Turkey reimposes restrictions after sharp rise in infections

People wearing masks in Ankara on Monday as Turkey reinstates weekend lockdowns in most provinces and impose restrictions during Ramadan after sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.(AP)
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Updated 30 March 2021

Turkey reimposes restrictions after sharp rise in infections

  • Health Ministry confirmed a record 37,303 new cases within 24 hours and reported 155 deaths on Tuesday
  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 58 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, including Istanbul and Ankara, are “red” or “very high-risk” areas and would be subjected to lockdowns on weekends

ANKARA — Turkey is re-introducing weekend lockdowns in most provinces and will impose restrictions over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan following a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
Infections in Turkey have soared less than a month after authorities divided the 81 provinces into four color-coded categories and relaxed restrictions in some provinces under a “controlled normalization” effort.
The number of infections hit a record on Tuesday, with the Health Ministry confirming 37,303 new cases in the past 24 hours. The country of nearly 84 million also reported 155 deaths on Tuesday, up from around 65 at the start of the month.
In a televised address following a Cabinet meeting late Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 58 out of Turkey’s 81 provinces, including Istanbul and Ankara, were now designated as “red” or “very high-risk” areas and would be subjected to lockdowns on both Saturdays and Sundays.
Nighttime curfews that are in place across the country would continue, he said.
Only 17 provinces were in the “red” category on March 2, when schools partially resumed face-to-face education, cafes and restaurants were allowed to operate at half-capacity and weekend curfews were eased in several cities.
“The increase in the number of cases and patients as well as the increase in the number of deaths, is forcing us to review the existing measures,” Erdogan said in an address to the nation. “The number of our provinces which are in the red category, which constitutes the very high-risk category, has reached 58 — representing 80% of the population.”
“We will have to make some sacrifices during the month of Ramadan,” he said, adding that restaurants and cafes would be allowed to serve takeout food only during the holy month, which starts on April 13 in Turkey.
Mass gatherings for Ramadan meals held before sunrise and after sunset would be barred, he also announced.
The Turkish Medical Association meanwhile, blamed the increase in infections on inadequate contact-tracing, the government’s reluctance to impose measures in a timely manner out of economic concerns as well as the premature relaxing of the restrictions.
“We, as health care professionals and society, are paying for these wrong policies,” the group said on Twitter.
Erdogan has come under intense criticism for holding his ruling party’s congresses inside packed sport complexes across the country, despite a new surge of COVID-19 cases. He has been accused of double standards for disregarding the government’s own social distancing rules. In one such event, Erdogan boasted about the size of the crowds.
Critics say the political rallies have likely contributed to the surge. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters Tuesday that he saw no benefit in “keeping the issue on the agenda.”
Variants of the initial coronavirus now account for around 75% of the cases in Turkey, he said.
The minister also said Turkey has received 2.8 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and is set to receive 1.7 million more within the next 10 days.
Turkey rolled out its inoculation program in January with the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac company. More than 15 million shots have been administered so far. Around 6.7 million people have received two doses.
The total number of infections in the country since the start of the outbreak last year stands at more than 3.2 million. The COVID-19 death toll has reached more than 31,000.


New Israeli government faces tension with Palestinians over Jerusalem

Updated 14 June 2021

New Israeli government faces tension with Palestinians over Jerusalem

  • Jerusalem march by Jewish nationalists poses immediate challenge to the new coalition

JERUSALEM: Veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu handed over power in Israel on Monday to new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett but remained defiant as the patchwork government faced tensions with Palestinians over a planned Jewish nationalist march.
Minutes after meeting Bennett, Netanyahu repeated a pledge to topple the new government approved on Sunday by a 60-59 vote in parliament.
“It will happen sooner than you think,” Netanyahu, 71, who spent a record 12 straight years in office, said in public remarks to legislators of his right-wing Likud party.
Formation of the alliance of right-wing, centrist, left-wing and Arab parties, with little in common other than a desire to unseat Netanyahu, capped coalition-building efforts after a March 23 election, Israel’s fourth poll in two years.
Instead of the traditional toasts marking Bennett’s entry into the prime minister’s office, Netanyahu held a low-key meeting there with the former defense chief, who heads the nationalist Yamina party, to brief him on government business.
“Sour, grumpy, not stately – Trump-like until the final moment,” Yossi Verter, a political affairs commentator, wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.
The government was already facing a sensitive decision over whether to approve a flag-waving procession planned for Tuesday by Jewish nationalists through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Palestinian factions have called for a “day of rage” against the event, with memories of clashes with Israeli police still fresh from last month in contested Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and in a neighborhood of the city where Palestinians face eviction in a court dispute with Jewish settlers.
“This is a provocation of our people and an aggression against our Jerusalem and our holy sites,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said.
The Hamas Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip warned of the possibility of renewed hostilities if the march goes ahead, less than a month after a cease-fire ended 11 days of cross-border hostilities with Israeli forces.
A route change or canceling the procession could expose the Israeli government to accusations from its right-wing opponents of giving Hamas veto power over events in Jerusalem.
Israeli police were due to present their route recommendations to government officials on Monday.
Deputy internal security minister Yoav Segalovitz said past governments had stopped nationalists visiting Muslim sites in times of tension.
“The main thing is to consider what’s the right thing to do at this time,” he told Israel’s Kan radio.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in a move that has not won international recognition after capturing the area in a 1967 war, regards the entire city as its capital.
With any discord among its members a potential threat to its stability, Israel’s new government had hoped to avoid hot-button issues such as policy toward the Palestinians and to focus on domestic reforms and the economy.
“I think the milestone to look out for is the budget,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “If within 3-4 months this government will pass the 2021-22 budget then we can expect this government to serve for at least two or three years. Otherwise, the instability will continue.”
Palestinians held out scant hope of a breakthrough in a peace process leading to a state of their own. Talks with Israel collapsed in 2014.
“We don’t see the new government as less bad than the previous ones,” Shtayyeh told the Palestinian cabinet.
Under the coalition deal, Bennett, a 49-year-old Orthodox Jew and tech millionaire who advocates annexing parts of the West Bank, will be replaced as prime minister in 2023 by centrist Yair Lapid, 57, a former television host.
Lapid, widely regarded as the architect of the coalition that brought down Netanyahu, is now foreign minister.


Sudan says it is open to conditional interim deal on Ethiopia dam

Updated 14 June 2021

Sudan says it is open to conditional interim deal on Ethiopia dam

  • Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • Sudan and Egypt agreed last week to coordinate efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate "seriously"

KHARTOUM: Sudan is open to a partial interim agreement on Ethiopia’s multi-billion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile, with specific conditions, Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas said on Monday.
While Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Egypt fears it will imperil its water supply and Sudan is concerned about the impact on its own water flows.
Sudan and Egypt agreed last week to coordinate efforts to push Ethiopia to negotiate “seriously” on an agreement on filling and operating the GERD.
Cairo and Khartoum had been aligned on the need for any agreement to be comprehensive, but Abbas’s comments mark a potential shift in Sudan’s position.
” conditions include the signing-off of everything that has already been agreed on in negotiations, ... provisions to ensure that the talks continue even after the filling scheduled for July, and the negotiations adhering to a definite timetable,” Abbas told a news conference, citing a time crunch.
Ethiopia has said it will begin a second filling of the reservoir behind the dam during the rainy season this summer.
Talks overseen by the African Union, aimed at reaching a binding agreement, have repeatedly stalled.


Bodies of 25 migrants recovered off Yemen after boat capsized

Updated 14 June 2021

Bodies of 25 migrants recovered off Yemen after boat capsized

  • Fishermen said the bodies were floating in the waters of Ras Al-Ara, an area so rife with human trafficking that local people call it the ‘Gate of Hell’
  • In recent months, dozens of migrants have died in the Bab Al-Mandab strait, a major route for international trade but also for human trafficking

HODEIDAH, Yemen: The bodies of 25 migrants were recovered off Yemen on Monday after the boat that was carrying them capsized with up to 200 people on board, a provincial official told AFP.

Fishermen who found the bodies told AFP that they were floating in the waters of Ras Al-Ara in the southern province of Lahij, an area so rife with human trafficking that local people call it the “Gate of Hell.”

“The boat overturned two days ago and was carrying between 160 and 200 people,” said Jalil Ahmed Ali from the Lahij provincial authority, citing information given by Yemeni smugglers. The fate of the other people on board was unclear.

The UN’s International Organization for Migration confirmed to AFP that a boat sank in the area but said it was still trying to establish the details of the incident.

The fishermen said the victims, found in the Bab Al-Mandab strait that separates Djibouti from Yemen, appeared to be of African origin.

“We found 25 bodies of Africans who drowned when a boat carrying dozens of them sank off the Yemeni shores,” said one of the fishermen.

“We saw the bodies floating in the water 10 miles from the shores of Ras Al-Ara,” added another.

Migrants often find themselves stranded in Yemen with the beaches of Ras Al-Ara being among the areas most targeted by smugglers.

In recent months, dozens of migrants have died in the Bab Al-Mandab strait, a major route for international trade but also for human trafficking.

In April, at least 42 migrants died off Djibouti after the capsize of their boat which had left from Yemen, according to an IOM report. They were likely among those who try to return home after finding themselves stranded or detained.

The IOM reported this month that 5,100 immigrants arrived in Yemen so far this year, while 35,000 traveled in 2020 and 127,000 in 2019 before the outbreak of the coronavirus which suppressed demand for labor in the Gulf.

The UN agency often sends migrants back to their home countries from Yemen. But it said in April that more than 32,000 migrants, mostly from Ethiopia, were still stranded in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.


Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb

Updated 14 June 2021

Caution on Iran nuclear deal as G7 leaders vow to stop bomb

  • EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran's nuclear activities had narrowed further
  • Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister said a deal was unlikely to emerge in the coming week

VIENNA: Diplomats from outside the European Union cautioned Sunday that negotiations with Iran to salvage a landmark nuclear deal still need more time.
Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations also reaffirmed a commitment to stop the Islamic republic from building nuclear weapons.
Iranian envoys held another round of negotiations with international delegations in Vienna a day after EU coordinators suggested that differences over the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear activities had narrowed further. But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told Iranian state media he thought a deal was unlikely to emerge in the coming week. A diplomat from Russia also said more time was needed to work out details.
The Vienna meetings are aimed at rebuilding a nuclear containment agreement between Iran and major world powers that the Trump administration withdrew the United States from in 2018.
US President Joe Biden and other G-7 leaders expressed support for the Vienna process after a three-day summit in southwest England that ended Sunday. The G-7 nations are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“We are committed to ensuring that Iran will never develop a nuclear weapon,” the leaders said in a joint statement.
“A restored and fully-implemented (nuclear deal) could also pave the way to further address regional and security concerns,” the statement said.
A resolution would see Iran return to commitments made in 2015, aimed at making the development of a nuclear weapon impossible, in exchange for lighter US sanctions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Iran had been “galloping forward” with its nuclear ambitions and violating the terms of the accord since the United States pulled out of the deal.
“I think puts some urgency in seeing if we can put the nuclear problem back in the box,” Blinken said.
Sunday’s bilateral meetings followed joint negotiations held Saturday involving senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain. The United States was not directly involved.
An Iranian pro-opposition group held a small protest outside the famed Vienna Opera House, near the downtown hotel where the talks are taking place. Organizers said local police in Austria’s capital instructed them not to protest outside the hotel. The event ended peacefully.


Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid vows to end ‘hostile’ relations abroad

Updated 14 June 2021

Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid vows to end ‘hostile’ relations abroad

  • ‘Our relationship with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile’
  • ‘Shouting that everyone is anti-Semitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right’

JERUSALEM: Israel’s new foreign minister Yair Lapid on Monday vowed to improve relations with US Democrats while ending “hostile” ties with Europe he accused Benjamin Netanyahu of cultivating.
The centrist broker who forged an unlikely coalition deal to unseat the hawkish former prime minister told foreign ministry staff that under Netanyahu’s 12-year-rule Israel had “abandoned the international arena.”
“Our relationship with too many governments has been neglected and become hostile,” Lapid, a 57-year-old former television presenter, said.
“Shouting that everyone is anti-Semitic isn’t a policy or a work plan, even if it sometimes feels right.”
After coming to power in 2009, Netanyahu has strained relations with former US president Barack Obama, a Democrat, before forming a tight bond with his Republican successor Donald Trump.
“The management of the relationship with the Democratic Party in the United States was careless and dangerous,” Lapid said.
“I’ve warned against it more than once, but the outgoing government took a terrible gamble, reckless and dangerous, to focus exclusively on the Republican Party and abandon Israel’s bipartisan standing.”
He added: “We find ourselves with a Democratic White House, Senate and House and they are angry. We need to change the way we work with them.”
The new Israeli foreign minister said he had spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and that both agreed to “build relations based on mutual respect and better dialogue.”
Lapid succeeds Gabi Ashkenazi, a former army chief-of-staff, who became chief diplomat in 2020 as part of a power-sharing deal between the Netanyahu camp and opposition parties.
Lapid also said he would work to improve Israel’s standing internationally as well as ties with Europeans leaders, adding that he had “exchanged messages” with French President Emmanuel Macron and spoken to the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
He also vowed that Israel “will do whatever it takes to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear bomb” and said he was opposed to a revived nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that could see the United States rejoin the accord.
And one month after a deadly 11-day war broke out between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas militants, Lapid reaffirmed that “Israel has every right to defend itself.”