UNITED NATIONS: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today underscored the role of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) in building “more peaceful, just and resilient societies, a key objective of the 2030 UN Development Agenda, in his remarks on the opening day of the eighth annual Global Forum.
The secretary-general recalled last month’s horrendous attack against Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh, a city in the US state of Pennsylvania, who were gunned down while praying, stating: “It was an unspeakable act – yet I was struck by the voices that emerged. The local Muslim community, for example, raised tens of thousands of dollars to help the victims.”
UNAOC works to promote dialogue, cooperation, and harmony among religions, civilizations, and cultures. More than 1,000 scholars are taking part to share knowledge and explore innovative ways of promoting inclusive approaches to conflict prevention as a pathway for sustaining peace. According to the UN chief, “the Alliance is not a feel-good initiative.”
He explained its mission as “fundamental to peace, to security, to sustainable development, to the world we need to build,” while underscoring the need to promote conditions where people of different identities, faiths, and cultures “can live in harmony, free of discrimination and persecution.”
The UN chief stressed that this is not the case today, citing the ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Rohingyas and Iraq’s Yazidi, whose men are slaughtered, and women and girls sold into slavery.
“These peoples, and many more around the world, are guilty of nothing except being different from their persecutors,” he stated, calling it “unacceptable” and “a source of deep shame.”
He also pointed to the resurgence of Neo-Nazis organizations and anti-Semitism; vitriol directed at refugees and migrants; homophobia; and violence against women as reasons why “we must all work together to build societies that are truly respectful and inclusive, where diversity is seen as a richness, not a threat.”
“I am particularly pleased that the Alliance of Civilizations is providing a global space for religious leaders to exchange views and explore how to amplify their role,” he said. Second is the creativity of young people, for which his youth strategy creates an environment for young people to engage with the UN – and with each other to promote understanding.
Finally, he argued that all efforts be “anchored” universal human rights, where societies are based on “true respect for the diversity of humankind.”
“And that is why we need the Alliance of Civilizations – so people of all faiths and cultures and identities, can live together peacefully, safely and free of fear,” concluded the Secretary-General.
For her part, General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa flagged that the world is facing “a complex global juncture marked by multiple crises,” including poverty, inequality, climate change, forced migration, conflicts, terrorism, and intolerance, for the call for “a strong collective action and global agreements.”
“To build those agreements, the dialogue is the most powerful mean,” she maintained.
On migration, she reminded the Forum that in December, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which is the first international cooperation framework encompassing a comprehensive and balanced vision, will be adopted.
“As representative of 193 States who have different histories, cultures, languages and models of development, but who share the aspiration of coexisting in peace and developing in a sustainable manner,” Ms. Espinosa expressed her confidence that the Forum’s debates “will contribute to creating innovative solutions to
prevent conflicts, maintain peace and promote reconciliation, acknowledging that diversity is the greatest source of wealth that humanity has.”
The Alliance’s High Representative, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser also spoke at the opening ceremony of the two-day event, along with Alliance co-sponsors Deputy Prime Minister of Spain Carmen Calvo and Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu.
The Alliance’s High Representative, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, highlighted that despite notable achievements in key areas of work – such as in preventing hate speech, supporting intercultural and interfaith dialogue, empowering youth and strengthening peace education – “inciters of hate take pride in driving a wedge between different ethnic groups and civilizations.”
“For them, culture is a source of division, instead of a basis for dialogue and richness,” he said, adding that these challenges “require our collective resolve.”
The High Representative urged the Forum, over the next two days, to take stock of its achievements, identify challenges, and forge new and innovative partnerships “in pursuit of peace, justice, and human dignity.”
The Alliance co-sponsors Deputy Prime Minister of Spain Carmen Calvo and Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu also addressed the group.
Ankara train crash leaves nine dead
ANKARA: Nine people were killed and nearly 90 injured after a high-speed train crashed into a locomotive in the Turkish capital on Thursday, officials said, becoming the latest rail disaster to hit the country.
The accident comes less than six months after 24 people were killed in a train crash in northwestern Turkey in a series of several fatal accidents in recent years.
Transport Minister Cahit Turhan told reporters that three of those killed were operators of the train. One of the victims died in hospital, he added.
Among those killed was a German citizen, a source in the Ankara governor’s office told AFP, confirming reports in German media.
The Ankara public prosecutor said 86 people were injured. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca earlier said 34 of those injured were still in hospital for treatment.
Two were in a serious condition, Koca added on Twitter.
The fast train had been on its way from Ankara’s main station to the central province of Konya. According to Hurriyet daily, there were 206 passengers on board.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said three people had been detained. In a speech in Ankara, he vowed those responsible would be held to account.
The three were employees of the Turkish state railways agency who were detained over suspected negligence, according to state news agency Anadolu.
Ankara governor Vasip Sahin said the accident happened “after the 6.30 high-speed train to Konya hit a locomotive tasked with checking rails on the same route.”
Turhan said the accident took place six minutes after the train left Ankara as it entered the Marsandiz station.
The governor said, “technical investigations” were underway to find out exactly what caused the crash in Yenimahalle district.
The capital’s chief prosecutor launched an investigation into the crash, Anadolu said.
Images published by Turkish media showed some wagons had derailed and debris from the train scattered on the track, which was covered in snow.
The windows of one wagon were completely broken while another wagon had been smashed after hitting the footbridge, which also collapsed, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
The correspondent saw at least seven bodies taken away as rescue workers searched the blue and white wagons covered with debris.
Turkish Red Crescent relief workers distributed blankets and tea to the survivors, who were gathered on a road near the scene that had been blocked to traffic.
A female witness whose name was not given told NTV broadcaster that the passenger train had not yet increased its speed when the crash happened.
A relative of one of those aboard the train told the channel that some passengers had broken windows and then safely exited the wagons.
One of those killed was Berahitdin Albayrak, a science lecturer and former vice-chancellor at Ankara University, the institution said on Twitter.
Later trains from Konya to Ankara and vice versa were canceled.
Renault board maintains Ghosn as CEO
PARIS: The board of the French automaker Renault said today that it was keeping Carlos Ghosn as its chief executive after an internal review of his pay package found that it conformed with French law.
Ghosn has been held under arrest in Japan since November 19 on charges of financial misconduct and under-reporting his pay as head of Renault’s partner Nissan, which has since sacked him as chairman. He has also been dismissed as chairman of Mitsubishi, another partner in the Renault-Nissan alliance. Renault kept Ghosn on as CEO after his arrest in Tokyo, but launched an inquiry into his pay package and named a deputy CEO, Thierry Bollore, to ensure day-to-day management.
“The compensation of the chairman and chief executive officer of Renault and the conditions under which such compensation was approved were in compliance with applicable law,” the automaker said after a board meeting Thursday. The board said this referred to compensation for the years 2015 to 2018, adding that it had asked its lawyers to continue their review in liaison with Nissan’s lawyers.
Renault’s lawyers also provided the board with a report on a presentation made by Nissan’s lawyers, the statement said. At this stage, the board “does not have information concerning Carlos Ghosn’s defense,” it added. Both Ghosn and a key aide Greg Kelly, who is also being held in Japan in connection with the charges, have reportedly denied the claims.
May seeks EU compromise to save Brexit deal
BRUSSELS: Bloodied but not yet beaten, British Prime Minister Theresa May met EU leaders on Thursday to beg for concessions that might save her Brexit deal but admitted she does not expect a rapid breakthrough.
May survived a confidence vote staged by her own party’s MPs late on Wednesday, but admitted as she arrived at the EU summit that she will not fight the next general election planned for 2022.
Instead, her focus is on salvaging her plan for an orderly Brexit and on persuading her European counterparts to offer guarantees that Britain will not remain trapped indefinitely in their customs union.
The other 27 EU leaders have agreed to draft a reassuring political statement, but remain firmly opposed to renegotiating a hard-won withdrawal deal they endorsed less than three weeks ago.
“My focus now is to get those assurances that we need to get this deal over the line because I genuinely believe it’s in the best interests of both sides, of the UK and the EU,” May said.
“I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough but what I do hope is that we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary,” she said.
European diplomats are discussing a two-step plan that would see a brief political statement issued at the summit, followed in January by a legal interpretation of the deal.
“It’s all about clarification tonight,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
May was due to meet EU President Donald Tusk in Brussels for what he called “last-minute talks” before joining the other European leaders.
EU members have drawn up a draft six-paragraph statement they hope will appease British concerns about the so-called “Irish backstop” and give life to May’s effort to get the deal through parliament.
Last month the withdrawal accord was hailed as the end to a 17-month negotiation, and leaders dared hope they had saved Britain from crashing out of the union on March 29 without a deal.
But when May took it home, she ran into renewed opposition from hardline Brexiteers in her Conservative party and this week she baulked at putting it to a vote in parliament.
Now, with the vote delayed until January, she wants Europe to sweeten the offer with “reassurances” that measures to prevent the return of a hard border with Ireland will not last indefinitely.
According to European diplomats, the proposed summit statement would declare that any backstop “would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary”.
And it will add: “The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurances can be provided. Such assurances will not change or contradict the withdrawal agreement.”
This would not be the legally binding promise, sought by Brexiteers, that the backstop would not be used to bind the UK into a customs union indefinitely.
“This is incredibly innocent language. Nothing of this is new. There is no end date for the backstop,” one European source told the Media.
Brexit will once again dominate an EU summit which had been planned to deal with the thorny issues of migration, budgets and eurozone.
After May made a desperate three-capital European tour on Tuesday to seek assistance from fellow leaders, Tusk had said he would love to help her, but “the question is how”.
European officials insist in public and in private that the backstop must stay. “The idea of a sell-by date won’t stand,” one said.
May also met Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar before the summit. “Nobody is talking about and nobody is being asked to – by the British prime minister – to change the wording of the withdrawal agreement,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said in Dublin.
“What is being looked at now seriously is how a political declaration can be put together that is real, that provides reassurance for many in Westminster who need it, that the backstop represents no threat to them, no threat to the United Kingdom.”
Anything May does come away with must convince her own party, its angry Northern Irish allies and a majority of British MPs to back the deal when it returns to for a vote before January 21.
Her victory in a confidence vote of Conservative MPs late Wednesday made her immune from further challenge in her party for a year, but she was forced to admit she would quit by 2022.
And if the Brexit agreement is still found wanting not only would Britain and its main trading partners face economic chaos, but May could be finished off by a parliamentary vote of no confidence.