Singapore reopens borders after two-year COVID-19 closure

Singapore reopens borders after two-year COVID-19 closure
Aviation hub joins other countries in the region that have recently dropped travel curbs as they shift to living with COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2022

Singapore reopens borders after two-year COVID-19 closure

Singapore reopens borders after two-year COVID-19 closure
  • Aviation hub joins other countries in the region that have recently dropped travel curbs as they shift to living with COVID-19

SINGAPORE: Singapore fully reopened its borders to all vaccinated visitors Friday after a two-year coronavirus closure, with arrivals saying it felt “wonderful” to travel again without onerous restrictions.
The aviation hub, a key gateway for people arriving in Asia, joins other countries in the region that have recently dropped travel curbs as they shift to living with COVID-19.
Previously, only travelers from a handful of places could enter Singapore without quarantining but from Friday all vaccinated arrivals just need a negative COVID-19 test.
The city-state’s Changi Airport buzzed with activity as passengers streamed out of the arrival area, while hundreds were lining up in the departure zone to make trips outside Singapore.
“It’s wonderful,” Aldo Pizzini, a 63-year-old Italian businessman who had flown in from Milan, said.
“I took the first opportunity to fly today, (now) that much of the restrictions are lifted ... We are coming back to normality.”
Diana Mathias, who is from French Guiana and lives in Abu Dhabi, was visiting Singapore for a holiday with her mother.
“I feel really happy because it’s a long time since I flew,” she said.
The 38-year-old said she was a “bit stressed” at the prospect of doing a lot of paperwork to travel again but in the end found the process “really easy.”
Borders also reopened fully in neighboring Malaysia on Friday, and thousands of cars and motorcycles flooded across a one-kilometer causeway that separates it from Singapore.
The causeway, one of the world’s busiest land borders, had already partially reopened last year although some curbs were still in place.
The main airport serving Kuala Lumpur was busy as foreign tourists arrived.
Previously tourists were barred from entering Malaysia, a popular destination due to its white-sand beaches and lush rainforests, but vaccinated travelers can now do so with only a negative COVID-19 test.
Bo Lingam — group CEO of leading regional carrier AirAsia, which is based in Malaysia — predicted a “surge” in people flying.
The reopening of borders is “a joy for me and our AirAsia staff who had to face a lot of hardship during the pandemic,” he said.
“From today, it is all about flying the blue skies and an end to our planes sitting on the tarmac.”


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

Ranara’s murder, however, was not the first such incident in Kuwait that shook the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment.     

The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.   

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.

 


Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)
Updated 28 January 2023

Denmark in talks with Israel to replace howitzers donated to Ukraine

Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen. (Wikipedia)

COPENHAGEN: After pledging all 19 of its French-made Caesar howitzers to Ukraine, Denmark is in talks with Israeli arms maker Elbit Systems for new mobile artillery to plug a “critical gap.”
The Defense Ministry said that negotiations were on “with the manufacturer Elbit Systems for the delivery of ATMOS artillery pieces and PULS rocket launcher systems as soon as possible.”
The equipment could be delivered this year, the government said.
“The rocket launchers complement the new artillery systems,” the ministry said.

BACKGROUND

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.

Denmark had ordered 15 mobile long-range howitzers from French company Nexter in 2017, and four more in 2019.
But deliveries have been delayed and only a few have arrived. All of them have been pledged to Ukraine.
The system can carry 36 155 mm shells and reach targets at distances of up to 40 km.
ATMOS can fire six shots per minute and can be mounted on most off-road 8X8 trucks.
The next acquisitions are “important for Denmark’s defense and for Denmark to be able to meet its NATO commitments,” Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said.
“The donation to Ukraine leaves a critical capability gap in defense,” he said.
According to Danish media, Nexter advised Denmark against changing suppliers, saying it could provide new artillery.
“Caesar has proven itself on the battlefield in Ukraine, Danish soldiers can use them and the parts are compatible with Danish military IT systems,” a spokesman for the group said.

 


Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict
Updated 28 January 2023

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

Lavrov shores up Eritrean support for Russia over Ukraine conflict

NAIROBI: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki on a tour of Africa to shore up support for Russia, focusing on the “dynamics of the war in Ukraine,” Eritrea’s information minister said.
Lavrov has been on a week-long charm offensive on the continent, starting in South Africa, which is planning joint military drills with Russia and China, and finishing off with a surprise trip to the reclusive Horn of Africa nation of Eritrea.
South Africa is one of Russia’s most important allies on a continent divided over the invasion and Western attempts to isolate Moscow because of its military actions.
Eritrea is one of the few African countries that voted against a UN resolution condemning Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine although many abstained.

BACKGROUND

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been on a week-long charm offensive on the African continent, starting in South Africa.

“We are thankful to Eritrean friends for their consistent support of Russian initiatives in the UN,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian state news agency TASS.
He said Asmara had taken a “principled and balanced position on issues regarding the events in Ukraine and around it,” TASS reported, adding that he also invited his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, to visit Moscow soon.
The talks in Eritrea also explored ways of enhancing ties in energy, mining, information technology, education and health, Information Minister Yemane Meskel said on Twitter.
Both sides will conduct a joint study to establish the logistical and transit opportunities presented by the Red Sea port of Massawa and its airport, TASS said.
“I would like to mention the possibility of using the logistical potential of the Massawa port and the city’s airport. The airport of Massawa looks interesting from the point of view of its transit possibilities,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s visit to Africa coincides with others by senior US officials, who are crisscrossing the continent to shore up ties with US allies there.
Speaking when he met Lavrov’s delegation on Thursday, Foreign Minister Osman blamed the crisis in Ukraine on what he described as the US’ “reckless policy of hegemony and containment” over a number of decades.
“The sad fact is that Ukraine is both a pretext and victim of this policy,” Osman said during the speech delivered in Massawa.
There was no mention of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where Eritrean troops fought alongside their Ethiopian federal counterparts against rebellious Tigrayan forces.
A deal to end the fighting was signed last November but Eritrea was not party to the truce. Eritrean troops have started to leave some parts of Tigray, witnesses said.

 


Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
Updated 27 January 2023

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder

Gunman who fled to Pakistan jailed in UK for murder
  • Tahir Zarif, 31, will serve a minimum of 30 years for the killing of Akhtar Javeed, 56
  • Zarif and 3 others attempted to rob Javeed in 2016; killer hid in Pakistan to escape justice

LONDON: A man has been jailed for life in the UK after murdering another man in a botched robbery and then fleeing to Pakistan to escape justice.
Tahir Zarif, 31, from Derby, shot Akhtar Javeed, 56, in 2016 while he and three others — Suraj Misty, 26; Lamar Wali, 23; and Sander van Aalten, 54 — attempted to rob Javeed’s food warehouse in Birmingham.
One of the four had previously worked at the warehouse, with knowledge of its layout. Employees at the site were tied up, and Javeed was dragged to his safe, where Zarif shot him in the leg to force him to open it.
Javeed then managed to free himself but was shot again by Zarif in the throat and chest as he tried to escape, stumbling out of the warehouse and into a street before collapsing.
Five days later, Zarif left the UK for Pakistan. He was arrested in Mirpur in 2018 and extradited two years later.
Video footage later emerged of Zarif firing a machine gun while on the run in Pakistan, and further footage showed him smiling when formally arrested on board his extradition flight to London by UK police.
Zarif claimed the murder of Javeed was accidental, but his “clear willingness to use the gun” and “intention to kill” saw him jailed for a minimum of 30 years at Coventry Crown Court.
His fellow robbers were convicted and sentenced in 2016. Misty was jailed for 23 years for manslaughter, while Wali and Van Aalten were both convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery and jailed for seven years and six years, eight months, respectively.
Javeed’s daughter, who requested anonymity, told the press following Zarif’s sentencing: “It’s been six years and nine months since my father’s life was taken by Tahir Zarif.
“My father has been in our thoughts every day since. As I have said before, my father was an honorable gentleman.
“Another man’s greed led to my father’s unlawful death. We are grateful to West Midlands Police for their hard work in ensuring justice is served.”


Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau
Updated 27 January 2023

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

Appointment of first-ever anti-Islamophobia advisor for Canada an ‘important step’: PM Trudeau

MONTREAL: Canada on Thursday appointed its first special representative on combatting Islamophobia, a position created following several recent attacks on Muslims in the country.
Journalist and activist Amira Elghawaby will fill the post to “serve as a champion, adviser, expert and representative to support and enhance the federal government’s efforts in the fight against Islamophobia, systemic racism, racial discrimination and religious intolerance,” a statement by the prime minister’s office said.
An active human rights campaigner, Elghawaby is the communications head for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and a columnist for the Toronto Star newspaper, having previously worked for more than a decade at public broadcaster CBC.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Elghawaby’s appointment as “an important step in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms.”
“Diversity truly is one of Canada’s greatest strengths, but for many Muslims, Islamophobia is all too familiar,” he added.
Over the past few years, a series of deadly attacks have targeted Canada’s Muslim community.
In June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed when a man ran them over with his truck in London, Ontario.
Four years earlier, six Muslims died and five were injured in an attack on a Quebec City mosque.
In a series of tweets Thursday, Elghawaby listed the names of those killed in the recent attacks, adding: “We must never forget.”
The creation of the new job had been recommended by a national summit on Islamophobia organized by the federal government in June 2021 in response to the attacks.