British foreign minister says compromise needed for Cyprus talks restart

British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab (L), listens to his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides during a joint press conference after their meeting in the capital Nicosia, on February 4, 2021. (AFP)
British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab (L), listens to his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides during a joint press conference after their meeting in the capital Nicosia, on February 4, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2021

British foreign minister says compromise needed for Cyprus talks restart

British Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab (L), listens to his Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides during a joint press conference after their meeting in the capital Nicosia, on February 4, 2021. (AFP)
  • Dominic Raab said Britain is ready to lend its support in helping to “break the logjam” that has blocked a peace deal for nearly a half-century

NICOSIA: Britain’s foreign minister said Thursday that flexibility and compromise are key to making the most of a new UN bid to restart talks on resolving Cyprus’ decades-old ethnic division.
Dominic Raab said Britain is ready to lend its support in helping to “break the logjam” that has blocked a peace deal for nearly a half-century, fueled tensions over offshore energy reserves and encumbered Turkey’s relationship with the European Union.
“I think a failure to reach a settlement after so many efforts would benefit no-one,” Raab said after talks with Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides.
“So again I urge all sides to come to the talks with a willingness to demonstrate flexibility and compromise and I was very heartened from our conversations about the scope for that and a positive outcome,” Raab said.
Britain is Cyprus’ former colonial ruler, and still maintains military bases on the island that’s strategically placed between Europe and the Middle East.
Raab’s remarks come two days after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said any Cyprus peace deal in line with the long-established, UN-backed formula of federation is off the table after decades of fruitless talks, and any accord should be negotiated between two equal sovereign states.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said after meeting Raab separately in the northern half of divided Nicosia that he’s open to negotiations, but that a fair peace deal means an arrangement between “two equal sovereign states” that are both internationally recognized.
That approach could complicate a meeting that UN Chief Antonio Guterres is expected to call next month to bring together rival Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Cyprus’ ‘guarantors’ — Greece, Turkey and Britain — to gauge the chances of resuming talks.
Greek Cypriots strongly reject any deal that would legitimize the east Mediterranean island nation’s ethnic partition that came about in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup aimed at union with Greece.
Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island’s northern third where it keeps more than 35,000 troops. Although Cyprus is an EU member, only the Greek Cypriot southern part where the internationally recognized government is seated enjoys full membership benefits.
Key impediments to peace include a Greek Cypriot rejection of a call by the minority Turkish Cypriots to be granted veto powers as well of a Turkey’s demand for a permanent troop presence and the continuation of military intervention rights.
Christodoulides said any peace deal must be in line with UN resolutions and EU law to render a reunified Cyprus a viable EU member state that’s not “not tied back by anachronistic systems and structures that have no place in the 21st century.”


US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades

US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades
Updated 21 sec ago

US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades

US confident Nord Stream 2 ‘will not’ proceed if Russia invades
  • German FM Annalena Baerbock told parliament that her government was ‘working on a strong package of sanctions’ alongside Western allies ‘including Nord Stream 2’ if Russia attacks Ukraine
  • Germany pursued the pipeline with Russia, a vital source of gas to Europe’s largest economy, despite concerns that it will reduce Ukraine’s leverage by allowing Moscow to bypass its neighbor

WASHINGTON: The United States is confident Germany will not open the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine, a top US official said Thursday.
“If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s number three official, told reporters.
“I think the statements coming out of Berlin even today are very, very strong,” she said.
Asked why the United States was confident, she said that the pipeline still had not been tested or certified by German regulators.
“We will work with Germany to ensure that the pipeline does not move forward,” Nuland said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told parliament earlier Thursday that her government was “working on a strong package of sanctions” alongside Western allies “including Nord Stream 2” if Russia attacks Ukraine.
Germany controversially pursued the pipeline with Russia, a vital source of gas to Europe’s largest economy, despite concerns that it will reduce Ukraine’s leverage by allowing Moscow to bypass its neighbor.
President Joe Biden drew domestic criticism last year by not imposing sanctions on the operator of Nord Stream, arguing that the pipeline was nearly finished, but his administration instead reached an understanding with Germany to use the project as leverage.
Nuland also said that the United States had asked China — like Russia, a US adversary — to discourage action by Moscow, which has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders.
“We are calling on Beijing to use its influence with Moscow to urge diplomacy because if there is a conflict in Ukraine, it is not going to be good for China either,” Nuland said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke late Wednesday Washington time about the crisis in a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Russian President Vladimir Putin next month visits Beijing for the Olympics, which the United States is boycotting on the official level due to human rights concerns.


UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones

UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones
Updated 58 min 24 sec ago

UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones

UK Home Office admits unlawful secret policy to seize Channel migrant phones
  • Phone seizures may have been related to misunderstanding that Channel crossings were illegal
  • Policy meant hundreds or thousands of people were cut off from loved ones

LONDON: The UK Home Office has admitted exercising an unlawful secret policy of seizing cell phones from migrants crossing the English Channel in small boats.

Lawyers representing the home secretary made the admission at the High Court on Thursday, while fighting legal action brought by three asylum seekers.

The men, from Iraq and Iran, were all arrested on arrival in the UK and were stripped of their possessions, despite committing no crime.

Government authorities kept their mobile phones for several months, leaving them unable to contact friends and family.

One of the men feared for the lives of his wife and seven-year-old child, but had no means to check on them.

The unnamed claimants are asking the High Court to make declarations of “serious illegality,” award damages and require the Home Office to alert everyone affected by the unlawful policy.

Their lawyers estimate that hundreds or possibly thousands of mobile phones have been unlawfully seized since 2018.

The Home Office initially denied the seizure policy existed, and then later apologized for failing a “duty of candor” by withholding the information.

Alan Payne QC, representing the Home Office, told the High Court: “The home secretary is accepting that the seizure policies were unlawful, were not in accordance with the law for the purpose of the European Convention on Human Rights and did not provide a lawful basis for the processing of data.”

Payne also admitted that a separate policy to keep asylum seekers’ phones for a minimum of three months was a “disproportionate interference” with human rights.

Lawyers for the claimants argued that the concessions were “manifestly incomplete and inadequate to reflect the extent of the illegality,” but Home Secretary Priti Patel’s team argued that the remaining grounds of legal challenge were “academic” and should be dismissed.

Home Office lawyers said the policy’s “precise origins are not known” and that it “appears to have developed organically.”

The confusion, they argued, derives from the misunderstanding that all people arriving in small boats from the Channel had committed a crime — this is not the case.

Sir James Eadie QC, representing the home secretary, said there was a “misunderstanding permeating that an illegal entry offense was always committed by passengers” on small boats at the time.

In December, a court ruled that crossing the Channel with the aim of being intercepted and claiming asylum did not amount to illegal entry, and that a “legal heresy” had developed among authorities and caused a series of wrongful prosecutions.


Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit
Updated 27 January 2022

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit

Afghanistan tops agenda of India’s first Central Asia summit
  • Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan participated
  • Modi says five Central Asian republics key to India’s vision of ‘integrated and stable extended neighborhood’

NEW DELHI`: India held its first summit with five Central Asian states on Thursday to address joint concerns over Afghanistan, and to develop regional security cooperation.

Held virtually, Thursday’s summit, hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi,was also attended by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

“Our aim and concerns for regional security are the same,” Modi said in his opening remarks. “We are all worried about the happenings in Afghanistan. In this context our cooperation for regional security and peace are all the more important.”

Like India, three of the Central Asian republics — Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan — also border Afghanistan.

Modi, the first Indian leader to visit all five Central Asian countries, said they are key to New Delhi’s vision of “an integrated and stable” extended neighborhood.

“We have to prepare an ambitious roadmap for our cooperation, through which, in the next three years, regional connectivity cooperation will be able to adopt an integrated approach,” he said.

As other global powers look to cement their grip on the region following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Indian government has been largely sidelined, while other players such as Pakistan and China have been increasingly involved in Afghan politics on both domestic and international fronts.

Foreign policy experts see the summit as “significant” in view of the situation in Kabul.

“The Central Asian countries’ importance has increased very significantly as a result of what has happened in Afghanistan,” India’s former ambassador to Kazakhstan, Ashok Sajjanhar, told Arab News.

“After the departure of the NATO and American troops, it’s the regional countries’ responsibility to maintain peace and security in Afghanistan,” he said, adding that India and the Central Asian republics are “on the same page and want an inclusive government in Afghanistan, respect for rights of minorities, and women and children.”

Anil Trigunayat, former Indian ambassador to Russia, said the summit provides “excellent reconnect for the sharing of ideas and concerns and a future roadmap with our extended neighborhood,” adding that “the developments in Afghanistan are mutual interests for New Delhi and the Central Asian republics.”

Thursday’s summit follows a lower-level security meeting on Afghanistan that India hosted in November, where, besides officials from the five post-Soviet republics, representatives from Russia and Iran were also present.


Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February

Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February
Updated 27 January 2022

Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February

Indonesia expects omicron wave to peak by end of February
  • Health minister says government will no longer be focusing on the number of new cases but on the rate of hospitalization
  • Survey shows 86 percent of Indonesians have already acquired COVID-19 antibodies

JAKARTA: Indonesia is bracing for COVID-19 cases to peak by the end of February, its health minister said on Thursday, as the country faces a third wave of infections driven by the omicron variant.

Home to 270 million people, Indonesia recorded its first case of the highly transmissible variant in December. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecast the number of daily cases there to surpass 387,000 by April.

“If we started at the end of December, maybe the peak will occur at the end of February or early March,” Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told reporters.

He added that the government would be changing its approach to focus on the rate of hospitalization rather than the number of reported cases as omicron was less severe than the delta variant that swept the country last year and overwhelmed its medical facilities.

“Omicron will increase fast and high, there is no need to be surprised, no need to panic,” Budi said, adding that Indonesians were “adequately protected.”

While fewer than half the population are fully vaccinated, a government-commissioned survey showed in early January that 86 percent of Indonesians had acquired COVID-19 antibodies.

The country reported 8,077 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, a near tenfold increase in just two weeks.

However, Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, said the official numbers did not give an accurate picture of the infection rate, given Indonesia’s limited testing and tracing capabilities.

“For sure, the current numbers, the government figures, still do not reflect even half of the real cases,” he told Arab News.

He said he expected the hospitalization rate to increase in the coming weeks, and as face-to-face learning had resumed at schools, the government should consider closing them again until at least March, as “it’s too dangerous for kids.”

“Otherwise, we will see many cases among children, not only in hospitalization but also mortality.”


Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease
Updated 27 January 2022

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease

Greece allows music in bars and restaurants again as COVID cases ease
  • The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight
  • Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport

ATHENS: Greece will allow music in restaurants and bars again and extend their operating hours as it lifts some of the restrictions imposed last month now that coronavirus infections and the pressure on hospitals are easing, authorities said on Thursday.
The country last month forced bars, nightclubs and restaurants to close at midnight, with no standing customers and no music, following a surge of cases over the Christmas holidays due to the fast-spreading omicron variant.
“We have decided to scale back the restrictions, taking into consideration the course of the pandemic in terms of cases which have been declining in recent weeks,” Health Minister Thanos Plevris said in a televised statement.
He said that despite ongoing pressure on the health system, the rate of hospital admissions and discharges and a shorter duration and less severe illness for the omicron variant compared to Delta allowed authorities to ease the curbs.
Capacity restrictions will remain in place for sport events, while a double mask is mandatory in supermarkets and transport.
Greece reported 19,712 new cases on Thursday. Infections have been easing since a record high of around 50,000 in early January.
A total of 23,083 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported since February 2020 and 1,867,935 cases out of a population of 11 million people.