UN chief Antonio Guterres has proposed international monitors to support Libya s fragile ceasefire amid hopes that foreign fighters will soon leave and the country can turn the page on a decade of war. In a letter to Security Council members seen by AFP, the secretary-general asked to set up a monitoring group that would include civilians and retired soldiers from regional groups such as the African Union, European Union and Arab League. The warring sides, which reached a ceasefire on October 23 in Geneva, both want to avoid armed and uniformed foreign troops, Guterres said. "I call on all national, regional and international stakeholders to respect the provisions of the ceasefire agreement and ensure its implementation without delay," Guterres said in the letter dated Tuesday. "I encourage member states and regional organizations to support the operationalization of the ceasefire mechanism, including by providing individual monitors under the auspices of the United Nations." He called in particular for all nations to respect the UN arms embargo on Libya, which has been flagrantly violated. Under the ceasefire, all foreign forces are to leave within three months. Under Guterres proposal, which is likely to be debated in the new year, monitors would initially operate in a triangular section of Libya around Sirte -- the birthplace of former dictator Moamer Kadhafi, whose Western-supported overthrow in 2011 set off a decade of turmoil. The monitors would join Libyan forces in reporting in the area on the ceasefire, withdrawal of foreign forces and removal of mines and other explosives. The observers would expand to other parts of the country as conditions allow until they can be replaced by a unified Libyan national force. In early December, UN envoy Stephanie Williams estimated that 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries remained in the country in a "shocking violation of Libyan sovereignty."
A large explosion struck the airport in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Wednesday, shortly after a plane carrying the newly formed Cabinet landed there, security officials said. At least 22 people were killed and 50 were wounded in the blast. The source of the explosion was not immediately clear and no group claimed responsibility for attacking the airport. No one on the government plane was hurt. Officials later reported another explosion close to a palace in the city where the Cabinet members were transferred following the airport attack. AP footage from the scene at the airport showed members of the government delegation disembarking as the blast shook the grounds. Many ministers rushed back inside the plane or ran down the stairs, seeking shelter. Thick smoke rose into the air from near the terminal building. Officials at the scene said they saw bodies lying on the tarmac and elsewhere at the airport. Yemeni Communication Minister Naguib al-Awg, who was also on the plane, told The Associated Press that he heard two explosions, suggesting they were drone attacks. Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed and the others were quickly whisked from the airport to Mashiq Palace in the city. Military and security forces sealed off the area around the the palace. ``It would have been a disaster if the plane was bombed, al-Awg said, insisting the plane was the target of the attack as it was supposed to land earlier. Saeed tweeted that he and his cabinet were safe and unhurt. He called the explosions a ``cowardly terrorist act that was part of the war on ``the Yemeni state and our great people. Mohammed al-Roubid, deputy head of Aden s health office, told the AP that at least 16 people were killed in the explosion and 60 were wounded. Later, the Interior Ministry raised the casualty toll to at least 22 dead and 50 wounded. Images shared on social media from the scene showed rubble and broken glass strewn about near the airport building and at least two lifeless bodies, one of them charred, lying on the ground. In another image, a man was trying to help another man whose clothes were torn to get up from the ground. According to one Yemeni security official, three Red Cross workers were among the wounded, though it was not clear if they were Yemenis or of other nationalities. He and other officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Officials said another explosion hit close to the heavily fortified Mashiq Palace, where the Cabinet members were taken following the explosion at the airport. The source of that blast and whether it occurred before or after the Cabinet members arrival were not immediately known. There were no immediate reports of fatalities and the officials said the Cabinet members arrived safely. U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, condemned the explosion as an ``unacceptable act of violence. He said in a tweet that it was ``a tragic reminder of the importance of bringing (hash)Yemen urgently back on the path towards peace. Egypt, Jordan and the Arab League also condemned the attacks. The ministers were returning to Aden from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, after being sworn in last week as part of a reshuffle following a deal with rival southern separatists. Yemen s internationally recognized government has worked mostly from self-imposed exile in Riyadh during the country s years-long civil war. The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, described the attack as a ``cowardly terrorist act targeting the Yemeni people, their security and stability. Despite ``the disappointment and confusion caused by those who create death and destruction, the peace agreement between the government and southern separatists ``will go forward, he insisted. Yemen s embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, in exile in Saudi Arabia, announced a Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month. The reshuffle was seen as a major step toward closing a dangerous rift between Hadi s government and southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi-backed government is at war with with Iran-allied Houthi rebels, who control most of northern Yemen as well as the country s capital, Sanaa. Naming a new government was part of a power-sharing deal between the Saudi-backed Hadi and the Emirati-backed separatist Southern Transitional Council, an umbrella group of militias seeking to restore an independent southern Yemen, which existed from 1967 until unification in 1990. The blast underscores the dangers facing Hadi s government in the port city, which was a scene of bloody fighting between forces of the internationally recognized government and the UAE-backed separatists. In a video message posted on his Twitter account later, Saeed, the Yemeni prime minister, said his government was in Aden ``to stay. The city has been the seat of Hadi s government since Houthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa in 2014. Last year, the Houthis fired a missile at a military parade of newly graduated fighters of a militia loyal to the UAE at a military base in Aden, killing dozens. In 2015, then-Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and members of his government survived a missile attack, blamed on the Houthis, on an Aden hotel used by the government. Yemen, the Arab world s poorest country, has been engulfed in civil war since 2014, when the ShiA Houthi rebels overran the north and Sanaa. The following year, a Saudi-led military coalition intervened to wage war on the Houthis and restore Hadi s government to power. The war has killed more than 112,000, including thousands of civilians. The conflict also resulted in the world s worst humanitarian crisis.
So far, the large majority of British and EU citizens have not felt the realities of Brexit. Though the UK left the European Union on Jan. 31, it follows the bloc s rules until the end of this year as part of a transition period to the new economic relationship. That s all set to change. On Jan. 1, Britain embarks on its new, more distant relationship with the EU after nearly five decades of closer economic, cultural and social integration. The change for Britain s economy and people is the most dramatic since World War II, certainly more so than when the country joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973. ``It s a far bigger shock to our economic system and it s going to happen instantaneously, said Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe think tank and a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King s College London. ``All of a sudden you wake up in a new world at the start of January. Here are some of the changes to movement that people will start to feel almost overnight. WHAT S CHANGING? Even though the coronavirus pandemic has led to a collapse in the numbers of people traveling between Britain and the EU, the end of freedom of movement from Jan. 1 will represent the most tangible Brexit consequence so far. Under the divorce deal agreed by the two sides on Dec. 24, the roughly 1 million British citizens who are legal residents in the EU will have broadly the same rights as they have now. The same applies to more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK. But British citizens will no longer have the automatic right to live and work in the EU, and vice versa. People who want to cross the border to settle will have to follow immigration rules and face other red tape such as ensuring their qualifications are recognized. The exception is people moving between the UK and Ireland, which have a separate common travel area. For many in the EU, the freedom to be able to travel, study and live anywhere in the 27-nation bloc is among the most appealing aspects of European integration. Yet some in Britain and other parts of Western Europe became more skeptical about freedom of movement after several former communist nations in Eastern Europe joined the EU in 2004 and many of their citizens moved to the UK and other wealthier countries to work. Concerns over immigration were a major factor in Britain s 2016 Brexit vote. On Jan. 1, the consequences of that decision will become apparent for British and European citizens alike. WHAT ARE THE NEW TRAVEL RULES? Although travelling for holidays will remain visa-free, British nationals will only be allowed to spend 90 days out of every 180 in the EU, while the UK will allow European citizens to stay for up to six consecutive months. For retired British citizens who have been used to spending more than three months at their second homes on Spain s sun-soaked Costa del Sol, the change may come as a shock. British travellers in Europe will also have to have at least six months left on their passports and buy their own travel insurance. Britons will no longer be issued the European Health Insurance Card, which guarantees access to medical care across the bloc, but the UK says it is setting up a replacement system so that UK visitors to the bloc and EU citizens visiting Britain still have medical coverage. WHAT ABOUT PETS? For British citizens accustomed to taking their dog, cat or ferret on vacation in Europe each summer, the situation will get more complicated as Britain will no longer be part of the EU s pet passport scheme _ although the agreement avoids the onerous months-long procedures that some had feared. UK pet owners will have to have their animal microchipped and vaccinated against rabies at least 21 days before travel, and will need to get an Animal Health Certificate from a veterinarian no more than 10 days before departure. WILL DRIVING BE A HASSLE? The deal means British drivers won t need an international driving permit once they cross the Channel. British motorists can travel in the EU on their UK licenses and insurance, as long as they carry proof that they are insured in the form of a ``green card. WHAT ABOUT WORKING? The end of freedom of movement will have a major impact on hiring at all ends of the labor market. A newly graduated British citizen on holiday in the Greek islands, for example, won t be able to walk up to a beach bar and seek part-time work without having the necessary visa. The same applies for European citizens arriving in the UK They won t be able to turn up at a sandwich shop like Pret a Manger and look for work without the necessary documentation. Larger businesses will also find it far more difficult and costly to hire people from the other side. The deal does include provisions to allow contractors and business travelers to make short-term work trips without visas.
The leader of Lebanon s Hezbollah said Sunday his group now has twice as many precision-guided missiles as it had a year ago, saying Israel s efforts to prevent it from acquiring them have failed. Hassan Nasrallah, in an end-of-year interview with the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, said his group has the capability to strike anywhere in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Nasrallah said that when Israel threatened through a US official to target a Hezbollah facility in Lebanon s eastern Bekaa region, his group warned it would retaliate for any such attack. Israel has in recent months expressed concern that Hezbollah is trying to establish production facilities to make precision-guided missiles. During the four-hour interview, Nasrallah said there are many matters related to his group that Israel has no knowledge of because those are kept in a ``very tight circle. Nasrallah also said that the last few weeks of the administration of US President Donald Trump are critical and must be treated with care. He called Trump ``angry and ``crazy. The Iran-backed Hezbollah is a sworn enemy of Israel, with which it has had a series of confrontations, including a full-scale war in 2006. Nasrallah repeated vows that Iran and its allies will avenge the US killing of the commander of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, in a drone attack a year ago in Iraq. ``That revenge is coming no matter how long it takes, he told Al-Mayadeen TV, sitting with a picture of Soleimani to his left. Nasrallah also vowed to avenge Israel s killing of a Hezbollah fighter in Syria earlier this year. Addressing the incoming US administration of President Joe Biden, Nasrallah said Iran would not negotiate with the US on behalf of its allies or discuss conflicts in the region. He said Tehran would talk with Washington only about the Iranian nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew.
More than 300 Syrian refugees were forced to flee an informal camp in northern Lebanon as a blaze raged through and burnt tents to the ground, U.N. and Lebanese officials said Sunday. The fire late Saturday raged for four hours as firefighters tried to put it out, the Lebanese civil defense said. The fire ensued following a fight between a Lebanese family in al-Miniyeh in the country s north and Syrians living in the camp, according to Lebanese media reports. A Lebanese official said the army is investigating the cause of the fire and conducting raids to round up those responsible for the altercation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an official statement has not yet been released. Khaled Kabbara, a U.N. Refugee Agency spokesman in northern Lebanon, said some 375 people lived in the informal settlement that was located on a plot of rented land. He said the entire camp was burnt to the ground. Kabbara said four people were injured in the fire and hospitalized with minor injuries. He said some residents of the camp returned Sunday to see if anything could be salvaged from the fire. Most of the refugees have sought refuge in other nearby informal settlements. Some from the local community have also offered shelter, Kabbara said. Kabbara said altercations between residents and Syrian refugees often ``catastrophically impact the community as a whole. Tensions are common in Lebanon between citizens and Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their country. Lebanon is host to more than 1 million refugees, nearly a quarter of the country s population of 5 million, burdening the country s already crumbling infrastructure. Tensions between Lebanese and Syrians also dates back to the days when Syria dominated its smaller neighbor for almost three decades with thousands of troops stationed in Lebanon. They withdrew in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which sparked massive anti-Syrian protests.
Iran’s foreign minister on Thursday dismissed US President Donald Trump’s allegations that Iran was behind the recent rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad. “Putting your own citizens at risk abroad won t divert attention from catastrophic failures at home,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. Trump, without giving evidence, said on Twitter on Wednesday that the rockets that landed in Baghdad s heavily fortified Green Zone on Sunday, in an attack targeting the US Embassy, were from Iran and “we hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.” “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” Trump said. The Iraqi military blamed the attack, which caused some minor damage, on an “outlaw group.” Top US national security officials agreed on Wednesday on a proposed range of options to present to Trump aimed at deterring any attack on US military or diplomatic personnel in Iraq, a senior administration official told Reuters without describing the content of the options or say whether they included military action.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress massive COVID-19 relief package in the midst of a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed. Trump assailed the bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign the legislation. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples. Railing against a range of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, he told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.” Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for the legislation in Congress to override him if he does. But if Trump were to upend the sprawling legislation, the consequences would be severe, including no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution. In addition, because lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on Dec. 29. The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people. Lawmakers spent months in a stalemate over pandemic relief funds, even as COVID-19 cases soared across the country. Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans, but compromised with Republicans to allow a deal to proceed. Following Trump s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but dared Trump s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president s demand for far higher payments. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let s do it!,” Pelosi said in a tweet. An aide said she would put the proposal forward Thursday for a vote. Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal. And Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said that “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and Congress would step up for more aid after. Trump s call for changes to the legislation will test his sway with a Republican Party he has held tight control of throughout his presidency. Several Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have begun to gingerly break with Trump and acknowledge his defeat to President-elect Joe Biden, a step Trump has refused to take. McConnell has also warned Republicans against disputing the election on Jan. 6, when Congress must formally affirm the results. Shortly after castigating the relief bill, Trump challenged McConnell and Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who has also said any effort to overturn Biden s victory would be futile. Trump said he would back a primary challenge to Thune when he is up for reelection in 2022. Trump s threats to hold up the pandemic legislation could also complicate matters for Republicans in Georgia, where two runoff races to determine control of the Senate will be held in January. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have been running as ardent supporters of Trump and will now face questions about whether they will back his call for more money for Americans. Jon Ossoff, Perdue s Democratic opponent, tweeted simply on Tuesday night: “$2,000 checks now.” The relief package was brought forward Monday afternoon and sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours as lawmakers worked to close the books on the year. While many lawmakers complained about being given so little time to read the bill, they overwhelmingly voted for it as local businesses and constituents seek economic relief from the pandemic The Senate cleared the huge relief package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53. Those votes totals would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step. After months of partisanship and politicking about pandemic relief, the logjam broke after Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked. The relief bill Trump is criticizing would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction. Earlier in the day, Biden applauded lawmakers for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it does provide vital relief at a critical time.” He also said more relief would be needed in the months ahead. “We have our first hint and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden said. “In this election, the American people made it clear they want us to reach across the aisle and work together.”
Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump s son-in-law and advisor, is due to arrive Tuesday in Morocco from Israel on the first direct commercial flight between the two countries since they normalised ties. The flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat is seen as highly symbolic after Morocco announced on December 10 a "resumption of relations" with Israel. It also aims to showcase the achievements of the Trump administration in Middle East diplomacy, weeks before Trump is replaced at the White House by President-elect Joe Biden. Morocco became the third Arab state this year, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, to normalise ties with Israel under US-brokered deals, while Sudan has pledged to follow suit. In return, the US president fulfilled a decades-old goal of Morocco by backing its contested sovereignty in Western Sahara. The move infuriated the Algerian-backed pro-independence Polisario Front, which controls about one fifth of the desert territory that was once a Spanish colony. Kushner will be heading an American delegation, and during his visit to Rabat a series of agreements will be signed between Morocco and Israel, according to officials. The Israeli delegation will be led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, incidentally a son of Morroco-born Jews. Speaking at a Jerusalem ceremony alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Kushner said normalisation with Morocco "will bring about a whole new set of opportunities for northern Africa and the entire Middle East." "Our collective efforts have led to the birth of a new Middle East, where firsts and breakthroughs are now happening almost every day," Kushner said. Negotiations leading to Morocco s resumption of ties with Israel included the opening of a US consulate in Western Sahara, and US investments which Moroccan media described as "colossal". At the same time Israel and Morocco are due to reopen diplomatic offices and activate economic cooperation between them. Speaking after Kushner, Netanyahu lauded what he dubbed a commercial "revolution" unleashed by the US-brokered normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE, which he promised would spread to Morocco. "Everybody is busy embracing everyone else, and they re busy doing business together," he said of Israelis and Emiratis. "And the same thing now is going to happen in Rabat and Casablanca; yes, Israelis have been there before, but with direct flights, it s going to be a whole different thing." Morocco closed its liaison office in Tel Aviv in 2000, at the start of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising. King Mohammed VI has said Morocco will remain an advocate for the Palestinians, but the Palestinians -- like the Polisario -- have cried foul and condemned the normalisation announcement between Rabat and the Israel. Shared history Morocco has sought to temper the anger by insisting that relations with Israel are not new. "The new agreement is merely the formalisation of a de facto partnership between Morocco and Israel dating back 60 years," said Moroccan media boss Ahmed Charai. In a commentary published earlier this month in the Jerusalem Post, he said the two countries had a "shared history", adding that he was "overcome with pride and gratitude" when the deal was announced. "It is indeed the case that the two states have assisted each other vitally for decades," Charai wrote. "Not only did intelligence and security cooperation help Israel defend itself in the 1967 Six-Day War and Morocco win its Sahara war a few years later, quiet Moroccan diplomacy proved instrumental in fostering peace between Egypt and Israel," he added. Morocco is home to North Africa s largest Jewish community, which has been there since ancient times and grew with the arrival of Jews expelled from Spain by Catholic kings from 1492. It reached about 250,000 in the late 1940s, 10 percent of the national population, but many Jews left after the creation of Israel in 1948. About 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco, and the Casablanca community is one of the country s most active. Israel meanwhile is home to 700,000 Jews of Moroccan origin. Although ties between the two countries were suspended in the year 2000, trade between Israel and Morocco was not. Between 2014 and 2017 the volume of trade exchanges stood at $149 million, according to statistics published by Moroccan newspapers.
Lebanon s parliament Monday approved a bill that suspends banking secrecy laws for one year to allow for a forensic audit of the central bank, a key demand of international donors, state media said. "Parliament approved a draft law... that suspends banking secrecy for one year," the official National News Agency reported. The vote came in inaccordance with a November decision by parliament to clear hurdles obstructing a forensic audit of the central bank and public institutions, the NNA added. The International Monetary Fund and France are among creditors demanding the audit as part of urgent reforms to unlock financial support, as the country faces a grinding economic crisis. But the central bank has claimed that provisions including Lebanon s Banking Secrecy Law prevent it from releasing some of the necessary information. "After approving a law that lifts banking secrecy... we can begin a forensic audit," said Hasan Fadlallah, a lawmaker affiliated with the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement. But lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh argued that Monday s decision would only be "window dressing" in the absence of a clear intention from government to carry out the audit. "Implementation is a whole sperate matter," he told AFP. New York-based Alvarez and Marsal, a consultancy firm formerly tasked with the audit, scrapped its agreement with the government in November because the central bank had failed to hand over required data. The move sparked widespread criticism of Lebanon s authorities. The country, which defaulted on its debt this year, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades and is still reeling from a devastating explosion at Beirut s port that gutted entire neighbourhoods of the capital on August 4. The dire economic straits and the explosion have both been widely blamed on government corruption and incompetence.
Belgium has joined the Netherlands in banning flights from the U.K. and also banned rail connections in an attempt to make sure that a new strain of coronavirus that is sweeping across southern England does not spill over on its territory. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Sunday said he was issuing the order for 24 hours starting at midnight ``out of precaution. ``There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland, he said. He hoped to have more clarity as of Tuesday. The Netherlands is banning flights from the U.K. for at least the rest of the year. Both Belgium and the Netherlands were reacting to tougher measures imposed in London and surrounding areas on Saturday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson said a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appears to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England.
Turkey will not turn back on its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems and will take reciprocal steps after evaluating U.S. sanctions imposed over the acquisition, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday. The United States on Monday imposed sanctions targeting NATO member Turkey’s Defence Industry Directorate (SSB), its chief, Ismail Demir, and three other employees over its purchase of the S-400s. Turkey condemned the sanctions as a “grave mistake”. President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday the sanctions were a “hostile attack” against Turkey’s defence industry, and they were bound to fail. In an interview with broadcaster Kanal 24, Cavusoglu said Turkey could not be subjected to so-called CAATSA sanctions as its acquisition predated the law, adding that the decision was an attack on Turkey’s sovereign rights and would have no impact. The 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) legislation is meant to dissuade countries from buying military equipment from NATO foe Russia. “This is not in line with international law, diplomacy, and it is a politically and legally wrong decision,” Cavusoglu said, adding that the United States could have solved the dispute with common sense if it cooperated with Turkey and NATO. “If there was to be a step back, it would have happened by now,” he said, referring to the decision to acquire the S-400s. “It’s not important whether the sanctions are soft or harsh, sanctions in themselves are wrong.” Turkey says its purchase of the S-400s was not a choice, but rather a necessity as it was unable to procure defence systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms. The United States says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems. Turkey rejects this and says S-400s will not be integrated into NATO. The sanctions come at a delicate moment in fraught relations between Ankara and Washington as Democratic President-elect Joe Biden gears up to take office on Jan. 20, replacing Republican incumbent Donald Trump. Asked whether ties could normalise under Biden, Cavusoglu said that depended on whether Washington would meet Turkish expectations on Syria policy and the extradition of a U.S.-based cleric Turkey accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt. “If the United States thinks strategically, they need Turkey very much. They say this, but they must do what is necessitated by this,” he said.
President Tayyip Erdogan told European Council President Charles Michel in a call that Turkey wants to build its future with the EU, calling for Ankara and the bloc to move on from a "vicious cycle" in ties, the Turkish presidency said late on Tuesday. At a summit on Friday, EU leaders agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over a row with members Greece and Cyprus over hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, but postponed discussions on any harsher steps until March. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that EU leaders planned to discuss weapons exports to Turkey with NATO allies following a Greek push for an arms embargo on Ankara. The Turkish presidency said that Erdogan urged Michel to take a more constructive approach toward Turkey. "During the call, President Erdogan stated that Turkey aimed to build its future with the EU, and that they considered every positive step in Turkey-EU ties as a window of opportunity," the presidency said. Erdogan also reiterated that Turkey was ready to launch bilateral talks with Greece on their maritime claims, but accused Athens of "running from talks". He repeated a call for a regional east Mediterranean conference. Turkey sent a seismic exploration vessel into waters also claimed by Greece in August, stoking tensions. The EU, led by Germany, has sought without success to resolve the dispute. Turkey has repeatedly accused the bloc of being biased.
The Electoral College decisively confirmed Joe Biden on Monday as the nation s next president, ratifying his November victory in an authoritative state-by-state repudiation of President Donald Trump s refusal to concede he had lost. The presidential electors gave Biden a solid majority of 306 electoral votes to Trump s 232, the same margin that Trump bragged was a landslide when he won the White House four years ago. Heightened security was in place in some states as electors met to cast paper ballots, with masks, social distancing and other pandemic precautions the order of the day. The results will be sent to Washington and tallied in a Jan. 6 joint session of Congress over which Vice President Mike Pence will preside. For all Trump s unsupported claims of fraud, there was little suspense and no change as every one of the electoral votes allocated to Biden and the president in last month s popular vote went officially to each man. On Election Day, the Democrat topped the incumbent Republican by more than 7 million in the popular vote nationwide. California s 55 electoral votes put Biden over the top. Vermont, with 3 votes, was the first state to report. Hawaii, with 4 votes, was the last. ``Once again in America, the rule of law, our Constitution, and the will of the people have prevailed. Our democracy _ pushed, tested, threatened _ proved to be resilient, true, and strong, Biden said in an evening speech in which he stressed the size of his win and the record 81 million people who voted for him. He renewed his campaign promise to be a president for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not, and said the country has hard work ahead on the virus and economy. But there was no concession from the White House, where Trump has continued to make unsupported allegations of fraud. Trump remained in the Oval Office long after the sun set in Washington, calling allies and fellow Republicans while keeping track of the running Electoral College tally, according to White House and campaign aides. The president frequently ducked into the private dining room off the Oval Office to watch on TV, complaining that the cable networks were treating it like a mini-Election Night while not giving his challenges any airtime. The president had grown increasingly disappointed with the size of ``Stop the Steal rallies across the nation as well as efforts for the GOP to field its own slates of electors in states. A presidential wish for a fierce administration defense led to TV appearances early Monday by Stephen Miller, one of his most ferocious advocates, to try to downplay the importance of the Electoral College vote and suggest that Trump s legal challenges would continue all the way to Inauguration Day on Jan. 20. Late in the day, he took to Twitter to announce that Attorney General William Barr was leaving the administration before Christmas. Barr s departure comes amid lingering tension over Trump s unsupported fraud claims, especially after Barr s statement this month to The Associated Press that the election results were unaffected by any fraud. In a Fox News interview taped over the weekend, Trump said that ``I worry about the country having an illegitimate president, that s what I worry about. A president that lost and lost badly. On Monday in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin _ the six battleground states that Biden won and Trump contested _ electors gave Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris their votes in low-key proceedings. Nevada s electors met via Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump s efforts to undermine the election results also led to concerns about safety for the electors, virtually unheard of in previous years. In Michigan, lawmakers from both parties reported receiving threats, and legislative offices were closed over threats of violence. Biden won the state by 154,000 votes, or 2.8 percentage points, over Trump. Georgia state police were out in force at the state Capitol in Atlanta before Democratic electors pledged to Biden met. There were no protesters seen. Even with the Electoral College s confirmation of Biden s victory, some Republicans continued to refuse to acknowledge that reality. Yet their opposition to Biden had no practical effect on the electoral process, with the Democrat to be sworn in next month. Republicans who would have been Trump electors met anyway in a handful of states Biden won. Pennsylvania Republicans said they cast a ``procedural vote for Trump and Pence in case courts that have repeatedly rejected challenges to Biden s victory were to somehow still determine that Trump had won. In North Carolina, Utah and other states across the country where Trump won, his electors turned out to duly cast their ballots for him. Electors in North Carolina had their temperatures checked before being allowed to enter the Capitol to vote. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes withdrew as a Trump elector and was in quarantine because he was exposed to someone with COVID-19. Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated four years ago, were among New York s 29 electors for Biden and Harris. In New Hampshire, before the state s four electors voted for Biden at the State House in Concord, 13-year-old Brayden Harrington led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. He had delivered a moving speech at the Democratic National Convention in August about the struggle with stuttering he shares with Biden. Following weeks of Republican legal challenges that were easily dismissed by judges, Trump and Republican allies tried to persuade the Supreme Court last week to set aside 62 electoral votes for Biden in four states, which might have thrown the outcome into doubt. The justices rejected the effort on Friday. The Electoral College was the product of compromise during the drafting of the Constitution between those who favored electing the president by popular vote and those who opposed giving the people the power to directly choose their leader. Each state gets a number of electors equal to its total number of seats in Congress: two senators plus however many members the state has in the House of Representatives. Washington, D.C., has three votes, under a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, states award all their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote in their state. The bargain struck by the nation s founders has produced five elections in which the president did not win the popular vote. Trump was the most recent example in 2016.
An explosion rocked a Singapore flagged oil tanker off the Saudi port city of Jeddah Monday, the vessel s owner said, in the latest apparent strike on energy sector targets in the kingdom. All 22 sailors aboard the tanker BW Rhine escaped unhurt after the blast struck just after midnight, Singapore-based shipping company Hafnia said, but it did not exclude the possibility of an oil spill. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the alleged attack, but it comes as Iran-backed Huthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen step up cross-border strikes against Saudi targets in retaliation for a five-year military campaign led by Riyadh. "BW Rhine has been hit from an external source whilst discharging at Jeddah... causing an explosion and subsequent fire onboard," Hafnia said in a statement, without specifying what struck the vessel. "The crew have extinguished the fire with assistance from the shore fire brigade and tug boats, and all 22 seafarers have been accounted for with no injuries," it added. Saudi authorities did not immediately confirm the blast off Jeddah, a key Red Sea port and distribution centre for oil giant Saudi Aramco. Hafnia reported "hull damage" in the blast. "It is possible that some oil has escaped from the vessel, but this has not been confirmed and instrumentation currently indicates that oil levels on board are at the same level as before the incident," Hafnia said. Dryad Global, a London-based maritime intelligence firm, also reported the explosion, saying it struck a vessel while "carrying out operations within the main tanker anchorage at the Saudi Aramco Jeddah port". But it identified the Dominican-flagged tanker Desert Rose or the Saudi-flagged Al Amal Al Saudi as the possible targets. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said it was aware of an explosion and warned vessels in the area to exercise "extreme caution". Series of attacks The incident comes after an explosion last month rocked a Greek-operated oil tanker docked at Saudi Arabia s southern port of Shuqaiq, an attack that a Riyadh-led military coalition blamed on Yemen s Huthi rebels. No injuries were reported in that blast on the Maltese-flagged Agrari tanker, according to its Greece-based operator TMS Tankers. Dryad Global said that blast was caused by a "water-borne improvised explosive device" launched by the Huthis. Just days earlier, the Huthi rebels said they struck a plant operated by Saudi Aramco in Jeddah with a Quds-2 missile. Aramco said that strike tore a hole in an oil tank, triggering an explosion and fire. The incidents, which underscore the Huthis advancing arsenal and the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia s oil infrastructure, come as the rebels escalate attacks on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been targeted with dozens of ballistic missile and drone attacks since the start of last year, many of which the kingdom claims to have successfully intercepted. Saudi Arabia is stuck in a military quagmire in Yemen, which has been locked in conflict since the rebels took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014 and went on to seize much of the north. Riyadh led a coalition that intervened to support the internationally recognised government the following year, but the conflict has shown no real signs of abating since. Saudi Arabia has repeatedly accused regional rival Iran of supplying sophisticated weapons to the Huthis, a charge Tehran denies. Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have been killed and millions displaced in Yemen s war, which the United Nations has called the world s worst humanitarian disaster.
Turkey on Saturday summoned the Iranian ambassador to Ankara over Iran s ``aggressive reaction to the Turkish president s recitation of a poem on a visit to Azerbaijan, which Tehran deemed to support a secession of Azeri ethnic parts of Iran. The diplomatic spat between neighbors Iran and Turkey began earlier this week when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who strongly backs Azerbaijan, read parts of a poem during a parade in the Caucasian country s capital of Baku. The verses that Erdogan read included lines about how a border tore apart ancient Azeri, or Azerbaijani, lands ``by force. In a statement Saturday, Turkey s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Iranians had distorted the meaning of the poem ``to fuel senseless tensions. The Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers spoke by telephone later on Saturday. A Turkish foreign ministry official said Mevlut Cavusoglu told his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, that public statements coming out of Tehran aimed at the Turkish leader were ``baseless and unacceptable, when other channels of communication were available between the two governments. In the phone call, Cavusoglu also gave an assurance that Erdogan fully respects Iran s national sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to Iran s state-run news agency. IRNA added that the Turkish diplomat explained his president had not been aware of the sensitivities surrounding the lines he recited in Baku. Altun said the Iranian ambassador to Ankara was summoned late Friday to the foreign ministry. It came after Iran s foreign ministry summoned the Turkish ambassador to Tehran for an explanation over Erdogan s ``meddlesome and unacceptable remarks in Baku. Altun said the poem ``passionately reflects the emotional experience of an aggrieved people due to Armenia s occupation of Azerbaijani lands. It does not include any references to Iran. Iran s three northwestern provinces West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardabil have a predominantly ethnic Azeri population that speaks a Turkic language. Erdogan visited Baku and attended a parade to celebrate a recent cease-fire agreement that allowed Azerbaijan to reclaim control over broad swathes of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding lands in a conflict with Armenia. ``It must not be forgotten that Turkey stood in solidarity with the Iranian state and people, despite the risk of having to endure international pressures, at difficult times for Iran, Altun said in his statement. Tehran and Ankara have maintained mostly cordial relations, despite fighting on opposite sides of regional conflicts like the Syrian war, and severe U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif underscored the significance of friendly relations between the two neighbors, in his phone call with his Turkish counterpart Saturday.
Saudi Arabia is pushing for a compromise to end a damaging three-year Gulf dispute, but a full resolution remains out of reach despite its offer of concessions, sources close to the negotiations say. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan told AFP last week that the kingdom and its allies Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE -- who imposed a blockade on Qatar in June 2017 -- were "on board" to resolve the crisis, with an agreement expected soon. The potential thaw comes as Gulf states position themselves for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who will welcome the resolution of a row which has undercut US efforts to rein in arch-enemy Iran. The blockading countries accused Doha of being too close to Tehran and funding radical Islamist movements -- charges it staunchly denies. They originally presented Qatar with a list of 13 demands including shutting down Al Jazeera, a popular regional broadcaster which has rankled Gulf rulers with its high-decibel criticism, and downgrading links with their rivals Turkey and Iran. Doha flatly turned them down. And after a bitter standoff, the Saudi-led bloc is willing to substantially water down their demands in the final deal, sources familiar with the negotiations say. A figure close to the Saudi government indicated the kingdom was ready to make concessions by reopening its airspace to Qatari aircraft -- saving them from fuel-guzzling detours -- if Doha stops funding its political opponents and restrains its media. "Saudi is pushing (for) it -- and Saudi holds the key card which is its airspace for Qatar," the source told AFP. The impasse snapped transport links, separated families, and cost billions of dollars in lost trade and investment, damage which the Gulf economies can ill afford as they try to power out of the coronavirus slump. On Tuesday, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates officially threw their support behind efforts to heal the rift. But the Saudi source said the UAE, a staunch rival of Qatar, had been resistant. "Emirati anger cannot be allowed to keep this fire burning... (It s) time to put this issue to bed." Limited scope Another Gulf-based source close to the negotiations told AFP that the Saudi-driven process could result in a peace of sorts but not fully resolve the underlying issues. The final deal will likely be a joint document setting out the terms, they said, possibly a reformatted version of the 2014 Riyadh agreement between Qatar and Gulf states -- a secret pact believed to promote non-interference in each other s affairs. According to a Western diplomat in the Gulf, mediators from Kuwait are pushing to get the three main leaders on board -- Abu Dhabi s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatar s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. "Those three men will have to agree," the diplomat told AFP, adding that despite the Emirates resistance, Abu Dhabi s leader was "closely involved" in the process. "We re looking at a possible interim solution within a few weeks... I don t think anyone expects a complete resolution. Everyone will be looking at how warmly the communique is worded." Doha-based diplomats cited a senior Qatari official as saying that the final deal had been "agreed in principle" but was "limited in scope". The official, they said, suggested Saudi Arabia was unwilling to announce the deal before the end of Trump s term, possibly to strike a positive tone with Biden who has pledged a tough stance towards Riyadh over its human rights failings. The US is keen to lift the air embargo which has prompted Qatar to use Iran s airspace, contributing to the approximately $133 million that Iranian media says Tehran receives annually for overflights, undermining US efforts to squeeze it economically. Existential differences There are already signs that media in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have begun softening their shrill rhetoric. Writing this week in the pro-government Okaz daily, which typically lambasts Qatar, Saudi columnist Tariq al-Homayed hailed the "optimistic" mood and called for "unity and cohesion" in the Gulf. But the real bellwether will be the level of Qatari representation at an upcoming Gulf Cooperation Council summit expected before the end of the year. The attendance of Qatar s emir would signal a rapprochement is well underway. The Saudi-led blockade was designed to choke Qatar and force it to align with Gulf interests, but it only propelled a self-sufficiency drive, and pushed the deep-pocketed emirate closer to Iran and Turkey, observers say. In an embarrassment for Riyadh in July, a UN court ruled in favour of Qatar over the airspace dispute. Despite Riyadh s de-escalatory stance, mistrust between both sides runs deep, with Homayed warning the "differences are fundamental and existential, and do not end only with a handshake". "It will take a lot of time and sustained effort by all parties to rebuild ties," said Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University s Baker Institute in the United States. "Any agreement will be the start of a longer process of reconciliation rather than an endpoint or a return to a pre-2017 status quo ante."
The United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington said there were "seeds of progress" in resolving a long-running Gulf Arab row and a commitment to "tone things down" as the parties work for a solution to end the rift with neighbouring Qatar. Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba s comments on Tuesday to a U.S. think tank were more cautious than those of ally Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister said last week that significant progress had been made and that a final agreement was within reach. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017 despite mediation efforts by Kuwait and the United States, which says the dispute hampers a united Gulf front against Iran. "I think there s definitely progress or at least there s seeds of progress," Otaiba told the Hudson Institute via videolink in Abu Dhabi s most concrete remarks since Kuwait on Friday announced movement towards a resolution. "There s a lot of commitments .. to kind of tone things down, to stand down. If that holds I think it is promising. I think there is a chance that you can at least begin a process of deconflicting," Otaiba said, adding that time would tell whether this would hold to enable "some kind of concept of a solution". Qatar has also been more cautious in public remarks, with its foreign minister voicing hope that things would move in the right direction. The boycotting nations accuse Doha of supporting terrorism. Qatar, which hosts the region s largest U.S. military base. Doha had been set 13 demands, ranging from closing Al Jazeera television and shuttering a Turkish base to cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.
As the Pentagon pulls troops out of the Middle East in the coming weeks, under orders from President Donald Trump, U.S. military leaders are working to find other ways to deter potential attacks by Iran and its proxies, and to counter arguments that America is abandoning the region. A senior U.S. military official with knowledge of the region said Monday that Iran may try to take advantage of America s troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the planned departure of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz from the Persian Gulf. The official said as a result military leaders have determined that based on the security situation in the region, the Nimitz must remain there now and ``for some time to come. In addition, the official said an additional fighter jet squadron may also be sent to the region, if needed. The Nimitz left the Gulf region and was set to begin heading home. But the ship was ordered to return last week to provide additional security while the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan continue. A U.S. defense official said at the time that the decision would ensure that American troops could deter any adversary from taking action against U.S. forces. No timeline was given, but the U.S. military official speaking Monday made it clear that the change is open-ended, and it s not clear when the ship s crew will return home. The potential Iranian threat has become an increasing concern in recent weeks following the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iran has blamed the death on Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists. U.S. officials are also worried about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran s top general, Qassem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad s airport in early January. The military official said the U.S. is aware of Iranian attack planning and threats, and that some are more mature, while others are aspirational. A key worry, he said, is that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq may be willing to act even without the blessings or direction of Tehran. The presence of the Nimitz, said the official, may cause Iran or the militias to rethink a possible attack. The Pentagon is mindful of the impact of the extended deployment on the Nimitz sailors and on the Navy s plan for the ship s maintenance, said the military official, who spoke to a small number of reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing troop deliberations. The Pentagon announced last month that the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills Trump s pledge to bring forces home from America s long wars. Under the accelerated pullout, the U.S. will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500. Postponing the return of the Nimitz, however, will keep between 5,000-7,000 sailors and Marines in the Middle East, likely into next year. Other ships in the Nimitz strike group may remain with the carrier. The military official said that the Pentagon will look at other ways to make up for the loss of the Nimitz when the carrier does leave the region. Trump s troop withdrawal decision got a cool reception from Republican lawmakers and allies, who warned of the dangers of reducing forces before security conditions are right. And it came despite arguments from senior military officials who favor a slower pullout to preserve hard-fought gains. Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has long argued for a consistent aircraft carrier presence in the Gulf region to deter Iran. Visiting the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the North Arabian Sea in February, McKenzie told the sailors: ``You re here because we don t want a war with Iran and nothing makes a potential adversary think twice about war than the presence of an aircraft carrier and the strike group that comes with it. Despite widespread demands for U.S. Navy ships in other parts of the world, McKenzie requested and received a much larger than usual naval presence in the Middle East region throughout the early part of this year. But over time, the numbers have declined, in recognition of the Pentagon s effort to put more emphasis on China and the Indo-Pacific.
EU foreign ministers will evaluate grounds for sanctions against Turkey over a Mediterranean gas dispute on Monday before the bloc s leaders decide whether to make good on their threat to impose punitive measures. Ministers will not take decisions at their meeting on Monday, leaving that to Thursday s summit of EU leaders, who in October told Turkey to stop exploring in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean or face consequences. Turkey s move in late November to return a seismic exploration vessel to port has calmed tension, but EU officials and diplomats said broader issues - over Libya, Syria, Russia and authoritarianism in Turkey - have hardened EU positions. "I m not aware of any EU government challenging the view that the situation is worse than October and that leaders should consider the consequences," said a senior EU official. "We have been requesting a change that has not come." The European Union says Turkish drill and survey ships have continued to work in waters contested by Greece and Cyprus, which Greece says makes formal talks with Turkey over maritime claims impossible. European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits, called on Turkey last week to stop playing a "cat-and-mouse" game by offering concessions only to reverse them. Germany, current holder of the EU s six-month presidency, holds the key to whether sanctions go ahead. It had hoped to mediate between Athens and Ankara, but was angered when Turkey resumed exploration for gas off Cyprus in October after a pause. "Putting the (Oruc Reis) exploration ship back to sea straight after the (October) summit was not taken kindly by member states that put a lot of effort in with Turkey and Greece. There are limits even to German patience," said a EU diplomat familiar with the preparations for the summit. France and the European Parliament say it is time to punish Turkey, a NATO ally and candidate to join the EU that is seen in Brussels as fuelling the gas dispute for domestic politics. Turkey rejects EU talk of sanctions, saying it is not constructive. The EU parliament called for sanctions on Nov. 26, but the return of the Oruc Reis to port and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan s call for dialogue may give the EU reasons to hold off for now. "Sanctions are on the table, but they re not automatic," the EU diplomat said.
Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz will appear in a Geneva court next month to defend himself against corruption and forgery charges in connection with mining contracts in Guinea, his lawyer told Reuters. Steinmetz was indicted in August 2019 by a Geneva prosecutor who accused him and two aides of paying or having $10 million in bribes paid to one of the wives of former Guinean President Lansana Conte for mining licences between 2005 and 2010. “There are two charges, corruption and forgery. Both are categorically contested. The charges have no basis in fact or in law,” Marc Bonnant, a prominent Geneva lawyer representing Steinmetz, told Reuters on Friday. The lawyer questioned whether the late Conte was married to Mamadie Toure, named as a spouse of the late president in the indictment, during that time. Reuters attempted to contact Toure through social media, but she could not immediately be reached for comment. “Beny Steinmetz never paid a cent to Mme. Mamadie Toure. Mamadie Toure was not the wife of the president (Lansana Conte) and she is not a public agent and therefore cannot be corrupted,” Bonnant said. “Beny Steinmetz never signed forged documents, he was never an instigator of the signature of forged documents,” he added. Bonnant, asked whether Steinmetz, a former Geneva resident who moved back to Israel in 2016, would attend the trial, said: “He came to all the pre-trial hearings where he was asked to appear. And naturally he will attend the trial.” The trial had been expected early this year, but was delayed by the closure of the Swiss judicial system for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic. A second source close to the case confirmed that the proceedings were set for Jan. 11-22. Claudio Mascotto, a Geneva prosecutor who began the investigation in the Swiss city where allegedly some of the bribes transited, said last year he was seeking prison terms of between two and 10 years for Steinmetz and his two associates. Mascotto is no longer handling the case and has been replaced by two other prosecutors, Bonnant said. The second source confirmed the change to Reuters. Development of Simandou - one of the world’s biggest iron ore deposits, containing billions of tonnes of high-grade ore - has been hindered by years of legal wrangling involving several big mining companies. As part of international efforts to improve transparency, Guinea’s government under President Alpha Conde, elected in 2010, launched a review of mining contracts signed before 2011. The review panel investigated how Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) had obtained rights to the Simandou deposit in 2008 and, after levelling corruption allegations, the government stripped the company of its rights to Simandou and a smaller deposit. BSGR has always maintained it did nothing wrong. It walked away from the Simandou project as part of a settlement announced in February 2019 with the Guinean government, in which both parties agreed to drop outstanding legal action.
Implementation of South Sudan s 2018 peace accord has stalled and authorities have blocked humanitarian access to areas where conflict has restarted, the UN panel of experts said in a report seen by Reuters on Thursday. They also said there was a lack of transparency in how the government collected and spent oil and other revenues. The government disputed the findings, saying agencies had access to all areas and it was working to fix the economy. Oil-rich South Sudan erupted into civil war soon after securing independence from Sudan in 2011, leading to an estimated 400,000 deaths and one of the worst refugee crises on the continent since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A fragile peace accord between President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar was agreed in 2018 and they formed a government of national unity in February, setting the stage for potential peace. But since then implementation has "mostly stalled, as the signatories have failed to adhere to the deadlines set in the peace agreement and have backtracked on aspects of its political, security and economic provisions," the panel said. As fighting has erupted in areas across the country, the panel found that South Sudan People s Defence Forces and National Security Service "routinely blocked the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and peace monitors from accessing conflict areas". The panel also noted that the government, which relies heavily on oil for its revenue, has turned to resource backed loans and contracts as it struggles to plug a budget deficit projected to hit $700 million. Deng Dau Deng, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, said the panel of experts themselves had been allowed entry into South Sudan, which shows "that the government of South Sudan is committed to meet the UN resolutions on South Sudan". "South Sudan is cooperative," he told Reuters on Thursday. "The UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other agencies have full access to all the areas." He also said, without providing details, that his government was working to improve the deficit situation in the country.
After years of working in the English version of Copts United, our journey comes to an end. Yes, to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3: 1). However, we didn t wish or expect to see our lovely platform closed that soon. In the past years, we have tried to be the voice for the voiceless following the vision of the creator of this electronic newspaper Eng. Adly Abadir.