Monthly Archives: May 2019

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Kurdish rebel leader calls for cease-fire, say Turkey’s parliament must draft new constitution

ANKARA, Turkey – The jailed Kurdish rebel leader on Monday urged fighters to extend a cease-fire by several months to allow a new Turkish constitution to address their demands, but his followers refused to immediately rule out further attacks.

Abdullah Ocalan’s word carries enormous weight with rebel commanders in the field. But the group said in a statement it was coming under attack from Turkish forces and authorities were still arresting Kurdish activists.

“Taking into consideration these developments and the ambiguous nature of the current political climate, our movement has decided to discuss and evaluate the appeal of our leader in a comprehensive manner and declare our stance during the following week,” the statement from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, said.

The rebel group, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the West, is fighting for autonomy in Turkey in a conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. A Turkish campaign to grant more rights to Kurds stalled amid a nationalist backlash, but the government has promised to address the issue as part of an overhaul of the constitution.

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In a message relayed to his group through his lawyers, Ocalan urged the new parliament to immediately start working on a new constitution, the rebels said. He called on PKK fighters to avoid clashes and only defend themselves if attacked.

Ocalan had previously threatened to end the cease-fire on June 15, and warned of increased violence by his rebel group unless Turkey’s government agreed to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Ocalan no longer runs rebel operations since his capture in 1999, but he retains considerable sway over the guerrillas, who are mostly in hiding in bases in northern Iraq.

The rebels also said Ocalan had met with a group of state officials on June 14, two days after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party won a third term in office.

Last year, state officials travelled to Ocalan’s prison island a few times to talk with him, his lawyers said. Turkey says it does not negotiate with the outlawed group, but has acknowledged that intelligence agents have talked to Ocalan for years.

The Kurdish minority makes up about 20 per cent of Turkey’s 74 million people, and has traditionally been a target of state discrimination.

UN refugee chief calls for open borders during war, more burden-sharing from wealthy nations

ROME – The U.N. refugee chief on Monday urged all countries to keep their borders open and offer protection to refugees fleeing violence since “new crises multiply and old crises never end.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres spoke after some European nations including Italy have shown resistance to opening their doors to people feeling unrest and violence across North Africa and the Middle East.

Guterres spoke of an “impression” seeded across Europe that all refugees were coming to the continent. But, he said, “it’s simply not true that refugees are moving massively to the north.”

A report released Monday by UNHCR said four-fifths of the world’s 15.4 million refugees are hosted by developing countries.

In Libya, for example, about 1 million people – not all of them refugees – have fled to neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt since the beginning of the violence, Guterres told reporters in Rome. Less than 2 per cent of that number have crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

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“My appeal to all states of the world is to keep the borders open to all those who seek protection and are entitled to receive protection,” he said. He also called for a “new deal in burden- and responsibility-sharing” in the handling of refugees, saying wealthy countries should offer more support to countries in the developing world, since they are bearing the brunt of refugee crises.

Guterres was marking World Refugee Day and the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, aimed at protecting civilians and prisoners in time of war. On Sunday he went to Lampedusa, the tiny Italian island where some 20,000 people arrived after fleeing unrest in Tunisia and Libya. Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the refugee agency, also toured the island.

Guterres called on the Italian government not to send people back to Libya.

The conservative government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi signed an agreement last week with Libyan rebels meant to stem the influx of migrants. The government includes a xenophobic party, the Northern League, as a junior partner, and the interior minister handling the crisis, Roberto Maroni, is a prominent League official.

The deal, among other things, allows for the deportation of immigrants without proper status, prompting concerns that it might prevent refugees from being properly screened for asylum claims.

“I don’t believe that we can consider that the present Libyan situation is conducive to any kind of return into Libya,” Guterres said Monday. “Imagine what would happen if the Tunisians and Egyptians would have returned the 1 million people.”

He said the best way to handle the situation is to grant access to the territory to migrant boats, and then assess whether or not the people on board are entitled to protection.

However, Guterres said he was impressed by sea rescue operations that have been carried out by Coast Guard officials off Lampedusa in the past months.

Later in the day, Guterres met with Maroni, the Italian interior minister, who has been in charge of handling the migration crisis. A statement from the ministry sought to play down any controversies, focusing on co-operation, the UNHCR’s call for burden-sharing and its commitment to support the democratic transition of “Arab spring” nations.

According to the report released Monday, more than a quarter of the world’s refugees are in just three nations: Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

Those figures don’t include the latest wave of people displaced by this year’s unrest in North Africa. Guterres said Monday that “at the end of 2010 we had the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people of the last 15 years.”

Palestinians make up one-third of the world’s refugee population – a total of almost 5 million people – many of whom have lived in neighbouring countries all their lives.

Aside from the 15.4 million refugees – a small increase of 153,000 since 2009 – UNHCR also counted 27.5 million internally displaced people and 850,000 asylum seekers last year.

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Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans contributed from Geneva.

American lawyer, professor celebrate Nepal’s first public lesbian wedding ceremony

DAKSHINKALI, Nepal – A lawyer and a college professor from the United States celebrated Nepal’s first public lesbian wedding ceremony Monday in the Himalayan nation that recently began recognizing gay rights and drafting laws to end sexual discrimination.

Courtney Mitchell, 41, and Sarah Welton, 48, from Denver, Colorado, celebrated in a Hindu Nepalese tradition at the Dakshinkali temple south of Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan nation. Local gay rights activists and supporters cheered the ceremony attended by their close friends.

Nepal Parliament member Sunilbabu Pant, a gay rights activist, said it was the first public wedding of a lesbian couple in the mostly conservative nation.

Same-sex marriages are not legal in Nepal, where gay couples hid their relationships until recently, when the supreme court ordered the government to legally guarantee sexual rights and end discrimination. The laws are being drafted, but broader political differences have delayed passage.

Pant said while Monday’s wedding did not hold any legal status, “it was a huge achievement for gay rights campaign in Nepal.”

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Pant and his group, called Blue Diamond Society, have been fighting for their rights and have even opened a travel agency hoping to bring in foreign gay couples to come to Nepal for weddings and honeymoon.

At the temple, 14 miles (22 kilometres) south of Kathmandu, Mitchell wore trousers, a hat and vest while Welton wore a red sari and covered her head with a veil.

A Hindu priest performed the ceremony. The couple offered flowers, fruits and money to the fire and gods at the traditional ceremony. The couple put flower garlands on each other while Mitchell put red vermillion powder on Welton’s forehead, which is equivalent of exchanging of rings in a Christian wedding.

The guests danced to tunes played by a traditional band with drums and trumpets. One musician, Sitaram Basiyar, said he has performed at hundreds of weddings in his lifetime but this was his first lesbian wedding.

“I never thought I would see such a wedding in my lifetime,” he said.

The couple said they were happy to be married in Nepal and to contribute to the campaign for gay rights in the country.

“It was my dream wedding come true. This is a fabulous ceremony,” Welton said.

Mitchell worked with the U.S. Peace Corp in Nepal between 1998 and 2003, when people did not admit homosexuality.

“It is because if everything that has been happening since 2003 with sexual minority rights we decided to come here for the wedding,” Mitchell said. “We are very excited about all the progress Nepal has made for gay rights in Nepal and I really wanted to show my support for Nepal.”

The couple who met at a birthday party five years ago have adopted a 9-month-old girl.

They plan to register their wedding in the state of Iowa, where same-sex marriage is legal, while it is not in Colorado.

Blue Diamond Society organized a ceremony last year for a Briton and Indian united in Nepal’s first wedding ceremony for a gay couple. It was a private ceremony attended by a few guests.

EU foreign ministers add 6 Libyan port authorities to assets freeze, pledge postwar help

LUXEMBOURG – European Union foreign ministers harshly condemned the regime of Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi on Monday, saying there could be no impunity for crimes against humanity and urging his followers to distance themselves from such crimes.

“Time is not on Gadhafi’s side,” the foreign ministers said in a statement. “He has lost all legitimacy to remain in power.”

The 27 foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, toughened the EU’s sanctions against the regime by adding six port authorities controlled by Gadhafi’s forces to its asset-freeze list. The ports were not named.

The statement said the officials were concerned about the humanitarian situation, particularly in the city of Misrata and in the western mountains, and said charity organizations must be granted unhindered access throughout Libya without delay. It reiterated the offer – made many times, but never accepted – to support the delivery of humanitarian aid with an EU military force if requested to do so by the U.N.

The statement also said the EU, working with the U.N., the World Bank and regional organizations, had started to mobilize its resources to support a political transition in Libya and will also help with post-conflict reconstruction.

“The EU is committed to supporting the building of a democratic state,” the statement said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has expressed concern about postwar stability in Libya if planning is not done.

She has said a successful post-conflict period in North Africa will require what she calls the three M’s: money, market access and mobility. She wants Europe to contribute billions of euros (dollars) to develop the economies of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

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Embarrassing incidents for Airbus at Paris Air Show, where rivalry with Boeing heats up

LE BOURGET, France – One of Airbus’ star jets was grounded after clipping a wing on a taxiway structure, the latest in a string of embarrassments for the European planemaker at the aviation industry’s premier showcase.

The A380 superjumbo suffered damage to its wing tip Sunday after the slow-speed collision with a building at the Le Bourget airport, where the air show is taking place, EADS spokesman Alexander Reinhardt said Monday.

Airbus quickly found a replacement jet for demonstration flights during the air show, an A380 operated by Korean Air. But the plane maker is still facing other setbacks.

The Airbus A400M military transport plane had to cancel a demonstration flight because of what the manufacturer described as a minor gearbox problem, although the aircraft will still make a fly-over during President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the air show on Monday, Reinhardt said.

On Saturday, Airbus announced that two of the three versions of its new widebody jet, the A350, would be delayed about two years.

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The stretched A350-1000 is being pushed back to 2017 to give engine supplier Rolls Royce time to develop a more powerful motor that will extend the jet’s range, Airbus said. The standard version of the plane, the A350-900, is still expected to arrive in the second half of 2013, Airbus said.

Airbus takes on its traditional rival Boeing Co. at the air show, where both are expected to announce a string of orders as they vie for the position of biggest planemaker in the world.

Qatar Airways announced an order for six Boeing 777 planes in a $1.7 billion deal at the start of the show Monday.

Beyond the rivalry, the search for more environmentally friendly aircraft is shaping up as a major theme of this year’s Paris Air Show, the world’s largest and oldest aviation showcase.

The aviation industry has suffered this year from skyrocketing fuel costs and bleak forecasts for the international air transport market.

The International Air Transport Association last month warned that natural disasters in Japan, unrest in the Middle East and rising fuel prices would cause airline industry profits to collapse only a year after they’d begun to recover from the global economic crisis.

More than 2,100 exhibitors from 45 countries have signed up to take part in the weeklong event showcasing both commercial and defence aircraft. Airbus expects to bag bountiful orders for a new, more fuel-efficient version of its workhorse A320 shorthaul jet, while Boeing is spotlighting its new mid-range 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 intercontinental passenger jets.

Gallois said the air show, at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, “will confirm the success of the A320neo,” a revamped version of the standard A320 reengineered to be 15 per cent more fuel efficient.

Airbus has booked more than 330 orders and commitments for the A320neo since its commercial launch last December, including from airlines IndiGo, Virgin American, Brazil’s TAM and airplane leasing company ILFC.

Airlines squeezed by higher fuel prices are rushing to order the jet, which isn’t scheduled to come into service until late 2015. Boeing hasn’t yet chosen how it will respond, but top marketing executive Randy Tinseth said last week it would decide in the coming months whether to upgrade its existing 737 model or design a whole new plane, which wouldn’t be in the air until the end of the decade.

Boeing and Honeywell are both boasting of having the first biofuel-powered trans-Atlantic flight, with Boeing flying in its 747-8 freighter from Seattle on a mix of biofuel and jet fuel, while Honeywell touts the “green jet fuel” it developed to power a Gulfstream business jet on its way from New Jersey to Le Bourget just in time for the air show kickoff.

EADS will also demonstrate the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid aircraft at the show, another leg in its strategy of cutting its fleet’s carbon dioxide emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

Skyrocketing fuel costs are a major issue for Airbus and Boeing customers, who will see their profits plunge to $4 billion this year from $18 billion in 2010, according to the IATA forecast released earlier this month.

Major airlines have increased fares seven times since the start of the year as fuel prices rose.

The airshow will also be the battleground in the yearly showdown between Boeing and Airbus for dominance in booking new orders. Airlines in fast-growing Asian and Middle Eastern countries have been ordering hundreds of new aircraft to meet skyrocketing air traffic in those regions.

Airbus edged out Boeing at last year’s Farnborough International Airshow, racking up deals totalling $13.2 billion, while Chicago-based Boeing’s commitments came in at $12.8 billion.

Those results were both a big improvement over the results of the last Paris Air Show in 2009, when many airlines closed their checkbooks in the wake of the global financial meltdown.

Last week Boeing Co. upped its forecast for aircraft demand over the next 20 years, saying airlines will need $4 trillion worth of new planes to meet a pickup in passenger numbers, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

Going into next week’s event, Airbus has taken in 176 gross orders this year, compared to Boeing’s 183 gross orders.

Boeing is the world’s No. 2 commercial jet maker after Airbus, based on 2010 deliveries. Airbus delivered 510 commercial planes last year, compared with 462 for Boeing.

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Jamey Keaten at Le Bourget contributed to this report.