Philia Forum a ‘bridge’ between Europe, Mideast: Greek official

Philia Forum a ‘bridge’ between Europe, Mideast: Greek official
At the forum, which was held last week in Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias hosted his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Cyprus, the UAE and Bahrain. (AP/File)
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Updated 19 February 2021

Philia Forum a ‘bridge’ between Europe, Mideast: Greek official

Philia Forum a ‘bridge’ between Europe, Mideast: Greek official
  • Relations with Saudi Arabia ‘have evolved substantially during the last few years’

ATHENS: The Philia Forum is not an alliance against a common threat, but rather a “partnership” that could act as a “bridge” between Europe and the Middle East, Alexandros Papaioannou, spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry, told Arab News.

At the forum, which was held last week in Athens, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias hosted his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Cyprus, the UAE and Bahrain. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian participated by videoconference.

The seven countries issued a joint communique about their common objective to ensure regional peace, stability and prosperity.

Papaioannou said his country remains a committed member of NATO and the EU, but “this doesn’t exclude Greece building partnerships in its immediate neighborhood. In the 1990s it was southeastern Europe and the Balkans, and during the last few years it’s the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf.”

 

 

He dismissed the motion that the Philia Forum would increase regional tensions, saying: “We want to build peace, stability and prosperity, and to have a positive agenda. We want to instill some stability based on some rules, following the UN Charter, avoiding the use of force or the threat of use of force, respecting international law. We aren’t trying to create an alliance or a coalition. We want a positive agenda.”

Turkey on the horizon

Turkey was never mentioned at the forum. However, “if Turkey sees the forum as something against her, this is her interpretation and certainly not ours,” Papaioannou said. “The forum is open to everybody in the region, provided they adhere to some basic principles.”

Turkey is following an assertive policy in the eastern Mediterranean, mainly against Greece and Cyprus.

Athens and Ankara came close to a military incident last summer. Germany and the US intervened to prevent it.

 

 

Papaioannou said Greece wants “to engage in constructive dialogue with Turkey on the basis of international law to address the pending issue, which is the delimitation of the continental shelf and the EEZ (exclusive economic zone).”

This, he added, is not directly related to the Greek government’s aim to enhance and modernize its armed forces, although “Turkish activity in the region has an impact in reaching out to other countries” such as Israel, Egypt and the UAE.

Respect for sovereignty

On the sidelines of the Philia Forum, the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt met in the context of their regular trilateral meetings.

They issued a joint statement emphasizing that when it comes to disputes regarding the delimitation of the EEZ and continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean, all countries should respect some specific rules, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, as a basis of any agreement.

Papaioannou said the statement sends “an indirect message to Turkey that solutions which are incompatible with this are threatening stability.”

He cited the “so-called memorandum of understanding signed between Libya and Turkey in November 2019, which completely disregarded international norms.”

He added: “We reiterated our support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Regarding the conflicts in Libya and Syria, “which are civil wars, we underlined the need to ensure the unity and territorial integrity of both countries and, secondly, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the ground.”

New era in Greek-Saudi ties

The presence of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan at the Philia Forum, and the meetings he had with Dendias and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, have put bilateral relations on a new track, said Papaioannou.

Prince Faisal’s presence “was in itself a very symbolic gesture,” the spokesman added. “Bilateral relations have evolved substantially during the last few years. We’re now trying to take advantage of untapped potential in developing our relations and exchanging views on issues of common concern in a region changing rapidly.”

Papaioannou said: “Defense is an area that presents many opportunities for deepening dialogue between Athens and Riyadh. We also have other areas of potential cooperation such as trade, tourism and even religious tourism.” He added that Dendias is “very much looking forward to visiting Riyadh.”


New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
Updated 45 min 54 sec ago

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal

New Lebanon cabinet lifts petrol price, signs audit deal
  • The audit is a key requirement for Lebanon to secure foreign aid

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new government raised gasoline prices on Friday, cutting a subsidy that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said is unaffordable as he advances plans to address a devastating financial collapse.
The government also signed a new contract with restructuring consultancy Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) to carry out a forensic audit of the central bank, a step sought by donors who want to see Beirut enact reforms to unlock badly needed aid.
The Mikati government, which took office a week ago, has promised action to address the crisis, including talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a start to reforms.
IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said on Thursday there had been courtesy calls with members of the new government and the Fund stood ready to engage in the period ahead. Talks between the previous government and the IMF broke down last year.
The World Bank says Lebanon’s economic collapse is one of the worst on record.
The currency has slumped more than 90 percent since 2019, more than three quarters of the population have been driven into poverty, the banking system is paralyzed and a hard currency crunch has led to shortages of vital imports, including fuel.
Lebanon has been suppressing fuel prices by providing dollars at subsidised exchange rates well below the pound’s price on the parallel market, with the stated aim of shielding people hit by the collapse.
Critics say the system has given rise to smuggling and hoarding, contributing to shortages that have crippled normal life and spawned a black market where gasoline has been sold at enormously inflated prices.
Fuel prices issued on Friday raised the gasoline price by more than 37 percent with immediate effect.
“This is the stage before last of lifting the subsidy,” said Georges Braks, a member of the Petrol Station Owners’ syndicate, who expects the subsidy to be removed by the end of September.
He said the new prices were based on an exchange rate around 12,000 pounds per dollar.
This compares with a rate of 8,000 pounds per dollar that the previous government agreed for fuel prices last month, but is still below the rate on the parallel market, where dollars were changing hands at 14,600 on Friday.
The central bank said last month it could no longer afford to provide dollars for fuel at heavily subsidised rates.
The move means importers will still be sourcing dollars from the central bank rather than the market and so a subsidy still applies, said Mike Azar, a senior Beirut-based financial adviser.
The pound has strengthened from around 19,000 per dollar since Mikati took office, ending a year of political conflict over cabinet seats that left Lebanon rudderless.
The IMF has recommended Lebanon unify the multiple exchange rates along with other steps including the central bank audit.
Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, formerly a senior central bank official, signed the contract with A&M, which the ministry said would present an initial report within 12 weeks of its team starting work.
A&M withdrew from the audit last November, saying it had not received the information it required. The finance ministry said in April the central bank had agreed to hand over required documents.
Parliament then agreed in December to lift banking secrecy for one year, amid much back-and-forth between Lebanese officials including the finance ministry and the central bank over whether certain information could be disclosed.
Lebanon’s talks with the IMF last year broke down largely due to a dispute over the scale of losses in the financial system. A plan drawn up by the previous government said these amounted to some $90 billion, a figure endorsed by the IMF but rejected by Lebanese banks and the political elite.


Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials
Updated 17 September 2021

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

Houthi militia group arrested for assassination plot on government military officials

LONDON: Police in Yemen's province of Marib arrested a group of Houthi militia planning to bomb public places with the aim to assassinate government military officials, state news agency Saba reported on Thursday.
The commander of Special Forces in Marib Brig. Gen. Saleem Al-Sayyaghi told Saba that a cache of explosives and maps of bomb sites were seized in possession of the Houthi members.
Initial investigations, he said, revealed that those arrested “steered by the Iran-backed Houthi militia” and were tasked with bombing civilian crowds and military leaders.

Sayyaghi claimed that the plot comes as the militia failed to take Marib in the battlefield despite sending fighters towards the army positions over the past months.  


Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
Updated 17 September 2021

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths

Amnesty condemns ‘impunity’ over Iran custody deaths
  • The head of Iran’s prison system admitted that videos purportedly obtained by a self-described hacker group that show abuses at the Islamic Republic’s notorious Evin prison are real

NICOSIA: Amnesty International has condemned the “climate of impunity” that prevails in Iran over deaths in custody despite reports of more than 70 such cases over the past decade.
“Iranian authorities have failed to provide accountability for at least 72 deaths in custody since January 2010, despite credible reports that they resulted from torture or other ill-treatment or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials,” said the London-based rights group.
The latest documented case involved a 31-year-old whose death was reported to his family by intelligence ministry officials in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province on September 8, Amnesty said in a statement.
“Reports of the death of Yaser Mangouri in suspicious circumstances further exposes how the prevailing climate of impunity further emboldens security forces to violate prisoners’ right to life without any fear of consequence or accountability,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
The group’s report follows an admission by Iran’s prisons chief last month that “unacceptable behavior” had taken place at a notorious Tehran prison after videos published abroad appeared to show violence against detainees.
The footage of prison guards beating and mistreating detainees was reportedly obtained by hackers who accessed surveillance cameras at Evin prison.
Amnesty International said the leaked video footage “offered disturbing evidence of beatings, sexual harassment, and other ill-treatment of prisoners by prison officials.”
It said that in 46 of the 72 deaths in custody, informed sources said they had resulted from “physical torture or other ill-treatment at the hands of intelligence and security agents or prison officials.”
Another 15 deaths were caused by the use of firearms or tear gas by prison guards to suppress protests over Covid-19 safety fears, said Amnesty.
For the remaining 11 cases, the deaths occurred in suspicious circumstances, but no further details about potential causes were available, it added.
“Iranian authorities typically blame deaths in custody on suicide, drug overdose or illness in a rushed manner and without conducting any independent and transparent investigations,” the watchdog said.
In July, Amnesty and nine other rights groups urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish a mechanism to collect, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes committed in the Islamic republic.
Iran regularly defends itself against reports by the United Nations or international rights groups criticizing its treatment of prison inmates.


Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease
Updated 17 September 2021

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease

Over 50% of UAE residents are affected by heart disease
  • The survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi showed that 55 percent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease
  • The survey has also shown that 53 percent of UAE residents have not had their heart health checked for more than two years

DUBAI: Over 50 percent of residents in the UAE have been affected by heart disease, according to a study of more than 1,000 people.

The survey commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi showed that 55 percent of respondents had been directly affected by heart disease, Al-Arabiya news channel reported.

The report further said heart disease was the main cause of death in the country, with symptoms showing a decade earlier than their counterparts in other developed countries.

“These results make clear the tragic impact that heart disease has on our community. Each and every heart disease diagnosis ripples out from the patient to their family and friends, naturally causing a great deal of anguish for all concerned,” Dr Ronney Shantouf, a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi said.

The survey has also shown that 53 percent of UAE residents have not had their heart health checked for more than two years, while 30 percent said they had never done so.

“It is very concerning that despite the tremendous strain heart disease places on our community and the high level of awareness we see, people are still reluctant to visit the doctor and take steps to prevent heart disease,” Shantouf said.

The study has further shown that 15 percent of respondents did not have any risk factors of heart disease.

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Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’
Updated 16 September 2021

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

Iran dismisses IAEA’s work as ‘unprofessional’

VIENNA: Iran on Thursday dismissed the UN nuclear watchdog’s work as “unprofessional” and “unfair” shortly before the two sides are due to hold talks aimed at resolving a standoff over the origin of uranium particles found at old but undeclared sites in Iran.
The issue is a thorn in the side of both Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the particles suggest Iran once had undeclared nuclear material at three different locations, but the IAEA has yet to obtain satisfactory answers from Iran on how the material got there or where it went.
“The statement of the Agency in its report is completely unprofessional, illusory and unfair,” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said in a statement to a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.
Gharibabadi was referring to a passage in an IAEA report last week that said the lack of progress was seriously affecting the IAEA’s ability to determine that Iran’s program is entirely peaceful, as Tehran says it is.
Failure to resolve the issue complicates efforts to restart talks aimed at bringing the US and Iran fully back into the fold of the 2015 nuclear deal, since Washington and its allies continue to pressure Iran to give the IAEA answers.