Blinken, Egypt’s FM hold talks in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
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Updated 23 September 2021

Blinken, Egypt’s FM hold talks in New York

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UNGA. (AFP)
  • According to the US State Department, they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of common interest. 

The meeting took place in New York, where Shoukry is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

His spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the meeting with Blinken covered the most prominent political, security and economic aspects of bilateral relations, as well as ways to strengthen cooperation in various important fields. Both sides agreed on the need to overcome any obstacles that might hinder bilateral relations.

According to the US State Department, they also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts on Libya and the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, an organization set up by various Middle Eastern and European countries. 


Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
Updated 17 sec ago

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths

Lawyer: ‘Preposterous’ to blame Afghan man in US war deaths
NEW YORK: The lawyer for an Afghan man awaiting trial in Manhattan federal court on charges that he commanded the Taliban fighters responsible in the killing of three American soldiers said Friday it was “preposterous” to charge his client in deaths that occurred in a war the US started.
Attorney Mark Gombiner spoke at a pretrial hearing after his client, Hajji Najibullah, pleaded not guilty to charges in a rewritten indictment released against him last week.
Najibullah was already charged in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a reporter for The New York Times and another journalist. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
But the new indictment accused him of commanding the Taliban fighters responsible for a fatal ambush of the three service members in Afghanistan in 2008.
The attack killed Matthew L. Hilton, of Livonia, Michigan; Joseph A. McKay, of Brooklyn, and Mark Palmateer, of Poughkeepsie, New York. Najibullah was also charged with playing a role in the downing of a US military helicopter later in the same year.
Gombiner said evidence will show the allegations are not true.
The lawyer said the deaths of American soldiers was an “immense tragedy.”
“Nobody disputes that,” Gombiner said.
But he said it “is preposterous” that his client should be held responsible for murder in a US courtroom for the death of “American soldiers fighting in a war commenced by the United States.”
US District Judge Katherine Polk Failla interrupted Gombiner, accusing him of having “gone off on a huge P.R. campaign.”
She added: “I want you to talk to me and not the press.”
The lawyer, however, said prosecutors were to blame for publicizing the charges through a news release “that was circulated around the world.” The lawyer noted that he refused to comment when reporters asked him about the new charges.
Assistant US Attorney David Denton told the judge that Gombiner was raising arguments “that have been raised and dismissed before, particularly as it relates to the Taliban.”
Najibullah, 45, was extradited to the United States last year to face charges including hostage taking, conspiracy and kidnapping.
The original indictment charged him with orchestrating the abduction of David Rohde, who then worked for The New York Times, and Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin, when they were on their way to interview a Taliban leader.
Both men made a dramatic escape from a Taliban-controlled compound in Pakistan’s tribal areas more than seven months after their Nov. 10, 2008, kidnapping. Their driver, Asadullah Mangal, was a third kidnapping victim. He escaped a few weeks after Ludin and Rohde.

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
Updated 15 October 2021

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya

Two deaths shine spotlight on violence against women in Kenya
  • Both women were found dead in Kenya this week
  • Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes

NAIROBI: Cynthia Makokha was a 17-year-old student and volleyball player. Agnes Tirop was a 25-year-old rising athletics star, who finished fourth in the 5,000m race at the Tokyo Olympics and had won two World Championship bronze medals.
Both women were found dead in Kenya this week, and while their murders are not linked they have shone a spotlight on violence against women, which the government says has grown worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tirop was found in her bed at her home in the town of Iten, with multiple stab wounds to the neck. Police on Thursday arrested a man they described as her husband, whom they called “the main suspect.”
Makokha, who was a student at the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy in Nairobi, was raped, killed and then dumped in a river. She had been on her way to visit family in Western Kenya on Oct. 4 when she disappeared. Her body was found days later.
One suspect is in custody, Mumias East sub-county police commander Stephen Mwoni told Reuters.
Nearly half of women in Kenya experience gender-based violence over the course of their lifetimes, and a third of Kenyan girls experience some form of sexual violence before turning 18, according to the Gender Violence Recovery Center at the Nairobi Women’s Hospital.
“I’m scared,” said 17-year-old Latifah Shaban, who shared a bunk bed with Makokha. She said Makokha often woke up at 3am, cracked the hallway door open, and used that light to study. “I’ve heard a lot of rape cases. I’m just always scared about men… it’s worse,” she said.
The school’s dorms are only a few months old, created to help protect the girls, many of whom come from vulnerable living situations, administrators said.
“As much as we are trying to ensure that the girls are safe, outside they…. are not safe,” said Claris Akinyi, the school’s principal.
Tirop’s family told Kenya Television Network that she had separated from the man suspected of killing her because she suspected he had cheated on her when she was competing in Japan.
Police say that after Tirop’s murder, they found a new athletics trophy, still carefully wrapped, in her living room.
On social media, fellow athletes and politicians shared messages of condolence, as did sportswear manufacturer Adidas and the World Athletics governing body.
“Agnes was an incredible person, a record breaking athlete and a beloved member of our family,” Adidas posted https://twitter.com/adidasrunning/status/1448344158087827457?s=20 on Twitter.
At Makokha’s school, rows of seated girls passed around tissues to wipe their tears as they remembered their fellow student. One girl untied her sweatshirt from around the waist to cry into it; another clutched a poster saying: “STOP KILLING.”


Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
Updated 15 October 2021

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts

Merkel says EU must resolve Polish problem in talks, not courts
  • Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country's constitution
  • "I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems," German Chancellor said

BRUSSELS: The European Union should resolve its differences by talking to each other rather than through court decisions, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday, responding to a question on the dispute with Poland over the rule of law.
“We are all member states of the European Union, which means we have the duty always to try to find compromise — without giving up our principles, obviously,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Brussels.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled last week that parts of EU law are incompatible with the country’s constitution, undermining the central tenet of the European Union and fueling talk that Poland could one day quit the 27-nation bloc.
Poland’s right-wing populist government has clashed regularly over issues ranging from LGBT rights to judicial independence with the European Commission, triggering a series of European Court of Justice cases.
“I think it is time to talk more in depth with the Polish government on how to overcome the problems,” Merkel said. “It is certainly right that, from time to time, cases have to be decided by the European Court of Justice.”
The chancellor, who will leave office once a new German coalition is formed, said she was concerned by the number of cases ending up at the EU’s top court.
De Croo said he was on the same page as Merkel
“This could become a big issue, but we could prevent it becoming a big issue if we engage ... I think that just criticizing and finger-pointing from the outside is not going to lead us anywhere,” he said.


Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says

Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says
Updated 15 October 2021

Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says

Iran not ready to resume Vienna talks, EU official says
  • EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet members of Iran's nuclear negotiating team
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the United States in Vienna

BRUSSELS/PARIS: Iran is not ready to return to talks with world powers over its nuclear program yet. Its new negotiating team wants to discuss the texts that will be put forward when it meets with the EU in Brussels in the next few weeks, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU political director Enrique Mora, the chief coordinator for the talks, was in Tehran on Thursday to meet members of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, four months after discussions broke off between Iran and world powers.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has so far refused to resume indirect talks with the United States in Vienna on both sides returning to compliance with the deal, under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief.
Diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, who are party to the accord along with China and Russia, said ahead of Mora’s visit that it came at a critical time and things could not be deemed “business as usual” given escalating Iranian nuclear activities and the stalling of negotiations.
The United States said time was running short. “They are not yet ready for engaging in Vienna,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity, adding that he believed Tehran was “absolutely decided to go back to Vienna and to end the negotiations.” The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said it will return to the negotiations “soon,” but it has not given a clearer timeline. Western diplomats had hoped the Vienna talks might resume before the end of October.
However, after Mora’s visit, Iran’s foreign ministry said it would hold talks in the coming days with the EU in Brussels.
“They insisted that they don’t want talks for talks, they want talking with practical results and with a final agreement on how to bring JCPOA (the nuclear deal) back to life,” the official said.
Describing a meeting in Brussels as a “good idea,” the official said it would give both sides the opportunity to go through the texts on the table from June and clarify questions that Iran’s new negotiating team may have.
“I think we are just clarifying even more the situation for a final destination, which is going to be resuming in Vienna. I expect that soon,” he said.
France’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre said negotiations should resume immediately on the basis of where they left off in June to reach a deal quickly.
“Iran must show a willingness through acts that it shares the same desire to come back to the negotiating table and conclude an agreement,” she told reporters.
Western diplomats have said they are concerned Tehran’s new negotiating team — under a president known as an anti-Western hard-liner, unlike his pragmatist predecessor — may make new demands beyond the scope of what had already been agreed. Since then-US President Donald Trump ditched the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has been rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher levels of purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up the enrichment process.
President Joe Biden aims to restore the deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, but the sides have not agreed on which steps need to be taken and when.
Iran denied it wants to acquire nuclear weapons.


South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage

South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage
Updated 15 October 2021

South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage

South Africa arrests 56 for taking Cabinet ministers hostage
  • The ministers were held hostage for three hours when a meeting with military veterans of the fight against apartheid ended in disagreement
  • Police tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers and when that failed they “resorted to a tactical approach and successfully rescued the hostages,”

CAPE TOWN, South Africa: South African police said Friday they have arrested 56 people who will likely face charges of kidnapping after two government Cabinet ministers and a deputy minister.
The ministers were held hostage for three hours when a meeting with military veterans of the fight against apartheid ended in disagreement.
Police were called to a hotel in the Centurion area near the capital Pretoria on Thursday night to rescue Defense and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise, her deputy minister Thabang Makwetla, and Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, who had been meeting with veterans of various groups that were part of the armed struggle which started in the 1960s against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The meeting broke down quickly and the three government officials were prevented from leaving the room by some of the veterans, Gungubele said.
Police tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers and when that failed they “resorted to a tactical approach and successfully rescued the hostages,” the South African Police Services said. Police said no shots were fired in the operation, denying allegations by some veterans that they were shot at. Three of the people who were arrested were sent for medical checkups, police said. Of the 56 arrested, seven were women.
Gungubele said the meeting was an attempt to address the grievances of the veterans’ groups, who want, among other things, cash payouts and housing and medical benefits for their service during the fight for democracy in South Africa more than 25 years ago.
The veterans’ latest demand is that they should each be paid the equivalent of $270,000 and receive other benefits. The meeting was called off almost as soon as it started, Gungubele said.
“As we were leaving the meeting, proceeding to the doors, they (the veterans) closed the doors,” he said. “It is at that point when we realized that we’re held hostage. It’s a situation that was averted by the security forces, very effectively and successfully.”
In a statement, the South African government conceded its discussions with the veterans’ groups had been “difficult” but “there was no reason for this group to act in an unlawful manner.”
The military veterans’ groups say they’ve been ignored by the ruling African National Congress party in South Africa despite their role in helping to overthrow the apartheid government and end white minority rule, paving the way for the ANC to win the first democratic elections in 1994. The ANC has been in government since then.
But the veterans’ groups have faced criticism themselves, for allegedly being infiltrated by some who were not involved in the fight for democracy and for demanding rewards not available to ordinary South Africans who also fought against apartheid.
Numerous callers to a radio talk show on Friday said that it was popular uprisings like the Sharpeville protests of 1960 and the Soweto student demonstrations of 1976 that focused the world’s attention on the brutalities of the apartheid system and helped end it. They said it was often ordinary men, women and even children who defied security forces and put themselves in deadly danger to protest.