NATO urges more Russia talks to defuse Ukraine crisis

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference, in Munich, Germany, February 18, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 19 February 2022

NATO urges more Russia talks to defuse Ukraine crisis

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Munich Security Conference that there were no signs of a Russian withdrawal from the borders of Ukraine

MUNICH: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Saturday he had sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offering more talks to defuse a possible conflict in Ukraine but warned Moscow of the dangers of making impossible security demands.
Stoltenberg said he sent the letter on Thursday, urging Lavrov to agree to more talks in the format of the NATO-Russia Council, which met in January to formally discuss Moscow’s calls for allies to withdraw troops from eastern Europe.
He also told the Munich Security Conference that there were no signs of a Russian withdrawal from the borders of Ukraine — despite Russia’s assertion this week that it had begun withdrawing troops — and that the risk of a conflict was real as Moscow’s military build-up continued.
“I have invited Russia and all NATO allies to meetings in the NATO-Russia Council. And I reiterated my invitation in the letter that I sent to minister Lavrov on Thursday,” he said.
“We are extremely concerned because we see that they continue to build up, they continue to prepare. And we have never in Europe seen since the end of the Cold War, such a large concentration of combat-ready troops,” he said.
In a rare admission of the limits of diplomacy, Stoltenberg also told the conference that Moscow was putting forward security demands that the Kremlin knew NATO could never meet.
That concern was echoed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who told the conference: “Russia has made the issue of Ukraine’s possible NATO membership a casus belli, which is a paradox because there is no decision on this on the agenda,” he said.
In the stand-off over Ukraine, Russia has sent tens of thousands of troops near the border with its neighbor while insisting it has no plans to invade. President Vladimir Putin is pressing security demands including a block on Ukraine ever joining NATO. NATO has said that, under UN treaties, every nation is free to choose its alliances.
“So that danger is now the combination of this massive military buildup, with the very threatening rhetoric, putting forward demands they know we cannot meet and say if we don’t meet them, they will be military consequences,” Stoltenberg said.
“We will differentiate clearly between untenable demands and legitimate security interests,” Scholz added.
Speaking alongside Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Moscow’s threats toward Ukraine could reshape the entire international system and would also cost Moscow economically.
“The world has been watching in disbelief as we face the largest build-up of troops on European soil since the darkest days of the Cold War, because the events of these days could reshape the entire international order,” von der Leyen said.

Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

Updated 16 June 2024

Thousands of Muslims gather to celebrate Eid across Philippines

  • Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the majority Catholic population
  • President Marcos declared June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha

MANILA: Filipino Muslims across the country gathered on Sunday for Eid Al-Adha prayers to mark the Feast of Sacrifice.

There are some 12 million Muslims among the nearly 120 million, predominantly Catholic population, according to data from the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos collected in 2024.

They live mostly on the island of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in Manila, constituting the third-largest Muslim community in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.

Earlier this month, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. declared Monday, June 17 a national holiday to observe Eid Al-Adha, the second of the two main holidays observed in Islam.

In the Philippine capital region, thousands of Muslims braved the rain for Eid prayers, gathering at the Quezon Memorial Circle for a communal prayer that began early in the morning.

“It rained as early as 5 a.m. First it was just drizzles, then there was a downpour, and then the rain stopped. Good thing that we were able to perform the prayer before it rained again,” Nords Maguindanao, a Muslim resident of Quezon city, told Arab News.

“There were thousands who came to celebrate Eid Al-Adha. The heavy rain did not stop us from congregating … Today we literally had to endure the rain, sacrifice our time and patience. The bad weather was really a test of patience. But overall what is important is that families are united on Eid.”

Maguindanao, who was with his wife and children, has attended the gatherings at Quezon Memorial Circle for years. It is one of the major venues for Eid celebrations in the area, the other being the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

“The unity of Muslims in Quezon City was shown through this Eid prayer because of the overwhelming attendance of the city’s Muslim constituents,” he said.

Ali Macabalang, a local journalist from Kidapawan City in the country’s south, told Arab News that he gathered with hundreds of other Muslims at a small park to celebrate Eid this year.

“Eid Al-Adha for me is the very moment of performing or seeking atonement and renewal of connections to the Almighty Creator,” Macabalang said.

“After the prayer, the Imam delivered a sermon reminding Muslims of their duties not only to God but to the community, then to themselves. After that, families partake of the food, which is the basic component of every celebration.”

Eid Al-Adha commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son, and also marks the culmination of Hajj, the annual pilgrimage that is one of the five pillars of Islam.

In Cotabato City, the main city of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, local authorities celebrated the holiday with reflections on their struggles over the years.

Bangsamoro, the only Muslim-majority territory in the Philippines covering central Mindanao, was until 2014 at the heart of a four-decades-long separatist struggle. The BARMM was formed in 2019 as part of the region’s transition to autonomy, which will culminate in 2025, when it will elect its legislature and executive.

“Today is a moment for every believer to remain true to our core values: that, amidst the challenges of life, the sacrifices we endure hold profound meaning and wisdom,” the BARMM’s chief minister, Murad Ebrahim, said.

“It is through the sacrifices and obedience of the Bangsamoro people that we have progressed in our struggle for justice and equality.”

What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

Updated 16 June 2024

What to know about Trump’s outreach with Arab Americans led by his daughter Tiffany’s father-in-law

  • Skepticism remains among Arab American community about whether Boulos can shape potential decisions by Trump
  • Many remain offended by Trump’s first-term immigration ban from several majority Muslim countries

LANSING: Donald Trump’s allies are working to win over Arab American voter s who are unhappy with President Joe Biden’s support for Israel.
The effort is led by Massad Boulos, whose son married Tiffany Trump, the former president’s younger daughter, two years ago. Boulos, a Lebanese-born businessman, is now using his connections in the Arab American community and meeting with its leaders in Michigan, home to many Arab American Democrats who are disenchanted with Biden.
But any apparent political opportunity for Trump may be limited. Many Arab Americans remain offended by Trump’s ban, while in office, on immigration from several majority Muslim countries and other remarks they consider insulting. Trump also has criticized Biden for not being a strong enough supporter of Israel.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Boulos outlined his outreach efforts and discussed his plans. Those who have met with him shared their thoughts on whether the strategy is working.
An unknown emissary
Boulos, who is frequently overseas managing a Nigerian-based conglomerate, first became directly involved in US politics in 2019 when he met Trump. At the time, his son Michael was dating Tiffany Trump.
Before the 2020 election, Boulos assisted with Arab American outreach in a minor role. His involvement has significantly expanded this year as Trump allies aim to exploit divisions within Biden’s Democratic base. Boulos is working closely with an Arab Americans for Trump group that has set up operations in Arizona and Michigan.
The Michigan meetings
In May, Massad and Michael Boulos traveled to metro Detroit with Richard Grenell, a key foreign policy adviser to Trump and his former ambassador to Germany, to meet with a group of close to 40 Arab American activists from across the country.
A little over a week later, Boulos returned for a more extensive round of engagements. He conducted individual meetings with several prominent community leaders and organized larger gatherings, each drawing nearly 50 Arab American community members.
Those who have engaged with Boulos so far are skeptical about the impact of these efforts. They note a lack of substantial evidence supporting the assertion that Trump is the better candidate for Arab Americans.
“Massad is unable to convince people to come to Trump’s side because he hasn’t offered anything substantial to the community,” said Osama Siblani, a publisher of the Arab American News in Dearborn.
Electoral impact
Both major parties have focused on the Arab American vote due to the community’s significant population in Michigan, which is expected to play a decisive role in the presidential election.
Trump won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. Biden retook the state for the Democrats in 2020 by a roughly 154,000-vote margin.
Michigan holds the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, with more than 310,000 residents of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry, according to the most recent census.
More than 100,000 Michigan Democratic primary voters in February cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the presidential race, enough to pick up two delegates. In two Muslim-majority Michigan cities, including Dearborn, which holds close to 110,000 people, the “uncommitted” vote defeated Biden in the Democratic primary.
The Trump connection
Boulos is the latest relative to rise in Trump’s political circle. The former president has a long history of putting family members and their relatives in key roles in his campaigns and at the White House.
Recently, Trump handpicked his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as the Republican National Committee’s co-chair.
During his first term, he appointed his daughter Ivanka as a senior White House adviser and his son-in-law Jared Kushner to oversee major issues such as Middle East peace, criminal justice reform and the government’s coronavirus response.
Boulos calls Trump a “family friend.” But Boulos insists that his outreach efforts so far have been “more of a personal effort to reconnect with friends.” He adds that the key messages emerging from meetings with Arab Americans are communicated to Trump and influenced a recent statement on the Middle East posted on Trump’s social media platform, Truth Social.
But to some attendees of the meetings, the direct connection to Trump matters little when Boulos can’t make promises on future policy.
“Family members are are fine. But at the end of the day, we have to sit down with someone who’s going to be a policymaker,” Siblani said. “And knowing Trump, only Trump can sit down and talk about his policy.”

Hamburg police fire shots at axe-wielding person at Euro 2024 fan parade

Updated 16 June 2024

Hamburg police fire shots at axe-wielding person at Euro 2024 fan parade

  • Major police operation is now underway and the attacker is currently receiving medical care for injuries

FRANKFURT: German police fired shots at a person who threatened officers with a pickaxe and an incendiary device on the sidelines of a Euro 2024 soccer fan parade in central Hamburg on Sunday, according to a police post on social media platform X.
A major police operation is now underway and the attacker is currently receiving medical care for injuries, the post added.
The incident occurred in the St. Pauli district of the city as Poland and the Netherlands prepare to play against each other in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT).
Fan marches are scheduled ahead of the games, and a parade for Dutch supporters was held at 12:30 p.m. (1030 GMT), around the time of the incident.
Germany is hosting the month-long tournament that began on Friday night.

Ukraine peace summit says ‘dialogue between all parties’ needed to end war

Updated 16 June 2024

Ukraine peace summit says ‘dialogue between all parties’ needed to end war

  • More than 90 countries had gathered in the Swiss resort of Burgenstock for the summit
  • Moscow was not invited and has rejected the summit as ‘absurd’ and pointless

BURGENSTOCK, Switzerland: Dozens of countries said Sunday that Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” should be respected in any peace deal to end the war, as they said “dialogue between all parties” would be necessary for a lasting settlement.
In a final communique issued at the end of a major two-day diplomatic summit in Switzerland, the vast majority of countries also backed a call for the full exchange of captured soldiers and return of deported Ukrainian children.
But not all attendees backed the document, with India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates among those not included in a list of supporting states displayed on screens at the summit.
“We believe that reaching peace requires the involvement of and dialogue between all parties,” the document stated.
It added: “We reaffirm our commitment to ... the principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, within their internationally recognized borders.”
More than 90 countries had gathered in the Swiss resort of Burgenstock for the summit, dedicated to discussing Kyiv’s proposals for a route out of the conflict.
Moscow was not invited and has rejected the summit as “absurd” and pointless.
Kyiv had worked hard to secure attendance from countries that maintain warm relations with Russia.
The final document also called for all prisoners of war to be released in a “complete exchange” and for all Ukrainian children who had been “deported and unlawfully displaced” to be returned to Ukraine.
Kyiv accuses Russia of abducting almost 20,000 children from parts of the east and south of the country that its forces took control of.
Working groups at the summit also addressed the issues of global food security and nuclear safety.
“Food security must not be weaponized in any way,” the declaration stated, adding that access to ports in the Black and Azov Seas was “critical” for global food supply.
And the countries also called for Ukraine to have “full sovereign control” over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Located in the south of Ukraine, the facility is Europe’s largest nuclear energy site and has been controlled by Russian forces since early in the war.

On Bhasan Char, Rohingya refugees observe Eid without family festivities

Updated 16 June 2024

On Bhasan Char, Rohingya refugees observe Eid without family festivities

  • More than 35,000 Rohingya have been relocated to Bhasan Char since end of 2020
  • It is illegal for refugees to leave the remote Bangladeshi island

DHAKA: Sebon Bahar’s fondest memories of Eid Al-Adha are the hug she would share with her mother to celebrate the occasion, an experience that has grown distant now that she is living on a remote Bangladeshi island.

For the last three years, the Islamic holiday that is synonymous with family gatherings has not felt the same for Bahar following her move to Bhasan Char.

“My Eid celebrations remain incomplete without this precious hug with my mother … Here on this island, I miss this most during Eid as my mom is living at Cox’s Bazar,” she told Arab News on Sunday.

“Without my family members, especially my mother … I feel like it’s not a special day … I haven’t seen my relatives who live in Cox’s Bazar for over three years.” 

Bahar is among more than 35,000 Rohingya who since the end of 2020 have been moved to Bhasan Char as authorities seek to ease pressure on the congested camps at Cox’s Bazar, which is home to more than 1 million refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar.

Located in the Bay of Bengal, the island settlement is several hours by boat away from the mainland.

The fourth Eid Al-Adha on Bhasan Char has not eased the feeling of isolation for its residents, many of whom are missing their extended family even more during the Feast of Sacrifice as leaving the facility is illegal for refugees on the island.

On Eid, Bahar said she makes calls to relatives in an attempt to “feel the special day,” trying to replicate the time she was still living in Cox’s Bazar, when the holiday meant friends and families visiting each other and gossiping over shared food.

While the 30-year-old is grateful for the improved parts of her life in Bhasan Char, where there is more safety, access to fresh seafood and good housing, refugees still struggle with a lack of access to quality education, high cost of goods and also inability to leave the island.

“There is no hope in this island life, and also Cox’s Bazar camp life. I am living life with only one hope nowadays, that one day I will be able to return to Myanmar with citizenship rights,” Bahar said.

Eid celebrations are not the same for Mohammed Abdul Jalil either, as he celebrates his third such holiday on the island.

“Eid celebrations without relatives and family members here at Bhasan Char are boring to me,” Jalil told Arab News.

“Yes, we are in touch with each other through mobile phones, but having chit-chat sitting face to face can’t be compared with two to three minutes of mobile phone conversation. Visiting each other is the most special thing we usually practice as part of Eid.”

He is hoping that the day comes soon when he can return to Myanmar.

“On this island, I just want to reside until our dignified repatriation to our motherland with full rights. As a refugee on this island, I have no other dream or expectations,” Jalil said.

In spite of the hardships and uncertainties, many refugees try their best to make a festive occasion such as Eid as special as possible.

“My Eid celebrations center around the joy of my children, and I always try to do my best to make the day special for my children,” Monira Begum said.

Like Bahar and Jalil, Eid for Begum was also about spending time and sharing food with her extended family — an experience she has not been able to have for the last four years in Bhasan Char.

As she prepares for Eid Al-Adha, which will be observed on Monday in Bangladesh, Begum plans to make traditional snacks for her family.

“I have powdered rice grain to make our traditional snacks, sweet sticky rice cake. I bought some clothes for my children, cosmetics for my daughters, though I am unable to offer a sacrificial animal … This is how I am going to celebrate Eid this year,” Begum said.