UK minister Patel hits back at Macron over Channel crossings

Britain's interior minister Priti Patel (R) hit back at President Emmanuel Macron after he said London must take responsibility for the deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Channel. (Reuters/AFP/PRU)
Short Url
Updated 02 February 2022

UK minister Patel hits back at Macron over Channel crossings

  • “The moral responsibility for those who perish at sea does not lie with France, but with this British refusal to respond”: Macron

LONDON: Britain’s interior minister hit back Wednesday at President Emmanuel Macron after he said London must take responsibility for the deaths of migrants attempting to cross the Channel from northern France.
“Macron’s comments are wrong — they’re absolutely wrong,” Priti Patel told a panel of lawmakers in parliament.
The Conservative minister said more than 51,000 migrants tried to cross the Channel last year — a record — with over 28,000 reaching British waters or shores.
However, some journeys ended in tragedy — in November, 27 migrants drowned off France during an attempted crossing in a boat likened by French officials to a children’s inflatable pool.
Macron, who is expected to seek re-election in April, told a regional French newspaper Tuesday that Britain’s failure to establish a legal route to claim asylum in the country was in part responsible for the crisis.
“The moral responsibility for those who perish at sea does not lie with France, but with this British refusal to respond,” he told La Voix Du Nord.
He also accused London of “hypocrisy” in its immigration approach, due to 1980s-style economic policies that accept low-pay workers following illegal entry.
“We are hostages to an absurd and inhuman situation,” Macron added.
His comments follow several of his ministers making similar statements in recent months, as the increasing number of migrants crossing the Channel sours relations with Britain.
It has prompted an unseemly blame game, even as both sides try to disrupt the people trafficking networks, while also becoming a political headache for embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently working its way through the London parliament, promises tougher action against people smugglers and, controversially, migrants themselves.
If passed, the bill, opposed by rights groups, will allow the return of asylum seekers who have passed through so-called “safe third countries.”
Meanwhile, ministers have paid short shrift to proposals to allow people to claim British asylum in northern France.
Asked about such plans, Patel said Wednesday they were “not viable.”
“It would not stop people making (the) dangerous crossing,” she added.
“That proposal will effectively make France a big magnet for more migrants to come.
“I don’t know how the French public feel about that... they have enough problems with camps and criminality and all sorts of issues taking place.”

India confiscates properties of top Sikh separatist

Updated 2 sec ago

India confiscates properties of top Sikh separatist

  • Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a lawyer believed to be based in Canada, was designated as a terrorist by Indian authorities in 2020
NEW DELHI: India’s top investigation agency confiscated Saturday the properties of a prominent Sikh separatist and close ally of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whose killing has sparked a diplomatic row between India and Canada.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a lawyer believed to be based in Canada, was designated as a terrorist by Indian authorities in 2020 and is wanted on charges of terrorism and sedition.
He is also the founder of the US-based group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), whose Canada chapter was headed by Nijjar before he was gunned down by masked assailants in June near Vancouver.
The group, which has been banned by India, has been a vocal advocate for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan.
A diplomatic firestorm erupted this week with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying there were “credible reasons to believe that agents of the government of India were involved” in Nijjar’s death.
New Delhi dismissed Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd,” tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions followed, and India has stopped processing visa applications by Canadians.
Pannun jumped into the raging row and issued a video telling Canadian Hindus to “go back to India,” claiming they had adopted a “jingoistic approach” by siding with New Delhi.
In an interview with an Indian news channel, Pannun said Nijjar had been his “close associate” for over 20 years and was like a “younger brother” to him. He also blamed India for Nijjar’s killing.
Soon after his interview was aired, the Indian government issued an advisory to news networks asking them to refrain from giving a platform to people accused of “heinous crimes.”
Armed with court orders, officials of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Saturday confiscated Pannun’s house in Chandigarh, the capital of the Sikh-majority state of Punjab, it said in a statement.
The NIA also confiscated agricultural land belonging to him in Amritsar, it added.
It accused Pannun of “actively exhorting Punjab-based gangsters and youth” on social media “to fight for the cause of independent state of Khalistan, challenging the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country.”
Sikhism is a minority religion originating in northern India that traces its roots back to the 15th century and drew influences from both Hinduism and Islam.
The Khalistan campaign was largely considered a benign fringe movement until the early 1980s, when a charismatic Sikh fundamentalist launched a violent separatist insurgency.
It culminated with Indian forces storming the Golden Temple, the faith’s holiest shrine in Amritsar, where separatists had barricaded themselves.
India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was subsequently assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards.
The insurgency was eventually brought under control and the Khalistan movement’s most vocal advocates are now among the large Sikh diaspora, particularly in Canada, Britain and Australia.
But memories of the violence — in which thousands died — still haunt India, which has outlawed the Khalistan movement and listed several associated groups as “terrorist organizations.”

Xi to open biggest ever Asian Games, after a year’s delay

Updated 23 September 2023

Xi to open biggest ever Asian Games, after a year’s delay

  • Over 12,000 competitors from 45 nations will compete in 40 sports during Asian Games
  • Nine sports, among them boxing and tennis, will serve as Asia qualifiers for Paris Olympics

HANGZHOU: Chinese President Xi Jinping will declare the Asian Games open at a glittering ceremony in Hangzhou on Saturday, kickstarting a sporting behemoth that boasts more athletes than the Olympics.
After being delayed by a year due to China’s strict zero-Covid regime, more than 12,000 competitors from 45 nations and territories across Asia and the Middle East are in the eastern city to compete in 40 sports.
Xi is scheduled to open proceedings officially in one of the country’s most prosperous regions, in front of invited guests including Syrian President Bashar Assad.
But rain could put a dampener on the occasion, with persistent drizzle lingering.
Assad — on his first visit to China since war erupted in Syria in 2011 — will join leaders from ally Cambodia, Kuwait, and Nepal, among others at Hangzhou’s Olympic stadium, state media said.
The Games are “likely to be China’s post-pandemic soft power exercise in the fully packed stadium with the presence of political and business leaders in Asia,” Jung-Woo Lee, sport policy expert at the University of Edinburgh, told AFP.
But they have already been rocked by a row between New Delhi and China, with a trip to Hangzhou by India’s sports minister canceled on Friday.
It followed three women martial arts fighters from the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh claiming they were denied accreditation, a move China disputed.
The northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh is claimed almost in full by Beijing, which calls it “South Tibet.”
China’s status as a sporting destination took a severe hit during the first three years of the pandemic, when snap lockdowns and travel rules saw almost all international events canceled in the country.
The hosts are overwhelming favorites to top the medals table, boosting a nearly 900-strong delegation, with Japan and South Korea battling for second.
Notably, North Korea has sent a team to end nearly three years of isolation from the global sporting arena.
They will fight for medals in sports ranging from athletics, swimming and football to bridge, along with a host of regional specialities including dragon boat racing, Chinese martial art wushu and kabaddi, a popular contact sport on the Indian subcontinent.
Nine sports, among them boxing, break dancing and tennis, will serve as Asia qualifiers for next year’s Paris Olympics.
A sprinkling of world and Olympic champions adds some stardust, including India’s javelin king Neeraj Chopra, Qatari high jumper Mutaz Barshim and Chinese swimming royalty Qin Haiyang and Zhang Yufei.
Olympic Council of Asia honorary life vice president Wei Jizhong said having so many sporting disciplines was about giving opportunity to as many athletes as possible.
“We are open to all. This means our Games are not concentrated only for elite sportspeople,” he said.
“When developing countries’ athletes get medals their people are happy, their government is happy, and they support sport. Sport has a high social position. So I think this policy of OCA is successful.”
The Games will be staged at 54 venues — 14 newly constructed — mostly in Hangzhou but also extending to cities as far afield as Wenzhou, 300 kilometers (180 miles) south.
The centerpiece is the “Big Lotus” Olympic stadium with a capacity of up to 80,000 where athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies will be staged.
Hangzhou, a city of 12 million people an hour’s bullet train from Shanghai, is the unofficial home of China’s tech industry and the Games will feature driverless buses, robot dogs and facial recognition.
It is the first cashless Games, with Hangzhou a cashless city.
Organizers are also touting their environmental credentials, with a low-carbon policy in place that will see venues powered by ‘green’ electricity.

UK deputy PM warns of risks of AI in UN speech

Updated 23 September 2023

UK deputy PM warns of risks of AI in UN speech

  • Dowden warned that the world must weigh both risks and opportunities presented by AI
  • UK will host a global AI summit in November to address potential challenges of using AI

NEW YORK CITY: Oliver Dowden, deputy prime minister of the UK, warned world leaders of the risks of the use of artificial intelligence during his speech at the general debate of the 78th UN General Assembly on Friday. 

In his opening remarks, Dowden strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it “the most heinous assault imaginable on everything this organization stands for and was founded to prevent,” and reiterating the UK’s support for Ukraine. 

After confirming the UK’s commitment to confronting the challenges of climate change, reaching Sustainable Development Goals after COVID, and global migration and displacement, Dowden stressed the importance and world-changing potential of AI. 

“It’s going to change everything we do. Education, business, health care, defense, the way we live. And it’s going to change government and relations between nations fundamentally. It is going to change this United Nations fundamentally,” he said. 

“Our task as governments is to understand it, grasp it, and seek to govern it. And we must do so at speed … at this frontier, we need to accept that we simply don’t know the bounds of possibilities.”

Though Dowden listed the many benefits of the use of AI in various sectors, calling it “a tool that can and should be used by all,” he added that “any technology that can be used by all can also be used for ill.

“We have already seen the dangers that AI can pose: teens hacking individuals’ bank details. Terrorists targeting government systems. Cybercriminals duping voters with deepfakes and bots. Even states suppressing their peoples.”

Dowden called on the international community to come together to “agree to a shared understanding of those risks,” and warned that when it came to AI, companies and governments “will strive to push the boundaries as far and fast as possible.”

The minister said that the UK would host the Global AI Summit in November to address the potential risks posed by artificial intelligence. 

US says it expects India to work with Canada on murder case

Updated 23 September 2023

US says it expects India to work with Canada on murder case

  • Canada said last week it had ‘credible intelligence’ linking Indian agents to murder of Sikh separatist leader 
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa had shared intelligence with New Delhi ‘many weeks ago’

WASHINGTON/OTTAWA: The United States made clear on Friday that it expected the Indian government to work with Canada on efforts to investigate the possible involvement of New Delhi agents in the murder of a Canadian citizen in June.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that Ottawa had credible intelligence linking Indian agents to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, prompting an angry reaction from New Delhi, which denies the allegation.
“We are deeply concerned about the allegations that Prime Minister Trudeau has raised,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in a press briefing.
 “It would be important that India work with the Canadians on this investigation. We want to see accountability.”
The White House has spoken of its concerns over the allegations, but Blinken is the most senior US official to have commented thus far.
Traditional Canadian allies, including the United States, appeared to take a cautious approach to the matter earlier this week.
Political analysts said this was partly because the United States and other major players see India as a counterweight to the growing influence of China.
“We have been consulting throughout very closely with our Canadian colleagues, not just consulting but coordinating with them on this issue,” Blinken said.
During a press conference Trudeau was asked about the allegations, and he repeated his call for the Indian government to cooperate.
“We are there to work constructively with India. We hope that they engage with us so that we can get to the bottom of this very serious matter,” Trudeau said.
On Friday, Trudeau also said Canada shared its concerns with New Delhi some time ago.
“Canada has shared the credible allegations that I talked about on Monday with India. We did that many weeks ago,” Trudeau told reporters.
The Canadian government has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader’s murder, CBC News reported separately on Thursday citing sources.
The report said the intelligence included communications of Indian officials present in Canada, adding some of the information was provided by an unidentified ally in the Five Eyes alliance.
Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing network that includes the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
However, Trudeau has not provided any details about what Canada’s spy agencies have collected, and his office has not confirmed or denied the CBC report.
Senior Canadian government sources have said that Trudeau would not have spoken publicly without having a high level of confidence in the intelligence.

Pakistani FM ‘hopeful’ flood aid promises will be fulfilled

Updated 23 September 2023

Pakistani FM ‘hopeful’ flood aid promises will be fulfilled

  • Pakistan was devastated by floods last year that inflicted over $30bn in damage, economic losses
  • While donors have pledged around $10bn in aid, it has yet to be disbursed

NEW YORK: Pakistan is “hopeful” that pledged reconstruction funding to rebuild parts of the country damaged by floods last year will be disbursed soon, Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said on Friday.

At a press conference during the UN General Assembly in New York, he told Arab News: “Pakistan is one of the worst affected as far as climate change is concerned because it has affected about 33 million people.

“One-third of the country was inundated with water, and about $30 billion worth of losses were suffered.”

Pakistan was devastated by the 2022 floods, which were the world’s deadliest since those in southern Asia in 2020.

About a month after last year’s disaster, Pakistan and other countries attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt decided to establish the Loss and Damage Fund to assist countries in dealing with the effects of climate change.

Many donors have pledged funds to help Pakistan rebuild flood-affected areas. The Islamic Development Bank pledged more than $4 billion, the World Bank $2 billion and Saudi Arabia $1 billion.

“So far, there has been very little which has trickled down from the international community as far as the rehabilitation and reconstruction work that has to be carried out. Pakistan is doing that from its own resources,” Jilani told Arab News.

“Our banks are issuing loans on easy terms to all those people who were affected. But then obviously, there are limits to what the banking industry can do.

“This is the kind of situation we’re in. I think we’re hopeful that most of the promises which were made by the donors will be fulfilled shortly.”

Regarding foreign policy, Jilani described the formation of new blocs and rivalries in the Asia-Pacific region as “a very uncomfortable situation” for Pakistan.

“Asia-Pacific has been a very peaceful region, a prosperous region, and it has made great economic strides in the last 40-50 years. Any tension within the Asia-Pacific region, from our point of view, is certainly not good for peace and stability in the region,” he said, adding that Pakistan prioritizes good relations with all countries, specifically mentioning China and the US.

When asked about Islamabad’s potential to confront the Pakistani Taliban, which operates along the border with Afghanistan, Jilani said: “Afghanistan is a sovereign country. Pakistan follows a policy of non-interference … while respecting the sovereignty of other countries.

“At the same time, we have expectations that the Afghan side would take action against all groups who are violating Afghanistan’s soil to carry out terrorist activities against other countries.”

Jilani added that during a meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan in May, “there was a reiteration of this commitment by the Afghan side that they won’t allow Afghan soil to be used against other countries.”

Jilani also praised Pakistan’s commitment to democracy and free elections. “We’re a democratic country. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. In Pakistan, when parliament has completed its full term, it’s a constitutional requirement that there’s a caretaker setup which is meant to ensure neutrality in the next elections,” he said.

“This is meant to ensure that the elections are free and fair, and is meant to ensure that people are able to participate in the voting process without any violence.”

Jilani said Pakistan is heavily involved in efforts to tackle Islamophobia in Europe, and had made a case for the criminalization of religious-based hate speech in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Contact Group on Muslims in Europe.

“We also appreciated the introduction of a bill by the government of Denmark which would criminalize such offenses, either the burning of holy books or insulting the prophets of any religion. I think this is a good step they’ve taken,” he added, saying he is hopeful that if such a bill passed in Demark, other European nations may follow suit.