UN says breakthrough achieved in Libya transition talks

UN acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams said advisory committee’s members “have met their responsibility with a constructive spirit.” (File/AP)
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Updated 16 January 2021

UN says breakthrough achieved in Libya transition talks

  • Talks in Geneva have been taking place amid a heavy international push to reach a peaceful settlement to Libya’s civil war
  • The US welcomed the breakthrough and urged all parties of Libya “to work with urgency and in good faith”

CAIRO: The top UN official for Libya said Saturday that an advisory committee for representatives of Libya’s different regions has proposed a way forward for choosing a transitional government that would lead the war-torn country to elections late this year.
The talks in Geneva, structured around the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, have been taking place amid a heavy international push to reach a peaceful settlement to Libya’s civil war. Previous diplomatic initiatives have all collapsed.
UN acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams told a news conference in Geneva that the advisory committee’s members “have met their responsibility with a constructive spirit, cooperative efforts, and a great deal of patriotism.”
The committee is part of a 75-member forum that represents all the three main regions of Libya. The 18-member committee has proposed that each region’s electoral college name a representative to a three-member presidential council, Williams said. A prime minister would be chosen by the 75-member forum. A successful nominee should receive 70% of votes.
Williams said that the forum would resort to lists formed from Libya’s three regions, with each list consisting of four names, nominated for the presidential council and a prime minister position.
She said a list should obtain 17 endorsements: eight from the western region, six from the eastern region and three from southern Libya. The wining list should receive 60% of the votes of the 75-member forum in the first round. A run-up is expected if no list received the required votes, she said.
Williams said the forum would vote on the proposed mechanism on Monday and the results are expected the following day.
The transitional government would be “a temporary unified executive staffed by Libyan patriots who want to share responsibility rather than to divide the cake,” the UN acting envoy said.
The US welcomed the breakthrough and urged all parties of Libya “to work with urgency and in good faith” to establish an interim government, according to a statement by the US Embassy in Libya.
“It is time to move past the conflict and corruption facilitated by the status quo,” it said.
The forum is part of the UN efforts to end the chaos that engulfed the oil-rich North African nation after the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Muammar Qaddafi. It has reached an agreement last year to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, 2021.
The oil-rich country is now split east to west between two rival administrations, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers.
The warring sides agreed to a UN-brokered cease-fire in October in Geneva, a deal that included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months.
No progress was announced on the issue of foreign forces and mercenaries since they inked the cease-fire deal almost two months ago.


Pope’s visit to Iraqi Ziggurat to bring together several faiths — and hopefully lure more visitors

An Iraqi policeman walks past a mural depicting Pope Francis on the outer walls of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, in Baghdad on February 22, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 4 min 44 sec ago

Pope’s visit to Iraqi Ziggurat to bring together several faiths — and hopefully lure more visitors

  • Roads around the site are being rennovated and powerlines extended ahead of the pope’s visit
  • The inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities in Iraq

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis is due to hold an inter-religious prayer service at the ancient Mesopotamian site of Ur when he visits Iraq next week — an event local archaeologists hope will draw renewed attention to the place revered as the birthplace of Abraham.

Popular with Western visitors in the 1970s and 1980s, Ur is scarcely visited today after decades of war and political instability shattered Iraq’s international tourism industry. The coronavirus crisis now also keeps local tourists away.

Located about 300 km (200 miles) south of the capital Baghdad, the site comprises a pyramid-style Ziggurat and an adjacent residential complex as well as temples and palaces.

 

It was excavated about 100 years ago by Leonard Woolley, a Briton who recovered treasures rivalling those found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt. But little work has since been done on one of the world’s oldest cities, where urban dwelling, writing and central state power began.

According to the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage director for Ur, Ali Kadhim Ghanim, the complex next to the Ziggurat dates back to about 1900 BC.

The father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Abraham is described in the biblical book of Genesis as living in the city before God called upon him to create a new nation in a land he later learned was Canaan.

“This is why it is believed that this building, or house, was the house of the prophet Abraham,” Ghanim said, pointing at the residential complex.

According to Ghanim, the housing settlement was restored in 1999, after Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope John Paul II, announced a trip to Iraq. But his visit was canceled when negotiations with the government of then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein broke down.

This time, Ghanim hopes that Pope Francis’ visit will attract international attention to the site, which he says is badly needed to fund restoration works on its palaces and temples.

“Not only tourism, but we believe that there will be a Christian pilgrimage season,” Ghanim said.

READ MORE

Pope Francis’ visit, his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic and the first ever by a pope to Iraq, is a sign that “You’re not alone,” said Monsignor Segundo Tejado Muñoz. More here.

 

Un Ponte Per, an Italian-based organization, is working with the United Nations Development Programme on infrastructure works such as paths, rest areas and signposts to help visitors.

Roads around the site are being rennovated and powerlines extended ahead of the pope’s visit.

But without adequate funding, Ghanim says his administration has been limited to containing further damage to the site, such as digging trenches to divert rainwater from the ruins.

Basra’s Archbishop Habib Al-Naufaly stressed the symbolic importance of the pope’s March 5-8 visit as Iraq is still recovering from the war against Islamic State that destroyed scores of Christian heritage sites.

The inter-religious prayer service will be attended by Christians, Muslims, Mandaean-Sabaean, Yazidi and other religious minorities present in Iraq.

The focus will be on harmony between religious groups in a service the Vatican has named “Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham.”


Libyan PM-designate to propose unified cabinet under UN aegis

Updated 49 min 43 sec ago

Libyan PM-designate to propose unified cabinet under UN aegis

  • The new government is intended to replace Libya’s two rival administrations
  • Dbeibeh’s proposed cabinet will be put for approval to the House of Representatives

TRIPOLI: Libya’s designated prime minister, chosen via a UN-facilitated process last month, will on Thursday propose a unified government to the country’s divided parliament as part of a peace plan.
The new government is intended to replace Libya’s two rival administrations and oversee the run-up to national elections planned for December in a roadmap to end years of chronic chaos and violence.
However, designated premier Abdulhamid Dbeibeh is not expected to announce the names of ministers after a process of intense negotiations over recent weeks to form a government that could win acceptance across front lines.
Libya, a major North African oil and gas producer, has enjoyed little peace since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and the sprawling country has been split since 2014 between rival factions.
One is the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli in Libya’s west, while the east is controlled by an administration backed by Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Dbeibeh’s new interim government is intended to replace both existing administrations.
Last month, participants in a UN dialogue in Geneva selected Dbeibeh as prime minister along with a three-member presidency council to act as head of state. All four men have pledged not to stand for office in December’s election.
Dbeibeh’s proposed cabinet will be put for approval to the House of Representatives, a body that has been divided for years after some of its members broke off to form a rival assembly.
House of Representative members have been negotiating in recent days for a meeting to discuss the proposed government that could take place in the frontline city of Sirte.
Located in the eastern city of Tobruk, the eastern-based House of Representatives is headed by Aguila Saleh, one of the losing candidates in last month’s Geneva selection process.
He, along with other prominent losers in that vote such as GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha and GNA Defense Minister Saleh Namroush, have promised to abide by the process.
Both Dbeibeh and the new presidency council head Mohammed Al-Menfi have traveled inside Libya and met representatives from major foreign powers outside the country.

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Bahrain becomes first nation to grant J&J COVID-19 shot emergency use

Updated 25 February 2021

Bahrain becomes first nation to grant J&J COVID-19 shot emergency use

  • Bahrain said it would dole out J&J’s shot to the most vulnerable people, including older adults
  • The sate has logged 119,858 coronavirus infections and 437 deaths

DUBAI: Bahrain became the first nation to authorize Johnson & Johnson’s new single-dose coronavirus vaccine for emergency use on Thursday, the government announced, just a day after US regulators concluded the shot offers strong protection against severe COVID-19.
The island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia said it would dole out J&J’s shot to the most vulnerable people, including older adults and those with chronic conditions, without specifying when. It was also unclear when doses would be delivered to the country, which already offers vaccines by state-backed Chinese firm Sinopharm, Pfizer-BioNtech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V to its roughly 2 million residents.
The move makes Bahrain’s health regulatory authority the first in the world to authorize the J&J vaccine for general use. In addition to the US, European regulators and the World Health Organization also are considering J&J’s vaccine. Worldwide, the company aims to produce around a billion doses by the end of the year.
Meriam Adhbi Al-Jalahma, chief of Bahrain’s regulatory body, said authorities had conducted “an in-depth study” on “all documents submitted by the company, which included the results of the clinical trials.”
The vaccine “provides a great protection against serious infection with COVID-19,” the statement added.
In an unusual move, South Africa started administering the J&J vaccine to health workers while it was still in testing. The country, where a virus variant is driving a new wave of infections, switched to J&J from AstraZeneca after a small study suggested it was poor at preventing mild to moderate COVID-19 caused by the more contagious variant.
The long-anticipated J&J shot promises to offer the US a third vaccine option and help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two. Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s shot is safe.
The tiny state of Bahrain has logged 119,858 coronavirus infections and 437 deaths. It boasts among the world’s fastest vaccination rates, with nearly 17% of the population having received at least one dose.


Syria health workers to get COVID-19 jabs from next week

Updated 25 February 2021

Syria health workers to get COVID-19 jabs from next week

  • Al-Ghabbash did not specify the brand, source or quantity of the jabs
  • The government has recorded 15,343 Covid-19 cases in areas under its control, including 1,008 deaths
DAMASCUS: Syria will start giving coronavirus vaccines to its vital health care workers across the war-ravaged country from next week, a government minister said Thursday.
Health Minister Hasan Al-Ghabbash, who announced the Covid-19 vaccination drive at a news conference carried by state news agency SANA, did not specify the brand, source or quantity of the jabs.
“The vaccination of medical cadres will start next week... to prevent them from getting infected,” SANA said, citing the minister.
The pro-government Al Watan newspaper said Syria had received 5,000 doses — enough to cover 2,500 health care workers — and that they were manufactured in China.
The Syrian government is also set to receive jabs as part of the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative after it signed on last month.
The WHO, together with the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the Gavi vaccine alliance, said they would help Syria to acquire jabs to initially cover at least three percent of the population and aim for 20 percent by the end of the year.
Syria has also authorized the use of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, its embassy in Moscow said Monday.
The government has recorded 15,343 Covid-19 cases in areas under its control, including 1,008 deaths.
Healthcare workers made up around 3.6 percent of total cases, Ghabbash said.
In the Kurdish-held northeast, authorities have announced a total of 8,595 cases and 313 deaths.
And in rebel-held northwest Syria, opposition officials have reported 21,150 cases, including 408 deaths.
But doctors and rights organizations believe coronavirus numbers in Syria are likely to be much higher.
The WHO said on Wednesday that the first shipment of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine would arrive in Syria’s northwest by the end of next month.
An official from the Kurdish administration in the northeast said it was “in talks with the WHO for the procurement of the coronavirus vaccine” but was “yet to clinch a deal.”
Human Rights Watch this month urged support for aid groups to ensure “equitable” distribution of coronavirus vaccines across Syria, warning against any discriminatory approach by Damascus.
The conflict in Syria since 2011 has killed more than 387,000 people and ravaged a health care sector struggling to cope with a mass outflux of professionals.
Around 70 percent of the country’s pre-war medical staff have left since the start of the conflict.

Head of Chaldean Church hails pope’s Iraq visit

Updated 25 February 2021

Head of Chaldean Church hails pope’s Iraq visit

  • The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church said he does not believe that the pope will be in danger in Iraq
  • “He comes to tell us that religion does not divide; quite the opposite, it can unite,” Sako said

ROME: The visit of Pope Francis to Iraq on March 5-8 will be “an exceptional event” for the nearly half a million Christians living in the country, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.
“We had been waiting for a pope to come to Iraq for decades. We needed it immensely after all these years of darkness,” said Sako, whose family comes from the Iraqi city of Mosul, and whose appointment as cardinal by Pope Francis in 2018 was seen as a sign of the Vatican’s appreciation of the country’s Christians.
“The pope’s visit to Iraq sends a signal of hope, not only to our country, not only to the Christian community, but to the entire Middle East.”
After decades of war and pain, “the pope’s message of peace and brotherhood is of exceptional importance. He comes to tell us that religion does not divide; quite the opposite, it can unite,” said Sako.
“It helps to find common languages ​​in God and in faith. We must put an end to the decline of civil coexistence,” he added. “The pope will come here to tell us that we are all brothers, all children of God.”
Sako said he does not believe that the pope will be in danger in Iraq. “The security measures taken are impressive. Daesh has lost strength,” he added.