Russia sponsors Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire talks

Russia moved to stop the worst escalation of fighting in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh in more than a quarter-century by hosting cease-fire talks on Friday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 October 2020

Russia sponsors Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire talks

  • The latest outburst of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began Sept. 27 and marked the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh
  • The Kremlin said Putin proposed calling a cease-fire to exchange prisoners and collect the bodies of dead soldiers

MOSCOW: Russia moved to stop the worst escalation of fighting in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh in more than a quarter-century by hosting cease-fire talks on Friday.
Late Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement calling for a break in the fighting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani forces that have raged for nearly two weeks over the region. The Kremlin said Putin’s initiative followed a series of calls with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
The latest outburst of fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began Sept. 27 and marked the biggest escalation of the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The region lies in Azerbaijan but has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994.
The Kremlin said Putin proposed calling a cease-fire to exchange prisoners and collect the bodies of dead soldiers. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov greeted his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts at the ministry's mansion in Moscow on Friday afternoon.
Armenia said it's open to holding a cease-fire, while Azerbaijan has made a potential truce conditional on the Armenian forces' withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing that the failure of international efforts to negotiate a settlement left it no other choice but to try to reclaim its lands by force.
Speaking in an address to the nation, the Azerbaijani president said nearly three decades of international talks “haven't yielded an inch of progress, we haven't been given back an inch of the occupied lands.”
“Mediators and leaders of some international organizations have stated that there is no military solution to the conflict,” Aliyev said. “I have disagreed with the thesis, and I have been right. The conflict is now being settled by military means and political means will come next.”
Azerbaijani officials and Nagorno-Karabakh separatist authorities said heavy shelling continued overnight.
Fighting with heavy artillery, warplanes and drones has engulfed Nagorno-Karabakh despite numerous international calls for a cease-fire. Both sides have accused each other of targeting residential areas and civilian infrastructure.
Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, has been under intense shelling. Residents are staying in shelters, some of which are in the basements of apartment buildings.
On Thursday, a historic cathedral in the town of Shusha in Nagorno-Karabakh came under shelling, a shell piercing its dome and damaging the interior. No one was hurt in the attack, but hours later more shelling wounded two Russian journalists inspecting the damage. The Azerbaijani military denied targeting the cathedral.
According to the Nagorno-Karabakh military, 376 of its servicemen have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan hasn’t provided details on its military losses. Scores of civilians on both sides also have been killed.
Armenian officials say Turkey is involved in the conflict and is sending Syrian mercenaries to fight on Azerbaijan’s side. Turkey has publicly backed Azerbaijan in the conflict but has denied sending combatants to the region.
In an interview with CNN Arabic aired Thursday, Azerbaijan's president admitted that Turkish F-16 fighter jets have stayed on in Azerbaijan weeks after a joint military exercise, but insisted that they have remained grounded. Armenian officials had earlier claimed that a Turkish F-16 shot down an Armenian warplane, a claim that both Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied.
Aliyev's office said French President Emmanuel Macron called him Friday to discuss the conflict, but wouldn't give any details of the conversation. The call followed Macron's conversation with the Armenian prime minister late Thursday.
Macron's office voiced hope that a truce could be negotiated soon, noting that it was coordinating its efforts with the Kremlin.


Hong Kong leader: National security law has been ‘effective’

Updated 20 min ago

Hong Kong leader: National security law has been ‘effective’

  • Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in June
  • ‘One of our urgent priorities is to restore Hong Kong’s constitutional order and political system from chaos’

HONG KONG: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Wednesday that the city’s new national security law has been “remarkably effective in restoring stability” after months of political unrest, and that bringing normalcy back to the political system is an urgent priority.
Lam made the comments in her annual policy address, more than a month after it was postponed so that she could seek Beijing’s support for various economic measures aimed at reviving the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s economy.
Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in June, aiming to crack down on dissent following months of anti-government protests in the city that at times descended into violence. Last year’s protests were triggered by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland. The proposal was eventually scrapped.
“Advocacies of Hong Kong independence and collusions with external forces have progressively subsided, some of the prominent figures have kept a low profile, radical organizations have ceased operations or dissolved,” Lam said in her address.
“After a year of social unrest with fear for personal safety, Hong Kong people can once again enjoy their basic rights and freedoms, according to the law,” she said.
Lam also criticized foreign governments for interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, saying it had jeopardized national security.
Beijing has in recent months taken a tougher stance on dissent in Hong Kong, sparking concerns over the possible end of the “one country, two systems” framework under which Hong Kong has been operating since it was handed over to China by Britain in 1997.
Earlier this month, China passed a resolution disqualifying four pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers after they were accused of violating their oaths of office. The move prompted all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators to resign en masse as a show of solidarity.
Lam said that Hong Kong has experienced one of its most severe political challenges over the past year.
“One of our urgent priorities is to restore Hong Kong’s constitutional order and political system from chaos,” she said.
She said the government would introduce a bill by the end of this year to amend local laws related to oath-taking, to “deal with those who have engaged in conduct that breaches the oath of the swearing-in.”