Italy PM Meloni visits Tunisia for migration talks

Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 12 suspected human traffickers for allegedly organizing high-speed transfers for at least 73 illegal migrants from Tunisia to Europe. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Italy PM Meloni visits Tunisia for migration talks

  • Tunisia is a major transit point for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants hoping to reach Europe every year

TUNIS: Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni met with officials in Tunis Wednesday to discuss what she called a “new approach” to irregular migration and economic cooperation with Tunisia.
The hard-right leader’s visit, the fourth in less than a year to the north African country, came as her government pledged to curb irregular migrant arrivals in Italy.
Meloni met with President Kais Saied, who said after the meeting Tunisia must not become “a country of transit or settlement” for migrants from other African countries, according to a statement from his office.
In a video address released after her discussions with Saied, Meloni also said “Tunisia cannot be a country of arrival for migrants” from the rest of Africa.
She vowed to “involve international organizations to work on repatriations” of migrants while insisting on more European investment in African nations.
Ahead of the visit, an Italian official had told AFP that “cooperation on migration remains a central aspect of the relationship between Italy and Tunisia.”
“It remains essential that Tunisian authorities continue their action to combat human trafficking and contain illegal departures,” the official added.
Meloni’s latest visit to Tunisia came as part of her so-called Mattei Plan, a program aiming to posit Italy as a key bridge between Africa and Europe.
She said the fight against irregular migration required development for African countries and investments.
“Italy will continue to try to advance this new approach which it is promoting at a European level,” she said.
But critics say the plan would funnel energy north while exchanging investment in the south for deals aimed at curbing migration.
Three agreements were signed Wednesday: a 50-million-euro ($53-million) aid for energy projects, credit for small- and medium-sized businesses, and a university cooperation agreement.
Meloni also said Italy would encourage regular migration by granting 12,000 residence permits to Tunisians trained in specific fields.
Tunisia is a major transit point for thousands of sub-Saharan migrants hoping to reach Europe every year, with Italy as a frontline for their arrivals.
Almost 70,000 migrants were intercepted trying to cross the Mediterranean from Tunisia to Italy last year, according to Tunisian authorities.
Meloni visited Tunisia three times over the summer of 2023, twice with the European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.
The visits resulted in the European Union’s signing of an agreement in July to provide financial aid to debt-ridden Tunisia in return for its commitment to curb migrant departures.
The agreement provided 105 million euros to curb irregular migration — which the EU has started paying — added to 150 million euros in budgetary support.
European Parliament lawmakers criticized the agreement, citing a deterioration of human rights and freedoms in the north African country.
They also criticized Saied’s increasing authoritarian rule after his sweeping power grab in 2021.
Last month, the EU signed a similar deal with Egypt worth 7.4 billion euros on energy and migration.


Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia

Updated 19 May 2024
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Elon Musk launches Starlink service in Indonesia

  • Indonesia is the third Southeast Asian country where Starlink will operate
  • Starlink expected to improve internet access for thousands of Indonesian health centers 

JAKARTA: Elon Musk and Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin launched SpaceX’s satellite internet service on Sunday, aiming to boost connectivity in the world’s largest archipelago.

Musk, the billionaire head of SpaceX and Tesla, arrived in Bali by private jet on Sunday morning, before attending Starlink’s launch at a community health center in the provincial capital Denpasar. 

Wearing a green batik shirt, he inaugurated Starlink together with Sadikin, Communications Minister Budi Arie Setiadi and Maritime, and Fisheries Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono, and said that the satellite service would help millions in Indonesia to access the internet. 

“We’re focusing this event on Starlink and the benefits that high-bandwidth connectivity can bring to a rural island and to remote communities,” Musk told reporters in Denpasar. 

“I think it’s really important to emphasize the importance of internet connectivity and how much of a life-changer that could be.” 

Indonesia, an archipelagic state comprising over 17,000 islands, is home to more than 270 million people and three different time zones. Following the launch, Musk said that internet connectivity was also integral for learning and business. 

“You can learn anything if you’re connected to the internet, but if you’re not connected, it’s very difficult to learn,” Musk said. “And then if you have some virtual services that you wish to sell to the world, even if you’re in a remote village, you can now do so with an internet connection. So, it can bring a lot of prosperity, I think, to rural communities.”

Indonesia is the third Southeast Asian country where Starlink will operate. Neighboring Malaysia issued the firm a license to provide internet services last year, while a Philippine-based firm signed a deal with SpaceX in 2022. 

On Sunday, Starlink was launched at three Indonesian health centers, two of which are located in Bali and one on the remote island of Aru in Maluku. Officials say the services will be prioritized for health and education, and in outer and underdeveloped regions. 

Starlink is expected to bring high-speed connectivity to thousands of health centers across the country, Sadikin said, allowing Indonesians in remote areas to access services that were previously not available to them. 

“With Starlink … 2,700 community health centers that had difficulties getting internet access and another 700 that didn’t have internet access, now can have them. So, the services will not differ with health centers … that are located in the cities,” the health minister said. 

The arrival of Starlink in Indonesia is expected to boost equal internet access across Southeast Asia’s largest economy. 

“A satellite-based internet service like Starlink will certainly be very beneficial for the country because there are still many regions which don’t have internet access,” said Pratama Persadha, chairman of the Communication and Information System Security Research Center. 

Other sectors in Indonesia, such as education and the digital economy, will also get a boost from Starlink, he added. 

“Wherever the location that requires good internet connection, whether on top of the mountain, in the middle of the forest, or in the middle of the sea, they can still enjoy the internet through satellite-based services like this.” 


Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir

Updated 19 May 2024
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Suspected rebels kill political activist in Indian-administered Kashmir

  • Two Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan territory were also wounded in a separate attack in Anantnag
  • Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have for decades waged an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Suspected rebels shot dead an activist from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party in Indian-administered Kashmir, local authorities said Sunday after the latest violent attack in the disputed region.

Police named the victim as Aijaz Ahmad, a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who was fired upon in Shopian district on Saturday evening, days after the region began voting in India’s six-week national elections.

The BJP’s local office in Kashmir confirmed Sunday that Ahmad had died and announced plans to stage a protest against the attack.

Two Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan territory were also wounded in a separate attack by suspected rebels in nearby Anantnag on the same day, police said, adding that both had been hospitalized.

Security forces had cordoned off the surrounding area to find those responsible for separate incidents, police said.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, with both claiming the Himalayan territory in full.

Rebel groups opposed to Indian rule have for decades waged an insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir, demanding either independence or a merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of backing the militants — charges Islamabad denies.

The conflict has left tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers and militants dead.

Violence has drastically reduced since 2019, when Modi’s government canceled the Muslim-majority region’s limited autonomy and brought it under direct rule from New Delhi.

Security forces have reported a spate of clashes in Kashmir since voting began last month in ongoing general election.

Earlier this month suspected rebels killed an Indian air force member and injured four others in an ambush on a military convoy.
 


Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence in Bishkek 

Updated 19 May 2024
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Pakistani students return from Kyrgyzstan after mob violence in Bishkek 

  • At least 5 Pakistani citizens injured in clashes in Bishkek
  • Islamabad is arranging special flights to get students home

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government has repatriated 140 students from Kyrgyzstan after mobs attacked foreign citizens in the capital, Bishkek, over the weekend. 

A special flight bringing the first batch of Pakistani students home landed at an airport in Lahore on Saturday night, with Islamabad planning to use more such flights to bring back citizens who want to leave Bishkek after violent incidents in the Kyrgyz capital.

On Friday, hundreds of Kyrgyz men in Bishkek attacked buildings where foreign students live, including Pakistan citizens who are among thousands studying and working in the Central Asian country. 

The angry mob reportedly targeted these residences after videos of a brawl earlier this month between Krygyz and Egyptian students went viral online, prompting anti-foreigner sentiment over the past week. The Kyrgyz government deployed forces on Friday to mitigate the violence. 

“Our first concern is the safe return of Pakistani students,” Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said. 

“God willing, more students would be brought back via additional flights (on Sunday).”

Students who spoke to Arab News said that the Pakistan Embassy in Kyrgyzstan advised them to stay indoors after the mob attack. But when they ran out of food and water and some became fearful of potential riots, they asked authorities to evacuate them. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that the return to Pakistan of citizens who wished to do so would be “facilitated at the government’s expense.”

Sharif is sending a two-member delegation, including Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar, to Bishkek on Sunday to meet with Kyrgyz officials and provide assistance for Pakistani students. 

“The decision to send this delegation was made to ensure necessary support and facilities for Pakistani students,” a statement issued by Sharif’s office reads. 

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had summoned and handed a note of protest to Kyrgyzstan’s top diplomat in the country in response to the violence in Bishkek. 

Five Pakistani medical students were injured in the mob attack, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Hassan Zaigham said, with one student admitted to a local hospital with a jaw injury. 

“No Pakistani was killed or raped in the violence,” he told Arab News over the phone, dispelling rumors circulating on social media. 

“The situation is under control now as Bishkek authorities have dispersed all the miscreants.” 


Tourist couple injured in shooting in India’s Kashmir amid elections

Updated 19 May 2024
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Tourist couple injured in shooting in India’s Kashmir amid elections

  • Condition of Indian couple from Jaipur city is said to be stable, police say 
  • India is in a marathon election with two Kashmir seats to be contested on May 20, 25

SRINAGAR: A tourist couple was injured in India’s Kashmir after militants fired on them late on Saturday night, police said, ahead of voting scheduled in the volatile region for India’s ongoing election.
The couple from the Indian city of Jaipur was evacuated to the hospital and the area where the attack took place was cordoned off, Kashmir police said on social media. The condition of the injured tourists is said to be stable, they said.
India is in the middle of a marathon election with the remaining two seats in Kashmir going to polls on May 20 and May 25.
Voters turned out in large numbers for polling in the first seat in Srinagar on May 13, reversing the trend of low vote counts in the first polls since Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is skipping elections in Kashmir for the first time since 1996 saying it will support regional parties instead.
Major parties in Kashmir, the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have focused on restoration of semi-autonomy in their campaigns.
Analysts and opposition parties say the BJP is not contesting elections in Kashmir because it fears the outcome will contradict its narrative of a more peaceful and integrated region since 2019.
In a separate incident, unknown militants shot dead former village headman and BJP party member Ajiaz Ahmad Sheikh in Shopian district on Saturday.
The last major attack on tourists in Kashmir had happened in 2017 when a Hindu pilgrimage bus was targeted, killing eight people.


Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 

Updated 19 May 2024
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Tourists wounded in deadly Afghanistan shooting stable — hospital 

  • Group of tourists was fired at while shopping in mountainous city of Bamiyan on Friday 
  • Attack first deadly assault on foreign tourists since Taliban’s return to power in 20221

KABUL: Tourists wounded in an attack in Afghanistan which left three Spaniards and three Afghans dead were in a stable condition, a hospital said Saturday, as a survivor described the horror of the shooting in an open market.
The group was fired on while shopping in the bazaar in the mountainous city of Bamiyan, around 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital Kabul, on Friday.
French tourist Anne-France Brill, one of the dozen foreign travelers on an organized tour, said a gunman on foot approached the group’s vehicles and opened fire.
“There was blood everywhere,” the 55-year-old told AFP from Dubai, where she landed Saturday after being evacuated from Kabul with two Americans.
“One thing is certain,” she said, the assailant “was there for the foreigners.”
Brill, who works in marketing and lives near Paris, said she helped collect the bloodied belongings of her wounded fellow travelers before a Taliban escort brought them to the capital, where they were taken in by a European Union delegation.
The attack is believed to be the first deadly assault on foreign tourists since the Taliban returned to power in 2021 in a country where few nations have a diplomatic presence.
The bodies of those killed were transported to Kabul overnight Friday, along with the wounded and survivors, after bad weather made an airlift impossible.
Italian NGO Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, received the injured who it said were from Spain, Lithuania, Norway, Australia and Afghanistan.
“The wounded people arrived at our hospital at 3:00 am (2230 GMT Friday) this morning, about 10 hours after the incident took place,” said Dejan Panic, Emergency’s country director in Afghanistan, in a statement.
“The Afghan national was the most critically injured, but all patients are now stable,” he added.
Spain’s government on Friday announced that three of the dead were Spanish tourists.
Its foreign ministry said one of the wounded was also a Spanish woman, who had been seriously injured and underwent surgery in Kabul.
The dead included three Afghans — two civilians and a Taliban member, the government’s interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani said.
Local officials said the civilians were working with the tour group, while the Taliban security official had returned fire when the shooting broke out.
“Overwhelmed by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists in Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on social media platform X.
The bodies of the dead would likely be brought back to Spain on Sunday, the country’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares said on Spanish public television TVE.
Spanish diplomats were headed to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Qatar, where the Spanish ambassador to the country is currently based.
The Spanish embassy was evacuated in 2021, along with other Western missions, after the Taliban took back control of Kabul, ending a bloody decades-long insurgency against foreign forces.
Spanish authorities have also been coordinating with a European Union delegation in the capital.
Interior ministry spokesman Qani said seven suspects had been arrested, “of which one is wounded.”
“The investigation is still going on and the Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into the matter,” he added.
There has not yet been a claim of responsibility.
The EU condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, said it was “deeply shocked and appalled by the deadly terrorist attack” in Bamiyan, adding it had provided assistance after the incident.
The Taliban government has yet to be officially recognized by any foreign government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of kidnap and attack risks.
Alongside security concerns, the country has limited road infrastructure and a dilapidated health service.
Multiple foreign tourism companies offer guided package tours to Afghanistan, often including visits to highlights in cities such as Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Bamiyan.
Bamiyan is Afghanistan’s top tourist destination, once home to the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001 during their previous rule.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has fallen dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power, and deadly attacks on foreigners are rare.
However, a number of armed groups, including Daesh, remain a threat.
The group has waged a campaign of attacks on foreign interests in a bid to weaken the Taliban government, targeting the Pakistani and Russian embassies as well as Chinese businessmen.