Interview: Saudi Arabia has ‘important role’ to play in Africa, says EU envoy for Ethiopia

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Updated 06 April 2021

Interview: Saudi Arabia has ‘important role’ to play in Africa, says EU envoy for Ethiopia

Interview: Saudi Arabia has ‘important role’ to play in Africa, says EU envoy for Ethiopia
  • Pekka Haavisto is visiting Saudi Arabia and UAE en route to Ethiopia on his second mission as EU envoy
  • Finnish diplomat says peace during Ramadan in Yemen was among the issues he discussed with Saudi officials

RIYADH: The EU’s envoy for Ethiopia has emphasized the importance of international cooperation to bring the conflict in the Tigray region to an end.

In a wide-ranging interview with Arab News in Riyadh on Sunday, Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign minister, said it is important that the EU works with Saudi Arabia, given that the Kingdom has “good relations with all parties in the whole of Africa.”

Haavisto also described the latest Saudi proposal for peace in Yemen as “a very positive initiative,” and reiterated his condemnation of deliberate attacks by the Houthis on civilians in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

Mandated by the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Haavisto is visiting the Kingdom and the UAE before traveling to Ethiopia on his second mission as the EU envoy.

“International cooperation in this issue is very important,” he said, citing the risks of another conflict in a region where disputes are already rife, including the Sudan-Ethiopia tensions and disagreements among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

“The European Union reacted very early on the confrontation in Ethiopia in Tigray and condemned the use of violence,” he said. “It was of course very concerned about the new wave of refugees partly coming to the Sudanese side.”

Haavisto visited refugee camps on the Sudan side in early February, in addition to holding meetings with Ethiopian leaders in December and February. At the time it was not certain that Eritrean troops were involved in the events of Tigray or that militias were causing turmoil.
 

“We have asked the Ethiopian leaders for full humanitarian access to all regions in Tigray, full investigation into human rights violations, dialogue between the parties and a halt to hostilities,” he told Arab News.

“This has been our message also to the neighboring country, Eritrea. We have asked for Eritrean troops to be withdrawn from Tigray.”

According to Haavisto, during their meetings the EU team and Saudi officials compared notes on the situation in the wider region and agreed to keep exchanging views on developments as well as explore future possibilities for closer cooperation.

The EU team also held meetings with officials from Saudi humanitarian agencies, he said. “It is very important that we also have a positive view of the whole of Africa, for the development and assessing of those in need of humanitarian aid,” he said. “We touched on the situation in Somalia, which is also the burning issue as far as African matters are concerned.”

Haavisto sees plenty of possibilities for the Kingdom and the EU to work together. “We have of course been praising the important role of Saudi Arabia earlier on in the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia and also Saudi Arabia’s constant support to Sudan during its transition process. Saudi Arabia is a country that has good relations with all parties in the whole of Africa, so it’s important that the EU works with Saudi Arabia.”

The discussions in Riyadh explored the possibility of a period of calm in Yemen during Ramadan. Emphasizing that the holy month, only two weeks away, might see more negotiations for peace, Haavisto said: “The Saudi leadership mentioned many times how important it is to have peace in the coming month of Ramadan, and I think everybody is requesting that.

“I think it should be a united common message from the international community to also bring Houthis to the negotiation tables. We shouldn’t accept additional violence, and particularly people should think about the civilians and the fate of the civilians in Yemen.”

On March 7, more than 40 Ethiopian migrants burned to death in a Houthi-run detention center in Yemen. Commenting on the atrocity, Haavisto said: “We have condemned all of the attacks from the Houthis against (Yemeni) civilians and innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia, as well as the spreading of the war to other areas. It is totally unacceptable.

“We are supporting the US envoy Martin Griffiths’ work and his proposal on this issue. We have also noted the very positive initiative from the Saudi Arabia government on (reaching) a peace agreement.

“This is a moment when we should really ask all sides to refrain from any additional violence or any additional bombings, to come to the table to find a negotiated solution. I think this is a war that has been continuing for too long a time.”

On the topic of EU-Saudi relations, Haaavisto said: “First of all, it’s important to mention that the EU, I think, is the second biggest trading partner of Saudi Arabia. So, we have a lot of things in common in the private sector, a lot of common interests to be developed there.




Finnish diplomat Pekka Haavisto is visiting Saudi Arabia and the UAE before traveling to Ethiopia on his second mission as the EU envoy. (Supplied)

“We have been following very closely the (Saudi) Vision 2030 (plan), the reform of Saudi society — particularly regarding the role of women — the issues of human rights, the issues of the reform of labor laws, and so forth, which are positive steps toward the future.”

“We look for more close cooperation on regional issues. We are fully aware of the good initiatives of Saudi Arabia, such as the Red Sea Council, for cooperation on issues concerning the Red Sea. We also took very positive note of the new ‘green’ initiatives of Saudi Arabia.

“We at the European Union are preparing for the coming COP 26 climate conference in Glasgow and fulfilling the climate goals is very important. Also, new environmentally friendly technologies and energy products are something that interest both the EU and Saudi Arabia.”

He described relations between the EU and Saudi Arabia as “very good,” noting that Borrel intends to visit the Kingdom soon. “It is very important that we have these personal linkages between EU institutions and Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The global fight against the coronavirus was another topic addressed by Haavisto, who said it was not enough for individuals to be immunized if their neighbors were not.

“We sometimes use this kind of vaccine solidarity term, that it is not enough that you yourself are vaccinated,” he told Arab News. “You have to also get your neighbor vaccinated, the neighboring countries vaccinated and then finally the whole world vaccinated.”

Haavisto said that the world needs a common information campaign that drives home the importance of vaccination in fighting the pandemic. Additionally, the world cannot afford more new mutations of the coronavirus in countries where the public-health crisis is not under control.

“I have found a similar thinking here in Saudi Arabia that we should work on the conditions, because this is also an economic issue in some ways in the world currently — getting economies back to normalcy once the vaccination is working,” he said.

Explaining that mutations could only be halted once the world was fully vaccinated, he said that both the EU and Saudi Arabia could work together. “Field health diplomacy and health security are where Europe and Saudi Arabia can cooperate,” he said.

Talking about steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change, he said: “Water scarcity is a very, very important issue in this region. I remember several years ago, before the war in Yemen, I visited Sanaa and many people said the city might be one of the first capitals to totally run out of water in this region.

“I think already at that time people spoke about the need for new ways of saving water, and producing drinking water in environmentally friendly ways, using maybe solar and other technologies.”

Twitter: @NoorNugali


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.

The Cabinet reiterated that it is closely following the current developments related to Iran's nuclear program, citing the emphasis of the Kingdom's call for Iran to get involved in the current negotiations, prevent escalation and desist from jeopardizing the regional security and stability to further tension. 
The Saudi government also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

The Cabinet also renewed condemnation of the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist militia's attempts to target civilians as well as civilian facilities in the Kingdom in a systematic and intentional manner, through using bomb laden drones and ballistic missiles.


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.


Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign encouraging people to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
  • The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched ‘Step Together’ campaign to help people stay active during the holy month

JEDDAH: While consuming excessive food during the month of Ramadan goes against the purpose of the holy month, for many Saudis and people of the region, it is a time to indulge in special foods, which often leads to overeating.

For years, Saudis have been facing problems with obesity, with unhealthy diets leading to a variety of poor health conditions. While numerous campaigns have been launched to combat this issue, including by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), their advice seems to fall on deaf ears during Ramadan.
Arab News spoke to experts — nutritionists and fitness trainers — who discussed their tips to help curb hunger and maintain a healthy weight.
Saudi fitness trainer Nouf Hamadallah, 37, explained that there is no best time to exercise during Ramadan; rather, the time and intensity of the workout can vary from person to person.
“Exercising during Ramadan depends on the flexibility of one’s schedule. There’s no specific time to work out. Most people who believe this are misinformed by what they read,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions of the Kingdom in June 2020 showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.

• It highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.

“One common bit of advice in popular articles says that if people work out before iftar, they will burn calories and lose weight. But this depends on their goals and calorie
intake. Some people cannot work out while fasting because they feel sick and nauseous, and their blood sugar drops. Then they become discouraged from exercising, not knowing that all they have to do is change the timing and nature of their workout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that it is easy to lose muscle mass if people do not choose the right foods for iftar and sahoor, also stressing that it is essential to hydrate during breakfast. Should one choose to work out right before iftar, a protein shake and a nutrient-dense meal with few carbs are advised in breaking fast.

If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

Arwa Bajkhaif, Dietician

“What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day, too. It should be a meal with a good amount of protein and vegetables,” said Hamadallah. “When your body is depleted of energy, the first thing you look for is sugar, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Digestive problems such as acid reflux also occur due to poor eating habits in Ramadan, she added, and people with such digestive issues need to take note of the specific foods that irritate their stomachs.
She recommended that they avoid these foods if they are planning to exercise and instead have a few dates, soup and maybe a cup of coffee before beginning their workout, saving a full meal for afterward.
Iftar and sahoor also need to be divided into portions to avoid digestive problems, she added.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian Arwa Bajkhaif, 29, said Ramadan is a “golden opportunity” to fast and practice self-control. If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day.

Nouf Hamadallah, Fitness trainer

“People should know their dietary requirements and follow a suitable diet for their particular health situation during the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajkaif told Arab News
“For individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend seeing an endocrinologist for insulin and medication adjustments and a clinical dietitian for follow-ups to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates accordingly.”
As for changing one’s eating habits, she suggested that people should not adopt more than three easy and healthy habits. “Being realistic and specific is key to achieving health goals.”
Saudi dietitian Alaa Gotah advised people to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahoor, avoid sugary drinks especially during iftar to maintain insulin levels, and eat plenty of hydrating food such as salads while limiting the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
She stressed that fasting cleanses the body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present.
“Sahoor should include a healthy amount of fiber, which stays for a long time in the intestines. To reduce the feeling of thirst and hunger, it’s recommended to eat fruits that contain dietary fiber and magnesium, such as bananas, dates and watermelon,” Gotah told Arab News.  
A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions in June 2020 titled “Obesity in Saudi Arabia in 2020: Prevalence, Distribution, and its Current Association with Various Health Conditions” showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.
The study highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign to help people stay active during the holy month, presenting the Ramadan edition of “Step Together,” where people are encouraged to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan.