UN, AU urge calm after deadly clashes in Senegal

Supporters of Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko run away as they clash with security forces, after Sonko was sentenced to prison in Dakar on June 2, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 02 June 2023

UN, AU urge calm after deadly clashes in Senegal

  • Nine people were killed on Thursday after popular opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, was sentenced to two years in jail
  • The EU and Senegal's former colonial power France also expressed concern over the violence

DAKAR: The United Nations and African Union called for calm in Senegal Friday after an outbreak of deadly violence that prompted authorities to deploy the army.
Nine people were killed on Thursday after popular opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, was sentenced to two years in jail, which may take him out of the running in 2024 presidential elections.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the violence and “urged all those involved to (...) exercise restraint,” a spokesman said.
The African Union said its commission president, Moussa Faki Mahamat, strongly condemned the violence and urged leaders to avoid acts which “tarnish the face of Senegalese democracy, of which Africa has always been proud.”
The Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on all parties to “defend the country’s laudable reputation as a bastion of peace and stability.”
The EU and Senegal’s former colonial power France also expressed concern over the violence.
Sonko was convicted for “corrupting” a young woman, in a case which has deeply divided Senegal, usually a bastion of stability in West Africa.
After some of the worst political violence in years on Thursday, tensions remained high on Friday, with sporadic clashes reported in the capital and soldiers deployed on the streets.
Sonko, who was tried in absentia, has yet to be taken into custody for his jail term, which is likely to cause further tensions.
The streets of the capital were largely deserted, AFP journalists observed.
The government acknowledged that it had restricted access to social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in order to stop “the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages.”
There was extensive destruction on the main university campus, where prolonged clashes took place on Thursday.
Students with suitcases lined the streets outside the university, struggling to find transportation after being told to leave campus.
“We didn’t expect this, political affairs shouldn’t concern us,” said Babacar Ndiaye, a 26-year-old student.
“But there is injustice,” he added, referring to Sonko’s conviction.
Since 2021, when Sonko was initially arrested, around 30 civilians have been killed in unrest largely linked to his legal affairs.
The government and the opposition blame each other for the violence.
Sonko was initially charged with rape and issuing death threats against an employee of a beauty salon where he said he received massages.
However, the court acquitted him on these charges and convicted him for “debauching” a person under the age of 21, without clarifying the immoral acts he is alleged to have committed.
Under the electoral code, the verdict would appear to render him ineligible for next year’s election.
Sonko has maintained his innocence and claims the president is trying to frame him to keep him out of next year’s election — a charge the government denies.
The head of the PASTEF-Patriots party could be arrested “at any time,” Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall told journalists after the ruling on Thursday.
Dakar residents interviewed by AFP said they feared the possible consequences of an arrest.
“If they arrest him, we have to fear the worst,” says Yankouba Sane, a university employee.
“If there’s one person who will never go to prison in Senegal, it’s Ousmane Sonko,” said Alioune Diop, a 46-year-old shopkeeper. “If they put him on trial, they’re going to make the situation worse.”
Sonko is presumed to remain in his Dakar home, where he has been blocked in by security forces since the weekend. He alleges he is being “illegally held.”
International football star Sadio Mane, who is Senegalese, and the Khalifa General of Medina Baye, Serigne Mahi Ibrahim Niass — an eminent religious dignitary — have also called for peace.
Amnesty International urged authorities to stop “arbitrary arrests” and lift restrictions on access to social networks.
The NGO Reporters Without Borders also called on authorities to fully restore Internet access.
“Socio-political violence must not be used as a pretext to restrict the right to inform,” it said.

Fresh fighting erupts in Ethiopia’s Amhara region

Updated 11 sec ago

Fresh fighting erupts in Ethiopia’s Amhara region

KAMPALA: Fresh fighting erupted in the second-biggest town of Ethiopia’s turbulent Amhara region as militiamen clashed with the military over government plans to disarm local forces.

Fighters from a militia called Fano fought against military units on Sunday in the town of Gondar, an important tourist and commercial hub, residents said. “It was very heavy,” said one person reached by telephone who declined to give their name because of safety concerns.

Calm had mostly been restored by Monday morning, with the military back in control of the town, although sporadic gunfire could still be heard, residents said. Shops were shut and the streets were empty.

Other areas of Amhara, including the regional capital Bahir Dar and Lalibela, another important tourist town, did not see fighting, residents said Monday. Violence gripped Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-most populous state, in early August, with Fano fighters seizing control of several major towns and protesters blocking roads. The military retook control after several days.

In response to the unrest, the government blocked internet access and imposed a state of emergency. The fighting sparked fears of a new civil war following the conflict in the neighboring Tigray region, which ended with a ceasefire in November.

The violence was sparked by a plan initiated in April to disarm the region’s forces, which the government says represent a threat to Ethiopia’s constitutional order. The Amhara ethnic group says they need the forces for protection, citing attacks against their group.

The United Nations said last month the violence had killed over 180 people and the world body expressed concern over a wave of arrests of ethnic Amhara.

Local officials are being targeted for assassination across Amhara, “resulting in the temporary collapse of local state structures in many areas,” Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission said last month.

Global North must start listening to messages from Global South, former Slovenian president Danilo Turk tells Arab News at UNGA

Updated 13 min 57 sec ago

Global North must start listening to messages from Global South, former Slovenian president Danilo Turk tells Arab News at UNGA

  • West and Russia’s diplomatic stalemate over Ukraine is a major obstacle to progress, says Turk
  • The Club de Madrid president lauds Saudi Arabia’s awareness of “its growing global responsibility”

NEW YORK CITY: As the world grapples with challenges ranging from sustainable development to climate change and conflicts, the global conversation has been increasingly dominated by the evolving landscape of multilateralism, the role of emerging powers, and the imperative for cooperation on such matters as migration and human rights.

On the margins of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Danilo Turk, a former president of Slovenia and current president of Club de Madrid, an organization comprising former heads of state or government from across the globe, shared his insights with Arab News on some of the burning issues of the day.  

The UN is an old home for Turk, who was his country’s first UN ambassador, and this latest visit is in the capacity of president of Club de Madrid.

This organization, representing 126 former leaders from 73 countries, maintains deep-rooted connections with the UN, with many of its members serving as special envoys of the UN secretary-general.

According to Turk, the UN is in a state of transformation, growing larger and more diverse, involving not only member states but an array of global actors. He said a visit to the UN today reveals a complex world coming together, seeking solutions to global challenges.

One of the key priorities that Turk and Club de Madrid brings to the UNGA is a spotlight on Sustainable Development Goals, with a special emphasis on social development.

“Sustainable Development Goals are not only about the environment, if I may put it so crudely. It’s about the whole transformation of societies, new social-development models. And we have got to start discussing this very seriously,” he said.

A robust SDG political declaration adopted last week by member states emphasized the need to intensify efforts toward the Summit for the Future next year and the World Social Summit in 2025.

These gatherings, conceptualized and promoted by Club de Madrid, of which UN chief Antonio Guterres is a member, serve as vital platforms to solidify strategies and approaches to development models, “measuring social development in ways which are more comprehensive, giving appropriate space for women to play a full role in the social development process and making other priorities more clearly defined.”

Turk described a conference slated to be held in Brazil in November as a crucial step in shaping this approach. Financing these endeavors poses a challenge, which is why Turk underscored the necessity of aligning financial resources with social-development priorities.

“Public and private finance should be combined in new ways,” he said. “More capacity of private finance should be brought into the picture. But also, on the other hand, public finance must take more risks than was the case so far.”

The overarching theme of this year's UNGA has been multilateralism, a concept that has sparked debates about its viability and relevance. Some diplomatic circles at the UN repeat often that, as conflicts proliferate and inequity widens, the multilateral system has become dysfunctional, if not completely defunct, while its advocates continue to defend its relevance.

The conclusion of the BBNJ Treaty, an important addition to the international architecture on the Law of the Sea, and the inclusion of loss and damage in the COP27 agreement, which aims to provide financial assistance to poorer nations as they deal with the negative consequences that arise from the risks of climate change, are two examples of success that demonstrate that multilateralism can indeed deliver results, according to its advocates.

Turk acknowledged the “very serious changes and transformations” the global landscape is undergoing. He observed that the world is no longer unipolar. With the liberal unipolar period coming to an end, a new multipolar world is taking shape, introducing complexities in global dynamics.

He said: “The world is (no) longer under the domination of the liberal, unipolar period. This has changed. And now, a new multipolar world is emerging, and it is not yet entirely clear how the relations among new centers of power in the world will look. And those new centers, of course, they have always been there, but they haven’t had the kind of critical role that they are now assuming, in the context of BRICS, for example.”

As the relations among these new centers of power evolve, patient diplomacy remains key to avoiding crises, Turk said.

He added: “We’ve got to be (very) patient because it’s not going to happen overnight. But (we have also got to be) attentive; things can get out of hand.”

In this context, multilateral frameworks, including the UN, continue to be valuable because they offer a crucial gathering space for people worldwide, Turk said.

“If nothing else, the United Nations is a wonderful meeting place, a place where everybody comes, a place where everybody can meet, a place where clarifications can be made in a wide variety of informal, discreet ways in the United Nations building and elsewhere. And that is what the charter of the United Nations has asked the United Nations to be. And that is the function that the United Nations is performing.

“So, I am not excessively pessimistic. I am concerned, but I am not a pessimist.”

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development marked a significant milestone as the first ever fully negotiated, all-encompassing global development strategy formally embraced by both the Global South and the developed world. It was widely celebrated as the dawn of a new era in development collaboration.

Despite significant development gains globally, which have raised many millions of people out of absolute poverty, the UN says that inequality between the world’s richest and poorest countries is widening, an anomaly that was particularly spotlighted at UNGA this year, where it has become clear that the Global South and the Global North are coming to issues from diametrically opposed positions.

Reflecting on the dynamic between the developed and developing worlds, Turk said: “The problem is, as it has always been, the whole question of understanding of development.”

He added: “You know, there are inequalities between states, which are growing. There is a diminished fiscal space in much of the developing world. There is a problem of migration which has gone out of control. And none of these problems is new. All of them have been there before. What is now needed is a kind of renewed effort. The United Nations is offering (not only) a good institutional framework, but also a platform for searching for solutions.”

Referring to the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Turk said: “I am quite encouraged by the fact that initiatives are emerging, that BRICS is becoming more and more — I shouldn’t say assertive — certainly more imaginative … the group of countries together in the BRICS and so forth.

“In short, the agenda is not new at all. The configuration of power and potential of new actors is there, and it will have to be reflected in solutions.


• Danilo Turk lauded Saudi Arabia’s awareness of ‘its growing responsibility and global responsibility’ as ‘good for the world.’

• Club de Madrid is composed of 126 members from 73 countries.

“In the old days we had G77 and that kind of a very bloc-like, North-South dialogue. This is now much more diverse, much more imaginative, much more, I would say, promising. And the North has got to listen. I think that the problem is that the North is not used to listening (to) the messages that are coming from the South. The North has to start to listen.”

In this emerging global political landscape, Turk highlighted the transformative role of emerging powers, including Saudi Arabia.

He observed that the Kingdom is playing an increasingly prominent role not only in the Middle East but also on the international stage, particularly in the context of climate change.

“Saudi Arabia (is) developing a very large number of new policies and new activism at the global level. Now, this is new, and it is not easy to develop a new pattern based on the fact of multipolarity,” he said.

Elaborating on the point, Turk said Saudi Arabia had always been an important player in the Middle East context, but was now an important player in a global context, “and that's different.”

He added: “When it comes to climate, for example, now I think the countries that have benefited from the high energy prices in the past period have an opportunity to invest the proceeds in ways that actually help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and also save the planet. So, we see the responsibility of Saudi Arabia is now much larger because the power is much larger.

“It is fortunate that Saudi Arabia seems to be on the path of assuming this larger responsibility. That’s very good. Of course, I cannot speak for Saudi Arabia and I cannot speak about priorities that Saudi Arabia is developing, but clearly, the awareness of its growing responsibility and global responsibility is there. This is good for the world.”

Beyond the Gulf region, the Middle East remains fraught with complex, protracted conflicts, from Syria and Yemen to Sudan and the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Turk said finding solutions to these conflicts is a “question of commitment.” He applauded efforts such as Syria’s readmission to the Arab League, which to him signals a positive approach via diplomatic engagement, with the Arab League “now taking an active approach.”

He added: “And again, Saudi Arabia has a very important role in that regard. So have other countries, including Egypt and others. So, there are solutions that could be developed on the basis of what was done already.”

Turk also lauded initiatives to end the war in Yemen. “There have been very useful initiatives, assisted (indirectly) by China, for example, that have created a new political atmosphere,” he said.

“I hope that the countries that have influence in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia, will seize that opportunity to bring peace to Yemen.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Turk said: “Palestine is a very sad situation, really very sad. I am saying this deliberately because we should have moved toward a two-state solution much more vigorously and much earlier. I don’t think that a real solution could be ignorant of the legitimate needs for survival of Palestinian people. That has to be put really in the center.

“The international community should come together. We have seen a kind of a diversification of views regarding Palestine, which is not good. Now we have got to figure it out. A two-state solution is the only framework, and this has been known from 1948 onwards, that (it) can produce a stable, durable, just peace in the region.

“Now, how to get there? It’s not clear. It’s perhaps more difficult now than it was 20 years ago. But still, I think, realizing that — and initiatives in that direction — would be very welcome.”

Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp 

Updated 25 September 2023

Australian government faces legal action for failing to rescue women, children detained in Syrian detention camp 

  • Australia has effective control over the detention of Australians, Save the Children claims

LONDON: More than 30 Australian women and children detained in a Syrian detention camp are taking legal action against their government, arguing that it has the authority and obligation to repatriate them to Australia, The Guardian reported on Monday. 

The Australians, who are wives, widows and children of dead or jailed Daesh fighters, remain detained inside the Roj camp in northeast Syria. Most have been in the camp for more than four years and some of the children born at the location have never left. 

Many of the women claim their husbands coerced or manipulated them into traveling to Syria. None has been charged with a crime or received a warrant for arrest, The Guardian reported.

The Australians are being forcibly held by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and its military wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Save the Children Australia, which represents 12 Australian women and their 21 children, argues in federal court filings that Australia is a part of the coalition that “specifically supports the AANES to maintain the detention of persons, including women and children.”

According to the court documents, AANES has openly urged coalition countries, including Australia, to repatriate citizens.

There is no safety issue with traveling to camps, the organization added, as journalists, family members, and nongovernmental organization employees often travel in and out.

Save the Children claims that Australia has effective control over the detention of Australians and that the government must prove that the women and children are lawfully detained, or that Australia cannot repatriate them, “or bring their bodies to the court.”

Michael Newton, a Vanderbilt University law school professor, has argued in an affidavit that Australia “enjoys the practical ability, by virtue of exercising de facto authority, to make arrangements for ending the extended detention of Australian women and children in northeastern Syria.”

He added: “As a logical corollary, Australian officials have the means, in my expert opinion, of securing the release and subsequent return of the Australian women and children in northeastern Syria.”

The Australian government has said in court documents that it “does not have control of the remaining Australian women and children” and cannot be forced to return them, The Guardian reported.

It claims it is not responsible for Australians traveling to Syria or being detained, and that camp detention is at the “absolute discretion” of the AANES, over which the government has no power.

Even if repatriation was agreed by Syrian forces, “the commonwealth would need to arrange for their safe repatriation having regard to the security and geopolitical situation that exists at the relevant time.”

Save the Children Australia CEO Mat Tinkler said the legal challenge was necessary because “these innocent Australian children … have been abandoned by their own government.”

He added: “Despite countless opportunities to repatriate these families, the Australian government has ultimately failed in its duty to bring all of its citizens home to safety.”

Eight orphaned children, including a pregnant teenager, were returned to New South Wales in 2019. Four women and 13 children were also rescued from Roj in October last year.

The government has said that it is committed to repatriating all Australians who may be safely evacuated, but has not stated when another operation may be carried out.

Saudi crown prince launches masterplan for new 'Soudah Peaks' luxury tourism project

Updated 25 September 2023

Saudi crown prince launches masterplan for new 'Soudah Peaks' luxury tourism project

  • Soudah situated within extraordinary natural and cultural environment in the Aseer region, southwest Saudi Arabia
  • Project is key part of Public Investment Fund efforts to diversify economy by expanding industries like tourism

RIYADH: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman  has launched the masterplan to develop a new project in the mountainous region of Soudah to present a new face of luxury mountain tourism.

The project called “Soudah Peaks” will see a luxury mountain tourism destination set 3,015 meters being created above sea level on Saudi Arabia's highest peak. It will extend from the region of Souda and parts of Rijal Almaa.

Situated within an extraordinary natural and cultural environment in the Aseer region, southwest Saudi Arabia, the project is a key part of the Public Investment Fund (PIF)’s efforts to diversify the economy by expanding vital industries such as tourism, hospitality, and entertainment, and supporting Aseer development strategy.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Chairman of Soudah Development’s Board of Directors, stated that Soudah Peaks represents a new era of luxury mountain tourism by providing an unprecedented living experience while preserving the natural environment, cultural, and heritage richness. 

It is strategically aligned with Vision 2030 goals of expanding tourism and entertainment, supporting economic growth, attracting investments, contributing more than SAR29 billion to the Kingdom’s cumulative GDP, and creating thousands of direct and indirect job opportunities.

The Crown Prince said: “Soudah Peaks will be a significant addition to the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia and place the Kingdom on the global tourism map, whilst highlighting and celebrating the country’s rich culture and heritage. Visitors will have the opportunity to discover the beauty of Soudah Peaks, explore its rich culture and heritage, and experience the authentic hospitality of the local community. Soudah Peaks will offer unforgettable experiences amidst lush greenery, above the clouds.”

Soudah Peaks aims to offer high-end luxurious hospitality services to over two million visitors throughout the year by 2033. The masterplan is being designed to reflect the local traditional, and architectural styles, and will promote both the cultural and landscape heritage of the region.

The destination will be home to 6 unique development zones: Tahlal, Sahab, Sabrah, Jareen, Rijal, and Red Rock. Each will offer a range of world-class facilities including hotels, luxury mountain resorts, residential chalets, villas, premium mansion sites, entertainment and commercial attractions, as well as outdoor attractions dedicated to sports, adventure, wellness and culture.

Soudah Development will deliver 2,700 hospitality keys, 1,336 residential units, and 80,000 square meters of commercial space for Soudah Peaks by 2033.

Indonesia’s alms agency hopes to increase collaboration with KSrelief  

Updated 25 September 2023

Indonesia’s alms agency hopes to increase collaboration with KSrelief  

  • KSrelief has been supporting vulnerable Indonesians with various programs 
  • Nearly 10 percent of the Indonesian population lives below poverty line  

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s National Alms Agency is hoping for more collaboration in education and humanitarian programs with the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to promote the welfare of Indonesians, the organization’s top official said on Monday.  

BAZNAS, a government agency responsible for zakat and other Islamic social funds in Indonesia, has experience in working with various international aid agencies, including the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA and UNICEF.  

KSrelief partnered with BAZNAS in 2022 to support Indonesians in need with food aid. This year, the Saudi aid agency also distributed food assistance in 22 Indonesian districts and cities during Ramadan. 

Saidah Sakwan, who heads the distribution and utilization department in BAZNAS, told Arab News that Saudi cooperation is always welcome.  

“BAZNAS is hoping that this cooperation will continue and develop further on other programs for the sake of promoting the welfare of Muslims and other people in the world,” she said. 

With nearly 10 percent of the Indonesian population, or about 26 million people, living below the national poverty line, support from aid agencies is often crucial.  

“The aid distributed by KSrelief means a lot for them to fulfill their daily needs,” Sakwan said, adding that BAZNAS is in talks with KSrelief for an education program for tens of thousands of Indonesian orphans.  

She was part of a high-level BAZNAS delegation visiting KSrelief headquarters in Riyadh in May to discuss ways to advance collaboration.  

“In the future, BAZNAS hopes to continue synergizing with KSrelief to increase cooperation for the public through education and humanitarian programs, as well as poverty alleviation,” Sakwan said.   

“Relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia continue to develop. Should this continue positively, it will bring many benefits for the public.”