‘We attach great importance to the Gulf region,’ Cyprus official tells Arab News

A Cypriot National Guard soldier wearing a face mask stands guard at a security outpost near the buffer zone in Nicosia, the world's last divided capital, on November 26, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
A Cypriot National Guard soldier wearing a face mask stands guard at a security outpost near the buffer zone in Nicosia, the world's last divided capital, on November 26, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 04 December 2020

‘We attach great importance to the Gulf region,’ Cyprus official tells Arab News

A Cypriot National Guard soldier wearing a face mask stands guard at a security outpost near the buffer zone in Nicosia, the world's last divided capital, on November 26, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Demetris Samuel, foreign ministry spokesperson, offered the government’s perspective on tensions in eastern Mediterranean
  • Samuel described Saudi-Cyprus relationship as “very dynamic and “based on our mutual respect for international law”

DUBAI: Turkey’s latest decision to halt prospecting for oil and natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea comes just days before a meeting of European Union leaders to decide whether to penalize it for its plans for drilling activities in what Greece and Cyprus consider as part of their territorial waters. The EU leaders will decide during the Dec. 10-11 summit potential sanctions over Ankara’s activities.

Tensions between the duo, both EU members, and Turkey remain high over the latter’s sporadic forays into the contested waters. After a brief halt, Turkey resumed in mid-October its survey activities, sending back the Oruc Reis to the eastern Mediterranean. On Monday, the Turkish government announced that the vessel had completed seismic surveys and was returning to the port of Antalya.

In a Zoom interview with Arab News, Demetris Samuel, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, gave his government’s perspective on the gamut of issues, including diplomatic and economic ties with the Gulf countries.

Q: Turkey has been drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Cyprus, within what it calls “its continental shelf.” What can Cyprus do beyond protests and EU warnings?

A: We have gone to great lengths to delimit our maritime zones with our neighbors. We believe there needs to be dialogue with Turkey on the basis of international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We have delimited our maritime zones with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon and we have repeatedly called on Turkey to enter into dialogue so that we can delimit our maritime borders with Turkey as well. 

Turkey has refused so far, claiming that they do not recognize the Republic of Cyprus. Over the last year and a half, Turkey has conducted six illegal drillings in either the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or continental shelf of Cyprus. They have even drilled in the territorial waters of Cyprus, within the 12 nautical miles of Cyprus. They have drilled mostly to the south of Cyprus within Cyprus and Egypt. Turkey has no right to drill where they have (drilled). They have been condemned for it (by the EU), as has the international community.




This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defense Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' heading in the west of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP/Turkish Defense Ministry/File Photo)

Q: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Turkey’s latest withdrawal of the vessel Oruc Reis will “reduce tensions and make it easier to make progress also on deconfliction.” Do you see it as a positive development for the region as a whole, including Cyprus? 

A: If you look at the situation on its own, it is a positive development but let’s not forget that it is a development we have seen in the past by Turkey. We know how it ends up. Turkey pulls the vessel away a few days before the next European Council in order to show our European partners that they are stepping back and giving space to dialogue. Then as soon as the council meeting is over, the drilling ship or the exploratory vessel is back out there continuing its mission. Turkey has not admitted publicly that it has pulled the ship back. 

Q: Turkey has criticized the agreement between Cyprus and the US State Department on establishing a joint security training center, saying it will “damage the solution to the Cyprus problem.” What kind of a solution do you think will satisfy Turkey, which is not a party to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea? 

A: Turkey’s aim from the beginning, when it invaded Cyprus in 1974, was to have an influence and a say in what happens on the island. They have used the Turkish Cypriot community as a pretext for involvement in the island. (President) Erdogan’s only concern is to use the Turkish Cypriots to control what happens in Cyprus. Following the election in the occupied area of Ersin Tatar as the new Turkish Cypriot leader in October, the Turkish side is now even publicly speaking about a two-state solution.

Q: The recent US moves are seen by many as part of Washington’s efforts to wean Nicosia away from Moscow’s influence. Does Cyprus feel pressure from both sides to keep them happy or does it view the competition for its loyalties as entirely to its advantage? 

A: Neither. We go about our foreign policy on the basis of a positive agenda. We don’t think it would be beneficial to play the US against Russia and vice versa. It is one of the pillars of our foreign policy to maintain our excellent relations with the UN Security Council members and we are very mindful that that is not affected by anything we do in a particular direction. 

We are a small country with an existential problem. We have 40,000 foreign troops on our soil. We are a country that believes in international law. We attach great value to Security Council resolutions, and given that the US and Russia are both members of the UN Security Council, we are careful not to let our actions have any impact these important international actors. We do not see our foreign policy as a zero-sum game. 

Q: During meetings held in August, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterated Riyadh’s support for Cyprus’ sovereign rights while his Cyprus counterpart said the “the solidarity and support of countries such as Saudi Arabia” as imperative to Cyprus. How would you describe the relationship? 

A: If you look at the hard facts, you can understand the importance we attach to the Gulf region. Cyprus is one of the smallest member states of the European Union yet we have one of the most extensive diplomatic networks in the region. We invest a lot in our relationship with the Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia. It is worth noting that our bilateral relations have evolved rapidly over the last several years. (Since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Cyprus in 2016), we have established embassies in each other’s capitals and we have exchanged a number of high-level visits. 

Business relations have also thrived and, if it were not for the pandemic, we would now have direct flights between Cyprus and Saudi Arabia. Over the last four years we have covered ground that normally takes 20 to 30 years to cover in terms of rebuilding a diplomatic relationship. We have an excellent relationship with Saudi Arabia and it is one that is very dynamic and based on our mutual respect for international law. 

We are present with resident missions in the entire Gulf except for Bahrain. We are now looking at the possibility of opening a diplomatic mission and an embassy in Bahrain. We attach great importance to the Gulf and we consider the Gulf to be part of the region that we are in and a very important part. We believe that what happens in the Gulf has a great impact on the broader region. We also see that there is a lot of potential in the greater region, in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf. 

Through enhancing cooperation, we feel that we can tap into this potential for the benefit of our people in the region, for the benefit of stability and security in the region. This is a region that is crucial for stability and security on a global level. If we can increase and enhance stability, cooperation and security in this region, then we will have gone (a long way toward) enhancing security and stability globally. 




A picture taken on June 24, 2019 in the Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus approximately 20 nautical miles north-west of Paphos shows the drilling vessel Fatih, which was deployed by Turkey to search for gas and oil in waters considered part of the EU state's exclusive economic zone (EEZ). (AFP/File Photo)

Q: Saudi Arabia and Cyprus were keen to promote the signing of a series of bilateral agreements, to hold two business forums by the end of the year, and launch direct flights between the two countries. Are the plans on track? 

A: Yes, everything is on track, but we have experienced a few delays due to COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in regards to the business forum. 

Q: Cyprus and Egypt intend to build a direct marine pipeline as part of their efforts to transport natural gas from your country’s Aphrodite gas field to plants in Egypt and re-export it to Europe. Are these plans on schedule or have been disrupted by the eastern Mediterranean situation? 

A: There is disruption but it is not because of the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean but because of the market situation in general in world markets when it comes to energy. The intergovernmental and legal framework for implementing these projects has been laid. However, it all depends of course on the market and how the market situation evolves. But the development of the infrastructure, because it is all going to be done with private investment, will be determined by the market factors. 

The pandemic has disrupted the functioning of the market and it has affected prices, so decisions are being re-evaluated. But what does not change and will always be there is the legal framework and the intergovernmental framework that is necessary for these projects to proceed and materialize as the market determines. 




Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides (R) and his Slovak counterpart Ivan Korcok (L) hold a joint press conference following their meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nicosia, on November 23, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Q: In retrospect, do you think it was a mistake in January 2019 to keep Turkey out of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum and deny it the advantages of lower costs and competitive prices of a regional gas market? 

A: There is no country that would want to include Turkey in regional cooperation mechanisms, including energy and security networks more than we do. Why? Our approach is a pragmatic one. Geography is destiny.

If anyone would like to have a neighbor that respects international law and behaves in a way that is in line with good neighborly relations, it is us. We would like to have such a neighbor. We are the biggest supporters of Turkish EU accession process, more than anyone we like to see Turkey adjusting its foreign policy and its outlook in a way that would make it a neighbor that anyone would like to have. 

We are fully supportive of including Turkey in this regional network of cooperation. Without Turkey this cooperation would never be complete; Turkey is an undeniably big and important player in the region. 

However, we cannot talk about this while Turkey is threatening and violating the sovereign rights of its neighbors and disregarding flagrantly international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Look at the relations that Turkey has with countries in the region, including Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Greece and Armenia. When Erdogan came to power in 2003 his mantra was “zero problems with our neighbors.” They have gone from that to problems with every single neighbor. 

Turkey wants to have this hegemonic role in the region and dictate to everyone in the region how things will be decided and determined, including how cooperation with work. This is not the model that the rest of us are working on. 

Q: Do you think Turkey’s ongoing disputes with Cyprus will push Greek and Turkish Cypriots further apart or bring them closer at an emotional level and indirectly help the island’s reunification in the long run? 

A: If Turkey was out of the equation, and things were left between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, the two communities on the island, we could solve the problem very quickly, even in a matter of days. Turkey uses the existence of the Turkish Cypriot community on the island as a pretext to promote what it understands as its own national interests. It doesn’t care about the well-being of the Turkish Cypriots. 

Cyprus lies under the strategic belly of Turkey. Therefore, (Turkey’s) insistence to have a role in the affairs of an independent and sovereign state, a federal Cyprus that will evolve from a resolution of the Cyprus problem, is the main factor that is preventing the reunification of the island.


UK parliament declares genocide in China's Xinjiang; Beijing condemns move

UK parliament declares genocide in China's Xinjiang; Beijing condemns move
Updated 5 min 55 sec ago

UK parliament declares genocide in China's Xinjiang; Beijing condemns move

UK parliament declares genocide in China's Xinjiang; Beijing condemns move
  • So far the government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain
  • The support for the motion is non-binding, meaning it is up to the government to decide what action, if any, to take next

LONDON: Britain’s parliament has called for the government to take action to end what lawmakers described as genocide in China's Xinjiang region, stepping up pressure on ministers to go further in their criticism of Beijing.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government again steered clear of declaring genocide over what it says are “industrial-scale” human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang. Ministers say any decision on declaring a genocide is up to the courts.

So far the government has imposed sanctions on some Chinese officials and introduced rules to try to prevent goods linked to the region entering the supply chain, but a majority of lawmakers want ministers to go further.

Lawmakers backed a motion brought by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani stating Uighurs in Xinjiang were suffering crimes against humanity and genocide, and calling on government to use international law to bring it to an end.

The support for the motion is non-binding, meaning it is up to the government to decide what action, if any, to take next.

The Chinese embassy in the UK condemned the parliament’s move, calling on Britain to take concrete steps to respect China’s core interests and “immediately right its wrong moves.”

“The unwarranted accusation by a handful of British MPs that there is “genocide” in Xinjiang is the most preposterous lie of the century, an outrageous insult and affront to the Chinese people, and a gross breach of international law and the basic norms governing international relations,” the embassy said in a statement dated Friday.

Britain’s minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, again set out to parliament the government’s position that any decision on describing the human rights abuses in Xinjiang as genocide would have to be taken by “competent” courts.

Some lawmakers fear Britain risks falling out of step with allies over China after the Biden administration endorsed a determination by its predecessor that China had committed genocide in Xinjiang


Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris

Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris
Updated 43 min 56 sec ago

Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris

Knifeman stabs female police worker near Paris

PARIS: A knifeman stabbed a woman working for the police in the entrance to a police station in Rambouillet, near Paris, on Friday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
The victim died of her injuries, BFM TV and Europe 1 reported.
The attacker's motives were not immediately clear. The assailant was shot and overpowered by police officers. BFM TV reported that he was of Tunisian nationality and had been shot dead.
Darmanin said he was headed to the scene in Rambouillet, a middle class commuter town.
The Versailles prosecutor was investigating, officials said. 


Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 
Updated 23 April 2021

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 
  • People have started to join combat training camps run by paramilitary groups in eastern Karen State
  • National League for Democracy members are reportedly in talks with ethnic groups to form an army against the Myanmar military 

YANGON: A 24-year-old medical student who never imagined he would ever kill anyone, as his vocation was to save lives, did so in late March after Myanmar security forces shot dead dozens of protesting civilians in one of Yangon’s neighborhoods.

“They even used hand grenades and some kinds of explosive ammunition in cracking down on us,” the Yangon University of Medicine student, Swe Min, told Arab News.

At least 739 protesters have been killed by police and military personnel since the beginning of nationwide demonstrations against the junta that ousted the country’s elected National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders in a coup on Feb. 1, according to Friday’s data from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma.

The incident in South Dagon township, where more than 30 people were killed on March 29, happened two days after the deadliest crackdown on protesters, when security forces killed 114 people across the country.

Footage shared on social media showed how a barricade built by protesting South Dagon residents was blown up with explosives by security forces.

Witnessing the state violence was beyond Swe Min’s threshold of endurance.

“There were randomly shooting and brutally assaulting residents,” he said.

Swe Min and other protesters seized a plainclothes police officer near the main demonstration site and started beating him indiscriminately.

“Seeing the slaughter of civilians, we got very upset and angry,” he recalled.

“We were out of our minds, and we have beaten and kicked him to death.”

As night raids followed the officer’s killing, Swe Min managed to escape Yangon the next morning with a group of friends.

Earlier this month, they joined a militant training camp in the mountainous eastern Karen State that borders Thailand.

“We have joined combat training a week ago,” he told Arab News over the phone from an undisclosed location. There is not much choice left for us. We have to choose to kill or to be killed.”

Arrest, torture and the daily forced disappearances of protesters since the military regime took power have pushed many like Swe Min to take up arms as they no longer seem to believe in non-violent resistance.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest insurgent group fighting for the eastern state’s greater autonomy, said that thousands of people who are against the regime have sought refuge in their control area.

Padoh Man Man, a spokesperson for one of the KNU’s brigades, told Arab News that many are eager to join their combat training.

“Since they came here, most are determined to take up arms. After witnessing the momentum of brutality by the regime, it is understandable why they are in favor of armed resistance,” he said over the phone earlier this week.

The group, he added, had trained hundreds of volunteers alongside new KNU members in basic guerrilla warfare over the past two months.

“They are, therefore, more or less ready to join armed resistance,” he said.

Not only ordinary citizens but also dissident politicians are considering the option.

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers ousted in the February coup that formed a parallel government in mid-April, has reportedly also been in negotiations with ethnic rebel groups in the hope of forming an army against the Tatmadaw — the armed forces of Myanmar.

However, this may not happen soon as, although opposed to the regime, ethnic minorities do not entirely trust NLD, which during its rule had alienated them, Sai Tun Aung Lwin, an ethnic affairs analyst and a researcher with the Yangon-based Pyidaungsu Institute, told Arab News.  

“Small community-based defense units have been formed across the country, but it seems only to defend themselves at the moment,” he said. “People are doing what they have to do. They are dutiful.”

Some are even ready to abandon their monastic life.

A Buddhist monk known for his charity work in Yangon’s Hlaing Thar Yar township, who now identifies himself with a changed name, Ashin Rsara, took off his religious robes and completed combat training in Karen State.

“The regime considers us their enemy, and I witnessed the merciless crackdown in Hlaing Thar Yar last month. Then I realized that we would never have peace as long as it is in power,” he told Arab News.

“Buddha teaches us to love each other in any situation. I have been trying to follow Buddha’s teachings my whole life, but I can’t this time,” he said. “I have to live with hate till the resistance prevails or I die.”


More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study
Updated 23 April 2021

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study

More risks to pregnant women, their newborns from COVID-19 than known before — study
  • An infection of the new coronavirus in such newborns is associated with a three-fold risk of severe medical complications
  • The study was conducted in more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries

Pregnant women infected with COVID-19 and their newborn children face higher risks of complications than was previously known, a study by British scientists showed on Friday.
An infection of the new coronavirus in such newborns is associated with a three-fold risk of severe medical complications, according to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Oxford. 
While pregnant women are at higher risk of complications such as premature birth, high blood pressure with organ failure risk, need for intensive care and possible death.
“Women with COVID-19 during pregnancy were over 50% more likely to experience pregnancy complications compared to pregnant women unaffected by COVID-19,” said Aris Papageorghiou, co-lead of the trial and a professor of fetal medicine at Oxford University.
The study was conducted in more than 2,100 pregnant women across 18 countries, where each woman affected by COVID-19 was compared to two non-infected women giving birth at the same time in the same hospital.
Findings from the study, published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, also showed a delivery by caesarean section may be associated with an increased risk of virus infection in newborns.
However, breastfeeding does not seem to heighten risks of babies contracting COVID-19 from their mothers, scientists said.


UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab

UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab
Updated 23 April 2021

UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab

UK study finds significant drop in COVID-19 infections after one jab
  • Infections in adults of all ages fell by 65% after a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine
  • More than 33 million people in Britain have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

LONDON: COVID-19 infections in adults of all ages fell by 65% after a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine in UK research, which scientists said showed the real-world impact of the nation’s immunization campaign against the pandemic.
Crucially, the research was conducted at a time when a new and more infectious variant of the coronavirus, called B1.1.7, was dominant in Britain, but still found vaccination was just as effective in elderly people and those with underlying health conditions as it was in the young and healthy.
“These real-world findings are extremely promising,” health minister James Bethell said in a statement as the data were published. He said they showed Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program — one of the world’s fastest — was having a “significant impact.”
The data come from two studies that are part of the COVID-19 Infection Survey — a collaboration between Oxford University, the government’s health department, and the Office of National Statistics. Both studies were published online as preprints on Friday and have not yet been peer-reviewed.
The researchers analyzed more than 1.6 million test results from nose and throat swabs taken from 373,402 study participants between Dec. 1, 2020 and April 3, 2021.
They found that 21 days after a single dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — with no second dose — rates of all new COVID-19 infections had dropped by 65%.
This included a drop in symptomatic infections by 74% and a drop in infections with no reported symptoms by 57%.
Reductions in overall infections and in symptomatic infections, were even greater after a second dose — 70% and 90% respectively — the study found, and were similar to effects in people who had previously had a COVID-19 infection.
The second study looked at levels of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus to see how they changed after one dose of either vaccine, and after two Pfizer doses.
Results showed that antibody responses to a single dose of either vaccine were slightly lower in older people, but high across all ages after two Pfizer doses.
More than 33 million people in Britain have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 10 million having had two doses, official data showed on Wednesday.