Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali

Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Maiga addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 25, 2021. (Kena Betancur/Pool Photo via AP)
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Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Maiga addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 25, 2021. (Kena Betancur/Pool Photo via AP)
Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Maiga addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 25, 2021. (Kena Betancur/Pool Photo via AP)
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Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Maiga addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 25, 2021. (Kena Betancur/Pool Photo via AP)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali

Top Russian diplomat defends mercenaries’ presence in Mali
  • France has announced it is reducing its force fighting extremists in Mali and the region
  • Mali has been trying to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012.

UNITED NATIONS: Russia’s top diplomat on Saturday defended the Mali government’s right to hire a private Russian military company to help fight terrorists, accusing French troops in the country of failing to get rid of them and scolding the European Union for demanding that the Russian mercenaries leave.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the company has a “legitimate” right to be in the West African nation because it was invited by the transitional government, and insisted Russian government is not involved.
France and Germany have both objected to the presence of mercenaries from the Wagner Group, which reportedly is linked to the Kremlin, in Mali, which also hosts a more than 18,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission. Wagner has been accused of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and involvement in the conflict in Libya.
Lavrov said France has announced it is reducing its force fighting extremists in Mali and the region. And in a stinging rebuke of their performance, he said, the French forces “should have been combating terrorists who have established a presence in Kidal (in northern Mali), but they didn’t manage to do that.”
“Terrorists continue to reign in that area,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders.
Mali has been trying to contain an Islamic extremist insurgency since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a 2013 French-led military operation. However, the insurgents quickly regrouped in the desert and began launching frequent attacks on the Malian army and its allies fighting the insurgency.
The extremists have expanded their reach well into central Mali, where their presence has inflamed tensions between ethnic groups in the area.
Lavrov said the European Union has been announcing that Russia will be “pushed away, deterred and engaged with.”
So, he said, he asked EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell at a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s high-level gathering: “What will you engage in with us?”
In June, Col. Assimi Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government in Mali after carrying out his second coup in nine months. Mali faces increasing isolation from the international community over the junta’s power grab.


Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Updated 4 sec ago

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone

Virus outlier Sweden passes grim COVID-19 milestone
COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden which has stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has passed the threshold of 15,000 deaths with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to official figures released Tuesday.
Thomas Linden of the National Board of Health and Welfare, told Swedish public radio that it was difficult to say whether Sweden has an unusually high excess mortality due to the virus.
“Internationally, Sweden has not had a higher mortality rate. But if you compare with the other Nordic countries, we are significantly higher,” Linden told SR.
In comparison, Denmark has recorded 2,703 deaths, Norway 895 and Finland nearly 1,150. Each of those countries has slightly over half as many people as Sweden.
According to the Public Health Agency of Sweden, 15,002 people — 6,793 women and 8,209 men — have died with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sweden had opted for keeping large sections of society open. It has not gone into lockdowns or closed businesses, relying instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control infections.

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
Updated 26 October 2021

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations

Iran says cyberattack behind widespread disruption at gas stations
  • "The disruption at the refuelling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack," state broadcaster IRIB said
  • The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices

DUBAI: A cyberattack disrupted the sale of heavily subsidised gasoline in Iran on Tuesday, state media reported, causing long lines at gas stations across the country.
“The disruption at the refueling system of gas stations... in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack,” state broadcaster IRIB said. “Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refueling process...will return to normal.”
The disruptions came ahead of the second anniversary of a November 19 increase in fuel prices which led to widespread street protests in which hundreds were reported to have been killed by security forces.
The oil ministry said only sales with smart cards used for cheaper rationed gasoline were disrupted and clients could still buy fuel at higher rates, the ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.
Videos posted on social media showed apparently-hacked street signs carrying messages such as “Khamenei, where is our gasoline?,” in a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reuters could not independently authenticate the videos.
In the past, Iran has been targeted by a series of cyberattacks such as one in July when the website of the transport ministry was taken down by what state media said was a “cyber disruption.”
Iran says it is on high alert for online assaults, which it has blamed in the past on the United States and Israel.
The United States and other Western powers meanwhile have accused Iran of trying to disrupt and break into their networks.


Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’
Updated 26 October 2021

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

Japan offers Libya an ‘Electoral Assistance Grant Aid Plan’

TOKYO: Japan signed an agreement with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to provide Libya with 198 million yen ($1.8 million) grant aid for supporting local election programs.

The agreement was reached on Oct. 24 at the Japanese embassy in Tripoli and signed by Yuki Tenji, the Japanese temporary deputy ambassador, the special coordinator of Libya Mark Andre Franche, and the UNDP Libya Office.

According to the foreign ministry in Tokyo, this aid will help conduct smooth, free, and fair national elections scheduled throughout Libya for December and will be the first step in establishing a legitimate unified government representing the Libyan people.   

The aid will provide the National Electoral Commission with ballot boxes and other election-related equipment, thus contributing to the realization of a peaceful and safe society.

Libya covers an area of ​​1.76 million square kilometers, has a population of about 6.78 million and has a per capita gross national income of US $7,640, the ministry said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
Updated 26 October 2021

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases

China locks down city of four million over COVID-19 cases
  • Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019
  • The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant

BEIJING: China placed a city of four million people under lockdown on Tuesday, ordering them not to leave home except in emergencies, in a bid to eradicate a COVID-19 cluster of just a few dozen confirmed cases.
Beijing imposed strict border controls after the coronavirus was first detected in China in late 2019, slowing the number of cases to a trickle and allowing the economy to bounce back.
But as the rest of the world opens up and tries to find ways to live with the virus, China has maintained a zero COVID-19 approach that has seen harsh local lockdowns imposed over handfuls of cases.
Tuesday’s fresh restrictions came as China reported 29 new domestic infections — including six in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in the country’s northwest.
The latest outbreak has been linked to the highly contagious Delta variant, with the tally hitting 198 cases since October 17.
Thirty-nine have been in Lanzhou.
Residents of the city will now be required to stay at home, authorities said in a statement, with the “entry and exit of residents” strictly controlled and limited to essential supplies or medical treatment.
Bus and taxi services had already been stopped in the city, and state media said Tuesday that Lanzhou station had suspended more than 70 trains, including on key routes to Beijing and Xi’an.
A Southern Airlines representative said that all its flights from Beijing’s Daxing airport to Lanzhou were canceled due to public safety, with no resumption date given.
Health officials have warned that more infections may emerge as testing is ramped up in the coming days to fight the outbreak, which has been linked to a group of domestic tourists who traveled from Shanghai to several other provinces.
Strict stay-at-home orders have already been imposed on tens of thousands of people in northern China.
In Beijing — which reported three new cases Tuesday — access to tourist sites has been limited and the prominent Lama Temple was shuttered, while residents were advised not to leave the capital unless necessary.
About 23,000 residents in one housing compound in Changping district have been ordered to stay indoors after nine cases were found there in recent days, local outlet Beijing News reported.
Community mahjong and chess rooms have been closed, and residents have been told to reduce large gatherings.
Organizers on Sunday indefinitely postponed a marathon at which 30,000 runners were expected.
Mass testing is under way in 11 provinces and authorities have suspended many inter-provincial tour groups.
While the country’s case numbers are extremely low compared with elsewhere in the world, authorities are determined to stamp out the latest outbreak with the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing just over 100 days away.
As part of China’s strict enforcement of the zero COVID-19 policy, those deemed to have failed in controlling COVID-19 are often dismissed from their posts or punished.
On Tuesday, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the party secretary of Ejin Banner in the northern Inner Mongolia region had been sacked, “due to poor performance and implementation in epidemic prevention and control.”
Hit by the latest wave, the city locked down about 35,000 residents from Monday.
Around 10,000 tourists were also placed under lockdown in Ejin, according to local media reports.
Six other officials were punished for their “slack response” to the latest flare-up, state media reported, and a local police bureau deputy director was removed from their position.
Beijing police have launched three criminal investigations into alleged COVID-19 safety breaches, deputy director of the city’s public security bureau said Sunday.


Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack
Updated 26 October 2021

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack

Gunmen kill 16 worshippers in Nigeria mosque attack
  • Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers

KANO, Nigeria: Gunmen have killed 16 worshippers at a mosque in central Nigeria, a government official said Tuesday, in the latest violence in the restive region.
Scores of gunmen on motorcycles stormed Maza-Kuka village in Mashegu district of Niger state on Monday and opened fire during morning prayers, said Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, the secretary to the government.
“The bandits shot dead 16 people inside the mosque while they were praying,” Matane said.
Three worshippers were injured in the attack, one of them critically, he added.
Matane said one other person was killed in nearby Kaboji village as the gunmen fled the area.
“We are still investigating the motive of the attack and we have despatched military and police personnel to the area,” he said.
A police spokesman confirmed the attack but did not provide details.
Gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers for ransom known locally as bandits have been terrorizing communities in northwest and central Nigeria where they raid villages, killing and burning homes after looting them.
Although they are driven by financial motive, the gangs have been infiltrated by jihadists waging more than a decade-old insurgency in the northeast.
Residents in several communities in Niger state have lately reported an influx of fighters from the northeast who have been taking over remote villages.
The gangs have increasingly been abducting students and schoolchildren to extort ransom from parents and authorities.
More than 1,000 students have been kidnapped since December, but most have been released after negotiations with their captors.