First Eurostar passengers depart UK for Paris as border reopens

First Eurostar passengers depart UK for Paris as border reopens
Passengers board a Eurostar train at St Pancras International station in London on December 23, 2020, as services prepare to resume following a 48 hour closure of the French border, due to a new coronavirus strain being discovered in the UK. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2020

First Eurostar passengers depart UK for Paris as border reopens

First Eurostar passengers depart UK for Paris as border reopens
  • French authorities relaxed the travel restrictions on Tuesday evening, 48 hours after banning arrivals from the UK to curb the spread of a new coronavirus strain
  • A Eurostar spokesman said that only 60 of the 900 seats available on the first train had been taken

LONDON: Passengers supplied with negative virus tests on Wednesday boarded the first Eurostar trains from London to France since border closures, eager to spend Christmas with their families.
Shortly before the departure of the first train to Paris from St Pancras Station at 0906 GMT, the terminal remained noticeably quieter than would normally be expected two days before Christmas.
Only a few passengers gathered around the station's ticket offices for boarding, dragging their suitcases and brandishing their all-important negative test results.
"I had already taken a ticket on Monday, finally they postponed it to today, I hope to be able to leave," Francesco, a 28-year-old student, told AFP. "Family vacations are important."
A Eurostar spokesman said that only 60 of the 900 seats available on the first train had been taken.
French authorities relaxed the travel restrictions on Tuesday evening, 48 hours after banning arrivals from the UK to curb the spread of a new coronavirus strain discovered in the country.
Under the new rules set to be reviewed on December 31, French citizens as well as foreigners residing in France or in the European Union, and those making essential journeys, can now cross the border again. To do so, they must provide a negative Covid test that is less than 72 hours old.
At St Pancras, Sara Wood, a 57-year-old catering manager, was able to provide a recent negative result because she is tested every week at her workplace and said she was "very happy" to be going home to Creuse in central France.
"I normally travel back and forth every week, but I haven't been able to because of Covid. So this is the first time I'm going home in eight months," she said.
Other passengers waited nervously to see if results from tests they had taken in anticipation of the journey would come in time.
Sheila Finnan, who was originally supposed to return home to Paris on Tuesday, described the situation over testing as a "total mess", with no opportunity for screening at the station itself.
She was stopped from boarding the morning's first train out of London because she didn't have a negative test result and was going to wait for the 1900 GMT service after taking a new test earlier in the day.
"Hopefully the result will be negative, and I'll wait here for another eight hours," she said.
Staff at St Pancras were telling travellers where to go to get tested, but many were still leaving without being able to catch their trains.
The first vehicles with passengers disembarked in Calais from Dover overnight, after the English port reopened to outgoing traffic, an AFP correspondent saw.
The first passenger passed through the Channel Tunnel at around 0200 GMT, and the first trucks were due to cross the Pas-de-Calais on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for Getlink, which operates the Eurotunnel.
Clement Beaune, French minister for European Affairs, told BFM TV the number of trains and planes linking the UK to France could be adapted to meet a possible rise in demand.
However, Eurostar said there had not been a large surge in reservations.
"There is no reason to add more trains," a spokesman for the subsidiary of France's state-owned railway company said.
Air France restarted its usual flight schedule on Wednesday, running four return flights between Paris and London, two between Paris and Manchester and one between Paris and Edinburgh.
During the 48-hour suspension of flights from the United Kingdom, Air France kept running two return flights to London and one to Manchester but the planes carried only cargo.


US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions

Updated 49 sec ago

US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions

US grants licenses for more aid flow to Afghanistan despite sanctions
UNITED NATIONS: The United States on Friday further paved the way for aid to flow to Afghanistan despite US sanctions on the Taliban, who seized control of the country last month, issuing general licenses amid concern that Washington’s punitive measures could compound an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
The US Treasury Department said it issued two general licenses, one allowing the US government, NGOs and certain international organizations, including the United Nations, to engage in transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network — both under sanctions — that are necessary to provide humanitarian assistance.
The second license authorizes certain transactions related to the export and re-export of food, medicine and other items.
“Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support their basic human needs,” Andrea Gacki, director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.
She added that Washington will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organizations to ease the flow of agricultural goods, medicine and other resources while upholding sanctions on the Taliban, Haqqani Network and others.
The United Nations said that at the start of the year more than 18 million people — about half of Afghanistan’s population — require aid amid the second drought in four years.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week that Afghanistan is on “the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster” and has decided to engage the Taliban in order to help the country’s people.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is committed to allowing humanitarian work in Afghanistan to continue despite Washington listing the Taliban as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group.
The sanctions freeze any US assets of the Islamist militant group and bar Americans from dealing with them, including the contribution of funds, goods or services.
Reuters reported last month that Washington issued a license authorizing the US government and its partners to continue to facilitate humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
Friday’s move expands on that specific license, allowing international organizations and NGOs to pay taxes, fees, import duties or permits, licenses or other necessary transactions for assistance to reach the people of Afghanistan.
The licenses allow NGOs and foreign financial institutions to continue humanitarian assistance such as the delivery of food, shelter, medicine and medical services, including COVID-19 assistance, a Treasury spokesperson said.
“We have not reduced sanctions pressure on Taliban leaders or the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system,” the spokesperson said.
A Taliban offensive as foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan after a 20-year war culminated in the capture of the capital Kabul on Aug. 15, two decades after they were driven from power by a US-led campaign in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel
Updated 45 min 5 sec ago

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel

Contenders tout credentials in close vote to replace Merkel
  • Merkel is stepping down after 16 years in power, and the race is wide open ahead of Sunday's parliamentary election
  • Polls show the outgoing leader's center-right Union bloc, with Armin Laschet as its candidate for chancellor

BERLIN: The contenders to succeed Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor sought to mobilize voters Friday as the election campaign neared its close.
They touted their credentials to lead Europe’s biggest economy into a new era as it grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
Merkel is stepping down after 16 years in power, and the race is wide open ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election. Polls show the outgoing leader’s center-right Union bloc, with Armin Laschet as its candidate for chancellor, a little behind or nearly level with the center-left Social Democrats, who have Finance Minister Olaf Scholz seeking the chancellorship.
The Greens, with Annalena Baerbock making the party’s first run for chancellor, are trailing in third place but could end up playing the kingmaker in forming a government.
Experts say one reason why this year’s German election is tighter and less predictable than usual is that the candidates are relative unknowns to most voters.
“It’s certainly not the most boring election,” University of Leipzig political scientist Hendrik Traeger said. “There were those in which Angela Merkel stood as the incumbent and it was simply a question of who she would govern with.”
This time, Merkel’s party has struggled to energize its traditional base, which has so far failed to warm to Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state.
“The key question is whether these voters will overcome the Laschet hurdle and vote for the Union despite Laschet” said Peter Matuschek of polling company Forsa. “Or will they abstain from the vote or even choose another party?”
Scholz, whose party has made steady gains in opinion polls during the campaign on the strength of his relative popularity, touted the outgoing government’s success in preserving jobs during the pandemic.
“What we have seen is that we are succeeding in avoiding the major economic and social crisis that otherwise would have hit us,” he said at a rally in Cologne. “We put a lot of money into bringing jobs and companies through this crisis, and today, we can say that we have succeeded. We see an upswing ahead of us.”
Scholz, who wants to raise Germany’s minimum wage and increase taxes for top earners, argued that anyone calling for tax relief for the rich now “can’t count, doesn’t understand anything about finance.”
The Union bloc, an alliance of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and its Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, contends that any tax increases would be counterproductive as the German economy recovers. Laschet said at a rally in Munich that it would be “exactly the wrong way” out of the pandemic.
“The pandemic is now in its final phase, and (the Social Democrats) are beginning again with their old socialist classics from the 80s — bureaucracy, tax increases, patronizing people,” he said.
Merkel declared that “for Germany to remain stable, Armin Laschet must become chancellor and (the Union) must be the strongest party.” She was making the second of three appearances in the final week of a campaign from which she has been largely absent.
Laschet praised Merkel’s record. “It’s up to us to carry this legacy forward,” he said. “If we get it wrong now, everything that was achieved in 16 years could be squandered.”
Baerbock, the Greens’ candidate, focused her pitch on fighting climate change, her party’s central issue.
“This election is a choice of direction,” she said in Duesseldorf. “This election is a climate election.”
“We can’t afford half-measures anymore,” said Baerbock, whose party wants to ramp up carbon prices and end the use of coal earlier than planned. “We need finally to have a climate government — with all its strength, with all its heart and with full passion.”
“Yes, it’s a risk to do something new, but where has government experience alone brought us, if that’s the standard for a parliamentary election?” asked Baerbock, the only candidate for chancellor who lacks government experience. “It has led us to a dead end.”
Tens of thousands of environmental activists staged a rally outside Germany’s parliament earlier Friday to demand that politicians take stronger action to curb climate change.
Migration has been less of a concern to many voters than in 2017. Foreign policy has not come up much during the campaign but became an issue during the final television debate Thursday, with the Greens calling for a tougher stance on China.
About 60.4 million Germans are eligible to vote for a new parliament on Sept. 26. The strongest party will be best-placed to form a governing coalition, though that isn’t automatic.
The business-friendly Free Democrats are angling for a place in government after pulling the plug on coalition talks after the 2017 election. The far-right Alternative for Germany is expected to do well in the country’s east, but other parties refuse to work with it.
The Left Party, which opposes NATO and German military deployments abroad, remains a possible governing partner for the Greens and Social Democrats, a prospect that has drawn alarm from conservatives. Friday’s center-right rally was larded with warnings that such an alliance would damage Germany’s economy and international standing.
Election officials say many more people will vote by mail this year due to the pandemic, but this isn’t expected to affect turnout significantly.


‘Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial

‘Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial
Updated 24 September 2021

‘Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial

‘Loss and pain’: Families testify at Dutch MH17 trial
  • Relatives of the victims of flight MH17 denounced the "senseless and brutal" deaths of their loved ones during the trial of four suspects accused in the disaster
  • Their testimony concluded three weeks of statements from 90 relatives from eight countries.

AMSTERDAM: A woman whose daughter was among 298 people who died when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine said on Friday she wanted to look the suspects in the eye and “make them feel our loss and pain.”
Relatives of the victims of flight MH17, brought down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in 2014, denounced the “senseless and brutal” deaths of their loved ones during the trial of four suspects accused in the disaster.
Their testimony concluded three weeks of statements from 90 relatives from eight countries. They told the judges about the impact of the loss on their lives and their hopes for justice.
Prosecutor Alwin Dam said many relatives have issues with the “amount of misinformation and conspiracy theories that are spread about MH17” and the fact that no one has claimed responsibility.
The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian surface-to-air missile.
Jeanne Hornikx’s daughter Astrid, 31, and Astrid’s partner Bart, 40, were among those on board.
Hornikx showed the judges a tattoo of her daughter’s fingerprint, saying “that is how she was identified.”
“I would like to look the suspects straight in the eye and make them feel our loss and pain. That our suffering becomes their suffering, that maybe grief shared — and remorse — can become grief halved,” Hornikx said.
Dutch prosecutors have brought charges against three Russians and a Ukrainian citizen, all suspected of having key roles in transporting the missile system. They went on trial for murder last year.
Two-thirds of the victims were Dutch citizens and the Netherlands blames Moscow for the attack.
Russia, which maintains that it has not funded or supported pro-Russian rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops, has refused to extradite the suspects. Only one defendant has appointed a lawyer.
The court adjourned until November with the prosecution closing statement expected on Nov. 15, judges said. A verdict will likely be handed down late next year.


Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia
Updated 24 September 2021

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia

Rome to host 1st International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia
  • Event, co-funded by European Commission, seeks ‘more inclusive’ society, organizers tell briefing attended by Arab News
  • 65% of Italian Muslims say they have suffered violence, prejudice or discrimination: Study

ROME: The first International Youth Forum Against Islamophobia will be held this weekend in Rome.

The online forum, organized as part of the Youth Empowerment Support project, aims to raise awareness about Islamophobia so as to effectively combat it.

“Free to believe, free to think, free to be” is the title of the event, which is co-funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Program of the European Commission.

The forum “aims to be a space and an opportunity for young people to discuss and think concretely about how to build a more inclusive and diverse society, free from stereotypes and discrimination, through debates, workshops and exchanges of experiences,” the organizers said at a press conference attended by Arab News.

The goal, they added, is “to create new connections between communities in Europe and to transfer knowledge” so as to help young Italians and Europeans — Muslim and non-Muslim alike — provide information and guidance on the rights of religious minorities.

At the end of the forum, a youth manifesto against Islamophobia will be approved. The event will include panels of experts with representatives from Muslim organizations, civil society, and Italian and European institutions.

Triantafillos Loukarelis, director of the European Network Against Racism, said Muslim females, “particularly if they wear religious symbols, are victims of multiple discrimination — based on gender, religion and origin — which results in verbal aggression in public, hate speech on social media and social exclusion, with difficulties in accessing the labor market and training courses.”

Islam is the second-largest religion in Italy with about 2.5 million faithful, over 1 million of them with Italian citizenship.

According to a study published recently by ENAR, 65 percent of Italian Muslims say they have suffered violence, prejudice or discrimination.


Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption
Updated 24 September 2021

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption

Spanish volcano remains volatile 5 days after eruption
  • The lava has destroyed almost 400 buildings on La Palma
  • The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure

TODOQUE, Canary Islands: A volcano in Spain’s Canary Islands continued to produce explosions and spew out lava Friday, five days after it erupted, authorities said.
The lava has destroyed almost 400 buildings on La Palma, including many homes, on the western side of the island of 85,000 people, a European Union monitoring program said.
It said the lava stretches over 180 hectares (almost 20,000 square feet) and has blocked 14 kilometers (9 miles) of roads. Islanders make a living mostly from farming and tourism, and some may lose their livelihoods.
The government of La Palma Island said officials had recorded 1,130 quakes in the area over the past week as the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge shook with blasts of molten lava.
On a visit to La Palma, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a package of measures to help get the island back on its feet and “rebuild lives.”
The Spanish government will provide aid for rebuilding homes and public infrastructure, such as roads, irrigation networks and schools, as well as relaunching the island’s tourism industry, Sánchez said. He did not say how much money would be made available, but said a Cabinet meeting next week would provide more details.
The blasts are sending ash up to 4500 meters (almost 15,000 feet) into the air, the Guardia Civil police force said in a tweet. Local authorities advised people to protect themselves from the ash with face masks.
Two rivers of lava continued to slide slowly down the hillside, with experts doubting whether they would cover the remaining 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) to the sea due to their slowing progress.
One of the lava flows has almost ground to a halt and a second one is moving at between 4 and 5 meters an hour, the Guardia Civil said.
Both are at least 10 meters (33 feet) high at their leading edge and are destroying houses, farmland and infrastructure in their path.
Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months.
Authorities haven’t reported any casualties from the eruption. Scientists had been monitoring the volcanic activity and had warned of a possible eruption, allowing almost 7,000 people to be evacuated in time.