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Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende

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Updated 23 May 2022

Frankly Speaking: WEF sending strong message by not inviting Russia to Davos, says forum’s Borge Brende

  • WEF president says violations by Iran and Israel are not comparable to those committed in Ukraine
  • Brende believes current war could end up as Moscow’s “Afghanistan or Vietnam”
  • Davos summit more timely than ever as ‘global challenges require global solutions’

DAVOS, Switzerland: The president of the World Economic Forum has said the Geneva-based organization is sending a strong signal to Moscow by not inviting Russian officials and businesses to this year’s Davos summit while issuing an invitation to the Ukrainian leader to address the gathering.

“When it comes to Russia, we chose not to invite Russian business or Russian officials because there are limits,” Borge Brende told Katie Jensen, the host of Frankly Speaking, the Arab News talk show which features interviews with leading policymakers and business leaders.

“Russia has broken basic humanitarian law and international law. They are not sticking to the UN Charter and we have seen so many atrocities.”




Borge Brende with Katie Jensen on Frankly Speaking. (AN photo)

At the same time, Brende said, the WEF will not only have Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky “on video” but also several of his ministers.

“From Kyiv we will have two of his deputy prime ministers. We also have the foreign minister in Davos,” he said, adding that some chief executives will be coming together to form a group of CEOs for Ukraine to “secure the rebuilding of the country.”

Defending the WEF’s decision, he said: “The key for unlocking this is with (President Vladimir) Putin and the Kremlin. We need to see that they are taking steps to again rejoin compliance with international law before they will be reinvited to Davos. We have a strong moral obligation to also send this kind of signal in such a situation.”

Brende appeared on “Frankly Speaking” on the eve of the first in-person WEF annual meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first time the event, which kicked off on Sunday, is being held in Davos in May.

He denied that for an organization that prides itself on its impartiality and reputation as a bridge builder, the decision not to invite one side amounts to a failure on the WEF’s part to encourage debate.

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Brende said it is true that for the last 50 years the WEF has always tried to bring leaders together, but “there are limits.”

“It’s an ongoing war in Ukraine, where we see that children are being killed in their schools every day. You see women being raped. We see war crimes taking place and there is no willingness for dialogue,” he said.

“Davos is about willingness to find common solutions, and if countries at least are willing to sit down and discuss the future, then it is something else. But today we see no kind of this willingness from Russia’s side. That’s why we’re very sad that we cannot have this dialogue. Hopefully in the future, but not today.”

Brende, a former foreign minister of Norway, dismissed comparisons between the charges of atrocities Israel is accused of committing against Palestinian civilians and those being leveled against Russia in Ukraine. He also denied that this is because Ukraine is seen as closer to home for many Europeans.




WEF President Borge Brende. (AN photo)

“It is unacceptable what is now happening in Ukraine and the war is ongoing,” he reiterated, explaining why inviting Russia to the annual meeting is not the same thing as, say, inviting Israel or Iran.

“When it comes to Israel and the situation in the Palestinian areas, it is at least some willingness to dialogue. We’ve seen it through the Abrahams Accords, but we also see in Davos that we are bringing together business leaders from both Israel and the Palestinian side in an initiative called ‘Breaking the Impasse.’ And they’re sitting there with global politicians, but also politicians from these areas to discuss if there is a way forward for establishing a two-state solution. At least there is a dialogue going on and we hope for future solutions.”

Asked if he thought the recently imposed sanctions on Russia were enough to end the conflict or whether an expanded NATO was the solution, Brende said: “I think Russia is incredibly surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian army. They were supposed to take Kyiv, the capital, in two, three days. Kharkiv, the second largest city, in two, three days. They have seen the resistance among the Ukrainians that, I am sure, has surprised them and that is why they’re pulling back too.”


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In the months to come, Brende said, it is likely that Russia will continue with its attacks. “But Ukraine can easily turn into the Vietnam of Russia, or Afghanistan of Russia,” he said.

“When more than 40 million people are fighting back so strongly as the freedom-seeking Ukrainians, Russians will have a huge challenge. It shows that even a very modern and a very strong army cannot kill the freedom-fighting people around the world. I think this is a lesson for many countries to bring with them and reflect over.”

The WEF says its annual meeting in Davos provides “a unique collaborative environment” for public figures and global leaders to “reconnect, share insights, gain fresh perspectives and build problem-solving communities and initiatives.” However, critics say the event has become more of a show featuring politicians sticking to pre-prepared scripts. 

Brende countered that this year’s summit would see progress made on many of the most important topics. “We will, for example, have new coalitions when it comes to fighting climate change,” he said.

“We will focus a lot on trade and investments. We know that there will be no real economic recovery without a trade recovery, so that’s why it’s so important that we also have trade ministers, 30 of them together with (World Trade Organization chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala), saying that no new tariffs, no more protectionism and no more bans on exporting food.”

“Many of the challenges that we are faced with cannot be sold without business. So, with the 1,400 CEOs and chairs in Davos, I am pretty sure we are going to make progress,” Brende said, adding that “25 percent of the participants are women — it should have been 50, but we are making progress.”

Brende disputed the claim that the WEF summit in Davos has a perception problem, made most recently by the Financial Times newspaper, which said this week that the organization does not project the right image.

“I think we definitely are able to bring together leaders from all walks of life. It’s easy to be critical, but I think the past has also shown that the World Economic Forum has a positive impact,” he said.

“It was in Davos, for example, where the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) was launched (in 2001). It was here where (the anti-apartheid icon) Nelson Mandela came to Europe for the first time and launched the economic plan for South Africa.

“This time around, it is really about how to make sure that the weak recovery does not end in a new recession. It is to make sure that we walk the talk from COP26 in Glasgow. Business leaders, 120 of them, will commit to going net zero by 2050. So, this is really the place where corporate and governmental leaders are coming together, making a difference.”

Watch the full Frankly Speaking episode below:

 

 

As 2,500 members of the global elite descend on Davos, Brende said this year’s meeting could not be more timely because “global challenges need global solutions.”

“Unfortunately, because of the polarized world, we don’t see as much collaboration to really solve wars, climate change and also a weakening recovery,” he said. “But we will try in Davos to get leaders together, and at least mobilize the private sector to support in these very critical areas.”

Brende also acknowledged the reality of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, saying that it is “very important to be preparing for the next one, because we will see new diseases and pandemics unfortunately in the coming decades too.

“We moved much closer to nature. In just the last 10 years, we have lost wilderness across the world the size of the country of Mexico, so animals and human beings are much closer. And then we will also see more diseases like this.

“And we should not forget that we’re not out of the woods yet. China, the second largest economy in the world, is partly locked down now in some of the biggest and largest cities in the country, and this will also have an impact on the global economy because China is growing slower and the demand from China will of course go down.”

Looking to the future, Brende said: “We have to learn from this pandemic, that we have to have medicine, we have to have medical equipment much closer than before. We can’t wait for weeks for this to arrive. We have to be able to step up vaccination fast. We know that we have paid a huge price: 15 million people have lost their lives so far in this pandemic.”

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Migrant trafficking network in Europe smashed

Updated 07 July 2022

Migrant trafficking network in Europe smashed

LONDON: A 26-year-old Iranian-Kurdish people trafficker and 38 members of his gang were behind bars on Wednesday after police in five European countries smashed a major cross-border network that smuggled migrants into the UK.

The gang leader was arrested in Britain along with five other people smugglers. Germany arrested 18 gang members, French police nine and Dutch police six.
Police also seized more than 1,200 life-jackets, about 150 rubber boats and 50 engines, and tens of thousands of euros in cash, firearms and drugs.

The EU law enforcement agency Europol said the trafficking network could have smuggled as many as 10,000 illegal migrants to Britain over the past year and a half and netted as much as €15 million. Police officials said the gang was one of the most active criminal networks smuggling people from France and Belgium to Britain in small boats.

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“This is the most significant operation ever mounted against smuggling operations across the English Channel, especially with this phenomenon of small boats,” Europol deputy executive director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe said.
More than 28,500 people arrived in England illegally last year, mostly from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, after making the dangerous cross-Channel journey in often flimsy and dangerous vessels.

“Given the number of boats we seized yesterday ... we can expect a fall in the number of crossings in the immediate future,” Matt Rivers of the UK National Crime Agency said.
The British government hopes to start sending some of the illegal migrants to Rwanda but that plan — widely criticised in the UK and internationally — is being held up by legal challenges.

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Afghanistan more than doubles coal prices as exports to neighbouring Pakistan boom

Updated 06 July 2022

Afghanistan more than doubles coal prices as exports to neighbouring Pakistan boom

  • Customs duties from coal exported to Pakistan are a key source of revenue for cash-strapped Afghanistan
  • Sanctions and cut in development aid since Taliban rule last August have severely hampered economy

KABUL:  Afghanistan’s Taliban administration has more than doubled prices for coal, the finance ministry said on Wednesday, as the group seeks to raise revenue from coal exports and shrink its budget deficit after being cut off from international aid.
Customs duties from coal exported to Pakistan are a key source of revenue for cash-strapped Afghanistan. Sanctions on the banking sector and a cut in development aid since the Taliban took control last August have severely hampered its economy.
The Taliban administration last week lifted prices for coal to $200 per ton from $90 per ton, according to finance ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal. Around 12,000 to 14,000 tons are exported, mostly to Pakistan, each day. Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities have said they want to move the country away from dependence on foreign aid.
With customs duties increased to 30 percent from 20 percent in May, Afghan authorities will receive $60 per ton, which Haqmal said was expected to make a significant dent in the country’s forecast 44 billion Afghani ($502.11 million) budget deficit this year.
The price hike came just after Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced plans last week to import coal from Afghanistan using local currency to save foreign reserves.
“(The timing) was coincidence. Any country would be irresponsible to suddenly lift the price without giving it consideration and study,” Haqmal said.
A Pakistani source said they had received indications weeks ago that the price was being reconsidered.
Pakistan mainly imported coal from South Africa. South African coal prices have been rising in recent weeks due to higher demand from Europe.
Haqmal declined to comment on the decision but had previously said that transactions were between private traders and all customs duties would be collected in Afghanis.
Haqmal added that a team of technical staff had spent weeks studying regional markets, the domestic situation and rising global coal prices in the wake of the war in Ukraine, and settled on the price.
It was calculated with the goal of ensuring Afghan traders could receive as much revenue as possible, while not sparking Pakistani traders to switch to other options, he said.
Authorities were also trying to smooth things over at border crossings — where hundreds of trucks pass each day — so that customs facilities would open 16 hours per day instead of around 12 currently, and to create space for more trucks.


Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

Updated 06 July 2022

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

  • Dmitry Medvedev denounced the US for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy'"
  • “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way"

MOSCOW: A top Kremlin official warned the U.S. Wednesday that it could face the “wrath of God” if it pursues efforts to help establish an international tribunal to investigate Russia's action in Ukraine.
The Russian lower house speaker urged Washington to remember that Alaska used to belong to Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, denounced the U.S. for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy.'"
“The entire U.S. history since the times of subjugation of the native Indian population represents a series of bloody wars,” Medvedev charged in a long diatribe on his Telegram channel, pointing out the U.S. nuclear bombing of Japan during World War II and the war in Vietnam.
“Was anyone held responsible for those crimes? What tribunal condemned the sea of blood spilled by the U.S. there?”
Responding to the U.S.-backed calls for an international tribunal to prosecute the perceived war crimes by Russia in Ukraine, Medvedev rejected it as an attempt by the U.S. “to judge others while staying immune from any trial.”
“It won't work with Russia, they know it well,” Medvedev concluded. “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way."
"The U.S. and its useless stooges should remember the words of the Bible: Do not judge and you will not be judged ... so that the great day of His wrath doesn't come to their home one day,” Medvedev said, referring to the Apocalypse.
He noted that the “idea to punish a country with the largest nuclear potential is absurd and potentially creates the threat to mankind's existence.”
The warning follows a series of tough statements from Putin and his officials that pointed at the Russian nuclear arsenals to warn the West against interfering with Moscow's action in Ukraine.
Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012 when Putin shifted into the prime minister’s post due to term limits, was widely seen by the West as more liberal compared with his mentor. In recent months, however, he has remarks that have sounded much tougher than those issued by the most hawkish Kremlin officials.
In another blustery warning to the U.S., Vyacheslav Volodin, a longtime Putin aide who serves as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, warned Wednesday that Washington should remember that Alaska was part of Russia when it freezes Russian assets. Russia colonized Alaska and established several settlements there until the U.S. purchased it from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million.
“When they attempt to appropriate our assets abroad, they should be aware that we also have something to claim back,” Volodin said during a meeting with lawmakers.


Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

Updated 06 July 2022

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

  • The new regulation applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency

BERLIN: Tens of thousands of migrants, who have been living in Germany for years without long-lasting permission to remain in the country, will be eligible for permanent residency after the government approved a new migration bill Wednesday.
The new regulation, endorsed by the Cabinet, applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years by Jan. 1, 2022.
Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency in Germany.
They must earn enough money to make an independent living in the country, speak German and prove that they are “well integrated” into society.
Those under the age of 27 can already apply for a path to permanent residency in Germany after having lived in the country for three years.
“We want people who are well integrated to have good opportunities in our country," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters. “In this way, we also put an end to bureaucracy and uncertainty for people who have already become part of our society.”
The new migration regulation will also make it easier for asylum-seekers to learn German — so far only those with a realistic chance of receiving asylum in the country were eligible for language classes — with all asylum applicants getting the chance to enroll in classes.
For skilled laborers, such as information technology specialists and others that hold professions that are desperately needed in Germany, the new regulation will allow that they can move to Germany together with their families right away, which wasn’t possible before. Family members don't need to have any language skills before moving to the country.
“We need to attract skilled workers more quickly. We urgently need them in many sectors,” Faeser said. “We want skilled workers to come to Germany very quickly and gain a foothold here.”
The bill will also make it easier to deport criminals, includes extending detention pending deportation for certain offenders from three months to a maximum of six months. The extension is intended to give authorities more time to prepare for deportation, such as clarifying identity, obtaining missing papers and organizing a seat on an airplane, German news agency dpa reported.
“In the future, it will be easier to revoke the right of residence of criminals,” Faeser said. "For offenders, we will make it easier to order detention pending deportation, thus preventing offenders who are obliged to leave the country from going into hiding before being deported.”

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In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

Updated 06 July 2022

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

  • The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes
  • Since then police had been carrying out "a full search" of the area around Jaca

MADRID: Spanish police were hunting the central Pyrenees on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing two teachers in a French village across the border, a spokeswoman said.
The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes, where they both worked, with the suspected gunman fleeing on a motorcycle, a source close to the French inquiry told AFP.
His motorcycle was found abandoned on the Spanish side of the border in the northeastern Aragon region, prompting Spanish police to pick up the search on Tuesday, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Since then police had been carrying out “a full search” of the area around Jaca, a town that lies about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tarbes, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
The search continued through the night and “is ongoing,” she said, without giving further details.
Neither French nor Spanish police gave any details about the suspect’s identity.
The teachers were shot dead in Pouyastruc village on Monday, prosecutors said.
The first victim, a 32-year-old woman, was found lying in the street by neighbors, while other, a man of 55, was found dead in his home, just meters away, the prosecutor said.
The suspect, who is in his 30s, was the woman’s former partner, a source close to the inquiry said.
They had two children together and were in the process of separating, suggesting the murders may have been a crime of passion.
The woman, identified as Aurelie Pardon, taught French at the school in Tarbes while the man, Gabriel Fourmigue, was a sports teacher at the same establishment who was known for representing France in bobsleigh at international level in the early 1990s.