HUNGARY TRIES TO STEM REFUGEE TIDE
Hungary may be considering deploying its army to help police stem the daily arrival of thousands of refugees at its southern border with Serbia. A new razor wire is being built along the border, and the Hungarian military was also staging border protection exercises yesterday, the BBC reports. Human rights groups have criticized the move. Human Rights Watch official Peter Bouckaert described â€œappalling conditions in Hungary detention camps for asylum seekers, kept in crowded pens like cattle.â€
- Meanwhile, Denmark suspended all rail links with Germany and temporarily closed a highway yesterday after police stopped hundreds of migrants trying to reach Sweden at the border. But Danish train operator DSB announced that traffic would be normalized between the two countries today, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reports.
- Ireland announced today that it would take in 4,000 refugees over the coming months, The Irish Times reports.
â€œRussia has never made a secret of its military-technical cooperation with Syria,â€ The Guardian quotes Moscowâ€™s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying yesterday. Confirming that â€œRussian military specialists are in Syria to help them master the weapons being supplied,â€ she also insisted this presence was not unusual.
- Western countries have expressed concern recently over signs of a growing Russian presence in Syria. â€œThat will not contribute to solving the conflict,â€ Reuters quoted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as saying.
- Citing military sources, the Russian daily Kommersant reported today that Moscow was supplying Syrian government forces with firearms, grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers. The source said the supplies â€œare in accordance with international law and in line with all formalities and existing contracts between the Russian and Syrian government.â€
- For more on this topic, we offer this Kommersant/Worldcrunch piece, As Tensions Rise With U.S., Russia Teams Up With Iran To Help Assad.
FLOODS, LANDSLIDES HIT JAPAN
Photo: ebibi via Instagram
More than 90,000 people have fled their homes in the city of Joso, about 50 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, after the Kinugawa River burst its banks today, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shinbun reports. One woman has been reported missing and at least a dozen people have been injured. According to the Bangkok Post, hundreds of tons of radiation-contaminated water could also be flowing into the ocean from the crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor. The tsunami-like floods, along with landslides, come a day after Typhoon Etau brought heavy rainfall to the region. â€œThis is a scale of downpour that we have not experienced before,â€ chief forecaster Takuya Deshimaru said during a press conference today. â€œGrave danger could be imminent.â€
ANGELA MERKEL, NEXT NOBEL WINNER?
Could German Chancellor Angela Merkel be a potential candidate for the next Nobel Peace Prize? Le Monde seems to think so. In an editorial titled â€œAngela Merkel, the Pride of Europe,â€ the French daily says, among other glowing commentary, that she has defended â€œthe values of Europeâ€ through her humane and astute management of the refugee crisis.
Read more about France and Merkel in our Extra! feature.
NEW HUMAN-LIKE SPECIES DISCOVERED
A team of scientists in South Africa claim they have discovered a new human-like species in a burial chamber deep in a cave system near Johannesburg, scientific journal Elife reports. According to the researchers, this discovery could change ideas about our human ancestors. More than 1,500 bones belonging to at least 15 people were found in the cave and thousands more are still expected to be excavated. The species could have lived in Africa up to 3 million years ago.
ON THIS DAY
Happy 82nd birthday to designer Karl Lagerfeld, of Chanel and Fendi fame. That and more in todayâ€™s shot of history.
ISIS WANTS RANSOM FOR NEW HOSTAGES
ISIS claimed in the latest issue of its publication Dabiq that it was holding two men, a Norwegian and a Chinese, hostage and asked for unspecified ransoms for their release. Norwayâ€™s Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed this but insisted Oslo â€œdoes not pay ransoms,â€ Al Arabiya reports.
Traditional local populations are facing the brunt of the environmental fallout in the massive lake between Bolivia and Peru, Frédéric Faux reports for Le Temps. â€œWe are in the bay of Cohana, where the rivers running from El Alto finally meet Lake Titicaca, in an industrial suburb of La Paz, the Bolivian capital,â€ he writes. â€œThe rivers, visible between banks of totoras â€" Titicacaâ€™s typical reeds â€" carry along heavy and putrid water. Theyâ€™ve spawned endemic pollution, particularly alarming when we consider that this â€˜small lakeâ€™ is on average less than 10 meters deep. But since last April, a new phenomenon alerted lakeside residents. Huge patches of green algae appeared, drifted and decomposed, giving off an unbearable stench. Much of the fauna, deprived of oxygen, did not survive, including renowned giant Titicaca water frogs studied by the great French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s.â€
Read the full article, Symbol Of Andean Purity, Lake Titicaca Risks Environmental Nightmare.
SAUDI-LED GROUP STRIKES YEMEN CAPITAL
The Saudi-led coalition against Yemenâ€™s Houthi movement launched airstrikes throughout the countryâ€™s capital of Sanaa today, in what witnesses quoted by Reuters have described as the fiercest series of attacks on the city in over five months of war. The strikes reportedly hit military bases and the homes of political leaders linked to the Houthi rebels. The coalition has been stepping up airstrikes and troop deployment in the region since a Houthi missile killed at least 60 coalition troops last week.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
RUSSIA BUILDS BASE NEAR UKRAINE BORDER
Russia has begun construction of a huge military base housing ammunition depots and barracks for several thousand soldiers near the Ukrainian border, a project that suggests the Kremlin is digging in for a prolonged standoff with Kiev, Reuters reports.
LEBANON TO RESUME TRASH DISPOSAL
The Lebanese government approved a plan Wednesday to end the garbage disposal crisis that has been causing major demonstrations in and around Beirut, The Daily Star reports. Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb said the plan would transfer garbage management responsibilities to municipalities, which demonstrators demanded.
A HARD-KNOCK LIFE
Susanne Klatten, Germanyâ€™s richest woman and a major BMW shareholder, said in an interview with Stern magazine that she regards wealth as â€œa burden.â€ Itâ€™s a dogâ€™s world for the 1%.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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