EU extends olive branch to Ankara with key conditions

EU extends olive branch to Ankara with key conditions
French President Emmanuel Macron holds a press conference after a European Union (EU) summit held via video link, at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on March 25, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2021

EU extends olive branch to Ankara with key conditions

EU extends olive branch to Ankara with key conditions
  • European leaders express concern about deterioration of fundamental rights and rule of law in Turkey
  • Ankara urged to abstain 'from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law'

ANKARA: Following a meeting Thursday, the EU leaders decided to work for the modernization of the Customs Union with Turkey, but urged Ankara to abstain “from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law” for not facing any new sanctions.

However, experts note that the EU’s economic incentives do not give Turkey a “blank check” for its regional policies and offer instead a “phased and conditional” plan to mend often-fraught ties.

The EU leaders, by remaining cautious, will also review progress in June regarding Turkey’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean to ensure that recent signs of de-escalation remain sustainable and consistent.

If Ankara builds tension, specific measures targeting the Turkish tourism sector could be taken into consideration by the EU.

Last year, the European leaders threatened sanctions on Ankara over the disagreements about maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean. But they halted plans after a more conciliatory approach from Ankara by pulling back its Oruc Reis drilling ship from gas exploration activities in the contested waters and re-engaging in talks with Greece over disputed maritime borders.

The EU also expressed concern about the deterioration of fundamental rights and the rule of law in Turkey.

The withdrawal from the 2011 Istanbul Convention, which protects women from violence, with an overnight presidential decree along with the Turkish government’s recent plans to ban pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) drew EU’s anger.

As part of the Bogazici University protests, some 75 university students were taken into custody after the intervention of riot police to the campus and then to the Istanbul courthouse on Thursday and Friday, which coincided with the same dates of the EU Council meeting.

“Dialogue on such issues remains an integral part of the EU-Turkey relationship," EU leaders said.

However, Ankara criticized the EU for violating international law by calling Turkish operations in the eastern Mediterranean illegal.

“We hope that linking these steps to conditions in the summit statement, addressing only certain areas and postponing them to June will not lead to the loss of the positive momentum that has been captured,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry (MFA) said in a written statement.

Madalina Sisu Vicari, an independent expert on energy geopolitics, thinks that the EU leaders emphasized the “reversible” character of the European engagement.

“It is rather unusual to tie EU’s future engagements with Turkey from Customs Union to visa liberalization to Turkey’s refrain from its drilling activities,” she told Arab News.

Vicari underlines that two principal conditionality tools are attached to the EU's engagement with Turkey on Customs Union modernization: high-level dialogue in areas of common interest and eventual visa liberalization.

“The EU will approach its engagement in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner,” she said. 

“That means that if by June, when the EU leaders should further decide, the conditionalities would not be considered, then the EU could reverse the eventual advancements on the relation with Turkey.”

In the meantime, the UN-led peace efforts for divided EU member state Cyprus are set to begin next month.

Moreover, for some experts, the revision of the Customs Union with Turkey will require tacit recognition of Cyprus by Ankara as the EU will require opening its ports and airports to ships and planes originating from southern Cyprus.

The EU is also expected to engage in high-level political dialogue on security issues and mobility with Turkey in June.

“But, the regional security, stemming the flow of migrants mainly from Syria, and geopolitical aspects in the eastern Mediterranean are much more pre-eminent now in the eyes of the EU leaders than democratic backsliding in Turkey,” Vicari said.

According to Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw, the wording of the summit conclusions suggest that the EU has managed to remain united behind policy toward Turkey and the stick-and-carrot approach.

“Thus, the EU clearly tries to regain its leverage over Turkey,” he told Arab News.

Wasilewski thinks Ankara is aware of the pattern, although it seems it was taken aback by the wording of conclusions and the MFA statement.

“The Turks seem to suggest to the EU that they want to compartmentalize the relationship by focusing on a positive agenda rather than on democratic backsliding,” he said.

Wasilewski expects this misunderstanding, when it comes to the way forward, will remain an important point of disagreement.

Although during the past weeks, the European leader surprised many observers with their positive approach towards Turkey despite its actions aimed at the HDP. While some suggest this is clear proof that the EU has lost interest in Ankara's democratic backsliding, Wasilewski suggests otherwise.

“Turkey's drift away from democracy will always constitute a political cost for most European leaders, and thus the dilemma on how to respond to this will prevail,” he said.


Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
Updated 13 June 2021

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant

Drought-hit Jordan to build Red Sea desalination plant
  • The cost of the project is estimated at ‘around $1 billion’
  • Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July

AMMAN: Jordan said Sunday it plans to build a Red Sea desalination plant operating within five years, to provide the mostly-desert and drought-hit kingdom with critical drinking water.
The cost of the project is estimated at “around $1 billion,” ministry of water and irrigation spokesman Omar Salameh said, adding that the plant would be built in the Gulf of Aqaba, in southern Jordan.
The plant is expected to produce 250-300 million cubic meters of potable water per year, and should be ready for operation in 2025 or 2026, Salameh said.
“It will cover the need for drinking water (in Jordan) for the next two centuries,” he said, adding that the desalinated water would be piped from Aqaba on the Red Sea to the rest of the country.
Jordan is one of the world’s most water-deficient countries and experts say the country, home to 10 million people, is now in the grip of one of the most severe droughts in its history.
Thirteen international consortiums have put in bids, and the government will chose five of them by July, Salameh said.
Desalinating water is a major drain of energy, and the companies must suggest how to run the plant in Jordan, which does not have major oil reserves.
Last month Salameh said that Jordan needs about 1.3 billion cubic meters of water per year.
But the quantities available are around 850 to 900 million cubic meters, with the shortfall “due to low rainfall, global warming, population growth and successive refugee inflows,” he said.
This year, the reserves of key drinking water dams have reached critical levels, many now a third of their normal capacity.


Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case
Updated 13 June 2021

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case

Jordan’s former royal court chief charged in Prince Hamzah sedition case
  • In the indictment, Awadallah and bin Zaid are charged with “attempting to undermine the regime”
  • On June 2, they were referred to the SSC, which looks into cases related to terrorism and state security

AMMAN: Jordan’s former royal court chief and another man will go on trial this week at the State Security Court (SSC) for their alleged roles in a plot to “destabilize the country.”

The country’s public prosecutor endorsed the charges against Sharif Hassan bin Zaid and Bassem Awadallah, the former royal court chief.

Both are accused of working with Prince Hamzah, the former crown prince.

In the indictment, a copy of which was seen by Arab News, Awadallah and bin Zaid are charged with “attempting to undermine the regime, and the country’s security and stability,” as well as “inciting sedition.”

On June 2, they were referred to the SSC, which looks into cases related to terrorism and state security. The court is expected to begin the trial next week.

Awadallah and bin Zaid were arrested on April 3 along with 15 other people suspected of involvement in the case, which also involved Prince Hamzah. Jordanian authorities said that Awadallah, bin Zaid and Prince Hamzah were attempting to destabilize Jordan in collaboration with “foreign entities.”

Prince Hamzah’s involvement was resolved within the framework of the Hashemite family upon directives from his half brother King Abdullah II. The Jordanian royal court published a letter signed by Prince Hamzah in which he vowed allegiance to King Abdullah and confirmed that he would act “always for His Majesty and his Crown Prince to help and support.”

The charge sheet into the sedition case said that there is enough evidence proving a “solid connection” between Prince Hamzah and the two suspects, Awadallah and bin Zaid.

It also said that bin Zaid recommended Awadallah to Prince Hamzah to help them gather external support in their plot to topple the regime and place Prince Hamzah on the throne.

The charges said that the three men regularly met at the home of Awadallah, who was reportedly “encouraging the prince to intensify his meetings with notables and tribal leaders.”

Prince Hamzah then moved to the so-called “open criticism stage,” and began attacking national institutions and accusing them of ineptitude, the indictment said.

The charges also claim that Prince Hamzah exploited a hospital tragedy to mobilize Jordanians and ignite public anger against the state.

Seven COVID-19 patients died in March in the New Salt Public Hospital, northwest of the capital Amman, when the hospital’s oxygen supply failed.

The incident triggered public anger, forcing Jordan’s health minister at the time, Nazir Obeidat, to step down.

The indictment contains a number of text messages that Awadallah, bin Zaid and Prince Hamzah sent to each other during March, days before the case became public.

On March 13, Awadallah sent a WhatsApp message to bin Zaid that said: “It is time for H.” On the same date, Prince Hamzah wrote to bin Zaid: “There is another person saying ‘go ahead.’” The latter wrote back: “This (medical tragedy) is considered the spark.”

Before nationwide rallies planned for March, 24, prosecutors said that bin Zaid sent a text message to Prince Hamzah warning: “From now on, there should not be only words, but there should be a leadership.”

Activists affiliated with the United Jordanian Movement, Hirak called for the nationwide rally to commemorate the 10th anniversary of massive opposition protests in 2011 organized by the Youth of March 24 movement.

Bin Zaid sent another message to Prince Hamzah urging him to “seize the opportunity, maybe not today or tomorrow, but I’m sure not in June, for example. God be on your side.”

In another text message to Prince Hamzah, bin Zaid said: “Things are coming my friend and, as the man (Awadallah) said again last day, the thing will occur sooner than you think.”


Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
Updated 13 June 2021

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19

Two thirds of eligible people in Dubai fully vaccinated against COVID-19
  • For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19

DUBAI: About two-thirds of people eligible for inoculation against COVID-19 have now received two doses of the vaccine in Dubai, the tourist and business hub of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said.
Dubai is the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and has one of the world’s busiest airports.
For six months the UAE has been running one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, initially using a vaccine developed by the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) and then adding the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots and Russia’s Sputnik V.
DHA deputy director general Alawi Alsheikh Ali told Dubai Television late on Saturday that 83 percent of people aged over 16 — or about 2.3 million people — had now received at least one dose of a vaccine and that 64 percent had received two doses in the emirate.
The UAE recently said nearly 85 percent of its total eligible population had received at least one dose of a vaccine, without saying how many people had had both doses.
The UAE, which does not break down the number of cases by emirate, has seen a rise in the number of infections in the past month. It recorded 2,281 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total so far to around 596,000 cases. Daily cases peaked at almost 4,000 a day in early February.
DHA said 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units in Dubai hospitals were unvaccinated, without specifying when that statistic was recorded.


Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says
Updated 13 June 2021

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

Algerian parliamentary election results expected within days, authority says

ALGIERS: The results of an Algerian parliamentary election in which fewer than a third of voters took part will be announced within a few days, the head of the voting authority said late on Saturday.
The ruling establishment has tried to use elections along with a crackdown on dissent as a way to end two years of political unrest, with Algeria facing a looming economic crisis.
Supporters of the “Hirak” mass protest movement said it showed the system lacked legitimacy. Two prominent journalists, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, and the opposition figure Karim Tabbou, were detained last week but released on Saturday.
Politicians said the turnout of 30.2 percent, the lowest ever officially recorded for a parliamentary election in Algeria, was “acceptable.”
“The election took place in good conditions. Voters were able to vote and choose the most suitable candidates to serve Algeria,” said election authority head Mohamed Chorfi on television.
The protests erupted in 2019 and unseated veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, continuing weekly until the global pandemic struck a year later. After a year-long pause they resumed in February but police mostly quashed them last month.
Many Algerians believe real power rests with the military and security establishments who have dominated politics for decades, rather than with elected politicians.
“We have grown accustomed in the past to high turnout due to fraud,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, an Algerian analyst, saying the authorities had manipulated the results of elections before the Hirak protests to suggest greater enthusiasm.
After Bouteflika was forced to step down, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected with a turnout of 40 percent. Last year he held a referendum on an amended constitution that gained only 25 percent of votes.
The old parties that traditionally dominated have been tarred with corruption and abuse scandals, giving space to independents and moderate Islamist parties that hope to gain a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Those that win a lot of seats are likely to be included in the next government.
During parliament’s coming five-year term, Algeria is likely to face a fiscal and economic crunch, after burning through four fifths of foreign currency reserves since 2013.
The government has maintained expensive social programs and the state’s central role in the economy despite plummeting oil and gas sales.
Reforms to strengthen the private sector contributed to corruption that fueled the Hirak. Spending cuts could trigger a new wave of protests against the ruling establishment.
Laws passed by the outgoing parliament to encourage foreign and private investment and strengthen the energy sector have so far had little effect.


Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing
Updated 13 June 2021

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

Lebanon stops Syrians attempting illegal sea crossing

BEIRUT: The Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country.
A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than six million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.
In a report released this month, the World Bank warned that Lebanon’s economic collapse is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.