Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa
Nigeria, with 200 million people, is Africa’s most populous country and the government has actively encouraged residents to get vaccinated against coronavirus. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa

Nigeria confirms first cases of omicron among travelers from South Africa
  • Retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria

ABUJA: Nigeria confirmed its first cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant among two travelers who arrived from South Africa last week, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Wednesday.
The NCDC said retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travelers to Nigeria had also identified the variant among a sample collected in October.


UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria
Updated 8 sec ago

UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

UK museum agrees to return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria
  • The decision comes following a consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the U.K

LONDON: A London museum agreed Sunday to return a collection of Benin Bronzes looted in the late 19th century from what is now Nigeria as cultural institutions throughout Britain come under pressure to repatriate artifacts acquired during the colonial era.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in southeast London said that it would transfer a collection of 72 items to the Nigerian government. The decision comes after Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments formally asked for the artifacts to be returned earlier this year and following a consultation with community members, artists and schoolchildren in Nigeria and the UK, the museum said.
“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,’’ Eve Salomon, chair of the museum’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artifacts.’’
The Horniman’s collection is a small part of the 3,000 to 5,000 artifacts taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897 when British soldiers attacked and occupied Benin City as Britain expanded its political and commercial influence in West Africa. The British Museum alone holds more than 900 objects from Benin, and National Museums Scotland has another 74. Others were distributed to museums around the world.
The artifacts include plaques, animal and human figures, and items of royal regalia made from brass and bronze by artists working for the royal court of Benin. The general term Benin Bronzes is sometimes applied to items made from ivory, coral, wood and other materials as well as the metal sculptures.
Countries including Nigeria, Egypt and Greece, as well indigenous peoples from North America to Australia, are increasingly demanding the return of artifacts and human remains amid a global reassessment of colonialism and the exploitation of local populations.
Nigeria and Germany recently signed a deal for the return of hundreds of Benin Bronzes. That followed French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision last year to sign over 26 pieces known as the Abomey Treasures, priceless artworks of the 19th century Dahomey kingdom in present-day Benin, a small country that sits just west of Nigeria.
But British institutions have been slower to respond.
Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture formally asked the British Museum to return its Benin Bronzes in October of last year.
The museum said Sunday that it is working with a number of partners in Nigeria and it is committed to a “thorough and open investigation” of the history of the Benin artifacts and the looting of Benin City.
“The museum is committed to active engagement with Nigerian institutions concerning the Benin Bronzes, including pursuing and supporting new initiatives developed in collaboration with Nigerian partners and colleagues,” the British Museum says on its website.
The Horniman Museum also traces its roots to the Age of Empire.
The museum opened in 1890, when tea merchant Frederick Horniman opened his collection of artifacts from around the world for public viewing.
Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, the museum embarked on a “reset agenda,’’ that sought to “address long-standing issues of racism and discrimination within our history and collections, and a determination to set ourselves on a more sustainable course for the future.’’
The museum’s website acknowledges that Frederick Horniman’s involvement in the Chinese tea trade meant he benefitted from low prices due to Britain’s sale of opium in China and the use of poorly compensated and sometimes forced labor.
The Horniman also recognizes that it holds items “obtained through colonial violence.”
These include the Horniman’s collection of Benin Bronzes, comprising 12 brass plaques, as well as a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key to the king’s palace. The bronzes are currently displayed along with information acknowledging their forced removal from Benin City and their contested status.
“We recognize that we are at the beginning of a journey to be more inclusive in our stories and our practices, and there is much more we need to do,” the museum says on its website. “This includes reviewing the future of collections that were taken by force or in unequal transactions.”


Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees
Updated 07 August 2022

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees

Human rights groups criticize UK schemes for Afghan refugees
  • One refugee says he is ‘heartbroken and ashamed’ at schemes’ failure
  • Poor mental health and lack of permanent homes among issues faced

LONDON: The failure of two UK schemes to resettle refugees from Afghanistan has forced many to take dangerous routes to try to reach safety, according to a new report.

The Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme were meant to help tens of thousands of people reach the UK after Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban a year ago.

But a briefing to Parliament featuring remarks from nine human rights groups described both as “unjustifiably restrictive,” which, it added, had left many stranded and led to an increase in people trying to enter Britain illegally.

The briefing, put together by groups including Human Rights Watch, said that interpreters and teachers were among those betrayed by the failure of the schemes.

“A year since the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the (ARAP) scheme is still not functioning properly and is marred by ongoing substantive and procedural problems,” the briefing said.

Adam Smith International had 250 staff in Afghanistan, helping implement aid projects, who applied through the ARAP scheme to relocate to the UK. Just 24 have received clearance — something the group’s director, Daniel Pimlott, said was “shameful.”

A group of 109 teachers who worked for the British Council in Afghanistan is still trapped in the country, despite being granted permission to apply for resettlement, with no way of escaping.

Joseph Seaton, former English manager and deputy director of the British Council Afghanistan, said: “The failure of the British Council and UK government to ensure the safety of their teachers has massively tarnished its great work in (the) country.”

One of the teachers, Mahmoud, said he had been sent death threats by the Taliban even before the takeover, adding: “I have moved 11 times. The Taliban whipped my then eight-year-old daughter to get her to say where I was.”

The briefing also highlighted the plight of many Afghans who had successfully made it to the UK but were now left in states of limbo, with around 10,500 currently being put up in hotels across the country, and many suffering serious mental health issues as a result.

One told the Observer newspaper: “We have been completely forgotten about.

“Having worked for many years for the British government in Afghanistan, I’m heartbroken and ashamed (that) their flagship resettlement policies have failed so badly.

“One year on, we have received no communications from the government on what happens next, and remain in a hotel. I often ask myself whether I would have been better off remaining in Afghanistan, and facing my destiny at the hands of the Taliban.”

A spokesperson for the UK Home Office told the Observer: “The UK has a proud history of providing protection to those who need it and, through the new ACRS, up to 20,000 people in need will be welcomed to the UK.

The British Council said in a statement: “We know our former colleagues are living in increasingly desperate circumstances. We are incredibly concerned for them and for their families’ welfare and we continue to be in direct touch with them on a regular basis.

“The Afghanistan relocation schemes are run by the UK government. We have been pushing for progress with senior contacts within the UK government to ensure the earliest consideration of our former contractors’ relocation applications.”


Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant
Updated 07 August 2022

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

Zelensky calls for tougher international response after shelling of nuclear plant

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Sunday for a stronger international response to what he described as Russian “nuclear terror” after shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe.
During a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, Zelensky called for sanctions to be imposed on the Russian nuclear industry and nuclear fuel, the Ukrainian leader wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said earlier that a worker had been wounded when Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Saturday evening.


Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence
Updated 07 August 2022

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence

Blinken kicks off Africa tour to counter Russian influence
  • Blinken will hold talks with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make an announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy

JOHANNESBURG: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in South Africa on Sunday to kick off a three-nation visit aimed at countering Russian influence on the continent.
The visit came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov undertook an extensive tour of Africa late last month.
South Africa, a leader in the developing world, has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Blinken will hold talks on Monday with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make an announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement.
They will “discuss ongoing and recent developments relating to the global geopolitical situation,” it said.
The State Department last month called African countries “geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics to shaping our technological and economic futures.”
Blinken who is on his second trip to Africa since his appointment early last year, is due to proceed to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda later this week.
His visit to DR Congo is aimed at boosting support for sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country which battling to turn the page on decades of conflict.
He winds up the tour in Rwanda, which has seen a flare-up in tensions with DR Congo after it accused its neighbor to the east of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies.


China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media
Updated 07 August 2022

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media

China to conduct ‘regular’ military drills east of Taiwan Strait median line: state media
  • China has deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles around Taiwan
  • Taiwan resumed flights through its airspace after Chinese military drills

BEIJING: The Chinese military will from now on conduct “regular” drills on the eastern side of the median line of the Taiwan Strait, Chinese state television reported on Sunday, citing a commentator.
The median line in the narrow strait between the island of Taiwan and mainland China is an unofficial line of control that military aircraft and battleships from either side normally do not cross.
The median line has never been legally recognized, and is an “imaginary” line drawn up by the US military for their combat requirements in the previous century, according to the state television commentator.

Earlier, China’s largest-ever military exercises surrounding Taiwan drew to a close on Sunday following a controversial visit last week to the self-ruled island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Beijing has raged at the trip by Pelosi — the second in the line of succession to the US presidency — ripping up a series of talks and cooperation agreements with Washington, most notably on climate change and defense.
It has also deployed fighter jets, warships and ballistic missiles around Taiwan in what analysts have described as practice for a blockade and ultimate invasion of the island.
Those exercises were set to end Sunday, though Beijing has announced fresh drills in the Yellow Sea — located between China and the Korean peninsula — to take place until August 15.
Taiwan’s transport ministry said six of the seven “temporary danger zones” China warned airlines to avoid ceased to be in effect as of noon on Sunday, signalling a drawdown of the drills.
It said the seventh zone, in waters east of Taiwan, would remain in effect until 10:00 am (0300 GMT) local time on Monday.
“Relevant flights and sailings can gradually resume,” the ministry said in a statement.
Taipei said some routes were still being affected in the seventh area, and authorities would continue to monitor ship movements there.
Earlier on Sunday, Beijing conducted “practical joint exercises in the sea and airspace surrounding Taiwan Island as planned,” the Chinese military’s Eastern Command said.
The drills were focused “on testing the joint firepower on the ground and long-range air strike capabilities,” it added.
Taipei’s defense ministry also confirmed that China had dispatched “planes, vessels and drones” around the Taiwan Strait, “simulating attacks on Taiwan’s main island and on ships in our waters.”
Beijing also sent drones over Taiwan’s outlying islands, it added.
In response, the democratic island said it mobilized a “joint intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance system to closely monitor the enemy situation” as well as sending planes and vessels.
China’s defense ministry did not respond to a request for comment about the expected conclusion of the drills on Sunday.
To show how close China’s forces have been getting to Taiwan’s shores, Beijing’s military released a video of an air force pilot filming the island’s coastline and mountains from his cockpit.
And the Eastern Command of the Chinese army shared a photo it said was taken of a warship patrolling seas near Taiwan with the island’s shoreline visible in the background.
The drills have also seen Beijing fire ballistic missiles over Taiwan’s capital, according to Chinese state media.
Taipei has remained defiant throughout China’s sabre-rattling, insisting it will not be cowed by its “evil neighbor.”
Taiwan’s foreign ministry urged Beijing on Saturday to “immediately stop raising tensions and taking provocative actions to intimidate the Taiwanese people.”
But experts have warned the drills reveal an increasingly emboldened Chinese military capable of carrying out a gruelling blockade of the self-ruled island as well as obstructing US forces from coming to its aid.
“In some areas, the PLA might even surpass US capabilities,” Grant Newsham, a researcher at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and former US Navy officer, told AFP, referring to China’s military by its official name.
“If the battle is confined to the area right around Taiwan, today’s Chinese navy is a dangerous opponent — and if the Americans and Japanese do not intervene for some reason, things would be difficult for Taiwan.”
The scale and intensity of China’s drills — as well as Beijing’s withdrawal from key talks on climate and defense — have triggered outrage in the United States and other democracies.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meeting with his Philippine counterpart on Saturday, said Washington was “determined to act responsibly” to avoid a major global crisis.
China should not hold talks on issues of global concern such as climate change “hostage,” Blinken said, as it “doesn’t punish the United States, it punishes the world.”
The United Nations has also urged the two superpowers to continue to work together.
“For the secretary-general, there is no way to solve the most pressing problems of all the world without an effective dialogue and cooperation between the two countries,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.