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Liverpool bomb investigators ‘discovering more by the hour’ says security minister

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independent– Security minister Damian Hinds has said counterterrorism police are “discovering more by the hour” about the Liverpool attack, as he suggested it was “not impossible” others could have been involved.

His remarks come after police named the failed bomber who died in the Liverpool Women’s Hospital explosion as 32-year-old Emad al-Swealmeen and the UK’s terror threat was raised to “severe” from “substantial”.

Addressing the situation, Mr Hinds stressed it could be “weeks” before the full picture of the attack is known, including the motivation and whether others were involved.

“It’s a live investigation and the police do have the space, the time, to be able to conduct that investigation fully and carry on their searches of the key address and carry on with the analysis,” he told Times Radio.

He said: “It’s not impossible that there could be other people involved. If that is the case, as the police said in their statement last night, they’ll make arrests quickly.

“I’m not in a position to be able to comment on the background of the individual, the deceased individual or to speculate about the case.”

In a separate interview on Sky News, the minister also said the Covid pandemic and lockdowns may have “exacerbated” the number of people self-radicalising online — an issue previously highlighted by experts.

He said: “It certainly is true that we’ve seen a move over time, a shift from these what we call directed attacks, part of a bigger organisation where people are following instructions, sometimes quite complex in their organisation, and move from that to more self-directed, some self-radicalised individuals or small groups, rarely totally, totally alone.”

He added: “There has been that move. During the lockdown periods there have been more people spending more time in front of computer screens and we know that when that happens for a very small minority, a very very small minority, there can be radicalisation.

“I’m afraid it’s not brand now — radicalisation, self-radicalisation on the internet, the propaganda, the way people make contact with each other, that is not a new development, but like a number of things the changes we saw through the coronavirus period, through lockdown changed the modus operandi and this case yes they will have exacerbated and increased the amount of time people are spending online”.

But he defended the decision to reduce the terror threat in February when quizzed on the issue, saying: “The alert level is determined independently of ministers — it’s not something I determine, or the Home Secretary determines.

“We have a body JTAC — Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre — who are experts in this area. They use the alert level the way that law enforcement, security services and others can calibrate what they are doing.

“We’ve been at a high alert for a very long time now and that’s the important,” he added.

Asked again on why the alert level was changed despite the risk of people becoming radicalised online during the pandemic, he added: “The alert level was substantial, meaning an attack was likely.”

He added: “These are not decisions that I made or ministers mind. We trust professionals and experts in the field. My opinion is that I absolutely trust them to make those correct judgments. “

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Covid: Europe region faces 700,000 more deaths by March – WHO

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bbc– A further 700,000 people could die of Covid by March in Europe and parts of Asia, the World Health Organization has warned.

The death toll already exceeds 1.5 million in the 53 countries of what the WHO terms as its Europe region.

The WHO warned of “high or extreme stress” in intensive care units in 49 of the nations by March 2022.

Europe is facing a surge in cases, prompting Austria to return to lockdown and others to consider fresh measures.

A number of countries – including France, Germany and Greece – could also soon make booster jabs a requirement for their citizens to be considered fully vaccinated.

But several countries have seen fierce protests against new measures. The Netherlands saw several nights of rioting over a partial lockdown.

In its assessment, the WHO warned Covid was the top cause of death in its Europe region.

“Cumulative reported deaths are projected to reach over 2.2 million by spring next year, based on current trends,” the WHO said on Tuesday.

Confirmed Covid-related deaths recently doubled to almost 4,200 a day, it added.

In Russia alone, the daily death toll has been recently topping 1,200.

A high number of unvaccinated people and the prevalence of the Delta variant in some countries were key factors behind high transmission rates in the Europe region, the WHO said.

The WHO Europe director, Dr Hans Kluge, urged those who were still unvaccinated to get the jab.

“All of us have the opportunity and responsibility to help avert unnecessary tragedy and loss of life, and limit further disruption to society and businesses over this winter season,” he said.

As well as European nations, the WHO also considers Israel and ex-Soviet states like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as making up the region.

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Belarus migrant crisis: Germany calls for new EU sanctions

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dw– German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for new EU sanctions against Belarus on Wednesday amid an escalating migrant crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border.

Thousands of people are stranded at the EU’s eastern border in freezing weather, with Warsaw accusing Russia and Belarus of using the migrants to threaten European security.

What did Germany’s foreign minister say?

Maas said in a statement that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is “unscrupulously exploiting” the migrants and sending them to the border region.

“We will sanction all those who participate in the targeted smuggling of migrants,” the German foreign minister asserted, while adding that the EU will push to “extend and tighten … sanctions against Lukashenko’s regime.”

Any fresh sanctions could target not only countries involved in smuggling the migrants but also airlines that faciliate their travel to Europe.

EU officials accuse Belarus of weaponizing the migrants against the 27-member bloc in retaliation for previous sanctions against Minsk. Lukashenko has denied that his government is orchestrating the migrant crisis.

Maas said the images of the thousands of migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border are “appalling.”

Maas’ remarks come after German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Tuesday edition of Germany’s Bild tabloid that the EU needs to do more to help Poland secure its border. Poland has refused to let the migrants in.

How has the EU responded so far?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for “approval of extended sanctions” against Belarus on Monday.

The bloc has previously approved four rounds of sanctions targeting 166 people and 15 entities linked to Lukashenko’s regime.

Tensions have been fraught between the EU and Belarus since the state-ordered hijacking of a Ryanair flight over Belarusian territory in May.

The EU has also condemned last year’s presidential election in Belarus as neither free nor fair, with Lukashenko having declared a landslide victory against opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

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Fishing row a test of UK’s credibility – Macron

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bbc– Emmanuel Macron has raised tensions with Britain by warning that the dispute over fishing rights is a test of the UK’s global credibility.

The French president spoke out ahead of the G20 summit in Rome, which sets the stage for the COP26 climate summit.

France and the UK are embroiled in a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights and licences for French boats.

Mr Macron told the Financial Times that UK backpedalling on Brexit commitments “is not a big sign of… credibility”.

He was referring to the fishing row and disputes over Northern Ireland.

The argument, which began when the UK and Jersey denied fishing licences to dozens of French boats last month, is essentially over how many French fishing boats are allowed to fish in UK waters.

Mr Macron said: “Make no mistake, it is not just for the Europeans but all of their partners.

“Because when you spend years negotiating a treaty and then a few months later you do the opposite of what was decided on the aspects that suit you the least, it is not a big sign of your credibility.”

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France has said it could stop UK boats landing in its ports if the row over licences is not resolved.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he fears the EU-UK trade agreement may have been breached.

He added that the UK government would do “whatever is necessary to ensure UK interests”.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg says she has seen a letter that appears to show the French Prime Minister Jean Castex appealing to the EU to demonstrate there is “more damage to leaving the EU than to remaining there”.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and chairman of the ports of Calais and Boulogne, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the dispute concerned only about 40 boats, “a drop of water in an ocean”.

He said that these boats had been unable to prove their history of fishing in British waters either because they had been unable to take part in a monitoring survey or because the fisherman had replaced their boats with newer models.

If the French sanctions go ahead, “it will be terrible for both sides of the Channel, for you, for us, for the ports, for the fishermen in your country, for the fishermen in our country – and that’s only for 40 little boats that are not allowed to fish in your country”, he said.

Analysis

By Damian Grammaticas

At the heart this is about whether a few dozen small French boats get licences for waters around Jersey based on their history fishing the area.

It’s a technical issue and should be relatively easily to deal with.

That it’s escalated so the French president and the British prime minister are weighing in tells us much.

Brexit has meant renegotiating old arrangements.

There’s not yet a new equilibrium, but plenty of opportunities for friction. Access to fishing waters is particularly emotive for both sides.

Mr Macron has stressed that he sees fishing alongside the Northern Ireland Protocol as issues that go to the heart of the UK’s “credibility”, suggesting that the UK is not honouring the deals it has done.

And France in particular is prepared to retaliate if its interests are threatened.

Boris Johnson, by saying he’s “puzzled” at France’s irritation, seems not to want things to escalate over fishing.

But will the UK grant more licences? The tensions are clear. And it all comes just as the UK and the EU need to find agreement on the far bigger, more difficult issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

France was angered by a decision from the UK and Jersey last month to deny fishing licences to French boats, arguing it was a breach of the Brexit deal.

The country then warned it would block British boats from landing their catches in some French ports next week and tighten checks on UK boats and trucks if the dispute was not resolved by Tuesday.

On Friday morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said if necessary the UK would respond in turn, saying “two can play at that game”.

The government also said it was considering launching “dispute settlement proceedings” with the EU if France goes ahead with the “unjustified measures”.

Tensions escalated further when a British trawler was detained on Friday in Le Havre and another one fined.

The French people are deeply attached to their fishing industry, suspicious of the British government, and share the general confusion about why some French boats are being given licences and others refused.

They take at face value their own government’s claim that it is all grossly unfair, and that the planned retaliation against the UK is simply a defence of the national interest.

Which is not to say there aren’t also worried voices urging caution.

The big fish and seafood traders based in Boulogne-sur-Mer depend heavily on British produce either unloaded at the quayside or brought in by lorry.

If those imports dry up, hundreds of jobs could be at stake – not to mention the valuable Christmas market for coquille saint-jacques and other shellfish.

It’s commonplace in the UK to hear that by acting tough President Macron is merely playing to the gallery with an eye on next April’s presidential elections.

And it’s commonplace in France to hear that Boris Johnson is merely playing to his political gallery by baiting the oh-so-baitable French.

Suffice to say that right now neither side seems particularly inclined to do the other any favours.

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