France’s president says ambassador to Niger ‘literally held hostage’

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Nigerien security forces stand guard in front of the French army base in Niamey on September 15, 2023, to keep demonstrators at bay. (REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou)
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Nigerien security forces stand guard in front of the French army base in Niamey on September 15, 2023, to keep demonstrators at bay. (REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou)
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Updated 16 September 2023
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France’s president says ambassador to Niger ‘literally held hostage’

  • Niger’s military leaders told the French envoy to leave the country after they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26
  • France has refused the ultimatum, saying it did not recognize the legitimacy of the military power grab

SEMUR-EN-AUXOIS, Francee: President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that France’s envoy to Niger is living like a hostage in the French embassy and accused military rulers of blocking food deliveries to the mission.

The ambassador is living off “military rations,” Macron told reporters in the French town of Semur-en-Auxois.
“As we speak, we have an ambassador and diplomatic staff who are literally being held hostage in the French embassy,” he said.
“They are preventing food deliveries,” he said, in an apparent reference to Niger’s new military rulers. “He is eating military rations.”
Niger’s military leaders told French ambassador Sylvain Itte he had to leave the country after they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.
But a 48-hour ultimatum for him to leave, issued in August, passed with him still in place as the French government refused to comply, or to recognize the military regime as legitimate.
The coup has been condemned by France and most of Niger’s neighbors.
Macron said the envoy “cannot go out, he is persona non grata and he is being refused food.”
Asked whether France would consider bringing him home, Macron said: “I will do whatever we agree with President Bazoum because he is the legitimate authority and I speak with him every day.”
Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna later said the ambassador “is working” and would stay at his post for as long as Paris wished.
“He is very useful for us with his contacts and those of his team,” Colonna told LCI television, adding the ambassador still had a small team with him.
France keeps about 1,500 soldiers in Niger, and said earlier this month that any redeployment could only be negotiated with Bazoum.
The country’s new leaders have torn up military cooperation agreements with France and asked the troops to leave quickly.
Macron has for weeks rejected the call to remove the French ambassador, a stance backed by the EU which has described the demand as “a provocation.”
Like France, the EU “does not recognize” the authorities that seized power in Niger, said EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Nabila Massrali last month.
The impoverished Sahel region south of the Sahara has suffered what Macron has called an “epidemic” of coups in recent years, with military regimes replacing elected governments in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea as well as Niger.
 


Four teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

Updated 2 sec ago
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Four teenagers detained in Germany over ‘Islamist attack’ plot

The trio, aged 15 to 16, had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter,” Duesseldorf prosecutors added
Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still under way

BERLIN: Police have detained two girls and two boys — all teenagers — in western Germany on suspicion that they were planning an Islamist attack, prosecutors said on Friday.
Three arrested in North Rhine-Westphalia state are “strongly suspected of planning an Islamist-motivated terror attack and of having committed to carrying it out,” Duesseldorf prosecutors said in a statement.
The trio, aged 15 to 16, had also “committed to carrying out a crime — murder and manslaughter,” Duesseldorf prosecutors added.
Separately, prosecutors in Stuttgart said a 16-year-old suspect is in custody on “suspicion that he was preparing a serious crime endangering the state.”
Investigators did not provide further details on the alleged plot, saying the inquiry was still under way.
But Germany’s biggest-selling daily Bild reported that the four youths were allegedly planning to carry out Molotov cocktail and knife attacks in the name of the Daesh group.
Their targets are believed to have been Christians and police officers, according to the report, which said the suspects were also weighing whether to obtain firearms.
Germany has been on high alert for Islamist attacks since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October, with the country’s domestic intelligence chief warning that the risk of such assaults is “real and higher than it has been for a long time.”
The country is also particularly nervous about security breaches as it prepares to host the European football championships from mid-June to mid-July.
Police had already foiled a suspected plot earlier this year.
Investigators in January arrested three people over an alleged plan targeting the cathedral in Cologne on New Year’s Eve.
Bild reported that the suspects were Tajiks acting for Daesh-Khorasan, the same group believed to have been behind March’s deadly massacre in a Moscow concert hall.
“The danger from Islamist terrorism remains acute,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said at the time, describing the Khorasan offshoot as “currently the biggest Islamist threat in Germany.”
Islamist extremists have carried out several attacks in Germany in recent years, the deadliest being a truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 that killed 12 people.
More recently, two Afghans linked to Daesh were arrested in Germany in March on suspicion of planning an attack around Sweden’s parliament in retaliation for Qur'an burnings.
In October, German prosecutors also charged two Syrian brothers for planning an attack inspired by Daesh on a church in Sweden.
In December 2022, a Syrian-born Islamist was jailed for 14 years for a knife attack on a train in Bavaria in which four people were injured.
The number of people considered Islamist extremists in Germany fell from 28,290 in 2021 to 27,480 in 2022, according to a report from the BfV federal domestic intelligence agency.
However, in presenting the report, Faeser said Islamist extremism “remains dangerous.”
Germany became a target for militant groups during its involvement in the coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and its deployment in Afghanistan.

German lawsuit calls for end to Israeli arms sales

Updated 19 min 48 sec ago
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German lawsuit calls for end to Israeli arms sales

  • Country is second-biggest weapons exporter to Tel Aviv after US
  • Rights groups representing Palestinian plaintiffs say Berlin violating humanitarian conventions

LONDON: A lawsuit filed in Germany is asking judges to demand an immediate end to arms sales to Israel by the national government, The Guardian reported on Friday.

The suit is a sign of growing pressure on Berlin’s ties with Israel amid rising discontent over Tel Aviv’s prosecution of its war in Gaza. Germany is the second-biggest arms exporter to Israel after the US.

The lawsuit is requesting judges to demand that the German government revoke all weapons licenses issued to Israel since Oct. 7 last year.

It was filed by four human rights groups, representing five Palestinian people in Gaza who say they are victims of collective punishment by Israel.

One of the lead litigants, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, said in a statement: “It is reasonable to believe that the German government is in violation of the arms trade treaty, the Geneva conventions and its obligations under the genocide convention — agreements that have been ratified by Germany.”

The center’s general secretary, Wolfgang Kaleck, said: “A basic prerequisite for a rules-based and human rights-oriented German foreign policy is respect for the law in its own decision making.

“Germany cannot remain true to its values if it exports weapons to a war where serious violations of international humanitarian law are apparent.”

One of the major transfers that could be impacted by the suit is the sale of 3,000 anti-tank weapons from Germany to Israel.

Some of the Palestinian plaintiffs have lost relatives in the war, as well as homes and jobs. “All five of my children were killed when Israel fired on the refugee camp where we were staying after fleeing from the north,” one said.

“Germany must stop sending weapons that fuel this war. No other mother should suffer such a terrible loss.”

The country, due to the Holocaust, has described “Israeli security” as “at the heart of its foreign policy.”

In response to the suit, the German government told the court it had received and approved of Israeli assurances that it had taken precautions in the use of German-sold weaponry.


Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

Updated 20 min 55 sec ago
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Notre-Dame nears re-opening five years after fire

  • On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral’s roof burst into flames
  • Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral’s restoration to lift the nation’s mood — and his government’s approval ratings

PARIS: Five years after a devastating fire, the restoration of Notre-Dame cathedral is nearing completion as the world’s eyes turn to Paris for the Olympic Games.
On the evening of April 15, 2019, the cathedral’s roof burst into flames. Soon, it had engulfed the spire and almost toppled the main bell towers. Around the world, TV viewers watched with horror as the medieval building burned.
Macron, whose second and final term ends in 2027, wants the cathedral’s restoration to lift the nation’s mood — and his government’s approval ratings. “Only once in a century does one host Olympic and Paralympic Games, only once in a millennium does one rebuild a cathedral,” Macron said in his 2024 New Year speech.
It remains unclear what exactly caused the fire. French authorities have said an electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible.
“A firefighter told me ‘Sir, take a close look at the facade because if we don’t manage to put out that fire, it will all go to ruin’,” remembered Laurence Alsina, who owns a bookselling stand close to the cathedral on the banks of the River Seine.
The facade held, but the damage has needed five years of intense stabilization and restoration works.
The pride of those working on the project shines through.
“This is the construction work of a lifetime, because restoring an entire monument in all its three-dimensionality, that’s quite exceptional.” Emma Roux, an artisan working on the iconic stained glass windows said.
The re-opening is scheduled for December, and is currently running on schedule, according to the official leading the project.
“We are on time and on budget,” Philippe Jost said last month at a Senate hearing. Jost told lawmakers that the project had so far cost 550 million euros ($587 million), funded in part by massive donations, including from luxury sector billionaires Francois Henri Pinault and the Arnault family. So much money has been donated that there will even be funds left over for further investment in the building, he said.
“An additional 150 million euros should be made available and — provided the approval of our sponsors — it will be used to restore the cathedral and tackle problems that predate the fire, which mainly concern the exterior stonework,” Jost added. Jost, 63, a trained engineer who spent much of his career in the defense ministry, took over the job after his predecessor, General Jean-Louis Georgelin, died in a hiking accident in August 2023.


Pope Francis will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in longest trip of papacy

Updated 12 April 2024
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Pope Francis will travel to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore in longest trip of papacy

  • Pope Francis’ health has become a source of increasing concern and speculation
  • Pontiff wants to return to his native Argentina, but no plans or dates have been announced

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will visit Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Singapore in September, the Vatican announced Friday, confirming the longest trip of Francis’ papacy that is sure to test his health, stamina and mobility.
The Vatican confirmed the Sept. 2-13 visit, saying the 87-year-old pope would visit Jakarta, Indonesia; Port Moresby and Vanimo, Papua New Guinea; Dili, East Timor; and Singapore. Further details will be announced later.
Francis’ health has become a source of increasing concern and speculation, even though the pontiff is able to carry on with a rigorous schedule of meetings at the Vatican and even excursions to local parishes.
Francis, who had part of one lung removed as a young man, had to cancel a planned visit to Dubai late last year after he came down with a bad case of bronchitis. He suffered from respiratory problems all winter and had to curtail his participation in Holy Week events to save his energy for Easter.
Francis has also been using a wheelchair for nearly two years because of bad knee ligaments, and has said that traveling has become increasingly more difficult.
And yet at 11 days, the trip would be the longest of Francis’ papacy, outpacing by a few days some of his long trips to the Americas early on in his 11-year papacy. It will bring the Argentine Jesuit to the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Indonesia, as well as the former Portuguese colony of East Timor, where the Catholic Church wields enormous influence.
In a statement announcing the visit, the Indonesian foreign ministry welcomed the visit and recalled that it had originally been scheduled for 2020 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The visit of Pope Francis to Indonesia holds significant importance to the Indonesian people, not only for Catholics but also for all religious communities. The visit is also expected to strengthen the message of tolerance, unity and world peace,” the statement said.
Indonesia is home to roughly 242 million Muslims and 29 million Christians — 8.5 million of whom are Catholics — according to a 2022 report by the Religious Affairs Ministry.
East Timor, which today has a population of about 1.2 million people, is Southeast Asia’s only predominantly Christian nation with the exception of the Philippines. According to the 2015 census, 97.6 percent of East Timor’s population is Catholic.
The visit to East Timor will likely reignite attention over a clergy sex abuse scandal involving its revered independence hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner. The Vatican confirmed in 2022 that it had sanctioned Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo following allegations that he sexually abused boys there during the 1990s. Belo is believed to now be living in Portugal.
Francis will be the first pope to visit Papua New Guinea since St. John Paul II went there in 1984. The country, in a strategically important part of the South Pacific, has struggled with tribal violence and civil unrest.
John Paul also visited Singapore, in 1986. The country today is home to some 395,000 Catholics.
The Vatican has planned only one other papal trip this year — to Belgium to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s Catholic university. Francis has also said he wants to return to his native Argentina, but no plans or dates have been announced.


Indonesia denies reports of recognizing Israel, vows to stay at forefront defending Palestine

Updated 12 April 2024
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Indonesia denies reports of recognizing Israel, vows to stay at forefront defending Palestine

  • Establishing ties with Israel would be ‘political suicide’ for Indonesian leadership, analyst says
  • Israeli media reports claim Jakarta has begun OECD-brokered talks with Tel Aviv

JAKARTA: Jakarta has denied plans to establish diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, following viral Israeli media reports claiming it was part of a deal to smooth Indonesia’s entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Indonesia is the first Southeast Asian nation to apply for the membership of the 38-nation forum. Accession talks began in February, but according to local Israeli media were objected to by Tel Aviv over the lack of diplomatic ties with Jakarta.

Countries need unanimous approval from all OECD members, including Israel, to join the bloc.

Citing anonymous sources, the Israeli media reports claimed that Indonesia had started OECD-brokered talks with Israel, which in exchange for recognition would agree to the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation joining the group.

However, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the claims.

“There are no plans to open diplomatic ties with Israel, especially in the wake of Israel’s atrocities in Gaza. Indonesia’s stance has not changed, and we remain consistent in supporting Palestine’s independence within the framework of the two-state solution,” Lalu Muhamad Iqbal, the ministry’s spokesperson, told reporters late on Thursday.

“Indonesia will always be consistent and at the forefront of defending the rights of the Palestinian people.”

One of the staunchest supporters of Palestine, the Indonesian government has repeatedly called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.

Since the beginning of Israel’s deadly invasion of Gaza in October, Jakarta has also been vocal on the international stage, demanding an end to military support and weapons sales to Tel Aviv.

In January, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi called on the UN Security Council to make no exceptions in upholding international law, and to bring Israel to account over mass killing and atrocities.

Israeli ground and air attacks have in the past six months have killed at least 33,400 Palestinian citizens, almost half of them children. Over 70,000 have been injured, mutilated or disabled by the strikes, while thousands remain missing under the rubble.

The Israeli military has also levelled large parts of Gaza, destroyed most of its civilian and medical infrastructure, and blocked water, food and aid supplies to the territory, bringing its more than 2 million inhabitants to the brink of famine.

Since the beginning of the onslaught, mass public protests in support of Palestine have taken place frequently in Indonesia, where people see Palestinian independence as mandated by their own constitution, which calls for the abolition of colonialism.

“If the government takes the opposite step by recognizing the state of Israel and tolerating colonialism and oppression, that will cause political suicide, given that such a thing would lead to political delegitimization and loss of public trust,” Airlangga Pribadi Kusman, a political science lecturer at Airlangga University in Surabaya, told Arab News.

“The current and future Indonesian government should continue its policy of supporting Palestinian independence as has been the commitment of previous governments.”