Muslim nations that refuse to recognize Kosovo are making a big mistake, says PM Albin Kurti

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Updated 17 February 2022

Muslim nations that refuse to recognize Kosovo are making a big mistake, says PM Albin Kurti

Prime Minister Albin Kurti, seen here in his Pristina office, says Kosovo’s youthful Muslim population makes it a natural ally of countries in the Gulf, most notably Saudi Arabia. (AN Photo/Ziad Alarfaj)
  • ‘Russia-Ukraine escalation might make Serbia more aggressive but we are not afraid’
  • NATO and America are here to stay, and we will be victorious in any future conflict

PRISTINA: Fourteen years ago, the Republic of Kosovo declared its independence and became the world’s newest country. Backed by its main ally, the US, and protected by a UN-mandated NATO presence, Kosovo enters its 15th year of independence facing several challenges — and some clear and present dangers, too.

Despite the backing of some of the world’s biggest and most influential states, Kosovo is still not part of the UN and is recognized by fewer than 100 of the 193 UN member states. Even though it is located in the heart of Europe, and enjoys huge support from the EU, it is still not a member of the union and Kosovars do not enjoy visa-free travel across the continent.

The main cause of most of Kosovo’s pains is the deep-rooted historic rift with its northern neighbor, Serbia. Both countries were part of the former Yugoslavia and, following its break-up, endured a bloody decade of fighting in the Balkans during the 1990s.

Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo or apologize for the atrocities of the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, which only ended after NATO intervened. The current standoff and mutual non-recognition prevent both countries from joining the EU, five members of which still do not officially recognize Kosovo.

Previous Kosovar leaders attempted to engage in dialogue with Serbia. However, since assuming office in March 2021, Prime Minister Albin Kurti has signaled repeatedly that talks with Belgrade are not a priority.

Kosovo Factfile

* ‘Kosovo’ means ‘field of blackbirds’ in Serbian.

* Has a population of 1.87 million.

* Declared independence from Serbia on Feb. 17, 2008.

* More than 40% of the population is under 25 years old.

* Occupies an area of 10, 887 square kilometers.

* Main languages are Albanian and Serbian.

* Majority of the population is Muslim.

“We did not want to neglect dialogue with Serbia but I cannot have it as priority number one,” he told Arab News during an exclusive interview at his office in Pristina. “I said, from the outset of this government, that jobs, justice and the COVID-19 pandemic are our top three priorities. Number four could be the dialogue.

“This dialogue, which we are approaching in a constructive and creative manner with different proposals, is a dialogue about the status of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Kosovo and Serbia do not recognize each other, so the solution is mutual recognition.”

There are other elements that further complicate the possibility of a normalization of relations between the countries and their mutual accession to the EU.

READ MORE

As Kosovo celebrates its 14th independence day, Europe’s newest country — and one with the continent’s youngest population — has much to be proud of. Read more here.

To start with, there are the dark shadows of the past. A few months after he was elected prime minister, Kurti spoke about the possibility of reviving plans to sue Serbia for genocide in an international court, and rejected some Western calls for Kosovo’s minority Serb population to be allowed to vote in a Serbian referendum that Pristina considers “unconstitutional.”

Another issue is that officials in Kosovo accuse their Serbian counterparts of being much more interested in being in the orbit of Russia rather than Europe.

“Serbia has close cultural, historical and military links with Moscow,” said Kurti. Asked how this close relationship between Belgrade and Moscow might affect his country if war breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, Kurti said it might push Serbia to become “more aggressive.” But while he said that Pristina is “following the situation very carefully,” he added: “We are not afraid.”

Nevertheless, some critics of recent US foreign-policy decisions believe Kosovo has a number of reasons to be concerned, given that in recent years neither Washington nor NATO have proven to be very good friends to many of their traditional allies in times of need.

I think the people of Kosovo, but also people in the Balkans and in Europe, should know more about the reforms and the progress in Saudi Arabia. We want to strengthen cooperation with the Kingdom.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti

Former US President Barack Obama’s so-called “red lines” did little to deter Russia from seizing control of Crimea in 2014. More recently, as part of the Biden administration’s pivot toward ending “forever wars,” the world watched the painful scenes at Kabul Airport as many Afghans desperately trying to flee the country after Washington effectively handed the country back to the Taliban, 20 years after it waged a war to bring democracy to the country and end the rule of the same extremist group.

However, Kurti strongly believes that the NATO presence in Kosovo is there to stay but that if push comes to shove, Kosovars are capable of defending themselves.

“I think that Kosovo has great people with great will and courage, on one hand, and on the other hand, I think that our defense and security forces and NATO, especially the US, are here to stay,” he said.

“And we are certain that we will be victorious in any kind of future crisis that might occur, but which we do not want to have.”

Kurti is so confident of NATO’s commitment to his country that he believes it is likely Kosovo will join the alliance as a full member much sooner than it is granted EU membership status.

“I believe that this is the case for two reasons,” he said. “Firstly, in the EU we have five non-recognizers out of 27, whereas in NATO we have four non-recognizers out of 30. So, one non-recognizer less in NATO than in EU.

“But in addition, the criteria and standards that you have to fulfill to join NATO are not as complex as they are for joining the EU. So, it is realistic to expect that we will first join NATO and then EU.”

In addition, NATO does not require its members to be member states of the UN or the EU, so provided that Pristina can convince Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia to recognize it, the prime minister’s vision might become a reality in the next few years, observers argue.

Relations with the Muslim world

The members of the EU that do not recognize Kosovo might argue that they have taken this position to avoid encouraging separatist movements within their countries. What is perhaps more remarkable is that fact that as things stands, only slightly over half of the members of Organization of Islamic Cooperation recognize Kosovo, which is a Muslim-majority country. Leading the way among the Gulf recognizers are moderate Muslim countries, such as regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

How does Kurti feel about the fact that so many fellow Muslim states do not recognize his country, particularly a major Islamic nation such as Iran?

“We think that it’s a big mistake that some of the countries with Muslim-majority populations are not recognizing Kosovo,” he said. “I think that they have been misinformed by Serbia. And some of them do this because they keep some close links with the Russian Federation.

“However, I would urge all the countries in the world, for the sake of long-term peace, sustainable security and recognizing the rights of people to freedom and self-determination, to recognize the independence of Kosovo.

“In a way, those who do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, with or without intention, they fall prey to supporting Serbia from the time of the militias that committed genocide in Kosovo.”

A particularly paradoxical twist in this tale is the non-recognition of Kosovo by the Palestinian Authority. One might think that the official representatives of a people who have for seven decades protested and fought against the illegal occupation by Israel would be among the first to stand in solidarity with Kosovo.

Yet the PA does not recognize Kosovo and its former leader, Yasser Arafat, was criticized for his close ties with former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic at the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, although Israel and Kosovo only formally recognized each other a little over a year ago Tel Aviv’s policy towards Kosovo has long been non-aggressive. Even before the formal recognition, which had been lobbied for by the administration of former US President Donald Trump, Israel supported Kosovo’s campaigns to gain membership of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.




Kurti, seen here in his Pristina office being interviewed by Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, said Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE are ‘terrorism actions.’ (AN Photo/Ziad Alarfaj)

Even so, Kosovo’s announcement last year of its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel shocked many Muslim countries, given the sensitivity of the issue in the Muslim world.

All of this begs the question of what the current stance in Pristina is on the Palestinian cause and the PA.

“I think that, just as we know how much the Palestinian people have suffered, they should not neglect the suffering of the Albanians in Kosovo, who survived Serbia’s genocide,” said Kurti.

He denies, however, that the Trump-era decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was in any way a form of retaliation against the official Palestinian position of non-recognition of Kosovo.

“That has nothing to do with our stance toward the Palestinian people and their cause,” he said. “We want to have good relations with Palestine, with the Palestinian Authority and with Palestinians as people.”

Last year, Kosovo joined several Arab and Muslim states in designating the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah as a terrorist group. When asked about the background to that decision, Kurti said it is “not difficult to recognize terrorists and violent extremists.”

He added: “In line with our beliefs and values, on which we are building our country and on which we are orienting future generations, we made such a decision in Kosovo, and we are part of the global coalition against violent extremism and terrorists.

“We also condemned all the attacks and activities of Hezbollah, and also of Daesh.”

Kurti also said he was appalled by the recent attack by the Houthis in Yemen on Abu Dhabi airport and their ongoing strikes against civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, adding that such acts can never be tolerated.

Does this mean that he agrees that the Houthis should be designated as a terrorist group?

“Yes, I think all these attacks on civilians are terrorist actions,” he said.

Kosovo, as well as Bosnia, has had its own issues with home-grown terror; a number of its citizens lest the country to join Daesh a few years ago. Kurti said there is no place in his country for tolerance of extremist ideology.

“There were a couple of hundred people from Kosovo who unfortunately joined these absolute wars,” he said. “Some of them never came back and for those who did come back, we have done some rehabilitation programs. Some are also serving sentences in prison.

“There had been some manipulation of certain individuals. I can imagine that was due to their lack of educational background, and perhaps unemployment and social misery, and we have to have a certain sensitivity toward the situation. However, this will never stop us from harshly condemning violent extremism.”

‘Kurtinomics’ and Saudi Vision 2030

At the start of our interview, Kurti congratulated the Saudi leadership and people on the occasion of the newly announced annual “Founding Day,” which will be celebrated in the Kingdom on Feb. 22 each year. Throughout our discussion, he appeared up to speed on the most recent developments in Saudi Arabia.

“I think the people of Kosovo, but also people in the Balkans and in Europe, should know more about the reforms and the progress in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We want to strengthen cooperation with the Kingdom. It’s a very rich country, both in its culture and history, but likewise in its natural resources and economic development.”

The reforms Kurti referred to are those that are taking place under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan. It includes the diversification of the economy to reduce its dependence on oil; the creation of jobs for Saudi youths, who form the majority of the population; the introduction of previously unimaginable social freedoms and religious reforms; and a relentless crackdown on corruption.

Meanwhile, Kurti and his party triumphed at the election in Kosovo last year based on a “jobs and justice” campaign that focused on the creation of opportunities for young people and women, and a promise to tackle corruption.

It is not enough not to be corrupted; you should also be incorruptible. And I think that our government is a cabinet of ministers who are well-educated, good professionals — people who do not want to get rich from politics.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti

He sees the similarities in the recent developments in the two countries and an opportunity for them to enhance cooperation. To this end, he invited Riyadh to seize the opportunities and invest heavily in the emerging environment in Kosovo.

“With our government we are fighting corruption,” he said. “There is no tolerance for corruption. And we are also growing our economy. For example, last year we registered two-thirds higher exports than the year before. Budget revenues increased by one third.

“Likewise, business turnover increased, while foreign direct investment increased by more than 50 percent. These figures show that Kosovo is progressing — and the best way for more progress is to invest in the already existing progress.”

But how exactly does his brand of “Kurtinomics” work? He said his reforms are all about giving people hope and a reason to believe in them.

READ MORE

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti condemned the continuing series of Houthi attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, and more recently the UAE, agreeing that such assaults reveal the Houthis to be a terrorist group. Read more here.

“When people are hopeful, they would rather spend than save in our economy if it is growing,” said Kurti. “Because when you expect rainy days in the future, you’d rather save than spend. Then when people see the government is not corrupt, they are more ready to pay taxes and other contributions. That’s why budget revenues in Kosovo, tax revenues, increased by a third without changing fiscal policy.

“And the last thing is that tax administration started to have greater discipline than before. Fighting corruption and crime helps not only the common values of the people but also the health of the economy. On the other hand, our diaspora, which is huge and especially concentrated in German-speaking Europe, sent even more remittances back home than before.

“We have also established a commercial court and in this way we want to create a good environment for business. Kosovo has the euro as a currency and a very young population; the average age is 30 years, even though we are an ancient people. We are located at the heart of the Balkans, close to European markets. And at the same time, Kosovo is a country that never forgets its friends and wants to have good relations with all peace-loving nations in the world.”

Regarding the fight against corruption, Kurti admitted his government has a mountain to climb. “Corruption in Kosovo was high in the past and has not been eradicated altogether,” he said. “But it was quite concentrated at the top, so there was no trickle-down effect. Corruption was concentrated at the top and now we stopped it, precisely, at the top, with the change of government through democratic elections. This is the first point.

“The second point is that it is not enough not to be corrupted; you should also be incorruptible. And I think that our government is a cabinet of ministers who are well-educated, good professionals — people who do not want to get rich from politics.

“We say to all our friends and activists: Whoever likes to get very rich, try your luck and skills in the private sector. In public service of state institutions, you are supposed to serve. So, serving is our vocation, to the best of our abilities and knowledge.”

Looking to the future and the opportunities that lie ahead for Kosovo, Kurti highlights the potential of the information and communications technology sector, wood and metal processing, agriculture and renewable energy. He added that in his role as prime minister he looks forward to actively engaging in promoting these sectors.


Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’
Updated 08 February 2023

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

Harmful pollution boosting superbug ‘silent pandemic’

PARIS: Containing and cleaning up environmental pollution, especially in waterways, is crucial to controlling increasingly bullet-proof superbugs which could kill tens of millions by mid-century, a new UN report said Tuesday.
Superbugs — strains of bacteria resistant to antibiotics — are estimated to have killed 1.27 million people in 2019, and the World Health Organization says antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the top global health threats on the near-term horizon.
Up to 10 million deaths could occur every year by 2050 because of AMR, the UN says.
The disinfectants, antiseptics and antibiotics that can help microbes become stronger are everywhere, from toothpaste and shampoo to cow’s milk and wastewater.
A new report Tuesday said pollution is a key driver in the “development, transmission and spread” of AMR, calling for urgent action to clean up the environment.
“With increasing pollution and lack of management of sources of pollution, combined with AMR in clinical and hospital settings and agriculture, risks are increasing,” said the report from the UN Environment Programme.
Antimicrobial resistance is a natural phenomenon, but the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans, animals and plants has made the problem worse.
This means antibiotics may no longer work to fight the very infections they were designed to treat.
The UN report Tuesday said that pollution in the environment from key economic sectors has exacerbated the problem, namely from the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors, along with agriculture and health care.
Herbicides to control weeds on farms may also increase AMR, while heavy metals are also contributing to the problem.
Once antimicrobials enter the environment they seep into the food chain — they’ve been found in fish and cattle — and loop back into factories making everyday toiletries, for example.

Antimicrobial resistant genes are in waterways across the globe, from the Ganges River in India to the Cache la Poudre River in the US state of Colorado, the UN study found.
“This is a real issue, because rivers are often the source of our drinking water,” Jonathan Cox, senior lecturer in microbiology at Britain’s Aston University, told AFP.
“It’s already the silent pandemic,” warned Cox, who is not linked to the UN study. “It is becoming the next pandemic without us really recognizing it.”
Prevention is key, the UN said.
“Fuelled by population growth, urbanization and growing demand for food and health care, we can expect an increase in the use of antimicrobials and in pollutant releases into the environment,” it said.
The UN urged governments and international groups to address “key pollution sources,” including sewage, city waste, health care delivery, pharmaceutical manufacturing and intensive crop sectors.
Cox said solutions need to be global, since AMR is so pervasive.
One answer is to focus on clinical approaches, such as improving rapid testing for infections so that antibiotics are not incorrectly prescribed.
Another is improving wastewater management to remove antimicrobials. But such processes are complicated and costly.
“The technology is out there, it just isn’t being employed because governments don’t care so much about the environment as they do about the bottom line,” Cox said.

 


Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’
Updated 08 February 2023

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’

Biden says in State of Union that US is ‘unbowed, unbroken’
  • The president is taking the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is using his State of the Union address Tuesday night to call on Republicans to work with him to “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy and uniting the nation as he seeks to overcome pessimism in the country and navigate political divisions in Washington.
The annual speech comes as the nation struggles to make sense of confounding cross-currents at home and abroad — economic uncertainty, a wearying war in Ukraine, growing tensions with China and more — and warily sizes up Biden’s fitness for a likely reelection bid. The president is offering a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than rolling out flashy policy proposals.
“The story of America is a story of progress and resilience,” Biden is declaring, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House. He’s highlighting record job creation under his tenure as the country has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. And he’s declaring that two years after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, the country’s democracy is “unbowed and unbroken.”
With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden is pointing areas of bipartisan progress in his first two years in office, including on states’ vital infrastructure and high tech manufacturing. And he says, “There is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress.”
“The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” Biden is saying. “And that’s always been my vision for the country: to restore the soul of the nation, to rebuild the backbone of America — the middle class — to unite the country.”
“We’ve been sent here to finish the job!”
The president is taking the House rostrum at a time when just a quarter of US adults say things in the country are headed in the right direction, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About three-quarters say things are on the wrong track. And a majority of Democrats don’t want Biden to seek another term.
He is confronting those sentiments head on, aides say.
“You wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away, I get it,” Biden says. “That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back because of the choices we made in the last two years.”
The setting for Biden’s speech looks markedly different from a year ago, when it was Democratic stalwart Nancy Pelosi seated behind him as House speaker — though tighter-than-usual security measures returned in a vestige of the 2021 attack. Pelosi’s been replaced by Republican Kevin McCarthy, and it was unclear what kind of reception restive Republicans in the chamber would give the Democratic president.
McCarthy on Monday vowed to be “respectful” during the address and in turn asked Biden to refrain from using the phrase “extreme MAGA Republicans,” which the president deployed on the campaign trail in 2022.
“I won’t tear up the speech, I won’t play games,” McCarthy told reporters, a reference to Pelosi’s dramatic action after President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who gained a national profile as Trump’s press secretary, was to deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech.
She was to focus much of her remarks on social issues, including race in business and education and alleged big-tech censorship of conservatives.
“While you reap the consequences of their failures, the Biden administration seems more interested in woke fantasies than the hard reality Americans face every day,” she was to say, according to excerpts released by her office. “Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
With COVID-19 restrictions now lifted, the White House and legislators from both parties invited guests designed to drive home political messages with their presence in the House chamber. The parents of Tyre Nichols, who was severely beaten by police officers in Memphis and later died, are among those expected to be seated with first lady Jill Biden. Other Biden guests include the rock star/humanitarian Bono and the 26-year-old who disarmed a gunman in last month’s Monterey Park, California, shooting.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus invited family members of those involved in police incidents, as they sought to press for action on police reform in the wake of Nichols’ death. A White House fact sheet ahead of the speech paired police reform with bringing down violence, suggesting that giving police better training tools could lead to less crime nationwide.
Biden is shifting his sights after spending his first two years pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure package, legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate measures. With Republicans now in control of the House, he is turning his focus to implementing those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements.
The switch is largely by necessity. The newly empowered GOP is itching to undo many of his achievements and vowing to pursue a multitude of investigations — including looking into the recent discoveries of classified documents from his time as vice president at his home and former office.
At the same time, Biden will need to find a way to work across the aisle to keep the government funded by raising the federal debt limit by this summer. He has insisted that he won’t negotiate on meeting the country’s debt obligations; Republicans have been equally adamant that he must make spending concessions.
On the eve of the president’s address, McCarthy challenged Biden to come to the negotiating table with House Republicans to slash spending as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
“We must move toward a balanced budget and insist on genuine accountability for every dollar we spend,” McCarthy said.
While hopes for large-scale bipartisanship are slim, Biden was reissuing his 2022 appeal for Congress to get behind his “unity agenda” of actions to address the opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans’ health and cancer. He was to announce new executive action and call for lawmakers to act to support new measures to support cancer research, address housing needs and suicide among veterans, boost access to mental health care, and move to further crack down on deadly trafficking in fentanyl.
The White House said the president would call for extending the new $35 per month price cap on insulin for people on Medicare to everyone in the country. He would also push Congress to quadruple the 1 percent tax on corporate share buybacks that was enacted in the Democrats’ climate and health care bill passed last year known as the Inflation Reduction Act.
The speech comes days after Biden ordered the military to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon that flew brazenly across the country, captivating the nation and serving as a reminder of tense relations between the two global powers.
Last year’s address occurred just days after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and as many in the West doubted Kyiv’s ability to withstand the onslaught. Over the past year, the US and other allies have sent tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance to bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Now, Biden must make the case — both at home and abroad — for sustaining that coalition as the war drags on.
 

 


At least 24 killed in second day of fighting in Somaliland

Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 February 2023

At least 24 killed in second day of fighting in Somaliland

Somaliland police force guard in Hargeisa, Somaliland. (AFP file photo)
  • Local elders in Las Anod said electricity and water had been cut off, and health centers attacked with mortars

BOSASO, Somalia: At least 24 people were killed and another 53 injured in a second day of heavy fighting in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, two doctors said, after local leaders declared their intention to rejoin federal Somalia.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence, and has faced opposition from some clan elders in the east of the territory who seek to be governed from Mogadishu.
On Tuesday Somaliland said fighters from neighboring Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, were fighting alongside local militias in the town of Las Anod, accusations Puntland denied.
Two doctors said the bodies of 58 people had been brought to their public hospital in Las Anod since the clashes began on Monday morning, with many more injured unable to reach the hospital because of heavy fighting in the town.
Local elders in Las Anod said electricity and water had been cut off, and health centers attacked with mortars.
“Somaliland forces are carrying out heavy attacks on medical facilities and civilian homes. The deaths and injuries of civilians cannot be counted,” said Mukhtar Abdi, a resident of Las Anod, the administrative center of Sool region.
It was unclear which side started the fighting, but it came a day after a committee of local leaders, religious scholars and civil society groups said in a statement they did not recognize Somaliland’s administration.
“Today, the (perpetrators) were supported by militias from the neighboring Puntland region of Somalia and the so called Khatumo militia in a carefully coordinated manner,” Somaliland’s state broadcaster said on Twitter.
Puntland’s interior minister Abdi Farah Said Juhaa said his government, which has controlled the town in the past, was not involved in the fighting, and that Somaliland should withdraw its troops from Las Anod and other areas.
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Tuesday called for a cease-fire: “let the Somaliland administration and the clan elders of Las Anod sit and talk. The solution is in our pursuit of united Somalia.”

 


UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes
Updated 08 February 2023

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes
  • The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria

LONDON: British charity Penny Appeal said on Tuesday it is liaising with partner organizations that are working in the areas hit by the devastating earthquake in Turkiye on Monday to provide aid for those worst affected by the disaster.

“Penny Appeal will be working with its partners on the ground to support the affected communities and provide much-needed assistance to the victims of this calamity,” the Yorkshire-based charity said.

“This will include those who have lost their homes, who have lost family members and who have no means of obtaining food, water or medicines.”

Charitable organizations in many countries have quickly mobilized to send aid and deploy rescue teams after the earthquakes and aftershocks, which killed more than 7,200 people. The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria. They toppled thousands of buildings, heaping more misery on a region already suffering as a result of the 12-year civil war in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis.

“The initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck near the city of Gaziantep in Turkiye has been reported as the worst earthquake to hit the region in a century,” Penny Appeal said.

“This earthquake that caused hundreds of deaths and widespread damage was followed by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake reported to have caused further deaths and destruction across the Elbistan district of Turkiye’s Kahramanmaras province.

“The third earthquake, of 6.0 magnitude, followed within hours of the first, causing complete havoc and despair for communities across Turkiye and Syria, leaving thousands injured and many more expected deaths.”

The charity added that its partners on the ground “are working closely with the local authorities and other aid agencies to coordinate their relief efforts and ensure that aid reaches those who need it most.”

Ahmad Boston, director of marketing and communications at Penny Appeal, said: “The victims of the earthquake in Turkiye desperately need our help.

“With the support of the public, we can provide essential aid to those affected and help them through this difficult time. Every donation, no matter how small, will make a significant difference.”


US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer
Updated 08 February 2023

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer

US man convicted of aiding Daesh as sniper, trainer
  • His lawyers didn’t dispute that he went to Syria and affiliated with the Daesh group, but they argued that his accounts of his role were boasts that had no firsthand corroboration and didn’t prove anyone died because of his conduct

NEW YORK: A former New York stockbroker-turned-Daesh group militant was convicted Tuesday of becoming a sniper and trainer for the extremist group during its brutal reign in Syria and Iraq.
The trial of Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, a Kazakh-born US citizen, was the latest in a series of cases against people accused of leaving their homelands around the world to join the militants in combat.
“Today’s verdict in an American courtroom is a victory for our system of justice” and against the Daesh group, Brooklyn-based US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. Asainov’s lawyers had no immediate comment.
A onetime broker who doted on his toddler daughter, Asainov converted to Islam around 2009 and later quit his job and started watching radical sermons online, his ex-wife testified. He abruptly left his family in Brooklyn in December 2013 and made his way to Syria as IS stormed to power.

This photo shot in Tabqa, Syria between June 2014 and April 2015, which was been entered into evidence during trial, depicts a man prosecutors say is Ruslan Maratovich Asainov. (AP)

In a case built largely on Asainov’s own words in messaging apps, emails, recorded phone calls and an FBI interview, prosecutors said he fought in numerous battles and built a notable profile in IS by becoming a sniper and later an instructor of nearly 100 other long-range shooters.
“The evidence has shown that people died as a result of the defendant’s conduct. It is time to hold him accountable,” prosecutor Douglas Pravda told a Brooklyn federal court jury in a closing argument.
Asainov, 46, didn’t testify, telling the court he was “not part of this process.”
His lawyers didn’t dispute that he went to Syria and affiliated with the Daesh group, but they argued that his accounts of his role were boasts that had no firsthand corroboration and didn’t prove anyone died because of his conduct.
“Nobody’s arguing to you that Mr. Asainov’s view of the world is not a very warped view,” defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said in her summation, asking the jury “not to confuse his views with what is needed to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“There’s not a single piece of paper that ties Mr. Asainov to anything in the Daesh group that would tell you he, in fact, is the person he claims to be,” she said.
Jurors, whose identities were kept confidential, found Asainov guilty of offenses that include providing and attempting to provide material support to what the US designates a foreign terrorist organization. The jury also concluded that his actions caused at least one death, a finding that means he faces the potential of life in prison. His sentencing is set for June 7.
IS fighters seized chunks of Iraq and Syria in 2014, sweeping millions of people into a so-called caliphate ruled according to the group’s iron-fisted interpretation of Islamic law, enforced through massacres, beheadings, sexual slavery and other atrocities. The group’s bloody campaign attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters; at least scores of them were US citizens, according to a 2018 academic report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
Fighting left a swath of deaths, displacement and destruction in major cities and beyond. The extremists lost the last remnants of their realm in 2019.
Asainov was picked up soon after by US-backed forces and turned over to US authorities. Unabashed as FBI agents questioned him, he gave his occupation as “sniper” and frankly detailed how he’d taught others, explaining that he could spend three hours just on the fine points of pulling a trigger, according to video played at trial.
He had also been forthcoming in messages and calls from Syria to friends and the now-ex-wife he’d left behind, according to trial evidence.
“Have you heard of Daesh? Right. I-S-I-S. Do you watch news on TV? That’s where I am located. I am one of its fighters,” he told his ex in a voicemail that authorities translated from Russian. “We are the worst terrorist organization in the world that ever existed.”
He sent photos of himself in camouflage garb with a rifle and pictures of the bloodied bodies of men with whom he said he’d fought. He texted one confidante — in fact a US government informant — a rundown of prominent battles in which he said he’d participated and asked for money to buy a night scope for his rifle.
Later, with the sounds of explosions in the background of Asainov’s phone, he asked another friend for money to send his new wife and children to safety as US-backed forces fought to capture the extremists’ de facto capital of Raqqa in 2017.
Shroff urged jurors not to take his remarks at face value.
“To say the same wrong things over and over again does not make them accurate,” she argued.
After his arrest, a defiant Asainov declared at his arraignment that he was an “Daesh citizen, not a United States citizen,” and jail officials said they later found a hand-drawn version of the militants’ flag in his cell.
He told his mother on the facility’s recorded phones that her son “doesn’t exist anymore,” replaced by a man who saw himself as a holy warrior who fought and killed on divine command, didn’t regret it and would “be fighting until the end.”
“I will never change this path, even if they give me freedom a thousand times,” he told her in one translated call.
“Do you understand?”