Italy welcomes signing of AlUla agreement

Ivan Scalfarotto (L), undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vincenzo Amendola (C), Italy’s minister for EU affairs and Piero Fassino, chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies all welcomed the AlUla Declaration signing. (AFP/File Photos)
Ivan Scalfarotto (L), undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vincenzo Amendola (C), Italy’s minister for EU affairs and Piero Fassino, chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies all welcomed the AlUla Declaration signing. (AFP/File Photos)
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Updated 05 January 2021

Italy welcomes signing of AlUla agreement

Ivan Scalfarotto (L), undersecretary for foreign affairs, Vincenzo Amendola (C), Italy’s minister for EU affairs and Piero Fassino, chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies all welcomed the AlUla Declaration signing. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Italian politicians cheered news that Gulf states will restore ties with Qatar

ROME: Italian politicians have welcomed the move by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to mend relations with Qatar.

They hailed the AlUla Agreement, which was signed by leaders of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states during the organization’s summit in the Kingdom on Tuesday, as a development that will help to ensure peace and ease regional tensions. Ministers in the Italian government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte cheered the announcement.

The Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman described the agreement as “an accord for solidarity and stability” in the region. It ends a diplomatic crisis that began in 2017 when Egypt and GCC members Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain severed ties with Doha. Kuwait had announced on Monday that Saudi Arabia was reopening its airspace and borders to Qatar.

“Today we have really good news from the Gulf,” Vincenzo Amendola, Italy’s minister for EU affairs and an expert on Middle East politics and issues told Italian news agency ANSA. “It's now time to return to the table of dialogue and cooperation.

Ivan Scalfarotto, the undersecretary for foreign affairs, who represented Italy at the G20 Summit in Riyadh in November, told Arab News: “Every sign of detente and dialogue in a crucial area such as the Gulf is to be positively evaluated. This is good news, which Italy welcomes with satisfaction.”

MP Piero Fassino, chairman of the Foreign Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said: “The agreement between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Gulf countries represents an act of detente in a region that has been hit by conflicts and tensions for too long. Now it is urgent to quickly reach a peace agreement in Yemen.”

Fassino also called for a “relaunch of the application of the JPCOA agreement on Iranian nuclear power, in order to prevent the authorities of Tehran adopting decisions that could be harbingers of new tensions in the area.” He was referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Also known as the Iran nuclear deal, it was signed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, the UK, China, France and Russia — along with Germany and the EU. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of opposition party the Northern League also welcomed the AlUla agreement.

“The normalization of relations between Qatar and the Gulf countries after three years of blockade is great news,” he said. “Congratulations to all those who made this possible with their efforts. It’s always good when dialogue and diplomacy prevail.”

A source close to Prime Minister Conte said that Italy has always supported efforts to find an intra-Gulf solution to the crisis and had consistently called for dialogue.

“Therefore, we are delighted about this agreement that leads to a normalization of relations in the area,” the source added. “It is an important step that could strengthen the unity of the region.”


France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
Updated 11 April 2021

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
  • Europe Minister Clement Beaune says Turkey set 'trap' for Ursula von der Leyen
  • Erdogan's snub dubbed 'sofagate' has sparked a diplomatic storm between Turkey and Europe

PARIS: France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday that Turkey had set a “trap” for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen by forcing her to sit off to the side on a visit to Ankara, in a photo-op faux pas quickly dubbed ‘sofagate’.
The Turkish presidency’s failure to place a chair for von der Leyen alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council chief Charles Michel was “an insult from Turkey,” Beaune said on RTL television.

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“Turkey behaved badly,” he added, calling it “a Turkish problem done deliberately toward us... we shouldn’t be stirring up guilt among Europeans.”
Von der Leyen’s being shunted aside prompted recriminations from European capitals to Turkey, but also within Brussels.
For its part, Ankara insists the incident was down to tangled wires between the Council and Commission, separate EU institutions.
Michel’s staff claimed they had no access to the meeting room before the Tuesday event, but also highlighted that the Council chief comes before the Commission president under strict international protocol.
“It was a kind of trap... between the one who laid it and the one who walked into it, I’d rather place the blame on the one who laid it,” France’s Beaune said.
Echoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called Erdogan a “dictator” in response to the sofa incident, Beaune charged that there was “a real problem with lack of respect for democracy and an autocratic drift in Turkey” that should prompt Europeans to be “very firm with the Turks.”
Nevertheless, “in future, it would be good if there was one single presidency of the European executive,” Beaune acknowledged.
“We need stronger European institutions.”


India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
Updated 11 April 2021

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
  • Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences
NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday it had banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients after a record spike in COVID-19 cases sent demand surging.
“In light of the above, Government of India has prohibited the exports of Injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) till the situation improves,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners
Updated 11 April 2021

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners
  • Stephanie Szczotko was stabbed by Usman Khan at a rehabilitation event for prisoners
  • ‘I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that’

LONDON: A criminology graduate who was injured during the 2019 Fishmonger’s Hall attack in London has said she will return to rehabilitating prisoners.

Stephanie Szczotko, 26, was stabbed in the arm by Usman Khan during his murderous spree at a rehabilitation event for prisoners on license. 

Khan, 28, killed two of his victims — Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23 — both of whom were workers from the Learning Together initiative, a rehabilitation scheme backed by Cambridge University.

The terrorist, who was shot dead on London Bridge by a firearm officer, was wearing a fake suicide vest.

Szczotko, from Bath in the west of England, visited prisons on behalf of the initiative during her criminology degree, and attended the Fishmonger’s Hall event as an alumni of the group.

She has remained an advocate of prisoner rehabilitation and restorative justice efforts, saying the attack “didn’t really change my opinion.”

She added that many of the ex-offenders at the event put themselves in harm’s way by challenging Khan as he started his rampage. 

“I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that — maybe working with youth offenders,” Szczotko said.

The inquest into the deaths of Merritt and Jones starts on Monday. Witnesses will give evidence as the inquest seeks to establish what, if anything, the security services and the police knew ahead of the attack.


Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
Updated 11 April 2021

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
  • Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control

BEIJING: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses in other countries while also trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of Western vaccines.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
The effectiveness rate of a coronavirus vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese developer, at preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil. By comparison, the vaccine made by Pfizer has been found to be 97% effective.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China, where the coronavirus emerged in late 2019.
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but mentioned mRNA, a previously experimental technique used by Western vaccine developers while China’s drug makers used traditional technology.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously raised questions about the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, which uses mRNA.
As of April 2, some 34 million people have received both of the two doses required by Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness rates. Trials around the world are looking at mixing of vaccines or giving a booster shot after a longer time period. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.


Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.