Category Archives: World

Mistrust in journalists at rise

Brussels 20.04.2021 The 2021 Edelman Trust barometer reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false. In reality, journalistic pluralism and rigorous reporting serve to combat disinformation and “infodemics”, including false and misleading information.

“Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”

The country that fell the furthest in 2021 was Malaysia (down 18 at 119th), where the problems include a recent “anti-fake news” decree allowing the government to impose its own version of the truth. Big descents were also registered by Comoros (down 9 at 84th) and El Salvador (down 8 at 82nd), where journalists have struggled to obtain state-held information about the government’s handling of the pandemic. Most of the 2021 Index’s biggest gains are in Africa. Burundi (up 13 at 147th), Sierra Leone (up 10 at 75th) and Mali (up 9 at 99th) have all seen significant improvements, including the release of four journalists with the independent Burundian media Iwacu, the repeal of a law criminalising press offences in Sierra Leone and a fall in the number of abuses in Mali.

Europe and the Americas (North, Central and South) continue to be the most favourable continents for press freedom, even though the Americas registered the biggest deterioration in its regional violations score (up 2.5%). Europe registered a sizeable deterioration in its “Abuses” indicator, with acts of violence more than doubling in the European Union and Balkans, compared with a 17% deterioration worldwide. Attacks against journalists and arbitrary arrests increased in Germany (13th), France (34th), Italy (41st), Poland (down 2 at 64th), Greece (down 5 at 70th), Serbia (93rd) and Bulgaria (down 1 at 112th).

Tajikistan: Rahmon declared 90% winner

Presidential elections in Tajikistan as expected endorsed the incumbent Emomali Rahmon mandate for seven years more, crowning him as the longest-serving ruler among leaders of the former Soviet Republics.

Polling stations opened at 6am local time (01:00 GMT) on Sunday, October 11, and closed at 8pm (15:00 GMT), with results expected the following morning.

The Central Electoral Commission said the vote had passed the turnout threshold required for validation, with more than 70% of the nearly five million strong electorate casting votes.

Just a week ago on October 5th the Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko has wished a happy birthday to Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, BelTA reported quoting sources from the press service of the Belarusian leader.
“In your country and abroad you are by right appreciated as an experienced and authoritative leader whose efforts and political will have ensured sustainable development of Tajikistan and the strengthening of its influence on the international arena,” the felicitation message reads.

Rahmon, 68, has run the Persian-speaking nation of 9.5 million people since 1992, a period including a civil war. He has gradually strengthened his grip and a 2016 constitutional reform removed a limit on the number of terms he could serve.

Rahmon had four competitors, all of whom are viewed as token opponents, in his bid for a renewed seven-year term. All challengers are members of the lower house of parliament and have avoided criticising Rakhmon, whose official title is “Founder of Peace and National Unity – Leader of the Nation.”

The European Union has been closely following the electoral processes in Tajikistan throughout 2020, including the Presidential elections that took place on 11 October.

The EU welcomes the decision of the Government of Tajikistan to invite the OSCE/ODIHR to monitor both the Presidential and, previously, the Parliamentary elections, as well as the subsequent deployment of a small team of electoral experts as part of an Election Assessment Mission (EAM). The EU looks forward to the EAM’s concluding report that will be published in the next 6-8 weeks and will carefully examine its recommendations in order to support their implementation.

The Presidential elections seem to have been carried out in a peaceful and orderly manner. However, we note that several of the recommendations identified in the final report of OSCE/ODIHR Electoral Assessment Mission that was deployed in March 2020 in connection with the Parliamentary elections remain valid and unimplemented, such as the independence of the media environment and political plurality.

Significant efforts are needed to further align the electoral process with Tajikistan’s OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for the conduct of democratic elections, including the freedom of the media to impartially cover and report on political developments in all parts of the country”.

The EU will seek to cooperate with and support Tajikistan in its efforts to fully implement the full sets of OSCE/ODIHR recommendations presented by both EAMs. We remain a reliable and significant partner in development cooperation, actively promoting economic modernisation, sustainable and equitable socio-economic growth, as well as enhanced governance reforms and regional cooperation”.

Taliban launches multiple attacks

Widespread fighting between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban was reported in 18 provinces across Afghanistan on September 12 while the delegates from representing the state and militants started the peace negotiation talks in Doha, Qatar. (Image above: illustration, MoD Afghanistan courtesy).

The Afghan Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed that the Taliban launched attacks on Afghan security forces in 18 provinces since last night.

However the majority of the assaults were reported from Balkh, Jawzjan, Faryab, Ghor, Badghis, Herat, Ghazni and Uruzgan provinces.

Meanwhile, the Taliban in a statement said that as part of a goodwill gesture, they have on released 22 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province.

Local officials in northern Afghanistan said that last night the Taliban launched attacks in Balkh and Jawzjan provinces.

Fighting was also reported in Faryab:

“The Taliban today attacked the security forces in Shireen Tagab district, but no casualties were sustained by the security forces. In recent days, the Taliban had no military victories on the battlefield,” said Naqibullah Fayeq, the governor of Faryab province.

“The Taliban want to show their military power during the negotiations, they want to show that if you do not accept our demands, then we have the capacity to attack at any time and at any place,” said Lotufullah Mashal, a former spokesman for the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The Taliban also launched attacks in the following provinces: Ghor, Badghis and Herat.

“Over the past 24 hours, the Taliban group launched attacks on Afghan security and defense forces in over 15 provinces of the country, but the Afghan security and defense forces repelled the Taliban’s attacks and inflicted heavy losses on the group,” said Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

Attacks were also reported in provinces Uruzgan, Kunduz and Helmand.

“The armed opponents launched attacks on the security and defense forces, but the Taliban were repelled by the Afghan Air Force, which resulted in the killing of at least five Taliban fighters,” said Riaz Rabbani, the head of the Kunduz provincial council.

“Armed opponents launched attacks, but the Afghan security and defense forces repelled the attacks,” said Zargai Ebadi, a spokesman for the Uruzgan governor.

Afghan civilians sincerely hope that a ceasefire is announced in the intra-Afghan talks.

The opening ceremony for intra-Afghan talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents began in Qatar’s capital Doha on Saturday, September 11, launching the start of negotiations aimed at ending two decades of war. The ceremony began at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) with a recitation from the Quran, followed by opening comments by Qatar’s foreign minister. 

Major players in the process, including Afghanistan’s peace council chairman Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Taliban leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, and U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo are also scheduled to speak. The opening ceremony for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents began in Qatar’s capital Doha on Saturday, September 12, marking the start of negotiations aimed at ending two decades of war that has killed tens of thousands of combatants and civilians. The 19-year conflict is also the United States’ longest overseas military action, vexing three successive presidents. President Trump administration invests a lot of efforts in achieving the peace agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban before November 3 elections in the United States.

Borrell welcomes intra-afghan talks

“The European Union welcomes the launch of the direct Intra-Afghan Negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban mouvement” said the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell. He described the talks which started in Doha, capital of Qatar, as a “ground-breaking moment”.

It marks the start of a genuine peace process, which should lead to the peace that the people of Afghanistan deserve and have long demanded.

“As the European Union, we urge the parties to accompany the start of the peace talks with an immediate, comprehensive, nationwide and unconditional ceasefire.

“With this new chapter opening, a mere reduction of violence is no longer enough. Now all preconditions are fulfilled, nothing should prevent a ceasefire from being accepted and implemented by both parties” the head of the European diplomacy continued.

“This process must now be truly owned and led by Afghans. International partners must respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and independence when supporting these negotiations.

It must preserve and build on the political, economic and social achievements of the citizens of Afghanistan since 2001, especially on women’s rights” Borrell said.

“To achieve this, the European Union is working with all parties. We want to ensure that peace negotiations are inclusive and respectful of the wish of Afghans to live in a peaceful, secure and prosperous country. A country with economic development and growth, providing new opportunities for its citizens, where rights are upheld and vulnerable groups are protected”.

“Let the start of these negotiations be the much-needed and long overdue beginning of a new and more peaceful chapter for Afghanistan”.

However, the experts say that assembling all groups involved in the conflict at the negotiating table doesn’t necessarily mean they all believe a mutually acceptable political settlement. It can be tactical for all sides to demonstrate that the situaiton is evolving, and for the government in Kabul to show to the international community the progress they have achieved.

The success of peace negotiations depends directly on the resources of the groups involved and their capablities to continue fighting. However it also depends on them changing their perception of the conflict which in almost two decades has shown that neighter of the sides is capable of the definitive victory.

While all parties express their willingness to end the prtotracted conflict, there are doubts whether the peace efforts could have got this far without US pressure for intra-Afghan negotiations to begin. In spite of the the US diplomatic involvement aimed at the end of the violence, and Trump administration insistance to reach the deal before the US election on November 3, the perspectives of implementing it is not guaranteed.

The talks could be concluded with a de jure peace agreement being imposed on Afghanistan, however there are doubts in sincere will of the envolved parties to respect it on long term, while Taliban has never renounced its ambition to ascend power in Kabul. In some areas the differences are still remarkable: the administration of the President Ashraf Ghani is seraching for preservation of numerous rights, namely women’s rights. Among the delegation of the 21 government negociators, who came to Doha, four are women, while among Taliban they are none.

The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, said that “Afghan society doesn’t have a deadline”. Taking into consideration the massive human cost of the two decades of war, these peace efforts must be given a genuine chance – along with the necessary time and space to succeed, the experts conclude.

Barbados welcomes digital nomads

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the number of remote workers worldwide was growing. A research from the consulting firm MBO Partners found that the number of independent workers in the United States, which includes consultants, freelancers and In More than 7.3 million working Americans described themselves in 2019 as “digital nomads”, in other words those who chose to embrace a location-independent lifestyle that allowed them to travel and work remotely.

David Cassar, MBO Partners’ chief operations officer, notes that the international leverage of freelancers is increasing considerably.

“We absolutely expect interest in becoming a digital nomad to spike among independent workers in the coming years. Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of widespread remote work, and independent workers will be among the first to take advantage of a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle,” he said.

Among incentives for some of the digital nomads lifestyles is a lower cost of living.

For conuntries, welcoming working travellers, long stay visa requires proof of health insurance and negative virus tests (either pre-arrival, upon arrival, or both), some require an application fee and proof of a monthly salary, complete with bank statements.

Barbados digital nomads one year visa requires need to fill out an online application form and submit photos, the proof of employment and an income declaration of at least $50,000 annually during the period that they are on the island. An application fee of $2,000 per person is only payable after he or she is approved; families pay a fee of $3,000, irrespective of the number of members in their household.

A substantial drop in these countries tourism numbers is a key reason for the new programs.

“Tourism is the lifeline of the country,” said Eusi Skeete, the U.S. director of tourism for Barbados. Tourism accounted for 14% of the country’s annual gross domestic product in 2019, according to data published by the Central Bank of Barbados, and had a record number of international arrivals of more than 712,000. But in 2020, the number of visitors during the months of April, May and June were near zero.

Barbados is a relatively stable Small Island Developing State. It is a high-income country with the private sector being the main economic engine and tourism playing an important role. Around 80% of the GDP is generated from services in trade, transport, government, and business, and other services such as banking; tourism accounts for around 12% of the GDP.

Japan PM Abe resigns

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his resignation over health issues, opening a vacancy for the top job of the world’s third-biggest economy in which he sought to revive growth and bolster its defenses.

“I have decided that I will step down as prime minister, with the belief that I cannot continue being prime minister if I do not have the confidence that I can carry out the job entrusted to me by the people,” Abe, 65, told a news conference.

He said he had decided to step down now to avoid a political vacuum as the country copes with its novel coronavirus outbreak.

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart that despite all of the support from the Japanese people, I am leaving the post with one full year left in my term and in the midst of various policies and coronavirus,” Abe said.

Abe decision will trigger a leadership race in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – most likely in two or three weeks – and the winner must be formally elected in parliament. The new party leader will hold the post for the rest of Abe’s term.

Former defense minister Shigeru Ishiba and former foreign minister Fumio Kishida both swiftly expressed interes, media reported. Among others whose names have been floated is Abe’s close aide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Beirut: Rhosus capitan complained to Putin in vain

Rhosus entered the port of Beirut on November 21, 2013 and never left it again, the former capitan of the vessel Boris Prokoshev said in an interview to Russian media “Siberia. Realia”, reminiscent of his hostage experience, while administration of the port banned him and a part of his crew to leave Lebanon, until the fee to port would be paid by the ship owner.

“I wrote to Putin every month. I wrote that our condition is worse than that of the prisoners. The prisoner knows when he will be released, but we did not know when we would be released! And would we be released at all! The answer was a formal reply: your appeal was sent to the Foreign Ministry. The [Russian] consulate told me: what do you want? Putin to send special forces to release you from here by force? They could hire a lawyer, sue. But they did nothing. As a result, we sold the fuel ourselves and hired a lawyer. He filed a lawsuit against the Lebanese authorities, because they had no right to keep us, moreover our contracts have already ended. And through the court we were allowed to leave” Prokoshev said, sharing his memeories about his unfortunate work at Rhosus, which carried fertilises to Beirut port.

The last time the ship transmitted the signal was on August 7, 2014 – the same month the crew left it. The Lebanese authorities moved the cargo from the ship to a warehouse in the port, and in 2015 Rhosus was towed about 300 meters further. In February 2018, due to leaks, the ship sank in a few days. The Beirut authorities did not do anything with it, the remains of the vessel did not interfere with traffic, the newspaper writes.

One of the possible causes of Beirut blasts is said to be welding in the warehouse where the explosive cargo was stored. Lebanese President Michel Aoun has underlined that three versions of the incident are being considered: an accident, negligence of officials and external interference. Aoun did not rule out a bomb or rocket attack.

Ammonium nitrate, stored in the port of Beirut exploded on August 4, could not detonate on its own – for this, an external influence was necessary, the former captain of the vessel Prokoshev said, from whose ship an explosive cargo was confiscated six years ago.

“There was some external reason. Maybe a spark, maybe arson, an explosive device. There was some kind of external detonator,” Boris Prokoshev explained. According to him, the ammonium nitrate had double package – an airtight polyethylene bag and one more dense. “Air and water did not enter there. Each bag weighed a ton, there were 2,750 bags,” Prokoshev said.

In an interview with “Siberia. Realia” the captain said that he was hired at the moment when the Russian Igor Grechushkin bought it. According to the sailor, in 2013 the crew was sent to Batumi for a cargo of mineral fertilizers for delivery to Mozambique, but during the voyage the ship owner demanded to navigate to Lebanon and take an additional cargo of equipment of heavy machinery. It was then in the port of Beirut that the problems occurred. The Beirut cargo appeared too heavvy to be loaded, and also the port fee was not paid. These two debts had created a legal problem for Rhosus to leave the port, because the administration was not willing to realise it untill the amount paid, the capitan explained.

According to the captain, it turned out that the shipowner did not pay for either food supplies or port dues, and also owed 4 months’ salary to the previous crew. The Beirut authorities have forbidden “Rosus” to leave the port until the payment of the debts, and the sailors were banned to leave the country, de facto becoming the hostages of the port administration.

«And we stuck there for 11 months!» Prokoshev said. «We were not paid».

The sailors tried to go on strike and organize a hunger strike, but “there is no point in starving on the ship, only to die,” the former captain underlined. The sailors were able to return home only a year later, selling part of the fuel and hiring a lawyer, who sued the Lebanese government for illegally retaining part of the crew. Three months later, the court decided to allow the sailors to repatriate.

According to Prokoshev, the saltpeter was unloaded from the vessel after the crew left. At the same time, the sailors were left without the due salary. According to the captain’s calculations, he is owed more than $ 200,000, including damages for detention in Beirut.

Back in 2014, Prokoshev complained to the seamen’s union in Novorossiysk about the problems of the Rhosus crew. The complaint stated that the owner of the vessel could not sell it and pay off the sailors because of the dangerous cargo on board. The captain noted that the owner of the ship was offered to abandon it. In this case, all debts would have been paid, and Rhosus would have been sold for scrap, but the owner refused.

Grechushkin at first seemed normal, the captan said. Later he learned that the previous crew of “Rosus” left due to non-payment of salaries. They did not tell him anything, explained the dismissal by the fact that we had to go to Mozambique, and this is far, they did not want to. Initailly the captain was glad to go so far as Mozambique: to earn more for long distance navigation.

Rhosus first anchored in Greece, ordered food and supplies for the long voyage, but suddenly Grechushkin refused to pay. He said he had no money. Then he demanded to navigate to Beirut to take extra cargo on deck and earn extra money. There the ship was arrested for non-payment of the port dues.

Part of the team was able to leave Lebanon, but they refused to release the capitan, the chief engineer, the third engineer and the boatswain. The Lebanese authorities simply didn’t want to pay anyone to guard the vessel, and the dangerous cargo.

“…We lived at Rosus for 11 months. Grechushkin did not pay us and did not even buy food, one might say, doomed us to hunger. The port sent us food” he said.

“Our situation was worse than that of the prisoners: they know when they will be released, but we did not. I am a Russian citizen and every month I wrote to Putin! But I only got meaningless replies. The Russian consulate did nothing for us. We ended up selling fuel from the ship and hiring a lawyer”, he added. Through the courts, he obtained the release from the Lebanese authorities.

After returning to Russia, the capitan tried to sue Grechushkin, but he was told to file a lawsuit at his place of residence. And at that time he was already living in Cyprus. Grechushkin owes to the capitan $60 000, the chief engineer – $50 000, the third engineer – around $20 000, the boatswain – about $10 000. Although the customers from Mozambique paid him a million dollars, according to the previous captain of the Rosus, the capitan continues, Grechushkin just decided to abandon the ship and pocket a million.

At first the capitan was not worried: “I thought that the customers would not leave the cargo, they only paid a million for the transportation. But they “showed no movement at all”.

After the departure of the second part of the crew, ammonium nitrate from “Rosus” was unloaded to a warehouse under the responsibility of the Lebanese Ministry of Transport. The capitan learned about this from sailors he knew who came to Beirut. And the ship sank two or three years ago. It had a small hole, it was necessary to periodically pump out water. And if there was no crew, there was no one to do it, the capitan continued his narrative.

Boris Prokoshev is convinced that the authorities themselves are to blame for yesterday’s explosion in Beirut. “There was no point in arresting this ship, it was necessary to get rid of it as soon as possible!” the capitan concluded.

Beirut: Michel calls for independent enquiry

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, travelled to Beirut on 8 August 2020 to convey EU solidarity with the people in Lebanon after the devastating explosions on 4 August.

The President visited the Port of Beirut to witness the scale of the disaster. He called for an independent enquiry to shed light on the causes of this catastrophe and offered European expertise. During his visit, President Michel met with representatives of the Lebanese Red Cross and paid his respect to the rescue teams, including Europeans, working around the clock and showing tremendous courage.

«I’m touched by the bravery of the Lebanese people who have been hit by this tragedy in an already difficult context. The EU is a long-standing friend and partner. We are in full solidarity with Lebanon more than ever in these difficult times», Charles Michel said.

President Michel repeated the EU readiness to continue the provision of urgent assistance to help the people in Lebanon. The EU has already activated its emergency mechanisms.

It has mobilised EUR 33 million for emergency needs and more than 250 rescuers from European Member States are on the ground. Tons of emergency supplies have been made available and more will follow. Together with the President of the European Commission, President Michel urged all EU Member States to intensify their support to Lebanon both for the immediate needs and for the longer-term reconstruction. It is key that assistance reaches those who need it.

During his visit, the President of the European Council met with President Michel Aoun, Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and President of the Council of Ministers Hassan Diab. The unity and stability of Lebanon are all the more crucial today, both internally, and also for the whole region. President Michel also underlined the importance of structural reforms in line with the government’s reform plan and Lebanon’s international commitments and as called by the Lebanese people. An agreement with the International Monetary Fund is urgently needed. He therefore called for concrete steps to reform the financial system and to adopt anti-corruption measures.

« Local political forces should seize the opportunity and unite around a national effort to respond to the immediate needs but also more long term challenges the country is facing. It’s of critical importance for Lebanon to implement the fundamental structural reforms. The Lebanese can count on the European Union in this effort – but internal unity is key » Charles Michel has underlined.

President Aoun: blasts causes unknown

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said the Beirut  explosion cause remains unknown and that there’s a possible external interference via a rocket, bomb or another act, Reuters reports citing the president’s office.

It was the first acknowledgement by a Lebanese official of the possibility that huge blast may have been caused by a deliberate attack. Previously the prevailing hypothesis has been the negligence of the port administration, which did not evacuate the massive amount of the explosive substance, ignoring the demands of the relevant inspectorate during six years.

In the aftermath of the explosion the official had said a fire at the port had ignited tonnes of ammonium nitrate expropriated from a cargo ship and stored for years in a warehouse, and directly blamed the port administration.

Président also underlined that there will be no international investigation into the explosion causes. “No colonial power will return to Lebanon” he said, while answering questions of press.

The blast has killed at least 154 people, injured around to 5,000 and left 300,000 people homeless, among them 80 000 children.

Beirut Blasts: Borrell expresses «total support» to Lebanon

The European Union top diplomat Josep Borrell expressed his solidarity and support to people of Liban, the families of the victims, and the authorities following the violent explosions, ruining the port of Beirut.

The president of the EU Council Charles Michel ensured, that the EU will stand by people of Lebanon to provide assistance, he expressed his sympathies to families of vicitms, and wished people of Liban a lot of strength in this tragic circumstances.

A double blast in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, has killed at least 27 people and injured more than 2,500 others, the health minister Hamad Hassan said.

It is not yet clear what caused the explosion in the port region. Videos posted online showed a column of smoke followed by a large mushroom cloud. The port infractructe is reported to be destroyed completely, along with the stragegic goods as food storages.

Hospitals are said to be overwhelmed and many buildings have been destroyed, or damaged.

Lebanon’s internal security chief said the blast happened in an area housing highly explosive materials.

The explosion occurs at a sensitive time for Lebanon, with an economic crisis reigniting old divisions. Tensions are also high ahead of Friday’s verdict in a trial over the killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.


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