US urges de-escalation between Sudan, Ethiopia

A boy stands next to a donkey loaded with jerry cans by the Atbarah river near the village of Dukouli within the Quraysha locality, located in the Fashaqa Al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state. (File/AFP)
A boy stands next to a donkey loaded with jerry cans by the Atbarah river near the village of Dukouli within the Quraysha locality, located in the Fashaqa Al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 April 2021

US urges de-escalation between Sudan, Ethiopia

US urges de-escalation between Sudan, Ethiopia
  • Fears are mounting of a spillover from the bloody Tigray conflict
  • US relations have warmed markedly with Sudan since Hamdok

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday pressed for an easing of tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia as fears grow of a spillover from the bloody Tigray conflict.
In a telephone call with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, Blinken raised “the need to de-escalate tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia over the Al-Fashaqa border area, including recent commitments to engage in dialogue to resolve the issue,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The fertile area claimed by both countries has seen a rise in skirmishes as Sudan sends in troops, which Ethiopia has described as an invasion.
The farmland borders Ethiopia’s Tigray region where Addis Ababa launched an offensive against the local leadership in November, sending some 60,000 refugees fleeing into Sudan.
The United States has been increasingly critical of Ethiopia, a longstanding ally, with Blinken earlier saying that the Tigray campaign involved “ethnic cleansing.”
US relations have warmed markedly with Sudan since Hamdok, a civilian, took office in a transitional government following the toppling of dictator Omar Al-Bashir.
Sudan last week paid $335 million in compensation over anti-US attacks from when Bashir welcomed Al-Qaeda. Blinken separately hailed Sudan’s signing of an agreement with a rebel faction, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North,
Blinken also discussed the latest attempts to jumpstart diplomacy on the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Addis Ababa is moving ahead on despite protests from Sudan and Egypt which rely heavily on Nile water.
US-led talks under former president Donald Trump failed to reach a resolution. The United Arab Emirates recently became the latest to offer to mediate.


Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri (R) and his Libyan counterpart Najla al-Mangoush (L) give a joint press conference after their meeting in the capital Cairo on June 19, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 21 June 2021

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya

Egypt calls for exit of foreign forces from Libya
  • The two ministers discussed preparations for a new set of Libyan peace talks in Berlin

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has called for the exit of foreign mercenaries from Libya without delay, during a joint press conference with his Libyan counterpart Najla Mangoush.
Shoukry affirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan Presidential Council during its transitional period to restore security and stability in Libya until the elections on Dec. 24.
He reaffirmed Egypt’s support for the Libyan interim executive authority, noting that he discussed with Mangoush the efforts to restore security and stability in Libya, and advancing relations between the two countries.
Shoukry said that the talks with his Libyan counterpart included discussions about preparations for the Berlin ministerial conference, which will be hosted by Germany on June 23.

HIGHLIGHTS

Egypt’s foreign minister reaffirmed Cairo’s support for the Libyan interim executive authority, noting that he discussed with his counterpart the efforts to restore security and stability in Libya, and advancing relations between the two countries.

The meeting will discuss the Libyan crisis. The two ministers also discussed preparations for a new set of Libyan peace talks in Berlin.
The Egyptian foreign minister said that through this conference, both sides would seek the renewal of the commitment of the international community inside and outside of Libya.
He said that his and Magnoush’s renewed emphasis was on advancing joint cooperation frameworks aimed at ending foreign interference and preserving the capabilities of the Libyan people.
Meanwhile, his Libyan counterpart said: “We need Egypt’s support in the political process, to achieve stability and a cease-fire in Libya.”
Magnoush added that there were signs of hope for the unification of Libyans after the conference in Berlin.

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Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts
Thousands of civilians have been killed in Marib since February when the rebels resumed a major offensive to seize control of the region. (Reuters/File)
Updated 21 June 2021

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts

Houthi attacks on Marib and Saudi Arabia imperil peace efforts
  • Government forces repel ‘massive’ rebel assault on strategic city, forcing retreat

ALEXANDRIA: Yemen’s government warned on Sunday that Houthi military escalation in the central province of Marib and drone attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia threaten peace efforts to end the war in Yemen.

In a statement carried by the official news agency SABA, Yemen’s foreign ministry slammed the Houthis for stepping up shelling of residential areas in the central city of Marib, as well as intensifying ground offensives in the province and firing explosive-rigged drones and ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia.
The ministry accused the Houthis of executing Iran’s “subversive” policies in Yemen and seeking to derail efforts to end the war.
“Those terrorist attacks and the ongoing military escalations are clear messages and responses to all regional and international efforts to bring peace and end the war in Yemen,” the ministry said, renewing the government’s support to the Kingdom in defending its soil against Houthi strikes.
The warning comes as fighting between the Houthis and Yemeni government flared up over the last two days in Marib after the rebels resumed their push to seize control of the strategic city.
Yemen’s defense minister said that dozens of rebel fighters were killed in key battlefields outside the city of Marib after army troops and allied tribesmen repelled a large Houthi offensive.
Speaking to Arab News on Sunday from Marib, a local military official said that on Saturday, the Houthis mounted a “massive” assault on government forces in Al-Kasara, west of Marib city, and retreated after suffering heavy casualties and losses in military equipment.
“We crushed their waves of fighters, burnt two armed vehicles and captured a key Houthi military leader along with his group,” the official said.
Thousands of combatants and civilians have been killed in Marib since February when the rebels resumed a major offensive to seize control of the oil- and gas-rich region, the Yemeni government’s last bastion in northern parts of the country.
At the same time, dozens of civilians in the densely populated city have been killed after Houthis targeted residential areas with missiles, mortal shells and drones.
A week ago, Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad told Arab News that the government “would not allow the Houthis to capture Marib” as it had thrown all of its weight behind the “make-or-break” battle.
The latest round of fighting in the province comes as regional and international mediators shuttle between Riyadh, Muscat and Sanaa to make a breakthrough toward reaching an agreement to end the war.
At the same time, Awad said that the Omani delegation that visited Houthi-held Sanaa earlier this month could not convince the rebels to accept the UN-brokered peace initiative, adding that the Yemeni government is in favor of stopping fighting immediately to ease the humanitarian crisis in the country.
“We see that the first humanitarian step is a comprehensive cease-fire on all fronts — on the ground and in the air. This is the most important step, because it will stop the bloodshed and will open crossings and passages,” the minister said, adding that along with halting hostilities, the peace plan calls for reopening Sanaa airport, lifting restrictions on Hodeidah port and resuming peace talks.


Turkish tourism operators look forward to welcoming tourists back

Turkish tourism operators look forward to welcoming tourists back
Germany has removed Turkey from its list of high-risk countries, but Britain, the third-biggest source of holidaymakers, still keeps Turkey on its travel ‘red list.’ (Reuters/File)
Updated 21 June 2021

Turkish tourism operators look forward to welcoming tourists back

Turkish tourism operators look forward to welcoming tourists back
  • Turkish tourism operators and industry representatives are urging Turkish authorities to apply strict measures for incoming Russians because Russia has also seen a significant growth in coronavirus cases in recent days

ANKARA: Russia is resuming air traffic with Turkey on Tuesday as Turkish tourism operators look forward to welcoming tourists back after a lost season.
The decision was made following a visit of delegation to Turkey to assess safety measures after Russia decided not to allow tourists to travel to the country until at least June 21 due to the “serious epidemiological situation” in the country.
Turkey is a top holiday destination for Russian tourists. In 2019, more than 7 million Russian tourists visited the country. This number fell to 2.7 million last year because of the pandemic, dealing a big blow to tourism revenues.
The announcement was welcomed by Turkish tourism operators. The fall in daily COVID-19 cases from a record high of 60,000 in April to below 6,000, with strict weekend lockdown measures and a nationwide inoculation drive, also provided a favorable environment.
Thousands of facilities, restaurants, cafes and tour and transfer vehicles in Turkey have been recently provided with the “Safe Tourism Certificate” through a governmental program.
Turkish tourism operators and industry representatives are urging Turkish authorities to apply strict measures for incoming Russians because Russia has also seen a significant growth in coronavirus cases in recent days, with daily figures reaching peak values.
Goksel Gungor, the co-founder of YTM Tourism Villa Aparts in Fethiye, the Mediterranean resort town, said they were welcoming thousands of Russian vacationers for the summertime villa and yacht tourism before the pandemic.
To meet the criteria of safe tourism, all his staff are fully vaccinated, and they have the necessary certificates. He said that they will get additional certificates that were required by Russian authorities for welcoming their nationals.

They also conducted detailed disinfections in all villas and will allow a full day for cleaning and air-conditioning in each accommodation before welcoming a new batch of tourists.

FASTFACT

The decision was made following a visit of delegation to Turkey to assess safety measures after Russia decided not to allow tourists to travel to the country until at least June 21 due to the ‘serious epidemiological situation’ in the country.

“Each year, we were usually getting about one thousand Russian tourists by the end of April and were hosting them until the middle of October at our villas and yacht facilities. So far, only Ukrainians came, but Russians are mostly preferred in this region because of their high purchasing power,” Gungor said.

“The region counts the hours for welcoming the long-anticipated Russian tourists who postponed their bookings rather than canceling them. And our prices remained more or less stable so as not to discourage them. The depreciation of Turkish lira will also help Russians to spend money easily compared to past years,” he added.
Germany recently removed Turkey from its list of high-risk countries, but Britain, the third-biggest source of holidaymakers, still keeps Turkey on its travel “red list.”
Bulut Bagci, president of World Tourism Forum Institute, expects that all European countries will lift the ban on their nationals coming to Turkey by the end of July.
“This summer, along with going to the Mediterranean resort towns, Russian tourists will be visiting Turkey’s famed Cappadocia and the southeastern province of Mardin. This is the first time that they have diversified their destination preferences to experience different places in the country,” he said.
Tours to Mardin are currently on sale in the Russian market, where it is promoted as “a dream city and city of civilizations.” Individual groups are also expected to visit the town during summertime. Tour operators from Russia recently visited the town to check the safety at the facilities.
However, Bagci believes Turkey needs to diversify its tourist profile and develop a strategy to attract tourists from Islamic world and African region as well.
“We should take lessons from the pandemic crisis. We should diversify the tourist flows and not be dependent on one source. The package that one African tourist buys is equivalent to the package of five Russian or European tourists. We should not only market our summer destinations, but try to market tourism products that appeal to the Islamic world,” he said.
Russian authorities simultaneously decided to lift flight bans to the US, Cyprus, Italy, Macedonia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Jordan and Ireland.

 


Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
Updated 20 June 2021

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant undergoes emergency shutdown
  • The Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last for three to four days, state TV says

TEHRAN: Iran’s sole nuclear power plant has undergone an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown, state TV reported on Sunday.
An official from the state electric energy company, Gholamali Rakhshanimehr, said on a talk show that the Bushehr plant shutdown began on Saturday and would last “for three to four days.”
He said that power outages could result. He did not elaborate but this is the first time Iran has reported an emergency shutdown of the plant, located in the southern port city of Bushehr. It went online in 2011 with help from Russia. Iran is required to send spent fuel rods from the reactor back to Russia as a nuclear nonproliferation measure.
In March, nuclear official Mahmoud Jafari said the plant could stop working since Iran cannot procure parts and equipment for it from Russia due to banking sanctions imposed by the US in 2018.
Bushehr is fueled by uranium produced in Russia, not Iran, and is monitored by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA did not immediately respond to request for comment on the reported shutdown.
Construction on Bushehr, on the coast of the northern reaches of the Arabian Gulf, began under Iran’s shah in the mid-1970s. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the plant was repeatedly targeted in the Iran-Iraq war. Russia later completed construction of the facility.
The plant, which sits near active fault lines and was built to withstand powerful quakes, has been periodically shaken by temblors. There have been no significant earthquakes reported in the area in recent days.


Nuclear deal talks will not be open-ended, Iran warned

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
Updated 21 June 2021

Nuclear deal talks will not be open-ended, Iran warned

EEAS Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna. (Reuters)
  • The longer Iran produces banned nuclear material, the harder it becomes to restore the pact, say Western officials
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on world powers to “wake up”

VIENNA: Western officials warned Tehran on Sunday that negotiations to revive its nuclear deal could not continue indefinitely, after the sides announced a break following the election of a new hard-line president in Iran.

Negotiations have been ongoing in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the US can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, and Iran subsequently violated.

Sunday’s pause in the talks came after Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-liner and fierce critic of the West, won Iran’s presidential election on Friday with 62% of the vote amid a historically low voter turnout.

Raisi will take office in early August, replacing Hassan Rouhani, under whom Tehran struck the deal agreeing to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating position: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has final say on all major policy.

The Western countries say the longer Iran violates the deal and produces banned nuclear material, the harder it becomes to restore the pact.

Talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers cannot continue indefinitely and a decision needs to be made soon, a senior diplomat from the ‘E3’ grouping of France, Germany and Britain said on Sunday.

“We continue to make progress but we still need to resolve the most difficult issues. As we have stated before, time is on nobody’s side. These talks cannot be open ended,” the diplomat said

“Delegations will now travel to capitals in order to consult with their leadership. We urge all sides to return to Vienna and be ready to conclude a deal. The time for decision is fast approaching.”

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan echoed those comments telling broadcaster ABC News that there was still “a fair distance to travel,” including on sanctions and on the nuclear commitments that Iran has to make.

On Sunday, Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said a Raisi government would be a “regime of brutal hangmen” with which world powers should not negotiate a new nuclear accord.

Bennett opened his first Cabinet meeting by slamming Raisi and calling on world powers to “wake up” to the perils of returning to a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Bennett said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had chosen the “hangman of Tehran” to be the country’s next president, a man “infamous among Iranians and across the world for leading the death committees that executed thousands of innocent Iranian citizens throughout the years.”

He said Raisi’s election was “the last chance for the world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement and to understand who they’re doing business with. These guys are murderers, mass murderers.”

* With AP and Reuters

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