French president traveling to Lebanon after deadly explosion

French President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to Lebanon on Thursday Aug. 6, 2020, to offer support for the country after the massive, deadly explosion in Beirut. (File/AP)
Short Url
Updated 05 August 2020

French president traveling to Lebanon after deadly explosion

  • France is also sending several tons of aid and emergency workers after Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut
  • The blasts killed more than 100 people and injured 4,000

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron is traveling to Lebanon on Thursday to offer support for the troubled country after a massive, deadly explosion that has drawn global pledges of medical and humanitarian aid.
Macron’s office told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the French leader will meet with Lebanese political leaders. It provided no further details. Lebanon is a former French protectorate and the countries retain close political and economic ties.
France is also sending several tons of aid and emergency workers after Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut, which killed at least 100 people and injured thousands.
It was unclear what caused the blast, which appeared to have been triggered by a fire and struck with the force of an earthquake. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Several other countries across the Middle East and Europe are sending aid. The European Union is activating its civil protection system to round up emergency workers and equipment from across the 27-nation bloc.
The EU commission said the plan is to urgently dispatch over 100 firefighters with vehicles, sniffer dogs and equipment designed to find people trapped in urban areas.
The Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Poland and the Netherlands are taking part in the effort and other countries are expected to join.
The EU’s satellite mapping system will be used to help Lebanese authorities to establish the extent of the damage.
The French emergency workers traveling to Lebanon include members of a special unit with chemical and other technological expertise trained to intervene in damaged industrial sites. Among their tasks will be to identify specific risks for products stored in the area and other risks resulting from the explosion, said national civil security spokesman Michael Bernier.
Others have experience in dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, forest fires and other international disasters.


Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

Iranian singer Omid Tootian, 46, gestures during an interview at a coffee shop in the UN-controlled buffer zone in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, on September 23, 2020, where he's been stuck since mid-September. (AFP)
Updated 27 September 2020

Iranian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on divided Cyprus

  • Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran

NICOSIA: Dissident Iranian singer Omid Tootian has for days been sleeping in a tent in the buffer zone of the world’s last divided capital, after being refused entry by the Republic of Cyprus.
“I can’t go to one side or the other,” the performer, in his mid-40s, whose songs speak out against Iranian authorities, told AFP. “I’m stuck living in the street.”
His tent is pitched between two checkpoints in western Nicosia, among the weeds outside an abandoned house in the quasi-“no man’s land” that separates the northern and southern parts of Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974.
In early September, he traveled to the north of the Mediterranean island, controlled by the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
Two weeks later, Tootian, who had been living in Turkey for around three years, tried for the first time to seek asylum in the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the southern two-thirds of the island and is in the EU.  But once at the green line, the 180 -km buffer zone that traverses the island and is patrolled by UN peacekeepers, he was denied entry into the south.
Refusing to return to the TRNC, where he fears he would be in danger, Tootian found himself in limbo in the few hundred meters of land that divides the two territories.
“I don’t know why they haven’t approved my entry ... but I think it’s because of the coronavirus,” he said, speaking at the pro-unification Home for Cooperation community center in the buffer zone where he eats, grooms and spends most of his days.
“But I hope things will become clear because now I don’t know what will happen, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Because his songs are very critical of the Iranian regime, Tootian fears that if he returns to the north of the island, he will first be sent back to Turkey and then to Iran.

Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran.

Omid Tootian, Dissident Iranian singer

“Turkey is no longer a safe country for me because the Turkish regime is close to Iran,” he said, adding that he had for the past six months been receiving anonymous “threats” from unknown callers using private phone numbers.
In July, three Iranians were sentenced to death by the Islamic republic. Two of them had initially fled to Turkey and, according to the non-governmental group the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Turkish authorities cooperated with Tehran to repatriate them.
Since arriving at the checkpoint, Tootian has tried “four or five times” in a week to enter, without success, despite the help of a migrant rights advocacy group known as KISA and the UN mission in the buffer zone.
According to European and international regulations, Cyprus cannot expel an asylum seeker until the application has been considered and a final decision issued.
The police said “they have restrictions not to let anybody in,” KISA member Doros Polycarpou told AFP.
Cypriot police spokesman Christos Andreou said “it is not the responsibility of the police” to decide who can enter the Republic of Cyprus.
They “follow the instructions of the Ministry of Interior,” put in place “because of the pandemic,” he added.
According to the ministry, “all persons who are willing to cross from a legal entry point to the area controlled by the Republic must present a negative COVID-19 test carried out within the last 72 hours” — a requirement Tootian said he had fulfilled.
Polycarpou charges that the Cypriot “government has used the pandemic to restrict basic human rights.”
A spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency in Cyprus Emilia Strovolidou said “there are other means to protect asylum seekers and public health at the same time ... we can test people when they arrive or take quarantine measures.”
“We have someone who is seeking international protection, he should have access to the process,” she added.
Due to the closure of other migration routes to Europe, asylum applications have increased sixfold over the last five years in Cyprus — a country of fewer than 1 million inhabitants — from 2,265 in 2015 to 13,650 in 2019, according to Eurostat data.