France completes military withdrawal from Niger, leaving a gap in the terror fight in the Sahel

France completes military withdrawal from Niger, leaving a gap in the terror fight in the Sahel
This picture taken on June 9, 2021, show French soldiers arriving at an airfield in Niamey, Niger. On Dec. 22, 2023, France completed the withdrawal of its troops from Niger, after the country's new junta told them to leave. (AP/File)
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Updated 23 December 2023
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France completes military withdrawal from Niger, leaving a gap in the terror fight in the Sahel

France completes military withdrawal from Niger, leaving a gap in the terror fight in the Sahel

ABUJA, Nigeria: France on Friday completed the withdrawal of its troops after they were asked to leave Niger by the country’s new junta, ending years of on-the-ground military support and raising concerns from analysts about a gap in the fight against jihadi violence across the Sahel region of Africa.
The last French military aircraft and troops departed Niger by the Dec. 22 deadline set by the junta which severed ties with Paris after the coup in July, the French Army General Staff told The Associated Press by email. France already announced this week that it would close its diplomatic mission in Niger for “an indefinite period.”
However, the country would continue to be involved in the Sahel — the vast expanse south of the Sahara Desert which has been a hot spot for violent extremism — although differently, President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday during a visit to a base in Jordan.
“I decided on some important reconfigurations,” Macron said. “We will continue to protect our interests over there but our armies won’t be as present permanently, will be less stationary and also less exposed,” he said.
Niger’s junta described the end of the military cooperation with France as the start of “a new era” for Nigeriens.
“Niger stands tall, and the security of our homeland will no longer depend on a foreign presence,” it said via X, formerly known as Twitter. “We are determined to meet the challenges before us, by consolidating our national military and strategic capabilities.”
But analysts say a vacuum will be created by the troops’ departure. It will “leave Niger and the entire Sahel worse off” in terms of overall counterterrorism efforts as Niger was seen as the last remaining Western partner in the decade-long fight against jihadi groups in the region, said Ryan Cummings, director of Africa-focused security consulting company Signal Risk.
Some 1,500 French troops were training and supporting the local military in Niger, which had been envisioned as the base for counterterrorism operations in the region after anti-French sentiment grew in Mali and Burkina Faso, both run by juntas that have also forced French troops out.
But after deposing Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, the nation’s junta led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani severed military relations with France and other European countries. Instead, he sought defense cooperation with Russia, whose private mercenary Wagner Group is already active in parts of Africa but faces an uncertain future there following the death of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The withdrawal of foreign military missions is already affecting security in Niger, where the number of attacks has surged, according to Oluwole Ojewale with the Dakar-based Institute for Security Studies.
“The country has not demonstrated sufficient military capabilities to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal. Strategic attacks are being launched by the various armed groups who now roam freely in the ungoverned spaces in the country and incidents have remained on the rise,” said Ojewale.
The junta in Niger has formed a security alliance with the military governments in Mali and Burkina Faso to coordinate counterterrorism operations across the Sahel.
However, much of the immediate impact of the departure of French troops would be felt in western Niger’s Tillabéri region which has been the hot spot for extremism in the country, said Ryan with Signal Risk consulting.
“Violent extremist organizations may utilize the vacuum created to exploit and expand their operations” in the Sahel, he said.


Russia threatens more death and destruction in Ukraine as US House pass Ukraine aid bill

Russia threatens more death and destruction in Ukraine as US House pass Ukraine aid bill
Updated 6 sec ago
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Russia threatens more death and destruction in Ukraine as US House pass Ukraine aid bill

Russia threatens more death and destruction in Ukraine as US House pass Ukraine aid bill
  • Aid package will make US get richer, but further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, says Putin's spokesman
  • The legislative package approved by the US House of Representatives provides $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish weapons, stocks and facilities

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that US House of Representatives’ approval of security aid to Ukraine would lead to more damage and deaths in the conflict there.

The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
The Kremlin has been locked in conflict in Ukraine since invading it more than two years ago.
The House approved a legislative package providing $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities.
The package now goes to the US Senate, which passed a similar measure two months ago, for expected approval next week. It then is passed on to President Joe Biden to sign.
Peskov also said that provisions in the legislation allowing the US administration to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine to fund reconstruction would tarnish the image of the United States.
Russia, he said, would enact retaliatory measures.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said the approval of US aid for Ukraine was expected and grounded in “Russophobia.”
“We will, of course, be victorious regardless of the bloodsoaked $61 billion, which will mostly be swallowed up by their insatiable military industrial complex,” wrote Medvedev, one of Russia’s most vociferous hawks as deputy chairman of the Security Council.
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said the approval of aid in the legislation to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan would “deepen crises throughout the world.”
“Military assistance to the Kyiv regime is direct sponsorship of terrorist activity,” Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
“To Taiwan, it is interference in China’s internal affairs. To Israel, it is a road straight to escalation and an unprecedented rise in tension in the region.”


Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London
Updated 16 min 18 sec ago
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Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

LONDON: Christie’s has announced a spring sale of “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets,” which will be presented during a live auction at the British auction house’s London headquarters on April 25.

“This season the sale offers a curated selection of 261 lots including four unique collections,” Christie’s said in a statement. “Illustrating the breadth of craftsmanship across 10 centuries, works date from the 10th century to the 20th century and cover a diversity of artistic traditions.”

The works include paintings, ceramics, metal work, works on paper, arms, textiles and rugs and carpets from across the Islamic world, spanning the Silk Route linking China to the West.

A number of private collections will be auctioned, including early Iranian ceramics from a private American collection, as well as Persian and Indian paintings from the collection of art specialists Charles and Regina Slatkin that features a rare work by the Bukhara artist Mahmud Muzahhib.

The carpet section of the auction “is led by Sultans of Silk: The George Farrow Collection, which is a comprehensive study of the very best of silk rug weaving of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gathered over forty years by the late George Farrow,” Christie’s said in its statement. The collection will offer more than 40 finely woven silk carpets.

According to Christie’s, Farrow was a British collector of silk rugs and his “expansive collection” comprises a variety of silk weavings from different origins.

Sara Plumbly, head of Islamic and Indian art at Christie’s, said: “We are delighted to offer a wide variety of works of art from across the Islamic and Indian worlds this season (and) we are particularly excited about three private collections, all with long provenance, that highlight the breadth and diversity of the artistic traditions of Iran — from Safavid textiles and painting to medieval pottery.”

Louise Broadhurst, international head of rugs and carpets at Christie’s, said the auction house “is honored to offer the collection of George Farrow, whose passion for antique silk rugs is reflected in the illuminating breadth of examples gathered over four decades, which include highlights rarely seen on today’s market.”

The “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets” is open to the public ahead of the live auction from April 21-24 at Christie’s in London.


Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024
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Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
  • The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes
  • Leading shipping industry associations appeal to UN to protect vessels after Iran seizure

BERLIN: Germany said on Saturday it will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August to help secure maritime traffic, which has been disrupted for months due to Houthi attacks.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the “Hamburg” will replace the “Hessen,” which left the zone on Saturday.
The “Hessen” had been deployed in the area on Feb. 23 as part of the EU’s “Aspides” mission to protect ships.
The statement said the “Hamburg” had escorted 27 merchant ships in the intervention zone and had, on four occasions, repulsed drone and missile attacks by the Houthis.
It had around 240 military personnel on board.

BACKGROUND

Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.

The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes.
They began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in November, a campaign they say is intended as a show of support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks on the vital trade route have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.
The US set up a multinational task force late last year to “protect” Red Sea shipping.
Recent Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
Merchant ships and seafarers are increasingly in peril at sea as attacks escalate in the Middle East, the industry said in a letter released on Friday. It said the UN must do more to protect supply chains.
In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the world’s leading shipping industry associations said Iran’s seizure on April 13 of the MSC Aries container ship 50 nautical miles off the UAE coast “once again highlighted the intolerable situation where shipping has become a target.”
“Innocent seafarers have been killed. Seafarers are being held hostage,” the letter said.
“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern (for ships and their crew members).”
India’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that an Indian woman who was a mariner on the MSC Aries had returned to the country.
It added that it was in touch with the other 16 Indian crew members still being held aboard the vessel.
The industry letter said: “Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicized.”
The letter added: “Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions, and patrols in the region to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression.”
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.

 


Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots
Updated 20 April 2024
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Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

MADRID: Ministers from five Mediterranean nations have urged the EU to “deepen” bilateral agreements with migrant countries of origin and increase funding to tackle the root causes of migration.
During the Gran Canaria Island meeting, ministers of interior and migration from the MED5 nations — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain — discussed the new migration and asylum pact adopted by the EU Parliament on April 11.
Years in the making, the deal involves a sweeping reform of the bloc’s asylum policies that will harden border procedures while forcing all 27 nations to share responsibility for migrant arrivals.

FASTFACT

The new EU pact includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside ‘safe’ countries.

The reform was spurred by the massive influx of migrants in 2015, with its provisions taking effect in 2026.
Hailing the pact as “historic,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said there was “still a long way to go” and that the solution lay in “prevention” and addressing the root causes of migration “at its source.”
“The key to migration management lies in bilateral cooperation,” he told a news conference, urging the European Commission “to deepen and broaden partnerships and agreements with third countries” to stem flows of irregular migrants.
“But we believe there is room for improvement, and the commitment should also focus on increasing European funds and flexible financing tools destined for such cooperation,” he said.
Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible, which has put southern frontline states under huge pressure, fueling far-right opposition.
The new EU pact, which includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, has been denounced by migrant charities and NGOs, with Amnesty International warning it would “lead to greater human suffering.”

 


Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel
Updated 20 April 2024
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Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel
  • The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week
  • Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China this coming week as Washington and Beijing try to keep ties on an even keel despite major differences on issues from the path to peace in the Middle East to the supply of synthetic opioids that have heightened fears over global stability.
The rivals are at odds on numerous fronts, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Taiwan and the South China Sea, North Korea, Hong Kong, human rights and the detention of American citizens. The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week.
The State Department said Saturday that Blinken, on his second visit to China in less than a year, will travel to Shanghai and Beijing starting Wednesday for three days of meetings with senior Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place.
The department said in a statement that Blinken would “discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” including the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
He will also talk about progress made in “resuming counternarcotics cooperation, military-to-military communication, artificial intelligence, and strengthening people-to-people ties” and will reaffirm how important it is for the US and China to be “responsibly managing competition, even in areas where our two countries disagree,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
The trip follows a phone call this month between Biden and Xi in which they pledged to keep high-level contacts open, something they had agreed to last year at a face-to-face summit in California. Since that call, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has visited China and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken by phone with his Chinese counterpart. Meetings at lower levels also have taken place.
Despite those encounters, relations are rocky. The US has recently become more vocal in its calls for China to stop supporting Russia’s military-industrial sector, which Washington says has allowed Moscow to boost weapons production to support the war against Ukraine.
“We see China sharing machine tools, semiconductors, other dual-use items that have helped Russia rebuild the defense industrial base that sanctions and export controls had done so much to degrade,” Blinken said Friday. “Now, if China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.”
Blinken also has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart several times since the Israel-Hamas war began six months ago as he has sought China’s help in getting Iran to restrain proxy groups it has supported, armed and funded in the region.
That topic has taken on new urgency since direct back-and-forth attacks by Iran and Israel on each other’s soil in the past week.
Also high on the agenda for Blinken will be Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily ramped up military support and sales for Taipei, much to the anger of Chinese officials.
In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas. In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate activities by others in the waterway, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
That was a major topic of concern earlier this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.