France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defense deal

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Updated 17 September 2021

France says Biden acted like Trump to sink Australia defense deal

  • “It’s a stab in the back”: French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian
  • Diplomats say there have been concerns in recent months that Biden is not being forthright with his European allies

PARIS: France accused US President Joe Biden on Thursday of stabbing it in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump after Paris was pushed aside from a historic defense export contract to supply Australia with submarines.

The United States, Britain and Australia announced they would establish a security partnership for the Indo-Pacific that will help Australia acquire US nuclear-powered submarines and scrap the $40 billion French-designed submarine deal.

“This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr.Trump used to do,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told franceinfo radio. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

It is the latest dramatic twist in a contest that has seen naval shipbuilding powers battle for years over what many observers called the world’s largest single arms export deal.

In 2016, Australia had selected French shipbuilder Naval Group to build a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines.

Just two weeks ago, the Australian defense and foreign ministers had reconfirmed the deal to France, and French President Emmanuel Macron lauded decades of future cooperation when hosting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in June.

“It’s a stab in the back. We created a relationship of trust with Australia and that trust has been broken,” Le Drian said.

French relations with the United States soured during the presidency of Trump, who often irritated European allies by demanding they increase their defense spending to help NATO while reaching out to adversaries like Russia and North Korea.

Diplomats say there have been concerns in recent months that Biden is not being forthright with his European allies.

The French Embassy in Washington said it was canceling a gala event related to French-US ties on Friday following the day’s events.

France’s ties with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also soured over the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Washington’s actions in Australia are likely to further strain transatlantic ties, political analysts said. The European Union was due to roll out its Indo-Pacific strategy on Thursday and Paris is poised to take on the EU presidency.

“This is a clap of thunder and for many in Paris a Trafalgar moment,” Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Paris-based think tank the Foundation of Strategic Research said on Twitter, referring to a French naval defeat in 1805 that was followed by a long period of British naval supremacy.

He said it would “complicate the transatlantic cooperation in and about the region. Beijing will benefit.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said France was a “vital partner” in the Indo-Pacific region and that Washington would continue to cooperate with Paris, comments that appeared aimed at calming French anger.

Those comments are likely to fall on deaf ears in the immediate term.

A French official said they had not been informed of the deal until a few hours before it was announced and that Paris would not fooled by platitudes.

Morrison said Australia looked forward to continuing to work “closely and positively” with France, adding: “France is a key friend and partner to Australia and the Indo-Pacific.”

‘JAW-DROPPING’

It is the second setback to French defense exports in three months after Switzerland spurned Dassault’s Rafale to buy US-made Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters.

Analysts said the loss of the much bigger submarine contract was a significant blow to France, whose experienced arms sales machine had gone all out to wrest the submarine deal from likely winner Japan under then defense minister Le Drian in 2016.

Germany had also been in the race.

The 2016 win came a decade after France radically overhauled the way it handled arms sales following Paris’ embarrassment over the loss of a contest to sell fighters to Morocco.

Word of its cancelation dominated Europe’s largest arms fair in London where one delegate called it “jaw-dropping.”

France’s Thales, which analysts say stood to gain about $1 billion from sales of sonars and optronics — the eyes and ears of the French submarines — swiftly reassured investors its 2021 finances would not be hit.

But some analysts warned France’s furious reaction over the Australian contract could backfire and noted there had been reports of Australian doubts over the pace of implementation.

Thales, which owns 35 percent of Naval Group, remains Australia’s biggest local defense contractor through a subsidiary.

“Betrayal is the wrong language and hurts France’s position in Australia; it can poison the well,” said UK-based defense analyst Francis Tusa, adding France would now be more reliant on selling Rafales to secure its place in the global arms market.


Pandemic forces Indian households to give up most cherished asset: gold

Updated 13 sec ago

Pandemic forces Indian households to give up most cherished asset: gold

  • Coronavirus job losses left many Indians struggling to pay for daily life, forcing them to sell or pawn family gold to stay afloat
  • World Gold Council estimates gold reserves across Indian homes, mainly in jewelry, are about 25,000 tons

NEW DELHI: When the first pandemic lockdown took Rakesh Pandey’s job in March 2020, he hoped to survive on the savings he had put aside over the years, but when a second devastating coronavirus wave swept the country months later, his family was forced, like millions of other Indians, to pawn their most cherished asset: gold.
India is one of the largest markets for gold, which plays a central role in its culture as a symbol of wealth, status, and with gifting golden jewelry being deep-rooted in Hindu rituals, especially of marriage. 
The World Gold Council estimated in 2019 that gold reserves across Indian homes, mainly in jewelry, were about 25,000 tons, which would be worth $1.4 trillion at today’s prices, making them the world’s largest holders of the precious metal.
As the pandemic and eventual lockdowns wreaked havoc on the economy, some 230 million Indians have been pushed into poverty, a study by Azim Premji University in Karnataka showed earlier this year. Business closures and job losses left many struggling to pay for daily life. Like Pandey, they had to sell or pawn their gold to stay afloat. 
Having spent six idle months in his hometown Bhagalpur in the eastern state of Bihar, Pandey returned to New Delhi to find work. He could not find a stable job as an accountant and was able to earn only as much as to make the ends meet. A second pandemic lockdown, in April this year, rendered him unemployed again. But this time he had no financial cushion to get by. He and his wife decided to take a loan, offering 200 grams of their wedding gold gifts as collateral.
“There was no option but to pawn the gold to survive the harsh lockdown,” the 32-year-old told Arab News earlier this week.
“This time the pandemic was so severe everywhere that we did not go back to our hometown. But to survive in Delhi I needed at least 10,000 rupees ($133) and after struggling for a couple of months, I was forced to resort to gold to sustain my life.”
Data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) shows that many Indians were in a similar situation.
In its annual report released on Sept. 30, the central bank said gold loans soared by 66 percent in August from a year earlier. Such types of loans are indicative of increased financial distress at Indian households, where they are a last resort in a crisis.
Local newspapers have lately been carrying full page advertisements inviting people to participate in gold auctions. But few want to come forward and admit they had pawned their inheritance.
“For a middle-class family pawning gold is not a prestigious development,” Pandey said. “Many don’t want to discuss such issues with outsiders.”
An employee at Muthoot Finance, one of the largest non-banking financial companies in New Delhi, said the pawnbroking sector is witnessing an “unprecedented spike” in demand for such lending.
“Compared to last year, there is a jump of at least 50 percent in the gold loan,” she said, adding that those who had lost their businesses often find it difficult to get normal loans at banks to address the financial crunch they are facing.
When a second wave of coronavirus infections devastated the country between March and May, out-of-pocket medical expenses also dealt a major blow to millions of Indians who desperately sought help to save their dear ones who required hospitalization.
“Large number of people in the second wave faced a health crisis,” Delhi-based economist Prof. Arun Kumar told Arab News, adding that at the same time people had exhausted their savings.
“Incomes have gone down, jobs are less, that’s why there is distress,” he said. “People pledge their gold only as a last resort and this is a reflection of the crisis in the middle class and lower-middle class after the second wave of COVID-19.”


Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach

Updated 50 min 6 sec ago

Iran provincial governor slapped in a rare security breach

  • A motive for the attack in Iran's Eastern Azerbaijan province remained unclear
  • Later Fars news agency said the man had been upset that his wife received a coronavirus vaccination from a male nurse, as opposed to a female nurse

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: The new governor of a northwestern Iranian province found himself slapped in the face by an angry man during his inauguration Saturday.
It was an unusual breach of security in the Islamic Republic during a ceremony attended by the country’s interior minister.
A motive for the attack in Iran’s Eastern Azerbaijan province remained unclear, though it targeted a new provincial governor who once served in the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and reportedly had been kidnapped at one point by rebel forces in Syria. One report referred to it as a personal dispute.
The new governor, Brig. Gen. Abedin Khorram, had taken the podium in the provincial capital of Tabriz when the man strode out from offstage and immediately swung at the official. Video aired by state television recorded the gathered crowd gasping in shock, the sound of the slap echoing on the sound system. It took several seconds before plainclothes security forces reached him.
They dragged the man off through a side door, knocking down a curtain. Others rushed up, knocking into each other.
Later footage showed Khorram return to the stage and speak to the unsettled crowd, now all standing up.
“I do not know him of course but you should know that, although I did not want to say it, when I was in Syria I would get whipped by the enemy 10 times a day and would be beaten up,” he said. “More than 10 times, they would hold a loaded gun to my head. I consider him on a par with those enemies but forgive him.”
Another man on stage shouted: “Death to the hypocrites!” That’s a common chant used against exiled opposition groups and others who oppose the Islamic Republic. Others cried out that Khorram was a “pro-supreme leader governor.”
Though Khorram said he didn’t know the man, the state-run IRNA news agency later described the attacker as a member of the Guard’s Ashoura Corps, which Khorram had overseen. IRNA described the attack as coming due to “personal reasons,” without elaborating.
Later, the semiofficial Fars news agency said the man who slapped the governor had been upset that his wife received a coronavirus vaccination from a male nurse, as opposed to a female nurse.
Khorram had been recently nominated by Iran’s hard-line parliament to serve as the provincial governor under the government of President Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khorram had been among 48 Iranians held hostage in 2013 in Syria, later released for some 2,130 rebels, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that long has been critical of Iran. Iran had referred to those held as Shiite religious pilgrims. A State Department spokesperson at the time called it “just another example of how Iran continues to provide guidance, expertise, personnel (and) technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.”
The incident also comes amid anger in Iran over its precarious economic situation despite its support abroad for regional militias and others, including Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran’s economy has been hammered since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.


Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

Updated 23 October 2021

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

ISTANBUL: NATO-member Turkey’s defense minister said the forming of alliances outside of NATO would harm the organization, according to comments released on Saturday, after Greece and France agreed a defense pact last month.
NATO allies Greece and France clinched a strategic military and defense cooperation pact in September, which includes an order for three French frigates worth about 3 billion euros.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this month that the agreement will allow the two countries to come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat.
“Given that we are inside NATO, everyone should know that the search for various alliances outside of it will both cause harm to NATO and our bilateral relations, and shake confidence,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week.
The comments were released by the Turkish defense ministry.
Greece and Turkey are at odds over their continental shelves and their maritime boundaries. They re-launched exploratory contacts on their disputes earlier this year and Akar said he had a constructive meeting with his Greek counterpart.
“We had positive, constructive talks with the Greek defense minister. We expect to see positive results from these talks in the period ahead,” Akar said.
Separately, Akar said that “technical work has been launched” on obtaining Viper F16 jets from the United States as well as modernizing warplanes that Turkey already has.
The United States this week did not confirm President Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that Washington had made an offer to Ankara for the sale of F-16 fighter jets but added that it has not made Turkey a financing offer for the warplanes.
Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after buying missile defense systems from Russia.


UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

Updated 23 October 2021

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

  • Friday’s strike hits university campus, say humanitarian sources

ADDIS ABABA: An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a UN flight carrying aid workers to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.
Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in Mekelle was hit by the strike.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. Tigrai TV, controlled by the TPLF-led regional administration that is not recognized by Addis Ababa, reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.
The UN suspended all flights to Mekelle after Friday’s incident. UN global aid chief Martin Griffiths said the UN had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mekelle and had received the necessary clearances for the flight.
The incident raises serious concerns for the safety of aid workers trying to help civilians in need, Griffiths said in a statement, adding that all parties to the conflict should respect international humanitarian law including protecting humanitarian staff and assets from harm.
The 11 passengers on board Friday’s flight were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, another UN official told reporters in New York.
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda accused the government of putting the UN plane in harm’s way. “Our air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land (and) it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire,” he said in a tweet.
Legesse, the government spokesperson, rejected the TPLF accusation. “I can assure you that there is no deliberate or intended act that put the efforts of UN humanitarian staff and their plan of delivering aid to the disadvantage (sic) group,” Legesse said in a text message to Reuters.
Ethiopian army spokesperson Col. Getnet Adene did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

PEOPLE FLEEING IN AMHARA
The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighboring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.
Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to the capital Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region and that number is growing rapidly due to the latest fighting, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination center for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.
“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters that two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.


Swedish teen rapper killed in Stockholm shooting

Updated 23 October 2021

Swedish teen rapper killed in Stockholm shooting

  • The son of Swedish actress Lena Nilsson, Einar grew up in southern Stockholm and often referred to the criminal scene in the area in his work

STOCKHOLM: Award-winning Swedish rapper Einar, who has topped the country’s charts, was shot and killed in Stockholm, police and media said Friday as police hunted for suspects.

The 19-year-old Einar, who raps in Swedish, was the most streamed artist on Spotify in Sweden in 2019.

He was shot several times outside an apartment building shortly before 11 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Thursday.

Ambulance personnel administered first aid but he died at the scene, Stockholm police spokeswoman Towe Hagg told AFP.

Police have opened a murder investigation.

“We are actively working to figure out why it happened and who can be behind it,” Hagg said.

In line with usual practice, the police have not yet confirmed the identity of the victim. But Sweden’s mainstream media identified him as Einar, whose full name is Nils Kurt Erik Einar Gronberg.

Many of Einar’s songs reference a life of crime, including drugs and weapons. He had public feuds with rival artist Yasin, who in July was jailed for 10 months for his role in a planned kidnapping of Einar in 2020.

The plan was ultimately aborted, but Einar was abducted several weeks later without Yasin’s involvement.

Einar was beaten, robbed, photographed in humiliating conditions and blackmailed, according to prosecutors.

The kidnapping was part of a broader case involving 30 suspects in a criminal network accused of a variety of crimes.

Among the suspects was another rapper, Haval Khalil, who was sentenced in July to two-and-a-half years in prison for complicity in the kidnapping and who has also had public spats with Einar.

The verdict was appealed and the case is currently being heard by the Svea Court of Appeal, which is expected to go on until December.

Einar had been called to attend the trial as a plaintiff, but was not planning to do so, his lawyer Rodney Humphreys told AFP.

“The same way he didn’t attend the trial in the district court,” Humphreys said.

The Aftonbladet newspaper reported Friday that Einar was living with a “price on his head” after a series of threats against him which had escalated recently.

Einar himself was one of several suspects arrested for a stabbing at a restaurant in central Stockholm earlier this month.

The son of Swedish actress Lena Nilsson, Einar grew up in southern Stockholm and often referred to the criminal scene in the area in his work.

He started his career posting songs to social media, and broke through in 2019 releasing “Katten i trakten” (The cat in the area), which hit No. 1 on Sweden’s singles chart.

He won several music awards, including Swedish Grammis.

Fans and friends expressed their grief on Einar’s social media.

“Einar was a real brother to me and I will miss him so much. We just released our first record last week and it feels so strange since I spoke to him just a day ago,” producer Trobi wrote on Instagram.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said that “it is a young life that has been lost, and I understand that he meant a lot to many young people”.

“It’s tragic that another life has been lost,” he told news agency TT.

Another lesser-known Swedish rapper, 23-year-old Rozh Shamal, was also killed in a 2019 gangland shooting.

Sweden has in recent years struggled to rein in rising shootings and bombings -- usually settlings of scores by gangs and organised crime involved in drug trafficking.

As of October 15, 273 shootings had been recorded with 40 people dead so far in 2021, according to police statistics.

During 2020, 47 people were killed in 366 shootings in the country of 10.3 million people.