Saudi modernization drive in the limelight as crown prince visits France

Saudi modernization drive in the limelight as crown prince visits France
Emmanuel Macron was the first foreign head of state to visit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia — a favor now being returned with this visit to Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 29 July 2022

Saudi modernization drive in the limelight as crown prince visits France

Saudi modernization drive in the limelight as crown prince visits France
  • As political, commercial and defense relations flourish, France is increasingly present in the Kingdom
  • Economic engagement likely to top agenda when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Macron meet

PARIS: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s first visit to Paris in 2018 had exposure as an objective. At the time, he as well as Emmanuel Macron were making their first steps as young leaders.

Much has happened in four years, and the world, as we have known it, has changed. The first objective of the crown prince in Paris is to highlight the changes and other reforms undergone by the Kingdom. 

As pointed out by Cedomir Nestorovic, professor of geopolitics at ESSEC, the important thing to assess is whether “the massive reforms and the structural change of the Saudi society driven by the crown prince have been sufficiently noticed abroad.”

One of the key reforms introduced by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the emancipation of women, allowing them to drive. (AFP file)

The crown prince can boast today a real resume in terms of reforms.

He will be able to answer critics and face them with the positive dynamics to which Saudi Arabia has committed and underline the benefits of Arab modernity. When asked about the subject, several French legislators consider this visit to be strategically significant both for the crown prince and Macron.

Energy, according to Nestorovic, is of course the other focal point. During this period of conflict between Russia and Ukraine, gas and oil have become rare and expensive, and Europe apprehends the cold of winter.

Ties between Paris and Riyadh have strengthened in recent years, as Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reforms have begun to transform the Kingdom. (AFP)

By distancing itself from the conflict, Saudi Arabia managed, at first, to play the role of arbitrator, but the recent spectacular rapprochement between Vladimir Putin and his Turkish and Iranian counterparts reminded the Gulf monarchies that the Russian card could be a double-edged sword.

Also to be considered is the issue of Western leadership. By traveling to France, the crown prince seems to return the favor to Macron, who was the first Western head of state to visit him.

It also appears that relations have greatly improved and that France is increasingly present in Saudi Arabia.

If Macron understands the change of course initiated by the Kingdom for several years now, he will probably be in a better position than the US president to discuss energy issues.

The relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia does not have to pass solely through the US. (AFP photo)

Indeed, during the meeting with Joe Biden, Saudi Arabia pledged to support the West’s energy supply. But, for the time being, the real measures have not yet been taken. Similarly, the price of oil and gas has not really been addressed.

Macron and the crown prince have their own cards to play, by showing that the relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia no longer necessarily passes solely through the United States.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

This visit, therefore, has a strategic dimension since it deals with Europe’s energy security. But it also has, as is so often the case, a political dimension. Will the two young leaders be able to understand each other better?

Will we be able to say that the new French approach in Saudi Arabia is more realistic and keeps pace with the reforms and the transformation of the Kingdom?

Given the Saudi delegation accompanying the crown prince, it seems that the “economic development” aspect will be at the heart of the talks.

Should contacts between economic leaders be as flourishing as expected, this will play a strong role in helping Saudi Arabia gain stature among nations as a major player.

Modern France: A brief history

A general view of Paris. (Shutterstock)

The French Revolution of 1789 saw France transform from a monarchy to a republic, which came under the control of Napoleon Bonaparte 10 years later. After he became emperor of the First French Empire from 1804-1814, his armies conquered large swaths of continental Europe.

Another monarchy emerged from the wake of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, and Napoleon’s nephew created the Second Empire in 1852, becoming the last monarch to rule over France. He was ousted and the monarchy was replaced by the Third French Republic in 1870.

Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, France maintained a large colonial empire across West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

France sided with the Allied Powers during the Second World War, but was split in two during the conflict, with most of the country controlled by a collaborationist, pro-German government.

The country slowly recovered after the end of the war, but long wars in its colonies in Indochina (now Vietnam) and Algeria saw it ousted from these regions, and by the 1960s, most of France’s former colonies had achieved independence.

France has been a full member of the UN Security Council and NATO since the end of the Second World War, and played a vital role in the establishment of the EU.

France has a large Muslim and Arab population owing to its former colonies in north Africa, and many of these populations suffer from social alienation and high unemployment rates.

The country has been the site of unrest and protests against the enforcement of strict secular policies and controversial bills, some of which have attempted to ban the wearing of headscarves or traditional Muslim face coverings in public.


Druze: the great survivors
How the world's most secretive faithhas endured for a thousand years




Decades on, search continues for Argentina’s ‘stolen’ children

Decades on, search continues for Argentina’s ‘stolen’ children
Updated 58 min 35 sec ago

Decades on, search continues for Argentina’s ‘stolen’ children

Decades on, search continues for Argentina’s ‘stolen’ children
  • As many as 500 children were taken from their imprisoned mothers during the country’s brutal 1976-1983 military rule
  • Most of the children were gifted to people close to the dictatorship, keen to have them raised as regime loyalists

MORON, Argentina: The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo are getting old. Every day the hopes of finding their grandchildren, who were stolen and given up for adoption under Argentina’s dictatorship, are fading.
As many as 500 children were taken from their imprisoned mothers, most of whom then disappeared under the country’s brutal 1976-1983 military rule.
Most of the children were gifted to people close to the dictatorship, keen to have them raised as regime loyalists.
Only about 130 have so far been found, and the search for the others — now adults in their 40s and 50s — continues.
The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, or Madres de Plaza de Mayo, is an organization founded in 1977 by women trying to find their arrested daughters — and the babies they bore in captivity.
These “abuelas” take their name from the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires where brave women held protests to demand information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. They did so in vain.
As the original grandmothers get older, the organization has since been populated by a younger generation of researchers and councillors.
The rights body holds regular public meetings in the hopes of reaching people who may have questions about who they are — questions that can be difficult to confront — and convincing them to come forward.
Those who successfully go through a verification process can have their stolen identities “restituted.”
But it is an increasingly difficult endeavor. As time goes on, those who think they may be the children of disappeared women are ever less likely to come forward.
“They come to us in various stages of doubt, some have carried the burden in silence for 20 years, sometimes more, without talking to anyone — not even their spouse,” Laura Rodriguez, coordinator of the Grandmothers’ identity project told AFP.
Doubts can be triggered by a lack of physical resemblance to their parents, the absence of photos of their mothers while pregnant, or holes in the family history.
Some make several appointments for a consultation, but never show up.
Since June 2019, there have been no new restitutions, due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic putting the brakes on the Grandmothers’ activities — research and interviews with potential victims.
Six of the original grandmothers died during the pandemic.

Leap into the unknown
At Moron, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Buenos Aires, six outreach meetings are planned by the Grandmothers and Argentina’s human rights ombudsman for the coming weeks.
But taking that first step is not easy.
“It is a leap into the unknown,” said Guillermo Amarilla Molfino, once known as “Grandson No 98” who said it took him years to seek help and then go through the restitution process.
He was reunited with his brothers, and has acted as an adviser to the Grandmothers outreach team.
“There are many fears, there is guilt, this guilt that makes us stay quiet: ‘Why do I doubt my parents, why do I betray those who gave me food, a roof over my head?’” he remembers of his own experience.
“Silence can become an ally with which one lives,” added Molfino. And finally accepting you are not who you thought you were can “feel like handing over your life” to someone else.
It is a difficult task for the researchers too, said Luciano Lahiteau, one of the Grandmothers team.
One needs to carefully balance an empathetic shoulder, he explained, with the “duty, not necessarily pleasant, of... picking out the reliable information from what a person tells us.”

DNA matching
Lahiteau and other researchers take the volunteers’ stories and documentation, when available, and check these against civil and hospital registers, and evidence gathered from military trials.
If evidence for a match turns up, DNA can be cross-checked with a data bank holding genetic information on many, though not all, of the families searching for a missing grandchild.
When a match is found, “it is like winning the lottery!” said Rodgriguez.
But more often than not, hopes are dashed.
“We receive a lot of people who are not children of disappeared” women, said Rodriguez.
Yet, even for those who go through the process in vain, “it does a lot for identity,” said Lahiteau.
“It makes it possible to recognize: ‘OK, I am someone who has doubts about my identity; I have the right to try and find out where I come from,” he explained.
“Really, every person comes out of the process better than they entered,” added Rodriguez.

At least 15 migrants dead in shipwreck off Greek island Lesbos

At least 15 migrants dead in shipwreck off Greek island Lesbos
Updated 06 October 2022

At least 15 migrants dead in shipwreck off Greek island Lesbos

At least 15 migrants dead in shipwreck off Greek island Lesbos
  • The Greek coast guard said 5 were rescued and 20 were still missing

ATHENS, Greece: At least 15 people died when their vessel sank off the Greek island of Lesbos in the central Aegean Sea early on Thursday, in the second maritime disaster involving migrants since Wednesday, the country’s coast guard said.
The sunken boat was carrying about 40 people, the coast guard said, citing five people that have been rescued so far. There were 15 bodies recovered, the agency said. That leaves about 20 people missing. The boat sank east of Lesbos, which lies close to Turkey’s coast.
A Greek coast guard vessel and an air force helicopter were rushing to conduct a search and rescue with strong winds blowing in the area.
A search was being conducted along the wider coast of Lesbos for migrants who may have made it to the shores. Three were found trapped in a remote area.
In an earlier incident, Greek authorities rescued 30 migrants whose boat sank after hitting a rocky area in stormy waters near the island of Kythira in southern Greece on Wednesday.  



North Korea launches more missiles as US redeploys carrier

North Korea launches more missiles as US redeploys carrier
Updated 06 October 2022

North Korea launches more missiles as US redeploys carrier

North Korea launches more missiles as US redeploys carrier
  • The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters Thursday after the United States redeployed an aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula in response to Pyongyang’s previous launch of a nuclear-capable missile over Japan.
The latest missile launches suggest North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is determined to continue with weapons tests aimed at boosting his nuclear arsenal in defiance of international sanctions. Many experts say Kim’s goal is to eventually win US recognition as a legitimate nuclear state and the lifting of those sanctions, though the international community has shown no sign of allowing that to happen.
The latest missiles were launched 22 minutes apart from the North’s capital region and landed between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The first missile flew 350 kilometers (217 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of 80 kilometers (50 miles) and the second flew 800 kilometers (497 miles) on an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles).
The flight details were similar to Japanese assessments announced by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, who confirmed that the missiles didn’t reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
He added that the second missile was possibly launched on an “irregular” trajectory. It is a term that has been previously used to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of evading missile defenses.
South Korea’s military said it has boosted its surveillance posture and maintains readiness in close coordination with the United States. The US Indo Pacific Command said the launches didn’t pose an immediate threat to United States or its allies, but still highlighted the “destabilizing impact” of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was expected to hold a telephone call with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol over the North Korean threat later Thursday, said the North’s continued launches were “absolutely intolerable.”
Yoon’s office said his National Security Director Kim Sung-han discussed the launch at an emergency security meeting where members discussed plans to prepare for further North Korean hostilities, including military provocations.
The launches were North Korea’s sixth round of weapons tests in less than two weeks, adding to a record number of missile launches this year that has prompted condemnation from the United States and other countries. South Korean officials the North may up the ante soon by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile or conducting its first nuclear test explosion since 2017 and seventh overall, escalating an old pattern of heightening tensions before trying to wrest outside concessions.
On Tuesday, North Korea staged its most provocative weapons demonstration since 2017, firing an intermediate-range missile over Japan, forcing the Japanese government to issue evacuation alerts and halt trains.
Experts said the weapon was likely a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
Other weapons tested earlier included Iskander-like missiles and other ballistic weapons designed to strike key targets in South Korea, including US military bases there.
Thursday’s launches came as the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan returned to waters east of South Korea in what South Korea’s military called an attempt to demonstrate the allies’ “firm will” to counter North’s continued provocations and threats.
The carrier was in the area last week as part of drills between South Korea and the United States and the allies’ other training involving Japan. North Korea considers such US-led drills near the peninsula as an invasion rehearsal and views training involving a US carrier more provocative.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that the redeployment of the Reagan strike group poses “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity.” The ministry said it strongly condemns US-led efforts at the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions on the North over its recent missile testing, which it described as a “just counteraction” to joint US-South Korean drills.
After the North’s intermediate-range missile launch, the United States and South Korea also carried out their own live-fire drills that have so far involved land-to-land ballistic missiles and precision-guided bombs dropped from fighter jets.
But one of the tit-for-tat launches nearly caused catastrophe early Wednesday when a malfunctioning South Korean Hyumoo-2 missile flipped shortly after liftoff and crashed into the ground at an air force base in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung. South Korea’s military said no one was hurt and civilian facilities weren’t affected.
After Tuesday’s North Korean launch, the United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. But the session Wednesday ended with no consensus, underscoring a divide among the council’s permanent members that has deepened over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Russia and China during the meeting insisted to fellow Security Council members that US-led military exercises in the region had provoked North Korea into acting. The United States and its allies expressed concern that the the council’s inability to reach consensus on North Korea’s record number of missile launches this year was emboldening North Korea and undermining the authority of the United Nations’ most powerful body.
North Korea has fired nearly 40 ballistic missiles over more than 20 different launch events this year, using the stalled diplomacy with the United States and Russia’s war on Ukraine as a window to speed up arms development.

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut
Updated 06 October 2022

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut

DHAKA: Bangladeshi officials were investigating on Wednesday why power was cut to about three quarters of the country, halting the vital garment sector and telecommunications services for about 10 hours.

Electricity was fully restored just before midnight on Tuesday, government officials said.

“We suspect a transmission line experienced a technical glitch that led to a cascade of failures throughout the national power grid,” Mohammad Hossain, the top official at the government’s power cell division, told Reuters.

The grid malfunctioned at around 2 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Tuesday, leading to blackouts across up to 80 percent of the country.

Telecoms services and work in the lucrative export-oriented garment industry, which supplies to clients such as Gap Inc., H&M, and Zara, ground to a halt.

Grid failures generally happen when there is a big mismatch between demand and supply, sometimes due to unexpected or sudden changes in power use patterns.

Power division secretary Habibur Rahman said officials were investigating the possibility that the failure originated in a substation near Ghorashal, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the capital, Dhaka.

“Our investigation team is in Ghorashal now. Once we get the report from them, we’ll know what caused it,” Rahman said.

Bangladesh’s recent impressive economic growth has been threatened by power shortages since the government suspended operations of all diesel-run power plants to reduce costs for imports as prices have soared.

The diesel-run power plants produced about 6 percent of Bangladesh’s power generation, so their shutdowns cut output by up to 1500 megawatts.

Earlier this month, Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said that the situation is so serious that garment factories are without power now for around four to 10 hours a day. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter after China, and it earns more than 80 percent of its total foreign currency from exports of garment products each year.

Last month, the Asian Development Bank said in a report that Bangladesh’s economic growth would slow to 6.6 percent from its previous forecast of 7.1 percent in the current fiscal year.

Weaker consumer spending due to sluggish export demand, domestic manufacturing constraints and other factors are behind the slowdown, it said.

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’
Updated 06 October 2022

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

STOCKHOLM: Three scientists were jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for developing a way of “snapping molecules together” that can be used to explore cells, map DNA and design drugs that can target diseases such as cancer more precisely.
Americans Carolyn R. Bertozzi and K. Barry Sharpless, and Danish scientist Morten Meldal were cited for their work on click chemistry that works “sort of like molecular Lego.”
“It’s all about snapping molecules together,” said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that announced the winners at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Sharpless, 81, who previously won a Nobel in 2001 and is now the fifth person to receive the prize twice, first proposed the idea of connecting molecules using chemical “buckles” around the turn of the millennium, Aqvist said.
“The problem was to find good chemical buckles,” he said. “They have to react with each other easily and specifically.”
Meldal, 68, based at the University of Copenhagen, and Sharpless, who is affiliated with Scripps Research in California, independently found the first such candidates that would easily snap together with each other but not with other molecules, leading to applications in the manufacture of medicines and polymers.
Bertozzi, 55, who is based at Stanford University “took click chemistry to a new level,” the Nobel panel said, by finding a way to make the process work inside living organisms without disrupting them.
The goal is “doing chemistry inside human patients to make sure that drugs go to the right place and stay away from the wrong place,” she said at a news conference following the announcement.

The award was a shock, she said. “I’m still not entirely positive that it’s real, but it’s getting realer by the minute.”
Later, speaking to The Associated Press by Zoom, Bertozzi said one of the first people she called after being awakened by the call around 2 a.m. was her father, William Bertozzi, a retired physicist and night owl, who was still awake watching TV.
“Dad, turn down the TV, I have something to tell you,” she said she told him. After she assured him nothing was wrong, he guessed the news. “You won it, didn’t you?”
One of three daughters, Bertozzi said she was “fortunate because I grew up with parents that were very supportive, evangelical almost, about having their girls participate in the sciences.”
Bertozzi, who is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press’ Health and Science Department, said she was grateful for the energy and enthusiasm that a Nobel Prize win will inject into the field.
Meldal said he received the call from the Nobel panel about half an hour before the public announcement. “They ... told me not to tell anyone,” he told the AP, adding that he just sat in his office, shaking a bit.
Meldal started out as an engineer, “but I wanted to understand the world so I thought chemistry would give me the solutions.”
Jon Lorsch, director of the US National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which supports the work of Bertozzi and Sharpless, described click chemistry as “sort of like molecular Lego — you have a group on one molecule that specifically attaches to a group on another molecule,” like Lego clicking together.
“That makes it possible to attach molecules in very specific pre-defined ways,” he said, and gives scientists a very precise tool to build complex new molecules for use in drugs, synthetic materials and other uses.
However, the first iteration of click chemistry could not be used with living cells. “The original click chemistry used copper as a catalyst to join molecules,” Lorsch said. “But the trouble is that copper is toxic to most living systems at higher concentrations.”
Bertozzi then devised a way to jumpstart the reactions without copper or other toxic solvents — broadening the applications to human and animal tissues.
“Being able to work without dangerous solvents, opened many new doors — it enabled scientists to work on new types of reactions that actually take place within the human body,” said Angela Wilson, president of the American Chemical Society.
That has allowed scientists to attach dyes to cancer cells to track their movements and analyze how they differ from healthy tissue.
Wilson believes the advances of this year’s Nobel laureates “will allow more individualized medicine in the future because we can really track things much better within the human body.”
Sharpless credited his passion for looking for the impossible and not accepting limits for helping him stumble upon his discoveries.
“I’m just really lucky to have a photographic memory and love the periodic table,” he told a virtual news conference from his home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla. “Prizes aren’t what I’m doing science for. ... I have to do it. It’s kind of a compulsion,”
M.G. Finn, a chemist now at Georgia Tech who collaborated with Sharpless on his Nobel-winning work, said click chemistry’s use in biology and drug development was still “at its infancy,” with more exciting discoveries to come.
Meldal agreed.
It’s “very much an opportunity ... when you get this kind of award to argue for our young people to take chemistry as a discipline,” he said at a news conference in Copenhagen. “Chemistry is the solution to many of our challenges.”
Last year’s prize was awarded to scientists Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan for finding an environmentally cleaner way to build molecules that the Nobel panel said is “already benefiting humankind greatly.”
A week of Nobel Prize announcements kicked off Monday with Swedish scientist Svante Paabo receiving the award in medicine for unlocking secrets of Neanderthal DNA that provided key insights into our immune system.
Three scientists won the prize in physics Tuesday. Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger showed that tiny particles can retain a connection with each other even when separated, a phenomenon that can be used for specialized computing and to encrypt information.
The awards continue with literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday and the economics award on Monday.
The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly $900,000) and will be handed out on Dec. 10. The money comes from a bequest left by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, in 1895.