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Trudeau promises support for Ukraine in wake of Russian ‘aggression’

Toronto, Canada (AFP)

July 2, 2019

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau promised Tuesday to support Ukraine in the wake of Russian “aggression,” after a meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Toronto.

The two leaders met while Zelensky was in Toronto on his first visit to North America to participate in a conference on Ukrainian reforms.

“In the wake of Russian aggression and attempts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, including the illegal annexation of Crimea, it’s all the more important for countries like Canada to stand alongside its partner,” said Trudeau during a press conference with the newly-inducted Ukrainian president.

“Russia’s actions are not only a threat to Ukraine but to international law,” Trudeau said.

The conference, which ends Thursday, brings together representatives from 30 countries, the European Union, and international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and NATO.

Trudeau added he was “dismayed” that Russia was reinstated in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), after the country was stripped of its voting rights in the pan-European rights body in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.

Trudeau noted that the reinstatement came despite Russia “having not liberated the Ukrainian sailors” detained in the country since November 2018, as well as three Ukrainian naval vessels, which were seized in the Kerch Strait at the same time.

Zelensky said he was “disappointed” by the Council’s decision. In protest, Ukraine announced Tuesday it was withdrawing its invitation to PACE monitors to observe parliamentary elections to be held on July 21.

Trudeau and Zelensky also discussed Canadian arms sales and Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine.

In March, Ottawa renewed its mission of some 200 Canadian troops deployed to Ukraine until the end of March 2022.

Since 2015, Canada has so far trained nearly 11,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

Regarding Ukrainian reforms, Trudeau said there has been “much improvement” in the last few years, which he believes will continue, particularly in the fight against corruption.

The Canadian leader said he is convinced that with the election of Zelensky, a former comedian who took office in May, there will be “even more positive steps” in Ukraine.

“We will be patient because there is a lot of work to do,” Trudeau said.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland also announced $45 million in additional Canadian assistance to Ukraine in support of its reforms and a proposed national police force.

Since 2014, Canada — the first Western country to recognize Ukraine’s independence in December 1991 and home to a large Ukrainian diaspora — has provided the country more than $785 million in aid.

Freeland also condemned Russia’s decision to issue Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in the Donbass region, a disputed area in eastern Ukraine that is a hotbed of pro-Russian separatism.

“Starting today, Canada will take action to ensure that these passports cannot be used to travel to Canada. We encourage our partners to do likewise,” she said.

The armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists has claimed 13,000 lives since 2014.

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Trudeau_promises_support_for_Ukraine_in_wake_of_Russian_aggression_999.html.

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Saudi woman fleeing alleged abuse heads for asylum in Canada

January 12, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — An 18-year-old Saudi woman who said she was abused by her family and feared for her life if deported back home left Thailand on Friday night for Canada, which has granted her asylum, officials said.

The fast-moving developments capped an eventful week for Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun. She fled her family while visiting Kuwait and flew to Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel to avoid deportation and grabbed global attention by mounting a social media campaign for asylum.

Her case highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where several women fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases go unreported.

Alqunun is flying to Toronto via Seoul, South Korea, according to Thai immigration Police Chief Surachate Hakparn. Alqunun tweeted two pictures from her plane seat. One with what appears to be a glass of wine and her passport and another holding her passport while on the plane with the hastag “I did it” and the emojis showing plane, hearts and wine glass.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed his country had granted her asylum. “That is something that we are pleased to do because Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights and to stand up for woman’s rights around the world and I can confirm that we have accepted the U.N.’s request,” Trudeau said.

Several other countries, including Australia, had been in talks with the U.N.’s refugee agency to accept Alqunun, Surachate said earlier in the day. “She chose Canada. It’s her personal decision,” he said.

Canada’s ambassador had seen her off at the airport, Surachate said, adding that she looked happy and healthy. She thanked everyone for helping her, he said, and added that the first thing she would do upon arrival in Canada would be to start learning the language. She already speaks more than passable English, in addition to Arabic.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees welcomed Canada’s decision. “The quick actions over the past week of the government of Thailand in providing temporary refuge and facilitating refugee status determination by UNHCR, and of the government of Canada in offering emergency resettlement to Ms. Alqunun and arranging her travel were key to the successful resolution of this case,” the agency said in a statement.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted Alqunon to choose Canada over Australia. Australian media reported that UNHCR had withdrawn its referral for Alqunon to be resettled in Australia because Canberra was taking too long to decide on her asylum.

“When referring cases with specific vulnerabilities who need immediate resettlement, we attach great importance to the speed at which countries consider and process cases,” a UNHCR spokesperson in Bangkok told The Associated Press in an email reply on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Australia’s Education Minister Dan Tehan said Saturday that Australia had moved quickly to process her case but Canada decided to take her in. He added that, ultimately, the outcome was a good one. “She’s going to be safe,” he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, cited Alqunun’s “courage and perseverance.” “This is so much a victory for everyone who cares about respecting and promoting women’s rights, valuing the independence of youth to forge their own way, and demanding governments operate in the light and not darkness,” he said in a statement.

Alqunun was stopped Jan. 5 at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport by immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport. She barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and took her plight onto social media. It got enough public and diplomatic support that Thai officials admitted her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials, who granted her refugee status Wednesday.

Alqunun’s father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him. Surachate said the father — whose name has not been released — denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight. He said Alqunun’s father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision.

“He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes,” Surachate said. Canada’s decision to grant her asylum could further upset the country’s relations with Saudi Arabia. In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted support for women’s right activists who had been arrested. The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave.

No country, including the U.S., spoke out publicly in support of Canada in that spat with the Saudis. On Friday, Trudeau avoided answering a question about what the case would mean for relations with the kingdom, but he said Canada will always unequivocally stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world.

Canadian officials were reluctant to comment further until she landed safely in Canada. Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wanted to seek refuge in Australia. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met Thursday with senior Thai officials in Bangkok. She later said Australia was assessing Alqunun’s resettlement request.

Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

He was arrested while vacationing in Thailand in November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

Al-Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.

Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press video journalist Samuel McNeil in Sydney contributed to this report.

Thai police: Canada, Australia willing to accept Saudi woman

January 11, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — Several countries including Canada and Australia are in talks with the U.N. refugee agency on accepting a Saudi asylum seeker who fled alleged abuse by her family, Thai police said Friday.

Thailand’s immigration police chief, Surachate Hakparn, told reporters the U.N. was accelerating the case, though he gave no indication of when the process would be complete. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun was stopped at a Bangkok airport last Saturday by Thai immigration police who denied her entry and seized her passport.

While barricading herself in an airport hotel room, the 18-year-old launched a social media campaign via her Twitter account that drew global attention to her case. It garnered enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees granted her refugee status on Wednesday. Alqunun’s case has highlighted the cause of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.

By Friday, Alqunun had closed down her Twitter account. Sophie McNeill, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who got in contact with Alqunun while she was stuck in the airport hotel room and has kept in touch with her, said Friday in a Twitter posting that Alqunun “is safe and fine.”

“She’s just been receiving a lot of death threats,” McNeill wrote, adding that Alqunun would be back on Twitter after a “short break.” Alqunun had previously said on Twitter that she wishes to seek refuge in Australia.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday. She later told reporters that Australia is assessing Alqunun’s request for resettlement but there was no specific timeframe.

Payne said she also raised Australia’s concerns with Thai officials about Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain’s national soccer team who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured.

He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

Al-Araibi’s case is being considered by Thailand’s justice system, she said.

Canada’s PM: We will not apologize to Saudi Arabia

August 10, 2018

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed, Wednesday, his country’s persistence in defending human rights, refusing to apologize to Saudi Arabia for Canada’s opposition to the detention of activists in Saudi prisons.

Trudeau said that although his country appreciates the “importance” of Saudi Arabia in the world, it would continue to speak “clearly and firmly about human rights issues in the country and abroad” whenever needed.

This came in a press statement by Trudeau during his participation in an event held in Montreal, the capital of the province of Quebec, east of the country.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Canada last Monday, and declared the ambassador of Canada in Riyadh “persona non grata,” against the backdrop of what Riyadh called “explicit and blatant interference in the country’s internal affairs.”

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment dealings with Canada and retaining its right to take further action.”

This came following the Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s call on Riyadh to release the so-called “civil society activists” who were arrested in the Kingdom.

At the same time, Trudeau explained that the diplomatic talks with Riyadh would continue, “but without taking a single step back from the criticism of the Foreign Minister regarding the arrest of Saudi activists.”

The Prime Minister said that Freeland held extensive talks with her Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, on Tuesday, without giving further details.

Trudeau stressed that they were keen to communicate directly with the Saudi government in order to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries, and pointed out that “the issue of Canada’s apology for the criticism of human rights violations were not addressed during the talks.”

He added: “Canadians have always expected our government to speak firmly, decisively and politely about the need to respect human rights around the world.”

He went on: “We will continue to defend Canadian values and human rights. This is something that I will always do.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180810-canadas-pm-we-will-not-apologise-to-saudi-arabia/.

Saudi Arabia orders Canadian envoy to leave over criticism

August 06, 2018

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the ultraconservative kingdom within 24 hours after his nation criticized the recent arrest of women’s rights activists.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze “all new business” between the kingdom and Canada. Some 10 percent of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia. “Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in an extraordinarily aggressive statement. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if Ambassador Dennis Horak was in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well. Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada was “seriously concerned” by Saudi Arabia’s actions.

“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” she said in a statement. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.”

The dispute appears centered around tweets by Canadian diplomats calling on the kingdom to “immediately release” women’s rights activists recently detained by the kingdom. Among those recently arrested is Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada.

Freeland tweeted about the arrests on Thursday. “Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” she wrote. “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”

Saudi Arabia ended in June its long practice of not allowing women to drive automobiles in the Sunni kingdom. However, supporters of women’s rights were arrested just weeks before the ban was lifted, signaling that only King Salman and his powerful son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will decide the pace of change.

Saudi women still need permission from male guardians to travel abroad or marry. The diplomatic dispute with Canada may be part of that assertive foreign policy pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed under his father. Germany similarly has found itself targeted by the kingdom in recent months over comments by its officials on the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It isn’t immediately clear what new business could be affected between the two countries. Bilateral trade between the two nations reached $3 billion in 2016, with tanks and fighting vehicles among the top Canadian exports to the kingdom, according to government statistics.

Saudi Arabia in recent years has expelled Iran’s ambassador over attacks on its diplomatic posts following its 2016 execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

European leaders, Canada back the airstrikes against Syria

April 14, 2018

Many European leaders and the prime minister of Canada voiced support and understanding Saturday for the U.S.-led air strikes against Syria, but warned against allowing the seven-year conflict to escalate.

“Canada stands with our friends in this necessary response and we condemn in strongest possible terms” the use of chemical weapons in Syria. – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It has always been Bulgaria’s position that no cause justifies the killing of innocent people, including children; that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime and the strike on Syrian targets was a response to a war crime.” Bulgarian government statement. Bulgaria currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

“Strikes by US, France and UK make it clear that Syrian regime together with Russia & Iran cannot continue this human tragedy, at least not without cost. The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice.” – Tweet by European Council President Donald Tusk.

“What has occurred in Syria in recent days goes far beyond the constant violation of cease fires. The response to these atrocities is legitimate and proportionate.” – Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

“The people martyred by chemicals is a certain amount but the people martyred by conventional weapons is much, much more.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed support for the airstrikes but added that more must be done to hold the Syrian regime accountable for the hundreds of thousands it has killed using conventional weapons.

“We support the fact that our U.S., UK and French allies took on responsibility in this way as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. The military strike was necessary and appropriate in order to preserve the effectiveness of the international ban on the use of chemical weapons and to warn the Syrian regime against further violations.” – German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“This was a limited and targeted action to strike the capacity of building or diffusing chemical arms. It cannot and should not be the start of an escalation.” – Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni.

“The international community has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible of any attack with chemical weapons. This was not the first time that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against civilians but it must be the last.” – European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

“Belgium strongly condemns all use of chemical weapons which are a blatant violation of international law. Belgium therefore understands the military action in Syria of our American, French and British partners who have targeted identified production facilities.” – Belgian government statement.

With focus on Mexico, apprehensions grow at Canadian border

July 24, 2018

DERBY LINE, Vt. (AP) — While the Trump administration fortifies the southern border, there’s growing concern over the number of foreigners entering the country illegally across the porous northern border with Canada.

People crossing the border between Vermont and Quebec have paid smugglers up to $4,000, usually payable when the immigrants reach their U.S. destination, according to officials and court documents. While the number of arrests is tiny compared with the southern border, the human smuggling is just as sophisticated.

“They are very well organized. They have scouted the area. They have scouted us,” said U.S. Border Patrol Agent Richard Ross. “Basically, we are not dealing with the JV team; this is the varsity.” Driving the increase here, officials say, is the ease of entry into Canada, where visas are no longer required for Mexicans, and a border that receives less scrutiny and resources than the southern border, where thousands fleeing violence in Central America are being detained.

In the Border Patrol sector that covers 300 miles (480 kilometers) of border with New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, agents have apprehended 324 people who crossed illegally from Canada so far this fiscal year, compared with 165 in all of 2017. Last month, agents apprehended 85 people across the three states, compared with 17 in June 2017 and 19 in June 2016, statistics show.

So far this fiscal year, there have been at least 267 apprehensions along Canada’s border with Vermont alone, compared with 132 all of last year, according to statistics compiled by federal prosecutors in Vermont.

The statistics show no corresponding spike in illegal immigration or apprehensions elsewhere along the northern frontier. Border Patrol agents speculate it’s because the area that includes Vermont is the first stretch of land border east of the Great Lakes and is a short drive from the population centers of Canada and the U.S. East Coast.

The northern border numbers are still small compared with the southern border. Federal statistics show that in fiscal 2017 there were 303,916 apprehensions on the U.S. border with Mexico, compared with 3,027 on the entire northern border.

Still, there is a growing sense of unease among U.S. law enforcement authorities. “The number of illegal alien apprehensions at the Vermont-Canada border has skyrocketed,” said Christina Nolan, Vermont’s U.S. attorney.

Much of the illegal border crossing activity in Vermont appears to be focused on a 30-mile (50-kilometer) segment of the Vermont-Quebec border where Interstate 91 reaches the Canadian border at Derby Line, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Montreal.

From Derby Line, it’s about a six-hour drive to New York and its teeming immigrant communities. Guarding the border here is tricky because Derby Line and the neighboring Quebec town of Stanstead comprise one community where homes and buildings happen to be bisected by an international border.

The community library was purposely built straddling the border to serve people in both communities. Quebecers simply cross an international boundary marked outside the library by pots of petunias. Occasionally, illegal border crossers will walk, or even drive, across near the library.

“This is really a town with an invisible border going through it,” said Stanstead resident Matthew Farfan, who has written a book about life along the border, after he left the library’s Vermont entrance and prepared to cross back into Canada.

As part of a broader recent immigration crackdown, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has set up highway checkpoints in Maine, New Hampshire and upstate New York. One person was apprehended in New York on charges she had picked up four people crossing from Canada.

Visa-less entry into Canada for countries like Mexico and Romania, another nationality noted by Nolan and Border Patrol agents as contributing to a spike in apprehensions, play a role by making the northern border more attractive for people seeking to enter the U.S. illegally, Nolan said. A plane ticket from Mexico City to Montreal or Toronto can cost less than $350.

The Canadian government in late 2016 lifted its requirement that Mexican citizens apply for visas to enter the country as part of broader efforts to strengthen ties with Mexico. A similar requirement for Romanian citizens took effect in late 2017.

Canada views the recent visa changes for Mexico and Romania as having a minimal impact on the border, said Beatrice Fenelon, a spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. In the past two months, agents in Vermont have chased border crossers through the woods near Derby Line; there have been car chases and cases in which agents have lost sight of suspects in the woods, only to apprehend them days later.

“They have kind of gone southern-border style where they are taking a hike and they are coming through the tall grass,” Ross said. “It’s something I would have seen years ago when I worked in Harlingen, Texas.”

The agents won’t guess how many make it across. The flow of illegal border crossers goes in both directions. Since around the time President Donald Trump took office, thousands of immigrants in the U.S. have fled north to Canada seeking asylum.

Last October in the largest single case in memory of Border Patrol agents in the Derby Line area, 16 people were apprehended at a hotel after 14 had entered the United States west of Derby Line. The other two were the smugglers.

In another case east of Derby Line, a group of eight Mexican immigrants met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Montreal after flying into Toronto and Montreal, where they hired two taxis to take them to Stanhope, Quebec, not far from where Quebec meets Vermont and New Hampshire.

After the immigrants walked six hours through the forest, they were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents in Norton, Vermont, while riding in a taxi from Albany, New York, court documents say. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, responsible for border security in Canada, made arrests last month in two human-smuggling cases between Stanstead and Derby Line.

In one case, the suspect, a Mexican who did not have legal status in Canada, has been convicted of bringing immigrants to the Vermont border and was sentenced to six months in jail, after which he will be deported.

The Mounties are aware of the cases and ready to help their U.S. counterparts, said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Camille Habel. But the RCMP doesn’t appear to view the problem with the same urgency as U.S. officials: “It’s not a trend yet,” Habel said.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto; Michael Hill in Derby Line, Vermont; and David Sharp in Portland, Maine.

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