Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he plans to travel to NATO member North Macedonia later this week to attend a conference of a top trans-Atlantic security and rights group. (AP/File)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Baltic nations’ foreign ministers pull out of OSCE meeting over Russian foreign minister attendance

  • Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting
  • “For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said

SKOPJE: The foreign ministers of the three Baltic states have said they will boycott a meeting by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe being held this week in North Macedonia, in objection to the participation of Russia’s foreign minister.
The foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement Tuesday saying they “deeply regret the decision enabling the personal participation” of Russia’s Sergey Lavrov. “It will only provide Russia with yet another propaganda opportunity.”
Lavrov said Monday he planned to travel to Skopje for the OSCE foreign ministers’ meeting, a trip which would mark his first visit to a NATO member country since Russia invaded Ukraine. In September, he was in New York to attend the United Nations’ annual gathering of world leaders.
The 57-nation OSCE was set up during the Cold War to help defuse tension between East and West. North Macedonia currently holds the organization’s rotating presidency and its foreign minister invited Lavrov to the two-day meeting starting Thursday.
“For the past two years we have witnessed how one OSCE participating state has actively and brutally tried to annihilate another,” the Baltic foreign ministers said in their statement. “Let us be very clear: Russia’s war of aggression and atrocities against its sovereign and peaceful neighbor Ukraine blatantly violate international law.”
They also accused Russia of “obstructive behavior within the OSCE itself,” citing Russia’s prevention of an OSCE presence in Ukraine and by blocking Estonia’s chairmanship of the organization in 2024. Lavrov’s attendance at the Skopje meeting “risks legitimizing aggressor Russia as a rightful member of our community of free nations, trivializing the atrocious crimes Russia has been committing,” they added.
Speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels Tuesday, North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said he believed he would be meeting Lavrov in Skopje.
“Lavrov is not coming to Skopje, in a way. Lavrov is coming to the OSCE just as he went to (the) UN in New York a few months ago,” Osmani said. “I won’t be meeting him as the foreign minister of North Macedonia, but as the OSCE chairman in office.”
Asked what he would say to Lavrov, Osmani said: “I think the Russian Federation has violated (the) commitments of OSCE principles that we have voluntarily subscribed to 50 years ago.”
“We have condemned the aggressor throughout our chairpersonship. And also we have turned (the) OSCE into a platform for political and legal accountability of the Russian Federation for its deeds in Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. And this is what I am going to tell to Mr. Lavrov as well.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry to the statement by the three Baltic states.


London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source

Updated 8 sec ago
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London Mayor Sadiq Khan receives death threats from Islamic extremists, gets round-the-clock police protection, says source

  • Khan, who is the first Muslim mayor of the British capital, is reportedly protected around the clock by 15 police officers

LONDON: The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has received death threats from Islamic extremists and has been under police protection since 2017, it was reported on Tuesday.

A source with knowledge of the mayor’s security arrangements told The Guardian newspaper that the threat from Islamic fundamentalists was as high as it was from right-wing extremists.

Khan, who is the first Muslim mayor of the British capital, is protected around the clock by 15 police officers, the source added.

The Labour mayor, who has voted for same-sex marriage and backed gay rights in the UK, is seen as a target for Islamists because of his liberal views and his denouncement of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists, such as the twin attacks in London in 2017 and the Manchester Arena bombing in the same year.

The news comes in the same week that Khan was accused by former senior Conservative politician Lee Anderson of being “under the control of Islamists.”

A man pleaded guilty on Monday to two charges of sending communication threatening death or serious harm, reportedly to Khan, on Saturday following Anderson’s comments.

The charges against the man said that he called police to “convey a threat of death or serious harm to another, intending or being reckless as to whether an individual encountering the message would fear that the threat would be carried out.”


3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

Updated 27 February 2024
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3 men snared in right-wing extremism probe charged in London court with prepping for terrorism

  • Men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target
  • Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court

LONDON: Three men arrested in an investigation into right-wing extremism were charged Tuesday in a London court with preparing to commit a terrorist act, authorities said.
They were arrested on Feb. 21, Counter Terrorism Policing North East said.
Prosecutors said the men had joined extreme right-wing online chat forums, had right-wing text messages and distributed information on guns and ammunition.
The men had manufactured an FGC-9 semi-automatic gun, had instructions on assembling a 3D-printed firearm and identified an Islamic education center in Leeds as a possible target.
Christopher Ringrose, 33, and Brogan Stewart and Marco Pitzettu, both 24, were held in custody after their appearances by video at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and ordered to return to the Central Criminal Court on March 15. They did not enter pleas.


Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

Updated 27 February 2024
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Poland mulls wider ban on Ukrainian food imports as farmers warn of more protests

  • Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules
  • Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports

WARSAW: Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday he could not rule out widening a national ban on imports of Ukrainian grains to other products if the European Union does not act to protect the bloc’s markets.
Tusk made the remarks during a visit to Prague as thousands of Polish farmers took to the streets of Warsaw, carrying the national flag and blowing handheld horns, escalating a protest against food imports from Ukraine and EU green rules.
Farmers across Europe have been protesting for weeks against constraints placed on them by the EU’s “Green Deal” regulations meant to tackle climate change, as well as rising costs and what they say is unfair competition from outside the EU, particularly Ukraine.
The EU in 2022 waived duties on Ukrainian food imports following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Poland last year extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.
“We are talking about it with the Ukrainian side — that it will be necessary to expand the embargo to other products if the European Union does not find more effective ways to protect the European and Polish markets,” Tusk said on Tuesday.
Polish Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Siekierski said in a Tuesday evening interview on Polsat News TV that further talks with Ukraine on solutions were planned for Wednesday and various possibilities were being considered.
“Tomorrow we will also talk about it with Ukraine’s minister of economy, who will be a guest at the Ministry of Development and New Technologies,” he said, adding that he would be participating.
He said Polish farmers were invited to the agriculture ministry for talks on Thursday.
Speaking after Siekierski on Polsat News, protest organizer Szczepan Wojcik said the invitation was welcome, but warned of more protests if no progress was made during the next few days.
“Further protests in Warsaw have already been announced for March 6. Farmers are already organizing on the roads, and border crossings will continue to be blocked,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of further escalation, Wojcik said, “The farmers are desperate. ... The ball is in the government’s court.”
Earlier in the day, Tusk said the EU had to solve the problems created by its decision to open its borders to imports of Ukrainian food products.
He added that Poland was ready to co-finance purchases of Polish, European and Ukrainian food and agricultural products to be sent as humanitarian aid to famine-stricken countries, and that “Europe should certainly find funds for this.”
Back home, farmers rallied in central Warsaw before marching toward parliament and then Tusk’s office. A city hall official cited by PAP state news agency put the number of protesters around 10,000.
“We are protesting because we want the ‘green deal’ to be lifted, as it will lead our farms to bankruptcy with its costs...that are not comparable to what we harvest and to what we are paid,” said Kamil Wojciechowski, 31, a farmer from Izbica Kujawska in central Poland.
“What we’re paid for our work, it has decreased because of the influx of grain from Ukraine and this is our second demand — to block the influx of grain from Ukraine,” he said.
The farmers began a series of protests throughout the country earlier this month, which included a near-total blockade of all Ukrainian border crossings, as well as disruptions at ports and on roads nationwide.
“We won’t give up. We have no choice. Our farms will go bankrupt, we will lose our livelihoods,” Pawel Walkowiak, 47, a corn and wheat producer from Konarzewo in western Poland, said.
The city hall official said Tuesday’s protest in Warsaw took place without major incidents.


Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

Updated 27 February 2024
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Strike by Athens taxi drivers coincides with nationwide public sector stoppage

ATHENS: Taxi drivers in the Greek capital began a 48-hour strike Tuesday, with the second day timed to coincide with a nationwide strike by public and some private sector workers that is expected to disrupt public transport, ground some flights and leave ferries tied up in port.

More than 200 taxis drove through the center of Athens as part of a demonstration on the first day of the walkout, called by the capital’s main taxi union over a series of demands, including a reduction in taxes, access to bus lanes and stricter regulation on ride-sharing apps.

New taxes imposed on the self-employed in Greece have hammered the taxi industry, said Georgios Voilis, a taxi driver and union member. The tax burden “is a financial debasement, a tombstone,” for taxis, he said.

The second day of the taxi strike coincides with a nationwide strike called by Greece’s main public sector umbrella union to mark the first anniversary of the country’s deadliest rail disaster. Nearly 60 people were killed and dozens injured just before midnight on Feb. 28, 2023, when a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train after the two had mistakenly been put on the same track heading in opposite directions.

“One year (has passed) and those responsible for the tragedy have still not answered for their criminal actions that led 57 of our compatriots …. to their deaths,” the union, known by its Greek acronym ADEDY, said in its announcement of the strike.

ADEDY is also calling for a 10 percent increase in public sector salaries to tackle the rising cost of living and inflation, collective wage agreements and a series of tax breaks.

Wednesday’s strike is expected to disrupt all public transport in the Greek capital and leave ferries to and from the islands tied up in ports. The country’s air traffic controllers’ union has also announced its participation, which is expected to lead to the grounding of numerous flights.

Medical staff in public hospitals and teachers in public schools have said they will participate in the walkout, while staff at banks are also to strike for the day.


US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

Updated 27 February 2024
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US names new special envoy to Sudan in push to end war

WASHINGTON: The US will appoint a new special envoy for Sudan as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands.

Former diplomat and US member of Congress Tom Perriello will assume the special envoy role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement as the US seeks to bring increased focus to the conflict after the failure of talks so far.

Perriello said he will build on efforts of partners across Africa and the Middle East to bring an end to the war, a humanitarian crisis and atrocities.

“This appointment reflects the urgency and importance President Biden and Secretary Blinken have placed on ending this war, putting a stop to rampant atrocities against civilians, and preventing an already horrific humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophic famine,” Perriello said.

The US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has left his role, Blinken said in the statement.

Daniel Rubinstein will serve as interim charge d’affaires as director of the Office of Sudan Affairs, Blinken said. He will be based in Ethiopia.

War broke out in Sudan last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition toward civilian rule and elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to UN estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

The Rapid Support Forces are accused by the US of participating in an ethnic cleansing campaign in West Darfur, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The army, which has carried out a widespread airstrike campaign, is also accused of war crimes by the US.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as a US representative from Virginia.

Rubinstein recently led the US delegation at talks on Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Neither side maintained commitments made in the talks. The US military evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum in April last year and suspended operations at its embassy there after fighting between Sudan’s rival commanders broke out.