Belarusian Olympics sprinter refuses to leave Tokyo

Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya talks with a Japanese police officer at Haneda international airport in Tokyo on Monday. (Reuters)
Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya talks with a Japanese police officer at Haneda international airport in Tokyo on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 August 2021

Belarusian Olympics sprinter refuses to leave Tokyo

Belarusian Olympics sprinter refuses to leave Tokyo
  • Seeks protection from Japanese police instead and set to request asylum in Europe
  • Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was among those detained during Belarus protests

TOKYO : A Belarusian sprinter refused to get on a flight from Tokyo on Sunday after being taken to the airport against her wishes by her team following her complaints about national coaching staff at the Olympic Games.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda airport late on Sunday. Early on Monday, Japanese lawmaker Taiga Ishikawa tried to visit her at the sub-precinct at the airport but police told him she was no longer there.
Ishikawa, an opposition member of the Upper House of parliament, told Reuters a police officer declined to tell him where the athlete was. Police did not comment to reporters, who had been waiting through the night and not seen Tsimanouskaya depart.
The International Olympic Committee earlier said it had spoken to Tsimanouskaya and that she was being accompanied by a Tokyo 2020 staff member at the airport.
“She has told us she feels safe,” the IOC said in a Twitter post.

Tsimanouskaya spent the night in an airport hotel, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said at media conference.
Adams said the IOC and Tokyo 2020 would continue their conversations with Tsimanouskaya and the authorities “to determine the next steps in the upcoming days.”
The incident on Sunday highlighted discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko. In power since 1994, he faced a wave of protests last year, which some athletes joined.
Tsimanouskaya said coaching staff had come to her room on Sunday and told her to pack. She said she was then taken to Haneda airport by representatives of the Belarusian Olympic team.
But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters in a message over Telegram: “I will not return to Belarus.”
The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state.”
The committee did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
Earlier, a Reuters photographer saw the athlete standing next to police at the airport. “I think I am safe,” Tsimanouskaya said. “I am with the police.”
In a video published on Telegram by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, Tsimanouskaya asked the IOC to get involved in her case.
A source at the foundation, which supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views, said Tsimanouskaya planned to request asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.
The foundation’s head, former Olympic swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia, told Reuters Tsimanouskaya could also be receiving assistance from Poland.
“We appealed to a number of countries for help,” said Herasimenia, a three-time Olympic medallist. “But the first that reacted was the Polish consulate. We are ready to accept their help.”
Lukashenko’s son, Viktor Lukashenko, is president of the Belarus Olympic Committee.

'Coaches' negligence'
Tsimanouskaya ran in the women’s 100 meters heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200 meters heats on Monday, along with the 4x400 meters relay on Thursday.
She said she had been removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches.”
Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4x400m relay after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient amount of doping tests.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters from the airport.
“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”
The head of the Belarus athletics team in Tokyo, Yuri Moisevich, told state-owned broadcaster STV the decision had been taken to make changes to the relay team, but they did not announce it immediately so as not to disrupt the athletes’ preparation.
“We intended to tell her everything, to explain it, especially as she was a reserve,” Moisevich said.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged the IOC to take up the athlete’s case.
“She has a right to international protection & to continue participation in the @Olympics,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter. “It is also crucial to investigate Belarus’ NOC violations of athletes’ rights.”
Tsikhanouskaya later compared the incident to the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk in May to arrest dissident blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, and proposed that all those involved in the “attempted kidnapping” of Tsimanouskaya be added to EU and US sanctions lists.
“No Belarusian who has left Belarus’ borders is safe because they can be kidnapped, just like Krystsina Tsimanouskaya or Roman Protasevich,” she wrote on Telegram.
Vitaliy Utkin, a member of the Belarusian parliament, criticized Tsimanouskaya’s behavior.
“It is betrayal and treachery, which was directed toward the Belarusian people and her fellow athletes,” STV cited Utkin as saying.

Athletes failed
President Lukashenko was faced with mass street demonstrations last year over what his opponents called rigged elections, and ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. The president denies the allegations of vote-rigging.
Unusually in a country where elite athletes often rely on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests. Several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-basketball-idUSKBN27... and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-olympics-idUSKBN28614P.
Others lost their state employment or were kicked off national teams for supporting the opposition.
During the Cold War, scores of sports people and cultural figures defected from the Soviet Union and its satellite states during overseas competitions or tours. But the freedom of travel that came with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw the need for such dramatic acts dwindle. 


Winter at Tantora to return in addition to new festivals in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Organizers have revealed that the highly anticipated Winter at Tantora event is set to return. (SPA)
Organizers have revealed that the highly anticipated Winter at Tantora event is set to return. (SPA)
Updated 6 min 52 sec ago

Winter at Tantora to return in addition to new festivals in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Organizers have revealed that the highly anticipated Winter at Tantora event is set to return. (SPA)

DUBAI: Under the banner of AlUla Moments, organizers have revealed that the highly anticipated Winter at Tantora event is set to return alongside a clutch of other festivals, including AlUla Skies, AlUla Arts and the AlUla Wellness Festival.

The four distinct festivals will run in a staggered schedule from Dec. 21 to March 30, with a bevvy of both ticketed and free-to-enter events.

A Candlelit Symphonic Concert will be held at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra to officially open the Winter at Tantora festival, which will run until Feb. 12, with additional equestrian events set to include a haute couture horse fashion event, Ikmah Fashion Calvary, the return of the competitive Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Race and the AlUla Desert Polo competition.

From Feb. 13, the AlUla Arts festival will bring together exhibitions showcasing a diverse array of artistic talents. Al-Jedidiah will be a hub of art activity and performances, with the outdoor Cinema El-Housh presenting arthouse Saudi filmmakers and their work.

AlUla Skies, which will be available for booking from Feb. 27-March 12, offers guests the opportunity to book hot air balloon rides, vintage plane tours or helicopter rides over the rock formations of Madakheel.

And as part of the new AlUla Wellness Festival in March 2022, a Five Senses Sanctuary will offer up mind, body and soul experiences from expert yoga to meditation. For something more energetic, the Eco-Trail returns to AlUla and AlUla Oasis Fitness Infusion will offer daily, expert-led group classes.


UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
Updated 4 min 56 sec ago

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact

UN and Afghanistan’s Taliban, figuring out how to interact
  • The Taliban wrote to the UN requesting to address the UNGA that is underway in New York
  • They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government

NEW YORK: It’s been little more than a month since Kalashnikov-toting Taliban fighters in their signature heavy beards, hightop sneakers and shalwar kameezes descended on the Afghan capital and cemented their takeover. Now they’re vying for a seat in the club of nations and seeking what no country has given them as they attempt to govern for a second time: international recognition of their rule.
The Taliban wrote to the United Nations requesting to address the UN General Assembly meeting of leaders that is underway in New York. They argue they have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. The UN has effectively responded to the Taliban’s request by signaling: Not so fast.
Afghanistan, which joined the UN in 1946 as an early member state, is scheduled to speak last at the General Assembly leaders’ session on Monday. With no meeting yet held by the UN committee that decides challenges to credentials, it appears almost certain that Afghanistan’s current ambassador will give the address this year — or that no one will at all.
The UN can withhold or bestow formal acknowledgement on the Taliban, and use this as crucial leverage to exact assurances on human rights, girls’ access to education and political concessions. This is where the power — and relevance, even — of the 76-year-old world body still holds.
Afghanistan is a good, and perhaps extreme, representative case study of precisely why the United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, said Rohinton Medhora, president of the Center for International Governance Innovation in Canada.
“If you’re the UN and you want to represent the family of nations, then you want absolutely everyone of the family there — even you know, the distant cousin that not everyone’s proud of,” he said. “So the UN needs Afghanistan and countries to demonstrate the value of many of its operations.”
In Afghanistan, the United Nations can deploy the weight of its vast aid and development programs to show just how crucial its often underfunded agencies are in providing stability and security. The country is facing multiple humanitarian crises and near-total poverty due to fallout from the political situation.
There are already growing calls for aid to be contingent on ensuring girls’ access to education. Despite promises to be inclusive and open, the Taliban have yet to allow older girls back to school, have curtailed local media freedoms and returned to brutal practices like publicly hanging dead bodies in city squares.
“Taliban does not represent the will of the Afghan people,” Afghanistan’s currently accredited ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Nasir Andisha, told The Associated Press.
If the United Nations recognizes the Taliban’s claim to power, Andisha said, then it sends a corrosive message to others — be it in Yemen or in Myanmar — that they can take up guns, create violence, join with US-designated terrorist groups.
“I think for the world, for the United Nations, it’s time to use this as a leverage,” Andisha said.
The Taliban’s appointed UN representative, Suhail Shaheen, a former negotiator and political spokesman, told The Associated Press that his government should be admitted into the club of nations and that “all borders, territory and major cities of Afghanistan are in our control.”
“We have support of our people and because of their support, we were able to continue a successful struggle for independence of our country which culminated in our independence,” he said. “We have all the requirements needed for recognition of a government. So we hope the UN as an neutral World Body recognize the current government of Afghanistan.”
More than a dozen ministers in the all-Taliban Cabinet are on a UN blacklist, including the group’s foreign minister, whom Andisha and other Afghan diplomats abroad are refusing to speak to.
Andisha was serving in Geneva under the US-backed government of Ashraf Ghani when the president fled Afghanistan Aug. 15 to seek refuge in the United Arab Emirates as the Taliban encircled the capital. Ghani’s government swiftly fell thereafter.
Andisha is still holding meetings with representatives from countries around the world, imploring them to push for the resuscitation of intra-Afghan peace talks. He wants the United Nations to make clear that joining its ranks is not only about “holding a country under the barrels of your guns and having enough population taken hostage.”
Meanwhile, Qatar has urged countries not to boycott the Taliban, and Pakistan called on nations to avoid isolating the Taliban, and to incentivize them to hold to their promises of renouncing terrorism and being inclusive.
The United States, which withdrew all its forces from the country last month in a chaotic airlift that ended America’s “forever war,” says it is critical that the international community remains united in ensuring the Taliban meets a range of commitments before granting legitimacy or support beyond humanitarian aid.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this is the message he delivered to the UN Security Council and others on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week.
The US has “significant leverage when it comes to the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Friday. “But we have all the more leverage when we work in coordination and in harmony with our allies and partners around the globe,” he added.
Medhora, of the Center for International Governance Innovation, said the UN has levers it can use through its various agencies, such as UNICEF, which focuses on children, UNHCR, which assists refugees, and the World Food Program, all “where the actual work of the UN gets done.” This is another area where the United States has major sway as the the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing nearly one-fifth of funding for the body’s collective budget in 2019, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In multiple UN speeches this past week, a number of world leaders mentioned Afghanistan, including US President Joe Biden and Afghanistan’s neighbors, such as Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.
Enayat Najafizada, who runs an independent think tank in Kabul that monitors security issues in Afghanistan’s provinces, said the UN should also facilitate negotiations between Afghan groups and bring the various countries with a history of meddling in the nation on board for the sake of regional security.
“Without forming an inclusive government, the country will move to a civil war,” said Najafizada, founder of The Institute of War and Peace Studies.
Although what comes next for Afghanistan is far from certain, it is clear the Taliban do not want to be seen as global pariahs, said Kamal Alam, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“They want a seat at the UN They want to go to Davos. They like the private jet lifestyle,” he said, referring to the group’s political elite who reside in exile in Qatar.
“But that’s only the political leaders. The foot soldiers on the ground, there’s no such thing as ‘the new Taliban’,” he said. “There is no new Taliban. Everything they’re doing is a tactic to get recognition as well as not be isolated.”


Bahrain to double VAT to 10%: Reports

Bahrain to double VAT to 10%: Reports
Updated 17 min ago

Bahrain to double VAT to 10%: Reports

Bahrain to double VAT to 10%: Reports

RIYADH: Bahrain plans to increase value-added tax to 10 percent in a bid to curb budget deficits and boost state revenue, 

Bahraini media outlets reported on Sunday.

According to a report published in a section of the Bahraini press, the legislators also discussed the options of reducing wages or social welfare given to nationals to bolster the economy.

According to IMF estimates, Bahrain’s budget deficit will contract by half this year after lower oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic boosted it to a record 18 percent of economic output in 2020.


Petrofac to plead guilty to 7 counts of bribery in Mideast oil projects

Petrofac to plead guilty to 7 counts of bribery in Mideast oil projects
Updated 29 min 45 sec ago

Petrofac to plead guilty to 7 counts of bribery in Mideast oil projects

Petrofac to plead guilty to 7 counts of bribery in Mideast oil projects

LONDON: British oil services group Petrofac said on Friday it would plead guilty to seven counts of failing to prevent bribery to secure projects in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the UAE between 2012 and 2015, calling it a “deeply regrettable period.”

The company indicated its plans at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court after being formally charged by the UK Serious Fraud Office, drawing a line under a four-year criminal investigation. Its shares surged 25 percent in relief.

Petrofac, which has struggled to secure key contracts in the Middle East and has seen its shares battered during the SFO investigation, will formally enter its pleas and await sentencing at London’s Southwark Crown Court on Monday.

Petrofac said offers or payments to agents to help secure projects were made between 2011 and 2017 but that all employees involved had left.

“This was a deeply regrettable period of Petrofac’s history,” said Chairman Rene Medori in a statement, adding that the company’s “comprehensive program of corporate renewal” had been acknowledged by the SFO.

“Petrofac has been living under the shadow of the past, but today it is a profoundly different business, in which stakeholders can be assured of our commitment to the highest standards of business ethics, wherever we operate,” he said.

Former executive David Lufkin, who has separately pleaded guilty to 14 charges of bribery to secure billions of dollars worth of contracts for Petrofac in the Middle East, is also expected to be sentenced on Monday.

His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In March, the UAE’s state-backed oil firm, ADNOC, barred Petrofac from competing for new contracts in the country.

It is the second corporate guilty plea secured by the SFO in five months.

Former Airbus subsidiary GPT Special Project Management pleaded guilty to corruption over military contracts for Saudi Arabia in April.


Egypt stresses need for binding deal on Renaissance Dam

Egypt stresses need for binding deal on Renaissance Dam
Updated 28 min 23 sec ago

Egypt stresses need for binding deal on Renaissance Dam

Egypt stresses need for binding deal on Renaissance Dam
  • Egypt describes the dam as an existential threat because it suffers from water scarcity
  • The country fears that the process of filling the dam will affect its share of the river’s water

CAIRO: During a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry reiterated the need to reach a binding legal agreement on the operation and filling of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam in a manner that takes into account the interests of all parties.

Egypt describes the dam as an existential threat because it suffers from water scarcity and receives 95 percent of its water needs from the Nile. Egypt fears that the process of filling the dam will affect its share of the river’s water. 

Since 2011, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been negotiating an agreement on filling and operating the dam, which is intended to be the largest source of hydroelectric power generation in Africa. However, all negotiating attempts have failed.

Shoukry said there is no specific date for the resumption of talks, and the three countries are waiting to hear proposals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the current chair of the African Union.

He added that during his meetings in New York, he was keen to highlight Ethiopia’s “stubborn” position on the crisis.

 

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