EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
Georgian legislators adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law, which sparked weeks of mass protests and a blizzard of international condemnation, and risking its membership to the EU. (AFP)
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Updated 24 June 2024
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EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
  • Ruling party in Georgia adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law this month
  • Critics say legislation is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told Georgia Monday that its push to join the bloc could be ended, as Brussels weighs options to punish the authorities over a “foreign influence” law.
“The door for Georgia to become a member of the European Union is open,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“But if the government continues on the same track, continues doing what they are doing, this door will be closed, and the Georgian people will pay the consequences, will suffer.”
The ruling party in the South Caucasus country — which formally became a candidate to join the EU last year — adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law this month that critics say is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent.
The move was condemned by Georgia’s Western supporters, with the United States banning several officials from the South Caucasus nation from visiting.
Concerns were further fueled by proposed new legislation to ban what the ruling party calls “LGBT propaganda,” in another conservative shift that drew fresh comparisons with repressive Russian laws.
The 27-nation EU is now pondering its response to the shifts from the governing Georgian Dream party, but is wary of pushing the ex-Soviet state closer toward Moscow.
Despite the moves from the government, the population in the country remains overwhelmingly in favor of moving closer toward the EU.
Borrell said that initial moves being discussed by ministers could include halting funding for Georgia’s security forces, cutting government financing, or severing high-level contacts.
“We don’t want to affect civilians. We don’t want to put more pain on the civilian people,” Borrell said, adding that no firm decision was expected Monday.
Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said there would also be discussions on Schengen visa bans for high-ranking Georgian officials.
“The situation for Georgia is serious, and all the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Georgian government,” he said.
“The Georgian people are supporting the way to the European Union.”
Meanwhile, his counterpart from Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that stronger measures were not yet being put forward in a paper presented by the EU’s diplomatic arm.
“Unfortunately, there are certain options in the paper that are not mentioned, such as actually stopping Georgia’s EU integration, which I think it has to be mentioned,” he said.


Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population

Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population
Updated 15 sec ago
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Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population

Italy sends humanitarian flight with aid for Gaza population
ROME: Italy has sent food supplies and health equipment for the Gaza population aboard a humanitarian flight that landed in Jordan, a statement said on Thursday, as part of Rome’s “Food for Gaza” initiative to help civilians there.
Aid includes over 60 tons of food, hygiene kits and sanitary equipment, along with 150 tents. The flight, which departed from the southern city of Brindisi, has landed in the Jordan capital of Amman from where the materials will be delivered to Gaza.
“With this operation we give a tangible demonstration of the attention that the Italian government is dedicating to the humanitarian situation in the Strip,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.
He added Italy was committed “to do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza.”
The Food for Gaza initiative is led by Italy together with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food program (WFP) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
On Wednesday, the US military announced that its mission to install and operate a temporary, floating pier off the coast of Gaza was complete, formally ending an effort to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
Italy said in May it would allocate 30 million euros ($32.8 million) in the Food for Gaza plan, as it resumed funding for the United Nations’ Palestinian relief organization UNRWA.
UNRWA faced criticism over allegations that some of its staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. ($1 = 0.9151 euros)

Italy carrier strike group joins Australia war games, will visit Philippines

Italy carrier strike group joins Australia war games, will visit Philippines
Updated 1 min 54 sec ago
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Italy carrier strike group joins Australia war games, will visit Philippines

Italy carrier strike group joins Australia war games, will visit Philippines
  • Italian aircraft carrier Cavour is in the northern Australian town of Darwin taking part in Exercise Pitch Black this week
  • 23 Italian jets, including eight stealthy F-35Bs, are practicing dogfights, strikes and other operations alongside its allies

DARWIN, Australia: An Italian carrier strike group on its first deployment to the Indo-Pacific region will sail through the South China Sea to the Philippines after participating in war games with US allies in Australia, a senior Italian navy official said on Thursday.
The moves come amid rising tensions between China and some of its neighbors in the contested South China Sea region. About 40 percent of Europe’s foreign trade flows through the South China Sea, where the United States, Japan, Australia and other nations have conducted joint maritime exercises they say uphold freedom of navigation. China claims almost the entire strategic waterway.
The Italian aircraft carrier Cavour is in the northern Australian town of Darwin taking part in Exercise Pitch Black this week, where Italy is contributing nearly two dozen fighter jets to the 20-nation drills with host Australia.
The United States, Britain, Japan, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea are also taking part.
It is the first time an aircraft carrier has joined the exercises, Italian Navy Rear Admiral Giancarlo Ciappina said.
Twenty-three Italian jets, including eight stealthy F-35Bs, are practicing dogfights, strikes and other operations alongside its allies over huge swathes of largely unpopulated land in northern Australia.
“Pitch Black gives us a chance to work with the main F-35 communities, shoulder to shoulder,” said Captain Dario Castelli, the strike group’s carrier air wing commander. “In terms of deploying far from home, it is also an incredible logistics exercise for us.”
After the current exercises end on Aug. 2, the 1,200-person strong Italian carrier strike group will travel to the US Pacific territory of Guam and Japan, before transiting the South China Sea to the Philippines for the first time, Ciappina said.
‘VERY POWERFUL TOOL’
Ciappina said his strike group did not plan to conduct any freedom of navigation operations.
The Cavour will carry out humanitarian work in the Philippines, performing surgery on children in the ship’s hospital while at port in Manila, he said.
“An aircraft carrier — just being present somewhere, it has an effect, it can influence. It is a very powerful tool,” Ciappina said.
Manila and Beijing have traded barbs repeatedly over jurisdiction as the Philippines challenges China’s permanent presence around strategic features inside Manila’s exclusive economic zone.
Ciappina said the Italian Navy’s first Indo-Pacific deployment improved its training and provided a better understanding of the region.
Although the deployment is not a NATO initiative, Italy has coordinated with the French Navy and Britain’s Royal Navy, which will send ships to the region later in the year, to ensure significant capacity remains in the Mediterranean, he said.
“Everything is connected... that’s why we have to also be present in the Pacific now,” he said.


Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians

Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians
Updated 11 min 28 sec ago
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Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians

Ukraine makes humanitarian flour shipment to Palestinians
  • Ukraine did not say whether the flour was intended for Gaza, which is facing a humanitarian crisis

KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday that it had sent flour to the Palestinian territories as part of an initiative to ship free agricultural supplies to poor countries and regions.
“Palestine received 1,000 tons of wheat flour,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry posted on X.
“The shipment is the first of three deliveries intended for Palestine... It will support over 101,000 Palestinian families for a month,” it said.
Kyiv launched the “Grain for Ukraine” initiative in a bid to ensure Russia’s invasion did not threaten its position as one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters.
Ukraine did not say whether the flour was intended for Gaza, which is facing a humanitarian crisis and steep drops in the amount of aid that has reached the coastal strip during the war between Israel and Hamas.
Kyiv was a major grain exporter to the Palestinians before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
Moscow has also shipped free grain to several countries in Africa, as the two countries compete for support in parts of the world that rely heavily on agricultural imports.
Global food prices shot up when Russia invaded Ukraine and the vital Black Sea waterway, from where Ukraine shipped grain around the world, was turned into a naval battleground.


Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest

Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest
Updated 18 July 2024
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Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest

Student protesters vow ‘complete shutdown’ in Bangladesh after days of violent protest
  • Students have been demonstrating for weeks against a quota system for government jobs they say favors allies of the ruling party
  • Protests have escalated since violence broke out on the campus of Dhaka University on Monday

DHAKA: People stayed home and many malls closed their doors Thursday morning in Bangladesh’s capital as protesters attempted to impose a “complete shutdown” after days of student protesters violently clashing with police and ruling party-backed student activists.
Traffic was thin on Dhaka’s usually clogged streets. Offices and banks opened, but commuters complained that transport was limited.
Salma Rahman, an official at a financial institution in Dhaka, said that she left his car at home and caught a ride on a motorcycle. “Our office has alerted us to stay safe on streets, as there is fear that violence could happen during the shutdown.”
Students have been demonstrating for weeks against a quota system for government jobs they say favors allies of the ruling party, but the protests have escalated since violence broke out on the campus of Dhaka University on Monday. Six people were killed amid protests on Tuesday, leading the government to ask universities across the country to close and police to raid the main opposition party’s headquarters.
The violence continued late Wednesday in Dhaka. Traffic was halted on a major highway as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, who set fire to a toll booth, blocked streets and detonated explosives, Somoy TV reported.
Other news outlets said scores were injured in the hours of violence.
On Thursday morning, with classes suspended and dormitories closed, students near Dhaka’s BRAC University clashed with police, who fired tear gas.
Police set up checkpoints at the entrances to Dhaka University.
On Wednesday night, the protesters announced they would enforce “a complete shutdown” across the country on Thursday in response to security officials’ continued attacks on the campus demonstrators. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party said that it would do what it could to make the shutdown a success.
Protesters are demanding an end to a quota system that reserves up to 30 percent of government jobs for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. They argue that the system is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, and they want it replaced with a merit-based system.
Hasina’s government halted the quotas after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh’s High Court nullified that decision and reinstated the quotas after relatives of the 1971 veterans filed petitions, triggering the latest demonstrations. The Supreme Court then suspended the High Court’s ruling and is expected to rule on Aug. 7. The government has also separately appealed the High Court decision in the wake of the protest, according to the attorney general’s office.
“I am requesting all to wait with patience until the verdict is delivered,” Hasina said in a televised address Wednesday evening. “I believe our students will get justice from the apex court. They will not be disappointed.”
While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh’s private sector, many people prefer government jobs because they are stable and well paid. Each year, some 400,000 graduates compete for 3,000 jobs in the civil service exam.
Hasina said there would be a judicial probe into Tuesday’s deaths and vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice.
“Some precious lives have been lost unnecessarily,” she said. “I condemn every killing.”
UN Human Rights chief Volker Turk said in a post on the social media platform X that all acts of violence and deadly use of force must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. Turk said freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights.
Bangladesh’s ruling party blamed the BNP for the chaos, and Dhaka police raided the party’s headquarters late Tuesday. Detective Chief Harun-or-Rashid said police arrested seven members of the party’s student wing, and said detectives found 100 crude bombs, 500 wooden and bamboo sticks, and five to six bottles of gasoline in the raid.
Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a senior BNP leader, said the raid was a government attempt to divert attention from the protests.


India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan

India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan
Updated 18 July 2024
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India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan

India plans to ease rice export curbs to retain market share against Pakistan
  • Authorities in India imposed rice export curbs in 2023 in an effort to keep local prices in check
  • Rice exporters say supplies have exceeded local demand, seek overseas sales to prevent spoilage

NEW DELHI: India is likely to cut the floor price for basmati rice exports and replace the 20 percent export tax on parboiled rice with a fixed duty on overseas shipments, government sources said, as rice inventories in the country jumped a record high.
The world’s biggest rice exporter imposed various curbs on exports in 2023 and continued them in 2024 in an effort to keep local prices in check ahead of the general elections held in April-May.
New Delhi is expected to lower the basmati rice’s minimum export price (MEP) to $800-$850 a metric ton, down from $950 a ton, to boost shipments, said the sources, who didn’t wish to be identified as they are not authorized to talk to media.
Lowering the MEP would help India retain its market share against Pakistan, which exported a record amount of rice this year due to New Delhi’s export curbs.
India and Pakistan are the leading exporters of basmati rice. New Delhi exports more than 4 million metric tons of basmati – the premium long-grain variety famed for its aroma – to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
New Delhi is also expected to drop the 20 percent export tax on parboiled rice and introduce a minimum export tax to stop under-invoicing of shipments, the sources said.
The government was examining possibilities of easing rice export curb, including resuming white rice exports, Reuters reported last month.
Worried over expectations of lower output due to the El Nino weather pattern, India banned overseas shipments of non-basmati white rice varieties in July 2023 and imposed curbs on other grades.
“With rice supplies significantly exceeding local demand, it’s crucial to reduce stockpiles to prevent spoilage. The most effective solution is to lift export restrictions,” said B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the Rice Exporters Association (REA).
The country’s rice stocks at state warehouses have jumped to 48.51 million metric tons as of July 1, the highest ever for the month and nearly 19 percent more than last year, according to the Food Corporation of India.
New Delhi would also review the export ban on non-basmati white rice after assessing the progress of rice planting, the sources said.
Farmers have so far planted 11.6 million hectares with rice paddy during the current planting, up 20.7 percent on the same period last year.