Qatar ruler in Saudi Arabia for first time since rift eased

Qatar ruler in Saudi Arabia for first time since rift eased

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By

Associated Press

Monday, May 10, 2021

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – Qatar’s ruling emir is visiting Saudi Arabia on Monday for the first time since signing a declaration with the kingdom and other Arab Gulf states to ease a years-long rift and end an embargo that had frayed ties among important U.S. allies and security partners.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, according to a statement carried by the state-run Qatar News Agency.

The meeting highlights how ties between the neighbors are improving following a decision earlier this year by Saudi Arabia to end its more than three-year-long embargo of the tiny and wealthy Gulf state. It also signals a Saudi reset in foreign policy as a new administration led by President Joe Biden reassess U.S.-Saudi ties.

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Qatar‘s emir was last in Saudi Arabia for a high-level Gulf Arab summit that took place in January and which concluded with a declaration to ease the rift. It was his first visit to the kingdom since ties had frayed in mid-2017.

Qatar, which is hosting the FIFA soccer World Cup next year, emerged from the spat largely unscathed and resolute in the face of the assault. The campaign, led by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain, achieved little in the face of forcing Qatar to change its policies and pushed the gas-rich nation in closer alliance with Turkey and Iran.

Qatar rejected the quartet’s demands, which included that it shutter its Al Jazeera news network, expel a small contingency of Turkish troops from its territory and cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha, meanwhile, continued to strengthen its relationship with Washington and denied the allegations made by the quartet that it supports extremists.

While direct flights and business ties were set to resume between Qatar and the quartet nations, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera Arabic and English news websites continue to be blocked in the UAE.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s foreign minister is traveling to Saudi Arabia for a two-day visit as Turkey seeks to mend ties with the kingdom that hit an all-time low over the 2018 killing in Istanbul of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The visit is the first by a high-level Turkish official since the killing of Khashoggi by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate.

U.K. set to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures

U.K. set to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures

British PM Boris Johnson expected to allow pints in pubs, household mixing

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an elbow bump as he leaves after speaking to the media with Conservative Party candidate Jill Mortimer, not pictured, who won the Hartlepool by-election, at Hartlepool Marina, in Hartlepool, northeast England, Friday, May 7, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the United Kingdom on Monday as his government downgrades the risk of transmission.

Pubs will be able to serve customers indoors again and people will be able to meet in groups of 30 outdoors. Up to six people can mingle indoors instead of strictly adhering to their household “bubbles,” according to the BBC.

Hugs will be OK but should be brief and avoid face-to-face contact.

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Mr. Johnson and the U.K. are pivoting to sunnier days after imposing strict lockdowns to tame a fast-moving variant of the virus that also hit the U.S. and other countries.

More than half of the U.K. population has received at least one dose of a vaccine after the government decided to delay second doses by up to 12 weeks.

Europe’s soccer governing body will meet this week to decide if the May 29 Champions League final — a major event for club teams on the continent — should be moved from Istanbul to London because of travel restrictions as Turkey combats another wave of the virus.

Both teams in the final, Chelsea and Manchester City, are from England.

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The kiss, the bliss
There’s nothing quite like this
To see your soul is shining like a pearl
To feel deep down
You matter to the world
And not just to a boy or to a girl

[Pre-Chorus]
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Please daddy, please daddy
Pump it up, pump it up
Into me

[Chorus]
Could I have one more hit?
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This shit ain’t good for me
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You really shouldn’t go cold turkey
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[Bridge]
A kick, a punch, a bell-ringer
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[Outro]
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Egypt, Turkey officials meet for talks to reset frayed ties

Egypt, Turkey officials meet for talks to reset frayed ties

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Turkish Foreign Ministry Deputy Sedat Onal, seated right, meets with Hamdi Sanad Loza, Egyptian deputy foreign minister along with their delegations, at the foreign ministry in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty) more >

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Egyptian and Turkish officials met Wednesday for talks aiming to reset ties between the two regional powers after years of enmity.

The two-day “political consultations” in Cairo are chaired by Hamdi Loza, Egypt’s deputy foreign minister, and his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, which announced the meetings in a statement late Tuesday, described the talks as “exploratory discussions” that would focus on “the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalization of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context.”

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The English-language version of Egypt’s state-run Ahram daily quoted an unnamed Egyptian official as saying the talks came after a year of direct and indirect communications to avert a confrontation between the two U.S. allies in Libya, where they back opposing side in the conflict.

Egypt and Turkey have been at loggerheads since the Egyptian military’s 2013 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, who hailed from the Muslim Brotherhood group, supported by Turkey. Egypt has designated the group a terrorist organization.

Recently, top Turkish officials signaled a warming of ties with Egypt, a shift from their previous, sharply critical approach to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on March 12 that the two countries have had “intelligence, diplomatic and economic” contacts, adding that he hoped for “strong” ties between the two nations.

Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Mus said earlier this week that Ankara also wants to boost economic and trade ties with Cairo, which remains Turkey’s biggest African trade partner, with a $4.86-billion-vlue in trade last year.

A week after Erdogan’s remarks, his government asked three Istanbul-based Egyptian TV channels linked to the Brotherhood to soften their critical political coverage of the Egyptian government, according to editors at the stations. The TV channels promptly stopped broadcasting some political programs.

Egypt welcomed the move, calling it a “good initiative from the Turkish side that establishes a favorable atmosphere to discuss issues of dispute between the two nations.”

Egyptian officials say Turkey must take substantial steps toward “genuine” talks to mend ties, including withdrawing hundreds of Turkish troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries brought to Libya by Turkey, and also hand over Islamists wanted by Egypt on terror-related charges.

Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said a possible Egypt-Turkey rapprochement would help stabilize Libya, which has recently become a theater of rivalry between regional and world powers.

“There is not doubt that if these two regional rivals find a way to work together, improve bilateral ties and commercial ties and de-escalate what was a very confrontational relation over the past years, this will reflect in pushing forward political stability in Libya,” she said.

The two nations back opposing sides in Libya. Egypt, Greece and some other European countries were angered by a 2019 Turkish deal with Libyan officials that aimed to boost Turkish maritime rights and influence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Egypt and Greece responded by signing a separate deal to delineate their maritime boundaries, a deal which Ankara rejected.

Libya’s top diplomat urges withdrawal of foreign fighters

Libya’s top diplomat urges withdrawal of foreign fighters

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By SAMY MAGDY

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

CAIRO (AP) – Libya’s top diplomat Monday called for the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from the North African country as it heads toward elections later this year.

Najla al-Manqoush, foreign minister of Libya’s interim government, urged Turkey to implement U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding the repatriation of more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya.

Her remarks came at a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He visited the capital of Tripoli with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and other top military and intelligence officials.

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“We call on (Turkey) to take steps to implement all the provisions of … the Security Council resolutions and to cooperate together to expel all foreign forces and mercenaries from the Libyan territories,” she said.

The remarks were seen as a rebuke to Turkey, which has deployed troops and Syrian mercenaries to fight along with Tripoli militias since forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter launched their attack on the capital in 2019.

Cavusoglu responded by saying that Turkish forces were in Libya as part of a training agreement reached with a previous Libya administration. “There are those who equate our legal presence … with the foreign mercenary groups that fight in this country for money,” he said.

The Libyan foreign minister could face criticism from pro-Turkey Libyans for ideological reasons and also others in Tripoli who still fear a new attack from eastern-based forces, said Jalel Harchaoui, senior Libya researcher at the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.

The departure of hundreds of Turkish troops “is by all means a hard thing to implement,” he said. “Very difficult for Tripoli – because a very large (mercenary) mission is still in central Libya and could help (Hifter) march west again. And very difficult for Turkey – because it has spent untold amounts on making sure its presence in western Libya remains entrenched for a long while.”

Turkey has been closely involved in Libya. It backed the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord based in Tripoli against Hifter’s forces. Turkey sent military supplies and fighters to Libya helping to tilt the balance of power in favor of the GNA.

Turkey also signed an agreement with the Tripoli-based government delineating the maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Mediterranean. That triggered protests from Greece and Cyprus. Both countries denounced the agreement saying it was a serious breach of international law that disregarded the rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries.

Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The oil-rich country was in recent years split between rival east- and west-based administrations, each backed by different armed groups and foreign governments.

Libya’s interim government, which took power in March, is tasked with bringing together a country that has been torn apart by civil war for nearly a decade. It also aims to steer Libya through a general election on Dec. 24.

Security Council diplomats say there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, along with Russians and Chadians.

The Security Council’s 15 member nations agreed in an informal meeting last week that getting the foreign fighters and mercenaries to go home was the only way forward, according to the officials.

___

Associated Press writer Suzan Frazer contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

UN-led informal Cyprus talks stall, new round planned

UN-led informal Cyprus talks stall, new round planned

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Abandoned houses behind barbed wires inside the U.N controlled buffer zone in divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Thursday, April 29, 2021. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots failed to make headway in informal talks on the … more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN and MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

Associated Press

Thursday, April 29, 2021

GENEVA (AP) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots failed to make headway in informal talks on the future of their ethnically divided island, but talks will continue and “I do not give up.”

The United Nations chief invested his political capital in overseeing three days of talks in Geneva aimed at reviving dormant negotiations to reunify Cyprus. But Turkish Cypriots in the island’s breakaway north insist on a deal based on two separate states, which Greek Cypriots reject as formalizing partition forever.

The talks were headed by Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. The gathering was also attended by the foreign ministers of Cyprus’ three “guarantors” – Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain. It is the latest attempt by the U.N. to revitalize the peace process since another round of negotiations collapsed in 2017.

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Guterres said a new round of informal talks are planned, possibly in the next two to three months.

“The truth is that in the end of our efforts, we have not yet found enough common ground to allow for the resumption of formal negotiations in relation to the settlement of the Cyprus problem,” Guterres said. “But I do not give up.”

He summarized the two sides’ positions: The Turkish Cypriots believe that decades of efforts to ensure a “bizonal, bicommunal federation” have been exhausted and they now deserve “equal international status” like that enjoyed by the internationally recognized government run by Greek Cypriots in the south.

The Greek Cypriots held to their position for a federation “with political equality on the basis of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Guterres said.

“As you can imagine, this was not an easy meeting,” he said. “To square the circle is an impossibility in geometry, but it is very common in politics.”

Guterres said he would report to the U.N. Security Council on the different positions taken in the meeting.

Cyprus has been one of international politics’ hardest nuts to crack for a half-century. The island was split along ethnic lines in 1974 following a Turkish invasion that was triggered by a Greek junta-inspired coup aiming at union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains more than 35,000 troops in the north.

The dispute has caused friction between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, impedes Ankara’s bid for European Union membership and stoked tensions over potential hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The majority Greek Cypriots have faulted Turkey‘s demand for a permanent troop presence as well as a Turkish Cypriot demand for veto power at all levels of government decision-making as deal breakers in previous attempts to reunify Cyprus as a federation composed of Greek and Turkish speaking zones.

Claiming that after decades of failure have made the target of federation pointless to pursue, Turkey and a new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara now advocate a “partnership between two equal states.”

Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have inherent sovereign rights in Cyprus. We are both equal,” Tatar said in written statement. “That is why the U.N. mandate must change, to reflect our sovereign equality and equal international status. Once we level the playing field, I am confident we will have the breakthrough that we all so desperately want to see.”

But Greek Cypriots say a federation-based deal is enshrined in U.N. Security Council resolutions, which the sides can’t deviate from because it remains the only way forward toward a workable reunification accord.

Speaking to reporters, Anastasiades said Guterres made it “abundantly clear” to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots that there’s “no possibility” to resume formal negotiations based on anything other than U.N. parameters.

“It was something that was noted by the secretary-general that if there’s no solution on the basis which has been outlined by the United Nations, then they (Turkish Cypriots) will carry on in the same way, isolated from the international community as they claim,” Anastasiades said.

Anastasiades said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had also told the Turkish side that the bloc can’t accept a two-state deal for Cyprus, which joined the 27-member EU in 2004. But only the island’s south enjoys full benefits.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Anastasiades of lacking “vision” and sounding like a “broken record,” insisting that Ankara would strongly support the Turkish Cypriots‘ two-state proposal.

“We will not make concessions on the issue of (the Turkish Cypriots‘) independence, sovereignty and equality,” Cavusoglu said. “If these are recognized, the two states can in the future negotiate how they will cooperate. If they are not recognized, we will continue on our path together” with the Turkish Cypriots.

___

Menelaos Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

UN Syria envoy says there’s interest in stepped up diplomacy

UN Syria envoy says there’s interest in stepped up diplomacy

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FILE – In this March 21, 2019 file photo, United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Geir Pederson, speaks with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, at the Lebanese foreign ministry, in Beirut, Lebanon. Pederson says key global players are interested in … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The U.N. special envoy for Syria said Wednesday that key global players are interested in stepped-up international diplomacy to “unlock progress” toward ending the country’s 10-year war.

Geir Pederson called for exploratory discussions to “help test possibilities and bridge the gaps of mistrust.”

Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council he spoke about the need for more constructive and comprehensive diplomacy to make progress toward resolving “this highly internationalized conflict” with senior officials from a number of countries. They include Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, the Arab world, Europe and other council members. He said he also spoke to the Syrian government and opposition.

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“I appreciate that key international interlocutors are expressing interest in this idea,” Pedersen said. “At the same time, it is clear that mistrust and a desire for others to move first are prominent elements in the minds of many.”

Syrians in March marked a decade since peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad’s government erupted in March 2011, touching off a popular uprising that quickly turned into a full-blown civil war. Despite a decade of fighting and a broken country, Assad remains firmly in power and the country is economically devastated.

Pedersen said a “new international format” could bring stakeholders to the table. “With a relative, albeit fragile, calm on the ground, and many capitals understanding the need for a way forward, we need to explore what is possible” and “we should not lose further time,” he said.

Since the war erupted, there have been many high-level gatherings designed to stop the fighting and guide Syria to a political transition. Locations included Istanbul, Paris, Rome, Vienna and Geneva and included assemblies with names such as “Friends of Syria” and the “London 11.” In 2016 it was the “International Syria Support Group.” None has made a lasting impact.

Pedersen’s contention that international diplomacy is essential for peace in Syria came with “a warning to prioritize the proactive search for a settlement of the Syrian conflict.” He said that’s especially the case in light of the potential for the last year of relative calm to deteriorate.

Pedersen pointed to “a significant escalation” in the last rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria, including airstrikes on a U.N.-supported hospital, the shelling of residential areas in western Aleppo, and strikes on the Syrian-Turkish border among several other trouble spots.

The worsening violence comes ahead of a government-scheduled presidential election May 26, which Pedersen stressed is being held under Syria’s current constitution without any U.N. involvement.

The United Nations continues to emphasize the importance of a negotiated political solution to the conflict as called for in a Security Council resolution adopted in December 2015, Pedersen said. It unanimously endorses a road map to peace in Syria approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012 by representatives of the U.N., Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members.

It calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with U.N.-supervised elections under that document with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.

Pedersen has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get the Syrian government and the opposition to start negotiating a new constitution.

He told the council that after the co-chairs from both sides couldn’t agree on terms and methodology for a sixth session of the constitutional committee he proposed a compromise on April 15, which the government said it will respond to next week.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council “the failure to enact a new constitution is proof positive that the so-called election on May 26 will be a sham.” Until U.N.-supervised elections occur under a new constitution, she said, “we will not be fooled.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country is Syria’s closest ally, said Moscow continues efforts “to make sure the intra-Syria dialogue is successful” and hopes Pedersen can bring the government and opposition together for a new session of the constitutional committee.

As for the upcoming presidential vote, he said: “We lament the fact that some countries are up in arms against the very idea of the upcoming elections and have already declared them illegitimate.”

On the economic front, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that Syria‘s economic crisis is worsening, with more than half the households reporting “not having sufficient, or sufficiently nutritious food.”

Turkey says it’s glad a woman leads EU’s executive branch

Turkey says it’s glad a woman leads EU’s executive branch

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a debate in the plenary at the European Parliament in Brussels, Monday, April 26, 2021. European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were reporting back … more >

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By SUZAN FRASER

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – The Turkish government again rejected the accusation that it snubbed the head of the European Union‘s executive arm because she is a woman, insisting Wednesday that internal EU squabbling was to blame for a protocol gaffe during a meeting with Turkey‘s president.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said Ankara was pleased the European Commission had a woman at the helm and called on EU institutions to reach a “consensus” among themselves to avoid similar lapses in protocol in the future.

Ursula von der Leyen, the EU commission’s president, and European Council President Charles Michel traveled to Turkey this month to discuss the troubled relationship between the 27-nation bloc and Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Michel and Erdogan took the only two chairs placed in front of the EU and Turkish flags, leaving von der Leyen to sit on a large sofa away from the men.

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In an address to the European Parliament on Monday, von der Leyen said she believes she was treated disrespectfully simply because of her gender.

“I felt hurt, and I felt alone, as a woman, and as a European. Because it is not about seating arrangements or protocol. This goes to the core of who we are,” von der Leyen said in the speech. “This goes to the values our union stands for, and this shows how far we still have to go before women are treated as equals, always and everywhere.”

Turkey has insisted the EU’s own protocol requests were applied. The European Council’s head of protocol said his team did not have access during a preparatory inspection to the room where the seating incident happened.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic denied in an emailed statement Wednesday that von der Leyen was slighted because of her gender, stating that “Turkey does not apply separate protocol arrangements according to the gender of the person holding office.”

Turkey is pleased that for the first time ever, the presidency of the EU Commission was taken over by a woman and believes that this constitutes an important step toward women’s empowerment and equal rights,” Bilgic said.

He added: “It is regrettable that this event, which originates from internal EU political fights,…is still being used as material for political debates and is being associated with gender discrimination.”

Low expectations dog UN bid to relaunch Cyprus peace talks

Low expectations dog UN bid to relaunch Cyprus peace talks

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An abandoned Turkish military guard post, at top background in the north Turkish occupied area, and a blocked road with barrels in the Greek Cypriot south, in the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Monday, April 26, 2021. U.N. chief Antonio Guterres … more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN and MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

GENEVA (AP) – U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres is “realistic” about the chances of resuming formal talks to reunify ethnically split Cyprus, a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday, amid low expectations that a fresh bid to reinvigorate dormant negotiations will lead to a breakthrough.

Stephane Dujarric made the comments to reporters ahead of the start of an informal meeting Guterres is hosting in the Swiss city, which brings together the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities as well as the foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and Britain – a former colonial ruler in Cyprus.

The aim of the three-day talks is to scope out chances of resuming formal peace negotiations that have been stalled since the last attempt, at another Swiss resort in 2017, ended in failure.

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Dujarric appeared to play down expectations of the “informal” meetings and said no press conferences were immediately planned.

“(The) secretary general is realistic. This is an issue that he knows well,” Dujarric said. “He has participated in discussions before. So, he is realistic.”

The U.N. spokesman had previously urged Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities to bring “creativity” to the informal talks. But the mood is dour because the two sides no longer seem to share the same vision of how a final peace deal should take shape.

Over 47 years of talks, the ultimate goal endorsed by the U.N. Security Council had been to reunify a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south as a federation – two zones running their own affairs with a federal government overseeing the core elements of national governance such as foreign policy and defense.

The island was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when a coup aimed at union with Greece triggered a Turkish invasion.

But now Turkey, and the new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara, have changed the rules, dismissing further talks about a federation-based accord as a “waste of time” because nearly five decades of negotiations on that model have gone nowhere.

They’re proposing instead essentially a two-state model that Greek Cypriots say they’d never accept because it would legitimize the country’s partition forever.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said as he departed for Geneva on Monday that federation is the only way toward peace.

“I wish that the other side attends with the same will, the same outlook because any deviation won’t be only against the Greek Cypriots, but the Turkish Cypriots as well,” Anastasiades said.

Speaking after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar repeated that any peace deal must be agreed upon between two separate states and that the U.N. should embrace this.

Turkey, as a guarantor country, the motherland and the largest and most powerful nation in the region, is only 40 miles from Cyprus. With its rights that stem from history … Turkey stands by the side of the Turkish Cypriots,” Tatar said.

___

Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus.

UN faces tough task to get Cyprus peace talks restarted

UN faces tough task to get Cyprus peace talks restarted

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By MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – Normally, trying to get the two sides on ethnically divided Cyprus to sit down for yet another round of talks is preceded by plenty of well-wishing and messages of hope that perhaps this time a peace deal will be worked out.

This week it’s different – quite different. The mood is dour even before the two sides agree to sit down for real talks because they no longer seem to share the same vision of how a final peace deal should take shape.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres will host an informal gathering of the rival Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva as well as the foreign ministers of Cyprus ‘guarantors’ – Greece, Turkey and former colonial ruler Britain. The goal is to get the two sides back on the same page and embarking on a fresh round of formal talks.

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Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, has urged the sides to “come with creativity” to the informal meeting. Here’s a brief explainer of where things stand:

WHY THE CHANGE?

Over 47 years of talks, the ultimate goal endorsed by the U.N. Security Council had been to reunify a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south as a federation – two zones running their own affairs with a federal government overseeing the core elements of national governance like foreign policy and defense.

But now Turkey and the new Turkish Cypriot leadership that espouses even tighter bonds with Ankara have changed the rules, dismissing further talks about a federation-based accord as a “waste of time” because nearly five decades of talks on that model have gone nowhere. They’re proposing instead essentially a two-state model that Greek Cypriots say they’d never accept because it would legitimize the country’s partition forever.

WHY NO DEAL FOR SO LONG?

Much of how a federation would work has already been agreed upon, but the nitty-gritty details sank the previous round of talks in 2017.

The minority Turkish Cypriots are upset because they say Greek Cypriots refuse to accept them as 50-50 partners in a federal partnership – what they term “political equality” or equal decision-making powers on all levels of government. Greek Cypriots argue that granting veto powers to a minority defies democratic principles and is without international precedent, could logjam the running of government and potentially allow Turkey to meddle in the island’s internal affairs.

Instead, they propose a formula in which Turkish Cypriots would have a say if any law or government decision infringes on their interests. Despite Turkish and Turkish Cypriot resistance, the Greek Cypriots also want the European Union to take part in formal talks in order to assure any peace deal conforms with EU laws and norms.

SOLDIERS OR NOT?

Turkey insists on keeping a military presence on the island for an indeterminate amount of time as part of a peace accord to ensure that Turkish Cypriots are protected. More than 35,000 Turkish troops have been stationed in the north of Cyprus since 1974 when a Turkish invasion split the country following an Athens junta-backed coup aimed at union with Greece. But Greek Cypriots reject such a military presence because they see it as an existential threat and a serious breach of any country’s sovereignty. Greek Cypriots also say any unilateral military intervention rights in the country’s 1960 constitution must be expunged.

WHY A PEACE DEAL MATTERS BEYOND CYPRUS

A Cyprus accord would go a long way in helping to ease tensions between Turkey and NATO ally Greece, as well as helping to get Ankara’s troubled bid to join the EU back on track. It could also unlock a wave of new cooperation between regional neighbors to harness the significant gas deposits believed to lie beneath the east Mediterranean seabed.

Turkey doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, disputes its rights to already-discovered offshore deposits and is prospecting for hydrocarbons off the island. But Turkey has so far remained the outsider in new, energy-based cooperation pacts that Israel, Egypt, Greece and Jordan have forged with Cyprus.

A peace deal would also ease progress on potential projects such as pumping east Mediterranean gas to Europe through a pipeline that would run through both Cyprus and Turkey.

Top general says military in Afghanistan begins closing down

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Sunday, April 25, 2021

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – America’s top general in Afghanistan said Sunday that the U.S. military has begun closing down operations in the country and that Afghanistan’s security forces ‘must be ready” to take over.

“I often get asked, how are the security forces, can the security forces do the work in our absence? And my message has always been the same. They must be ready. They must be ready,” Gen Austin Miller told Afghan journalists at a press conference in the capital Kabul.

He also said the Taliban not returning to peace talks “does not make sense’.

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His comments came just hours before Taliban negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai appeared to indicate a breakthrough in negotiations.

In a terse tweet, Stanikzai said “soon the Taliban leaders name will be removed from blacklist. And 7,000 Taliban prisoners will be released.”

Until now Afghanistan‘s Council for National Reconciliation has tied the Taliban’s twin demands to a cease fire. Stanikazai made no mention of a cease fire and there was no immediate comment from the reconciliation council headed by Abdullah Abdullah.

The Afghan government and President Ashraf Ghani has until now refused to release any more Taliban prisoners, charging the 5,000 his government released last year were at least in part responsible for the stepped up violence, having returned to the battlefield. The Taliban deny the charges.

The 5,000 prisoners were released in keeping with the peace deal the previous U.S. administration negotiated with the Taliban, which the Biden administration reviewed and has largely followed.

Meanwhile, peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government which were to begin in Turkey this weekend were cancelled after the Islamic militia dismissed the U.S.-promoted conference in Istanbul as a political spectacle serving American interests.

“From a purely military perspective, the idea of them not returning to a peace process is, again, does not make sense,” Miller said. “A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic.”

While the official start to the withdrawal of Washington’s 2,500 to 3,500 troops and NATO’s 7,000 allied forces is May 1, Miller said “at the same time, as we start taking local actions, we’ve already begun that. ”

The U.S. military and NATO would be shipping some military equipment out of Afghanistan while deciding what would remain behind with the Afghan Defense and Security Force, he said.

In February last year, the U.S. military began closing its smaller bases. In mid-April, the Biden administration announced that the final phase of the withdrawal would begin May 1 and be completed before Sept. 11.

Turkey summons US ambassador over genocide announcement

Turkey summons US ambassador over genocide announcement

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Turkish flags and banners depicting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, decorate a street outside the United States embassy in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, April 25, 2021. Turkey’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. Ambassador in Ankara to protest … more >

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By Zeynep Bilginsoy

Associated Press

Sunday, April 25, 2021

ISTANBUL (AP) – Turkey’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest the U.S. decision to mark the deportation and killing of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal met with David Satterfield late Saturday to express Ankara’s strong condemnation. “The statement does not have legal ground in terms of international law and has hurt the Turkish people, opening a wound that’s hard to fix in our relations,” the ministry said.

On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden followed through on a campaign promise to recognize the events that began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians as genocide. The statement was carefully crafted to say the deportations, massacres and death marches took place in the Ottoman Empire. “We see that pain. We affirm the history. We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” it said.

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The White House proclamation immediately prompted statements of condemnation from Turkish officials, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is yet to address the issue.

Turkey rejects the use of the word, saying both Turks and Armenians were killed in the World War I-era fighting, and has called for a joint history commission to investigate. For years, American presidents have avoided using “genocide” to describe what Armenians call Meds Yeghern, or the Great Crime.

The announcement comes as Turkish-American relations suffer from a host of issues. The U.S. has sanctioned Turkish defense officials and kicked Turkey out of a fighter jet program after the NATO member bought the Russian-made S400 defense system. Ankara is frustrated by Washington’s support of Syrian Kurdish fighters linked to an insurgency that Turkey has fought for decades. Turkey has also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric accused of orchestrating a bloody coup attempt against Erdogan’s government in 2016. Gulen lives in the U.S. and denies involvement.

Erdogan and Biden spoke on the phone Friday for the first time since the U.S. elections.

Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman to the president, tweeted Sunday: “President Erdogan opened Turkey’s national archives & called for a joint historical committee to investigate the events of 1915, to which Armenia never responded. It is a pity @POTUS has ignored, among others, this simple fact and taken an irresponsible and unprincipled position.”

Biden recognizes atrocities against Armenians as genocide

Biden recognizes Armenian genocide; Turkish government derides ‘vulgar distortion of history’

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In this March 24, 2021, file photo, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he speaks during his ruling party’s congress inside a packed sports hall in Ankara, Turkey. President Joe Biden on April 24, 2021 followed through on a … more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Saturday, April 24, 2021

President Biden on Saturday called the killing of Armenians during World War I a genocide, an unprecedented designation sure to anger NATO ally Turkey.

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Mr. Biden said in a statement on Armenian Remembrance Day. “We honor the victims of the Meds Yeghern so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history. And we remember so that we remain ever-vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.”

The move is certain to anger Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has warned previous administrations that a genocide declaration would harm U.S.-Turkey relations. 

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In response, Turkey’s foreign ministry said Mr. Biden’s statement was politically motivated and lacked any “scholarly and legal basis.”

“The nature of the events of 1915 does not change according to the current political motives of the politicians or domestic political considerations. Such an attitude serves only a vulgar distortion of history,” the ministry said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted: “We have nothing to learn from anybody on our own past.”

Mr. Biden told Mr. Erdogan in a phone call on Friday that he wants “a constructive bilateral relationship with expanded areas of cooperation and effective management of disagreements,” the White House said.

Mr. Erdogan had good rapport with former President Donald Trump and had been hoping for a reset despite past friction with Mr. Biden.

The Turkish leader reiterated his long-running claims that the U.S. is supporting Kurdish fighters in Syria who are affiliated with the Iraq-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK. The PKK has led an insurgency against Turkey for more than three decades.

In recent years, Turkey has launched military operations against PKK enclaves in Turkey and in northern Iraq and against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters. The State Department has designated the PKK a terrorist organization but has argued with Turkey over the group’s ties to the Syrian Kurds.

According to the Turkish government statement after the call, Mr. Erdogan also raised concerns about the presence in the United States of cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkey of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup attempt. Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s, denies involvement in the coup.

As a presidential candidate last year, Mr. Biden promised to make the designation of a genocide if elected. Previous administrations have not taken the step, in the interest of maintaining good relations with Turkey, a key ally in the Middle East.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said Mr. Biden’s move “effectively ended the longest-lasting foreign gag-rule in American history.”

“President Biden‘s principled stand on the Armenian genocide today – powerfully overriding Ankara’s foreign veto against honest American remembrance of this crime – pivots America toward the justice deserved and the security required for the future of the Armenian nation – a landlocked, blockaded, genocide-survivor state,” said ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian.  

Armenians say that up to 1.5 million died when the Ottoman Turks moved to deport them beginning in 1915 to a region in Syria.

The Senate passed a resolution in 2019 that recognized Turkey‘s genocide of the Armenian people, but the Trump administration said the move did not change the U.S. position on the subject.  

Former President Trump in 2019 called the killings “one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century,” but stopped short of designating a genocide.

Mr. Biden said of the Armenians who survived, “most were forced to find new homes and new lives around the world, including in the United States.”

“With strength and resilience, the Armenian people survived and rebuilt their community,” the president said. “Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future—toward the world that we wish to build for our children. A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security.”

In Armenia on Saturday, people streamed to the hilltop complex in Yerevan, the capital, that memorializes the victims. Many laid flowers around the eternal flame, creating a wall of blooms two meters (seven feet) high.

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Avet Adonts, speaking at the memorial before Mr. Biden issued his proclamation, said a U.S. president using the term genocide would “serve as an example for the rest of the civilized world.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, praised Mr. Biden for following through on his pledge.

“For Armenian-Americans and everyone who believes in human rights and the truth, today marks an historic milestone: President Biden has defied Turkish threats and recognized the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians for what it was — the first genocide of the 20th Century,” Mr. Schiff said in a statement.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports. 

UN official: Airstrikes on NW Syria border area worrying

UN official: Airstrikes on NW Syria border area worrying

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Blood is seen on a hospital floor in Atareb, a town in rural western Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, March 22, 2021. Artillery shells fired from government areas killed at least five civilians and wounded medical staff when they landad in front … more >

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Monday, March 22, 2021

BEIRUT (AP) – Airstrikes in northwest Syria near the Turkish border that killed a person and set afire trucks used to distribute aid targeted areas considered the safest in the rebel-held region, a top U.N. official said Monday.

The strikes on several locations a day earlier angered Turkey, prompting it to place its troops on high alert. Turkey‘s Defense Ministry said it asked Russia to secure an immediate halt to the attacks.

Mark Cutts, U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, called the attacks “extremely worrying” because they endangered the lives of the area’s most vulnerable population.

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The U.S. condemned the attacks and called for a nationwide cease-fire. In a statement Monday, it said the strikes near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey had put access to much needed assistance at risk.

The area along the border with Turkey in rebel-held northwestern Syria had been considered one of the safest spots in the conflict-stricken region, and had attracted aid groups who located their offices and warehouses there.

The rebel-held enclave divided between Idlib and Aleppo provinces is home to more than 2.7 million displaced people, mostly living in camps and temporary shelters, many having escaped repeated rounds of military offensives and fighting.

“Many of the camps are in that area, about a million people in camps around that area. They are highly vulnerable when airstrikes and shelling happen,” Cutts told The Associated Press. “It is also the area where many of the humanitarian organizations have offices and warehouses. They put their warehouses and offices there thinking that was the safest part of Idlib. So when that starts coming under attack that is extremely worrying.”

Turkey and Russia support rival parties in Syria’s 10-year conflict. The countries reached a cease-fire deal last March that stopped a Russian-backed government offensive on Idlib, in the last major rebel stronghold in war-torn Syria.

Opposition activists claimed that Russian warplanes carried out the attacks near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey late Sunday, hours after government artillery shells hit a major hospital in Atareb, another rebel-controlled town. Six patients, including a 10-year-old child, were killed. Medical staff were wounded, forcing the facility to shut its doors.

The Bab al-Hawa border crossing is the main point from which international aid is brought to rebel-held parts of northwest Syria.

The crossing “remains the only UN-authorized humanitarian border crossing in Syria and remains the most efficient and effective way to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance” every month to residents of the area, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Cutts called the attack on the hospital “really horrific,” adding that the same facility came under attack years before, forcing it to go underground to continue to operate.

Idlib-based journalist Salwa Abdul-Rahman said one of the strikes hit an area near the town of Sarmada, setting afire trucks used by aid workers to distribute assistance.

“The targeted locations were civilian with no military presence,” she said.

One person was killed in the strikes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets.

The civil defense said the strikes also targeted a cement factory.

An AP video from the area showed about a dozen trucks on fire as civil defense members sprayed them with water.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry blamed Syrian government forces for the attack, saying it left several people wounded.

Cutts said the year-old cease-fire has held in some parts but not everywhere, saying that shelling in some areas has happened every day.

Greece to reopen ancient sites despite COVID-19 surge

Greece to reopen ancient sites despite COVID-19 surge

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A woman wearing a face mask against the spread of coronavirus, walks in front of Greek flags which are for sale in Athens, Friday, March 19, 2021. The military parade on March 25, marking 200-years since the war that resulted … more >

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Associated Press

Friday, March 19, 2021

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s government announced plans Friday to reopen the Acropolis in Athens and other ancient sites nationwide and provide free weekly rapid tests for COVID-19 for all the country’s residents as it prepares to restart the tourism season in mid-May.

The measures were announced despite an ongoing surge in daily infections to 20.9 per 100,000 residents, as a seven-day rolling average, with private hospital space being used by the state-run health service to cope with treatment demand.

Starting Saturday, a weekend curfew will be relaxed. It will be followed on Monday by a series of other measures including a limited opening of barbershops and hair salons, and ancient sites for people on brief outings. Museums will remain closed.

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“What we are talking about are pressure-release valves. This is to help people comply with restrictions that have been in effect for such a long time,” said Akis Skertsos, a deputy minister for government coordination.

The reopening of ancient sites was announced despite strong reservations from an association of state employees at ancient sites which warned that “procedures required for secure safety protocols have not been completed” but did not give further details.

Free tests will be made available to all residents of Greece with a social security number before the end of the month, officials said. Medical, nursing, and administrative staff at public hospitals who have not yet been vaccinated will receive mandatory rapid tests twice weekly, according to a Health Ministry order, effective immediately.

The government says that despite the current surge, it expects to open to tourism, a key driver of the economy, in mid-May.

Lockdown measures have been in effect since early November.

___

Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

The Latest: Biden: ‘Big mistake’ by states to drop mask rule

The Latest: Biden: ‘Big mistake’ by states to drop mask rule

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A health worker prepares to administer the Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to a health staff member at the Hospital UiTM in Sungai Buloh, outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian) more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called out Republican governors in Texas and Mississippi for “Neanderthal thinking” in deciding to relax their mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions.

The governors of both states announced Tuesday they would lift their states’ mask mandates and other restrictions on businesses and gatherings aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Biden called it a “big mistake” while speaking in the Oval Office on Wednesday during a meeting with lawmakers, who each wore a mask. He said, “I hope everyone has realized by now, these masks make a difference.”

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Biden added: “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease” and said “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it.”

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

– CDC chief: Wear masks, follow federal guidelines

Biden stands by timeline of vaccines for all US adults by May

– Drug maker says India vaccine is 81% effective

– European countries seek vaccine ‘overdrive’ to catch up

– Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration will partner with health insurance companies to help vulnerable older people get vaccinated for COVID-19.

White House coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt announced Wednesday the goal is to get 2 million of the most at-risk seniors vaccinated soon. Many older people live in relative isolation and some lack the internet access to make vaccination appointments.

Insurance companies have ties to Medicare recipients through businesses that range from Medicare Advantage private plans, to prescription drug coverage, to Medigap plans that seniors purchase for expenses that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover.

Slavitt says insurers will use their networks to contact seniors with information about COVID-19 vaccines, answer questions, find and schedule appointments for first and second doses and coordinate transportation. The focus will be on reaching people in medically underserved areas.

The two major industry trade groups, America’s Health Insurance Plans and the BlueCross BlueShield Association, separately announced their member companies will take part in the pilot program, which is being called Vaccine Community Connectors.

___

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is warning against virus fatigue and encouraging Americans to continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing despite many states easing restrictions.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the nation is “at a critical nexus in the pandemic,” and the next two months are “pivotal” in determining the remaining course of the pandemic.

While vaccinations are set to rapidly ramp up, Walensky warned deaths and new infections have plateaued at a “troubling” level after falling off their January highs.

She says: “Fatigue is winning and the exact measures we have taken to stop the pandemic are now too often being flagrantly ignored.”

Walensky says the CDC has been clear in opposing states’ moves to lift restrictions and encouraged Americans to follow federal guidelines.

___

NEW DELHI, India – The interim analysis of results from an Indian vaccine maker’s late stage trials shows its COVID-19 vaccine to be about 81% effective in preventing illness from the coronavirus.

The Bharat Biotech vaccine was controversially approved by India in January without waiting for trials to confirm that the vaccine was effective. Since then 1.3 million of doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India.

The interim results are based on 43 trial participants who were infected by the virus. Of these, 36 hadn’t received the vaccine, the company says. A second analysis will be conducted for 87 cases, and a final analysis 130 cases.

Health care workers have been reticent to take the shots and health experts are concerned the regulatory shortcut has amplified vaccine hesitancy.

Bharat Biotech has already signed an agreement with Brazil to supply 20 million doses of the vaccine by September.

___

DETROIT – This week, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is expanding vaccinations to any resident factory worker, no matter their age or where they work.

Non-Detroit residents can also get a shot if they work in manufacturing in the city.

“We’ve had some illness in our plants and deaths. This is incredibly important. … It’s going to give them some peace of mind,” said Cindy Estrada, a vice president at the United Auto Workers, who bared her arm for a shot at the news conference.

More than 2.3 million vaccine doses have been administered so far in Michigan, mostly in the Detroit area, according to the state health department.

___

BERLIN – Germany is extending strict checks on its borders with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol province by another two weeks until March 17.

The checks were introduced on Feb. 14, initially for a 10-day period, in a bid to reduce the spread of possibly more contagious coronavirus variants that have taken hold in those areas.

Germany is limiting entry to its own citizens and residents, truck drivers, health workers and cross-border commuters working in “systemically relevant sectors.” All must show a negative coronavirus test.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter says an extension is necessary because of a “worsened infection situation” in the Czech Republic and the situation in Tyrol.

He says Germany is “in intensive talks, in particular with Austria, to find solutions.”

___

PRAGUE – The Czech Republic is negotiating with Germany and other European countries to treat its COVID-19 patients as hospitals fill up.

Interior Minister Jan Hamacek says 19 beds are ready for the Czech patients in neighboring Germany, which has offered to treat dozens. He says Switzerland has offered another 20 beds in its hospitals, including taking care of the transportation. Talks are also under way with Poland that could provide some 200 beds.

The Czech Republic is one of the hardest hit European Union countries. New confirmed cases reached 16,642 on Tuesday, the fourth highest since the start of the pandemic. There’s a record of more than 8,000 COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization.

Some hospitals in western Czech Republic near the German border and in the central Pardubice region cannot take more patients. The nation of 10.7 million had almost 1.3 million confirmed cases with almost 21,000 deaths.

___

WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s biotechnology company Mabion S.A. says it signed a framework agreement with the U.S. vaccine development company Novavax.

It would produce an active component, an antigen, of the U.S. firm’s anti-COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement provides for a transfer of technology to Mabion, which is to make a technical series of the antigen.

If the tests prove successful and Novavax vaccine gets approval from European, the companies will discuss cooperation on large-scale production, also for Europe’s needs.

Poland’s state Development Fund is to support the trial stage with up to 40 million zlotys ($10.6 million.) Amid a sharp rise in new infections, Poland is seeking to increase its purchases of COVID-19 vaccines. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda spoke this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the possibility of buying the Chinese vaccine.

___

PODGORICA, Montenegro – Montenegrin government says China has donated 30,000 Sinopharm vaccines to the small Balkan country.

A statement says the shipment arrived on Wednesday “illustrating friendly relations and great solidarity between our two countries.” Montenegro has previously acquired 5,000 Russian Sputnik V vaccines and Serbia has donated 2,000 of the same shots.

The small Balkan country of 620,000 people has reported more than 1,000 virus-related deaths and hundreds of new cases daily. Health authorities have appealed on the citizens to join the vaccination effort in large numbers.

Balkan countries have been turning to Russia and China for vaccines while still waiting to receive some through the international COVAX program. It’s designed to make sure less wealthy countries are not left behind in inoculation.

___

TOKYO – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he is considering extending an ongoing state of emergency for the Tokyo region for about two weeks, amid concerns that infections have not slowed enough and are continuing to strain health systems in the region.

Suga had declared a month-long state of emergency in Jan. 7 for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, then extended the measure through to March 7. The measure issued for up to 10 other urban prefectures later in January was lifted last week, underscoring the government’s eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.

“Our anti-infection measures are at a very important phase,” Suga told reporters Wednesday. “In order to protect the people’s lives and health, I think we need to extend (the state of emergency) for about two weeks.”

His comment comes after Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and heads of the neighboring prefectures raised concerns that infections have not slowed enough and lifting restrictive measures this weekend could trigger a quick rebound of infections.

Daily new cases in Tokyo have significantly decreased after they peaked at around 2,000 in early January, but the slide has slowed recently. Tokyo on Wednesday reported 316 new cases, up from 232 the day before, for a prefectural total of 112,345. Nationwide, Japan has more than 434,000 cases and about 8,000 deaths as of Tuesday, the health ministry said.

Suga said medical systems in the region are still burdened with COVID-19 patients and that more hospital beds need to be freed up.

___

STOCKHOLM – A top health official in the Swedish capital says a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit Stockholm after a drop in cases after the New Year. Cases in the capital have been rising sharply for the past three weeks.

“We do not want to see a development where the need for health care increases sharply,” said Johan Bratt, the capital city’s health director.

The last week of February saw 6,336 new cases, almost double the 3,225 new cases recorded three weeks earlier.

Officials in neighboring Norway said restaurants and gyms in some areas would be closed after pockets of virus outbreaks in the capital Oslo and elsewhere. The move comes after more cases of the virus mutations have been reported in Norway. The changes apply as of Wednesday.

___

MADRID – Spain has imposed a 10-day quarantine on travelers arriving from Colombia, Peru, and eight African countries, in addition to maintaining the quarantine on arrivals from Brazil and South Africa due to concerns over new variants of the coronavirus.

Spain’s government gazette published the order on Wednesday, imposing the obligatory quarantine on those arriving from Colombia, Peru, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Comoras.

The quarantine order will take effect on Monday and last for 14 days, after which it can be extended. Spain’s health ministry reported Tuesday has detected 54 cases of the South African variant and 17 cases of the Brazilian variant.

Visitors can reduce the quarantine to seven days if they provide a negative result for a COVID-19 test.

___

HELSINKI – Estonia has issued additional coronavirus restrictions and will close restaurants and all non-essential shops for weekends to curb the worsening pandemic situation in the small Baltic country.

Effective March 6, eating establishments and most shops will close for Saturday and Sunday but will remain open during the week, the Estonian government said.

During week days, restaurants and stores need to comply with a maximum of 25% percent occupancy rate requirement. The new restrictions will remain in place until March 28.

Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, has seen a rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the past weeks as the pandemic has spread across the nation.

On Wednesday, the country reported 1,467 new confirmed cases putting total tally to over 58,000 cases with 615 deaths. The 14-day average rate for new infections per 100,000 inhabitants stands now at over 1,100.

___

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish researchers say the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech company has a 83.5% efficacy rate, according to the results of a late-stage trial conducted in Turkey.

The trial also showed the vaccine to be 100% effective in preventing the hospitalization of COVID-19 sufferers, professors Murat Akova and Serhat Unal of Ankara’s Hacettepe University told reporters on Wednesday. A total of 10,220 people participated in the late-stage trial, they said.

Turkey authorized the Sinovac vaccine’s emergency use on Jan. 13 and began administering shots the next day. So far, more than 9 million doses of the two-shot vaccine have been administered.

Unal said no serious side-effect has been reported so far.

Turkey is set to receive some 100,000 doses of the vaccine. Ankara has also ordered 4.5 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has said Turkey aims to vaccinate 52.5 million people by the end of May.

___

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Slovakia is tightening restrictive measures in a bid to halt the spread of a highly contagious coronavirus variant first found in Britain.

Starting Wednesday, Slovakia, one of the hardest-hit European Union countries, is imposing a nationwide curfew between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Authorities are also tightening rules for international travelers Wednesday to try to prevent virus variants from spreading or entering the country. Police and military officers are set to enforce the new measures by re-imposing border checks for 24 hours a day on all major border crossings with Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

In Slovakia’s already tight lockdown, people in counties where the virus situation is considered serious need to take a test every seven days to be able to go to work.

___

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Dutch police say a blast smashed windows at a coronavirus testing center in a small town north of Amsterdam in the early morning. Nobody was hurt.

Police in the North Holland province tweeted that “an explosive went off” near the test center in Bovenkarspel just before 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Wednesday.

Police have taped off the area about 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of Amsterdam and are investigating the cause of the blast.

In January, rioters torched a coronavirus test facility in the fishing village of Urk on the first night of a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. nationwide curfew imposed as part of the government’s lockdown.

___

TAIPEI, Taiwan – The first batch of COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Taiwan.

Taiwan has signed contracts securing 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4.76 million doses of vaccines through COVAX. Wednesday’s delivery had 117,000 AstraZeneca doses, which was transported from the airport with a police escort.

Health care workers, especially those who have direct contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, will be the first to get the shots, Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a news briefing. The island has yet to announce a mass vaccination campaign for the general public.

The island is planning to give the first dose to 117,000 individuals, the minister said, with the first dose providing an efficacy rate of 71%. The second dose is meant to be given eight weeks later, boosting effectiveness to 81%.

___

TORONTO – The health minister of Canada’s most populous province says Ontario seniors won’t receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine since there’s limited data on its effectiveness in older populations.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that’s recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older.

Elliott says for anyone over that age, it’s recommended that they receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine.

There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization said this week that the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred for seniors due to “suggested superior efficacy.″

France said this week it will allow some people over 65 to receive the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, after initially restricting its use to younger populations because of limited data on the drug’s effectiveness.

___

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand reported no new community cases of the coronavirus for a third consecutive day as the latest outbreak in Auckland appears to have been brought under control.

The government placed the nation’s largest city into a weeklong lockdown Sunday after several new community cases were found.

Top lawmakers in the Cabinet are meeting Friday to review the lockdown. Also, health officials announced they had given the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to more than 9,000 people, including more than half of the 12,000 people who work at the border.

New Zealand currently has a supply of about 200,000 doses. The country has been slower than many to begin its vaccination campaign but is seen as lower risk after eliminating community spread of the virus.

___

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is directing states to prioritize vaccinating all teachers during the month of March, and announced that the federal government will help in the effort through its partnership with retail pharmacies.

Biden said his goal is for every pre-kindergarten through 12th grade educator, school staff member and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March.

To achieve this, Biden announced that qualifying individuals will be able to sign up this month to be vaccinated at a pharmacy near them.

Biden said that while schools are safe to reopen even before staff have been vaccinated, “time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that have anxieties about that,” so to “accelerate” the safe reopening teachers should be prioritized.

___

U.S. intelligence blames Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi murder

U.S. intelligence blames Saudi crown prince for Khashoggi murder

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FILE – In this Dec. 15, 2014 file photo, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. Briarcliff Entertainment said Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, that it has acquired “The Dissident” a documentary about the murdered journalist … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Friday, February 26, 2021

De facto Saudi Arabian leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan gave the green light for the mission to capture or kill American-based Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded, in a case that threatens to strain even further relations between Riyadh and the Biden administration.

The U.S. made public the widely-expected findings Friday about the October 2018 assault on Mr. Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered after he traveled to a Saudi consulate in Turkey for documents ahead of his planned wedding. From the start, there was widespread suspicion that the large team of Saudi government agents would not have carried out the attack without direct authorization from the crown prince.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia‘s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the newly declassified U.S. intelligence summary said.

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President Biden has already made clear plans to take a harder line with the oil-rich Middle East kingdom, after former President Trump had made the Saudis a centerpiece of his regional strategy to contain Iran.

The hard-charging crown prince, widely known by his initials MBS, has pushed an aggressive foreign policy and domestic modernization program, while cracking down on dissent both within the Saudi royal family and from civil society.

But the decision to make public the intelligence conclusions, something Mr. Trump declined to do, puts pressure on the Biden White House to act, especially with growing bipartisan unhappiness in Congress over recent Saudi moves.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, hailed to the release of the findings, noting that Khashoggi was based in Northern Virginia after leaving Saudi Arabia.

“For too long, the United States failed to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal murder of journalist, dissident, and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi,” Mr. Warner said in a statement. “I’m encouraged to see the new administration taking steps to rectify that by releasing this long-overdue congressionally mandated report into his killing.”

After the report was made public, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced what the Biden administration has dubbed a “Khashoggi Ban” — visa restrictions on individuals who, “acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.”

Mr. Blinken said 76 Saudi nationals will face the visa restrictions, although not all are related to the Khashoggi killing.

“While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement. “To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States.”

Separately, the private Human Rights Foundation called on both the U.S. and the European Union to sanction the crown prince himself.

The prince “has proven that he is unfit to represent the kingdom on the global stage and we applaud the Biden administration for choosing to engage directly with King Salman,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “Now the United States and the European Union must urgently place sanctions on MBS himself, along with those within his direct chain of command who were involved in the murder.”

Libyans mark 2011 uprising with eyes on interim gov’t

Libyans mark 2011 uprising with eyes on interim gov’t

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In this Sunday Oct. 23, 2011, file photo, Libyan celebrate at Saha Kish Square in Benghazi, Libya, as Libya’s transitional government declares the official liberation of Libya after months of bloodshed that culminated in the death of longtime leader Moammar … more >

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By Saleh Sarrar and Samy Magdy

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Libyans on Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of their 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow and eventual killing of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.

The day comes as Libyans have their eyes on a recently appointed government tasked with leading the country through elections late this year.

Celebrations began late Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli, where people gathered in the city’s main square amid tight security. The city’s main streets and squares have been cleaned and decorated with banners and photos marking the anniversary.

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Festivities also rang out in other cities in the south, where fire works in the city of Sabha apparently injured some 15 people, according to Abdel-Rahman Arish, head of the city’s medical center

Hassan Wanis, head of the general authority for culture in Tripoli, said celebrations and commemorative events were planned in the three regions of old Libya: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the southwest.

“All people (across the country) are ready to celebrate specially this time in order to unify the country,” he said.

Libya has become one of the most intractable conflicts left over from the “Arab spring” a decade ago. In the years that followed Gadhafi’s ouster, the North African country has descended into devastating chaos and has become a haven for Islamic militants and armed groups that survive on looting and human trafficking.

The oil-rich country has for years split between rival administrations: A U.N.-backed, but weak government in Tripoli – a city largely controlled by an array of armed factions – against an eastern-based government backed by strongman Gen. Khalifa Hifter, head of the self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces. Each is backed by foreign governments.

Over the past years, the country has seen devastating bouts of violence. The latest began in April 2019, when Hifter, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, launched an offensive seeking to capture Tripoli. His campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support for the Tripoli administration with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.

Months of U.N.-led talks resulted in a deal in October that ceased hospitalities and called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries in three months and adherence to a U.N. arms embargo, provisions which have not been met.

The talks also established a Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, that earlier this month appointed an interim government – a three-member Presidential Council and a prime minister – that would lead the country through elections scheduled on December 24.

That government includes Mohammad Younes Menfi, a Libyan diplomat from the country’s east who hails from the tribe of anti-colonial hero Omar al-Mukhtar, as chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, a pragmatic, well-connected businessman from the western city of Misrata, was appointed as prime minister.

Dbeibah is still consulting to form his Cabinet, which requires confirmation from the country’s divided parliament. Menfi arrived in Tripoli on Tuesday and met with Dbeibah and other officials.

In separate phone calls Tuesday with Menfi and Dbeiba, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the importance of holding elections and implementing the cease-fire deal, including the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya. There are at least at least 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters currently in the country, according to the U.N.

In a report marking the anniversary, Amnesty International repeated its calls for holding accountable those engaged in alleged war crimes and serious human rights violations during the past ten years.

“Unless those responsible for violations are brought to justice, rather than rewarded with positions of power, the violence, chaos, systematic human rights abuses and endless suffering of civilians that have characterized post-Gadhafi Libya will continue unabated,” said Diana Eltahawy, the group’s deputy director for MENA.

“We call on parties to the conflict in Libya and the incoming unity government to ensure that those suspected of committing crimes under international law are not appointed to positions where they can continue to commit abuses and entrench impunity. Individuals who have been accused of war crimes should be suspended from positions of authority pending the outcome of independent, effective investigations,” said Diana Eltahawy.

In the past years Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. Traffickers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Mediterranean route.

Thousands drown along the way, while others end up detained in squalid smugglers’ pens or crowded detention centers if captured by authorities.

__________

Magdy reported from Cairo.

Turkey rejects criticism of its handling of student protest

Turkey rejects criticism of its handling of student protest

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, February 4, 2021

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey on Thursday rejected international criticism of its crackdown on protests by students opposing the appointment of a government loyalist to head Istanbul’s top university, warning countries to stay out of its domestic issues.

For weeks, students and faculty members of Bogazici University have been protesting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Jan. 1 appointment of Melih Bulu, an academic who once ran for parliament as a candidate for Erdogan’s party. They are calling for Bulu’s resignation as the university’s rector and for the university to be allowed to elect its own president.

Some of the protests have erupted into clashes between police and demonstrators and hundreds of people have been detained, some taken away following raids of their homes, even as Erdogan has promised reforms to strengthen democratic standards.

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Officials from the United States, the United Nations and the European Union have criticized Turkey’s handling of the protests as well as a series of anti-LGBT comments that were made by Erdogan and other officials while denouncing the demonstrations.

On Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement defending the Turkish security forces’ actions, saying there were attempts by terrorist organizations to infiltrate and provoke the protests.

“We recommend that those who … attempt to give our country lessons in democracy and law, turn the mirror on themselves,” the ministry said. “No one has the right to attempt to intervene in Turkey’s affairs.”

Tensions flared this week after a group of students were arrested over a poster, which was displayed at Bogazici University, that depicted Islam’s most sacred site with LGBT rights flags. The students were arrested over the weekend on charges of inciting hatred and insulting religious values.

“We are concerned by detentions of students and other demonstrators and strongly condemn the anti-LGBTQI rhetoric surrounding the demonstrations,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Wednesday.

The U.N. Human Rights office urged Turkey on Twitter to stop the use of excessive force on the protesters and condemned “homophobic and transphobic comments by officials, inciting hatred and discrimination against LGBT people.”

European Parliament legislator Nacho Sanchez Amor also expressed concerns over the police violence and mass detentions and asked: “does this reflect the new positive agenda and the will of reforms?”

The Interior Ministry announced Thursday that police detained a total of 528 people over the protests, of whom 498 have since been released. Of those in custody, at least 22 people have links to terrorist organizations, said ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli.

Tarnished by its Gaza rule, Hamas may struggle in elections

Tarnished by its Gaza rule, Hamas may struggle in elections

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In this Feb. 1, 2020, file photo, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Hamas movement chief Ismail Haniyeh, prior to their meeting in Istanbul. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool, File) more >

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By Fares Akram

Associated Press

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh famously pledged to live on “zeit wa zaatar”— olive oil and dried herbs — after he led the Islamic militant group to victory on a message of armed struggle and austerity during 2006 Palestinian elections.

But he has since left the impoverished Gaza Strip and, along with some other Hamas leaders, is living in luxury as he splits his time between Turkey and Qatar. With new elections planned this spring, Hamas will struggle to campaign as a scrappy underdog that is above trading its principles for material comforts.

It remains to be seen whether the elections decreed by President Mahmoud Abbas will actually be held. Much depends on whether his secular Fatah party and Hamas can reach some kind of agreement overcoming the bitter divisions that have prevented previous attempts to hold a vote.

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But it’s clear that Hamas‘ image among many Palestinians, even onetime supporters, has suffered since 2007, when the group seized Gaza from Abbas‘ forces in a week of bloody street battles. 

Since then, Hamas has established its own quasi-state with its own civil service and security forces. But it has struggled to provide even basic services with Gaza‘s economy devastated by three wars with Israel and a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has confined the territory’s 2 million people to what Palestinians often refer to as the world’s largest open-air prison.

That some of its leaders have left Gaza has not helped. Hamas leaders who ascended the ranks when it was an underground militant group have traded their street clothes and motorbikes for business suits and shiny SUVs. Some, like Haniyeh, have decamped to luxury hotels in Turkey and Qatar, leaving lower-ranking officials and ordinary Palestinians to deal with the consequences of their policies.

“Every year, the situation is getting from bad to worse,” said Youssef Ahmed, who works in a food stall in an east Gaza City market. “People don’t have money to buy the basic things.” 
Still, while Gazans grumble privately, they rarely speak out against Hamas, which has a history of locking up critics.

Ahmed said he blames “everyone” — Hamas, Israel and Abbas‘ Palestinian Authority. But he said, as the ruling power, Hamas has a special responsibility.

Haniyeh, who became Palestinian prime minister after the 2006 election and is now the overall leader of Hamas, left Gaza in 2019 for what Hamas said was a temporary foreign tour. He has yet to return.

A recent video that surfaced on social media showed Haniyeh playing soccer on a well-groomed field beneath the glass skyscrapers of gas-rich Qatar — worlds away from the Beach Refugee Camp in Gaza City, where he was born and still maintains a family home. Another video from Monday showed him in a tailored suit surrounded by bodyguards and being welcomed by Qatari dignitaries at a red-carpet event.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Palestinians grapple with 50% unemployment, frequent power outages and polluted tap water. 

That’s largely because of the blockade, which Israel says is necessary to keep Hamas from importing arms. Israel and most Western countries consider Hamas a terrorist group because it has carried out scores of attacks over the years, including suicide bombings, that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians. A long-running dispute between Hamas and Abbas‘ Palestinian Authority over the provision of aid and services to Gaza has made matters worse. 

Hamas blames Gaza‘s suffering on the PA, Israel and the international community. 

“There is a popular awareness that it’s not Hamas‘ fault, and that external sides want to undermine the democratic experience,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem. He said Hamas still has “massive” popular support and would win a majority in any future election.
He added that Hamas members in Gaza had also suffered from the wars, isolation and economic collapse. 

Still, the suffering is not shared equally.

Qatar has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Gaza in recent years to shore up an informal cease-fire. That money has allowed the Hamas-run government to pay its civil servants — while imposing taxes on imports, exports, businesses and tobacco that many ordinary Palestinians have resented as compounding their suffering. Hamas security forces have violently cracked down on protests against those measures. 

In another example of the inequality in Gaza, a “fast track” through the Rafah crossing with Egypt — the only way most Gazans can travel into and out of the territory — is available for those who can pay high fees or have connections to Egyptian officials. In recent months, three of Haniyeh‘s sons have appeared on the list, which is made public by the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. Other travelers must go through a lengthy permit process.

Ahmed Yousef, a former adviser to Haniyeh who himself has relocated to Istanbul, acknowledges the group has fallen short of its professed ideals.

“We presented ourselves as a popular movement, not an elite or factional one, so this should have obliged us to better address the people’s needs and problems,” he said.

Akram Atallah, a longtime columnist for the West Bank-based Al-Ayyam newspaper who moved from Gaza to London in 2019, said Hamas has tried to use the “duality” of being a government and a militant group to its advantage. When faulted for not providing basic services, it claims to be a resistance group; when criticized for imposing taxes, it says it’s a legitimate government, he said. 

Hamas may still do well in any elections, if only because its main competitor, Fatah, has an even longer record of failure. Fatah‘s upper ranks are widely seen as being filled with corrupt individuals who are more interested in enjoying the perks of VIP status with Israel than in advancing the struggle for statehood. 

A December poll carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found support for the parties was close — 38% for Hamas, compared to 34% for Fatah — but predicted that Haniyeh would handily defeat Abbas in a presidential race. The group surveyed 1,270 Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Assuming elections are held, “it looks like (Fatah and Hamas) will dominate the next parliament, but neither one will have a majority,” said Khalil Shikaki, the head of the center.

He said independent candidates and smaller factions will win the remaining seats.

Atallah, the journalist, says Hamas is still able to appeal to “the people’s emotions,” but that the hold it once had on many has faded. 

Hamas as an authority has been exposed,” he said. “The people found out that its leaders live much better than they do.” 

___

Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.

Turkey hopes US will rejoin Iran nuclear deal

Turkey hopes US will rejoin Iran nuclear deal

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Friday, January 29, 2021

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey hopes the United States will return to the nuclear deal with Iran under U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Friday.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in Istanbul, Cavusoglu said Turkey would also like to see sanctions imposed on Iran lifted.

“I hope that with the Biden administration, the United States return to this agreement and cooperation on the (nuclear) issue is restored,” Cavusoglu said. “In this way, God willing, the sanctions and embargoes imposed on brotherly Iran are lifted.”

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2018. Under the deal, Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

After the U.S. then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development. Iranian state TV reported Thursday that Iran has exceeded 17 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium within a month, moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels.

Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the U.S. to the deal.

“The United States unilaterally withdrew from this comprehensive course of action,” Zarif told journalists, speaking through an interpreter. “It is the duty of the United States to return to this agreement and to fulfill its obligations.

He added: “The moment the United States fulfills its commitments, we would be prepared to fulfill ours.”

Zarif was in Turkey as part of a tour of countries of the south Caucasus aimed at building support for the creation of a regional platform that would include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey, and encourage cooperation between the countries.

The initiative was proposed following a cease-fire agreement in November that halted weeks of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The existing cease-fire must be rendered more lasting and trade and economic cooperation must be invigorated,” Zarif said.

Greece, France to sign $2.8 billion fighter jet deal

Greece, France to sign $2.8 billion fighter jet deal

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French Defense Minister Florence Parly, right, and his Greek counterpart Nikos Panagiotopoulos speak during their meeting in Athens, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. Greece is due to sign a 2.3 billion euro ($2.8 billion) deal with France Monday to purchase 18 … more >

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By DEREK GATOPOULOS

Associated Press

Monday, January 25, 2021

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greece signed a 2.3 billion-euro ($2.8 billion) deal with France on Monday to purchase 18 Rafale fighter jets, as tensions remain high with neighbor Turkey.

Florence Parly, the French defense minister, signed the agreement in Athens to deliver 12 used and six new aircraft built by Dassault Aviation over two years, starting in July.

France has sided with Greece in a dispute over boundaries in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean that has brought NATO members Greece and Turkey to the brink of war several times in recent decades.

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Tension spiked again last summer when a Turkish exploration mission in disputed waters triggered a dangerous military build-up.

Greece and Turkey have agreed to restart talks aimed at resolving the dispute peacefully. Senior diplomats from the two countries met in Istanbul Monday to resume the process that had been interrupted for nearly five years.

But Athens says it will continue a multibillion-euro program to upgrade its military following years of cuts due to the country’s financial crisis.

France and the United States are in competition to provide the Greek navy with new frigates, while Greece‘s government recently approved plans to cooperate with Israeli defense electronics firm Elbit Systems to create a new military flight academy in southern Greece.

“The upgrade in the capabilities of the Hellenic Air Force by means of both the acquisition of new fighter aircraft and the new state-of-the-art training center is critical for Greece to present a credible deterrence,” Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told The Associated Press.

“It also provides Athens an enhanced ability to exercise more strategic autonomy when EU and NATO frameworks are deemed inadequate, making Greece more of a player in its own right.”

Starting in May, mandatory national service in the Greek Armed Forces will be increased from nine to 12 months to boost the number of people serving in uniform. While in Athens, Parly will also holding talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

___

The Latest: Spain reports nearly 38,900 daily virus cases

The Latest: Spain reports nearly 38,900 daily virus cases

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People wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus clear snow from the street in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

MADRID – Spain reported 38,869 coronavirus infections and 195 deaths on Wednesday.

The two-week rate of infection per 100,000 inhabitants, which has doubled during the past month, increased to 492 cases on Wednesday. The country has recorded 2.17 million total cases and more than 52,000 confirmed deaths.

Health Minister Salvador Illa says Spain has identified some 100 cases of the virus variant that is possibly more contagious, but the current surge is fueled by social gatherings.

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Illa says Spain is improving the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, with 92,000 doses administered in the past 24 hours. Spain has used just over half of the 1.1 million doses delivered to the country.

___

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

U.S. coronavirus deaths hit another one-day high at more than 4,300. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered an expansion of the vaccination effort. California has lifted some stay-at-home orders in northern counties, while many orders remain in place where coronavirus cases are surging. Japan has widened its virus emergency for 7 more areas as cases increase.

Indonesia begins a mass COVID-19 vaccination effort. Dutch authorities begin mass coronavirus testing in one town to get an idea of how many people have the new coronavirus variant.

– Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

___

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

LISBON, Portugal – Portugal’s government has ordered the country into a coronavirus lockdown starting Friday, after setting daily records in cases and deaths.

The new lockdown requires working from home and doubles fines for not complying with rules such as wearing masks in public. Schools will remain open. It will allow exceptions so a presidential election can go ahead on Jan. 24.

Portugal has witnessed a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases since it eased restrictions for the Christmas holiday. Portuguese health authorities on Wednesday reported a record 10,556 confirmed cases and 156 virus-related deaths in 24 hours.

Prime Minister António Costa says the pandemic is “at its most dangerous point” and that optimism from the recent COVID-19 vaccine rollout “encouraged people to drop their guard.”

___

TRENTON, N.J. – Gov. Phil Murphy says New Jersey residents 65 and older, as well as those from 16 to 64 with serious medical conditions such as cancer, heart and kidney disease, can begin to be vaccinated with the coronavirus shot on Thursday. Murphy says there’s a “strong appetite” for expanding the vaccine among the state’s 71 hospitals, along with guidance from the Trump administration and signals from the incoming Joe Biden White House.

New Jersey has vaccinated 264,000 people out of about 400,000 vaccines initially distributed to the state. So far, 220 of more than 600 nursing homes have completed vaccinations, the governor says. That totals about 28,500 people.

The administration aims to have nearly 5 million people, about 70% of the adult population, vaccinated in six months.

The death toll climbed by 95 overnight, rising to 18,070. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Jersey rose from 4,476 on Dec. 29 to 6,190 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker says Massachusetts will begin vaccinating individuals living and working in care facilities and prisons on Monday.

The facilities include residential care programs, groups homes, residential treatment programs, community-based acute residential treatment programs and clinical stabilization programs.

Shelter programs, including homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, veteran shelters, will be included. State prisons, with about 6,5000 inmates, will start receiving vaccines next week.

___

ANKARA, Turkey – Turkish authorities have given the go-ahead for the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

It paves the way for the rollout for Turkey’s vaccination program, starting with health care workers and other high-risk groups.

The health regulatory authority, the Turkish Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, says it had approved the vaccine’s emergency use following examinations that lasted for 14 days.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca says he and members of Turkey’s scientific advisory council would receive the first shots Wednesday. The vaccination program will begin on Thursday, starting with health care workers.

___

NEW YORK – Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have hit another one-day high at more than 4,300.

The nation’s overall death toll from coronavirus has eclipsed 380,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. It is closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II, about 407,000.

The U.S. recorded 4,327 deaths on Tuesday, with Arizona and California among the hardest-hit states.

Deaths have been rising sharply in the past 2 1/2 months, and the country is in the most lethal phase of the outbreak yet, even as the vaccine is rolled out. New cases are running at nearly a quarter-million per day on average. More than 9.3 million Americans have received their first shot of the vaccine.

___

ROME – Italy has added another 507 coronavirus deaths, bringing the death toll to more than 80,000 as the government plans to tighten restrictions.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza told Parliament the government is planning to prohibit travel between regions, even with the lowest rates of contagion, given “the epidemic is once again in an expanding phase.”

Some restrictions were imposed during the Christmas holidays and will be extended.

Italy has witnessed a prolonged resurgence this winter, with daily infections remaining in the 10,000-to-20,000 range for weeks despite mask mandates, nighttime bar and restaurant closures and other restrictions. On Wednesday, the new confirmed daily caseload was 15,774.

___

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin health officials say a new, possibly more contagious form of the coronavirus has been detected in the state.

The Department of Health Services announced the variant was detected through routine genome sequencing of specimens collected during testing. The department didn’t say where it was found or when it was confirmed. An agency spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email.

The variant form of the virus was first discovered in England in November and December. It’s since turned up in Colorado, California, Florida, Minnesota, New York and Georgia.

Health officials have said the variant is more easily transmissible but isn’t any deadlier and vaccines should be effective against it.

___

GENEVA – Swiss authorities are stepping up restrictions to fight the coronavirus, ordering all shops that sell “non-essential goods” closed and stricter rules on private gatherings.

The Federal Council decided Wednesday that a previous expansion of measures announced last month has not coincided with a significant drop in case numbers. The new measures take effect Monday.

The council warned about the risk of further spread of the coronavirus and concerns about a new variant.

“The epidemiological situation remains extremely concerning: the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths remains extremely high and the strain on medical staff is acute,” it said.

___

WASHINGTON – A trade group representing chain pharmacies says its members can “easily” meet President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of administering 100 million coronavirus vaccines in the first 100 days of his administration.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores says “the existing retail pharmacy network — where 90% of Americans live within 5 miles of a store – can swiftly and efficiently accelerate the vaccination of priority populations.”

The group spoke a day after the Trump administration expanded the number of Americans who can receive vaccines to include all seniors and younger people with certain health conditions.

The drug store group called for activating an arrangement known as the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, under which the Trump administration had planned to enlist pharmacies later in the vaccination campaign. It means the government would have to start delivering vaccines to pharmacies.

The association estimated that each of 40,000 chain pharmacies would have to give seven shots per hour over a 12-hour day to meet the Biden goal. But the group says drug stores using several employees to provide shots would actually exceed that estimate.

___

PHOENIX – Arizona reported more than 5,600 coronavirus cases and nearly 200 more deaths.

The Department of Health Services reported 5,629 additional known cases and 191 deaths, increasing the state’s pandemic totals to 641,729 cases and 10,673 deaths.

Arizona had the worst diagnosis rate in the past week, with one of every 105 people diagnosed with the coronavirus from Jan. 5 to Tuesday.

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, 5,055 COVID-19 patients occupied inpatient beds as of Tuesday, down from Monday’s record of 5,082. There were 1,158 COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds, down from Monday’s record of 1,183.

___

MEXICO CITY – Mexico says it will invoke the labor section of the free trade agreement signed with the United States last year to pressure for its workers in the U.S. to have access to the coronavirus vaccine regardless of their immigration status.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard says, “it is an established right that the worker must not be exposed to infection.”

The exclusion of any Mexican workers from vaccination programs would be considered a violation of the trade agreement, he says.

Immigrant workers’ access to the vaccine became an issue in Mexico last week following comments by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. The governor had been asked whether immigrants without papers working in the state’s meatpacking plants would be vaccinated.

Ricketts said: “You’re supposed to be a legal resident of the country to be working in those plants, so I do not expect that illegal immigrants will be part of the vaccine with that program.”

His spokesman later clarified with a statement saying, “Proof of citizenship is not required for vaccination.”

But some immigrant advocacy groups are still concerned that the messaging will discourage people in the country illegally from getting vaccinated.

___

MOSCOW – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to expand the vaccination effort.

Russian authorities have said more than 1.5 million people already have received the domestically designed Sputnik V vaccine even as the advanced studies among tens of thousands of people continue.

Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting with senior government officials, Putin instructed them to expand the scale of vaccination that had been limited to certain social groups and professions.

Russia has been widely criticized for giving Sputnik V regulatory approval in August after it was tested on a few dozen people and rushed to offer it to people in risk groups – such as medical workers and teachers – within weeks of approval.

Sputnik V’s developers have said data suggests the vaccine was 91% effective, and Putin on Wednesday extolled it as “the best in the world.”

___

LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says Michigan restaurants should be able to reopen for indoor dining on Feb. 1, if coronavirus cases and hospitalizations remain stable.

The administration is extending a two-month ban by an additional two weeks while letting non-contact sports resume this weekend. The current order prohibiting indoor dine-in service is due to expire Friday but will be extended.

Since the Whitmer administration closed restaurants and bars, effective Nov. 18, it has let high schools resume in-person instruction and allowed entertainment businesses to reopen with restrictions.

___

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California is lifting a stay-at-home order for 13 northern counties because of improving hospital conditions but most of the state’s population remains under tight restrictions because of the deadly coronavirus surge.

The state lifted a December ban on outdoor dining, hair and nail salons and other services for the Sacramento region. But three of five state regions – the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California – remain under the stay-at-home order because their hospitals’ intensive care capacity is severely limited.

Officials are trying to ramp up vaccinations to slow the infection rate.

California is averaging 42,000 new cases daily and recorded 3,500 virus deaths in the last week. On Monday, the pandemic death toll topped 30,000 in the state.

___

BERLIN – Germany’s Health Ministry says the states of Berlin and Brandenburg can go ahead and start coronavirus vaccinations with newly received Moderna doses, which had been put on hold over concerns they may have not been kept cold enough to prevent spoilage during transportation.

The ministry told the dpa news agency Wednesday “the quality of the vaccines was not affected by the transport and the vaccines can be used safely.”

Earlier in the day, both states said they were holding off using the 2,400 doses of the Moderna each had received as they looked into possible quality issues caused by the transport.

Germany received nearly 65,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Monday at a military facility in Quakenbrueck in the west of the country, and it is being distributed among the 16 states.

___

TurkStream, Russia pipeline bypassing Ukraine, advances

Russian pipeline bypassing Ukraine advances

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In this Jan. 8, 2020, file photo, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, talk during a ceremony in Istanbul for the inauguration of the TurkStream pipeline. A summit meeting between the Turkish and Russian … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Friday, January 1, 2021

A major new Russian pipeline designed to bypass Ukraine to supply southeastern Europe got a major symbolic boost on New Year’s Day as Serbian President Alexandar Vucic officially proclaimed the first nearly 250 miles of the Balkan Stream natural gas pipeline to be open for business.

Mr. Vucic called the event “a big day” for his country on Instagram, as Russia’s ambassador to Serbia and officials from the Russian construction firm looked on, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday.

The Serbian segment is a piece of the larger, 580-mile TurkStream pipeline, which crosses under the Black Sea and is designed to deliver Russian natural gas directly to customers in Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey. The TurkStream project complements the Russian-German NordStream pipeline project, now nearing completion in the Baltic Sea.

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The Trump administration and many Central European countries have fiercely opposed the Russian pipelines, fearing they will give the Kremlin effective control of a large chunk of the European energy market.

The pipelines also would severely weaken the leverage of Ukraine, a U.S. ally, which has long been the dominant route for pipelines bringing Russian oil and natural gas to Western markets.

The U.S. government placed sanctions on both pipelines in 2019 and has pressured the government of Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel not to go through with the completion of the project.

EU avoided chaos, explored new paths in turbulent 2020 year

EU avoided chaos, explored new paths in turbulent 2020 year

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FILE – In this Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 file photo, European Council President Charles Michel speaks with EU leaders during an EU Summit video conference at the European Council building in Brussels, to address the need to strengthen the collective … more >

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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

Associated Press

Friday, January 1, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – Between the specter of Brexit, the coronavirus pandemic and a new leadership team facing a budget battle, the European Union looked set to remember 2020 as an “annus horribilis.”

Instead, a last-minute trade deal with the United Kingdom coupled with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the final days of the year produced a sense of success for the 27-nation bloc and brought glimmers of hope to the EU‘s 450 million residents.

After months of chaotic negotiations, the EU also will head into 2021 with both a long-term budget and a coronavirus recovery fund worth 1.83 trillion euros ($2.3 trillion) that could help the EU‘s member nations bounce back from Europe’s most brutal economic crisis since World War II.

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“The European Union managed to do what was necessary,” Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, an independent think tank, said. “In the end, the European Union is resilient because it delivers benefits to its member, that the members will not want to give up.”

Ursula von der Leyen, a veteran member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet, pledged to put the fight against climate change at the top of her agenda when she took over as president of the EU‘s powerful executive arm on Dec. 1, 2019. But the pandemic quickly relegated environmental concerns to the background.

EU leaders agreed this year on a more ambitious target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, yet immediate public health needs and the economic fallout of the virus crisis eclipsed the ambitious Green Deal that von der Leyen envisioned to make Europe the world’s first carbon-neutral continent by 2050 .

Faced with a more urgent crisis, Brussels showed adaptability.

After several member states closed their borders in response to the virus, temporarily threatening the sacrosanct principle of free movement of people and goods within Europe’s visa-free Schengen Area, the EU secured the creation of priority corridors to allow cross-border movement of essential supplies. In an unprecedented move, the bloc also relaxed its stringent state aid rules so national governments could help businesses on the verge of collapse.

The true silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly the emergence of a common approach to health, which was until this year purely of member states’ competence.

When the virus first struck Europe hard in March, a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers laid bare the weaknesses of the EU‘s supply chains. Ten months and more than 350,000 virus-related deaths later, the member states’ cooperation on health-related issues has never been closer.

Under the European Commission’s helm, the 27 countries joined forces to resolve medicine and mask shortage, and to secure vaccine deals that allowed all member states to kickstart vaccination programs around the same time last week.

European countries also forged new ground in agreeing for the first time to borrow together while mutualizing part of the debt to fund the coronavirus recovery program. It was not an easy task. A majority of member states first had to overcome the resistance of a group of so-called “frugal” countries led by the Netherlands, then faced resistance from Poland and Hungary over a provision of the overall EU budget that linked payouts to respect for democratic standards.

The stalemate was broken under Germany’s time in the rotating presidency of the European Council, which defines the EU’s priorities. Merkel, who has been chancellor since 2005 and is set to leave office next year, proved she remains as a major EU power broker while in the twilight of her political career.

“Her role has been crucial when it comes to the (budget), to the recovery package,” Zuleeg told The Associated Press. “It was crucial that Germany took the lead together with France and push it over the line.”

Of course, Merkel could not fix all the EU‘s problems is the space of six months: the bloc’s relationship with Turkey is at a nadir, and the EU has yet to tackle illegal immigration and asylum, Europe’ most pressing and politically divisive issue before the pandemic. .

But while sealing the U.K. trade deal made for a frantic December, the EU found more ways to usher in 2021 with a blush of health on its cheeks. It launched an ambitious reform of its rules for internet businesses, a move that will expose big tech companies to hefty fines for violations, and signed a major investment deal with China this week.

___

Bishr El-Touni in Brussels contributed to this report.

Turkey, US to discuss sanctions imposed over S-400s

Turkey, US to discuss sanctions imposed over S-400s

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Associated Press

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey and the United States are engaged in talks to form a joint working group that would take up the issue of sanctions that Washington imposed on its ally over its purchase of an advanced Russian air defense system, Turkey’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

In a year-end news conference assessing Turkish foreign policy, Mevlut Cavusoglu also told journalists that Turkey wants “healthier” relations with the United States under President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

The U.S. announced sanctions earlier this month to penalize Turkey over its procurement of Russia’s advanced S-400 system, under a U.S. law known as CAATSA which aims to push back on Russian influence. It was the first time that CAATSA had been used to penalize a U.S. ally.

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The sanctions target Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, the head of the presidency and three other senior officials. They also include a ban on most export licenses, loans and credits to the agency.

Ties between the allies have been plagued by numerous other disputes, including the jailing of American citizens and local consular staff, U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish fighters considered to be terrorists by Turkey and the continued U.S. residence of a Muslim cleric accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

The U.S. had previously kicked Turkey out of its F-35 stealth jet program, saying their use alongside the Russian technology would jeopardize the safety of the fighter jets. Washington also says the Russian system would not be interoperable with NATO systems.

“In 2020, our ties with the United States were overshadowed by existing problems,” Cavusoglu said. “In 2021, we are prepared to lead our relations with the new administration in a healthier manner and we are prepared to take steps to overcome existing problems.”

Cavusoglu said the proposal to set up the Turkish-U.S. working group came from the American side. He said technical talks aimed at creating the working group have started.

Earlier this month, Cavusoglu had said Turkey was considering possible steps to reciprocate against the sanctions.

Sanctioned Turkish official thinks US relations won’t change

Sanctioned Turkish official thinks US relations won’t change

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FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 file photo, a truck carrying parts of the S-400 air defense systems, exits a Russian transport aircraft after landing at Murted military airport outside Ankara, Turkey. The Trump administration is imposing sanctions … more >

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By ZEYNEP BILGINSOY

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

ISTANBUL (AP) – A Turkish defense official sanctioned by the United States said Tuesday that bilateral relations will not be affected despite the Trump administration’s decision to finally punish Turkey for its purchase of a Russian air defense system, as senior officials continued to condemn the move.

Ismail Demir, the head of Turkey’s military procurement agency, emphasized that Turkey and the U.S. are NATO allies who will continue working together. He also argued that the sanctions could serve as a “warning” for Turkey’s local defense industries to continue and speed up their work.

“This is an occasion that should be assessed on its own terms and I think, we expect this to not affect relations much,” Demir told journalists.

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Turkey‘s foreign ministry said minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo on Tuesday and relayed Turkey‘s “reactions” on the sanctions.

Monday’s sanctions are part of a U.S. law known as CAATSA, which are aimed at pushing back on Russian influence. They target Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries, Demir and three other senior officials. The penalties block any assets the four officials may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar their entry into the U.S. They also include a ban on most export licenses, loans and credits to the agency.

The move is the first time that CAATSA has been used to penalize a U.S. ally.

Turkey’s defense minister condemned the sanctions, saying the decision “has shaken all the values of our alliance.”

“It is clear that the sanctioning of a NATO member will not only hurt the spirit of alliance but also shake trust among allies from its core,” Hulusi Akar said, adding that Turkey had serious security concerns and would take all steps to protect its citizens.

Ankara has angered Washington by buying and testing the S-400 missile defense system. It has insisted that it was not offered the U.S. Patriot systems and was forced to buy the Russian system instead for its national security.

The U.S. has kicked Turkey out of its F-35 stealth jet program, saying their use alongside the Russian technology would jeopardize the safety of the fighter jets. Washington also says the Russian system would not be interoperable with NATO systems.

Turkey claims there is no risk to NATO systems because they would not be integrated into defense strategies involving the S-400s, while pointing out that NATO member Greece also has Russian missiles.

In a rare show of unity, lawmakers from Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, parliamentarians from the main opposition party and a smaller opposition group all said they reject the sanctions decision.

Turkey does not hesitate to take any steps required for its national security. It’s not a country to take a step back in the face of threats and sanctions,” their joint statement read.

Demir tweeted on Monday, soon after the U.S. sanctions announcement, that any decision abroad against him or the Presidency of Defense Industries would not change his position. “Nothing will be able to stop the Turkish defense industry,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking ahead of the sanctions, said he was saddened by an increase in “sanctions discourse” from both the U.S. and Europe. Erdogan said he expects support from its NATO ally against terror organizations, rather than sanctions.

Turkey’s foreign ministry and other top officials also condemned the move late Monday.

Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications director, called the sanctions “unreasonable, fruitless and ultimately incompatible with the spirit of our partnership.” He tweeted that Turkish-American relations were more important and said he hopes the U.S. will reverse its decision.

Turkey took delivery of the S-400 missiles in the summer of 2019 and tested them for the first time in October.

Bilateral relations have suffered from numerous disputes, including the jailing of American citizens and local consular staff, U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish fighters and the continued U.S. residence of a Muslim cleric accused of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

Turkey summons Iranian ambassador over Azeri poem tensions

Turkey summons Iranian ambassador over Azeri poem tensions

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint news conference with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Following the approval of European leaders Friday Dec. 11, 2020 of expanding sanctions against Ankara, Turkey called … more >

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Associated Press

Saturday, December 12, 2020

ISTANBUL (AP) – 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.”

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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.

Iran summons Turkish ambassador over Erdogan remarks in Baku

Iran summons Turkish ambassador over Erdogan remarks in Baku

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Members of a Turkish forces commando brigade take part in a military parade in which Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, looked on in Baku, Azerbaijan, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. The massive parade was held in … more >

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By AMIR VAHDAT

Associated Press

Friday, December 11, 2020

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran on Friday summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Tehran over the Turkish president’s remarks during a visit to Baku, Azerbaijan, which Iran deemed offensive and said support a secession of Azeri ethnic parts of Iran.

Iran‘s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Turkish Ambassador Derya Ors was summoned following Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “meddlesome and unacceptable” remarks in Baku on Thursday. The official IRNA news agency said Iran has asked Turkey‘s government for an immediate explanation.

During the visit to Baku, Erdogan 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.

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Iran, which borders all three countries, had stayed out of the decades-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and when fighting reignited in September, Tehran urged both sides to seek a peaceful solution.

At the Baku parade, Erdogan, who strongly backs Azerbaijan, reportedly read parts of a poem about how a border tore apart ancient Azeri, or Azerbaijani, lands “by force.” It refers to the separation of Azerbaijan between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan following the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828.

Iran‘s three northwestern provinces – West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Ardabil – have a predominantly ethnic Azeri population.

Mohsen Pakaeen, Iran‘s former ambassador to Baku, said such remarks could harm relations between Azerbaijan and Iran.

“The relations between Tehran and Baku are in very good shape now, but Erdogan’s remarks could raise a series of historical and controversial issues between the two countries,” Pakaeen said.

IRNA reported that Pakaeen said the Turkish president was trying to spread pan-Turkism, a political movement dating back to the 1880s. Iran‘s foreign ministry said “the era of claiming lands and warmongering empires has long ended,” a reference to the Ottoman Empire.

Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also criticized Erdogan’s remarks in a tweet: “Didn’t he realize that he was undermining the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan? NO ONE can talk about OUR beloved Azerbaijan.”.

There was no immediate comments from Ankara over the summoning of the ambassador in Tehran.

___

Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.

Turkey rejects EU decision to widen sanctions

Turkey rejects EU decision to widen sanctions

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Friday, December 11, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey on Friday called on the European Union to act as an ‘honest mediator’ in its dispute with EU members Greece and Cyprus over the exploration of gas reserves in the Mediterranean, after European leaders approved expanding sanctions against Ankara.

The leaders said early Friday that Turkey – which is a candidate to join although its membership talks are blocked – has “engaged in unilateral actions and provocations and escalated its rhetoric against the EU.” This was despite the fact that they had offered trade and other incentives to Turkey to halt its activities during their last summit in October, they said.

The leaders tasked EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell with drawing up a report on the state of EUTurkey political, economic and trade relations and to suggest how to proceed, including on widening sanctions. Borrrell was asked to submit the report to the leaders by the time they hold a summit in March.

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Turkey’s Foreign Ministry slammed the EU decision, saying Ankara rejects the 27-member group’s “biased and unlawful attitude.”

A ministry statement said the decision to expand sanctions against Turkey was approved out of solidarity with Greece and Cyprus. The two countries’ alleged misuse of the solidarity and veto rights had thrust EUTurkey ties into a “vicious circle,” it said.

“The situation is harming the joint interests of Turkey and the EU as well as our region’s peace, security and stability,” the ministry said. “The EU should take up the role of an honest mediator, it must act in a principled, strategic and sensible manner.”

Tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece escalated over the summer with a military build-up after Turkey sent its seismic survey vessel Oruc Reis, escorted by navy frigates, into disputed waters. The move prompted Greece to also send its warships, and both countries conducted military exercises to assert their claims.

Late last month, Oruc Reis returned to port, as it had done before October’s EU meeting. However, another research ship, the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, remains off Cyprus’ southwestern coast.

Turkey says it is standing up for its energy rights, as well as those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots, while Athens and Nicosia call Turkey’s actions an illegal incursion into areas where they have exclusive offshore exploitation rights.

The 27 EU countries are split over how best to handle Turkey. France and Cyprus have pushed for tougher measures like economic sanctions, but other countries are concerned about further undermining the country’s already ravaged economy and destabilizing the region.

Last year, the EU set up a system for imposing travel bans and asset freezes on people, companies or organizations linked to contested drilling activities. Two Turkish Petroleum Corporation officials are already on the list, and the leaders say those sanctions should be broadened.

The EU decision comes as Turkey is also faced with the prospect of U.S. sanctions over its purchase of a Russian air defense system which has already resulted in the NATO-member country being kicked out of the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter program.