Moldova, fearing Russia, wants to join EU ‘as soon as possible’

For President Maia Sandu, EU membership is the only guarantee against becoming Russia’s next target. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 May 2023

Moldova, fearing Russia, wants to join EU ‘as soon as possible’

  • Moldova will host the gathering of the European Political Community
  • President Maia Sandu: ‘We need a geopolitical opportunity to be able to solve the conflict’

REYKJAVIK: Moldova wants EU membership “as soon as possible” as protection against a threat from Russia and hopes for a decision to start negotiations “in the next months,” President Maia Sandu said in an interview.

The small nation of 2.6 million people, nestled between EU neighbor Romania and war-ravaged Ukraine, will on June 1 hold its first major summit of wider Europe.

That gathering of the European Political Community – a forum created last year that brings together leaders of all 27 EU countries with 20 neighbors of the bloc – will be an occasion for Moldova to burnish its candidate credentials.

For Sandu, EU membership is the only guarantee against becoming Russia’s next target.

Her country, a former Soviet republic, already has a breakaway region, Transnistria, where Russia has stationed a small number of troops.

“Of course, nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and we do believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU,” she said.

“We do believe that Russia will continue to be a big source of instability for the years to come and we need to protect ourselves,” added Sandu, on the sidelines of a Council of Europe of summit in Iceland that wrapped up on Tuesday.

The 50-year-old leader, in office since 2020, in February accused Russia of fomenting a coup to try to seize power in Moldova.

She has called for Moldovans – who polls show are overwhelmingly behind joining the European Union – to hold a pro-EU rally on Sunday.

“The Ukraine war made things black and white. So it’s very clear what the free world means, and what the authoritarian world means, for all of us,” she said.

Russia’s war next door suddenly firmed up the prospect of EU membership for Ukraine and Moldova.

Both countries applied last year to join the bloc and in June 2022 became candidate countries, along with Georgia.

“We do believe that this is a realistic project for us and we are looking forward to see this happening as soon as possible,” Sandu said.

Membership, however, could take a decade or more to attain, given the long list of requirements candidate countries must meet to be able to sit alongside the other nations in the European single market.

Unlike Ukraine, Moldova is small enough to be able to be integrated into the European Union relatively easily.

But it faces several challenges to bring its democratic standards up to EU levels, notably in terms of fighting corruption.

Its fragile economy, energy security and the issue of Transnistria, with its 30,000 pro-Russian population, all need to be addressed as well.

Transnistria, in the east of Moldova, is not recognized by the international community. The zone sprang up in 1990 after a brief civil war that erupted when the Soviet Union collapsed, and ended up from 1992 as a frozen conflict.

“We are struggling to have peaceful resolution of the conflict, and we’ve been calling on Russia to withdraw its illegally stationed troops,” Sandu said.

“We need a geopolitical opportunity to be able to solve the conflict.”

The president, who has started the process of taking her country out of the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, added: “What kind of relations can you have with a regime which kills innocent people in the neighboring country?”

Moldova was ready to cooperate only with “democratic countries, with countries which respect the territorial integrity of other countries, which respect the international rules based system,” she said.

Russia brandished Ukraine’s desire to one day join NATO as one of its justifications for invading its neighbor.

For Moldova, that is not a door on which it is about to knock.

Moldova was not rethinking its stance of being a neutral country for now, Sandu said.

“But there are discussions in our society about whether neutrality protects us and if at some point people will change their view, of course we will reconsider this decision. In the meantime, we are trying to consolidate the defense sector of Moldova and we are counting on our friends.”

For “friends” Moldova is leaning heavily on the other participating countries of the European Political Community.

The June 1 summit in Chisnau, Sandu said, “is important because we see that we are not alone, that we have many friends”.

Malaysia marks coronation of new king

Updated 6 sec ago

Malaysia marks coronation of new king

  • Billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar pledges to govern fairly during the 5-year term

KUALA LUMPUR: Traditional pomp and cannon fire on Saturday marked the coronation of Malaysia’s billionaire King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, who pledged to govern fairly during the five-year term he will serve under a unique rotating monarchy system.
Sultan Ibrahim, 65, was sworn in on Jan. 31. Saturday’s coronation at the national palace formalized his role as Malaysia’s 17th king in a ceremony steeped in Malay culture and pageantry.
Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms under the country’s rotating monarchy, which began when Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia has 13 states but only nine have royal families, some which trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.
Donned in black and gold traditional ceremonial outfit and headgear, Sultan Ibrahim and Queen Raja Zarith Sofiah were greeted by military salute before they proceeded to the throne. The heads of the other royal families, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Bahrain King Hamad Isa al Khalifa were seated on a stage beside the throne.
At the start of the proceedings, a copy of the Qur’an was presented to the Sultan who kissed it. The monarch received a gold dagger, a symbol of power. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim then pledged his government’s loyalty and said the royal institution was a pillar of strength for the nation. He then proclaimed Sultan Ibrahim as Malaysia’s new king.


Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

US President Joe Biden gestures as he speaks at a press conference during NATO’s 75th anniversary summit, in Washington.Reuters
Updated 20 July 2024

Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats is tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

  • Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON DC: Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and insistence that he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden hasn’t softened the push for him to exit the 2024 race.
Biden has weighty options before him this weekend that could set the direction of the country and his party as the nation heads toward the November election with an energized GOP after the Republican nominating convention to send Trump back to the White House.
Rep. Mark Takano, the top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, on Saturday added his name to the list of nearly three dozen Democrats in Congress who say it’s time for Biden to leave the race. The Californian called on Biden to “pass the torch,” to Vice President Kamala Harris.
Harris, meanwhile, earned backing from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who told MSNBC on Saturday that the vice president is “ready to step up” to unite the party and take on Trump should Biden decide to bow out. Warren said knowing that “gives me a lot of hope right now.”
More lawmakers are expected to speak out in the days ahead. Donors have raised concerns. And an organization calling on Biden to “Pass the Torch” planned a rally Saturday outside the White House. Biden has insisted that he’s all in.
“There is no joy in the recognition he should not be our nominee in November,” said Democratic Rep. Morgan McGarvey of Kentucky, one of the Democrats urging Biden’s exit from the race. “But the stakes of this election are too high and we can’t risk the focus of the campaign being anything other than Donald Trump.”
The standoff has become increasingly untenable for the party and its leaders, a month from the Democratic National Convention that should be a unifying moment to nominate their incumbent president to confront Trump. Instead the party is at a crossroads unseen in generations.
It’s creating a stark juxtaposition with Republicans who, after years of bitter and chaotic infighting over Trump, have essentially embraced the former president’s far-right takeover of the GOP, despite his criminal conviction in a hush money case and pending federal criminal indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
From his beach home in Delaware, Biden, 81, is isolating with a COVID infection, but also politically with a small circle of family and close advisers. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the president still had a dry cough and hoarseness, but his COVID symptoms had improved.
The president’s team insisted he’s ready to return to the campaign this coming week to counter what he called a “dark vision” laid out by Trump.
“Together, as a party and as a country, we can and will defeat him at the ballot box,” Biden said in a statement Friday. “The stakes are high, and the choice is clear. Together, we will win.”
But outside the Rehoboth enclave the debate and passions are intensifying.
A donor call with some 300 people Friday was described as a waste of time by one participant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private conversation. While the person was complimentary of Harris, who spoke for five minutes, the rest of the time was filled by others who brushed aside donor concerns, according to the participant.
Not only are Democrats split over what Biden should do, they also lack consensus about how to choose a successor.
Democrats who are agitating for Biden to leave do not appear to have coalesced around a plan for what would happen next, for now. Very few of the lawmakers have mentioned Harris in their statements, and some have said they favor an open nominating process that would throw the party’s endorsement behind a new candidate.
Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Peter Welch of Vermont have both called for Biden to exit the race and said they would favor an open nominating process at the convention.
“Having it be open would strengthen whoever is the ultimate nominee,” Welch said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Other Democrats say it would be politically unthinkable to move past Harris, the nation’s first female vice president, who is Black and Southeast Asian, and logistically unworkable with a virtual nominating vote being planned for early next month, before the Democratic convention opens in Chicago on Aug. 19.
Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum, who has called on Biden to step aside, explicitly endorsed Harris as a replacement.
“To give Democrats a strong, viable path to winning the White House, I am calling upon President Biden to release his delegates and empower Vice President Harris to step forward to become the Democratic nominee for President,” McCollum said in her statement.
It’s unclear what else, if anything, the president could do to reverse course and win back lawmakers and Democratic voters, who are wary of his ability to defeat Trump and serve another term after his halting debate performance last month.
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should withdraw from the presidential race and let his party nominate a different candidate, according to a new AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, sharply undercutting his post-debate claim that “average Democrats” are still with him even if some “big names” are turning on him.
At the same time, a majority of Democrats believe Kamala Harris would do a good job in the top slot, according to a separate AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Biden, who sent a defiant letter to Democrats in Congress vowing to stay in the race, has yet to visit Capitol Hill to shore up support, an absence noticed by senators and representatives.
The president did conduct a round of virtual conversations with various caucuses in the past week — some of which ended poorly.
During a call with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, one Democrat, Rep. Mike Levin of California, told Biden he should step aside. During another with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Biden became defensive when Rep. Jared Huffman of California asked him to consider meeting with top party leaders about the path forward.
Huffman was one of four Democratic lawmakers who called Friday for Biden to step aside.
At the same time, Biden still has strong backers. He picked up support Friday from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm and has backing from leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

Updated 20 July 2024

More than 1,200 UK cyclists ride to raise awareness, funds for Gaza

  • Rides will run across London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales

LONDON: For three weeks, more than 1,200 people will be cycling in cities across the UK, calling on the newly-elected Labour government to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and to end arms sales to Israel.
The Big Ride was founded in 2015 by activists seeking to combine a passion for cycling with solidarity for Palestine.
This year’s events start on Saturday and run until Aug. 10 in London, Belfast, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and South Wales.
The grassroots organization will also be raising funds for Palestinian charities, including the Middle East Children’s Alliance, The Amos Trust, and the Gaza Sunbirds para cycling team, which continue their work in Gaza amidst the ongoing conflict.
Ellen Logan, one of the organizers of The Big Ride, said: “For years we’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people — discrimination, subjugation, and inhumanity. And now we’ve spent the last 10 months watching a live-streamed genocide. Everyone should be outraged and campaigning for an end to this violence.”
Logan added: “We use our bikes and freedoms to raise awareness and provide crucial aid for children and disabled cyclists on the ground in Gaza.”
A recent letter published in British medical journal, The Lancet, estimated the actual death toll in Gaza could be as high as 186,000.
British actress Maxine Peake, who is participating in the cycling event, said: “The Big Ride for Palestine has been raising awareness of this for nearly 10 years now. This year, more riders than ever have signed up, so please join a Big Ride near you.”

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

Updated 20 July 2024

Monsoon rains pound India financial hub

  • A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road
  • Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers, groundwater in the country

Mumbai: Monsoon rains pounded India’s financial hub of Mumbai on Saturday, causing the partial collapse of a residential building that killed at least one person, a municipal official said.
A woman died and four others were injured after sections of a four-story building came crashing down in Grant Road, an affluent suburb in the south of the city.
“The woman who died was not a resident of the building,” a spokesperson for the city’s municipal body told AFP.
The spokesperson did not confirm whether any residents of the building were missing or had been trapped under the rubble.
Images posted on social media showed rescuers clearing the rubble in the rain.
Monsoon rains lash much of India from June to September and are vital to replenishing rivers and groundwater in the country but the deluge also causes widespread destruction.
Building collapses are common during this period, with old and rickety structures buckling under days of non-stop rain.
In 2021, in the western state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, 200 people were killed by monsoon-triggered floods and landslides that also forced a quarter of a million to evacuate their homes.

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

Updated 20 July 2024

Bangladeshi military enforces ‘unprecedented’ curfew as protest deaths mount

  • Supreme Court hearing on contentious job quotas expected on Sunday
  • At least 103 people dead, including 44 killed in Dhaka on Friday alone

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi military was deployed to the streets to impose a nationwide curfew on Saturday, after more than 100 people were killed in clashes between police and students protesting government job quotas.

The curfew follows a communications blackout that has left the country of 170 million cut off from the world. Television channels were off air and most local news websites were down as the government shut internet services a day earlier.

“Army members will operate in aid to the civil administration under the guidance of district administrators and city commissioners,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal told Arab News.

In the capital, the military joined riot police and thousands of Border Guard personnel after the Dhaka Metropolitan Police banned all gatherings amid increasing numbers of casualties.

Students have been demonstrating since the beginning of July against a rule that reserves a bulk of government jobs for the descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.

At least 103 people have been killed in the past five days and thousands injured, according to a count based on reports in the local media. On Friday alone, at least 44 people were killed in Dhaka, which saw intense clashes between protesters, government supporters and security forces.

Air Commodore (Rtd) Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury, a security analyst, told Arab News that the nationwide military-backed curfew and the amount of violence across the country were “something unprecedented.”

He was referring to reports that numerous administration offices were set on fire and government vehicles vandalized on Friday. On Thursday, the headquarters of a state-owned television station was set ablaze.

“We have not seen such vandalism earlier in the country where many significant government establishments were vandalized and set on fire,” Choudhury said.

The government abolished the controversial quota system after student protests in 2018, but the High Court reinstated it in June, triggering protests.

An appeal hearing is expected at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning.

Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.

These quotas, which reserve hundreds of thousands of government jobs, hit young people directly.

The country’s unemployment rate is the highest among people aged between 15 and 29 — more than a fourth of Bangladesh’s population — who constitute 83 percent of the total unemployed.