Militants Open Fire at Bus in Pakistan, Killing 9

Fishermen collect seafood before selling it to a market in Karachi, Pakistan, 28 November 2023 (issued 29 November). EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
Fishermen collect seafood before selling it to a market in Karachi, Pakistan, 28 November 2023 (issued 29 November). EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
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Militants Open Fire at Bus in Pakistan, Killing 9

Fishermen collect seafood before selling it to a market in Karachi, Pakistan, 28 November 2023 (issued 29 November). EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER
Fishermen collect seafood before selling it to a market in Karachi, Pakistan, 28 November 2023 (issued 29 November). EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER

Militants opened fire at a bus in northern Pakistan, killing nine people including two soldiers, local police said.
The shooting occurred on Saturday night in the Chilas area of the northern Gilgit Baltistan region, police officer Azmat Shah said.
The bus was carrying passengers from Gilgit to Rawalpindi. The driver lost control of the bus when it was hit by the gunfire and crashed into a truck. The truck caught fire, killing the drivers of both vehicles.
At least 26 people were injured in the incident and transferred to local hospitals.
The home minister of Gilgit Baltistan, Shams Lone, told journalists the incident was an “act of terrorism" and said that two soldiers from Pakistan's army were among those killed.
A local Islamic cleric, Mufti Sher Zaman, was also injured, The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
After the incident, the location was cordoned off and police helped move traffic through the area in convoys, said senior police official Sardar Shehryar.
The chief minister of Gilgit Baltistan, Gulbar Khan, said a special investigation team was formed to investigate the incident. Law enforcement agencies were ordered to identify and arrest the culprits, he said.
Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, denied in a statement any link with the shooting, saying it was not carried out by their group.



Netherlands’ Rutte Signs Security Deal in Ukraine, Promising Artillery Funding

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
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Netherlands’ Rutte Signs Security Deal in Ukraine, Promising Artillery Funding

 In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, right, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte, talk at apartment houses damage in the Russian missile attacks in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte signed a security deal with Ukraine in the northeastern city of Kharkiv on Friday and said the Netherlands would help fund the supply of 800,000 artillery shells to hold back Russian forces.

Rutte met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on a surprise visit to Kharkiv, just 40 km (26 miles) from the Russian border, and became the seventh Western leader to sign a 10-year security agreement with Ukraine in the last two months.

"The Netherlands will contribute to the Czech Republic's initiative to purchase 800,000 artillery shells, he told a news conference, saying they would arrive within weeks.

Ukraine is critically short of artillery rounds as its troops try to hold back Russian forces who are again on the offensive in the east, two years after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion.

The Czech Republic said last month it had sourced 500,000 rounds of 155 mm shells and 300,000 122 mm rounds from third countries, which could be delivered to Ukraine in weeks if funding was secured.

The shells would plug a big hole in Ukraine's stockpiles with a vital package of US military assistance stuck in Congress facing months of Republican opposition.

Rutte said the Netherlands would donate 150 million euros ($162 million) to the Czech initiative, taking the total raised so far to 250 million euros.

The security agreement he signed with Ukraine included 2 billion euros ($2.2 billion) in military aid from the Netherlands this year, as well as other defense assistance over the next 10 years, Zelenskiy said.

The visit to Kharkiv was a rare one by a senior Western politician as the city is regularly attacked by Russian air strikes and is much closer to the Russian border than Kyiv.

The two leaders visited an underground classroom established to allow schoolchildren to attend classes in person, safe from missile strikes.

Rutte praised the courage and determination of the children and teachers as "a true beacon of hope that inspires Ukrainians to keep fighting and allies to keep supporting Ukraine".

"The task facing Ukrainian allies is clear – do whatever you can to provide what is needed, as long as it takes," he said.

Zelenskiy described Rutte's visit as "symbolic" in a "city that has survived a lot".

"Here in Kharkiv, it's 100% obvious that Russia is waging a criminal war, its objective is only destruction."

In a statement on Telegram, Zelenskiy said that more than 20,000 buildings - schools, universities, churches, kindergartens and residential houses - had been destroyed in Kharkiv in the last two years.

Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark and Britain have all signed bilateral security deals over the past two months that are meant to tide Ukraine over until it can reach its aim of joining the Western military alliance, NATO.

Andriy Yermak, head of Zelenskiy's office, said agreements were also being discussed with other countries.


Grammy-Winning Iranian Singer, Awarded over Mahsa Amini Protest Anthem, Sentenced to Prison

First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
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Grammy-Winning Iranian Singer, Awarded over Mahsa Amini Protest Anthem, Sentenced to Prison

First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)
First lady Jill Biden accepts the award for best song for social change on behalf of Shervin Hajipour for "Baraye" at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP)

An Iranian singer who won a Grammy presented by US first lady Jill Biden has been sentenced to more than three years in prison over his anthem supporting the 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.

Shervin Hajipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him.

It said Hajipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of "for the propaganda against the system" and "encouraging people to protest." The court issued its sentence in part because it found he hadn't properly expressed regret over publishing the song.

It also imposed a two-year travel ban and ordered him to create a song about "US crimes," as well as make posts about those crimes online.

Hajipour thanked his lawyers and his agent for their support.

"I will not mention the name of the judge and the prosecutor so that they don’t get insulted and threatened, because insults and threats are not in the religion of humanity," he wrote. "Finally, one day we will understand each other. Until then."

Hajipour already had served some prison time, but was out on bail pending the court's decision. It was unclear if he had already reported to serve his sentence.

Iranian state-run media, focused on the election Friday, didn't note Hajipour's sentence. Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hajipour’s song "Baraye," or "For" in English, begins with: "For dancing in the streets,for the fear we feel when we kiss." The lyrics list reasons that young Iranians posted online for why they had protested against Iran’s ruling theocracy after Amini's death in September 2022, allegedly for not wearing her mandated headscarf to the liking of security forces.

The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed more than 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.

Jill Biden awarded Hajipour the Grammy's new song for social change special merit award during the ceremony last year.

"This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights," Biden said at the ceremony. "Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, life, freedom."

Hajipour's sentencing comes as other activists, journalists and artists have faced arrest, imprisonment and harassment since the demonstrations. Among those imprisoned is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran condemned Hajipour's sentencing Friday, and demanded Iran immediately release him from the sentence.

"This blatant violation of Shervin’s rights to free speech and expression is a grave injustice and a clear affront to human rights principles," the center said. "His imprisonment serves as a chilling reminder of the ongoing repression faced by artists, activists and dissenting voices in Iran."


Only Grain Ships from Black Sea and for Iran Still Crossing Red Sea, Analysts Say

Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)
Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)
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Only Grain Ships from Black Sea and for Iran Still Crossing Red Sea, Analysts Say

Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)
Cargo ships are seen from a patrol boat of Ukraine?s coast guard as they sail in the Black Sea, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, February 7, 2024. (Reuters)

Grain ships originating from the Black Sea or bound for Iran are about the only ones still sailing through the Red Sea as Houthi militants continue to attack vessels in the area, analysts said on Friday.

The attacks by the Iran-aligned Houthis have disrupted global shipping since November and forced firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

"Just about all (dry bulk grain) vessels going from the Americas and western Europe are avoiding the Red Sea, the only exception is vessels going to Iran, they're still taking the Red Sea route when shorter," said Ishan Bhanu, lead agricultural commodities analyst at data provider and analysts Kpler.

"All vessels we are tracking going from the Black Sea to Asia are going through the Red Sea, almost without exception," he added.

Grain transit through the Suez Canal hit a low of 2.6 million metric tons in February, down from 5.3 million tons in February 2023, Bhanu estimated.

The United States and other countries have sent naval vessels to protect civilian ships while the US and UK have launched air strikes against Houthi forces, who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel's military actions in Gaza.

"The Red Sea naval operation and air strikes have been going on for weeks now and it is pretty obvious that the Houthi attacks cannot be stopped easily by military means or that commercial ships can be given blanket protection," said one grain trader booking vessels to export cargoes from Europe.

"Many ship owners are still willing to accept the danger to their ships and vessels still can be booked for Red Sea sailings. Chinese purchases of Ukrainian corn recently are expected to transit the Red Sea."


Navalny's Family and Supporters Lay Him to Rest after His Death in Prison

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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Navalny's Family and Supporters Lay Him to Rest after His Death in Prison

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of the former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of people gathered to bid farewell to Alexei Navalny at a funeral Friday in Moscow under a heavy police presence, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.
His supporters said several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny’s team got permission from one in the capital’s Maryino district, where he once lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia, The Associated Press said.
The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which was encircled by crowd-control barriers, did not mention the service on its social media page. Hours before the funeral was set to start, hundreds waited to enter the church under the watch of police who deployed in big numbers. Western diplomats were spotted in the long line.
After the hearse arrived at the church, the coffin could be seen on live streamed footage being taken out of the vehicle, as the crowd applauded and chanted: “Navalny! Navalny!”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged those gathering in Moscow and other places not to break the law, saying any “unauthorized (mass) gatherings" are violations.
A burial was to follow at the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where police also showed up in force.
Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.
Even on Friday itself, the morgue where the body was being held delayed its release, according to Ivan Zhdanov, Navalny's close ally and director of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Authorities originally said they couldn't turn over the body because they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. Navalnaya, 69, made a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin to release it so she could bury her son with dignity.
Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny’s supporters, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media. They also struggled to find a hearse.
“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Yarmysh said Thursday.
Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin’s fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.
It was not immediately clear who among Navalny’s family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia. Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government in 2021.
The funeral is streamed live on Navalny’s YouTube channel.
His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of trying to block a public funeral.
“We don’t want any special treatment — just to give people the opportunity to say farewell to Alexei in a normal way,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In a speech to European lawmakers on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, she also expressed fears that police might interfere with the gathering or would "arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband.”
Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, according to politician Yekaterina Duntsova. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.
Yarmysh also urged Navalny's supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honor Friday.
“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Yarmysh said Thursday. “But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when things were scary and difficult.”
Zhdanov, the Navalny ally, said that the funeral had initially been planned for Thursday — the day of Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation address — but no venue agreed to hold it then.
In an interview with the independent Russian news site Meduza, Zhdanov said authorities had pressured Navalny’s relatives to “have a quiet family funeral.”

 

 


G20 Finance Chiefs Fail to Reach Joint Statement amid Gaza, Ukraine Debate

Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel
Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel
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G20 Finance Chiefs Fail to Reach Joint Statement amid Gaza, Ukraine Debate

Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel
Brazil's Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad speaks during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Banks Governors' meeting, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 29, 2024. REUTERS/Carla Carniel

Finance leaders from the world's largest economies failed to agree on a joint statement as they wrapped up talks on Thursday, with divisions over the wars in Gaza and Ukraine overshadowing efforts to forge a consensus on global economic development.
Brazil, which hosted finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of Twenty (G20) major economies, issued its own summary in lieu of a shared communique. India took a similar tack in its G20 presidency last year, but still rallied most of the G20 in condemnation of Russia for invading Ukraine.
Brazil's summary, in line with a draft communique seen by Reuters on Tuesday, cited the economic risks of "wars and escalating conflicts" but urged debate on them in other venues. It also noted higher odds of a "soft landing" for the global economy, which would cool inflation without a major recession.
Brazilian Finance Minister Fernando Haddad told journalists that differences among G20 foreign ministers discussing regional conflicts the week before had "contaminated" talks on the financial track, spoiling efforts to reach a joint statement.
G20 officials debated late into the night and down to the final hours of the meeting how to describe the wars in a joint communique, with Russia and major Western nations at loggerheads over the language, according to people familiar with the matter.
Those geopolitical tensions ran throughout the two-day meeting, at times overshadowing the formal agenda, such as discussion of a global minimum wealth tax on the ultra-rich proposed by Brazil.
The G7 group of rich Western nations and Japan backed the idea of referring to the war "on" Ukraine, while Russia wanted to describe it as the war "in" Ukraine, said two people familiar with the matter.
The G7 countries also backed language describing the war in Gaza as a "humanitarian crisis" with no mention of Israel, the sources said.
Brazilian officials hosting the event had tried to focus talks on economic cooperation to tackle issues such as climate change and poverty, but countries including Germany pushed for a joint statement mentioning wars in Ukraine and Gaza.
Japan's vice finance minister for international affairs Masato Kanda, who attended on behalf of the finance minister, brushed aside the view the G20's credibility was on the line.
"Conflicts have a huge impact on the global economy. It affects energy and food prices, among other things. Therefore, it's obvious the impact must be discussed at the G20," he told a news conference after the G20 meeting.
INEQUALITY AGENDA
Despite the tensions hanging over the meeting in Sao Paulo, Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), called the start of Brazil's presidency this year a success, as the only contention of the second day of finance track talks was "over a few words" in a joint statement.
"Brazil had set clear priorities, for example, with their tax proposal," Steiner told Reuters on Thursday.
As part of efforts to address inequality, Brazil has proposed debates on a global minimum wealth tax that would ensure increased tax contributions by super-rich individuals.
"Even with slightly higher tax rates for the approximately 2,500 billionaires worldwide, very considerable additional revenue could be generated," he said.
Brazil will aim to craft a statement on international taxation by the group's July summit, Finance Minister Fernando Haddad said on Thursday. He said he was expecting a report on the matter from the European Tax Observatory, which has advocated for a global wealth tax on the world's richest people, in contrast with income taxes common in most major economies.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire expressed support on Wednesday for a global minimum tax on the world's most wealthy.


EU Suggests Using Frozen Russian Assets to Fund Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)
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EU Suggests Using Frozen Russian Assets to Fund Ukraine

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech on security and defense at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 (The AP)

Russia's frozen assets should be used to purchase badly needed military equipment for Ukraine, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed on Thursday.

“There could be no stronger symbol and no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live,” she said.Russia's frozen assets should be used to purchase badly needed military equipment for Ukraine, European Commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed on Thursday.

“The threat of war may not be imminent, but it is not impossible. The risks of war should not be overblown, but they should be prepared for,” von der Leyen added.

Her comments came shortly after the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell warned that “Putin has not won yet, but Europe has to wake up.” He then called on EU member states to increase and accelerate aid to Ukraine.

Von der Leye’s controversial proposal, at least from a legal point of view, comes after the EU and the G7, the group of seven leading industrialized nations, proposed to use profits from the estimated $285 billion frozen Russian funds to rebuild Ukraine after the war.

However, some countries raised concerns that confiscating Russian assets would have repercussions on the future of foreign investments in Europe.

On Thursday, von der Leyen’s comments acknowledged there is another recommendation for how to use the Russian reserves, not only to the reconstruction of Ukraine, but to purchase weapons for Ukraine.

“There could be no stronger symbol and no greater use for that money than to make Ukraine and all of Europe a safer place to live,” she said.

The Russian invasion has exposed glaring weaknesses in Europe’s arms manufacturing capacities.

Currently, the EU is attempting to put the final touches on a common European defense strategy which aims to establish a committee that jointly purchases military equipment and work for a financial increase of the fund in this sector.

Also, EU member states are concerned about a possible return of former US President Donald Trump to the White House. They fear his comeback would engender a deterioration of relations between Washington and Brussels and could lessen Washington's defensive commitments made to NATO.


Shelter Centers for Migrants Drive Increasing Anger in Mauritania

A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)
A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)
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Shelter Centers for Migrants Drive Increasing Anger in Mauritania

A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)
A migrant from sub-Saharan Africa on a boat off the coast of Mauritania (AFP)

An approaching deal on migration between Mauritania and the European Union continues to raise concerns among Mauritanians, especially after posts on social media warned that the new agreement could turn the country into a large detention camp for migrants deported from Europe.
On Wednesday, the Mauritanian government strongly denied the claims.
Government spokesperson Ould Chrougha said that Mauritania will not be a country of resettlement for migrants.
He considered that rumors circulating about the migration agreement between Mauritania and the EU have no goal but to intimidate citizens.
The concerns among Mauritanians came amidst meetings held in the past 10 days between the Interior Ministry in Nouakchott and an EU delegation to reach a draft joint declaration on migration. The new deal is expected to be signed in Nouakchott early this month, the Mauritanian government announced a few days ago.
On Wednesday, the government spokesperson revealed that Mauritania was the side that demanded the establishment of a cooperative framework with the EU on migration due to its geographical location and regional conditions, adding that the discussion is still ongoing.
Chrougha pointed out that since 2003, Mauritania had an agreement with Spain to manage migration. He said that for objective reasons, it called for canceling or updating this agreement, which the two parties have begun working on.
As part of the 2003 agreement, Spain would send civil guards to help the Mauritanian authorities patrol the coast and conduct interdiction operations at sea to limit irregular migration flows from west African countries, including Mauritania, to the Canary Islands.
It was clear from Chrougha’s comments that Mauritania aims to conclude an agreement on migration with the EU that serves the country’s interests. Mauritania bears heavy costs due to the waves of illegal migrants and refugees who fled a renewed outbreak of violence in neighboring Mali.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Nouakchott has lately adopted a new approach to manage the migration file.
It wants to push Europeans to shoulder part of the burden of fighting migration.
This new policy was particularly adopted after a statistic on foreigners conducted by Mauritanian authorities last year, revealed “worrying” figures.
The figures even prompted President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani to address the issue during a meeting with a high-ranking European delegation in Nouakchott a few days ago.
The President affirmed that “Mauritania was previously a transit country for migrants. However, it is starting to turn into a permanent country of residence.”
Mauritanian Interior Minister Mohamed Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine also addressed the issue during a meeting of Arab Interior Ministers.
He said that Mauritania receives tens of thousands of refugees from Mali, and waves of illegal migrants coming from sub-Saharan countries dreaming of a better life in Europe. He said his country is paying a high cost for hosting those refugees.
Although the government is exerting efforts to address the migration file, Mauritanians still fear that their country would turn into a large detention camp for migrants deported from Europe. These concerns drove lately a flood of fake news across social media platforms.
And while officials repeatedly deny the presence of any migration camps in the country, some local movements are still not convinced.
Lately, the Kafana opposition movement called for a protest against any deal between Mauritania and the EU, calling it a “deal to naturalize migrants in Mauritania.”

 

 


Strasbourg Christmas Market Terror Attack Trial Kicks Off

Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)
Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)
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Strasbourg Christmas Market Terror Attack Trial Kicks Off

Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)
Police forces stand guard next to the Paris criminal court for the beginning of the trial over the terror attack at the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018, in Paris, France, 29 February 2024 (EPA)

The trial of four men suspected of having played a key role in supplying weapons to the perpetrator of the December 2018 shootings at the Strasbourg Christmas markets began on Thursday.

Five people were killed and 11 others injured after a gunman opened fire near a crowded Christmas market in the eastern French city of Strasbourg. The four men are suspected of having played a key role in supplying weapons to the perpetrator of the December 2018 attack.

Chérif Chekatt, 29, opened fire with a 19th-century revolver on 11 December in the historic centre.

After the attack, he hailed a taxi to the south of the city. After a 48-hour manhunt, he was killed in a shootout with police.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Strasbourg attack via its Amaq news agency. Later, Chekatt pledged allegiance to ISIS in a video found in his apartment.

Chekatt, who was born and raised in the city, attacked passersby with a gun and knife at three different locations in the shadow of the city’s cathedral, where the Christmas market attracts millions of visitors each year.

Chekatt had a long criminal record with more than 20 convictions for theft and violence. He had spent several spells in jail and was on a watchlist of radicalised former prisoners, according to The Guardian.

The trial is due to last until April 5.

Four French men, aged between 34 and 43, are on trial in Paris. Three – Stéphane Bodein and Frédéric Bodein, brothers who buy and sell used cars, and Christian Hoffmann, an unemployed mechanic – are accused of involvement by helping to procure weapons.

Only one of the defendants, Audrey Mondjehi-Kpanhoue, 43, a former security guard who had been a cellmate of Chekatt, is facing terrorism charges and could face life in prison.

A fifth man, aged 84, will not appear for health reasons, and is likely to be tried separately at a later date.

The trial will hear accounts of survivors and the families of those killed, including a father who had fled Afghanistan and was visiting the market with his children, as well as a Thai tourist. Dozens of survivors were left with life-changing injuries and psychological trauma, The Guardian said.

One survivor, now working as a teacher in Paris, said how the attack changed her life forever after two of her friends were shot in front of her.

The woman in her 30s, who asked not to be named, described how she had just handed in her PhD thesis and was working as a student journalist on a radio station at the European parliament in Strasbourg.


US Senate Defeats Bid to Stop F-16 Fighter Jet Sale to Türkiye

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)
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US Senate Defeats Bid to Stop F-16 Fighter Jet Sale to Türkiye

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet participates in an air show in Istanbul on September 21, 2021. (EPA)

The US Senate on Thursday soundly defeated an effort to stop the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to Türkiye, which President Joe Biden's administration approved after Türkiye approved Sweden's joining the NATO alliance.
The Senate voted 79 to 13 against a resolution of disapproval of the sale introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul, Reuters said.
Before the vote, Paul criticized Türkiye's government and said allowing the sale would embolden its "misbehavior." Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally.
The Biden administration formally informed Congress on Jan. 26 of its intention to proceed with the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits to Türkiye, a day after Ankara fully completed ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden.
The sale had been held up for months over issues including Türkiye's refusal to approve Sweden's accession to the military alliance. Türkiye first asked to make the purchase in October 2021.
The US Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the law has been in effect for half a century, no such resolution has both passed Congress and survived a presidential veto.
Sweden and Finland applied to enter NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While Finnish membership was sealed last year, Sweden's bid had been held up by Türkiye and Hungary. All NATO members need to approve applications from countries seeking to join the alliance.


Iran Hardliners Set to Tighten Grip in Election amid Voter Apathy

People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
TT

Iran Hardliners Set to Tighten Grip in Election amid Voter Apathy

People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
People walk past campaign posters for the parliamentary election during the last day of election campaigning in Tehran, Iran, February 28, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

Iranians voted for a new parliament on Friday in an election seen as a test of the clerical establishment's legitimacy at a time of growing frustration over economic woes and restrictions on political and social freedoms.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has called voting a religious duty, was the first to cast his vote in Iran.

"Vote as soon as possible ... today the eyes of Iran's friends and ill-wishers are on the results. Make friends happy and disappoint enemies," Khamenei said on state television.  

The election is the first formal measure of public opinion after anti-government protests in 2022-23 spiraled into some of the worst political turmoil since the 1979 revolution.  

Iran's rulers need a high turnout to repair their legitimacy, badly damaged by the unrest. But official surveys suggest only about 41% of eligible Iranians will vote. Turnout hit a record low of 42.5% in the 2020 parliamentary election, while about 62% of voters participated in 2016.

State TV, portraying a general enthusiastic mood with live coverage from across Iran interspersed with patriotic songs, aired footage of people braving snow to vote in some towns and villages. Several people told state TV that they were voting "to make the supreme leader happy".  

Over 15,000 candidates were running for the 290-seat parliament. Partial results may appear on Saturday.

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

Officials said the participation was "good", state media reported, but witnesses said most polling centers in Tehran and several other cities were lightly attended. A two-hour extension of voting announced by state TV was followed shortly by another two-hour extension -- taking the close of voting to 18.30 GMT -- to allow late-comers to cast ballots.

"I am not voting for a regime that has restricted my social freedoms. Voting is meaningless," said teacher Reza, 35, in the northern city of Sari. Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi, a women's rights advocate, has called the election a "sham".

ECONOMIC CRISIS AND CRACKDOWN ON UNREST IN FOCUS

The parliament, dominated for over two decades by political hardliners within the republic, has negligible impact on foreign policy or a nuclear program that Iran says is peaceful but the West says is aimed at making nuclear arms - issues determined by Khamenei.  

With heavyweight moderates and conservatives staying out and reformists calling the election unfree and unfair, the contest is essentially among hardliners and low-key conservatives who proclaim loyalty to revolutionary ideals.  

Pro-reform Iranians have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in 2022, which was quelled by a violent crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.

Economic hardships pose another challenge.

Many analysts say large numbers of Iranians no longer think the ruling clerics 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 six world powers. Efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear pact have failed.  

The election comes at a time of huge tension in the Middle East, as Israel fights the Iranian-backed Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza, and other groups backed by Tehran attacking ships in the Red Sea and Israeli and US targets in the region.

Khamenei has accused Iran's "enemies" - a term he normally uses for the United States and Israel - of trying to create despair among Iranian voters.

The parliamentary election is 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.