Greek ambassador highlights Saudi-Greece ties’ track record of durability

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Updated 27 July 2022

Greek ambassador highlights Saudi-Greece ties’ track record of durability

Greek ambassador highlights Saudi-Greece ties’ track record of durability
  • Alexis Konstantopoulos says potential for future partnership between the two countries is ‘ground-breaking’
  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held talks with Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis on his arrival in Athens on Tuesday

RIYADH: Alexis Konstantopoulos, Greece’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has highlighted the enduring quality of relations between the two countries, and underlined the “ground-breaking” potential for future partnership.

“This is a long-term relationship,” Konstantopoulos, who is also his country’s ambassador to Oman and Yemen, told Arab News during an exclusive interview.

“We want to do more together to be able to bring more of Greek knowhow and Greek excellence to Saudi Arabia, and of course Saudi knowhow and excellence also to Greece and to the wider region in Europe,” he said.

The Kingdom has maintained a strong partnership with Greece that has been enriched over the years by political, economic, defense and cultural initiatives.

Konstantopoulos hopes that the next step in strengthening bilateral relations would be the widening of cooperation in culture and tourism.

“What I hope to accomplish, first of all, is bringing our two countries, our two governments, our two leaders, and our two peoples closer together. I think it’s very important that we get to understand each other better and further promote our cooperation,” he said.

“I think our relations are ground-breaking. Both our countries have principle-based international rules. We want to abide by international rules. We adhere to the UN Charter, to UN (Security) Council resolutions, and to the Law of the Sea, to respect for the integrity and sovereignty of other countries,” he added.

“We consider mutual respect and the principle of friendly neighborly relations (as) extremely important. We see eye to eye on many things, on international issues.”

Konstantopoulos expressed the potential for innovative cultural exchanges and partnerships. A major component of his job is to find new ways to connect the two countries through various sectors under Vision 2030, a modernization program launched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016.

“Both our countries are ancient civilizations with very profound and old cultures, and there’s lots to do together on that,” Konstantopoulos said.

Outside of its mountainous and island landscapes, Greece is known for its theater, architecture, museums, and cultural landmarks that welcome tourists from around the world.

Tourism is an important sector for both countries, and the ambassador believes that there is great potential for collaboration in that sector.

“We have deep-rooted and ancient civilizations and tourism, because people-to-people relations are extremely important and Greece is a very touristic country,” Konstantopoulos said.

“On culture, hopefully, we’ll be able to do ground-breaking things together. We can explore the possibilities to do archaeological excavations and the setting up of museums together.”

Konstantopoulos said shipping is another area where both countries can benefit from cooperation.

He recalled that in the 1990s, there were more than 10,000 Greeks living and working in Saudi Arabia.

“I think our bilateral relations are really deeply rooted, because Greece has been present in the Kingdom since the 1960s,” he said.

“Greek companies were among the first … to come here to the Kingdom to contribute to the construction of this country.

“We have great companies that are willing to work within Saudi Arabia and to contribute to Vision 2030, and to the way this vision is transforming the country.”

The next step in strengthening diplomatic ties comes on Tuesday, with the crown prince’s visit to Greece and his meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

King Salman met with Mitsotakis at the Royal Court in Riyadh in 2020, and the crown prince welcomed the Greek leader in the Saudi capital in 2021 to discuss ways to enhance coordination in various fields.

“We’d like this visit to enhance our bilateral relations even more (to make it) really forward looking. I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” Konstantopoulos said.

“There’s much more we can do together to live up to the level of our mutual ambition. And that’s what we’re currently working on, to be able to do more together, not only on the political and defense side but also on investment, people-to-people and cultural side.”

Konstantopoulos has lived in Saudi Arabia since 2016, when he served as EU deputy ambassador to the Kingdom before becoming the Greek ambassador.

In his six years in Saudi Arabia, he has witnessed first-hand the growth and diversification of the once oil-reliant economy and investment through Vision 2030.

“My experience here in Saudi Arabia (has been) amazing. It’s great. It’s been so interesting. At the same time, it’s so intellectually enticing just to be able to live in Saudi Arabia during this time of changes and when society is evolving very rapidly.

Things are moving fast. It has a young and vibrant population who are taking over. It’s thrilling,” he said.

“I think I’m very lucky to be able to serve here during this period because it’s a historic one. Saudi Arabia is a fast-growing country with lots of perspectives and lots of different things happening here.”




A brief history of modern Greece

Evzoni presidential guards walking in front of the parliament of Greece in Athens. (AFP)


The Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821, led to the creation of the modern Greek state, which was recognized by the Ottomans in 1829 and by the international community in 1830.

Greece’s territory grew between 1864 and 1947, and in 1981 it became a full member of the European Community, enhancing the stability of the country’s democracy and establishing it as a critical state in the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean.

Barely two centuries after the war of independence, Greece is viewed as a pillar of stability and prosperity for the wider region of southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, and an EU member state. In recent years, Greece has instituted key infrastructural upgrades, including the digital state and new labor framework, transforming itself into a very competitive investment destination. Nonetheless, Greece has faced its share of internal and external crises.

For most of its modern history it has been deeply polarized, financially dependent and indebted to foreign creditors, and facing external threats. The debt crisis of 2009 onward brought the nation to the very brink of crashing out of the eurozone.

Greece was in the process of a slow return to growth after years of austerity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. This coincided with another turbulent period in Greek-Turkish relations.

The two states have a long and troubled history. Indeed, modern Turkey was established on the back of a victory against Greek forces in the aftermath of the First World War. The participation of both states in NATO since 1952 has not eased relations since they each have outstanding issues concerning the Aegean Sea and Cyprus. The two disagree on the boundaries of their territorial waters and, in turn, disagree on the extent of their exclusive economic zones.


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North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan

North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan
Updated 04 October 2022

North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan

North Korea fires mid-range ballistic missile that flies over Japan

SEOUL: North Korea fired a mid-range ballistic missile Tuesday which flew over Japan, Seoul and Tokyo said, a significant escalation as Pyongyang ramps up its record-breaking weapons-testing blitz.
The last time North Korea fired a missile over Japan was reportedly in 2017, at the height of a period of “fire and fury” when Pyongyang’s leader Kim Jong Un traded insults with then-US president Donald Trump.
South Korea’s military said it had “detected one suspected medium-range ballistic missile that was launched from Mupyong-ri area of Jagang Province at around 7:23 am (22:23 GMT) today and passed over Japan in the eastern direction.”
In a statement, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was “maintaining a full readiness posture and closely cooperating with the United States while strengthening surveillance and vigilance.”
Tokyo also confirmed the launch of a suspected ballistic missile by Pyongyang, activating the country’s missile alert warning system and issuing evacuation warnings.
“A ballistic missile is believed to have passed over our country and fallen in the Pacific Ocean. This is an act of violence following recent repeated launches of ballistic missiles. We strongly condemn this,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
With talks long-stalled, nuclear-armed North Korea has doubled down on Kim’s military modernization plans this year, testing a string of banned weaponry, including an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.
Last week, Pyongyang fired short-range ballistic missiles on four occasions, including just hours after US Vice President Kamala Harris flew out of Seoul.
The latest bout of intense weapons testing by Pyongyang comes as Seoul, Tokyo and Washington ramp up joint military drills to counter growing threats from the North.
South Korea, Japan and the United States staged anti-submarine drills Friday — the first in five years — just days after Washington and Seoul’s navies conducted large-scale exercises in waters off the peninsula.
Such drills infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
Harris toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula while on a trip that aimed to underscore her country’s “ironclad” commitment to South Korea’s defense against the North.
Washington has stationed about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the North.
“If Pyongyang has fired a missile over Japan, that would represent a significant escalation over its recent provocations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle,” he said.
“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outrun South Korea in an arms race and drive wedges among US allies,” he added.
South Korean and US officials have also been warning for months that Kim was preparing to conduct another nuclear test.
The officials said they believed this could happen soon after China’s upcoming party congress on October 16.
North Korea, which is under multiple UN sanctions for its weapons programs, typically seeks to maximize the geopolitical impact of its tests with careful timing.
The isolated country has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017.

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions
Updated 03 October 2022

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions

King Charles III, Queen Consort host members of UK’s South Asian community in recognition of contributions
  • The king has been involved with British Asian communities for many years through his work with the British Asian Trust
  • He founded the trust in 2007 with a group of British Asian business leaders

LONDON: King Charles III and his wife Camilla, the queen consort, hosted guests of South Asian heritage in Edinburgh on Monday in recognition of their contributions to British society.

The royals welcomed around 300 people at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh to recognise the contribution that South Asian communities in the UK have made to the National Health Service, arts, media, education, business and the armed forces.

The king has been involved with British Asian communities for many years through his work with the British Asian Trust which he founded in 2007 with a group of British Asian business leaders.

The royal couple are visiting Scotland as part of their first joint public engagement since the end of the royal mourning period to remember Queen Elizabeth II.

They were visiting to formally give city status to Dunfermline, the birthplace of King Charles I.

Dunfermline was among eight towns that won city status as part of Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year to mark Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne.

Typhoon havoc triggers calls for urgent climate action in Philippines

Typhoon havoc triggers calls for urgent climate action in Philippines
Updated 03 October 2022

Typhoon havoc triggers calls for urgent climate action in Philippines

Typhoon havoc triggers calls for urgent climate action in Philippines
  • Typhoon Noru was the most powerful cyclone to hit the country this year
  • Climate-related disasters have been battering the Philippines with growing intensity

MANILA: When a massive typhoon barreled through the Philippines last month, it left behind casualties and destruction, triggering calls for urgent climate action in the cyclone-prone country, where extreme weather events are on the rise.

Super Typhoon Noru, locally named Karding, made landfall on the evening of Sept. 25, sweeping the densely populated island of Luzon and plunging communities in the country’s north underwater.

At least 12 people were killed and over 1 million affected by Noru, according to disaster response officials, who estimate that the landfall caused damages of nearly $51 million, leaving farmland flattened just before the harvest season.

Poor rural communities have increasingly borne the brunt of climate-related disasters, which have battered the Philippines with growing frequency over recent years.

“The stormy season is far from over. We expect our farmers and fisherfolk to face more problems this year from climate change-intensified typhoons,” the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said in a statement.

“We need to improve climate change adaptation mechanisms,” the network’s national coordinator Jon Bonifacio told Arab News. “Typhoon Noru is another wake-up call that we really need to act on the climate crisis.”

With winds of up to 240 kph and heavy rainfall, Noru quickly turned into the most powerful cyclone to hit the Philippines this year.

Emily Padilla, former agriculture undersecretary, who shared on social media photos from devastated areas, wrote after the landfall that it had brought flashbacks of the deadly Typhoon Santi, which struck Luzon in 2013.

“Trembling in fear last night, we had to cling on to God, and work on defending our only sanctuary, when it was being pounded by roaring Karding,” she said on Facebook. “Climate change is real. We must collectively work to reverse the impending death of earth, and so humankind.”

The typhoon had evolved from a tropical storm into a Category 5 typhoon over two days, which was one of the fastest such rapid intensifications ever recorded in the Pacific basin.

“This trend is caused by the effects of climate change, specifically the rising temperatures of the sea surface,” Greenpeace Southeast Asia consultant Jefferson Chua told Arab News.

“More extreme weather events will be coming our way. We are one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, and that won’t stop.”

An archipelago of more than 7,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is highly vulnerable to cyclones. Each year, about 20 typhoons, equivalent to 25 percent of the global occurrence, enter the country and about half of them wreak havoc in its northern parts.

With the changing climate and global warming, the intensity of devastating incidents has increased. Seven of the 11 strongest landfalls in recorded history have occurred since 2006.

Addressing climate change has been high on the agenda of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, who during the UN General Assembly in New York last week said that developing countries had suffered the most from climate change effects.

“This injustice must be corrected and those who need to do more must act now,” he said. “Those who are least responsible suffer the most. The Philippines, for example, is a net carbon sink, we absorb (more) carbon dioxide than we emit. And yet, we are the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change.”

But as Marcos addressed UNGA, Greenpeace criticized him for not doing enough on the national level to help avert the disastrous effects of the changing climate, which it said will “heavily impact food security, as well as other fundamental issues such as water, energy, health and poverty alleviation.”

Mitigating the impacts of the changing climate should, according to Greenpeace, start with energy transition efforts in the country, which derives most of its electricity generation from coal.

“The introduction of renewable energy into our energy mix, and the gradual and eventual phaseout from fossil fuels, is one of the biggest solutions that governments can implement in the incoming climate crisis. What’s important here to note is that these are not being done at the level of urgency that we need,” Chua said.

Indonesia sets up team to probe deadly football stampede

Indonesia sets up team to probe deadly football stampede
Updated 03 October 2022

Indonesia sets up team to probe deadly football stampede

Indonesia sets up team to probe deadly football stampede
  • At least 125 people were killed in stampede after weekend match
  • Human rights commission questions use of tear gas to control crowd

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government has set up an independent team to investigate the deadly crush at a football stadium that killed at least 125 people over the weekend, the country’s chief security minister said on Monday.

The stampede in Malang, East Java, on Saturday occurred after frustrated fans from the losing home team, Arema football club, ran onto the pitch at the end of the match. Authorities said anarchy ensued, prompting officers to fire tear gas in an attempt to control the crowd.

Footage circulated on social media showed scuffling between football fans and officers in riot gear, while others rushed toward an exit gate and scaled a fence to flee the clouds of tear gas.

Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, announced on Monday the formation of a 13-member independent fact-finding team to probe the disaster.

“The team will work within two weeks to one month at the latest, and the result of the team’s investigation and its recommendations will be handed over to the president,” Mahfud told a news conference.

Mahfud will lead the team that also includes Sports Minister Zainudin Amali, journalist Anton Sanjoyo from news daily Kompas, sports expert Akmal Marhali, and former commissioner of the Indonesia Anti-Corruption Commission Laode M. Syarif.

President Joko Widodo also instructed the Indonesian police and army to launch an internal probe into their officers’ conduct in Malang, Mahfud added, with legal actions expected against those who had “acted excessively and beyond their authority.”

The Football Association of Indonesia has suspended all games in the Indonesian top league BRI Liga 1 until the investigation has been completed.

Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, known as Komnas HAM, has also launched its own probe into the tragedy.

“To look into whatever happened in Kanjuruhan, including the use of tear gas, that’s our agenda in Malang,” Komnas HAM commissioner, Choirul Anam, told a press briefing. “This incident must not happen again.”

The Indonesian stadium disaster was one of the worst in the history of football and the deadliest in more than half a century. In 1964, 328 people were left dead after violence broke out at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru.

More than 30 children, whose ages range from three to 17, were among the 125 Indonesian victims, according to a Reuters report quoting an official at the women’s empowerment and child protection ministry.

Arema FC president, Gilang Widya Pramana, apologized to the victims of the stampede on Monday, and said he was ready to take “full responsibility” for the disaster. “Lives are more precious than soccer,” he said at a news conference.

Mohamad Kusnaeni, an Indonesian sports expert, said the tragedy should serve as a uniting moment for the country’s football community.

“We should unite to improve all our shortcomings in organizing the national football competition,” he told Arab News.

Saturday’s incident cast a spotlight on Indonesia’s troubled football history, which in the past had involved violent rivalries. Previous incidents, however, have not been anywhere near as deadly. And with no visiting fans allowed in the stadium on the weekend, many Indonesians are questioning the security approach that day.

The world’s governing body of football, FIFA, has asked Indonesian football authorities for a report on the incident. According to its safety regulations, firearms or “crowd control gas” should not be used at matches.

With Indonesia set to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup next year, Kusnaeni said the issue of tear gas use must be “seriously anticipated.”

“When it comes to the use of tear gas, it is regrettable that it occurred at a sports competition. Especially when it is strictly prohibited for football games,” he added.

Two arrested after fatal stabbing outside mosque in central England

Two arrested after fatal stabbing outside mosque in central England
Updated 03 October 2022

Two arrested after fatal stabbing outside mosque in central England

Two arrested after fatal stabbing outside mosque in central England
  • Armed police detained a 56-year-old man near the scene

LONDON: Two men were arrested on suspicion of murder after a stabbing outside a mosque in the English city of Coventry on Sunday.

Armed police detained a 56-year-old man near the scene, and a 27-year-old second suspect was arrested early on Monday.

West Midlands Police responded to reports of a large group of men fighting, some armed with knives outside the Jamiah Masjid and Institute in the city, where they found two people injured.

One of the wounded, a 52-year-old man, died from his injuries a few hours later.

“We’ve made some really good early progress in this investigation, but there is still a lot of work to be done in identifying all of those involved in what happened last night,” Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards told the media.

“Officers are speaking with residents and community leaders to offer reassurance, and patrols in the area will be stepped up.”

A police statement said the force was treating the murder as an “isolated incident,” and have ruled out the killing being linked to wider sectarian unrest which has rocked English cities across the Midlands in recent weeks.

Following violence and arrests in Leicester and Smethwick last month, faith leaders in the UK warned that clashes between groups of Hindus and Muslims could spread across the country.