Turkey foreign minister in Qatar as UN calls for peaceful solution
DOHA, June 15: The search for a diplomatic solution to the Gulf crisis has intensified as Turkey's foreign minister landed in Qatar while the UN voiced fears over growing humanitarian concerns in the region.
The arrival of Mevlut Cavusoglu was confirmed by Qatari state media, which said Turkey's top diplomat had praised the "wise and calm manner" with which Doha had approached the current crisis.
He travelled with Turkey's economy minister Nihat Zeybekci and the pair met their counterparts Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al-Thani on arrival in Doha.
Cavusoglu is expected to hold talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani while in Doha before potentially travelling to regional power-broker Saudi Arabia.
"Saudi Arabia has the potential and capability to solve this crisis as a wise state and big brother of the region and also as a major actor," Turkey's presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Wednesday.
"We aim to involve all actors in this process."
Riyadh is one of several countries which has imposed a political and economic "blockade" on Qatar, in protest at Doha's support for Islamist extremist groups as well as over its ties to Shiite Iran.
The move has been backed by nations including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt and others.
Qatar strongly denies the charges and claims neighbouring countries are trying to interfere with its foreign policy.
Before heading to Doha, Cavusoglu said that "if the programme allows I will also visit Saudi Arabia", in quotes reported by the Anadolu news agency.
"It is very useful to take into account the opinions and suggestions of Saudi Arabia."
He added that the situation "was causing great discomfort for everybody" especially during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Turkey is one of Qatar's strongest allies and earlier this week committed to deploying troops in the emirate.
The diplomatic push continued elsewhere.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who has described the decision by Gulf states to cut political and economic ties with Qatar as "inhumane" - is expected to hold phone talks with US President Donald Trump in the coming days.
In addition, the Turkish president's spokesman said a trilateral meeting between Ankara, Paris and Doha was planned.
This is in addition to mediation efforts already launched by Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah.
The United Nations' secretary general called for the Gulf countries to find a peaceful solution to the row.
A spokesman for Antonio Guterres said he expressed his "full support for Kuwait's efforts to de-escalate tensions and promote an effective dialogue".
The planned talks follow discussions on Tuesday between Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In Geneva, concern surrounding the humanitarian situation grew Wednesday, with the intervention of the UN human rights chief.
"I am alarmed about the possible impact on many people's human rights in the wake of the decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain to cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, in his first comments on the crisis.
"It is becoming clear that the measures being adopted are overly broad in scope and implementation," he added.
The decision to isolate Qatar had led to fears that thousands of families in the Gulf would be split apart.
As well as economic and political ties, the Gulf states also ordered Qataris out within 14 days as well as calling home their own citizens.
Amnesty International has warned of "heartbreak and fear" being suffered by ordinary people in the region.
It also accused Saudi Arabia and its allies of "toying with the lives of thousands of Gulf residents".
Bahrain and the UAE have also banned expressions of sympathy for Qatar.
Manama announced on Wednesday that it had detained a citizen for sympathising with Qatar on social media.
There have also been fears of food shortages in Qatar - so far not realised -- and a disruption of imports needed for a number of capital projects in the gas-rich emirate.
Qatar is receiving food deliveries from Turkey, Iran and Morocco among others.
The 2022 World Cup host is also in the middle of building huge capital projects worth an estimated $200 billion-plus, many of which rely on suppliers in the region.
Doha-based airline Qatar Airways has been banned from using the airspace of neighbouring countries since measures were announced on 5 June.
However, the carrier said services were largely unaffected by the decision.
"Qatar Airways' global operations continue to run smoothly, with the vast majority of our network unaffected by the current circumstances," said chief executive Akbar Al- Baker.
Although the crisis remains a diplomatic one, some have voiced fears it could lead to an armed conflict.
On Wednesday, Qatar announced it was withdrawing its troops from the Djibouti-Eritrea border
17 killed in London tower fire
LONDON, June 14: At least 17 people were killed and several heard in a massive fire blazed through a 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, police and fire services said.
The fire brigade said 40 fire engines and 200 firefighters had been called to the blaze in Grenfell Tower, which has 120 flats, on the Lancaster West Estate. The fire has been burning for more than five hours.
London’s Metropolitan police service tweeted, “Residents continue to be evacuated from the tower block fire in North Kensington. A number of people being treated for a range of injuries.”
“Fire is from second to top floor of 27 storey building,” the fire service said on Twitter. The cause of the fire is not known at this stage, it added.
Some people were trapped in the fire, with residents desperately shouting for help from windows on upper floors as the fire spread, British media reported.
London ambulance service said 30 people had been taken to five hospitals after the high-rise fire.
India-US ties progressing, engaged with Trump govt on H-1B visa issue: Swaraj
NEW DELHI, June 5: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday said India-US ties are progressing under the Trump administration as they were during the Obama presidency and the pace had not slowed down.
Addressing a press conference on key initiatives of her ministry in three years of the Modi government, Swaraj also described the proposed changes in H1B visas as a “matter of concern”.
She said the government was engaged with the Donald Trump administration as well as US Congressmen on the issue and was “alert” to any possible negative impact.
The matter will also figure during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, she said, but did not give the date of his travel. Modi is expected to visit the country by the month-end.
Some of the other major points made by Swaraj during the press interaction are --
• India to raise airspace violation issue with China after Chinese choppers flew over Chamoli district.
• India opposed China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project as it violated India’s sovereignty which was not acceptable. China will be forced to rethink as other countries while participating in the OBOR meet, conveyed their view on territorial integrity and sovereignty.
• India is also involved in various connectivity projects, including the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) and Chahbahar port in Iran, but goes by principles on maintenance of territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries.
•India wants countries which back its bid for NSG membership and are friends with China, to talk to Beijing on the issue.
•India’s NSG membership to be credential-based and not criteria-based.
• India wants to resolve all issues with Pakistan bilaterally, but talks and terror cannot go together. No flip-flop in India’s policy on Pakistan.
• Pakistan can’t take Kashmir issue to International Court of Justice (ICJ). Kashmir can only be resolved bilaterally.
• Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, cutting ties with Qatar is an internal matter of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). India is only ascertaining if any of its nationals are getting adversely impacted by it.
•All issues pertaining to Chahbahar port have been resolved. All the projects are reviewed by me every three months and by the prime minister, every six months. So, the pace of these projects are picking up.
• Fishermen issue is of “primary importance” to the government, which has taken several steps to address it jointly with the Sri Lankan government.
•There cannot be any timeline in finalising Teesta waters agreement with Bangladesh as there has to be consensus among the Centre, the West Bengal government and the Bangladesh government.
•The government is looking into concerns expressed by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on the sharing of Teesta waters.
•Totally “baseless” Pakistani allegations that Afghanistan was afraid of India and that was the reason for Kabul to blame Islamabad for terror attacks there.
•The ministry will not hesitate in utilising budgetary allocation to bring back Indians stuck abroad.
• There is no decision on Modi visiting the Maldives. The prime minister and the external affairs minister have covered all the SAARC countries.
• India’s relations with West Asia have become one of the best.
• 80,000 people stranded abroad brought back to India in the last three years.
• There is a 37.5 per cent increase in FDI since NDA government took over three years ago.
Kabul truck-bomb death toll rises to more than 150: Afghan Prez
KABUL, June 6: The death toll from a truck-bomb explosion in Kabul last week has reached more than 150 people, President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday, making it the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
The blast occurred when a sewage truck packed with what Ghani called “military-grade” explosives detonated at the entrance to a fortified area of that city that includes foreign embassies and government buildings.
“We were not the only targets, the entire diplomatic community was the target of this attack,” Ghani told foreign diplomats gathered for a conference in Kabul.
Previous official estimates had put the death toll at about 90, with more than 460 wounded.
All of those killed were Afghans, and Ghani paid specific homage to 13 policemen who stopped the truck as it tried to enter the fortified district and were killed in the blast.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which sparked violent anti-government protests.
Several protesters were killed in clashes with police on Friday, and at least a dozen people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the funeral for one of the dead protesters on Saturday.
Seven countries cut off ties with Qatar over terrorism links
DUBAI, June 5: Seven countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, on Monday severed ties with Qatars, accusing it of backing terrorism and opening up a rift among some of the most powerful Arab states that could have repercussions for the Indian economy and expatriates.
Bahrain was the first to snap ties, followed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and the Maldives. They accused Qatar of backing groups such as al-Qaeda, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood and pushing policies that were destabilising the region.
Qatar denied the accusations and expressed “regret and utter surprise” at the coordinated move by the countries that are key players in OPEC and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The foreign ministry criticised the “unjustified measures” and said there was a “smear campaign” to harm Qatar.
As Saudi Arabia closed its borders and snapped land, air and sea links, residents rushed to supermarkets to stock up on food, Doha News reported. People stocked up on water, milk, meat and rice and photographs of empty shelves in stores circulated on social media, though Qatar’s foreign ministry said the border closing would not affect normal life.
Qatar is home to an estimated 700,000 Indians – whose remittances in 2015 were worth $3.98 billion – and sources said there was “no panic” in the expatriate community. “People are stocking up but there’s nothing to worry about,” a source said.
Indian authorities were keeping a close watch on food supplies and flights in and out Doha against the backdrop of increasing enquiries from Indian nationals about the situation. The sources said they did not expect the spat to last long as such a situation would not benefit Qatar.
“A similar spat in 2014 was settled in nine months but at that time, only diplomats were withdrawn and borders were not sealed. Qatar gets most of its supplies from Saudi Arabia and it wouldn’t make sense to prolong this row,” a source said.
However, other sources acknowledged a prolonged crisis could have an impact as Qatar is completely dependent on Saudi Arabia and the UAE for food and other essential supplies.
In New Delhi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said the government was ascertaining the impact of the spat on Indians. “There is no challenge arising out of this for us. This is an internal matter of GCC. Our only concern is about Indians there. We are trying to find out if any Indians are stuck there,” she told reporters.
The spat threatens the prestige of Qatar, which hosts a large US military base and is set to host the 2022 World Cup. Several countries gave Qatari diplomats and nationals between 48 hours and two weeks to leave their soil. Qatar’s envoy to Egypt was also told to leave in two days.
Several airlines, including Etihad Airways, Emirates and Flydubai, said they would cancel flights to and from Doha from Tuesday. The Arab states also closed their airspace to Qatar Airways, which suspended all its flights to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels also expelled Qatar.
Theresa May says ‘enough is enough’ after night of terror; police arrest 12
LONDON, June 4: British police arrested a dozen people Sunday in a widening terrorism investigation after attackers used a van and large knives to kill seven people in London, and the county’s major political parties temporarily suspended campaigning with only days to go before the general election.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the vote would take place as scheduled Thursday because “violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process”.
The assault unfolded over a few terrifying minutes late Saturday, starting when a rented van veered off the road and barreled into pedestrians on busy London Bridge. Three men then got out of the vehicle with large knives and attacked people at bars and restaurants in nearby Borough Market until they were fatally shot by police.
“They went ‘This is for Allah,’ and they had a woman on the floor. They were stabbing her,” witness Gerard Vowls said.
Florin Morariu, a Romanian chef who works in the Bread Ahead bakery, said he saw people running and some fainting. Then two people approached another person and “began to stick the knife in ... and then I froze and I didn’t know what to do.”
He said he managed to get near one attacker and “hit him around the head” with a bread basket.
“There was a car with a loudspeaker saying ‘go, go’ and they (police) threw a grenade. ... and then I ran,” he said.
London police said officers killed the attackers within eight minutes of arriving at the scene. Eight officers fired some 50 rounds, said assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, the force’s head of counterterrorism.
The three attackers were wearing what appeared to be suicide belts, but the belts turned out to be fake. Investigators were working to determine whether others assisted them, Rowley said.
A bystander was also wounded by the gunfire, but the civilian’s injuries were not believed to be critical.
Forty-eight people, including two police officers, were treated at hospitals across London. Twenty-one remained in critical condition Sunday. Among the wounded were German, French and Spanish citizens, officials said.
The death toll of seven did not include the three attackers. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a Canadian was among the dead.
Counterterrorism officers raided several addresses in Barking, an east London suburb, and arrested 12 people there Sunday, police said.
Neighbors at the site of one raid in Barking said a man who lived there resembled one of the attackers shown in news photographs.
“He’s lived here for about three years,” Damien Pettit said. “He’s one of our neighbors. I’ve said hello in passing more than 50, 60 occasions. He has two young kids. He was a very nice guy.”
Armed officers also conducted a raid in the East Ham area of the city.
The rampage was the third major attack in Britain in the past three months, including a similar vehicle and knife attack on Westminster Bridge in March that left five people dead.
On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured dozens at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, in northwest England. Grande and other stars are scheduled to perform a benefit concert for victims under tight security Sunday night in Manchester.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Manchester bombing, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the London attack, which the Prime Minister linked to Islamic extremism.
May said the attacks were not directly connected, but that “terrorism breeds terrorism” and attackers copy one another. She said five credible plots have been disrupted since March.
“It is time to say, enough is enough,” she said.
Britain’s official terrorism threat level was raised from “severe” to “critical” after the Manchester attack, meaning an attack may be imminent. Several days later it was lowered again to “severe,” meaning an attack is highly likely.
Home secretary Amber Rudd said Sunday that the level would remain at severe because police believe there are no perpetrators still on the loose.
A large area on the south bank of the River Thames remained cordoned off Sunday, and police told people to avoid the area. London Bridge and the adjacent train station, as well as nearby Borough subway station, were still closed.
Hours earlier, the area packed with bars and restaurants around the foodie magnet of Borough Market had been a scene of panic, as people barricaded themselves in pubs and restaurants or fled through the streets.
Medics treated the wounded near the market as shocked people cried and shouted around them. Police officers yelled at people to run from the area, and blasts were heard as officers performed a series of controlled explosions.
Russia to build two more units of Kudankular N-power plants
ST PETERSBURG, June 1: Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Thursday and the two countries concluded a much-awaited agreement to build the last two units of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu.
In St Petersburg, the Russian President’s hometown, Modi and Putin discussed ways to take their energy and strategic ties forward.
Russia and India signed five pacts, reflecting the partnership between the traditional allies.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Russia’s Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the regulator of Russia’s nuclear complex, will jointly build the reactors of the 6,000 megawatt plant. The final two units will have a capacity to produce 1,000MW of power.
“International relations see ups and downs, but history is witness Indo-Russia relations have not seen any ups and downs,” the Prime Minister said and thanked President Putin for playing a crucial role in getting India the SCO membership.
Putin said India will become a full-fledged member of the SCO in a week.
Also, he said that Russia does not have any “tight” military relationship with Pakistan, and asserted that its close friendship with India cannot be diluted.
But he sidestepped a question on Kashmir, saying “no matter where the threat comes from, it is unacceptable and we will always support India in its fight against terrorism”.
Modi, who is on a four-nation tour, will return from France on June 3. He will travel to Astana in Kazakhstan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit on June 8 and 9.
Modi says India, Russia natural partners in fighting terror
ST PETERSBURG, June 1: India and Russia are “natural partners” in fighting terrorism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday as he asserted that the two countries must strive to open new vistas to broaden their ties that has “withstood the test of time.”
“We have been together in times - good and bad,” Modi wrote in an article published in Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazetta.
The prime minister’s article came ahead of his visit to St Petersburg where he will hold the 18th India-Russia annual Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday and attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum where India will be the partner country for the first time.
“India-Russia relations have been the one constant in a world that has changed dramatically since 1947. They have withstood the test of time, and grown from strength to strength. The resilience of our relationship is based on the fact that it rests on the principles of equality, trust and mutual benefit,” Modi said.
He hailed erstwhile Soviet Union’s help to India to build its industrial base.
“In the last 70 years, India has developed a large and diversified industrial and technological base. We are among the fastest growing large economies of the world. The potential for India’s accelerated growth has never been greater, nor the optimism higher,” he said.
Russia has re-emerged from the events of 1991 as a global power with international reach and influence, he said, adding that its economy has been modernized and a new generation is driving the country forward.
“Our cooperation in the military technical field is a pillar of great strength in India-Russia relations. Russian equipment and technology is the mainstay of our defence forces,” the prime minister said.
“The symbols of our contemporary partnership today include Indian investments in Sakhalin 1, and now the Vankor and Taas-Yuryakh oil fields, the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam and the Brahmos Joint Venture Project,” Modi added.
India has been an important contributor to the pharmaceutical industry of Russia. “But we cannot and should not be satisfied with our achievements and must strive to open new vistas. We should fully exploit our mutual complementarities based on our large markets, resource endowments and industrial and technological base,” he said.
He said both countries are opening new areas of cooperation in the energy sector, telecommunications and science and technology and they have set up funds to facilitate investment in high technologies.
“We are exploring new areas of cooperation like railways, innovation, IT, diamond trade, and infrastructure. There are efforts towards greater joint production and technology transfer from Russia to India,” he said.
Modi welcomed Russian companies to join his government’s flagship programmes such as Make in India, Start Up India, Skill India and Digital India.
“The significance of our relations goes beyond the bilateral sphere...Our partnership has contributed to global peace and security. We have supported each other’s key interests. We are important stakeholders in upholding the stability of the international political, security, economic and financial order,” he added.
Noting that new centres of influence and new engines of growth are emerging, he said at a time of “multiple global challenges, our cooperation becomes all the more necessary.”
Noting that the biggest threat to civilised societies comes from terrorism that is more lethal and more organised today than ever before, he said, India and Russia “are natural partners in fighting terrorism unitedly and with determination and to promote a multi-polar international system based on the central role of the UN and international law.”
Modi said the policy of building strong relations with Russia enjoys crosscutting national consensus in India and every government in India since 1947 has accorded the highest priority to developing close relations with Russia.
“My government is not only committed to following this policy, but taking our relations to newer heights,” he added.
Modi recalled his first visit to Russia in 2001 with then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and said he was struck by the achievements of Russia, its sense of history and the pride of its people.
Russian writers like Dostoevsky, Pushkin and Chekov influenced Indian thought and drama. Yoga, Indian films, songs and dances remain an abiding bond between our people, he said.
“I pay homage to all those, known and unknown, who have toiled and contributed to the development of the unique relationship between our two nations,” he said.
“We are committed to building on this legacy and bequeathing to our youth a strong and vibrant partnership that will contribute to changing the world for the better.”