Specter of Chernobyl looms large over UN Security Council meeting

The UN Security Council met to discuss the danger to the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (AP/Reuters)
The UN Security Council met to discuss the danger to the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (AP/Reuters)
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Updated 05 March 2022

Specter of Chernobyl looms large over UN Security Council meeting

The UN Security Council met to discuss the danger to the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. (AP/Reuters)
  • US envoy said a catastrophe was narrowly avoided in Ukraine ‘by the grace of God’ after a Russian attack sparked a fire at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant
  • Russia’s ambassador described the incident and the meeting as another attempt by the West to create hysteria over Ukraine as part of a campaign of disinformation

NEW YORK: “By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the permanent US representative to the UN, told the Security Council on Friday.

“We all waited to exhale as we watched the horrific situation unfold in real time.”

She was speaking during an emergency meeting of the council that was called by the UK to discuss a fire that broke out the night before at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine as Russian troops attacked and seized control of the facility.

The envoy said the attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was “incredibly reckless and dangerous” and had put it “at grave risk.”

The fire was extinguished early on Friday. It caused damage to a training facility at the plant but did not affect any of its six reactors.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that none of the nuclear reactors or other essential equipment were damaged and radiation levels remain normal. The Ukrainian staff at the plant continue to run it, and safety systems are functioning, he added.

The incident triggered condemnation worldwide, along with warnings of the potentially catastrophic consequences of such an attack for the Ukrainian people and populations across the region.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, said the people of Ukraine are all too aware of the devastation nuclear accidents can cause.

“The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 stands as a lasting example of why it is vital to ensure all nuclear power plants have the highest standards of safety and security,” she told the council.

She added that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has followed “with great alarm” the reports of fighting around the plant.

“Military operations around nuclear sites and other critical civilian infrastructure are not only unacceptable but highly irresponsible,” DiCarlo said. “Every effort should be made to avoid a catastrophic nuclear incident.”

Thomas-Greenfield joined other council members in calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from the plant “to permit medical treatment for injured personnel, to ensure operators have full access to the site,” and to halt any further use of force that might put at risk the 15 operable nuclear reactors across Ukraine.

Directly addressing Vassily Nebenzia, her Russian counterpart on the council, Thomas-Greenfield said: “This Council needs answers. We need to hear you say this won’t happen again.

“We call on you to withdraw your troops and weaponry from Ukraine. We call on you to respect Ukraine’s borders, its people, and the UN Charter.

We call on you to respect your own troops enough not to send them into an unjust war — or on a suicide mission against a nuclear power plant.”

She added: “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin must stop this madness and he must stop it now. Cooler heads must prevail.”

In response, Nebenzia said: “Today’s meeting is another attempt by Kyiv authorities to spread artificial hysteria around what is taking place in Ukraine and they are being assisted by their Western backers.”

The Russian envoy said news reports about the incident at Zaporizhzhia were false and “part of an unprecedented campaign of lies and disinformation against Russia.”

He said the fire was not caused by Russian shelling and instead accused Ukrainian “saboteurs” of causing it by shooting at a Russian patrol. He added that forces from his country now control the power plants at both Zaporizhzhia and Chernobyl, to prevent them falling into the hands of “Ukrainian terrorists.”

Nebenzia dismissed what he described as an attempt by his “dear Western colleagues” to turn the incident on Thursday into a global scandal.

“Ukrainian nationalists are now under your protection and have carte blanche from you,” he added.

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative, and president of the Security Council this month, said another Chernobyl must be prevented, as the dire consequences would affect not only Ukraine but the entire region.

“Nuclear safety is a critical issue for my country and we will continue every possible effort to maintain nuclear safety,” she said.

Nusseibeh joined the other ambassadors in welcoming a second round of talks between Russia and Ukraine which resulted in a preliminary agreement for the opening of humanitarian corridors so that people fleeing the war can leave safely.

She added that the UAE calls for an immediate end to hostilities and for the conflict to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.


Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
Updated 24 sec ago

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
  • Global energy price hike, gas crisis forces fertilizer companies to cut production
  • Country has imported over 1.1m tons from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar this year

DHAKA: Bangladesh is relying more on Middle Eastern countries to meet its demand for urea, a state agency official said, as an ongoing gas crisis tightens local supply and raises concerns about food security in the South Asian nation.

With a population of about 166 million and an agriculture sector making up more than 11 percent of its gross domestic product last year, Bangladesh needs around 2.6 million tons of urea, a fertilizer widely used in food crops.

As local gas fields struggled to meet rising demand amid a global hike in energy prices sparked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, fertilizer companies in Bangladesh were either shut down or forced to cut their production, leading to a dwindling supply of urea. To resolve the supply gap, the Bangladeshi government has been importing more fertilizer from countries in the Middle East.

“We can say our fertilizer imports from Middle Eastern countries have increased around 15 percent due to the gas supply crisis in the local market,” Kazi Mohammad Saiful Islam, a director at the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corp., told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

He said more than 1.1 million tons of urea had been imported from three countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — and there were plans to increase that quantity later this year.

“Considering the present global situation, we have already confirmed the respective countries to buy this additional amount,” Islam said.

He added that Bangladesh normally imported about a quarter of the urea it needs, but since the start of the Ukraine invasion in February, the price per ton had more than doubled.

“Due to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, the global fertilizer market has turned very volatile,” agricultural economist and researcher Dr. Jahangir Alam told Arab News.

Due to its dwindling reserves of foreign exchange, he said Bangladesh should consider setting up a long-term contract with its foreign suppliers to buy urea “at a cheaper rate” and “pursue the urea purchase on a credit basis.”

Dhaka should also look to boost local fertilizer production, said Alam, who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Global Village in southern Bangladesh.

“Producing urea locally is much cheaper for us. So, the authorities should try to increase the production ability in the country.”


March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
Updated 26 November 2022

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
  • British government urged to create safe asylum route for those at risk
  • MP: ‘Those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind’

LONDON: Thousands of marchers will descend on London on Sunday to demand that the UK government create a safe asylum route for Afghan women and girls at risk, The Guardian reported on Saturday.
Organized by the campaign group Action for Afghanistan, Sunday’s March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls follows MPs’ demands that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly renew the government’s focus on those left at risk after Britain’s 20-year military endeavor.
“The Afghan relocations and assistance policy isn’t working, and there isn’t a dedicated route for women and girls,” Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain told The Guardian.
“It has been lost in the narrative around Ukraine, but also lost in the narrative around small boats.
“We’ve gotten to the stage where the Afghanistan situation is in the too-difficult basket and those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind.”
The appeal follows a clampdown by the Taliban on women’s rights and freedoms, including the banning of girls from secondary school and the banning of women from parks.
Fawzia Koofi, the Afghan Parliament’s first female deputy speaker, said six women communicating with those planning the London march had been arrested in Kabul.
“I think it’s time for the UK to lead a feminist foreign policy, a human rights-centric foreign policy,” she added.
Chamberlain, who coordinated the appeal to Cleverly with an incoming all-party group, has urged the continuation of aid to Afghanistan, a consultation mechanism including Afghan stakeholders, and a dedicated asylum route.
Zehra Zaidi, a lawyer and co-founder of Action for Afghanistan, said a new settlement route would give hope.
Two resettlement schemes launched in 2021, which brought 7,000 eligible Afghans to the UK, came under intense scrutiny for failing to prioritize the most vulnerable, and was described by a House of Commons committee report as a “betrayal of our allies.”
Zaidi said those left behind in Afghanistan after the UK withdrawal “need to know people still care … They need to know that allies like the UK have not completely abandoned them.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson told The Guardian: “We remain committed to using all our diplomatic and development levers to support the Afghan people and protect the rights of women and girls.”
More than 40 civil society organizations are expected to attend the London march alongside Afghan politicians and activists.
Coordinated marches are also set to take place in Washington DC and four Canadian cities, with organizers saying they are expecting to see other countries follow suit after the UN said: “In no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from public life.”


Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
Updated 26 November 2022

Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
  • Kevin Davies, 62, had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill
  • He was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital after ‘medical incident’ at apartment where he was staying

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office is supporting the family of a Wales fan who died in Qatar on Friday while attending the World Cup, Sky News has reported.
Kevin Davies, 62, from the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital on Friday following what is being described as a “medical incident” at the apartment where he was staying. He had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said British officials are “supporting the family of a British man who has died in Qatar.”
Noel Mooney, CEO of the Football Association of Wales, tweeted: “So sorry to hear that one of our supporters has passed away here. Our condolences go to the family and of course we are here to support however we can.”
It is believed more than 2,500 Wales supporters have gone to Qatar for the World Cup — Wales’ first since 1958 — which has seen them draw with the US and lose to Iran.


Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable
Updated 26 November 2022

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable
  • The Ukrainian leader said the plan demonstrated that global food security was "not just empty words" for Kyiv
  • The summit was attended in-person by the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosted a summit in Kyiv on Saturday to promote its “Grain from Ukraine” initiative to export grain to countries most vulnerable to famine and drought.
The Ukrainian leader said the plan demonstrated that global food security was “not just empty words” for Kyiv. The Kremlin has said that Ukraine’s Black Sea exports during the war have not been reaching the most vulnerable countries.
Zelensky said Kyiv had raised around $150 million from more than 20 countries and the European Union to export grain to countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
“We plan to send at least 60 vessels from Ukrainian ports to countries that most face the threat of famine and drought,” Zelensky told the gathering.
The summit was attended in-person by the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary. Germany and France’s presidents and the head of the European Commission delivered speeches shown by video.
Announced by Kyiv earlier this month, the initiative is in addition to a UN-brokered deal that has allowed some Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea, a vital route for the major wheat producer’s exports that had been blocked.
Flanked by his chief of staff and prime minister on Saturday, Zelensky said the Grain from Ukraine initiative aimed to demonstrate that for Kyiv global food security is “not just empty words.”
“This will be one of the biggest contributions to global stability – a real and very necessary step,” he said.


Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
Updated 26 November 2022

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Huge COVID-19 protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire
  • China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns
  • Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night

Rare protests broke out in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!,” pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
Videos showed people in a plaza singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others shouted that they wanted to be released from lockdowns.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building’s residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many Internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that COVID-19 measures had hampered escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blame-the-victim” attitude would make people angrier. “Public trust will just sink lower,” he told Reuters.
Users on China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that sprang out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero COVID-19 policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarities to the deadly September crash of a COVID-19 quarantine bus.
“Is there not something we can reflect on to make some changes,” said an essay that went viral on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official narrative on the Urumqi apartment fire.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s signature zero COVID-19 policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the health care system. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the world’s second-biggest economy.
While the country recently tweaked its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this coupled with rising cases has caused widespread confusion and uncertainty in big cities, including Beijing, where many residents are locked down at home.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading numerous cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, shut again after having briefly reopened.