Nearly 1.37 million people flee Ukraine war

Nearly 1.37 million people flee Ukraine war
People fleeing from Ukraine arrive at a temporary shelter run by the municipality and the Baptist Charity in Tiszabecs, Hungary on Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 06 March 2022

Nearly 1.37 million people flee Ukraine war

Nearly 1.37 million people flee Ukraine war
  • UNHCR counted 1,368,864 refugees on its dedicated website at 1215 GMT, almost 160,000 more than the previous count on Friday
  • According to the UN, four million people may seek to leave the country to escape the war

GENEVA: Nearly 1.37 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the latest UN data Saturday.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted 1,368,864 refugees on its dedicated website at 1215 GMT, almost 160,000 more than the previous count on Friday.
Authorities and the UN expect the flow to intensify as the Russian army continues to advance into Ukraine, with fierce fighting still taking place around the capital Kyiv.
“1.3 million people have now fled Ukraine to seek safety. Unless there is an immediate end to the conflict, millions more are likely to be forced to flee,” the UNHCR said in a tweet on Saturday.
According to the UN, four million people may seek to leave the country to escape the war.
Before the conflict, Ukraine had more than 37 million people in areas controlled by Kyiv — which does not include Russian-annexed Crimea or separatist-controlled areas.
Poland, which has championed the cause of Ukrainian refugees and where US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived on Saturday for talks with the country’s top officials, is hosting by far the largest number of refugees arriving since the start of the Russian invasion.

In total, there were 756,303 refugees in Poland on Saturday, according to the UNHCR count, 106,400 more than on Friday and 55.3 percent of the total.
Before the crisis, Poland was already home to about 1.5 million Ukrainians, most of whom came to work in the EU member state.
Hungary has taken in 157,004 people, or 11.5 percent of the total, and almost 12,300 more than the previous day, according to the UNHCR.
The country has five border crossings with Ukraine and several border towns, including Zahony, have turned public buildings into relief centers, where Hungarian civilians offer food or assistance.
The UNHCR had not updated the number of refugees in Moldova on Saturday, which stood at 103,254 on Friday, or 7.5 percent of the total.
The head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, was in Moldova on Friday, in the eastern town of Palanca where refugees are arriving.
“Today at Palanca I saw thousands and thousands of people streaming across Ukraine’s border crossing with Moldova. Thousands of stories of separation, anguish, and loss. A difficult day, but much respect for the many dedicated Moldovan officials and people helping the refugees,” Grandi said in a tweet on Friday evening.
According to the UNHCR, some of the refugees are continuing on to Romania or Hungary, often to reunite with family.
Some 101,529 people have fled Ukraine and taken refuge in Slovakia, 7.4 percent of the total, according to the UNHCR.
In Romania, the UNHCR counts 63,192 refugees, about 4.6 percent of the total.
Two camps have been set up, one in Sighetu Marmatiei and the other in Siret.
UNHCR also said that 133,876 people, around one in 10, had continued on to other European countries after crossing the Ukrainian border.
The number of people taking refuge in Russia remained unchanged at around 53,000, or 3.9 percent of the total.


Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned

Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned
Updated 58 min 10 sec ago

Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned

Norwegian anti-Islam extremist’s car rammed after Qur’an burned
  • Norwegian police said they arrested two people
  • The handful of activists then placed a burning Koran in the middle of a small intersection

OSLO: The leader of a Norwegian anti-Islamic group was in a spectacular car chase and collision on Saturday, minutes after burning a Qur’an on the outskirts of Oslo.
Norwegian police said they arrested two people, including the driver of a car accused of deliberately ramming the SUV of Lars Thorsen, leader of the radical group “Stop the Islamization of Norway” (Sian).
The five passengers in the SUV were slightly injured, with one requiring hospital treatment, police said.
A video posted on Facebook showed Thorsen and other activists first drive to Mortensrud, a suburb of Oslo with a large Muslim community.
The handful of activists then placed a burning Qur’an in the middle of a small intersection, initially managing to push back local people who tried to put out the flames.
An angry crowd gathered, including one woman who grabbed the charred book before climbing into a grey Mercedes.
The SUV of the anti-Islam activists, painted in camouflage livery, then left the scene. But seconds later, it was overtaken by the Mercedes, which first hit it lightly and eventually hit it at speed, overturning the vehicle.
The whole episode was filmed by someone in a following car.
The incident came a week after a gunman killed two people and wounded 21 others in central Oslo.
Norway’s domestic intelligence service has described the attack as an act of terrorism.
Scandinavian far-right anti-Islam activists have made a specialty of burning Qur’ans in neighborhoods with large Muslim populations in recent years.


Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience

Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience
Updated 02 July 2022

Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience

Musk meets pope, uses Twitter to announce the audience
  • “Honored to meet @Pontifex yesterday,” Musk tweeted
  • Musk’s tweet followed one of a street scene in Venice

ROME: Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose $44 billion bid to buy Twitter remains in limbo, used the social media platform to announce he had met with Pope Francis.
“Honored to meet @Pontifex yesterday,” Musk tweeted of the Friday afternoon audience, alongside a photo showing Musk, Francis and four of Musk’s teenage children.
The Vatican didn’t announce the audience or provide any information about what was discussed. Musk’s tweet followed one of a street scene in Venice, suggesting he might have had other stops on his tour.
Francis frequently meets with high-profile figures in strictly private audiences that are held in a reception room of the Vatican hotel where he lives. A common talking point he uses when meeting with corporate CEOs is to appeal for them to use wealth and technology to help the poorest while caring for God’s creation.
On June 21, Twitter’s board recommended shareholders approve Musk’s proposed purchase, though shares of Twitter remain far below his offering price, signaling considerable doubt that the sale will actually happen.


Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact
Updated 02 July 2022

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact

Indonesia hopes to boost Middle East exports after new UAE trade pact
  • Indonesia-UAE trade pact erases majority of existing tariffs
  • Wide-ranging pact is Indonesia’s first with a Gulf country

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have said they are hopeful of increasing the country’s exports to the Middle East after the signing of a new wide-ranging economic pact with the UAE.

Indonesia’s Trade Minister Zulfikli Hasan and UAE Economy Minister Abdullah bin Touq Al-Marri signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in Abu Dhabi on Friday, after talks aimed at eliminating tariffs and boosting investment between the two countries were launched last September.

Bilateral trade volume reached almost $4 billion in 2021, according to data from Indonesia’s Trade Ministry, showcasing an increase of nearly 38 percent from the previous year, when it was worth $2.9 billion. The agreement is Indonesia’s first with a Gulf country and the UAE’s first with a Southeast Asian nation.

The new pact is expected to boost Indonesian exports to the UAE by 54 percent, or about $844 million, over the next 10 years after the deal comes into force, as the pact erases about 94 percent of existing tariffs. Indonesia’s main exports to the UAE include jewelry, palm oil, and motorized vehicles.

“This agreement will be Indonesia’s entryway to the UAE, which is a hub to increase exports to non-traditional export destinations in the Gulf, Middle East,” Hasan said in a statement issued on Friday.

The pact also includes chapters on tourism, intellectual property rights, and mutual recognition of each country’s halal certification.

Full text of the deal was not immediately published, and the agreement still needs to be ratified by Indonesia’s House of Representatives, which could take several months. Indonesia has signed similar deals with Australia in 2019 and South Korea in 2020.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who witnessed the signing with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan as part of the former’s visit to Abu Dhabi, also expressed appreciation of the two countries’ improving relations.

“Amid the challenging situation that we face now, we continue to work together to boost relations between our two countries,” Widodo said, as quoted in a statement issued by his office on Friday.

Diana Dewi, chairwoman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chapter in Jakarta, said the new deal could be helpful for Indonesian business players.

“This agreement will be an entry point for Indonesian businesses to increase exports to the UAE,” Dewi told Arab News.

“UAE is also a hub to enter the European market,” she added.

The wide-ranging agreement could bring new prospects for Indonesia, Bhima Yudhistira, president of the Jakarta-based Center of Economic and Law Studies, told Arab News.

“(The) UAE is an important export hub to the Middle East and North Africa. The UAE’s developments in the automotive sector are quite prospective and would require spare parts and components from Indonesia,” Yudhistira said.

But it also offers new challenges for Southeast Asia’s largest economy, he added.

“It’s a challenge to break through the UAE market with regards to the quality and product competition because the UAE market is a high-income group.”
 


Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season
Updated 02 July 2022

Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season
  • More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby
  • The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece

ATHENS: Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.
More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.
A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.
“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.
“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”
The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.
Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.
Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.
In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.


With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
Updated 02 July 2022

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
  • From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s light touch
  • Virus-related hospitalizations rose quickly in France over the past two weeks

NICE, France: Tourism is booming again in France — and so is COVID-19.
French officials have “invited” or “recommended” people to go back to using face masks but stopped short of renewing restrictions that would scare visitors away or revive antigovernment protests.
From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s light touch, while some worry that required prevention measures may be needed.
Virus-related hospitalizations rose quickly in France over the past two weeks, with nearly 1,000 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized per day, according to government data. Infections are also rising across Europe and the United States, but France has an exceptionally high proportion of people in the hospital, according to Our World in Data estimates.
French government spokesperson Olivia Gregoire has said there are no plans to reintroduce national regulations that limit or set conditions for gathering indoors and other activities.
“The French people are sick of restrictions,” she said Wednesday on channel BFMTV. “We are confident that people will behave responsibly.”
France’s parliamentary elections last month resulted in President Emmanuel Macron losing his majority in the national legislature, while parties on the far right and the far left that had protested his government’s earlier vaccine and mask rules gained seats.
After the prime minister this week recommended that people resume wearing masks on public transportation, commuter Raphaelle Vertaldi said, “We need to deal with the virus, but we can’t stop living because of it.”
Vertaldi, who was boarding a train in Boussy-Saint-Antoine south of Paris, said she opposed mandatory mask use but would cover her mouth and nose again, if the government requires it.
Hassani Mohammed, a postal worker in Paris, didn’t wait for the government to decide. He masks up before his daily commute. With his wife recovering from surgery and two children at home, he does not want to risk contracting the coronavirus a third time.
“I realized that the pandemic does not belong to the past,” Mohammed said.
Masks have been contentious in France. Early in the pandemic, the French government suggested masks weren’t helpful. It ultimately introduced some of Europe’s toughest restrictions, including an indoors and outside mask mandate that lasted more than a year, along with strict lockdowns.
A Paris court ruled Tuesday that the French government failed to sufficiently stock up on surgical masks at the start of the pandemic and to prevent the virus from spreading. The administrative court in Paris also ruled that the government was wrong to suggest early on that that masks did not protect people from becoming infected.
The government lifted most virus rules by April, and foreign tourists have returned by land, sea and air to French Mediterranean beaches, restaurants and bars.
In the meantime, French hospitals are struggling with long-running staff and funding shortages. Local officials are contemplating new measures, including an indoor mask mandate in some cities, but nothing that would curb economic activity.
French tourism professionals expect a booming summer season despite the virus, with numbers that may even surpass pre-pandemic levels as Americans benefit from the weaker euro and others rediscover foreign travel after more than two years of a more circumscribed existence.
On the French Riviera, a slow economic recovery began last summer. But with attendance at gatherings still capped, social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place a year ago, most visitors to the area were French.
A tour guide and electric bicycle taxi driver in Nice described her joy at seeing foreign visitors again. During France’s repeated lockdowns, she transported essential workers, and took people to hospitals, to care for elderly relatives or for PCR tests.
Now, passengers on her bike from the US, Australia, Germany, Italy or beyond reach for the hand disinfectant taped to the barrier between the passenger and driver’s seats. She said she still diligently disinfects the bike before each ride, “like it’s 2020.”
A retired couple from the UK visited France this week on their first trip abroad since pandemic travel restrictions were lifted. They started with a cruise down the River Rhône – face masks were mandatory on the ship — and ended with a few days on the Mediterranean.
“It’s been delightful from start to finish,” said Ros Runcie, who was in Nice with her husband, Gordon. “Everyone is so pleased to see you, everyone is really polite and nice to visitors.”
Sue Baker, who was traveling with her husband, Phil, and the Runcies, observed: “It feels very much like pre-2020.”
Asked about the possible return of French mask rules, Phil Baker said, “Masks are a bit uncomfortable, especially in the heat.”
But his wife added, “If it means we can still go on a holiday, we’ll put them back on without hesitation.”