Italy defends blocking migrants, sending message to EU

Italy defends blocking migrants, sending message to EU
This photo taken overnight on Sunday and obtained from Italian news agency Ansa, shows migrants disembarking from the rescue ship “Humanity 1” of German organization SOS Humanity, in Catania, Sicily. (AFP)
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Updated 09 November 2022

Italy defends blocking migrants, sending message to EU

Italy defends blocking migrants, sending message to EU
  • Meloni was speaking to lawmakers from her far-right Brothers of Italy party
  • Rome allowed the Geo Barents and Humanity 1 ships to dock in Sicily at the weekend and disembark around 500 migrants

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday defended allowing only the most vulnerable migrants to disembark from rescue ships, saying they are “not shipwrecked but migrants,” reports said.
She also said the decision by health authorities to subsequently let hundreds of people off two charity vessels docked in Sicily was “bizarre,” according to media reports from a closed-door meeting.
Meloni was speaking to lawmakers from her far-right Brothers of Italy party, amid fierce criticism and a row with France over her hard-right government’s treatment of migrants rescued by charity ships from the central Mediterranean.
“The Italian government is complying with all international conventions,” she said, according to the ANSA news agency.
The recent ban on two NGO ships “stopping in Italian waters, beyond the time necessary for rescue operations and to help fragile people, is justified and legitimate,” Meloni said.
“On board these ships there are not shipwrecked (people) but migrants.”
Rome allowed the Geo Barents and Humanity 1 ships to dock in Sicily at the weekend and disembark around 500 migrants, but another 250 were blocked from landing, until finally being let off late Tuesday.
Meloni said the decision was taken by health authorities, “declaring them fragile on the basis of possible risks of psychological problems,” a choice “we found bizarre,” according to ANSA.
Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in an interview published Wednesday that Italy’s new approach is a signal to other European Union nations to better share the management of migrants crossing from North Africa.
He highlighted France’s offer of a port of safety for one rescue ship that had been off Italy as proof the strategy was working — even though Paris has not confirmed such an offer, and has sharply criticized Rome’s approach.
In an interview with regional journalists, Tajani was asked if the selective disembarkation was a signal, replying: “Indeed it was.
French “President (Emmanuel) Macron’s decision to open the port of Marseille to the Ocean Viking shows that something is moving.
“We are grateful to France which has shown its willingness to take a decision that reduces the pressure on Italy, demonstrating that it understands the need for a firmly supportive approach among EU countries.”
Meloni’s office late Tuesday thanked France for taking in the Ocean Viking, which has 234 people on board and had been waiting off Sicily for days for permission to disembark them.
French government spokesman Olivier Veran said Wednesday it remained in waters under Italian responsibility, saying Rome’s refusal to take in the ship was “unacceptable.”
Tajani said he would raise the issue of immigration at a meeting of EU ministers next week.
Rome wanted “an agreement to establish, on the basis of population, how migrants with a right to asylum are relocated to various countries.”
Rome is also pressing for EU deals with North African countries to stop migrants leaving there and “stop traffickers, destroying the engines of their boats,” he said.


Pakistan blames 'security lapse' for mosque blast, 100 dead

Pakistan blames 'security lapse' for mosque blast, 100 dead
Updated 15 sec ago

Pakistan blames 'security lapse' for mosque blast, 100 dead

Pakistan blames 'security lapse' for mosque blast, 100 dead
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Pakistani authorities scrambled Tuesday to determine how a suicide bomber was able to carry out one of the country’s deadliest militant attacks in years, unleashing an explosion in a crowded mosque inside a highly secured police compound in the city of Peshawar. The death toll from the blast climbed to 100.
Monday morning's bombing, which left at least 225 wounded, raised alarm among officials over a major security breach at a time when the Pakistani Taliban, the main anti-government militant group, has stepped up attacks, particularly targeting the police and the military.
Who carried out the bombing was unclear. A commander from the Pakistani Taliban, known by the acronym TTP, claimed responsibility, but a spokesman for the group later distanced the TTP from the carnage, saying it was not its policy to attack mosques.
More than 300 worshippers were praying in the Sunni mosque, with more approaching, when the bomber set off his explosives vest, officials said. The blast blew off part of the roof, and what was left caved in, injuring many more, according to Zafar Khan, a police officer.
Rescuers worked through the night and into Tuesday morning, removing mounds of debris to reach worshippers still trapped under the rubble. The death toll rose as more bodies were found and several of the critically injured died, said Mohammad Asim, a government hospital spokesman in Peshawar.
Most of the victims were police officers, he said.
Counter-terrorism police are investigating how the bomber was able to reach the mosque, which is inside a walled-off police headquarters compound called Police Lines. The compound is located in a heavily security district of Peshawar that includes other government buildings.
“Yes, it was a security lapse,” said Ghulam Ali, the provincial governor in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.
Akhtar Ali Shah, a former regional interior secretary once based in Peshawar, said it “was not a spur of the moment attack.”
“It was the handiwork of a well-organized group,” he told The Associated Press. He said those behind the attack must have had inside help to gain access to the compound and probably entered it several times for reconnaissance or even to plant explosives ahead of time.
“It’s not a security lapse, it’s a security breach,” he said. “From all entry points, there are multiple layers of security you have to cross” with ID checks.
Talat Masood, a retired army general and senior security analyst said Monday’s suicide bombing showed “negligence.”
“When we know that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is active, and when we know that they have threatened to carry out attacks, there should have been more security at the police compound in Peshawar,” he told the AP, using the official name of the Pakistani Taliban.
The military’s media wing declined an Associated Press interview request for the chief of army staff. Asim Munir, who took office in November, has yet to do any media appearances.
Kamran Bangash, a provincial secretary-general with the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, called for an investigation and blamed the instability on the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
The government “has failed to improve the economy and law and order situation, and it should resign to pave the way for snap parliamentary elections,” he said. The party’s leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, denounced the attack.
The bombing comes as Pakistan is contending with political and economic crises from a disputed election and from unprecedented floods last summer that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes, and at one point submerged as much as a third of the country.
Sharif visited a hospital in Peshawar after the bombing and vowed “stern action” against those behind the attack. On Tuesday he dismissed criticism of his government and called for unity. “My message to all political forces is one of unity against anti-Pakistan elements. We can fight our political fights later,” he tweeted.
Shortly after the explosion, a Pakistan Taliban commander Sarbakaf Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter.
But hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani said it was not the group’s policy to target mosques, seminaries and religious places and that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy. His statement did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Pakistan, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended a cease-fire with government forces.
The Pakistani Taliban are the dominant militant group in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and Peshawar has been the scene of frequent attacks. In 2014, a Pakistani Taliban faction attacked an army-run school in Peshawar and killed 154, mostly schoolchildren.
But the Daesh in Khorasan Province, a regional affiliate of the Daesh group and a rival of the Taliban, has also been behind deadly attacks in Pakistan in recent years. Overall, violence has increased since the Afghan Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops pulled out of the country after 20 years of war.
The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban. It has waged an insurgency in Pakistan in the past 15 years, seeking stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province it has long used as its base.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban claimed one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency. Security officials said Monday the gunman was killed in a shootout near the Afghan border.
The Taliban-run Afghan Foreign Ministry said it was “saddened to learn that numerous people lost their lives” in Peshawar and condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on a visit to the Middle East, tweeted his condolences, saying the bombing in Peshawar was a “horrific attack.”
“Terrorism for any reason at any place is indefensible,” he said.

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida
Updated 44 min 24 sec ago

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida
  • Qatar and Japan are working on a new visa waiver measure based on the Passport Registration System
  • Sheikh Mohammed stated that Qatar also attaches great importance to its historic friendship with Japan

TOKYO: Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani paid a courtesy call on Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Tuesday ahead of the 2nd Japan-Qatar Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue.
The two sides reaffirmed their desire to further strengthen bilateral relations in various areas, such as politics, economy and security, as well as in the energy sector, including clean energy.
Qatar and Japan are working on a new visa waiver measure based on the Passport Registration System for ordinary passport holders of Qatar who wish to enter Japan, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo. This, it is hoped, will further promote exchanges between Japan and Qatar.
Prime Minister Kishida welcomed Sheikh Mohammed and stated that Japan attaches great importance to the comprehensive partnership with Qatar.
Kishida noted that he held two telephone talks with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, last year and confirmed their close cooperation.
Sheikh Mohammed stated that Qatar also attaches great importance to its historic friendship with Japan, and that he is pleased to see steady progress in cooperation between Japan and Qatar in a wide range of areas.
Among other topics, the two sides discussed regional affairs, including the situation in Ukraine.
The Strategic Dialogue will take place in Tokyo with Sheikh Mohammed attending and it is seen as an important framework in realizing cooperative relations between Japan and Qatar.


Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel

Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel
Updated 31 January 2023

Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel

Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel

TOKYO: Japan has expressed “serious concern” about what it calls “the growing tensions surrounding Israel and Palestine,” where a number of civilians have been killed in recent days in areas that include East Jerusalem and Jenin.

A statement by the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo stated: “Japan strongly condemns any terror attacks, including the one at a Jerusalem synagogue.”

The statement said Japan extends its sincere condolences to the bereaved families.

Japan urged all parties concerned to exert self-restraint and avoid any unilateral action in order to avert further escalation of the situation and to restore calm to the area.

This story was originally published on Arab News Japan


Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement
Updated 31 January 2023

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement
  • Security environment is most tense since World War Two -leaders
  • Concern voiced over Russia’s nuclear threats, drills with China

TOKYO: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Japanese premier Fumio Kishida pledged on Tuesday to strengthen ties, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its growing military co-operation with China had created the most tense security environment since World War Two.
The comments came in a statement issued during Stoltenberg’s trip to Japan following a visit to South Korea on which he urged Seoul to increase military support to Ukraine and gave similar warnings about rising tension with China.
“The world is at a historical inflection point in the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II,” the two leaders said in the statement.
It also raised concerns about Russia’s nuclear threats, joint military drills between Russia and China near Japan, and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
Stoltenberg told reporters a Russian victory in Ukraine would embolden China at a time when it is building up its military, “bullying its neighbors and threatening Taiwan.”
He added, “This war is not just a European crisis, but the challenge to the world order.
“Beijing is watching closely, and learning lessons that may influence its future decisions. What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.”
While the North Atlantic Treaty Organization groups 30 countries in Europe and North America, Stoltenberg has said its members are affected by global threats.
Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol became the first leaders from their countries to attend a NATO summit last year, joining as observers.
China has previously criticized NATO’s efforts to expand its alliances in Asia. Russia, which calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation,” has repeatedly cast NATO’s expansion as a threat to its security.
Late last year, Japan unveiled sweeping plans to beef up its defense capabilities, changes once unthinkable for a pacifist country that will make it the third-biggest military spender after the United States and China.
Bolstering its co-operation with NATO in areas from maritime security and arms control to cyberspace and disinformation will further help to respond to the changing strategic environment, the statement added.
The meeting comes as Japan prepares to host the annual Group of Seven (G7) summit in May, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major topic of discussion.
Kishida is considering visiting Kyiv in February to reinforce his support for Ukraine in the conflict, domestic media have said.


Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
Updated 31 January 2023

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
  • Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork

BONGABON, Philippines: Even before his onions are fully grown, Philippine farmer Luis Angeles races to harvest the crop and cash in on eye-watering prices for a vegetable that has become a luxury item in the country.
Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork.
Some restaurants have stripped the staple ingredient from dishes, while many families already grappling with the highest inflation in 14 years have stopped eating them.
To meet demand and push retail prices back below 200 pesos, the government has approved the importation of 21,000 tons of onions and faces calls to crack down on traders suspected of hoarding.
But prices remain stubbornly high and onion farmers like Angeles have been harvesting earlier than usual to reap the windfall.
“What is happening is historic,” said Angeles, 37, as his workers pulled undersized red and white bulbs out of the soil near the northern town of Bongabon, the country’s self-proclaimed “onion capital.”
“This is the first time that prices have reached this level.”
When he began harvesting last month, Angeles received as much as 250 pesos per kilogram for his crop.
By the time his onions reached Manila supermarket shelves, the price had more than doubled, exceeding the daily minimum wage.

Customers shop for onions at a market in Manila. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

“I told my family, ‘Let’s just smell the onion instead of eating it’,” Candy Roasa, 56, said as she walked through a market in the capital where she has seen vendors selling bulbs the size of a small child’s fist for as much as 80 pesos each.
As onion memes spread on social media, the humble vegetable has become a symbol of wealth in the poverty-afflicted country.
At least one bride used pricey bulbs instead of flowers for her wedding bouquet.
Philippine Airlines crew members on a recent flight from the Middle East were busted trying to smuggle a few bags of the pungent commodity through Manila’s airport.

It is not the first time the Philippines has experienced a shortage of a basic food staple that caused prices to spike — sugar, salt and rice have all been hit in the past.
Poor yields, high costs, insufficient investment in irrigation and machinery, lack of access to cold storage facilities and farm-to-market roads, and crop-destroying typhoons have long impacted the sector.
Pest outbreaks as well as soaring oil and fertilizer prices since Russia invaded Ukraine last year have only added to farmers’ woes.

A farmer harvests onions at a farm in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija province in the northern Philippines. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

Despite government pledges to boost domestic food production, the country relies heavily on imports to feed its growing population — but tariffs fuel inflation.
President Ferdinand Marcos appointed himself agriculture secretary to overhaul the near-moribund industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the country’s employment but only makes up 10 percent of gross domestic product.
“Our agriculture sector is significantly challenged,” said Geny Lapina, agricultural economics and management professor at the University of the Philippines.
Every Filipino eats an average of 2.34 kilograms of onions per year and theoretically the country produces enough to meet the demand, official data shows.
But since the tropical climate only allows one planting per year of the rain-averse crop, stocks are consumed or spoil well before the next harvest.
The recent lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, which allowed the resumption of food-focused festivals and family gatherings for Christmas, triggered soaring demand for onions.
William Dar, who was agriculture secretary in former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, said the shortage could have been avoided if the current government had allowed imports back in August.
“This is the net result of the poor planning,” Dar told local broadcaster ABS-CBN.
There are growing concerns about future food security in the Philippines, which is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change and is plagued by poor nutrition.
The median age of farmers is 57 and the average farm plot has shrunk to around 1.3 hectares from nearly three hectares in the 1960s.
Many farmers are sharecroppers who do not own the land they till and cannot afford to make much-needed investments to improve productivity without government help.
Salvador Catelo, an agricultural economist at the University of the Philippines, said there were “lots of daunting challenges to be immediately solved.”
“We have rich natural resource endowments which are absent in many countries that are performing (better) than us in terms of productivity and self-sufficiency,” Catelo said.
As imported onions flow into the country, Angeles fears farm-gate prices could plummet to as low as 30 pesos per kilogram before he finishes his harvest.
“We are just trying to make our investment survive,” he said.