Japan receives first batch of COVID-19 vaccine, courtesy of Pfizer

Japan receives first batch of COVID-19 vaccine, courtesy of Pfizer
Most of Japan is still under a state of emergency after its third and most deadly wave of the virus hit late last year. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 February 2021

Japan receives first batch of COVID-19 vaccine, courtesy of Pfizer

Japan receives first batch of COVID-19 vaccine, courtesy of Pfizer
  • Vaccinations would begin from the middle of next week, starting with some 10,000 health workers
  • Most of Japan is still under a state of emergency after its third and most deadly wave of the virus hit late last year

TOKYO: Japan’s first batch of COVID-19 vaccine arrived on Friday, local media reported, with official approval for the Pfizer Inc. shots expected soon as the country races to control a third wave of infections ahead of the Olympic Games.
A government health panel is due to deliberate on the vaccine later on Friday. Kyodo News reported that approval would come on Sunday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said vaccinations would begin from the middle of next week, starting with some 10,000 health workers. The government hopes to secure enough supplies for the whole populace by mid-year.
About 400,000 doses arrived at Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, on Friday morning aboard a flight from Brussels, Kyodo reported.
There had been concern that the European Union could block exports of the shots, prompting Japan’s vaccine chief to warn against growing nationalism over supplies.
The European Commission said on Thursday it has so far approved all requests for the export of COVID-19 vaccines, including to Japan, after setting up a mechanism to monitor vaccine flows on Jan. 30.
A Japanese health ministry official declined to comment on reports of the vaccine’s arrival, citing security reasons.
Japan has arranged to buy 144 million doses of the vaccine made by the US drugmaker and German partner BioNTech, enough to inoculate 72 million people. It also has deals for vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Novavax.
So far only Pfizer and AstraZeneca have submitted applications for approval.
Most of Japan is still under a state of emergency after its third and most deadly wave of the virus hit late last year. Cases and fatalities have trended lower in the past couple of weeks and Tokyo logged just over 300 cases on Friday. Japan has so far recorded about 410,000 coronavirus cases and 6,772 deaths. The Olympic Games are due to start July 23.


Humanitarian aid tops agenda as Taliban meet Western officials

Afghanistan's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi gestures while speaking during an event held in the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on November 12, 2021. (AFP)
Afghanistan's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi gestures while speaking during an event held in the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on November 12, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 28 sec ago

Humanitarian aid tops agenda as Taliban meet Western officials

Afghanistan's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi gestures while speaking during an event held in the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on November 12, 2021. (AFP)
  • Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants’ salaries have not been paid for months in the country already ravaged by several severe droughts

OSLO: Human rights and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where hunger threatens millions, will be in focus at talks opening Sunday in Oslo between the Taliban, the West and members of Afghan civil society.
In their first visit to Europe since returning to power in August, the Taliban will meet Norwegian officials as well as representatives of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the European Union.
The Taliban delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaqqi.
On the agenda will be “the formation of a representative political system, responses to the urgent humanitarian and economic crises, security and counter-terrorism concerns, and human rights, especially education for girls and women,” a US State Department official said.
The hard-line Islamists were toppled in 2001 but swiftly stormed back to power in August as international troops began their final withdrawal.
The Taliban hope the talks will help “transform the atmosphere of war... into a peaceful situation,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP on Saturday.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban government, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the talks would “not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban.”
“But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster,” Huitfeldt said.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since August.
International aid, which financed around 80 percent of the Afghan budget, came to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in assets in the Afghan central bank.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants’ salaries have not been paid for months in the country already ravaged by several severe droughts.
Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $4.4 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis.
“It would be a mistake to submit the people of Afghanistan to a collective punishment just because the de facto authorities are not behaving properly,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated Friday.
A former UN representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, told AFP: “We can’t keep distributing aid circumventing the Taliban.”
“If you want to be efficient, you have to involve the government in one way or another.”
The international community is waiting to see how the Islamic fundamentalists intend to govern Afghanistan, after having largely trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.
While the Taliban claim to have modernized, women are still largely excluded from public employment and secondary schools for girls remain largely closed.

On the first day of the Oslo talks held behind closed doors, the Taliban delegation is expected to meet Afghans from civil society, including women leaders and journalists.
A former Afghan minister for mines and petrol who now lives in Norway, Nargis Nehan, said she had declined an invitation to take part.
She told AFP she feared the talks would “normalize the Taliban and... strengthen them, while there is no way that they’ll change.”
“If we look at what happened in the talks of the past three years, the Taliban keep getting what they demand from the international community and the Afghan people, but there is not one single thing that they have delivered from their side,” she said.
“What guarantee is there this time that they will keep their promises?” she asked, noting that women activists and journalists are still being arrested.
Davood Moradian, the head of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies now based outside Afghanistan, meanwhile criticized Norway’s “celebrity-style” peace initiative.
“Hosting a senior member of the Taliban casts doubt on Norway’s global image as a country that cares for women’s rights, when the Taliban has effectively instituted gender apartheid,” he said.
Norway has a track record of mediating in conflicts, including in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Colombia.


Burkina Faso forces fire tear gas at anti-govt protests

Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
Updated 23 January 2022

Burkina Faso forces fire tear gas at anti-govt protests

Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
  • Nearly 12,000 people were displaced within two weeks in December, according to the UN

OUAGADOUGOU: Security forces fired tear gas at protesters barricading the streets and throwing rocks in Burkina Faso’s capital on Saturday, as anger grows at the government’s inability to stop terrorist attacks spreading across the country.
Several hundred people marched through downtown Ouagadougou chanting for President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to resign.
The extremists “are hitting (the country), people are dying, others are fleeing their homes … We want Roch and his government to resign because their handling of the country is not good. We will never support them,” said protester Amidou Tiemtore.
Some people were also protesting in solidarity with neighboring Mali, whose citizens are angry at the West African economic regional bloc, ECOWAS, which imposed sanctions on the country after the ruling junta delayed this year’s elections.
Burkina Faso’s protest comes amid an escalation in terror attacks linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh that has killed thousands and displaced 1.5 million people.
The violence shows no signs of abating.
Nearly 12,000 people were displaced within two weeks in December, according to the UN.
Four French soldiers were also wounded during a joint operation with Burkina Faso’s military, the first time French soldiers have been injured in the country since two were killed in 2019 during a hostage release operation, said Pascal Ianni spokesman for the chief of defense for the French armed forces.
France has some 5,000 troops in the region but until now has had minimal involvement in Burkina Faso compared with Niger or Mali.
This is the second government crackdown on protests since November and comes after the government shut down access to Facebook last week, citing security reasons, and after arresting 15 people for allegedly plotting a coup.
As tensions mount, the government is struggling to stem the violence.
Last month the president fired his prime minister and replaced most of the Cabinet.
The government’s national security arm is also said to be preparing to reopen negotiations with the extremists, according to a military official and a former soldier.
The last time the government negotiated secret cease-fire talks with the extremists was around the 2020 presidential elections when fighting subsided for several months.
But locals say it’s too late for talks and that the country is being overrun by radicals who control swaths of land, and plant their flag.
”They just come and are squeezing people (out of their homes) and there is no (government) strategy,” said Ousmane Amirou Dicko, the ruler of Liptako.
For the first time since the conflict he said he no longer feels comfortable driving from the capital to his home in the Sahel.
Conflict analysts say the protests are playing right into the extremists hands and that the country needs to remain unified if it wants to succeed.
“The protests are a consequence of the pressure from the jihadists and it’s exactly what they want,” said Mahamoudou Savadogo, founder of Granada Consulting, a local conflict analysis and research company.
“The concern is that when the government is pressured it makes big political and strategic mistakes, and the country needs to remain united.”


Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
Updated 23 January 2022

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
  • The 85-year-old media mogul insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted
  • Berlusconi said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility” to avoid further controversy

ROME: Billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the race for Italy's presidency on Saturday, two days before voting starts, but repeated his opposition to Prime Minister Mario Draghi taking the job.
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted.
But in a statement issued to the media, he said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility", to avoid further controversy.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who has led Italy's coalition government for the past year, remains the favourite to be elected head of state next week.
The governing parties, which range from left to right, including Berlusconi's Forza Italia, have however yet to reach a deal -- and with voting secret, the result is notoriously hard to predict.
More than 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives will begin voting Monday, with several rounds -- each taking a day -- expected before a result.
Indicating he hopes to play the kingmaker, Berlusconi said he would work with his right-wing allies to agree a candidate that can summon a "broad consensus" -- but made clear it should not be Draghi.
He said the premier should stay to help implement structural reforms promised in return for almost 200 billion euros in European Union funds, on which Italy is relying for its post-virus recovery.
"I consider it necessary for the Draghi government to complete its work until the end of the legislature," in 2023, when the next general election is due, Berlusconi said.
Many analysts also worry Draghi's departure would spark a crisis in the government and that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on a tight schedule to implement reforms to the tax and justice systems and public administration.
However, others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels -- particularly should the far-right win the next general election.
While a largely ceremonial role, the president wields considerable power in times of political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.
Berlusconi announced his decision at a virtual meeting with Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy.
He noted the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying: "Today, Italy needs unity.... I will continue to serve my country in other ways."
Salvini praised his "generous" decision which he said enabled them to propose candidates "without any more vetoes from the left".
Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the withdrawal had exposed a split in the right over Berlusconi's candidacy, adding: "Now we need a high-level agreement over a shared name and a legislative pact."
In the first three rounds, the winning candidate must secure two-thirds of the vote. From the fourth round, they only need an absolute majority.


Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
Updated 22 January 2022

Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
  • Two Indian nationals were among three people killed in the attack near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday
  • Remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34 were repatriated to India on Friday

NEW DELHI: Mourners in India’s northern state of Punjab on Saturday attended the funerals of two compatriots killed in a recent attack by Houthi rebels on the UAE.

Two Indians and a Pakistani were killed when the drone and missile strikes hit fuel trucks near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday, causing multiple explosions. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attacks.

The remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34, were repatriated to India on Friday.

Hardeep, who came from Baba Bakala village in Amritsar district, is survived by his wife and mother.

“We are still not able to fathom the tragedy that took place in the family,” his cousin Rajbir Singh told Arab News. “The wife came back from Canada yesterday, after she learnt about the incident. She is a student there and Hardeep had plans to shift to Canada.”

Hardeep was working in the UAE as a truck driver. He married last year and was his family's sole breadwinner. The other victim, Hardev, came from Bagha Purana village in Moga district. He spent 18 years in the UAE, working on construction sites in the oil and gas industry.

Hardev's brother Sukhdev, who also works in the UAE, said he could not believe his brother was gone until he saw the body.

“It's difficult to foresee an existence without him,” Sukhdev told Arab News. “He was a great support to me and because of Hardev I could go to UAE. He was the main earner and support to the elderly parents.”

Sukhdev thanked the UAE government for the support it had provided to the family so far. Indian authorities have condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday expressed “strong solidarity with UAE in face of such unacceptable acts” during a call with his Emirati counterpart.

T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “such an attack on innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure is completely unacceptable.”

He said: “It is a blatant violation of international law. It is also against all civilized norms. It is important that the council stands united in sending a clear signal against such heinous acts of terror.”


Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
  • Hassan Al-Qahtani was killed by gunmen in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi in 2011
  • In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder

KARACHI: Pakistani police have asked for assistance from authorities in Tehran in apprehending the suspected killers of a Saudi diplomat who are believed to be hiding in Iran, a counterterrorism official has said.

Hassan Al-Qahtani, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi, was killed in 2011 when gunmen opened fire on his car in the city’s Defence Housing Authority neighborhood.

In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder after previous probes yielded no result. Counter Terrorism Department Deputy Inspector-General Omar Shahid Hamid told Arab News at the time that the team was working on “fruitful leads” from the country’s intelligence.

Investigation materials seen by Arab News include a November request to Iranian authorities for assistance in the case against three suspects in Al-Qahtani’s murder — Ali Mustehsan, Raza Imam, and Syed Waqar Ahmed — over their “involvement in target killing and terrorism activities in Pakistan.”

A policeman is reflected in a window of the Saudi consulate employee's car in Karachi shattered by bullets on May 16, 2011. (Reuters/File Photo)

“We have written for mutual legal assistance from Iran,” a Counter Terrorism Department official told Arab News on Friday evening on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We believe that all three accused are absconding in Iran, and we cannot arrest them without the assistance of their law enforcement.”

He said red notices for Mustehsan and Ahmed have already been issued, while police have called for the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate the process of issuing one for Imam as well.

Imam, alias Manzar, has a 1-million-rupee ($13,400) bounty on his head and has already been sentenced to death in two different cases, according to the Sindh police wanted list.

He is a member of the banned Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan militant organization.

Mustehsan, alias Syed Waseem Ahsan Naqvi, belongs to the same organization.