WHO: COVID-19 Falling Everywhere, Except Americas and Africa

A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as the new Omicron variant spreads, in Dutywa, in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as the new Omicron variant spreads, in Dutywa, in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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WHO: COVID-19 Falling Everywhere, Except Americas and Africa

A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as the new Omicron variant spreads, in Dutywa, in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as the new Omicron variant spreads, in Dutywa, in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The number of new coronavirus cases reported worldwide has continued to fall except in the Americas and Africa, the World Health Organization said in its latest assessment of the pandemic.

In its weekly pandemic report released late Tuesday, the UN health agency said about 3.5 million new cases and more than 25,000 deaths were reported globally, which respectively represent decreases of 12% and 25%.

The downward trend in reported infections began in March, although many countries have dismantled their widespread testing and surveillance programs, making an accurate count of cases extremely difficult, The Associated Press reported.

WHO said there were only two regions where reported COVID-19 infections increased: the Americas, by 14%, and Africa, by 12%. Cases remained stable in the Western Pacific and fell everywhere else, the agency said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned during a press briefing this week that “the rising cases in more than 50 countries highlights the volatility of this virus.”

Tedros said COVID-19 variants, including mutated versions of the highly infectious omicron, are driving a resurgence of COVID-19 in several countries, including South Africa, which was the first to identify omicron in November.

He said relatively high rates of population immunity are preventing a spike in hospitalizations and deaths but cautioned that “this is not guaranteed for places where vaccination levels are low.” Only about 16% of people in poorer countries have been immunized against COVID-19.

WHO's report noted that some of the biggest jumps in COVID-19 cases were seen in China, which saw a 145% rise in the last week.



Trump Wins Colorado Ballot Disqualification Case at US Supreme Court

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (AP)
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Trump Wins Colorado Ballot Disqualification Case at US Supreme Court

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 2, 2024, in Richmond, Va. (AP)

The US Supreme Court handed Donald Trump a major victory on Monday, barring states from disqualifying candidates for federal office under a constitutional provision involving insurrection and reversing Colorado's exclusion of him from its ballot.

The justices unanimously overturned a Dec. 19 decision by Colorado's top court to kick the former president off the state's Tuesday Republican primary ballot after finding that the US Constitution's 14th Amendment disqualified him from again holding public office. The Colorado court had found that Trump took part in an insurrection for inciting and supporting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.

But four of the nine justices, including the court's three liberal members, faulted the rest of the court for announcing rules limiting how the constitutional provision may be enforced in the future.

Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 US election. His only remaining rival for his party's nomination is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

The ruling was issued on the eve of Super Tuesday, the day in the US presidential primary cycle when the most states hold party nominating contests.

The Supreme Court's decision came five days after it agreed to decide Trump's claim of immunity from prosecution on charges related to trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden. The court acted in a speedier manner in deciding the ballot disqualification issue, benefiting Trump, than it has in resolving the immunity question. Delays in deciding the immunity issue could help Trump by delaying his criminal trial.

The 14th Amendment's Section 3 bars from office any "officer of the United States" who took an oath "to support the Constitution of the United States" and then "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof."

"We conclude that states may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But states have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the presidency," the unsigned opinion for the court stated.

The justices found that only Congress can enforce the provision against federal officeholders and candidates.

"BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!," Trump wrote on his social media platform immediately after the ruling.

Trump was also barred from the ballot in Maine and Illinois based on the 14th Amendment, but those decisions were put on hold pending the Supreme Court's ruling in the Colorado case.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold expressed disappointment at the ruling "stripping states of the authority" to enforce the disqualification clause.

"Colorado should be able to bar oath-breaking insurrections from our ballot," she wrote in a social media post.

‘Momentous and difficult issues’

Though the justices unanimously agreed with the result, the three liberal justices, as well as conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, said the court's opinion decided more than what was necessary to resolve the case by specifying that Section 3 can be enforced only through federal legislation.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson objected to the majority's "gratuitous" decision to announce rules limiting the way Section 3 can be enforced in the future.

"Today, the majority goes beyond the necessities of this case to limit how Section 3 can bar an oath-breaking insurrectionist from becoming president," the liberal justices said. "Although we agree that Colorado cannot enforce Section 3, we protest the majority's effort to use this case to define the limits of federal enforcement of that provision."

In a concurring opinion, Barrett wrote that "this is not the time to amplify disagreement with stridency. The court has settled a politically charged issue in the volatile season of a presidential election. Particularly in this circumstance, writings on the court should turn the national temperature down, not up," Barrett wrote.

"For present purposes, our differences are far less important than our unanimity: All nine Justices agree on the outcome of this case. That is the message Americans should take home," Barrett added.

Trump's eligibility had been challenged in court by a group of six voters in Colorado - four Republicans and two independents - who portrayed him as a threat to American democracy and sought to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.

The plaintiffs were backed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group.

CREW President Noah Bookbinder emphasized that while the court's ruling allows Trump back on the ballot, it did not directly address the Colorado Supreme Court's finding that Trump had engaged in insurrection.

"The Supreme Court had the opportunity in this case to exonerate Trump, and they chose not to do so," Bookbinder said, adding that, "The Supreme Court removed an enforcement mechanism, and in letting Trump back on the ballot, they failed to meet the moment."

As lawsuits seeking to disqualify Trump cropped up across the country, it was important for his candidacy to clear any hurdles to appear on the ballot in all 50 states.

The Supreme Court's 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees. Not since ruling in the landmark case Bush v. Gore, which handed the disputed 2000 US election to Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore, has the court played such a central role in a presidential race.

The justices in the immunity case in December declined a bid to speed up resolution of the matter before a lower court had weighed in, then last week agreed to take up the matter after lower courts had ruled - setting arguments to take place in late April, a much longer timeline.

Capitol attack

In a bid to prevent Congress from certifying Biden's 2020 election victory, Trump supporters attacked police, broke through barricades and swarmed the Capitol. Trump gave an incendiary speech to supporters beforehand, repeating his false claims of widespread voting fraud and telling them to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell." He then for hours rebuffed requests that he urge the mob to stop.

The 14th Amendment was ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War of 1861-1865 in which seceding Southern states that allowed the practice of slavery rebelled against the US government.

In ruling against Trump, Colorado's top court cited the "general atmosphere of political violence that President Trump created" and that he aided "the insurrectionists' common unlawful purpose of preventing the peaceful transfer of power in this country."

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 8. Trump's lawyer argued that he is not subject to the disqualification language because a president is not an "officer of the United States," that the provision cannot be enforced by courts absent congressional legislation, and that what occurred on Jan. 6 was shameful, criminal and violent but not an insurrection.


Kremlin Says German Army Discussing Strikes on Russia, Asks if Scholz Is in Control 

A German national flag is set on the car of the Ambassador of Germany to Russia Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, outside the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia March 4, 2024. (Reuters)
A German national flag is set on the car of the Ambassador of Germany to Russia Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, outside the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia March 4, 2024. (Reuters)
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Kremlin Says German Army Discussing Strikes on Russia, Asks if Scholz Is in Control 

A German national flag is set on the car of the Ambassador of Germany to Russia Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, outside the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia March 4, 2024. (Reuters)
A German national flag is set on the car of the Ambassador of Germany to Russia Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, outside the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia March 4, 2024. (Reuters)

The Kremlin said on Monday a purported recording of German military discussions showed Germany's armed forces were discussing plans to launch strikes on Russian territory, and questioned whether Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in control of the situation.

Russian media last week published an audio recording of what they said was a meeting of senior German military officials discussing weapons for Ukraine and a potential strike by Kyiv on a bridge in Crimea, prompting Russian officials to demand an explanation.

"The recording itself says that within the Bundeswehr, plans to launch strikes on Russian territory are being discussed substantively and concretely. This does not require any legal interpretation. Everything here is more than obvious," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Germany says it is investigating the recording. Russia has summoned Germany's ambassador to demand an explanation.

"Here we have to find out whether the Bundeswehr is doing this on its own initiative. Then the question is: how controllable is the Bundeswehr and how much does Scholz control the situation? Or is it part of German government policy?" Peskov said.

"Both (scenarios) are very bad. Both once again emphasize the direct involvement of the countries of the collective West in the conflict around Ukraine."

Germany is among the NATO countries that have supplied weaponry to Ukraine including tanks. Russia accuses what it calls the "collective West" of using Ukraine to wage a proxy war against it; NATO says it is helping Kyiv to defend itself against a war of aggression.


Iran Election Turnout Hits Record Low, Hardliners Maintain Grip on Parliament

Iranians walk in a street in Tehran, Iran March 3, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Iranians walk in a street in Tehran, Iran March 3, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
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Iran Election Turnout Hits Record Low, Hardliners Maintain Grip on Parliament

Iranians walk in a street in Tehran, Iran March 3, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Iranians walk in a street in Tehran, Iran March 3, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

Turnout in Iran's parliamentary election was around 41%, the country's interior minister said on Monday, the lowest participation since Iran's 1979 revolution that swept the clerical rulers into power.

Friday's election was seen as a test of the clerical establishment's legitimacy amid mounting economic struggles and a lack of electoral options for a mostly young population chafing at political and social restrictions.

"Some 25 million people out of over 61 million eligible Iranians voted in the March 1 election for the 290-seat legislature," Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told a televised news conference.

In the 2020 parliamentary election, turnout was 42.5%. About 62% of voters participated in 2016.

Authorities said the turnout "indicated the people's trust in the sacred system of the Islamic Republic".

Vahidi said invalid votes made up 5% of the total vote count. Some Iranian media reported that number to be as high as 30%, suggesting signs of disillusionment even among core supporters of the country.

"Authorities should listen to the silent majority ... and reform the governance method ... I hope they realize before it's too late to reverse the damage and harm this path will cause," state media quoted reformist politician Azar Mansouri as saying.

In some constituencies, where candidates failed to get the required minimum 20% of the votes cast, a run-off will be held in April, Vahidi said.

In Tehran, which accounts for 30 seats in parliament, a second round will be held for 16 seats.

The election was the first since anti-government protests in 2022-23 that spiraled into one of Iran's worst political turmoil since the revolution and quelled by a violent crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.

With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out and reformists calling the election not free and unfair, the contest was essentially among hardliners and low-key conservatives, all proclaiming loyalty to revolutionary ideals.

Iran's parliament, dominated by hardliners for more than two decades, has little impact on foreign policy or Tehran's disputed nuclear program. These issues are determined by the country's top authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Activists and opposition groups, arguing that a high turnout would legitimize the Islamic Republic, had called for a boycott by widely distributing the hashtags #VOTENoVote and #ElectionCircus on the social media platform X.

Former president Mohammad Khatami, considered the spiritual leader of Iran's reformists, was among critics who did not vote on Friday.

Opposition critics say the ruling clerics are no longer capable of solving an economic crisis caused by a mix of mismanagement, corruption and US sanctions reimposed since 2018 when Washington ditched Tehran's nuclear pact with major powers.

The parliamentary election was twinned with a vote for the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, an influential body that has the task of choosing the 84-year-old Khamenei's successor.


Haiti Orders Nightly Curfew After Weekend of Violence, Prison Break

This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows tires on fire near the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024. (Photo by Luckenson JEAN / AFPTV / AFP)
This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows tires on fire near the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024. (Photo by Luckenson JEAN / AFPTV / AFP)
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Haiti Orders Nightly Curfew After Weekend of Violence, Prison Break

This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows tires on fire near the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024. (Photo by Luckenson JEAN / AFPTV / AFP)
This screen grab taken from AFPTV shows tires on fire near the main prison of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2024. (Photo by Luckenson JEAN / AFPTV / AFP)

Authorities have ordered a nighttime curfew trying to regain control of Haiti's streets after an explosion of violence during the weekend, including gunmen from gangs overrunning the country's two biggest prisons and freeing their inmates.
A 72-hour state of emergency began Sunday night, and the government said it would set out to find the killers, kidnappers and other violent criminals that it reported escaped from prison.
“The police were ordered to use all legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and apprehend all offenders,” said a statement from Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, who is serving as acting prime minister.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry traveled abroad last week to try to salvage support for bringing in a United Nations-backed security force to help stabilize Haiti in its conflict with increasingly powerful crime groups.
The emergency decree was issued after a deadly weekend that marked a new low in Haiti's downward spiral of violence. At least nine people had been killed since Thursday — four of them police officers — as gangs stepped up coordinated attacks on state institutions in Port-au-Prince, including the country's international airport and the national soccer stadium.

But the attack on the National Penitentiary late Saturday was a big shock Haitians, even though they are accustomed to living under the constant threat of violence, The Associated Press reported.
Almost all of the estimated 4,000 inmates escaped, leaving the normally overcrowded prison eerily empty Sunday with no guards in sight and plastic sandals, clothing and furniture strewn across the concrete patio. Three bodies with gunshot wounds lay at the prison entrance.
In another neighborhood, the bloodied corpses of two men with their hands tied behind the backs lay face down as residents walked past roadblocks set up with burning tires.
Among the few dozen that chose to stay in the prison are 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of working as mercenaries in the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Amid the fighting Saturday night, several of the Colombians shared a video pleading for their lives.


Nikki Haley Wins District of Columbia’s Republican Primary and Gets Her First 2024 Victory 

US Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley reaches out to embraces Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc before speaking during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, on March 3, 2024. (AFP)
US Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley reaches out to embraces Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc before speaking during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, on March 3, 2024. (AFP)
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Nikki Haley Wins District of Columbia’s Republican Primary and Gets Her First 2024 Victory 

US Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley reaches out to embraces Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc before speaking during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, on March 3, 2024. (AFP)
US Republican presidential hopeful and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley reaches out to embraces Retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc before speaking during a campaign rally in Portland, Maine, on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

Her victory Sunday at least temporarily halts Donald Trump’s sweep of the GOP voting contests, although the former president is likely to pick up several hundred more delegates in this week’s Super Tuesday races.

Despite her early losses, Haley has said she would remain in the race at least through those contests, although she has declined to name any primary she felt confident she would win. Following her loss in her home state of South Carolina, Haley remained adamant that voters in the places that followed deserved an alternative to Trump despite his dominance thus far in the campaign.

The Associated Press declared Haley the winner Sunday night after DC Republican Party officials released the results. She won all 19 delegates at stake.

“It’s not surprising that Republicans closest to Washington dysfunction are rejecting Donald Trump and all his chaos,” Haley spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement, noting that Haley became the first woman to win a Republican primary in history.

Washington is one of the most heavily Democratic jurisdictions in the nation, with only about 23,000 registered Republicans in the city. Democrat Joe Biden won the district in the 2020 general election with 92% of the vote.

Trump's campaign issued a statement shortly after Haley’s victory sarcastically congratulating her on being named “Queen of the Swamp by the lobbyists and DC insiders that want to protect the failed status quo.”

Haley held a rally in the nation’s capital on Friday before heading back to North Carolina and a series of states holding Super Tuesday primaries. She joked with more than 100 supporters inside a hotel ballroom, “Who says there’s no Republicans in DC, come on.”

“We’re trying to make sure that we touch every hand that we can and speak to every person,” Haley said.

As she gave her standard campaign speech, criticizing Trump for running up federal deficit, one rallygoer bellowed, “He cannot win a general election. It’s madness.” That prompted agreement from Haley, who argues that she can deny Biden a second term, but Trump can't.

While campaigning as an avowed conservative, Haley has tended to perform better among more moderate and independent-leaning voters.

Four in 10 Haley supporters in South Carolina’s GOP primary were self-described moderates, compared with 15% for Trump, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 2,400 voters taking part in the Republican primary in South Carolina, conducted for AP by NORC at the University of Chicago. On the other hand, 8 in 10 Trump supporters identified as conservatives, compared to about half of Haley’s backers.

Trump won an uncontested DC primary during his 2020 reelection bid but placed a distant third four years earlier behind Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Rubio’s win was one of only three in his unsuccessful 2016 bid. Other more centrist Republicans, including Mitt Romney and John McCain, won the city’s primaries in 2012 and 2008 on their way to winning the GOP nomination.


Reports about Iran’s Bid for Naval Base in Sudan Sparks Controversy

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi meets with Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq in Tehran last month (Iranian Presidency)
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi meets with Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq in Tehran last month (Iranian Presidency)
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Reports about Iran’s Bid for Naval Base in Sudan Sparks Controversy

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi meets with Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq in Tehran last month (Iranian Presidency)
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi meets with Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq in Tehran last month (Iranian Presidency)

Media reports saying Iran has asked the Sudanese Army to set up a military base on the Red Sea coast, have sparked controversy in Sudanese circles.
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal quoted a Sudanese intelligence official as saying that Sudan refused to let Iran set up a permanent naval base on its coast along the Red Sea in exchange for weapons.
However, local Sudanese media quoted a Sudanese army spokesperson as denying the Iranian offer.
The war in Sudan between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, began on 15 April 2023.
In January, media reports said Iran has supplied Sudan’s army with combat drones. The army has not denied the claims.
Later, Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali al-Sadiq visited Tehran and held talks with high ranking officials as part of the two countries’ efforts to restore their diplomatic relations.
According to a WSJ report, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed, who advises the Sudanese army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said Iran offered the Sudanese army explosive drones and a helicopter carrier in exchange for the base.
However, Al Sudani news website denied the reports. It quoted a Sudanese Army spokesperson as saying that Iran made no such offers to the army.
Also, sources close to the Sudanese army's intelligence service ruled out the presence of such an Iranian offer. The sources said the reports were probably a maneuver from Al-Burhan expressing his dissatisfaction with the regional and international neutral stances concerning developments in Sudan.
But despite the denials, the sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran could have made the offer during the visit of the Sudanese foreign minister to Tehran last February.
They added that the current Sudanese leadership is aware that an Iranian maritime base in Sudan will surely lead to hostilities in the region.
The sources said al-Sadiq’s visit to Tehran aimed to send a warning message to regional countries backing the Rapid Forces, cautioning that they could shuffle the cards in light of the current tensions in the Red Sea.
“The Sudanese Army leadership knows that Iran cannot offer them unlimited military support in return of nothing,” the sources said. “Therefore, they are seeking to restore their relationship ...to produce a balance of power in the region, particularly in the absence of any country willing to support them at the military level,” the sources added.

 

 


Newly Enlarged NATO Starts Drill in Finland, Norway and Sweden in Defense of its Nordic Turf 

This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
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Newly Enlarged NATO Starts Drill in Finland, Norway and Sweden in Defense of its Nordic Turf 

This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)
This photograph taken on February 27, 2024 shows an empty mast amongst member nation flags in the Cour d'Honneur of the NATO headquarters, ahead of a flag-raising ceremony for Sweden's accession to NATO, in Brussels on February 27, 2024. (AFP)

NATO will kick off an exercise on Monday to defend its newly expanded Nordic territory when more than 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations take part in drills lasting nearly two weeks in the northern regions of Finland, Norway and Sweden.

With over 4,000 Finnish soldiers taking part, the Norway-led Nordic Response 2024 represents the NATO newcomer's largest ever participation in a foreign exercise, according to Finland's military.

“For the first time, Finland will participate as a NATO member nation in exercising collective defense of the alliance’s regions,” the Finnish Defense Forces said in a statement.

Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, joined NATO in April 2023 in a historic move following decades of military non-alignment. With its bid now ratified by all NATO members, neighboring Sweden is currently finalizing formalities to enter the military alliance as its 32nd member — most likely in March.

Both Sweden and Finland had developed strong ties with NATO after the end of the Cold War, but public opinion remained firmly against full membership until Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Nonalignment was seen as the best way to avoid tensions with Russia, their powerful neighbor in the Baltic Sea region. But the Russian aggression caused a dramatic shift in public opinion in both countries, and they applied jointly for NATO membership in May 2022.

For years, the biannual NATO drill, which has been conducted in the Arctic extremes of northern Norway, was called “Cold Response.”

However, “thanks to the NATO expansion with Finland and eventually Sweden, we are now expanding the exercise to a Nordic Response,” the Norwegian Armed Forces said on its website. This year, the drill is hosted equally by Finland, Norway and Sweden.

The participating nations in the exercise that runs through March 15 are Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

Roughly half of the participating troops will drill on land. The rest will train at sea, with over 50 participating submarines, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers, and various amphibious vessels, and in the air with more than 100 fighter jets, transport aircraft, maritime surveillance aircraft and helicopters, according to the Norwegian military.

The combined joint training will focus on the defense and protection of the Nordic region, Norwegian military officials said.

“We need to be able to fight back and stop anyone who tries to challenge our borders, values and democracy,” said Brigadier Tron Strand from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Commander of the Norwegian Air Operations Center, in a statement. “With the current security situation in Europe, the exercise is extremely relevant and more important than ever before,” he added.

“The High North represents an important and strategically located area for NATO” and the Nordic Response 2024 exercise “increases Nordic preparedness and the capability to conduct large-scale joint operations in challenging weather and climate," NATO said on its website.

Finland’s new president, Alexander Stubb, will inspect the drill together with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre in northern Norway on March 7. It’s the first foreign trip for Stubb since he was sworn in as Finland’s new head of state and its supreme military commander on March 1.


Iran Executes One Over Alleged Israel Link to Attack

A view of the entrance to Evin prison in Tehran, Iran (Reuters)
A view of the entrance to Evin prison in Tehran, Iran (Reuters)
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Iran Executes One Over Alleged Israel Link to Attack

A view of the entrance to Evin prison in Tehran, Iran (Reuters)
A view of the entrance to Evin prison in Tehran, Iran (Reuters)

Iran's judiciary has executed a "terrorist" over a drone attack that targeted a defense ministry site in central Iran last year, state media reported on Sunday.

According to state TV, the person "planned to explode the workshop complex of the Ministry of Defense in Isfahan under guidance of the intelligence officer of Mossad", Israel's spy agency.

The date of the execution and the identity of the accused person were not immediately clear.

Iran has several known nuclear research sites in the Isfahan region, including a uranium conversion plant. The country's sanction-hit nuclear program has been the target of sabotage, assassinations of scientists and cyber-attacks.

Tehran has accused Israel of carrying out several covert actions on its soil.

Iran's intelligence ministry said in February 2023 that it had arrested the "main actors" involved in the drone attack on a defense ministry site in Isfahan, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.

The previous month, an anti-aircraft system destroyed a drone, and two others exploded during an attack on a defense ministry facility in the province, officials said at the time.

According to the defense ministry, the night-time attack left no casualties and only caused minor damage.

Authorities did not elaborate on activities at the site, but IRNA said the strike had targeted "an ammunition manufacturing plant".

Iran has been engaged in a shadow war for years with its arch-enemy Israel.

In August last year Iran claimed to have foiled a "very complex" Mossad-initiated project to "sabotage" its ballistic missile industry.

In January, Iran hanged four members of its Kurdish minority on charges of spying for Israel. They were convicted of collaborating with Israel on a plan to sabotage an Iranian defence site in Isfahan.

In April 2021, Tehran announced it had started producing 60 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz site, a day after accusing Israel of an attack there.


Malaysia Ready to Re-open Probe of Missing MH370 if New Evidence Emerges

A family member of passengers and crew on board the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 write on a memorial wall during a remembrance event marking the 10th anniversary of its disappearance at the Empire Subang in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, 03 March 2024. EPA/NAZRI MOHAMAD
A family member of passengers and crew on board the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 write on a memorial wall during a remembrance event marking the 10th anniversary of its disappearance at the Empire Subang in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, 03 March 2024. EPA/NAZRI MOHAMAD
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Malaysia Ready to Re-open Probe of Missing MH370 if New Evidence Emerges

A family member of passengers and crew on board the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 write on a memorial wall during a remembrance event marking the 10th anniversary of its disappearance at the Empire Subang in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, 03 March 2024. EPA/NAZRI MOHAMAD
A family member of passengers and crew on board the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 write on a memorial wall during a remembrance event marking the 10th anniversary of its disappearance at the Empire Subang in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, 03 March 2024. EPA/NAZRI MOHAMAD

Malaysia is willing to re-open an investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 in 2014, if there is compelling new evidence, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Monday.

About 500 relatives of passengers on the plane, gathered Sunday near the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, demanding a new search.

They lit 239 candles, one for each passenger lost on the flight.

Some relatives came from China, where almost two-thirds of the passengers of the doomed plane were from.

Malaysia, along with Australia and China, ended in January 2017 a fruitless two-year, $130-million underwater hunt for the Boeing 777 that vanished en route to Beijing from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014.

"We have taken the position that if there is a compelling case, evidence that it needs to be re-opened, we're certainly happy to re-open," Anwar told a press conference in Melbourne.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a summit of Australia and the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian nations.
"Whatever needs to be done must be done."


Ankara: Time to Start Dialogue Between Moscow, Kyiv on Ceasefire

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met on Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov (Reuters)
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met on Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov (Reuters)
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Ankara: Time to Start Dialogue Between Moscow, Kyiv on Ceasefire

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met on Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov (Reuters)
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met on Sunday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov (Reuters)

Türkiye says it is now time to start a dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv for a ceasefire, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on Sunday in the southern city of Antalya.

Fidan met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Friday on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum. He told reporters he had discussed a number of issues with Lavrov, including Ukraine.

“On the issue of Ukraine, our view is that both sides have reached the limits of what they can get by war. We think that it is time to start a dialogue for a ceasefire,”Fidan said.

The foreign minister added that opening up ceasefire talks “doesn't mean recognizing the occupation (by Russia), but issues of sovereignty and ceasefire should be discussed separately.”

NATO member Türkiye, which shares a maritime border with both Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has sought to maintain good ties with both nations since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Ankara has provided military support for Ukraine and voiced support for its territorial integrity, but also opposes sanctions on Russia.

Fidan’s meeting with Lavrov came shortly before a trip to Washington to meet his American counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The meeting will be held within the framework of the Türkiye-US Strategic Dialogue Mechanism, held on March 7 and 8. It comes as Moscow signaled its readiness to hold talks with Washington.

In 2022, Türkiye hosted unofficial peace talks between Russia and Ukraine at the second diplomatic forum in the Turkish city of Antalya. The talks has not yielded any positive results.

Last month, Türkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan expressed his ongoing willingness to mediate between Russia and Ukraine for a “fair” peace between the two countries.

“We have brought the parties together in Türkiye on multiple occasions. We can do this again and open the door to peace through a solution-focused process management, free from external influences,” Erdogan said.

“In our meetings with both President (Vladimir) Putin and President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy, we continue our efforts in this pursuit,” he added.