Talks have resumed between Greece and Turkey but the friction remains

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs had proposed to Ankara that the next round of exploratory talks on the maritime boundary dispute between the two countries take place between March 1 and 5. However, Turkey failed to reply to the invitation. (AFP)
The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs had proposed to Ankara that the next round of exploratory talks on the maritime boundary dispute between the two countries take place between March 1 and 5. However, Turkey failed to reply to the invitation. (AFP)
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Updated 02 March 2021

Talks have resumed between Greece and Turkey but the friction remains

Talks have resumed between Greece and Turkey but the friction remains
  • Athens pledges not to sabotage negotiations by withdrawing but adds that it not being naive about the process
  • Ankara has faced criticism from some quarters that it is acting provocatively on a number of fronts

ATHENS: Greek authorities are not being naive about their exploratory talks with Turkey but they “will not fall in the trap to undermine the dialogue” by withdrawing from it, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said last week.

His comments came as Ankara faced criticism from some quarters that it was acting provocatively toward Athens on a number of fronts.

The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs had proposed to Ankara that the next round of exploratory talks on the maritime boundary dispute between the two countries take place between March 1 and 5. However, Turkey failed to reply to the invitation.

If the meeting does eventually go ahead it will be the 62nd round of the talks, which began 2002 but broke down in 2016 when Ankara froze discussions. Negotiations resumed in January this year amid pressure from the EU, and Germany in particular, to defuse escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

In the meantime, Ankara last month sent out a notice advising that the research vessel Cesme would be carrying out a hydrographic survey in international waters in the central Aegean from Feb. 18 to March 2. This prompted protests from Greek authorities and claims that Turkey was acting illegally.

Last week, Ankara accused Athens of sending F-16 fighter jets to harass the Cesme and published a video to support its claims. However, the Greeks said the Hellenic Air Force aircraft did not violate the “protection bubble” around the vessel. Additionally, the Turkish video did not prove that Greek jets flew directly over the ship.

During the first half of this month, Ankara will also conduct a major military exercise in the Aegean Sea. Called Mavi Vatan (Blue Homeland), it will involve about 80 ships.

Ankara is enraged by the growing military cooperation between the US and Greece. Athens and Washington are also in talks to update their Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement. The Americans are requesting a five-year extension of the agreement, and propose the addition of more military bases on Greek soil to a list of those that are available for US forces to use.

Turkish officials and media have also complained about the presence of US forces in the port city of Alexandroupolis. The US plans to send soldiers and equipment from there to take part in NATO’s upcoming Defender Europe 2021 military exercise.

Alexandroupolis is in Western Thrace, a region that is home to a Muslim community that is the only officially recognized minority in Greece. It includes people of Turkish, Roma and Pomakh backgrounds, but Ankara characterizes it as an ethnic Turkish minority. Recently, the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe submitted a written statement to the UN Human Rights Council about the attitude of Greek authorities toward those of Turkish origin.

Additionally, Ankara complained to Greece over the handling of the discovery of an Ottoman cemetery at a construction site in Greek northern region of Chalkidiki. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Feb. 23 that Turkey should have been informed when about 200 tombs were found.

Greek diplomatic sources dismissed the complaint as another effort by Ankara to push a neo-Ottoman narrative of being the protector of Muslims abroad.

Ankara is also focusing part of its public diplomacy on efforts to discredit Athens on the issue of migration. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday accused Greece of illegally turning away migrants trying to cross the border from Turkey.

“Push-backs and unlawful practices that Greece has been carrying out in a systematic policy — where in some cases the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency/Frontex has also been involved — have been continuing for years,” it said. “In the past four years, more than 80,000 asylum-seekers were pushed back to our country.”

The Turkish reaction came exactly one year after thousands of migrants, encouraged by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tried to forcibly cross the border into Greece at the Evros river.

Relations between the EU and Turkey will be the focus of the next European Council Summit in Brussels on March 25 and 26, as Brussels examines a renewal of the March 2016 EU-Turkey Statement on migration.
 


Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana
Updated 15 min 25 sec ago

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana
  • Police said Albanian man, 34, wound five people with knife attack in mosque in Tirana
  • Man was arrested by police that haven’t disclosed any motive for the attack

TIRANA: An Albanian man with a knife attacked five people Monday at a mosque in the capital of Tirana, according to police.
A police statement said Rudolf Nikolli, 34, entered the Dine Hoxha mosque in downtown Tirana about 2:30 p.m. and wounded five people with a knife.
Police reacted immediately and took him into custody.
The five wounded, all men aged from 22 to 35, were taken to a hospital and police said they are not in life-threatening situations.
Police have not disclosed any motive for the attack. They and prosecutors are investigating the case.
Ahmed Kalaja, imam of the mosque, said the armed man attacked worshipers and staff, and added he hoped it was “not a terrorist attack.”
The mosque at the time was filled with believers during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Albania’s 2.8 million people are predominantly Muslim with smaller Christian Catholic and Orthodox communities that have gotten along well with each other.
Police said Nikolli was from the northern town of Burrel and his religious background was not yet clear.


Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations

Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations
Updated 19 April 2021

Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations

Hostage policemen released by TLP religious party after government negotiations
  • Second round of negotiations to take place Monday morning
  • Security was beefed up in capital Islamabad overnight with heavy contingents of police

ISLAMABAD: Eleven security personnel taken hostage on Sunday by the banned Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) religious party during police clashes in Lahore were released in the early hours of Monday morning following the first round of negotiations with the government, interior minister Sheikh Rasheed said in a video announcement on Twitter.
Rioting by the rightwing group has rocked the country since Monday last, after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore a day after he threatened the government with rallies if it did not expel the French envoy to Islamabad over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in France last year.
The protests paralyzed major cities and highways, leading to the deaths of six policemen, according to the government, with thousands of TLP workers under arrest, police say. The riots also prompted the French embassy to recommend all its nationals temporarily leave the country last week.
“Talks have started with the TLP. The first round of negotiations went well and the second round will take place after sehr,” Rashid said.
“They [TLP] have released 11 abducted policemen hostages and have gone into the Rehmatul Lil Alameen Mosque. The police have also stepped back,” he said.


“These negotiations were held successfully by the Punjab government. We hope that the second meeting after sehr will also be successful and matters will be amicably resolved with the TLP,” he added.
Earlier, on Sunday evening, Information Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry said in a statement the government believed in negotiating but wouldn’t be blackmailed.
“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said.
“The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped. The state can’t be blackmailed by a proscribed armed outfit. [Prime Minister] Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the Prophet (PBUH) and he has talked about this at every forum.”
Earlier on Sunday, a police spokesman, Arif Rana, said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol.
By Sunday evening, he said the situation was “at a standstill” with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement personnel standing guard.
Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking law enforcement forces and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be dissolved.
Talking to the media in Islamabad on Sunday, Ahmed said no negotiations were underway with the TLP.
“We tried to negotiate for two, three months with them but in vain. They are not ready to retreat from their agenda, so the government is left with no option but to establish the writ of the state,” the minister said.
Security was heightened overnight in the capital, Islamabad, the DIG operations tweeted Sunday evening.
In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad to his pupils during a civics lesson.
During similar protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including that it would debate expelling the French ambassador in parliament.
A deadline to make that parliamentary move expires on April 20.


Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths

Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths
Updated 19 April 2021

Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths

Thailand reports 1,390 new coronavirus infections, 3 new deaths
  • Three deaths were reported

BANGKOK: Thailand reported 1,390 new coronavirus cases on Monday, slowing from six days of record highs, amid a third wave of infections in the Southeast Asian country.
Three deaths were reported. The new cases took the total number of infections to 43,742, with 104 deaths.


France restricting travel from 4 countries to curb variants

France restricting travel from 4 countries to curb variants
Updated 19 April 2021

France restricting travel from 4 countries to curb variants

France restricting travel from 4 countries to curb variants
  • Along with the mandatory quarantine, France is requiring more stringent testing for the coronavirus

PARIS: France is imposing entry restrictions on travelers from four countries — Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Brazil — in hopes of keeping out especially contagious coronavirus variants, the government has announced.

The restrictions include mandatory 10-day quarantines with police checks to ensure people arriving in France observe the requirement.  Travelers from all four countries will be restricted to French nationals and their families, EU citizens and others with a permanent home in France.

France previously suspended all flights from Brazil. The suspension will be lifted next Saturday, after 10 days, and the new restrictions “progressively” put in place by then, the government said. 

The flight suspension for Brazil will be lifted followed by “drastic measures” for entering France from all four countries, plus the French territory of Guiana, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

The four countries “are the most dangerous in terms of the number of variants that exist and in the evolution of the pandemic in these countries,” Le Drian said Saturday on the France 3 television station.

The list of countries subject to tougher border checks could be extended, he said.

Under the new restrictions, travelers must provide an address for where they plan to observe the 10-day confinement period and police will make visits and fine those who are found in violation, the government said.

Along with the mandatory quarantine, France is requiring more stringent testing for the coronavirus. 

Travelers must show proof of a negative PCR test taken less than 36 hours instead of 72 hours before they boarded a flight, or a negative antigen test less than 24 hours

France has reported the deaths of 100,00 people in the COVID-19 pandemic.

A variant first identified in England spread to continental Europe and is now responsible for about 80 percent of the virus cases in France, while the variants first seen in Brazil and South Africa make up less than 4% of French infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran said last week.


Coronavirus likely to keep mutating: Scientists

Coronavirus likely to keep mutating: Scientists
Updated 18 April 2021

Coronavirus likely to keep mutating: Scientists

Coronavirus likely to keep mutating: Scientists
  • Warning comes amid fears that new, India variant could become dominant
  • Virologist: “We’re still early on in the lifetime of this virus as a human pathogen”

LONDON: Humanity is engaged in an “arms race” with the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2, and its capacity to adapt and evolve remains unknown and should not be underestimated, scientists have warned.
“I think it’d be a brave person to say that the virus is nearing the end of its evolutionary route and can’t go any further,” Prof. Deenan Pillay, a virologist at University College London, told The Independent.
“We’re still early on in the lifetime of this virus as a human pathogen. It normally takes many years for viruses, once they cross the species barrier, to really optimize themselves to be able to replicate well within humans.”
Pillay’s warning comes amid fears that a new strain of Sars-CoV-2, known as the India variant — which has caused a surge in the number of cases of COVID-19 — could become a dominant global strain in the coming weeks.
The India variant is known to carry two mutations that could reduce the efficacy of a number of COVID-19 vaccines.
Whilst that has not yet occurred, the nature and speed at which the virus has mutated thus far, including in the form of the South African and UK variants, has caused alarm among the scientific community that the positive impact of vaccine rollouts could be undone in the near future.
Specifically, scientists worry about Sars-CoV-2’s ability to alter spike proteins, used to attach onto human cells, through mutations.
The spike proteins, referred to by Pillay as “keys” to entering human receptor cells, are the mechanism through which most of the world’s successful COVID-19 vaccines look to attack the virus, by training various immune system responses to identify them. 
One such mutation, E484K, has been found in the South Africa and UK variants. The India variant carries a similar mutation, E484Q.
The fear is that by altering their proteins, these variants could render them less visible to the immune system of vaccinated people, making it harder to ward off infection.
Aris Katzourakis, professor of evolution and genomics at Oxford University, said beyond altering the spike protein, mutations such as E484K could “unlock a whole load of other mutations elsewhere in the spike” that have not yet been identified by scientists, with unknown repercussions for the severity of the virus.
“E484K took about 12 months before it became something we cared about. Presumably, 12 months from now, there’ll be another one or two that are just as important,” he told The Independent. 
Prof. Stephen Griffin, a virologist at Leeds University, said he believes that rather than continue to mutate indefinitely, there “will be a limit on how far the spike protein can evolve. But I’m not sure we can accurately determine what that limit may be at this point.”