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Turkey Moves To Revive Ties With EU

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After a five-year hiatus marked by grievances over their rival claims to Mediterranean waters, Turkey resumes talks with Greece today in the first test of its hopes to reverse deteriorating relations with the European Union.
Diplomats say it will need more than a shift in tone and the withdrawal of Turkey’s survey vessel from disputed waters to silence calls from some EU states for sanctions on Ankara, which EU leaders will discuss in March.
“I don’t see any great reconciliation to move us off the trajectory we are on. It is going to take a significant gesture from Turkey,” one diplomat in Brussels said, adding there was no reason to be optimistic.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Brussels this week on a mission to maintain what he called the “positive atmosphere” between Ankara and the EU, said on Friday talks on Cyprus would be held in New York in the next two months.
Erdogan’s effort to build bridges with Turkey’s main trading partner comes as his government struggles with an economic slowdown. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been the main brake on growth, international tensions have also weighed on the economy.
Setting out a new economic path in November, Erdogan also promised reforms of Turkey’s judiciary after repeated criticism from Western allies who say the rule of law has eroded in Turkey after a 2016 coup attempt and subsequent crackdown.
Turkey has ignored several rulings by the European Court of Human Rights calling for the release of the country’s most prominent detainees, Kurdish politician Selahettin Demirtas and businessman Osman Kavala.
Erdogan has yet to spell out what measures will be taken, but has ruled out releasing the two men.
“How much Turkey will be able to meet its expectations from the EU without taking any (reform) steps is doubtful,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and head of Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.

Better ties with Europe may also depend in part on how much Ankara can address differences with the new administration in the United States, after Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey last month over its purchase of Russian defence systems.
A day ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would review whether further sanctions were necessary and accused NATO partner Turkey of not acting like an ally.
At a summit in December the EU said it would coordinate its response to Turkey with the United States, meaning that Ankara’s relations with Washington will be “a determinant factor in Turkey’s ties with the West as a whole”, Ulgen said.
Even before the talks with Athens start, the two sides disagree over what they should cover, with Greece insisting they should be limited to demarcating maritime territorial limits and Exclusive Economic Zones.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament on Wednesday Athens would not discuss issues it considered sovereign rights and would approach the talks with optimism but “zero naivety”.
Greece has ruled out discussion on other issues Turkey has raised, including demilitarization of eastern Aegean islands, saying that was an issue to do with sovereign rights.
Turkey has also been working on a roadmap to normalise ties with NATO partner France. French President Emmanuel Macron has been a vocal critic of Turkey’s military intervention in Libya and its challenge to Greek and Cypriot maritime claims.
Erdogan in return has accused Macron of harbouring an anti-Islamic agenda and questioned his mental state.
Turkey has appointed a new envoy to Paris – a former university classmate of Macron’s – and a diplomat said the two leaders had exchanged letters in which Macron proposed a video call.
But a French diplomatic source said it was too early to consider that Turkey had changed its ways. Paris would work with its partners on possible sanctions until Turkey’s words were met with concrete actions, the source said.

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British Govt Launches Inquiry Into Its Handling Of Coronavirus

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A public inquiry is being launched into the British government’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said on Wednesday.
The inquiry, which will begin in the spring of 2022, will place “the state’s actions under the microscope” and help Britain “to learn every lesson for the future,” Johnson told lawmakers in the British Parliament.
“Amid such tragedy, the state has an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible, and to learn every lesson for the future – which is why I’ve always said when the time is right there should be a full and independent inquiry.
“So, I can confirm today that the government will establish an independent public inquiry on a statutory basis, with full powers under the Inquiries Act 2005 – including the ability to compel the production of all relevant materials and take oral evidence in public under oath,” Johnson said.
He added that the devolved parliaments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales would also be consulted before the publishing of the report.
Opposition leader, Keir Starmer, praised the decision to conduct an inquiry, but urged for it to be carried out sooner.
He also urged that both families affected by the coronavirus and front line workers be consulted, as well as the devolved parliaments.
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WHO Panel Urges Bold Overhaul Of Pandemic Prevention Measures

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The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), appointed by World Health Organisation (WHO), on Wednesday urged bold action to end the Covid-19 pandemic.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, in his opening remarks at the launch of the IPPPR Report at the world health body’s headquarters in Geneva welcomed the findings of the panel.
Ghebreyesus said: “ we welcome today’s presentation of the panel’s findings and recommendations, and we look forward to the publication of the full report at the World Health Assembly.
“The Independent Panel’s report is one of a suite of reports reviewing different aspects of the pandemic, and WHO’s work, including the Review Committee on the Functioning of the International Health Regulations.
“The Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme; The external Evaluation of the Transformation Agenda and the Intergovernmental working group on Sustainable Financing.
“We look forward to reviewing all of these reports, and to discussing them with our Member States in the coming weeks.’’
The director general, however, thanked former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, co-chair of IPPPR and the Right Honourable Helen Clark for their leadership, as well as the panel members and Secretariat.
“We look forward to working with our Member States to discuss the recommendations of this Panel and the other committees to build a stronger WHO and a healthier, safer, fairer future for all of us,’’ he said.
Sirleaf, in her remarks, said: “Our message is simple and clear: the current system failed to protect us from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time.”
Similarly in her remarks, co-chair of IPPPR, Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand said: “The tools are available to put an end to the severe illnesses, deaths, and socio-economic damage caused by Covid-19.
“ We have no choice but to act to stop such a catastrophe happening again,’’ she said.
The panel – whose report contains “the authoritative chronology of what happened” – also insisted that February 2020 was “a lost month”.
This was because “many more countries” could have done more to contain the spread of the new coronavirus after the WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, 2020 after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China.
According to Sirleaf, the shelves of storage rooms in the UN and national capitals are full of reports and reviews of previous health crises.
“Had their warnings been heeded, we would have avoided the catastrophe we are in today. This time must be different.’’
Quicker action “would have helped to prevent the global health, social, and economic catastrophe that continues its grip”, the panel noted.
The panel added that “the system as it stands now is clearly unfit to prevent another novel and highly infectious pathogen, which could emerge at any time, from developing into a pandemic.’’
Among its recommendations, the panel urged Heads of State to take the lead in supporting proven public health measures to curb the pandemic and implement reforms “to prevent a future outbreak” from spreading globally.
The panel also advised high-income countries with adequate vaccine supply to commit to provide “at least one billion” doses to the 92 low and middle-income countries in the UN-led equitable vaccine scheme, COVAX, by September.
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De-Escalation, An Absolute Must In Israel-Palestine Conflict – UN Chief

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United Nation’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, declared on Wednesday that de-escalation of the Palestine-Israel conflict was “an absolute must”, saying that the mounting death toll, including children, is totally unacceptable.
Guterres, after meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow, said that an end to the violence was needed “to protect the lives of civilians that are now dying in totally unacceptable circumstances”.
According to news reports, the violence has seen more than 50 Palestinians killed along with six Israelis since Monday.
Meanwhile, in New York, the renewed conflict represents the most serious escalation between Israelis and Palestinians “in years”, the UN Special Coordinator for the region told the Security Council.
UN Spokesperson, Stéph-ane Dujarric, briefed reporters in New York at the regular noon press conference, on the update given by Tor Wennesland to the Council, which met behind closed doors.
“We are very concerned by the growing civilian casualties in both Gaza and Israel, and deeply saddened by reported deaths of children in Gaza,” Dujarric said.
He said that the Secretary-General and Wennesland had both reiterated that: “Hamas and other militants’ indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars violated the humanitarian law.
“They have emphasised that indiscriminate launching of rockets from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods towards civilian population centres violated international humanitarian law, and it is unacceptable and has to stop immediately.”
The spokesperson said the Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process had also told ambassadors that Israeli authorities must “abide by their responsibilities under international law”.
In addition, he said that Israeli security forces should exercise maximum restraint, calibrate their use of force to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations.
The Secretary-General is “particularly appalled that children continue to be victims of violence”, said Dujarric, adding that youngsters needed to be given special protection.
“He and his Envoy have called on the international community to take action to enable the parties to step back from the brink and return to the previous understandings.
“To return to previous understanding that have maintained a relative calm in Gaza and avoid a descent into chaos, with the massive casualties and immense damage to civilian infrastructure that would result,” the spokesperson said.
Wennesland, however, reminded Council members that it was the civilian population on both sides, that bore the burden of war and that the most vulnerable are the ones at greatest risk of suffering.
He also told the Council that the cycle of violence would only end with a political resolution of the conflict, an end to the occupation and a realisation of a two-State solution on the basis of UN resolutions, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, said on Wednesday that at least 14 children in Palestine and one child in Israel have been reported killed since Monday.
She noted that another 95 children in Gaza and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and three children in Israel have reportedly been injured in the past five days.
“The situation is at a dangerous tipping point. The level of violence and its impact on children is devastating. We are on the brink of a full-scale war. In any war, children – all children – suffer first and suffer most”.
She urged all sides to “protect all civilians, especially children, to spare essential civilian infrastructure from attacks, and to end violations against children”. (
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