French PM pays homage to aid workers killed in Niger

French PM Jean Castex, center, French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti, left, and Minister of State for Tourism, French Nationals Abroad and Francophonie Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne pay homage to the six humanitarian aid workers at Orly Airport, south of Paris, August 14, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 August 2020

French PM pays homage to aid workers killed in Niger

  • PM Jean Castex sought to assure the parents of the four women and two men that all of France mourned their passing
  • The six, their Nigierien guide and driver, were killed on Sunday in a wildlife haven about an hour’s drive southeast of Niamey

PARIS: France’s prime minister led a memorial service Friday for six aid workers killed in Niger in what investigators said had likely been a premeditated attack targeting Westerners.
As the six caskets lay side by side in the VIP section of Orly Airport south of Paris, where the bodies arrived Friday from Niamey, Jean Castex sought to assure the parents of the four women and two men that all of France mourned their passing.
“In front of these six coffins... I want first of all to express the pain, the incomprehension, the anger of all French people,” said the premier as he saluted the youngsters’ generosity and altruism.
“The victims of this attack came to Niger to do good. They met with evil.”
The six, their Nigierien guide and driver, were killed on Sunday in a wildlife haven about an hour’s drive southeast of Niamey.
The area is a popular destination for weekend leisure trips by Niamey residents, including foreigners.
They worked for French NGO Acted and were aged between 25 and 30.
“This incarnation of evil, France unfortunately knows it only too well... it is very likely the same hatred, the same cowardice, the same inhumanity at work in Niger and Bataclan,” the Parisian concert venue targeted by extremists in 2015, said Castex.
And he stressed there was “no question of giving an inch of ground to criminal fanaticism or to enemies of the freedom to act, think and engage.”
Earlier, a source close to an ongoing investigation by French anti-terror prosecutors told AFP the attack “appears to have been premeditated to target a priori mainly Westerners.”
France’s anti-terror prosecutor’s office said Monday it would probe charges of murder “with links to a terrorist enterprise” and “criminal terrorist association” in relation to the killings.
A team of 11 specialized investigators departed France for Niger the following day.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack carried out by gunmen on motorcycles.
But “given the modus operandi, the terrorist hypothesis is being favored,” the source told AFP.
Suspicion has fallen on Daesh in the Great Sahara, active in the shared border region of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, where it is being pursued by France’s Barkhane force fighting extremists in the Sahel.
The French investigation will seek to determine whether the assailants had been tipped off about the humanitarians’ visit to the national park.
French President Emmanuel Macron has described it as “manifestly a terrorist attack” and said there would be repercussions.
“We’re pursuing action to eradicate the terrorist groups, with the strengthened support of our partners,” Macron said.


Philippine president to make UN General Assembly debut

Updated 22 September 2020

Philippine president to make UN General Assembly debut

  • Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26

MANILA: For the first time since he became president four years ago, the Philippines’ tough-talking leader Rodrigo Duterte will take part in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday.

The meeting will be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This will be the president’s first time to address the UN General Assembly,” Robert Borje, chief of presidential protocol, told a press briefing on Monday, saying that this year’s meeting was of historic significance as it marked the UN’s 75th anniversary.

Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26.

He is expected to talk about the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, peace and security, human rights, and geopolitical developments in Asia-Pacific, as well as other issues.

Duterte’s participation in the event is significant, mainly because he had threatened to pull the Philippines out of the UN in the early days of his presidency after facing criticism over his bloody war on drugs. He later backtracked, saying that he was “only joking.”

The theme for this year’s UNGA session is: “The future we want, the United Nations we need: Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism — confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action.”

Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozker, who is president of the 75th UNGA, will preside over the meeting. Brazil is the first speaker, followed by the US, Turkey, China, Chile, South Africa, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Jordan, South Korea, Qatar, Philippines, Iran and France.

Borje was asked what had made Duterte decide to take part. He replied that the president’s participation had always been considered since the beginning of his term.

“But of course this year takes on special significance because it’s the 75th anniversary. But more than just that, the milestone landmark … It’s the intensity and the urgency needed to address global issues. The president recognizes that the Philippines cannot do it alone, and the United Nations is the world’s biggest platform where one country can articulate a country’s principled position on many items and many issues. And this is why he decided to join the UN General Assembly high-level debate this month.”

The world can expect to hear the president articulate the country’s positions on a range of issues — including his controversial war on drugs. 

“Yes,” said Borje. “That will be part of the president’s speech. He will address issues on human rights and justice.”

Duterte is also expected to raise the issue of the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea as his speech will also touch on peace and security, including terrorism.

The Philippines was one of the founding members of the UN, signing the UN Declaration in 1942.