Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies
Farmers take part in a protest march in Amritsar on Saturday against the weekend lockdown imposed by authorities as a preventive measure against COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2021

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies

Foreign diplomats leave India as COVID-19 surge hits embassies
  • US, Germany and Poland approve voluntary departure of govt workers from crisis-hit country
  • CNN report: More than 200 staff in US embassy have contracted coronavirus

NEW DELHI: A number of embassies in New Delhi have issued advisories for their staff, giving them the option of leaving India as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the country with no signs of slowing.

Since late April, India has reported the world’s highest daily tally of coronavirus cases. Official data recorded more than 401,000 new cases and 4,000 virus-related deaths on Saturday. Coronavirus positivity rates in seven Indian states, including in the capital New Delhi, have also crossed 30 percent, according to Health Ministry statistics.

As the country faces a shortage of beds and oxygen supplies, and several foreign missions suffer local virus outbreaks, staff members have been allowed to leave the country.

The US, Germany and Poland earlier this week said that they approved the voluntary departure of their government employees from India because of the COVID-19 surge.

According to a CNN report on Saturday, the US Embassy has seen more than 200 staff contract the virus. The US State Department is also conducting a medical evacuation from the country.

The embassy’s spokesman told Arab News that the mission is “closely monitoring the situation.

“We will take all necessary measures to safeguard the health and well-being of our employees, including offering vaccines to employees,” he added.

Citing privacy concerns, the spokesman declined to comment on the scale of the embassy outbreak or the evacuation process.

Meanwhile, Germany confirmed that several members of its embassy staff had returned home.

“The German Embassy has opened the possibility for staff and families to return to Germany,” spokesman Hans Christian Winkler told Arab News.

However, he added that there was no “repatriation process” as “only a small number” of embassy workers have left so far.

The Polish foreign ministry also told Arab News in a written statement that it had “presented employees of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in New Delhi with the option of returning to Poland.”

The statement followed Polish media reports last week saying that a senior diplomat from the country’s New Delhi embassy had been airlifted back to Warsaw for hospitalization after contracting coronavirus.

Switzerland’s embassy admitted that two of its “transferable staff” are in Switzerland, but the country’s ambassador, Dr. Ralf Heckner, said that the two workers had been home “from the beginning of the crisis,” and that no other staff members had left any of the country’s missions in India.

The French Embassy declined comment on whether its staff had received any advice regarding medical evacuations.


At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas
Updated 43 min 52 sec ago

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

At least 12 injured in shooting in downtown Austin, Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS: Officials in Texas say at least nine people have been injured following a shooting Saturday morning in downtown Austin.
Police said in a tweet that multiple victims had injuries. The Austin-Travis County EMS said in a series of tweets that at least 12 patients had received treatment or been transported to local hospitals.
It was unknown how many of the injuries may have been gunshot wounds.
It was unclear what sparked the shooting. Police have not announced any suspects or arrests.


Francer’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word

Francer’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word
Updated 12 June 2021

Francer’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word

Francer’s Macron offers UK’s Johnson: ‘Le reset’ if he keeps his Brexit word
  • Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured

CARBIS BAY, England: French President Emmanuel Macron offered on Saturday to reset relations with Britain as long as Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood by the Brexit divorce deal he signed with the European Union.
Since Britain completed its exit from the EU late last year, relations with the bloc and particularly France have soured, with Macron becoming the most vocal critic of London’s refusal to honor the terms of part of its Brexit deal.
At a meeting at the Group of Seven world’s most advanced economies in southwestern England, Macron told Johnson the two countries had common interests, but that ties could only improve if Johnson kept his word on Brexit.
“The president told Boris Johnson there needed to be a reset of the Franco-British relationship,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
“This can happen provided that he keeps his word with the Europeans,” the source said, adding that Macron spoke in English to Johnson.
Johnson will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Saturday, where she could also raise the row over part of the EU divorce deal, called the Northern Ireland protocol.
The British leader, who is hosting the G7 meeting, wants the summit to focus on global issues, but has stood his ground on trade with Northern Ireland, calling on the EU to be more flexible in its approach to easing trade to the province from Britain.


Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
Updated 12 June 2021

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump

Russia’s Vladimir Putin hopes US counterpart Joe Biden less impulsive than Donald Trump
  • Russian leader describes Biden as a ‘career man’ who has spent his life in politics
  • Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as ‘a killer’

WASHINGTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Friday that US President Joe Biden will be less impulsive than his predecessor Donald Trump, ahead of his first summit with the new US leader.
In an interview with NBC News, Putin described Biden as a “career man” who has spent his life in politics.
Though he described relations with the United States as having “deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years,” Putin said he expects he can work with Biden.
“It is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting US president,” he said, according to a translation by NBC News.
“I believe that former US president Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual... He is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. But he didn’t come from the US establishment,” Putin was quoted as saying.
Biden plans to raise a range of US complaints, including over purported Russian election interference and hacking, in the summit with Putin on Wednesday in Geneva at the end of the new president’s first foreign trip.
Putin has openly admitted that in the 2016 vote he supported Trump, who had voiced admiration for the Russian leader. At their first summit, Trump infamously appeared to accept Putin’s denials of election interference.
Biden has said he is under no illusions about Putin and has described him as “a killer” in light of a series of high-profile deaths including of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.
Asked directly if he is “a killer,” Putin chuckled but did not give a yes or no answer.
“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me,” he said, adding that the term “killer” was a “macho” term common in Hollywood.
Such discourse “is part of US political culture where it’s considered normal. By the way, not here, it is not considered normal here,” he said.
Putin also dismissed as “fake news” a report in the Washington Post that Russia is planning to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that would allow it to track potential military targets.
“At the very least, I don’t know anything about this kind of thing,” the Russian leader said, speaking from the Kremlin. “It’s just nonsense garbage.”
According to interviewer Keir Simmons, Putin also denied any knowledge of cyberattacks on the United States, and called on Biden to strike a deal with Russia on cyberspace.


China, US diplomats clash over human rights, COVID-19 pandemic origin

China, US diplomats clash over human rights, COVID-19 pandemic origin
Updated 12 June 2021

China, US diplomats clash over human rights, COVID-19 pandemic origin

China, US diplomats clash over human rights, COVID-19 pandemic origin
  • Calls for a more thorough investigation into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 are particularly sensitive for China

BEIJING: Top US and Chinese diplomats appear to have had another sharply worded exchange, with Beijing saying it told the US to cease interfering in its internal affairs and accusing Washington of politicizing the search for the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call Friday that revealed wide divisions in a number of contentious areas, including the curtailing of freedoms in Hong Kong and the mass detention of Muslims in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
Calls for a more thorough investigation into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 are particularly sensitive for China because of suggestions that it might have Blinked escaped from a laboratory in the central city of Wuhan, where cases were first discovered.
Yang said China was “gravely concerned” over what he called “absurd” stories that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab.
China “firmly opposes any despicable acts that use the epidemic as an excuse to slander China and to shift blames,” Yang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
“Some people in the United States have fabricated and peddled absurd stories claiming Wuhan lab leak, which China is gravely concerned about,” Yang said. “China urges the United States to respect facts and science, refrain from politicizing COVID-19 origin tracing and concentrate on international anti-pandemic cooperation.”
The State Department said Blinken “stressed the importance of cooperation and transparency regarding the origin of the virus, including the need for (World Health Organization) Phase 2 expert-led studies in China.”
The US and others have accused China of failing to provide the raw data and access to sites that would allow a more thorough investigation into where the virus sprung from and how it initially spread.
Equally contentious were the issues of Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and accusations that China has arbitrarily detained two Canadian citizens in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of an executive of Chinese communications technology giant Huawei, who is wanted by US law enforcement.
The US has “fabricated various lies about Xinjiang in an attempt to sabotage the stability and unity in Xinjiang, which confuse right and wrong and are extremely absurd. China is firmly opposed to such actions,” Yang said.
“Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs,” and those found in violation of a sweeping national security law imposed on the former British colony “must be punished,” Yang said.
Blinken, on the other hand, underscored US concern over the deterioration of democratic norms in Hong Kong and the ongoing “genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” the State Department said.
He also urged Beijing to ease pressure against Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy China claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.
According to Xinhua, Yang said Taiwan involves China’s “core interests” and that Beijing “firmly defends its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The tone of the phone call seemed to echo contentious talks in March in Alaska, when the sides traded sharp and unusually public barbs over vastly different views of each other and the world in their first face-to-face meeting since President Joe Biden took office.
At that meeting, the US accused the Chinese delegation of “grandstanding,” while Beijing fired back, saying there was a “strong smell of gunpowder and drama” that was entirely the fault of the Americans.
Relations between them have deteriorated to their lowest level in decades, with the Biden administration showing no signs of deviating from the established US hard-line against China over trade, technology, human rights and China’s claim to the South China Sea.
Beijing, meanwhile, has fought back doggedly against what it sees as attempts to smear its reputation and restrain its development.
On Thursday, its ceremonial legislature passed a law to retaliate against sanctions imposed on Chinese politicians and organizations, threatening to deny entry to and freeze the Chinese assets of anyone who formulates or implements such measures, potentially placing new pressure on foreign companies operating in the country.


China urges US, Russian nuclear cuts and progress in Iran talks

China urges US, Russian nuclear cuts and progress in Iran talks
Updated 12 June 2021

China urges US, Russian nuclear cuts and progress in Iran talks

China urges US, Russian nuclear cuts and progress in Iran talks
  • Says "unilateral bullying acts of the US" were the root cause of the Iranian nuclear issue.

GENEVA: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the United States and Russia on Friday to further cut their nuclear arsenals, days before US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a summit in Geneva.
Wang, addressing the UN-backed Conference on Disarmament from Beijing, said that fresh reductions by the two powers would help spur multilateral nuclear disarmament, and he also took a thinly-veiled swipe at the United States.
“China opposes the development and deployment of regional and global missile defense systems by a certain country that undermine strategic stability, and China opposes the deployment of land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles by the same country in the neighborhood of other countries,” Wang said.
The Biden administration has said the United States intends to compete with China’s growing influence and military strength in the Asia-Pacific. China is also a nuclear power but its arsenal is much smaller.
US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood took the floor at the Geneva forum to urge China to engage in bilateral talks on risk reduction and strategic stability, in line with previous statements.
“To date, China has rebuffed US efforts to initiate bilateral talks on risk reduction and strategic stability,” Wood said.
Wang said “unilateral bullying acts of the United States” were the root cause of the Iranian nuclear issue.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from world powers’ 2015 accord with Iran designed to deny it the ability to build nuclear weapons, then reimposed harsh US sanctions on Tehran.
“To return to the deal, lifting sanctions on Iran first is the natural thing to do,” Wang said.
As talks between Iran and the United States in Vienna to revive the 2015 deal were in a “final sprint,” parties to the accord must redouble diplomatic efforts to “bring the JCPOA back on track,” Wang said, using the agreement’s official acronym.