Erdogan and Putin call for Libya ceasefire from Sunday

The two leaders Erdogan and Putin inaugurated the TurkStream pipelines, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe via the Black Sea. (AP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Erdogan and Putin call for Libya ceasefire from Sunday

  • Two presidents inaugurated TurkStream pipelines, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe
  • Improved ties between the two countries have been facilitated by a number of major energy and defense deals

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in Libya after talks in Istanbul, where they also inaugurated a "historic" gas pipeline.

The leaders used a joint statement to call for a truce from midnight on Sunday "supported by the necessary measures to be taken for stabilising the situation on the ground" in Libya, where they are seen as supporting opposing sides.

Last week, Turkey sent its first troops to help defend the Tripoli government and Erdogan says there are 2,500 Russian mercenaries supporting the LNA's Khalifa Haftar -- a claim denied by Moscow.

Earlier, they inaugurated the TurkStream pipelines, which will deliver Russian gas to Turkey and Europe via the Black Sea.

Erdogan described it as a "project of historic importance", while Putin noted the strengthening "partnership of Russia and Turkey in all domains".

TurkStream and the Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic allow Russia to increase gas supplies to Europe without having to rely on Ukraine.

But Moscow's increasing domination of European energy markets has worried the United States, which last month sanctioned firms working on TurkStream and the almost-completed Nord Stream 2.

The ceremony in Istanbul reflected a dramatic improvement in ties between Russia and Turkey, who appeared on the verge of war less than five years ago after Turkey shot down a Russian jet.

They have established a regular dialogue over the Syrian conflict, despite being on opposing sides, but had appeared to be on a fresh collision course over Libya.

Putin arrived late on Tuesday after paying a surprise visit to Syria -- his first to Damascus since the war began -- at a moment of acute uncertainty in the Middle East following the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by the United States.

Syria remains a potential powder-keg for Erdogan and Putin's relationship.

Syrian government forces -- backed by Russia -- have ramped up bombardment of the last rebel strongholds in Idlib province in recent weeks, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing towards the Turkish border.

Erdogan has called for a truce in Idlib, following previous temporary halts to the fighting brokered with Russia in late 2018 and updated in August last year.

"Russia's demands are very simple," said Yury Barmin of the Moscow Policy Group think tank. "Turkey must do more to eliminate terrorist cells in Idlib. The discussions will be around this idea."

Improved ties between the two countries have been facilitated by a number of major energy and defence deals. Russia is building Turkey's first nuclear plant and last year delivered the S-400 missile defence system, to the consternation of Turkey's NATO allies.

Putin earned goodwill in Turkey after his quick support for Erdogan following an attempted coup in July 2016.

The two men have developed a "strong personal relationship", according to Jana Jabbour of Sciences Po university in Paris, who adds that "their economic and energy plans are interdependent".

The TurkStream project, which was temporarily halted during a frosty patch in Russia-Turkey relations, includes two parallel pipelines of more than 900 kilometres (550 miles).

The pipeline links Anapa in Russia to Kiyikoy in northwestern Turkey and has already begun deliveries to Bulgaria. It is being extended towards Serbia, Hungary and Austria.


Iran shutters newspaper after expert questions coronavirus numbers

Updated 10 August 2020

Iran shutters newspaper after expert questions coronavirus numbers

  • Jahane Sanat began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news
  • ‘The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons’

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran shut down a newspaper on Monday after it published remarks by an expert who said the official figures on coronavirus cases and deaths in the country account for only 5 percent of the real toll.
Mohammad Reza Sadi, the editor-in-chief of Jahane Sanat, told the official IRNA news agency that authorities closed his newspaper, which began publishing in 2004 and was mainly focused on business news.
On Sunday, the daily quoted Mohammad Reza Mahboobfar, an epidemiologist the paper said had worked on the government’s anti-coronavirus campaign, as saying the true number of cases and deaths in Iran could be 20 times the number reported by the Health Ministry.
He also said the virus was detected in Iran a month earlier than Feb. 19, when authorities announced the first confirmed case. He said they held up the announcement until after the commemorations of the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and parliamentary elections earlier that month.
“The administration resorted to secrecy for political and security reasons,” he said, and only provided “engineered statistics” to the public.
He also criticized testing efforts and warned of a renewed outbreak next month as universities hold entrance exams and people mark major Shiite holidays.
Iran’s Health Ministry has reported a total of nearly 330,000 cases and 18,616 deaths, including 189 fatalities in the last 24 hours.
Authorities in Iran have come under heavy criticism since the start of the pandemic because of their reluctance to impose the kind of sweeping restrictions seen elsewhere in the region. Iran is home to the deadliest outbreak in the Middle East.