of around 60 million it is less than a fifth the size of the US.

15:56 -  Britain's interior minister said on Saturday she was sorry if health workers felt there had been failings to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to the front line.

Doctors and nurses have complained that there have been PPE shortages for frontline staff and when asked directly if she would apologise for this, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "I am sorry if people feel there have been failings."

"It is inevitable that the demand and pressures on PPE and the demand for PPE are going to be exponential, they are going to be incredibly high," she said.

15:44 - New York reported 783 deaths from coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 8,627.

15:30 - Paedophiles are seeking to exploit the fact that children are increasingly going online to meet friends and do school lessons on their computers during the coronavirus crisis, Britain's interior minister Priti Patel said on Saturday. 

13:38The death toll from coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose by 917 to 9,875 people as of 1600 GMT on April 10, health officials said on Saturday. 

13:16 - UAE Health Ministry reported 170 cases of coronavirus recoveries on Saturday bringing the total number of recoveries to 588, and the total number of infections to 3,736.

13:00 - Saudi Arabia announced 382 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases in the Kingdom to 4,033. 

12:40 - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is making very good progress in his recovery from COVID-19, his office said on Saturday, as his health minister said the peak of the outbreak in Britain had not yet been reached.

The death toll in British hospitals from the virus has reached almost 9,000, with 980 more deaths reported on Friday. That figure exceeded the deadliest day so far in Italy, which has been the country with the most fatalities so far.

11:24 - Qatar's ministry of health recorded 216 new cases of coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 2,512. 

10:40 – Iraq’s Anbar province has extended its curfew until April 18 amid the coronavirus outbreak.

10:18 – 10 more people have tested positive for coronavirus in Lebanon, raising total to 619, Lebanon's health ministry said.

09:57 Iran’s new coronavirus death toll has risen to 4,357 with 125 new deaths, a health official in Iran said. The country's total number of people infected has reached 70,029, he added.

09:38Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll fell for the third day in a row after 510 fatalities were reported in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said in a statement, marking the smallest overnight increase since March 23.

09:20 – Belgium has confirmed that 327 people have died from COVID19, while there has been 1,351 new cases recorded.

09:17 Malaysian health authorities reported 184 additional confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, raising the cumulative tally to 4,530, the highest number for any country in Southeast Asia.

09:12 – Indonesian health ministry said 330 more people have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing total to 3,842.

08:40 – UK health minister Matt Hancock said the country has not yet reached the COVID-19 peak required before the government will consider easing restrictions of movement

06:30 – Oman recorded 62 new coronavirus infections, bring the total number of infections to 484. 

05:36 – 10 more people have recovered from coronavirus in Kuwait, bringing total to 133. The country has also confirmed 161 new coronavirus patients, raising total to 1,154.

05:15 - A further 26 people died on Saturday in the Philippines, raising the total number of fatalities to 247. The number of infected rose to 4,428 – but there has also been 157 recoveries.

01:14 – Uruguay evacuated 112 Australians and New Zealanders from a cruise ship that has been anchored off the South American country’s coast since March 27 with more than half its passengers and crew infected with the coronavirus. Officials say the evacuees will be flown to Australia early Saturday.

Friday, April 10

18:37 –The UAE’s health ministry has confirmed that 370 people have tested positive for coronavirus, raising the total to 3,360, state news agency WAM reported.

The ministry also recorded two more deaths, bringing the total death toll in the country to 16.

13:59 - Oman’s foreign ministry coordinated with the Omani embassy in Kuwait to repatriate 29 of its citizens back to the Sultanate, state news agency ONA said.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.