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Archive for the ‘Europe Section’ Category

Dubai ruler, princess in London court over welfare of kids

July 30, 2019

LONDON (AP) — A dispute between the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife over the welfare of their two young children will play out over the next two days in a London courtroom amid reports the princess has fled the Gulf emirate.

The case beginning Tuesday in Britain’s High Court pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan. The princess is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion.

The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in Dubai’s ruling family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned.

Dubai’s ruler, estranged wife headed for court clash in UK

July 04, 2019

LONDON (AP) — A legal battle between the powerful, poetry-writing ruler of Dubai and his wealthy estranged wife is leading toward a showdown in a London courtroom later this month. The family division court case scheduled on July 30 pits Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum against Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and an accomplished Olympic equestrian on friendly terms with horse aficionado Queen Elizabeth II.

The hearing is expected to focus on who will have custody of their two young children now that the princess has left Dubai. She is believed to be in Britain, where she owns a gated mansion on Kensington Palace Gardens, a private street lined with some of the world’s most expensive homes and cars.

When The Associated Press asked via intercom for an interview with Princess Haya or one of her representatives, a man emerged to say there would be no comments made on her behalf. He didn’t indicate whether she was in the residence.

The clash between Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya is the latest sign of trouble in his extended family. Last year, a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed tried to flee Dubai after appearing in a 40-minute video saying she had been imprisoned on and off for several years and had been abused. Her friends say she was forcibly returned after commandos stormed a boat carrying her off the coast of India when she tried to flee the Emirates.

The sheikh, who is the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates in addition to being the ruler of Dubai, is among the most influential figures in the Middle East. He also composes poetry, a long tradition among Gulf Arabs, and it was his own words that sparked the initial rumors that Haya had fled Dubai.

The talk started after a verified Emirati Instagram account followed by the Dubai ruler’s son posted a poem last week attributed to Sheikh Mohammed. The poem, titled “You Lived and You Died,” is about disloyalty, leading to speculation it is about Princess Haya.

“You betrayed the most precious trust, and your game has been revealed,” the poem says. “Your time of lying is over and it doesn’t matter what we were nor what you are.” The harsh words caused reverberations and speculation throughout royal circles in the Middle East and beyond.

The princess, 45, and Sheikh Mohammed, 69, were married in 2004 and have a daughter, 11, and son, 7, together. Both were educated at elite English universities and they share a love for horses. Media reports indicate she took the children with her when she left Dubai. Under Islamic law, a woman can at least nominally retain custody of her children in a divorce. Nonetheless, decisions about schooling, travel and lifestyles of the children often remain with the father in the Middle East. Given the Dubai ruler’s power, it is unlikely Princess Haya would have had a say in her children’s ability to leave the UAE had she not reportedly fled with them.

Haya’s half-brother is Jordan’s current monarch, King Abdullah, who was pictured at her side when she wed Dubai’s ruler, reportedly becoming his sixth wife. She is a former Olympic athlete who competed in equestrian show jumping in the 2000 Sydney Games, a taboo-breaking feat for women from traditional Muslim countries. Her love of sports and horse riding began early — she was just 13 when she became the first female to represent Jordan internationally in equestrian show jumping.

Haya has long stood out from other wives of Gulf Arab rulers not only because of her Jordanian royal background and Olympic ambitions, but because she was seen and photographed in public. Most rulers’ wives in the Gulf are never photographed and their faces and names aren’t known to the public. But Princess Haya wasn’t only visible at humanitarian events, often seated front row in Dubai by her husband’s side, but was a stylish fixture in glossy magazines and at prestigious equestrian events in the U.K,, like the Royal Ascot and Epsom Derby.

In a 2009 Daily Mail interview, the princess said she deliberately postponed marriage until she could meet a man “who doesn’t feel he has to mold me.” She was quoted as saying, “You have to accept that you’re in control of yourself but not your destiny.”

The government of Dubai hasn’t commented on the media reports about Princess Haya fleeing with her children to Europe.

UK F-35 fighters fly missions from Cyprus over Syria, Iraq

June 25, 2019

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Britain’s most advanced military aircraft, the Lightning F-35B, has flown its first missions over Syria and Iraq as part of ongoing operations against remnants of the Islamic State group, the U.K.’s defense secretary said.

Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement released Tuesday that that the jets’ first operational mission from a British air base in Cyprus was made following a highly successful training period.

“Their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the U.K.,” Mordaunt said. Six F-35B aircraft from 617 Squadron flown by three British Royal Navy and three Royal Air Force pilots, arrived at RAF Akrotiri on May 21 for a six-week deployment as part of Exercise Lightning Dawn.

British military officials had said there were no plans for the aircraft to conduct combat missions during their stay at RAF Akrotiri. But it was decided that they were ready to make their operational debut as part of Operation Shader — the U.K.’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State group — because of their “exceptional performance.”

Officials said the aircraft didn’t fire any weapons when flying alongside Typhoon jets during the missions over Syria and Iraq. The F-35 is the first aircraft to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short takeoffs and vertical landings.

The 617 Squadron jets will be deployed this autumn aboard Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, for a battery of operational tests. The tests will be carried out off the east coast of the U.S. in preparation for the aircrafts’ first carrier strike deployment planned for 2021.

The U.K. now owns 17 F-35B aircraft with plans to procure a total 138 jets. According to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Website, British industry will build 15% of the more than 3,000 jets that are planned to be built. British officials say the program has already generated orders worth $12.9 billion and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs.

EU, UK leaders to meet as post-Brexit talks stall

June 02, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s top executive and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet this month for talks that could give new momentum to the stalled post-Brexit negotiations. As a fourth round of talks between teams of negotiators resumed Tuesday with little hope for a breakthrough on a future trade deal, the bloc’s executive arm said a meeting is planned between EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Johnson by the end of June.

Daniel Ferrie, the commission spokesperson for EU-U.K. negotiations, said the date and the format of the encounter has yet to be determined. The U.K. left the political institutions of the EU on Jan. 31, but it remains inside the EU’s tariff-free single market and customs union until the end of the year. That so-called transition period can be extended by two years although a deal to do so has to be made by July 1, according to the legal documents accompanying Brexit.

Johnson has repeatedly said he will not extend the transition period beyond Dec. 31. Ahead of this week’s round of talks, Britain accused the EU of making unbalanced demands, while EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned in an interview with the Sunday Times that there would not be an “agreement at any cost.”

The three previous rounds of discussions have failed to produce much headway, notably around fishing rights. The U.K. wants a fisheries deal to be a standalone agreement whereby the two sides negotiate access and quotas. The EU, for its part, has sought to link fisheries to other trade issues.

Another major roadblock is the so-called level playing field. The EU is concerned that Britain may diverge on rules and regulations to gain a competitive advantage and wants to make sure that EU standards will be kept by London in return for a high degree of access to the single market.

“The U.K. has been taking a step back – two steps back, three steps back – from the original commitments,” Barnier said. “The U.K. negotiators need to be fully in line with what the Prime Minister signed up to with us. Because 27 heads of state and government and the European Parliament do not have a short memory.”

Despite the apparent stalemate, Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, insisted progress could be made. “We hope this latest round is constructive and we hope that it will keep the process on track ahead of the high-level meeting later this month,” he said.

Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

US ambassador to Germany resigns from post, deputy stands in

June 02, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — The U.S. ambassador to Germany has resigned from his post and the State Department after two years in the job. Richard Grenell posted the news late Monday on his Instagram account, without indicating what he planned to do next.

While no reason was given for Grenell’s resignation, it has been widely speculated that he may join U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump named Grenell ambassador to Germany in April 2018. He quickly drew the ire of many in Germany with his outspoken views — often expressed via social media — though German officials largely held back criticism of their close ally’s envoy.

A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Berlin said that in keeping with normal practice, Deputy Chief of Mission Robin Quinville would become the charge d’affaires until a new ambassador is confirmed. Quinville joined the U.S. diplomatic service in 1988, with stations including Vienna, Brussels, Cyprus, London and Baghdad.

“The U.S. Mission in Germany continues to work on the administration’s foreign policy priorities,” said embassy spokesman Joseph Giordono-Scholz. Among Grenell’s top priorities was trying to get Germany to spend more on defense, in line with its NATO pledges, cracking down on Hezbollah’s activity in Germany and opposing the construction of a pipeline bringing Russian natural gas to Germany.

Successive U.S. administrations have objected to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, saying it risks making Europe more dependent on Russian gas supplies and thereby poses a security threat. Trump signed a Senate bill last year allowing for sanctions against individuals and companies involved with the vessels laying the pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

Grenell was tapped in February to become the acting director of national intelligence. The decision was criticized by Democrats who said he lacked necessary experience. Last month, the Senate confirmed John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence, succeeding Grenell, who remains Trump’s envoy to Kosovo and Serbia.

Grenell said Trump presented him with a leaving gift Monday — the Cabinet chair he used while briefly serving as acting national intelligence director. “’Acting’ Cabinet Secretaries do not get chairs but President Trump wanted me to have mine because, as he said, ‘You are the First Openly Gay Cabinet Secretary and it’s a big deal,’” Grenell wrote.

UK: Hong Kong law a ‘clear violation’ of China’s obligations

June 02, 2020

LONDON (AP) — China’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong is a “clear violation” of Beijing’s international obligations, Britain’s foreign secretary said Tuesday. In a statement to the House of Commons, Dominic Raab said “we strongly oppose such an authoritarian law being imposed by China in breach of international law.”

Hong Kong is a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, under a “One Country, Two Systems” agreement that guarantees the city a high degree of autonomy. China’s largely ceremonial parliament voted last week to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and develop and enact national security legislation on its own for the semi-autonomous territory. Critics, including governments in Britain, the U.S. and Canada, are worried that the laws would erode liberties such as free speech and opposition political activities.

“It would up-end China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ paradigm,” Raab said. “And it would be a clear violation of China’s international obligations, including those made specifically to the United Kingdom under the Joint Declaration.”

“We are not seeking to intervene in China’s internal affairs,” he added. “Only to hold China to its international commitments, just as China expects of the United Kingdom.” Raab also pledged to “stand by” Hong Kong and uphold Britain’s historic responsibilities to the territory.

“Even at this stage I sincerely hope China will reconsider its approach,” he said. “But if not, the U.K. will not just look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong.” Britain’s government announced last week that if China follows through with the proposed security law, British officials would open pathways to British citizenship for those Hong Kong residents who hold British National (Overseas) passports. The current six-month visa limit would be extended to 12 months for those passport holders, Raab said.

Beijing’s resolve to push through the laws against secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong appears to have been hardened by the months of often-violent anti-government protests in the city last year, and a determination to prevent them from reigniting this summer.

Scientist admits Sweden could have battled virus better

June 03, 2020

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s chief epidemiologist showed contrition Wednesday as criticism mounted over the Scandinavian country’s hotly debated method of fighting the coronavirus, which has resulted in one of the highest death rates per capita in the world.

Sweden has stood out among European nations and the world for the way it has handled the pandemic, not shutting down the country or the economy like others but relying on citizens’ sense of civic duty. Swedish authorities have advised people to practice social distancing, but schools, bars and restaurants have been kept open the entire time. Only gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned.

“I think there is potential for improvement in what we have done in Sweden, quite clearly,” Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency told Swedish radio. Sweden, a nation of 10.2 million people, has seen 4,468 deaths linked to COVID-19, which is far more than its Nordic neighbors and one of the highest death rates per capita in the world. Denmark has had 580 coronavirus deaths, Finland has seen 320 and Norway has had 237, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

“If we were to encounter the same disease again, knowing precisely what we know about it today, I think we would settle on doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” said Tegnell, considered the architect of the unique Swedish pandemic approach.

Authorities in Sweden, including Tegnell, have been criticized — and have apologized — for failing to protect the country’s elderly and nursing home residents. But Tegnell said Wednesday it was still unclear what the country should have done differently. He also said other nations are unable to tell exactly what measures affected the outcome of their outbreaks because they threw everything at it in one go.

“Maybe we know that now, when you start easing the measures, we could get some kind of lesson about what else, besides what we did, you could do without a total shutdown,” Tegnell said. Asked if the country’s high death toll has made him reconsider his unique approach to the pandemic, Tegnell answered “yes, absolutely.”

“I’m not walking around thinking that we have a real disaster here in Sweden,” Jan Arpi, a 58-year-old sales executive, told The Associated Press. “I think we have it more or less under control, but we have to be even more careful now with the learning we have got from how the virus is spread, especially among the elderly people,”

Sweden’s infection rate is 43.24 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is lower than Spain’s (58.06), and Italy’s (55.39), but is higher than the reported rates in the United States (32.14) and Brazil (14.29), according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Last week, the country’s former state epidemiologist, Annika Linde, said that in retrospect she believes an early lockdown could have saved lives while political pressure has forced the government to bring forward an investigation into the handling of the crisis.

The moves recommended by Tegnell have made Sweden a bit of a local pariah and didn’t spare the Swedish economy. More than 76,000 people have been made redundant since the outbreak began and unemployment, which now stands at 7.9%, is expected to climb higher.

Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson has said Sweden’s economy, which relies heavily on exports, will shrink 7% in 2020 and the Scandinavian country was headed for “a very deep economic crisis.” Last week, neighboring Norway and Denmark said they were dropping mutual border controls but would keep Sweden out of a Nordic “travel bubble.”

Danes said they will reopen the border next month to residents of neighboring Germany, as well as to Norway and Iceland, as it accelerates the easing of its coronavirus lockdown. However, Denmark, which has a bridge that goes directly to Sweden, has postponed a decision on whether to reopen to Swedish visitors until after the summer.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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