Britain’s rail network faces fresh strike disruption in pay dispute

People queue to check in for the Eurostar rail service at St Pancras International Station in London, Britain, July 25, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 July 2022

Britain’s rail network faces fresh strike disruption in pay dispute

  • Inflation in Britain is running at a 40-year high and is expected to reach double digits later this year

LONDON: Britain’s rail network faces major disruption again on Wednesday as rail workers and station staff walk out in a row over pay and conditions, the latest in a catalogue of industrial unrest as wages fail to keep pace with soaring inflation.
The 24-hour strike by more than 40,000 members of the RMT and TSSA unions will see around half Britain’s rail network closed, with train companies operating a much reduced timetable and some parts of the country having no rail service at all.
Network Rail said passengers, including commuters, families heading off on summer holidays, and sports fans on their way to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham which begins on Thursday, should only travel if necessary.
Strike action last month brought Britain’s rail network close to a standstill for three days.
“Our members are more determined than ever to secure a decent pay rise, job security and good working conditions,” RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said in a statement.
“Network Rail have not made any improvement on their previous pay offer and the train companies have not offered us anything new.”
Earlier this month, the RMT said Network Rail, the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the rail network in Britain, made an offer of 4 percent, followed by a possible 4 percent the following year dependent on staff accepting changes to their contracts.
Inflation in Britain is running at a 40-year high and is expected to reach double digits later this year.
The government last week changed the law to make it easier for businesses to use temporary staff to minimize the impact of strike action.
The frontrunner in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as prime minister, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, has pledged to go further, bringing in a new law guaranteeing a minimum level of service on “vital national infrastructure” and also raising the minimum threshold for strike votes.
Ferry services between Southampton in southern England and Cowes in the Isle of Wight will also be disrupted on Wednesday, as 120 staff begin a 24-hour strike in a dispute over pay, with more than 10 further walkouts planned throughout August.
On Saturday, train drivers at eight British rail companies will also strike in a dispute over pay.


Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

Updated 28 November 2022

Somali troops overpower militants to end hotel siege

  • Somalian security forces, who are trained by the US and Turkey, were under orders to “eliminate” the militants
  • Mohamed Sayid Hassan Elmi, who lives in Birmingham, was named locally as one of the victims at Villa Rose hotel

MOGADISHU: Somali security forces stormed a hotel in the capital on Monday to end a near day-long siege by Al-Shabab militants who killed nine people at the building near the president’s residence in the capital, police said.

A Briton is reported to have died in the siege, where Somalian security forces, who are trained by the US and Turkey, were under orders to “eliminate” the militants who stormed it yesterday.

Mohamed Sayid Hassan Elmi, who lives in Birmingham, was named locally as one of the victims at Villa Rose Hotel.

Gunfire crackled from inside the hotel as the special forces fought the militants more than 12 hours after the Islamist group stormed the building in the center of Mogadishu.
A police spokesperson said 60 civilians had been rescued, while a government minister said he and others had kicked down a door to escape after being caught in the hotel following evening prayers when a suicide bomber struck and the gunbattle broke out.
The assault underscores the continuing ability of the Al-Qaeda-allied militants to stage deadly attacks with sometimes high casualties inside the city even as President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government presses an offensive against them.
“The operation at the hotel Rose has been concluded,” Sadik Aden Ali, the police spokesperson said, referring to the Villa Rose hotel where the siege occurred.
Ali said the militants had killed eight civilians and later added that one soldier had also died in the siege. Five soldiers were injured, he said.
Six Al-Shabab fighters had been involved in the attack, with one blowing himself up and five shot dead by the security forces, Ali said.
Al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab, which controls swathes of the country, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement that it was targeting the nearby presidential palace.
Al Shabab, which is seeking to topple the government and establish its own rule based on an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, frequently stages attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere.
Government officials in Mogadishu often use the Villa Rose hotel for meetings. Some officials also live there.
Somalia’s environment minister Adam Aw Hirsi said the assault on the hotel, where he lives, began with a deafening explosion by a suicide bomber who was followed by militants on foot to breach the perimeter of the heavily guarded hotel.
“I had exited the hotel mosque where we performed the evening prayer in congregation when the explosion hit. The roof of the VIP room I was in flew and glasses shattered far and wide,” Hirsi told Reuters, describing the scene of the attack.
“Then bullets rained in all directions,” he said, adding that he, a friend and another minister fled the building through a back exit. “Many people followed us to the exit, we broke the door with collective kicks and we exited to safety,” he said.
Asked what the government would do next, he said there was no turning back and the government would “not let up the fight.”
Somalia government forces, supported by clan militias and, at times, African Union troops and US air strikes, have made a number of battlefield gains in an offensive against Al-Shabab over the last three months.
The US military has conducted several air strikes against the Al-Shabab this year, but it was not clear whether it was involved in Monday’s battle.
Despite being pushed back, Al-Shabab has still been able to stage large attacks on both civilian and military targets.
In October two car bombs exploded at Somalia’s education ministry next to a busy market intersection, killing at least 120 people. It was the deadliest attack since a truck bomb exploded at the same intersection in October 2017, killing more than 500 people.
Somalia’s parliament said it had postponed a scheduled session for both of its houses on Monday as the siege unfolded.


Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

Updated 28 November 2022

Saudi-Indonesia kinship in spotlight as Kingdom pledges support to restore Jakarta Islamic Center

  • Major fire at JIC in late October destroyed dome of grand mosque
  • Islamic centers with ‘significant role’ in promoting tolerant Islam

JAKARTA: Indonesian officials have thanked Saudi Arabia after its pledge to finance the restoration of the Jakarta Islamic Center.

The announcement, which was made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier this month, has reaffirmed the close and important relations between the two countries.

A major fire broke out at JIC in late October, destroying the iconic dome of a grand mosque located at the complex.

The crown prince announced the Kingdom’s financing of the center’s restoration earlier this month, and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the planned restoration “confirms his keenness and interest in Islamic centers in all brotherly and friendly countries.” 

Saudi’s financial help is expected to help speed up the restoration process which, according to the center’s management, could have taken as long as five years without assistance.

Paimun Abdul Karim, spokesman of JIC’s management, told Arab News: “We are very grateful for such help from the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We are filled with thanks because it means the restoration will be faster.

“His action shows the solidarity between Muslim countries. Saudi Arabia’s plan to help us shows the good relations between the Saudi and Indonesian governments, and it will bring great benefits for us.

“This is another way to open up JIC’s diplomacy and connection to Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.”

JIC’s work has centered on the promotion of tolerant and moderate Islam, with the complex housing not only a grand mosque, but also a research studies center and a conference hall which hosts various programs and gatherings.

Eko Hartono, Indonesia’s consul general in Jeddah, told Arab News that the support offered by Saudi Arabia “reaffirmed the closeness of friendly relations” between Jakarta and Riyadh.

He added: “Saudi’s assistance also reaffirms the country’s commitment to help the Muslim world and glory of Islam in every part of the world, including Indonesia.”

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, said Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has always had a very close relationship with the Kingdom.

He told Arab News: “Islam in Indonesia certainly has its own unique characteristics that have captured the world’s attention, and this has led to campaigns for religious tolerance and moderation, which are also important for Saudi Arabia.

“This is why Saudi Arabia’s participation in supporting programs related to tolerance and moderation, including at the Jakarta Islamic Center, has become very important.”


WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

Updated 28 November 2022

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

  • Bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name
  • Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year

GENEVA: Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox in English, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Updated 28 November 2022

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

  • Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex
  • UN nuclear watchdog wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station

KYIV: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine remains under Russian control, authorities installed by Moscow in the nearby city of Enerhodar said on Monday, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the (plant). This information is not true,” the Russia-installed administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast Zaporizhzhia plant which they seized in March, soon after invading Ukraine.
Ukraine, which suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chornobyl in 1986, and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex.
Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency), wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station, which is Europe’s largest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said late on Sunday that he had no doubt that Russian forces would leave the plant, where Ukrainian staff are still operating. Many of these workers live in Enerhodar.
“The defense line is starting to retreat to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak told Ukrainian television, adding that Ukraine would “take it (the plant) back.”
Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces late last week destroyed six units of Russian military equipment and that about 30 Russian servicemen were wounded in fighting near Enerhodar.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine where his forces say they have partial control. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.


US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.