Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  
Akihiko Tanaka, president of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency. (Supplied)
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Updated 26 May 2022

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  

Cooperating with Saudi Arabia is ‘very important’ for Japan, says president of JICA  
  • Akihiko Tanaka says Japan will continue to contribute to economic reforms under Saudi Vision 2030
  • Japan is working with GCC countries to tackle COVID-19, climate change and geopolitical crises

DAVOS: The president of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency highlighted on Tuesday the significance of Saudi-Japanese cooperation, reiterating how Saudi Arabia has been, and will continue to be, a very important country for Japan.  

Stressing the importance of maintaining good relations with the Kingdom, Akihiko Tanaka, president of JICA, told Arab News at the 2022 World Economic Forum that Saudi Arabia is important for Japan “not just as a source of natural resources, but also as a key country in the Middle East.” 

Tanaka also acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s interest in “keeping collaborative relations, particularly in the area of technology advancement, standardization and future development.” 

Speaking about Saudi Vision 2030, Tanaka assured Arab News that Japan will continue to contribute to the economic reforms that are being promoted under the initiative.  

Tanaka explained that JICA has provided knowledge sharing and training for the dissemination of “Kaizen,” the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises, and effective use of water resources in accordance with Saudi-Japan Vision 2030.  

Tokyo-based JICA is one of the world’s largest public development assistance institutions, established in 2003, with over 96 overseas offices. 

According to Tanaka, upcoming cooperation between JICA and Gulf Cooperation Council countries will focus on tackling the triple threat of COVID-19, climate change and geopolitical crises, including issues that originated with the Arab Spring, stalled peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel and the impact of Ukraine crisis on the world.  

“Our vision in working with Saudi Arabia is to create mutual benefit to realize a more sustainable world,” Tanaka said. “Our overall vision in JICA is to lead the world with trust, and so as a very important partner and a key actor in the Middle East, we would like to also maintain good and productive relations [based on] trust.” 

JICA has been cooperating with Saudi Arabia since 1975, and their focus, according to Tanaka, has been and will continue to be human resource development.   

Tanaka said that JICA has already established cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the fields of technical education, water resource development and treatment, and electricity development, adding that there were “many potential cooperation opportunities” between Saudi Arabia and Japan.  

 


UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran

UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran
Updated 13 sec ago

UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran

UK FM fails to say how many British detainees still held by Iran
  • Questions raised over Britain’s response to Tehran ‘hostage-taking’

LONDON: UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss has struggled to reveal the exact number of British detainees still being held in Iran.

During a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Truss was asked how many detainees are being held hostage by Tehran and what progress the UK government is making in freeing them.

She claimed that the government is “continuing to press Iran on the release of all detainees.”

But concerns have been raised that families of detained individuals may avoid publicizing their cases out of fear of the UK Foreign Office’s reaction.

Pressure from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International was said to be behind the UK government push to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori earlier this year.

During the committee meeting, Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said: “The purpose of the Foreign Office is to keep British nationals safe abroad.”


Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21
Updated 59 min 9 sec ago

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21

Japan to host 2023 G-7 Summit in Hiroshima May 19-21
  • Japan will hold the rotating presidency of the G-7 major powers next year

MUNICH: Japan will host the 2023 Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima on May 19-21, Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio said Tuesday.
Japan will hold the rotating presidency of the G-7 major powers next year. Kishida is a lawmaker elected from a constituency in the western Japan city, hit by a US atomic bomb in August 1945 near the end of World War II.
Toward the Hiroshima summit, “we’ll make sure to deepen discussions on realistic measures toward the achievement of a world without nuclear weapons,” Kishida told a news conference in the German city of Munich after attending a three-day G-7 summit in Schloss Elmau, also Germany.
“We want to show the world a powerful commitment never to repeat the horror of nuclear weapons” at the Hiroshima summit, he stressed.
On domestic issues, Kishida said the government will help lower electricity bills by building a framework effective in easing tight electricity supplies and curbing electricity prices.


First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs
Updated 28 June 2022

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs

First Sri Lankan pilgrims depart for Hajj despite skyrocketing travel costs
  • 960 pilgrims out of Sri Lanka’s quota of 1,585 will head to Makkah this year
  • Worshippers must pay travel costs in foreign currency amid worsening economic crisis

COLOMBO: The first group of Sri Lankans departed for Hajj on Tuesday despite earlier plans to forgo the pilgrimage as the country confronts its worst-ever economic crisis.

Last month, Sri Lanka’s umbrella association of pilgrimage organizers said that its members would suspend operations because the cost of sending worshippers to Makkah would be too high for the country to bear.

The island nation is struggling to deal with the worst financial downturn since independence in 1948 and has already defaulted on foreign debt repayments.

But earlier in June, the government announced Muslims would be allowed to perform Hajj this year provided they pay their travel costs in foreign currency.

“We are undergoing a huge economic crisis, still we want to respect the values and sentiments of the Muslims, therefore we allowed them to go even under trying circumstances,” Religious Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake told Arab News. 

“We are confident that their prayers will go a long way in getting out of this crisis.”

One of Islam’s five pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020. The Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants in 2021, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

This year, after lifting most of its coronavirus curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million domestic and foreign pilgrims.

Sri Lanka, where Muslims make up almost 10 percent of the country’s predominantly Buddhist population of 22 million, has been allocated a quota of 1,585 pilgrims to perform Hajj. But with inflation now running at 40 percent, the cost is too high for many to bear and only about 960 are expected to travel.

The pilgrimage this year costs five times more than in 2019, according to Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, who oversees Hajj logistics at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  

“Although the quota is given, the cost of the pilgrimage this year has multiplied five times more than the cost two years ago, which was only 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($1,387),” he told Arab News. 

Ansar added that most of the pilgrims from Sri Lanka this year are seniors, who fear that next time they will not meet the official 65-year age limit. 

“I was waiting for this opportunity for the past two years,” said Farzan Huzair, who was among the 50 pilgrims departing from Colombo on Tuesday. ”I was also afraid that I won’t be able to perform Hajj after age 65.”  

Huzair told Arab News that he viewed Hajj as “a golden opportunity,” adding: “I collected the money over the years to fulfill my lifelong dream.” 

Rizmi Reyal, who heads the Sri Lanka Hajj Travel Operators Association, said that he will be praying for his country. 

“All praise is due to Allah for the opportunity given for the Lankan pilgrims to perform Hajj this year,” he said.

“I am going for this year’s Hajj with my wife, solely to pray for my country, which is facing a severe economic crisis.”


UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws
Updated 28 June 2022

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws
  • People traffickers crossing the English Channel face life sentences

LONDON: People smugglers or migrants who pilot boats across the English Channel could get life sentences under new laws introduced on Tuesday as part of a crackdown on attempts to enter Britain illegally.

The updated law, part of the Nationality and Borders Act, will raise the top punishment for people smuggling from 14 years in prison to life and apply the same legal threat to migrants who pilot the boats.

The prison sentence for illegal entry to the UK will also rise from six months to four years, with the announcement coming after the arrival of more than 12,000 people in Britain so far this year, double the rate for the same period in 2021.

Britain also recently announced plans to deport people attempting to cross the Channel without asylum to Rwanda for processing before their claims can be heard in the UK, another policy designed to deter arrivals. 

The new act will create a new asylum system in Britain whereby those who apply and arrive via legal routes receive more rights than those who cross the Channel illegally.


Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan
Updated 28 June 2022

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan
  • 3,000 participants from around country expected to arrive for meeting
  • Assembly being held after former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile

KABUL: The Afghan government was preparing to host a loya jirga, a grand assembly of scholars and leaders from around the country, authorities said on Tuesday, for what would be the first such meeting since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

The loya jirga is a centuries-old institution, a forum to discuss and reach a consensus on important political issues. It will be held as the Taliban — unacknowledged by foreign governments since they took control of the country — have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is holding a large gathering of scholars based on the hopes and demands of scholars from across the country,” Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson of the Taliban government, told Arab News, adding that the Taliban government was “committed to solving the current issues in light of its facilities and limitations.”

Karimi did not confirm the exact dates of the meeting, but it was likely to begin as soon as Wednesday, according to last week’s announcement by the acting prime minister of Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund.

Preparations for loya jirga were underway in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, and the Kabul Polytechnic University, where the gathering will be held, has called off classes until July 2. Loya jirga meetings usually take several days.

The assembly will be held as a number of former administration officials have returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country after security assurances from its new authorities.

Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

Afghanistan’s former chief executive and lead peace negotiator between the previous government and the Taliban, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, also returned to the country last week, after being in India since May.

Karimi declined to comment on whether the former officials would take part in the meeting, but said, “there will be influential figures from all provinces.”

Local media reported that around 3,000 participants were expected to arrive for the meeting, as representatives from provinces have already started to depart for Kabul.

From southern Kandahar province, they started their more than 10-hour-long journey on Monday.

Javed Ahmad Tanveer, a Kandahar-based journalist, told Arab News: “One-hundred-and-seven scholars and tribal elders from Kandahar city and districts traveled to Kabul for the planned gathering.”

The meeting will be the first such gathering since the Taliban takeover, but Torek Farhadi, analyst and adviser to the former government, told Arab News that its significance would be symbolic, with no impact on solving the country’s current challenges.

He said: “Afghanistan is facing three problems right now: Monopoly of power, restrictions on women’s rights, and concerns about unequal treatment of minorities.

“An allegiance from 3,000 selected guests by the Taliban in a meeting will not fix any of these problems, nor will it confer any internal or external legitimacy to the Taliban government.”