West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors
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Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) heads of state and government pose for a group photo at the ECOWAS 61st Ordinary Session in Accra, Ghana, on July 3, 2022. (AFP)
West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors
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Guinea-Bissau's President Umaro Sissoco Embalo speaks after being elected as ECOWAS chairperson on July 3, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2022

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on military-led neighbors
  • ECOWAS had imposed sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso after their rulers plunged them into authoritian rule

ACCRA, Ghana: West African leaders attending a regional summit Sunday lifted sanctions against three neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule.
The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, although those countries remain suspended from the regional bloc, said Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, an Ivorian politician who has been serving as president of the ECOWAS Commission.
The three nations’ suspension from ECOWAS will remain in effect until elections are held, he told reporters, adding that regional leaders urge development partners to resume assistance to them.
In lifting the sanctions, leaders attending the summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, accepted a transition road map by Malian authorities who proposed scheduling a presidential election by March 2024.
ECOWAS sanctioned Mali severely in January by shutting down most commerce with the country, along with its land and air borders with other countries in the bloc. The measures have crippled Mali’s economy, raising humanitarian concerns amid widespread suffering.

The military leaders in Guinea and Burkina Faso have also proposed varying transition periods eventually leading to polls. It remains unclear when elections will be held there.
The wave of military coups began in August 2020, when Col. Assimi Goita and other soldiers overthrew Mali’s democratically elected president. Nine months later, he carried out a second coup, dismissing the country’s civilian transitional leader and assuming the presidency himself.
Mutinous soldiers deposed Guinea’s president in September 2021, and Burkina Faso leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore was ousted in a January coup. Burkina Faso authorities said Saturday that Kabore, who has been under house arrest, is now a free man.
The political upheaval came as many observers started to think that military power grabs were a thing of the past in West Africa, an increasingly restive region that also faces growing danger from Islamic extremist fighters.
Some leaders who spoke at Accra’s one-day summit urged action as armed groups expand their footprint in the region.
“These terrorist attacks are now not only focusing on the Sahel, but also expanding to the coastal states in our region,” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. “It is imperative for us to continue to implement our regional action plan against terrorism and to coordinate our various security initiatives.”
In the first half of 2022, the region recorded a total of 3,500 deaths from 1,600 extremist attacks targeting countries including Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria, according to Brou.
In Burkina Faso, where attacks blamed on Islamic extremist fighters are soaring, gunmen killed at least 55 people in the country’s northern Seno province last month.


Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained

Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained
Updated 7 sec ago

Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained

Wildfires in Portugal, Spain contained
LISBON: Massive wildfires in Portugal and Spain were largely under control Thursday after forcing thousands from their homes and destroying large swathes of land.
The fires in both countries followed punishing heatwaves and long dry spells, leaving forests parched and primed to burn.
In Portugal, over 1,000 firefighters were still deployed in the Serra da Estrela national park, but the blaze was mostly contained after days of burning out of control.
With more hot weather forecast, however, there were fears it could flare up again.
“The fire is under control, but it is not extinguished. Consolidation work will continue in the coming days,” civil protection commander Miguel Oliveira told TSF radio.
“It is always possible, and very likely, that there will be new reactivations, but we hope that they do not take on worrying proportions,” he said.
The huge fire in central Portugal was brought under control last week, only to restart again Monday.
More than 25,000 hectares (nearly 61,800 acres) of land is estimated to have been scorched by the fire in the UNESCO-listed park, home to diverse wildlife species including wildcats and lizards.
Forecasts are predicting a fresh heatwave on Saturday, the latest in a string of hot spells in Portugal this year. July was the hottest on record in nearly a century.
Interior Minister Jose Luis Carneiro said Wednesday “we will experience increased risks” of fires in the coming days due to hot and dry conditions.
In neighboring Spain, rain and lower temperatures eased pressure on firefighters who for days have been battling two major fires in the eastern Valencia region, officials said Thursday.
“Finally, some good news: the rain and the drop in temperatures have helped to contain the fire in Vall d’Ebo,” regional leader Ximo Puig tweeted late Wednesday.
He hoped the conditions would also “help stabilize the fire in Bejis” further north.
By Thursday morning, there were “few visible flames left,” Puig told Cadena Ser radio, as the emergency services said the rain had almost completely put out the fires.
The two wildfires had forced the evacuation of 3,000 people and burnt their way through some 25,000 hectares.
So far this year, Spain has been hit by 391 wildfires, which have destroyed over 283,000 hectares of land in total, the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System show.
This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which totalled over 84,000 hectares, the figures show.
In Portugal, some 92,000 hectares have burned this year, according to the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests, in the worst fires since 2017 when around 100 people were killed.
Experts say climate change driven by human activity is boosting the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.

Senior UAE and Japan ministers vow to strengthen ties beyond 50th year of relations

Senior UAE and Japan ministers vow to strengthen ties beyond 50th year of relations
Updated 39 min 18 sec ago

Senior UAE and Japan ministers vow to strengthen ties beyond 50th year of relations

Senior UAE and Japan ministers vow to strengthen ties beyond 50th year of relations

TOKYO: Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology for the United Arab Emirates and Special Envoy to Japan, talked with Japan’s Foreign Minister HAYASHI Yoshimasa on Thursday with the two ministers resolving to use the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries to enhance cooperation even further.

Al Jaber and Hayashi said they would continue to work together under the Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership Initiative (CSPI) to further strengthen cooperation in various fields and elevate the strategic partnership to the next level looking toward the next 50 years, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

Minister Al Jaber once again offered his condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. 

This article was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations

UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations
Updated 18 August 2022

UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations

UK, Pakistan reach deal over criminal deportations
  • Reciprocal agreement to expedite return of offenders from both countries

LONDON: The UK has signed a deal with Pakistan to expedite the deportation of criminals and rejected asylum seekers, The Times reported on Thursday.
Home Secretary Priti Patel pushed for the reciprocal deal, which encourages both countries to accept the return of deported criminals, including those who violate immigration law.
The UK has struggled in the past in dealing with the Pakistani government on matters related to criminal deportations. Among foreign criminals in Britain, Pakistanis make up the seventh-largest nationality.
The deal with the South Asian country follows similar agreements with Serbia, Nigeria, Albania and India.
Patel reportedly has plans to create a performance table of countries based on their willingness to cooperate over the return of foreign criminals from Britain.
The table aims to ease the burden on the UK immigration system, with “uncooperative” countries set to face increased bureaucracy and costs for travelers entering Britain.


Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights
Updated 18 August 2022

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights

Philippine official cites Saudi Arabia’s commitment to migrant workers’ rights
  • Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries
  • Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which conform to international standards

DUBAI: Philippine migrant workers secretary Susan Ople has cited Saudi Arabia’s commitment to support migrant workers’ rights, as she announced stricter measures to protect the rights and welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly domestic workers.

The official, in a statement highlighted Saudi Arabia’s “public expression of support for the UN Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which declares that the protection of migrants and migrant workers is a shared responsibility among States.”

“Even countries where the sponsorship or ‘Kafala system’ is in place have signed this UN document, signifying their support to sound migration governance and humane treatment of migrant workers, including those in vulnerable occupations such as domestic work,” Ople said in her statement.

Over 150 countries voted in favor of the UN Global Compact on Migration with the exception of five countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Poland and the United States.

Sattam Alharbi, Deputy Minister of Human Resource and Social Development, in an earlier UN forum in New York, reiterated the robust partnership between the Philippines, as the labor-sending country, and Saudi Arabia, a country of migrant labor destination.

Saudi Arabia has signed 23 agreements with labor-exporting countries, the contents of which are per international standards, to ensure a partnership based on the promotion of human rights between employees and employers.

In 2021, about 1.6 million overseas Filipinos comprised Saudi Arabia’s 13.49 million expatriate population. Saudi Arabia is the leading destination for OFWs, making about 26.6 percent of those being deployed.

“Safeguarding the rights and welfare of our migrant workers is at the heart of the DMW’s programs, services, and agreements. We will always strive to do our best amid so many challenges in the world we live in,” Ople said.

Some of the initiatives to be put in place to ensure protection of OFWs include the performance review and assessment of licensed recruitment agencies and their foreign counterparts, the issuance of country-specific employment contracts taking, stricter guidelines to only qualified and fully trained household workers are deployed abroad and white-listing of ethical recruitment agencies and foreign recruitment agencies.

Meanwhile, the names of foreign employers and recruitment agencies, both local and foreign, that have been blacklisted due to recruitment and labor violations would be published as a warning to the public.


Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21

Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21
Updated 18 August 2022

Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21

Death toll from Kabul mosque blast now at 21
  • No immediate claim of responsibility for the attack
  • Several children were reported to be among the wounded

KABUL: A bombing at a mosque in the Afghan capital of Kabul during evening prayers killed at least 21 people, including a prominent cleric, and wounded at least 33 others, eyewitnesses and police said Thursday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Wednesday night, the latest to strike the country in the year since the Taliban seized power. Several children were reported to be among the wounded.

The Daesh group’s local affiliate has stepped up attacks targeting the Taliban and civilians since the former insurgents’ takeover last August as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their withdrawal from the country. Last week, the extremists claimed responsibility for killing a prominent Taliban cleric at his religious center in Kabul.

Khalid Zadran, the spokesman for Kabul’s Taliban police chief, gave the figures for the bombing at the Siddiquiya mosque in the city’s Kher Khanna neighborhood. An eyewitness said the explosion was carried out by a suicide bomber.

The slain cleric was Mullah Amir Mohammad Kabuli, the eyewitness said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the explosion and vowed that the “perpetrators of such crimes will soon be brought to justice and will be punished.”

There were fears the casualty numbers could rise further. On Thursday morning, one witness to the blast who gave his name as Qyaamuddin said he believed as many as 25 people may have been killed in the blast.

“It was evening prayer time, and I was attending the prayer with others, when the explosion happened,” Qyaamuddin said. Some Afghans go by a single name.

AP journalists could see the blue-roofed, Sunni mosque from a nearby hillside. The Taliban parked police trucks and other vehicles at the mosque, while several men carried out one casket for a victim of the attack.

A US-led invasion toppled the previous Taliban government, which had hosted Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Since regaining power, the former insurgents have faced a crippling economic crisis as the international community, which does not recognize the Taliban government, froze funding to the country. On Thursday, the Taliban hosted a gathering of 3,000 tribal elders, religious scholars and others in Kandahar, their state-run Bakhtar News Agency reported. It wasn’t immediately clear what topics they planned to discuss.

Separately, the Taliban confirmed on Wednesday that they had captured and killed Mehdi Mujahid in western Herat province as he was trying to cross the border into Iran.

Mujahid was a former Taliban commander in the district of Balkhab in northern Sar-e-Pul province, and the only member of the minority Shiite Hazara community among the Taliban ranks.

Mujahid had turned against the Taliban over the past year, after opposing decisions made by Taliban leaders in Kabul.