GCC secretary-general arrives in Pakistan   

GCC secretary-general arrives in Pakistan   
Pakistan and the GCC have long-standing ties based on religion, shared values and culture. (AFP/File)
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Updated 05 January 2022

GCC secretary-general arrives in Pakistan   

GCC secretary-general arrives in Pakistan   
  • Al-Hajraf visits Pakistan on Foreign Minister Qureshi’s invitation

ISLAMABAD: The Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Dr. Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf arrived in Pakistan on Wednesday.  

The secretary-general is visiting Pakistan on an invitation extended by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during Al-Hajraf’s visit to Pakistan for the 17th Extraordinary Session of the Organization of Islamic Corporation, held on Dec. 19 to find solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.  

The Pakistani prime minister’s special assistant on religious harmony and the Middle East, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, and the Saudi Ambassador to Islamabad, Nawaf Bin Said Al-Malki, received Al-Hajraf at the Islamabad airport.  

“During the visit, the Secretary General will hold delegation-level talks with the Foreign Minister,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement ahead of the visit. “He will also meet the Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue, and Prime Minister’s Adviser for Commerce and Investment.”  

The statement added: “The visit offers the two sides an opportunity to review mutual cooperation and take steps to foster enhanced collaboration in diverse fields, with a renewed focus on trade and economic relations between Pakistan and the GCC Member States.”  

Pakistan and the GCC have long-standing ties based on religion, shared values and culture. 


China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
Updated 8 sec ago

China eases some COVID-19 controls

China eases some COVID-19 controls
  • Major cities are easing testing requirements and controls on movement
  • With a heavy police presence, there is no indication of protests
BEIJING: More Chinese cities eased some anti-virus restrictions as police patrolled their streets to head off protests Thursday while the ruling Communist Party prepared for the high-profile funeral of late leader Jiang Zemin.
Guangzhou in the south, Shijiazhuang in the north, Chengdu in the southwest and other major cities announced they were easing testing requirements and controls on movement. In some areas, markets and bus service reopened.
The announcements didn’t mention last weekend’s protests in Shanghai, Beijing and at least six other cities against the human cost of anti-virus restrictions that confine millions of people to their homes. But the timing and publicity suggested President Xi Jinping’s government was trying to mollify public anger after some protesters made the politically explosive demand that Xi resign.
With a heavy police presence, there was no indication of protests. Notes on social media complained that people were being stopped at random for police to check smartphones, possibly looking for prohibited apps such as Twitter, in what they said was a violation of China’s Constitution.
“I am especially afraid of becoming the ‘Xinjiang model’ and being searched on the excuse of walking around,” said a posting signed Qi Xiaojin on the popular Sina Weibo platform, referring to the northwestern region where Uyghur and other Muslim minorities are under intense surveillance.
Protesters have used Twitter and other foreign social media to publicize protests while the Communist Party deletes videos and photos from services within China.
On Thursday, the government reported 36,061 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, including 31,911 without symptoms.
Meanwhile, Beijing was preparing for the funeral of Jiang, who was ruling party leader until 2002 and president until the following year. The party announced he died Wednesday in Shanghai of leukemia and multiple organ failure.
No foreign dignitaries will be invited in line with Chinese tradition, the party announced. It has yet to set a date for the funeral or announce how it might be affected by anti-virus controls.
Xi’s government has promised to reduce the disruption of its “zero COVID-19” strategy by shortening quarantines and making other changes. But it says it will stick to restrictions that have repeatedly shut down schools and businesses and suspended access to neighborhoods.
The protests began Friday after at least 10 people were killed in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi in Xinjiang. That prompted questions about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the deaths became a focus for public frustration.
The government says it is making restrictions more targeted and flexible, but a spike in infections since October has prompted local officials who are threatened with the loss of their jobs if an outbreak occurs to impose controls that some residents say are excessive and destructive.

Third suspected letter-bomb found in Spanish air force base

Third suspected letter-bomb found in Spanish air force base
Updated 10 min 43 sec ago

Third suspected letter-bomb found in Spanish air force base

Third suspected letter-bomb found in Spanish air force base
  • After scanning the envelope by X-ray, air force security officers determined it contained “a mechanism”

MADRID: Spanish security forces found a third suspected explosive device hidden in an envelope mailed to a European Union satellite center located at an air force base in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, the defense ministry said on Thursday.
After scanning the envelope by X-ray, air force security officers determined it contained “a mechanism,” the ministry statement said. Police were still analyzing the parcel on Thursday morning.
The satellite center supports the EU’s common foreign and security policy by gathering information from space intelligence devices, according to its website. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell described such systems as “the eyes of Europe” in September.
Two letter-bombs were found on Wednesday addressed to the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid and to a weapons manufacturer, Instalaza in Zaragoza, in northeastern Spain, police said.
Instalaza manufactures the C90 rocket launcher that Spain has supplied to Ukraine.
The first letter-bomb exploded, causing minor injuries to a Ukrainian embassy official.
After the first incident, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered all of Kyiv’s embassies abroad to “urgently” strengthen security and urged Spain to investigate the attack, a Ukrainian ministry spokesperson said.
Ambassador Serhii Pohoreltsev told the Ukrainian news site European Pravda that the suspicious package addressed to him was handed to the embassy’s commandant, a Ukrainian staff member.
“The package contained a box, which raised the commandant’s suspicions and he decided to take it outside – with no one in the vicinity – and open it,” Pohoreltsev was quoted as saying.
“After opening the box and hearing a click that followed, he tossed it and then heard the explosion...Despite not holding the box at the time of the explosion, the commandant hurt his hands and received a concussion.”
Spain’s High Court has opened a probe into the attack as a possible case of terrorism.


UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel
Updated 01 December 2022

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

UK, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel
  • Rolls-Royce, BAE, Hewlett-Packard, Booking.com identified
  • Firms’ military supplies killing Palestinians, say activists

LONDON: Students at universities across the UK and beyond have called on their institutions to divest from companies complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

The move coincided with Tuesday’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and has also garnered support from students in the US.

It is part of the ongoing #Divest4Palestine student movement, which is a growing campaign on campuses globally, said pro-Palestinian NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa. The group is concerned with defending the human rights of Palestinians and protecting the Al-Aqsa Sanctuary in Jerusalem, considered sacred by Muslims.

“Students will ask their vice-chancellors to divest from four main companies, Rolls-Royce PLC, BAE Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Booking.com,” the UK-based organization said. “Some will also call for divestment from Samsung and HSBC.”

The FOA said Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems supply military equipment used by Israel to kill Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It added that Israel killed 17 Palestinian children in its most recent bombardment on Gaza in August, leading UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet to describe Israel’s actions as “unconscionable.”

BAE makes the drones and Rolls-Royce makes parts of the fighter planes used by Israel to attack Gaza, it also stated.

“It’s time to hold our vice-chancellor to account,” said Hannaa, a second-year student. “Our university’s investments must be ethical. Money from this institution should absolutely not contribute to the killing of fellow students in Gaza.”

Students will also call on their institutions to divest and cut all ties with HP and Booking.com, as it believes HP provides hardware for Israeli prisons and the Israeli police, and Booking.com advertises accommodation in illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

“Feeling the impacts of the ongoing global campaign to divest, Booking.com has lately started labelling accommodation in illegal Israeli settlements as existing on ‘occupied’ Palestinian land, but the online travel agency must go a step further and stop listing this accommodation entirely,” the FOA said.

Shamiul Joarder, head of public affairs at the FOA, said the “action shows the strength of support for Palestine on campuses.”

“Across the UK and beyond, students are demanding real change. They won’t accept their universities’ complicity in Israeli war crimes any longer.”


UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal
Updated 01 December 2022

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal

UN launches record $51.5bn emergency funding appeal
  • United Nations: 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year
  • UN aid chief Martin Griffiths: ‘next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program’ the world has ever seen

GENEVA: The UN appealed for record funds for aid next year, as the Ukraine war and other conflicts, climate emergencies and the still-simmering pandemic push more people into crisis, and some toward famine.
The United Nations’ annual Global Humanitarian Overview estimated that 339 million people worldwide will need some form of emergency assistance next year — a staggering 65 million more people than the estimate a year ago.
“It’s a phenomenal number and it’s a depressing number,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told reporters in Geneva, adding that it meant “next year is going to be the biggest humanitarian program” the world has ever seen.
If all the people in need of emergency assistance were in one country, it would be the third-largest nation in the world, after China and India, he said.
And the new estimate means that one in 23 people will need help in 2023, compared to one in 95 back in 2015.
As the extreme events seen in 2022 spill into 2023, Griffiths described the humanitarian needs as “shockingly high.”
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa,” he said, also pointing to the war in Ukraine, which “has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield.”
The annual appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations said that providing aid to the 230 million most vulnerable people across 68 countries would require a record $51.5 billion.
That was up from the $41 billion requested for 2022, although the sum has been revised up to around $50 billion during the year — with less than half of that sought-for amount funded.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline,” Griffiths said.
The report presented a depressing picture of soaring needs brought on by a range of conflicts, worsening instability and a deepening climate crisis.
“There is no doubt that 2023 is going to perpetuate these on-steroids trends,” Griffiths warned.
The overlapping crises have already left the world dealing with the “largest global food crisis in modern history,” the UN warned.
It pointed out that at least 222 million people across 53 countries were expected to face acute food insecurity by the end of this year, with 45 million of them facing the risk of starvation.
“Five countries already are experiencing what we call famine-like conditions, in which we can confidently, unhappily, say that people are dying as a result,” Griffiths said.
Those countries — Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, Somalia and South Sudan — have seen portions of their populations face “catastrophic hunger” this year, but have not yet seen country-wide famines declared.
Forced displacement is meanwhile surging, with the number of people living as refugees, asylum seekers or displaced inside their own country passing 100 million — over one percent of the global population — for the first time this year.
“And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest,” Griffiths said, also pointing to outbreaks of mpox, previously known as monkeypox, Ebola, cholera and other diseases.
Conflicts have taken a dire toll on a range of countries, not least on Ukraine, where Russia’s full-scale invasion in February has left millions in dire need.
The global humanitarian plan will aim to provide $1.7 billion in cash assistance to 6.3 million people inside the war-torn country, and also $5.7 billion to help the millions of Ukrainians and their host communities in surrounding countries.
More than 28 million people are meanwhile considered to be in need in drought-hit Afghanistan, which last year saw the Taliban sweep back into power, while another eight million Afghans and their hosts in the region also need assistance.
More than $5 billion has been requested to address that combined crisis, while further billions were requested to help the many millions of people impacted by the years-long conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
The appeal also highlighted the dire situation in Ethiopia, where worsening drought and a two-year-conflict in Tigray have left nearly 29 million people in desperate need of assistance.
Faced with such towering needs, Griffiths said he hoped 2023 would be a year of “solidarity, just as 2022 has been a year of suffering.”


Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb
Updated 01 December 2022

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

Ukraine embassy guard in Madrid ‘lightly’ injured by letter bomb

MADRID: A security guard at Ukraine’s embassy in Madrid was lightly injured Wednesday while opening a letter bomb addressed to the Ukrainian ambassador, prompting Kyiv to boost security at its embassies.

The letter, which arrived by regular post, exploded in the early afternoon as the guard opened it in the embassy garden, said the central government’s representative in Madrid, Mercedes Gonzalez.

The guard was discharged from hospital later Wednesday and returned to work, Ukraine’s ambassador to Spain, Serhii Pohoreltsev, said.

In an interview with Spanish state television, Pohoreltsev appeared to blame Russia: “We are well aware of the terrorist methods of the aggressor country,” he said.

“Russia’s methods and attacks require us to be ready for any kind of incident, provocation or attack,” he added.

Spain’s National Police force were informed of an explosion at the embassy at around 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), a police source said.

The source said the guard was “lightly” injured and “went himself to a hospital” for treatment.

Police have opened an investigation “which includes the participation of forensic police,” the source said, without giving further details.

Police put a security cordon around the embassy, which is in a leafy residential area in northern Madrid.

A man who lives in front of the embassy, who asked not to be identified, told AFP he had heard the explosion.

“I thought it was gunshot. It was not too loud,” he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ordered the strengthening of security at all Ukrainian embassies, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said on social media after the letter bomb went off.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares spoke with the ambassador over the phone “to ask about the well-being of the Ukrainian worker who was injured,” the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement.

Albares also contacted Kuleba by phone to express his “support and solidarity,” it added.

Later in the evening, a second “suspicious postal shipment” was intercepted at the headquarters of military equipment firm Instalaza in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, the interior ministry said.

Experts carried out a “controlled explosion” of the mailed item.

“Investigators are analizing the exploded device and checking if there are any links between this event and what happened this morning at the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid,” it added.