G20 talks overshadowed by Ukraine war as host Indonesia seeks consensus

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani called for G20 members to talk less about politics and ‘build bridges between each other’ to deliver more technical decisions and concrete action. (AP)
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Updated 15 July 2022

G20 talks overshadowed by Ukraine war as host Indonesia seeks consensus

  • Some Western ministers blasted Russian officials attending the G20 talks
  • Host Indonesia tries to find common ground in a group frayed by the Ukraine war

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: G20 finance leaders meeting in Bali must make progress tackling the global economic threats sparked by Russia’s war in Ukraine or the humanitarian consequences would be catastrophic, host Indonesia said on Friday.
Some Western ministers blasted Russian officials attending the talks, with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen saying Russia’s “brutal and unjust war” was solely responsible for the economic crisis the world now faced.
Finance leaders from the Group of 20 major economies are meeting on the resort island, as host Indonesia tries to find common ground in a group frayed by the Ukraine war and rising economic pressures from soaring inflation.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation,” has overshadowed recent G20 meetings, including last week’s gathering of foreign ministers.
Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said the world had high hopes the group could find a solution to the threat of war, rising commodity prices and the spillover effects on the ability of low-income countries to repay debt.
“We are acutely aware that the cost of our failure to work together is more than we can afford. The humanitarian consequences for the world, and especially for many low income countries would be catastrophic,” she said.
G20 members include Western countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia and accuse it of war crimes in Ukraine — which Moscow denies — as well as nations like China, India and South Africa, which have been more muted in their responses.
Sri Mulyani called for G20 members to talk less about politics and “build bridges between each other” to deliver more technical decisions and concrete action.
Yellen said Russian finance officials at the meeting shared responsibility for the “horrific consequences” of the war.
“By starting this war, Russia is solely responsible for negative spillovers to the global economy, particularly higher commodity prices,” Yellen said.
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Timur Maksimov was attending the meetings in Bali, while Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was participating virtually at the time, a source familiar with the matter said.
Maksimov addressed the gathering and there was no walk out by other leaders, the source said.
Western countries have repeatedly said there cannot be “business as usual” at the G20 meetings due to Russia’s presence.
Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Russian officials that she held them personally responsible for “war crimes” committed during Russia’s war, a Western official told Reuters.
Freeland, whose maternal grandparents were born in Ukraine, told the opening G20 session that the war was the “single biggest threat to the global economy right now,” the official said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov walked out of one session of a G20 meeting with his counterparts in Bali last week, following what he called “frenzied criticism” of his country over the war.
That meeting ended without a communique nor any announcements of agreements.
Yellen said one of her key objectives was to push G20 creditors, including China, to finalize debt relief for countries in debt distress.


Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

Updated 7 sec ago

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

KABUL: The Taliban say a blast went off Wednesday in a government ministry mosque in Kabul as officials and visitors were praying.
The Wednesday afternoon blast was inside the mosque of the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for security and law enforcement in Afghanistan.

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Updated 05 October 2022

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

  • Truss: Conservatives must unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain

BIRMINGHAM: British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her fractious party to stick together and help transform the economy and the country, fighting to restore her dwindling authority after a chaotic first month in office.
Addressing Conservative lawmakers and members at an annual conference overshadowed by internal bickering and confusion over policy, Truss said the party needed to unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain.
So far, however, her misfiring attempt to cut $51 billion (£45 billion) of taxes and hike government borrowing has sent turmoil through markets and her party, with opinion polls pointing to electoral collapse rather than a honeymoon period for the new leader.
“We gather at a vital time for the United Kingdom. These are stormy days,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“In these tough times, we need to step up. I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and to put us on a stronger footing.”
As she started to speak, two protesters held up a sign asking “Who voted for this?” before they were escorted away by security personnel as the crowd chanted “out, out, out.”
Truss, elected by party members and not the broader electorate, was addressing the party faithful after she was forced to reverse plans to scrap the top rate of tax. She acknowledged that change brings “disruption.”
That U-turn has emboldened sections of her party who are now likely to resist spending cuts as the government seeks ways to fund the overall fiscal program.
That risks not only the dilution of her “radical” agenda but also raising the prospect of an early election.
Having entered the conference hall to a standing ovation and the sound of M People’s “Moving On UP,” Truss told party members and lawmakers that she wanted to build a “new Britain for the new era.”
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie. Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice,” she said in the central English city of Birmingham.
“That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle.”
The conference, once expected to be her crowning glory after being appointed prime minister on Sept. 6, has turned into a personal nightmare, and a battle for the country’s political future.
As the debate moved on from tax cuts to how the government would fund them, lawmakers and ministers openly clashed, in stark contrast to the sense of discipline on display at the opposition Labour Party conference last week.
Some lawmakers fear Truss will break a commitment to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, something they argue would be inappropriate at a time when millions of families are struggling with the cost of soaring prices.
Ministers say they are yet to take a decision and are obliged to look at economic data later this month.
While markets have largely stabilized after the Bank of England stepped in to shore up the bond market — albeit after the cost of borrowing surged — opinion polls now point to an electoral collapse for the Conservatives.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said before the speech that Labour now held an average lead of 25 percentage points and the Conservatives needed to accept they were “in deep, deep electoral trouble.”

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Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Updated 05 October 2022

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

  • Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts

MOSCOW: Moscow said Wednesday it should be part of the probe into leaks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, after Sweden blocked off the area around the pipelines pending an investigation.
“There should really be an investigation. Naturally, with the participation of Russia,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, as quoted by Russian news agencies.
Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, raising political tensions already sky high since the Kremlin sent troop to Ukraine in February.
On Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the issue.
Vershinin told the assembly that “the general opinion was that this was sabotage and that it should be investigated” but that “no decision had been made” on an international probe.
Last Wednesday, Russia launched an “international terrorism” investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a probe “required the cooperation of several countries.”
He denounced an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia.
On Monday, Sweden blocked off the area around the pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea while the suspected sabotage was being investigated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts.
Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Wednesday that “it is clear that the United States is the beneficiary, primarily economic” of the leaks.
Both Moscow and Washington have denied involvement.


Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

Updated 05 October 2022

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

  • 20-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail is accused of making a threat to kill the late 96-year-old monarch

LONDON: A man accused of making a threat to kill the late Queen Elizabeth after being arrested at her Windsor Castle home on Christmas Day last year will go on trial next year, London’s Old Bailey Court heard on Wednesday.
Jaswant Singh Chail, 20, who has been charged under Britain’s Treason Act, is accused of making a threat to kill the 96-year-old monarch, possessing a loaded crossbow with intent to use it to injure the queen, and possession of an offensive weapon.
Elizabeth, who died last month, was at the castle on the day of the intrusion with her son and now King Charles and other close family members
Chail, who appeared at Wednesday’s hearing via videolink wearing a black hoodie, spoke only to confirm his name and his date of birth.
He was told the trial date was set to March 20 next and would last two to three weeks.
He did not enter a plea, the case was adjourned for further evidence to be obtained and Chail was detained in custody. The next hearing will take place at a date yet to be confirmed in December.


Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi allowed to leave Iran — State Department

Updated 05 October 2022

Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi allowed to leave Iran — State Department

  • Baquer Namazi was detained in February 2016 when he went to Iran to press for the release of his son Siamak
  • UN said last week that the pair had been allowed to leave Iran, after an appeal from its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

WASHINGTON: Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi has been allowed to leave Iran and his son has been granted furlough from prison, the State Department said Wednesday, confirming their release.

Namazi, a former UNICEF official, was detained in February 2016 when the 85-year-old went to Iran to press for the release of his son Siamak, who had been arrested in October of the previous year.

The United States has been pressing for the release of these two men and two other Americans amid efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major Western powers.

“Wrongfully detained US citizen Baquer Namazi has been permitted to depart Iran, and his son Siamak, also wrongfully detained, has been granted furlough from prison,” a State Department spokesperson told AFP.

It added that the older Namazi “was unjustly detained in Iran and then not permitted to leave the county after serving his sentence, despite his repeated requirement for urgent medical attention.”

“We understand that the lifting of the travel ban and his son’s furlough were related to his medical requirement.”

The United Nations said last week that the pair had been allowed to leave Iran, after an appeal from its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Both were convicted of espionage in October 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Baquer Namazi was released on medical leave in 2018 and had been serving his sentence under house arrest.

At least two other American citizens are currently held in Iran.

Businessman Emad Sharqi was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for espionage, and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who is also a British national, was arrested in 2018 and released on bail in July.

A drive to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal resumed in late November last year, after talks were suspended in June as Iran elected ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The 2015 deal — agreed by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 under president Donald Trump and reimposed biting economic sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.

On Sunday, the United States rejected Iranian reports that Tehran’s release of US citizens would lead to the unfreezing of Iranian funds abroad.

“With the finalization of negotiations between Iran and the United States to release the prisoners of both countries, $7 billion of Iran’s blocked resources will be released,” the state news agency IRNA said.

But the State Department dismissed any such link as “categorically false.”

Billions of dollars in Iranian funds have been frozen in a number of countries — notably China, South Korea and Japan — since the US reimposed sanctions.