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UN rushes aid as Yemeni port is shelled

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MANHATTAN: As the Yemeni port city of Hodeida continues to come under attack from Saudi-led coalition forces on Thursday, seeking to drive out Houthi rebels who control the city, the United Nations and humanitarian partners are rushing to provide life-saving assistance to thousands of vulnerable families there.

Dozens of UN staff are in the city helping to deliver food, water and health services, Lise Grande, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement. We estimate that 600,000 civilians are in the city – many of whom are dependent on assistance to survive.

According to news reports, the assault on the crucial entry point for most of the war-torn country’s essential food imports, began early on Wednesday, after diplomatic attempts to prevent the Yemeni government forces and their allies from launching the offensive, failed.

Humanitarian partners have been preparing for a possible assault for weeks. Agencies have prepositioned 63,000 metric tonnes of food, tens of thousands of emergency kits, nutrition supplies, water, and fuel. Medical teams have been dispatched and humanitarian service points established.

Yesterday, even as the city was being shelled and bombarded, an UN-contracted vessel, which is docked at Hodeidah port, off-loaded thousands of metric tonnes of food. Two more vessels are making preparations to do the same, she said. On Thursday, partners have been distributing emergency boxes with food and hygiene supplies to civilians displaced by the fighting, south of the city.

Humanitarian agencies and front-line partners already have substantial aid programmes in the city. Every day 50,000 liters of safe drinking water are being distributed and health teams have been helping to halt the spread of cholera and other life-threatening diseases. Under the international humanitarian law, parties to the conflict are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians and ensure they have access to the assistance they need to survive, said Ms. Grande.

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Pakistan

Flexibility shown in appointing PAC chairman!

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ISLAMABAD: Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser Thursday said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government had shown great flexibility for resolving the deadlock regarding the appointment of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Chairman for the smooth functioning of the parliament.
Talking to a private news channel, he said after the appointment of the PAC chairman the legislation process would restart in the National Assembly and Chairman of Senate standing committees and other committees would be appointed to carry out legislation.
Replying to a question, he said there would be no comprise over the accountability process in the country and the deadlock was resolved on the condition that the accounts of previous government would be monitored by a senior member of the PTI and remaining accounts by the PAC Chairman.
Responding to another question, he said the decision regarding PAC Chairman was taken in consultation with the senior leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. It was important to continue the legislation process of the National Assembly, he added.

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Politics

UN chief hails truce agreed over Yemen’s port 

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UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Thursday welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire between Yemen’s warring parties in and around the key port of Hudaydah, saying it would improve the lives of millions of people.
Speaking on the last day of UN-led talks in Sweden to decide the future of the war-torn country, where its people are in the grip of the worlds worst humanitarian crisis, Guterres told those present that they had the future of Yemen in their hands.
You have reached an agreement on Hudaydah port and city, which will see a mutual re-deployment of forces from the port and the city, and the establishment of a Governorate-wide ceasefire, he said, noting that the UN would play a leading role in the port.
This will facilitate humanitarian access and the flow of goods to the civilian population. It will improve the living conditions for millions of Yemenis, he insisted.
Nearly four years after fighting escalated between the Government of Yemen and Houthi opposition movement, known officially as Ansar Allah, more than 24 million people – three-quarters of the population – need some me form of assistance and protection.
Some 20 million are food insecure and 10 million of these people do not know how they will obtain their next meal.
While noting that pending issues have yet to be resolved, the UN chief said that representatives from the internationally-recognized Government of Yemen and the opposition had made real progress which had yielded several important results.
These included a mutual understanding to ease the situation in Taizz, Guterres said, in reference to the country’s third largest city.
We hope this will lead to the opening of humanitarian corridors and the facilitation of demining, he added.
On the previously-agreed issue of a mass exchange of prisoners, the UN Secretary-General noted that both delegations had drawn up a timeline and provided further details on when it might happen.
This would allow thousands – I repeat, thousands – of Yemenis to be reunited with their families, Guterres said, with UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, at his side.
Looking ahead to a new meeting between both parties in the new year, the UN chief insisted that another very important step for the peace process had been agreed, namely a willingness to discuss a framework for negotiations.
You have agreed to meet again to continue to discuss this further at the end of January during the next round of negotiations, Guterres said, adding that it was a critical element of a future political settlement to end the conflict.
We have a better understanding of the positions of the parties, he added, noting their constructive engagement, while also crediting the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait for their concrete support in making the meeting happen.
Welcoming the announcement on the Hudaydah ceasefire, the World Food Programme (WFP) underlined that the Red Sea port was key to importing some 70 percent of Yemen’s humanitarian and 90 percent of its commercial needs.
Any progress towards peace is good progress, as long as it helps the Yemeni people who have suffered so much in this conflict, WFP Executive Director David Beasley, noting that what Yemen needed most was lasting peace.
Today’s announcement gives us hope that the World Food Programmes work to feed 12 million severely hungry Yemenis may be made easier in the coming weeks and months.
Owing to the conflict, in recent weeks imports have decreased by about half at Hudaydahs docks, WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said.
In November, our target in Hudaydah Governorate was to reach 800 000 people in need of food assistance. This ceasefire will, of course, help us in our daily activities as the region is one of WFPs priorities.

 

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Europe

 May seeks EU compromise to save Brexit deal

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British PM fends off Brexit defeat by pro-EU rebels

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.

 

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