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Libya’s election faces uncertainty amid towering challenges

ISTANBUL: Armed with battle-tested drones, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been deepening defense ties with African countries ahead of a major gathering of the continent’s leaders in Istanbul.The two-day Turkey-Africa partnership summit starting Friday comes fast on the heels of a top-level business forum in October that focused on investment and trade.The next phase…

Libya’s election faces uncertainty amid towering challenges

ISTANBUL: Armed with battle-tested drones, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been deepening defense ties with African countries ahead of a major gathering of the continent’s leaders in Istanbul.The two-day Turkey-Africa partnership summit starting Friday comes fast on the heels of a top-level business forum in October that focused on investment and trade.The next phase of this fast-blossoming relationship is security, experts say, with a host of African leaders looking to buy up military hardware at cheaper prices and with fewer strings attached.Leaders and top ministers from 39 countries — including 13 presidents — have confirmed attendance, with Erdogan set to make a speech on Saturday.Ankara already has a military base in Somalia, and Morocco and Tunisia reportedly took their first delivery of Turkish combat drones in September.Angola became the latest to express an interest in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) during Erdogan’s first visit to the southern African country in October.Turkey in August also signed a military cooperation pledge with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has been embroiled in a war with Tigrayan rebels for the past year.“The most important sector is the defense sector because this is a new asset. Turkey has pushed this sector a lot, especially drones,” Federico Donelli, an international relations researcher at the University of Genoa, told AFP.The TB2 Bayraktar model is in high demand after it was credited with swinging the fate of conflicts in Libya and Azerbaijan’s breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the past few years.The drones are made by the private Baykar company, run by one of Erdogan’s sons-in-law.“Everywhere I go in Africa, everyone asks about UAVs,” Erdogan boasted after a visit to Angola, Nigeria and Togo in October.Some of the closest scrutiny has focused on Turkey’s ties with Ethiopia, where a brutal conflict has killed thousands, displaced more than two million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.A Western source said Turkey sent an undisclosed number of combat drones in support of Abiy’s campaign earlier this year, but that Ankara has since responded to international pressure and halted the sales.“Ethiopia can buy these drones from whoever they want,” Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesman said in October, neither confirming or denying the sales.Official Turkish data does not break down the details of military sales to individual countries, only giving the total sales amount for each month.These have soared spectacularly in the past year.Turkish defense and aviation exports to Ethiopia rose to $94.6 million between January and November from around $235,000 in the same period last year, according to figures published by the Turkish Exporters Assembly.Sales to Angola, Chad and Morocco experienced similar jumps.Turkey’s drones first made international headlines after Ankara signed two deals with the UN-recognized Libyan government covering maritime and security in 2019.It then swarmed the conflict zone with drones, stalling an advance by rebel eastern forces backed by Turkey’s regional rivals and paving the way for a truce.Turkey cemented its drones’ reputation last year by helping Azerbaijan recapture most of the land it lost to separatist ethnic Armenian forces in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh nearly three decades ago.“Now Turkey with drones has more cards to play when they have to bargain with other countries,” researcher Donelli said.“This is a very good bargaining chip for Turkey.”The head of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board — the NGO that hosted the October forum in Istanbul — insisted the growing relationship was not just about weapons.“We care about the defense sector and our relations with Africa,” the board’s head Nail Olpak told AFP.“But I would like to emphasize that if we see the defense sector only as weapons, rockets, guns, tanks and rifles, it would be wrong.”He highlighted Turkish mine-clearing vehicles in Togo, which qualify as defense industry sales.Donelli agreed, referring to Togo’s plans to improve its army with the support of Turkey through training and armored vehicles, weapons and other kinds of equipment.Turkey has reportedly set up a web of 37 military offices across Africa in all, in line with Erdogan’s affirmed goal of tripling the annual trade volume with the continent to $75 billion in the coming years.

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Qatar emir to meet with Biden in Washington Jan 31: White House

LONDON: An Iranian opposition group operating within and outside the Islamic republic has released figures claiming nearly half-a-million people have died from COVID-19 in the country. According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than 499,800 virus-related deaths had occurred in Iran, almost four times the latest official toll of 132,274. In the worst-hit…

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LONDON: An Iranian opposition group operating within and outside the Islamic republic has released figures claiming nearly half-a-million people have died from COVID-19 in the country. According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, more than 499,800 virus-related deaths had occurred in Iran, almost four times the latest official toll of 132,274. In the worst-hit province, Tehran, the PMOI said 116,735 people had lost their lives to COVID-19. Even by official figures, Iran is the worst-hit country in the Middle East, with deaths and hospitalizations far exceeding those of its neighbors. It was also the first country in the region where the virus was detected. Official sources have reported that Iran was currently experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19, with a rising number of cases being linked to the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Monday, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, the secretary of Iran’s epidemiologist committee said: “If we reimpose all the restrictions today, and if people fully abide by these regulations, the number of our patients will still reach five figures. More than 50 percent of the coronavirus cases are of omicron.” And the spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences said: “Omicron has become the main variant in (Isfahan) province. During the past week the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases has reached more than 1,500 cases.” Also on Monday, ISNA reported that the dean of Kerman University of Medical Sciences said: “Expect omicron to flare up in the not-so-distant future. The number of positive coronavirus cases has increased from 30 to 50 percent. Therefore, the alarm bell has sounded.” Iran’s COVID-19 outbreak has been blamed in some quarters on regime incompetence and Tehran prioritizing ideology over effective response. Last year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banned the import of British and American-made vaccines, significantly hindering the country’s vaccination drive and, critics have said, causing more deaths. In August, Dr. Mohammed-Reza Zafarghandi, chairman of Iran’s non-governmental licensing and regulatory Medical Council, criticized the vaccine ban, and said: “Mortality has significantly dropped in countries where they vaccinated the population without any limits and setting (political) borders. “Will those who said vaccine imports should be restricted be accountable today?”

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Jordan reports its highest daily number of COVID-19 cases to date as fourth wave rages

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi,…

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Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya. These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said. Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.” Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.” However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.” Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year. Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.” Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli. Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.” She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.” DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.” Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected. “In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said. El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground. “This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said. The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.” He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area. Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected. “It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future. “Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.” Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya. “Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.

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Standoff near Syrian prison holding Daesh militants continues

BEIRUT: Lebanon is a “place of hope” and “should not be a platform for aggression,” visiting Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah said on Sunday in Beirut. On the second day of his visit to the capital, the minister renewed a commitment during separate meetings with Lebanese officials to a “Kuwaiti, Gulf, Arab…

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BEIRUT: Lebanon is a “place of hope” and “should not be a platform for aggression,” visiting Kuwait Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah said on Sunday in Beirut. On the second day of his visit to the capital, the minister renewed a commitment during separate meetings with Lebanese officials to a “Kuwaiti, Gulf, Arab and international message for Lebanon to not be a platform for any aggression, and for all borders to be controlled by the state.” The minister met on Sunday with President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi. After his talks with the Kuwaiti minister, Aoun stressed Lebanon’s “firm keenness to preserve the best relations with the Arab countries.” The Kuwaiti minister held talks with Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday night. He also met Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, who is expected to visit Kuwait on Saturday. Kuwait currently chairs the ministerial council of the Arab League. Al-Sabah said that the visit was among various international efforts aimed at rebuilding confidence between Lebanon and the international arena. The Kuwaiti minister’s statements had three central themes. The first was a message of “sympathy, solidarity, synergy and love for the brotherly Lebanese people.” Secondly, Al-Sabah urged Lebanese officials to adopt a position of neutrality and ensure that the country “will not be a platform for any aggression, while refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries in general, and the Gulf in particular.” His third message stressed a regional desire “to see a stable, secure and strong Lebanon by implementing international and Arab resolutions.” Al-Sabah said that Lebanon “will review the messages I have conveyed to the Lebanese officials and … we will soon receive a response.” Lebanon’s ties with Gulf states plunged into a new crisis in October after comments by former Lebanese information minister George Kordahi criticizing the conflict in Yemen. Kuwait was one of several members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, that responded to Kordahi’s remarks by expelling the Lebanese ambassador and recalling its envoy to Beirut. Aoun said in a tweet on Sunday that Lebanon was keen on maintaining “the best relations” with the Gulf states and that the Kuwaiti proposals would be discussed before an appropriate position was announced. Some linked Al-Sabah’s visit to the return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Lebanon, but the Kuwaiti minister denied such a link. He stressed: “The visit has nothing to do with internal Lebanese affairs. We do not interfere in Lebanese affairs.” Hariri will announce on Monday his final decision on whether or not he will run in upcoming parliamentary elections. His media office said that the former premier will deliver a speech at 4 p.m. on Monday from his residence. For the second day in a row, hundreds of Hariri supporters flocked outside his home in the capital, demanding that he run in the election. Addressing his supporters, Hariri said: “I have listened to you today and I want you to listen to me tomorrow. “I assure you that my blood is yours, and this house’s doors will always be open to receive you all.” He told journalists: “Sometimes one has to take a step back in order to move forward.” Supporters carried pictures of Hariri along with the Lebanese and Future Movement flags, chanting slogans in support of the former prime minister. They calling on Hariri to rescind his decision to refrain from running for elections, asking him not to abandon his supporters. “Hariri and the Future Movement are among the country’s main political symbols, and we will not accept their abandonment,” one supporter said. His decision is expected to have profound repercussions on the electoral process and Lebanese politics at large. In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi reiterated the importance of Lebanon’s neutrality. “However, it’s unfortunate that this concept is completely absent from the speeches of officials and Lebanon thus remains hostage to regional axes,” Al-Rahi added. During his joint press conference on Sunday with the Lebanese interior minister, Al-Sabah said: “We discussed the issue of drug smuggling from Lebanon, and we appreciate what Lebanon is doing.” He added: “We demanded mechanisms to ensure that shipments do not reach Kuwait and the rest of the region, and that Lebanese authorities should do this to restore confidence. “There is a general desire for all Lebanese borders and outlets to be controlled by the state and for Lebanon to become more secure and stable.” Mawlawi, Lebanon’s interior minister, said: “I reiterate the position of Lebanon and the Interior Ministry that rejects any verbal abuse of Kuwait. We discussed all issues related to border control and drug smuggling.” A government source told Arab News: “The messages that Al-Sabah conveyed are the outcome of contact between France, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and they go in line with the principles contained in the Mikati government’s ministerial statement.” The source added: “These messages will be discussed, and the Lebanese foreign minister will deliver Lebanon’s response during his visit to Kuwait.” The source also commented on the possibility of Hezbollah ignoring these principles — as it has repeatedly done by insulting Gulf countries. They said that the Lebanese government’s position “is the only one that matters, because it represents all of Lebanon.” The government position is based on the ministerial statement that stresses Lebanon’s neutrality and insists on friendly relations with Arab and Gulf countries, the source added.

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