France suspends transit ban for Britons living in EU

France said Thursday that it will suspend a new rule that prevents Britons from transiting through the country to reach homes elsewhere in the EU. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 December 2021

France suspends transit ban for Britons living in EU

  • Many Britons take the Channel Tunnel from England to France, using Eurotunnel's Shuttle service
  • P&O Ferries issued a similar tweet warning that "only those with French residency will be permitted to enter France"

PARIS: France said Thursday that it will suspend a new rule that prevents Britons from transiting through the country to reach homes elsewhere in the EU, a move that caught thousands of travellers off guard.
"During the year-end holidays" border police will show "tolerance" for Britons returning to the European Union after trips, France's Interior Ministry said.
Many Britons take the Channel Tunnel from England to France, using Eurotunnel's Shuttle service, to drive from the UK to their homes in other EU countries.
For the holidays many returned to Britain to visit family and friends without knowing that France was planning the tougher rules on non-residents.
Under stricter COVID-19 travel rules being applied since December 28, only Britons whose official primary residence is in France were to be allowed in.
"Unless they hold French residency, British citizens are now considered third country citizens and can no longer transit France by road to reach their country of residence in the EU," Eurotunnel said in a tweet late Wednesday.
The change had caused dismay among Britons who embarked on holiday trips "in good faith," the French Interior Ministry said, acknowledging the "difficulties in returning to their country of residence."
P&O Ferries issued a similar tweet warning that “only those with French residency will be permitted to enter France.”
A French interior ministry official said it had not changed its list of “compelling” reasons enabling Britons to travel to France, but had clarified their application this month by border police.
“It seems logical to consider them like all other third-country citizens, and to not allow their transit toward another EU country,” the official told AFP, asking not to be identified by name.
All tourism and professional travel from Britain has been suspended since December 18 as France tries to slow the spread of the omicron Covid variant.
On its travel advice website, the British government said France had indicated that Britons would not be allowed to transit France “unless they are traveling by air.”
“We are urgently seeking further clarification from the French government, and in the meantime advise UK nationals returning to other European countries via France to check with their carrier before traveling,” it said.
The change caught hundreds of Britons off guard as they prepared to return from family visits over the holidays.
“I’m completely lost. It doesn’t make any sense,” Fiona Navin-Jones, a school teacher who was hoping to return to Belgium, where she has lived with her family for 14 years, told AFP.
They decided to risk their Eurotunnel trip anyway on Thursday, where they were told at the terminal that getting through would depend on the border official.
“I got through so I guess I was lucky!” she said.
Eurostar, the passenger train service which many Britons use to return to homes in Belgium and elsewhere, also warned users earlier this month about the French rule change.
But it was not clear if they were being systematically applied at the three Eurostar stations in England.
One Twitter user who was turned away at the last minute this week by French police as he tried to board the Eurotunnel shuttle posted that he was able to return to Brussels by train.
“The FR customs said they had been handed the paper in the last few hours that clarified the compelling reasons rule. They even seemed a little frustrated,” wrote Roland Moore, a public relations executive in Belgium.
Paris and London have been at loggerheads over a range of thorny subjects, including fishing and illegal immigration, since Britain’s official exit from the EU nearly two years ago.
That prompted several travelers to wonder if the new French policy was the latest skirmish between the two countries.
“Reason has prevailed — but I feel so sorry for families based in Belgium with residence but no passport,” Navin-Jones said.
“French rules still stink. You can quote me.”


Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

Updated 20 sec ago

Taliban kill one of their ex-leaders from minority Hazara community

  • Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country
  • The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group
KABUL: The Taliban killed one of their former leaders who was known as the first commander of the group hailing from the minority Shiite Hazara community, officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding that he had rebelled against the de facto government.
Mawlawi Mahdi was shot dead by Taliban forces near the border with Iran as he attempted to flee the country, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Mahdi’s appointment as a commander some years ago was touted as an example of the Taliban’s changed on stance on minorities. He was in the spotlight after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the wake of the pullout of western forces last year.
The Taliban are hard-line followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, and were previously almost exclusively associated with the Pashtun ethnicity. More recently, the group had sought to include members of other ethnicities and some Shiites.
The Hazara, native to Afghanistan’s central mountains, are the country’s largest mainly Shiite ethnic group. After the Taliban formed a government last year, Mahdi was given the post of intelligence chief in a central province.
The origins of the breach between Mahdi and the Taliban have not been made public, but as far back as June, the defense ministry had spoken of a clearance operation against rebels in northern Afghanistan.
The defense ministry on Wednesday described Mahdi as a the “leader of the rebels” in a district in the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.
A Taliban source told Reuters that Mahdi had fallen out with the Taliban and had revolted against the group’s leadership.
The statement said he was killed in Herat close to the border with Shiite majority Iran, where he was trying to flee.
Reuters was not able to contact representatives of Mahdi for comment.

Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

Updated 49 min 34 sec ago

Dead Indian soldier found after 38 years on 'world's highest battlefield'

  • With temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius, Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world 
  • Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area 

NEW DELHI: The body of an Indian soldier who went missing 38 years ago on a glacier on the disputed border with Pakistan has been found.  

A unit of the Indian Army tweeted pictures of the coffin of Chander Shekhar wrapped in an Indian flag early Wednesday, two days after India celebrated the 75th anniversary of independence.  

The Army said Shekhar was deployed for Operation Meghdoot in 1984 when India and Pakistan fought a brief battle to assert control over the Siachen Glacier, reputed to be the world's highest battlefield.  

At over 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) with temperatures that can plunge to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), Siachen is one of the toughest military deployments in the world.  

Located in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, it has long been contested between the nuclear-armed neighbours.  

Local media reported that Shekhar was part of a 20-member group that got caught in an ice storm during a patrol.  

Fifteen bodies were recovered at the time but the other five could not be found, among them Shekhar, the reports said.  

His last rites will now be performed with full military honours in the state of Uttarakhand, where his family lives.  

His daughter, who was four years old when he went missing, said the family would now get closure.  

"He has been long gone... Papa has come but I wish he was alive," the Hindustan Times newspaper quoted her saying.  

Decades after the first battle for Siachen, both India and Pakistan continue to maintain a military presence in the extremely remote area.  

 


Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

Updated 17 August 2022

Former Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa will return next week — local media

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand
  • Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa will return to the island nation next week after fleeing in July amid mass protests, local broadcaster Newsfirst reported on Wednesday, citing a former ambassador.
Udayanga Weeratunga, a former Sri Lankan envoy to Russia who is related to Rajapaksa, said he will arrive in Sri Lanka on Aug. 24, Newsfirst reported.
Rajapaksa, the first Sri Lankan president to quit mid-term, is temporarily sheltering in Thailand, after fleeing Sri Lanka on a military plane to the Maldives and then spending weeks in Singapore.
He resigned from office soon after arriving in Singapore, facing public anger over his government’s handling of Sri Lanka’s worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948.
Rajapaksa has made no public appearances or comment since leaving Sri Lanka. Reuters was not able to immediately contact him or Weeratunga.
The office of Rajapaksa’s successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who suggested last month that the former president refrain from returning to Sri Lanka in the near future, did not immediately respond for a request for comment.
“I don’t believe it’s the time for him to return,” Wickremesinghe told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on July 31. “I have no indication of him returning soon.”

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

Updated 17 August 2022

Myanmar junta hits back at ASEAN after being barred from meetings

  • ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings
  • Junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings

Myanmar’s military leadership on Wednesday lashed out at the ASEAN grouping of Southeast Asian countries for excluding its generals from regional gatherings, accusing it of caving to “external pressure.”
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have heaped condemnation on Myanmar’s junta, which they say has failed to make concrete progress on a peace plan agreed with the 10-nation bloc last year, including engaging with opponents and a cessation of hostilities.
Myanmar’s military seized power from an elected government in a coup last year, and has since then crushed dissent with lethal force. Most recently, the junta has been criticized for executing political activists and imprisoning Aung San Suu Kyi, the symbol of Myanmar’s opposition and democracy movement.
ASEAN has barred Myanmar’s generals from attending regional meetings, and some members said last month it would be forced to rethink the way forward unless the junta demonstrates progress on the peace plan.
The junta has declined offers to send non-political representatives instead to ASEAN meetings.
“If a seat representing a country is vacant, then it should not be labelled an ASEAN summit,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said at a routine news conference on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar was working on implementing the peace plan.
“What they want is for us to meet and talk with the terrorists,” he said, using the junta’s label for pro-democracy movements that have taken up arms against the military.
He said ASEAN was violating its own policy of non-interference in a country’s sovereign affairs while facing “external pressure,” but did not elaborate.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia, which is currently chairing ASEAN, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
Several western countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta over the coup.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Updated 17 August 2022

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.