US top military officer meets with Russian counterpart

US top military officer meets with Russian counterpart
The top US military officer Gen. Mark Milley and other American senior officials have warned that Al-Qaeda or the Daesh group could regenerate and pose a threat in one year to two years. (AP)
Updated 22 September 2021

US top military officer meets with Russian counterpart

US top military officer meets with Russian counterpart
  • Russia had a ‘frank talk’ with the Central Asian countries to warn them not to allow US troops within their borders
  • Both sides agreed not to disclose details of the talks, which has been the practice in previous meetings and calls

HELSINKI: The top US military officer met with his Russian counterpart Wednesday, against the backdrop of US struggles to get military basing rights and other counterterrorism support in countries bordering Afghanistan — a move Moscow has flatly opposed.
The meeting in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, between Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov comes at a crucial time in the wake of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Without troops on the ground, the US needs to forge more basing, intelligence sharing and other agreements to help monitor Al-Qaeda and Daesh militants in Afghanistan to ensure they are not regrouping and posing a threat to America and its allies.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said in July, however, that Moscow warned the US that any deployment of American troops in countries neighboring Afghanistan “is unacceptable.” He said Russia told the US “in a direct and straightforward way that it would change a lot of things not only in our perceptions of what’s going on in that important region, but also in our relations with the United States.”
Ryabkov also said that Russia had a “frank talk” with the Central Asian countries to warn them not to allow US troops within their borders.
Milley declined to provide details of the meeting to reporters traveling with him to Helsinki. In a statement Wednesday, Col. Dave Butler, Milley’s spokesman, said the meeting was a “continuation of talks aimed at improving military leadership communication between the two nations for the purposes of risk reduction and operational de-confliction.”
Butler said both sides agreed not to disclose details of the talks, which has been the practice in previous meetings and calls.
But just a few days ago, Milley made it clear the basing issue was a key topic on his mind on this European trip, saying he discussed it with NATO counterparts when they met in Athens over the weekend.
Milley, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and American intelligence officials have warned that Al-Qaeda or the Daesh group could regenerate and pose a threat to the United States in one year to two years.
US military leaders have said they can conduct counterterrorism surveillance and, if necessary, strikes in Afghanistan from “over the horizon” — meaning from assets based in other countries. But they acknowledge that surveillance flights from bases in the Arabian Gulf are long and provide limited time in the air over Afghanistan. So the US and allies want basing agreements, overflight rights and increased intelligence-sharing with nations closer to Afghanistan, such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.
So far there are no indications of any progress. Moscow maintains a tight grip on the central Asian nations and opposes western presence there.
Milley’s meeting with Gerasimov, and broader discussions about counterterrorism this week, come on the heels of a deadly US airstrike in Afghanistan in the final days of the chaotic evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others. The US initially claimed the drone strike killed an Islamic extremist looking to attack the Kabul airport, but now says it was a mistake that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
The incident triggered questions about the future use of drone strikes to target terrorists in Afghanistan from over the horizon. But Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said that while that airstrike was a “tragic mistake” it was not comparable to future counterterror strikes.


Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians

Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians
Updated 24 min 32 sec ago

Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians

Macron condemns ‘inexcusable’ crackdown on 1961 Paris protest of Algerians
  • Macron told relatives and activists on the 60th anniversary of the bloodshed that ‘crimes’ were committed on the night of October 17, 1961
  • Macron acknowledged that several dozen protesters had been killed, ‘their bodies thrown into the River Seine’ and paid tribute to the memory of the victims

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday condemned as “inexcusable” a deadly crackdown by Paris police on a 1961 protest by Algerians whose scale was a taboo covered up for decades by French authorities.
Macron told relatives and activists on the 60th anniversary of the bloodshed that “crimes” were committed on the night of October 17, 1961 under the command of the notorious Paris police chief Maurice Papon.
He acknowledged that several dozen protesters had been killed, “their bodies thrown into the River Seine” and paid tribute to the memory of the victims.
The precise number of victims has never been made clear and some activists fear several hundred could have been killed.
Macron “recognized the facts: that the crimes committed that night under Maurice Papon are inexcusable for the Republic,” the Elysee said.
“This tragedy was long hushed-up, denied or concealed,” it added.
Macron, the first French president to attend a memorial ceremony for those killed, observed a minute of silence in their memory at the Bezons bridge over the Seine on the outskirts of Paris where the protest started.
His comments that crimes were committed went further than predecessor Francois Hollande, who acknowledged in 2012 that the protesting Algerians had been “killed during a bloody repression.”
However, as expected, he did not issue a formal apology. He also did not give a public speech, with the Elysee issuing only the written statement.
Papon was in the 1980s revealed to have been a collaborator with the occupying Nazis in World War II and complicit in the deportation of Jews. He was convicted of crimes against humanity but later released.


Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
Updated 29 min 27 sec ago

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure

Families of Beirut blast victims back judge amid pressure
  • The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman on social media Friday in which he calls on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down
  • The spokesman could not be reached for comment and it was unclear if he had made the video under pressure

BEIRUT: The families of the victims of Beirut’s massive port blast last year reaffirmed Saturday their support for the judge leading the investigation into the explosion, despite increasing calls for his ouster by the militant Hezbollah group and its allies.
The families’ statement was apparently meant to counter a video released by their spokesman on social media late Friday in which he calls on Judge Tarek Bitar to step down.
The spokesman, Ibrahim Hoteit, could not be reached for comment. It was unclear if he had made the video under pressure. The families said he had not coordinated with them, which he always does before making public announcement, and that the video took them by surprise.
Since the August 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port that killed at least 215 people, the families of the victims have taken on an increasingly prominent role in Lebanon with their demands for accountability. After the blast, it emerged from documents that several senior politicians and security chiefs knew of the hundreds of tons of highly combustible ammonium nitrate stored haphazardly in a port warehouse and did nothing about it.
On Thursday, gunbattles erupted on Beirut streets between two camps opposing and supporting the judge in the probe, killed seven and wounded dozens.
The violence broke out at a protest organized by Hezbollah and Amal groups, which have called for Bitar’s removal. The two groups have suggested the investigation is heading toward holding them responsible for the blast.
“We, the families of more than 200 martyrs and thousands of injured and hundreds of thousands of people who suffered damages, have put our faith in investigative judge Tarek Bitar,” the families said.
In the video, the spokesman demands the judge step down because “the situation has turned into shedding of the blood of innocent people” — a reference to Thursday’s violence. The spokesman’s younger brother was killed in the port explosion.
Judge Bitar has charged and issued arrests warrant for Lebanon’s former ministers of finance and public works, both close allies of Hezbollah. Bitar has charged the two, along with another former minister and prime minister, with intentional killing and negligence that led to the blast.


Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

 Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies
Updated 36 min 38 sec ago

Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

 Russia reiterates its offer to boost EU gas supplies

MOSCOW: Russian gas consumption is running at a record high but Moscow is still ready to increase supplies to Europe should it receive such requests, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday.

European spot gas prices have surged by 800 percent this year as demand has recovered after the coronavirus pandemic. Prices eased earlier this month after Russia, Europe’s key gas supplier, said it could deliver more, but these supplies have yet to materialize.

“I want to underline that we in Russia have record high gas consumption figures this year, which is also due to active economic recovery,” Novak said in an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel broadcast, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia, whose gas production and exports to EU are already near record highs, has said it needs to finish filling its own gas storage reserves before it increases supplies to Europe’s spot market. It plans to complete this by the end of October.

Novak did not say how large Russia’s gas reserves were but estimated that European underground facilities were short of around 25 billion cubic meters of gas.

He insisted high domestic demand would not stop Russia offering more supplies to Europe if it received such requests.


China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’
Updated 45 min ago

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

China’s central bank says Evergrande risks ‘controllable’

BEIJING: China's central bank said on Friday that financial risks from China Evergrande Group’s debt problems are “controllable” and unlikely to spill over, amid growing investor concerns that the crisis could ripple through other developers.
Evergrande is the world's most indebted developer, with over $300 billion in liabilities. The company missed a third round of interest payments on its offshore bonds this week, spooking investors globally and sparking concern that other companies in the sector may also default on payments.
“Of the total liabilities of Evergrande Group, financial liabilities are less than one-third. Creditors are also relatively dispersed, and individual financial institutions have little risk exposure,” People’s Bank of China official Zou Lan said at a news briefing on Friday.
“Overall, the risk of the spillover to the financial industry is controllable,” he added.
Evergrande came under pressure after Chinese authorities ordered property developers to reduce their debt levels. The authorities are trying to direct the industry toward a more sustainable pace of development after many years of stimulus-fueled growth.


Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 53 min 9 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 2 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 536,900
  • A total of 8,760 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced two deaths from COVID-19 and 45 new infections on Saturday.

Of the new cases, 20 were recorded in Riyadh, five in Jeddah, two in Tabuk, two in Makkah, two in Al-Khobar, and two in Yanbu. Several other cities recorded one new case each.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 536,900 after 41 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,760 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 44.4 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.