Russia blames US, EU for escalating tensions in Kosovo

In this image made from video, Kosovar police stand guard confronting ethnic Serbs outside municipality building in Zvecan, northern Kosovo on May 26, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 27 May 2023

Russia blames US, EU for escalating tensions in Kosovo

  • The clashes led Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday to place the army on full combat alert
  • Serbia and its traditional ally Russia do not recognise Kosovo's independence

KOSOVO: Russia on Saturday blamed Kosovo, the United States and European Union for escalating tensions in the Balkans and said it was watching with concern after violent clashes between Kosovan police and protesters opposed to ethnic Albanian mayors.
The United States and allies on Friday rebuked Kosovo, saying the use of force to install mayors in ethnic Serb areas undermined efforts to improve troubled relations with neighboring Serbia. NATO on Saturday urged Kosovo to dial down tensions.
The clashes led Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday to place the army on full combat alert and ordered units to move closer to the border.
“We decisively condemn Pristina’s provocative steps, which have brought the situation close to the hot phase and directly threaten the security of the whole Balkans region,” Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.
“The responsibility for this lies fully with the United States and the European Union,” she said, adding that rebukes of Kosovo by “Western mediators” had come too late.
Serbia and its traditional ally Russia do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, and Moscow has blocked the country’s bid to become a member of the United Nations. Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory.

Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of blocking aid to Palestinians in violation of a UN court order

Updated 10 sec ago

Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of blocking aid to Palestinians in violation of a UN court order

  • Israel killed 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations’ top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war.
In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the UN’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the tiny Palestinian enclave. It stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting in self-defense.

A donkey-pulled car passes in front of the Al-Faruq mosque, levelled by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on a foggy day on February 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety.
Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details.
The situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against the Hamas militant group.

Palestinians visit a cemetery, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 26, 2024. (REUTERS)

Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government’s resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with US demands for internal reform. The US has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood — a scenario rejected by Israel.
In its Jan. 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to Gaza.
Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said late Monday that it has filed such a report. It declined to share it or discuss its contents.
Israel said 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday. That’s less than half the amount that entered daily before the war.
Human Rights Watch, citing UN figures, noted a 30 percent drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering was 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the ruling. The daily average dropped to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed.
The rights group said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries.
“The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
The Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said almost no aid had reached areas in Gaza north of Rafah since the court’s ruling.
Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, saying large aid shipments sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.
In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped them of supplies. The UN has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the process.
Netanyahu’s office said that the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details.
The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has caused vast devastation in Gaza.
Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.
Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza’s urban landscape, displacing about 80 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people, who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety.
The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion. Starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings.
“I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children!” Naim Abouseido yelled as he waited for aid in Gaza City. “What did we do to deserve this?”
Bushra Khalidi with UK aid organization Oxfam told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling.
Aid groups say deliveries also continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that their facilities were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order.


Singapore searches for new solutions to keep taps flowing

Updated 26 February 2024

Singapore searches for new solutions to keep taps flowing

SINGAPORE: A crack of thunder booms as dozens of screens in a locked office flash between live video of cars splashing through wet roads, drains sapping the streets dry, and reservoirs collecting the precious rainwater across the tropical island of Singapore. A team of government employees intently monitors the water, which will be collected and purified for use by the country’s 6 million residents.

“We make use of real-time data to manage the storm water,” Harry Seah, deputy chief executive of operations at PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, says with a smile while standing in front of the screens. “All of this water will go to the marina and reservoirs.”

The room is part of Singapore’s cutting-edge water management system that combines technology, diplomacy and community involvement to help one of the most water-stressed nations in the world secure its water future. The country’s innovations have attracted the attention of other water-scarce nations seeking solutions.

A small city-state island located in Southeast Asia, Singapore is one of the most densely populated countries on the planet. In recent decades the island has also transformed into a modern international business hub, with a rapidly developing economy. The boom has caused the country’s water consumption to increase by over twelve times since the nation’s independence from Malaysia in 1965, and the economy is only expected to keep growing.

With no natural water resources, the country has relied on importing water from neighboring Malaysia via a series of deals allowing inexpensive purchase of water drawn from the country’s Johor River. But the deal is set to expire in 2061, with uncertainty over its renewal.

For years Malaysian politicians have targeted the water deal, sparking political tensions with Singapore. The Malaysian government has claimed the price at which Singapore purchases water — set decades ago — is too low and should be renegotiated, while the Singaporean government argues its treatment and resale of of the water to Malaysia is done at a generous price.

And climate change, which brings increased intense weather, rising seas and a rise in average temperatures, is expected to exacerbate water insecurity, according to research done by the Singaporean government.

Overworked and underpaid, Nepal’s nurses quit jobs to head abroad

Updated 26 February 2024

Overworked and underpaid, Nepal’s nurses quit jobs to head abroad

  • UK migration program highlights nursing shortages

KATHMANDU: For Nepali nurse Anshu, being picked for a job program in Britain was long overdue recognition of her years of study and work — and a chance to boost her earnings.

“I finally feel my work has been valued,” said the 28-year-old, who asked to be identified only by her first name. She hopes her current monthly salary of 26,000 rupees ($196) at a private hospital in Nepal will rise to more than 10-times that in Britain.

But as she and several dozen other nurses prepare to leave, the bilateral government pilot under which they were recruited has fueled concerns about an acute shortage of nurses and other medical professionals in the South Asian country.

Though only 43 nurses were accepted for the pilot phase, an official at the country’s Department of Foreign Employment told Context a second phase was planned and that Britain eventually wanted to recruit 10,000 Nepali nurses.

While that would help Britain plug labor gaps in the National Health Service, it could exacerbate Nepal’s shortages, nursing officials said.

“The situation is already worrying,” said Hira Kumari Niraula, director of Nepal’s Nursing and Social Security Division, a government body involved in the provision of public health services.

“Recently we started community health nursing and school nurse programs to make nursing service available in needy communities. But the challenge is in many places, we are not able to find nurses who are willing to work,” Niraula added.

Nepal currently has less than half of the 45,000 nurses that it needs working in the country’s hospital, rural clinics and other healthcare facilities, according to the NSSD.

It is among 55 countries included in a World Health Organization red list of nations facing a severe shortage of healthcare workers.

From Zimbabwe to the Philippines, concern is growing about the loss of qualified medical staff attracted by better salaries to take up health and care jobs in countries such as Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States.

In Nepal, more than one-third of the 115,900 nurses registered with the Nepal Nursing Council have sought documents to practice overseas.

About half of Nepal’s migrant nurses went to the United States, followed by Australia and Dubai. Just over 500 have already migrated to Britain.

But the causes of the country’s medical staffing shortfall go beyond migration, said Roshan Pokharel, secretary of the Ministry of Health and Population.

“We are very much aware that a large number of health workers are migrating. But that’s not their problem. It’s our problem that we are not able to provide permanent, long-term, and stable jobs to our health workers,” Pokharel said.

Tired of demanding working conditions and low pay, Grishma Basnet, 25, who works in the intensive care unit at a private hospital in the capital, Kathmandu, has applied to work in the United States and is awaiting news on where she will go.

“I have to look after three patients in the ICU, whereas the global standard is one nurse should only look after one patient in the ICU. Isn’t this exploitation?” said Basnet, who said she earned 15,000 rupees per month at present.

“Why should I stay in this country? There is no future here,” she said.

Survivors and families of 94 migrants who died in a shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later

Updated 26 February 2024

Survivors and families of 94 migrants who died in a shipwreck off Italy call for truth a year later

  • On Feb. 26 last year, a wooden boat carrying about 200 migrants sank a few meters off the coast of southern Calabria

CROTONE, Italy: Survivors and family members of victims of a tragic shipwreck a year ago that killed 94 migrants, including 35 minors, just a few meters off Italy’s southern coast, returned for three days of commemorations ending Monday, calling for truth and justice.

A torchlight vigil on the beach where the ship was wrecked, a photo exhibition and a protest march were among events organized by a group of activists named Network Feb. 26 — after the date of the tragedy — around the town of Crotone. Most of the dead came from countries in the Middle East or South Asia.

“One year after the carnage, their right to the truth, to justice and to be reunited with their families has not been guaranteed yet,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

On Feb. 26 last year, a wooden boat departed from Turkiye carrying about 200 migrants and sank just a few meters (yards) off the coast of southern Calabria while trying to land on the seaside resort beach of Steccato di Cutro.

Network Feb. 26 includes over 400 associations that have repeatedly asked the Italian government to seek the truth about one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

The group has denounced repeated policy failures and alleged violations of human rights by Italian and EU authorities, seen as the main cause behind the long string of deaths of migrants who face risky trips to reach European coasts in their search for a better life.

Activists have also complained that some of the relatives and survivors were denied the right to return to Crotone for the anniversary of the shipwreck, due to difficulties in obtaining proper documents.

“When we met (Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni ) in Rome after the tragedy, (she) promised that her staff would (work) to reunite us and our families, but that has never happened,” said Haroon Mohammadi, 24, a survivor from Herat, Afghanistan, who lost some of his friends in the shipwreck.

Mohammadi now lives in Hamburg, Germany, where he has obtained a one-year residence permit, and hopes to continue to study economics at a university there.

“It’s very difficult for me to be back here, but I came to honor friends and relatives we’ve lost. We became like a family following that day,” he said.

Many of the dead and survivors had fled Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Syria, hoping to join family members in Italy and other Western European countries.

After the shipwreck, the right-wing government of Meloni approved a decree establishing a new crime — people smuggling that causes the death of migrants — punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and pledged to further toughen its battle against illegal immigration.

On Sunday, hundreds of people, including a group of about 50 survivors and relatives of the victims, marched in Crotone despite heavy rain with a banner asking to “stop deaths at sea.” Demonstrators also stopped to pay homage in front of PalaMilone, a sports complex that hosted the victims’ caskets.

On Saturday, Crotone’s Pitagora Museum inaugurated a photo exhibit titled “Dreams Cross the Sea,” featuring 94 photographs, one for each of the victims.

In the early hours of Feb. 26, the boat named Summer Love sank just a few meters (yards) from the coast of the southern Calabria region, while trying to land on the nearby beach. Authorities say the shipwreck resulted in the deaths of at least 94 of the 200 on board. Eighty passengers survived and about 10 were considered missing. Dozens of young children were onboard and almost none survived.

The shocking accident raised several questions over how EU border agency Frontex and the Italian coast guard responded to it.

Six days after the tragedy, Meloni told journalists that “no emergency communication from Frontex reached Italian authorities,” who she said were not warned that the vessel was in danger of sinking.

However, a Frontex incident report later indicated that Italian authorities told the EU agency at the time of the sighting that the case was not considered an emergency.

Uzbekistan sentences 21 over Indian-made cough syrup deaths

Updated 26 February 2024

Uzbekistan sentences 21 over Indian-made cough syrup deaths

  • At least 86 children were poisoned in the Central Asian country between 2022 and 2023, of whom 68 died
  • India subsequently canceled the production license for Marion Biotech, which manufactured the cough syrups

TASHKENT: Uzbekistan on Monday handed out sentences to 21 people linked to the deaths of 68 children who consumed a contaminated cough syrup produced in India.

At least 86 children were poisoned in the Central Asian country between 2022 and 2023, of whom 68 died.

Indian citizen Singh Raghvendra Pratap, the director of a company that imported the Doc-1 Max syrup into Uzbekistan, was given the harshest sentence of 20 years.

He was found guilty of corruption, tax fraud and forgery, according to the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan.

Samples of the syrup revealed it was contaminated with either diethylene glycol or ethylene glycol, which are toxic substances used as industrial solvents that can be fatal if ingested even in small amounts, the World Health Organization said in January 2023.

India subsequently canceled the production license for Marion Biotech, which manufactured the cough syrups.

During the same period, at least 70 children died in Gambia from acute kidney failure after consuming another syrup imported from India.

In Indonesia, another syrup in similar containers caused the deaths of more than 200 children between 2022 and 2023.