The head of the United Nations calls for a global truce for the world to focus on coronavirus

PHOTO FILE: Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), speaks at a press conference at the 32nd ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (UA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 10 February, 2019. REUTERS / Tiksa Negeri / File Photo

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for a global ceasefire so that the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s time to stop armed conflict and focus on the real struggle of our lives,” said Guterres at a virtual press conference.

So far more than 351.00 people have been infected and over 15,330 have died, according to a Reuters count.

The spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus has drawn comparisons with painful periods such as the Second World War, the financial crisis of 2008 and the Spanish flu of 1918.

“The virus doesn’t care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. Ceaselessly attack everything. Meanwhile, armed conflict is raging all over the world, “said Guterres.

“The most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, marginalized and displaced people – pay the highest price,” he said. “They are also at higher risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.”

The United Nations sought to mediate the end of conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Guterres warned that health systems have collapsed in war-torn countries and that the small number of health workers left behind have often been targeted in the fighting.

“End the disease of war and fight the disease that is devastating our world,” he said. “Start by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. This is what our human family needs, now more than ever. ”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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US military to stop internal travel due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military said on Friday it will, with some exceptions, stop all internal travel for service members, Defense Department civilians and their families in a move to limit the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on the military.

The move, which goes beyond previous restrictions on international travel, highlights the degree to which the U.S. military, which has only a handful of coronavirus cases, is concerned and the lengths it is willing to take to protect the over one million active – service troops worldwide.

“The continued spread of the 2019 Coronavirus novel (COVID-19) requires the immediate implementation of travel restrictions for travel by the Department of Defense (DoD),” said a memo signed by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.

The policy will enter into force from Monday to May 11 and would affect service members, civilian personnel from the Department of Defense and their families “assigned to installations, structures and areas of the DoD in the United States and its territories,” he said. the note.

“This restriction will stop all domestic travel,” said a Pentagon statement accompanying the note.

Exceptions may be granted for travel essential for missions, travel necessary for humanitarian reasons and travel guaranteed due to extreme difficulties.

Reporting of Idrees Ali; editing by Richard Pullin

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The United States accuse “state actors” of shocking oil markets, calling for calm

The Trump administration on Monday accused “state actors” of hitting a historic slump in global oil prices and urged the Russian ambassador to the United States to consider the importance of calming the markets.

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Migrants flock to Greece while Turkey opens gates

KASTANIES / LESBOS, Greece (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants crossed permeable borders from Turkey to Turkey on Sunday while thousands more gathered on the Turkish side in search of entry after Ankara relaxed the sidewalks in their movement.

Migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestinian territories arrive on a rubber dinghy near the city of Mytilene, after crossing part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the island of Lesvos, Greece, on March 1, 2020. REUTERS / Elias Marcou

At least 500 people had arrived by sea on three Greek islands near the Turkish coast within a few hours on Sunday morning. Seven ships reached Lesbos with over 300 on board, four arrived in Samos with 150 and two in Chios with a combined total of 70-80 people, a police official said.

On the northern mainland, the groups headed across a river to the Greek side at Kastanies. Reuters reporters saw groups of up to 30 people, including an Afghan mother with a five-day-old boy, on the side of a road, who had crossed the river hours earlier.

Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer prevent hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe, despite an agreement to do so reached with the EU in 2016. Its announcement triggered an almost instantaneous rush to the borders. which he shares with the member of the European Union Greece.

Turkey’s turning point came after an airstrike killed 33 Turkish soldiers in neighboring north-western Syria, where Ankara deployed forces to help protect its border against a new influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Turkey said that the funds promised by the EU to help it manage 3.7 million Syrian refugees already in the country have been slow to arrive; Ankara had threatened several times in the past to open doors if it did not receive more support.

Tensions rose in Kastanies, on the mainland border of northeastern Greece with Turkey, on Saturday after riot police used tear gas to repel hundreds of migrants from the Turkish side seeking entry.

A Greek government source put the number of people gathered at the border on Sunday at 3,000, while the International Organization for Migration estimated the number at 13,000.

TENSE EDGE ALONG THE PETER

Some migrants threw stones and metal bars at the Greek side, as well as portable tear gas canisters, the Greek government source said. Journalists were kept one kilometer away from crossing the Greek border.

“There were 9,600 attempts to violate our borders yesterday and all have been successfully addressed,” Deputy Defense Minister Alkiviadis Stefanis told Greek television Skai.

Greece claimed that there was an orchestrated attempt on its borders and accused Turkey of actively guiding migrants.

“Not only are they not stopping them, but they are helping them,” Stefanis told Skai.

The European Union has claimed to support Greece and its neighboring Bulgaria, which also has a border with Turkey, to protect the external borders of the blockade of 27 nations.

He also expressed condolences to Turkey over the deadly airstrike and said he was ready to step up humanitarian support.

So far no migrants had attempted to enter Bulgaria from Turkey, but tensions were intensifying at the Turkish-Greek crossings “very close” to Bulgarian territory, so Sofia had strengthened her border patrols against any illegal entry, said the minister of the Defense Krasimir Karakachanov Radio.

Greece was the main gateway for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers to Europe in 2015 and 2016. There are already more than 40,000 migrants on the Aegean islands, living in severely overcrowded fields and in dirty conditions.

Riots broke out in Lesbos last week between riot police and locals protesting a plan to set up closed detention centers to house the migrant population. Locals say the islands are suffering from a disproportionate burden.

Greece has promised to prevent another massive influx of migrants. “This country is not for everyone,” Migration Minister Notis Mittarachi told Greece’s Ant1 TV.

Reuters witnesses saw small groups of people making their way through the fields outside the Greek city of Orestiada, near the mainland border, over the weekend. Four young Afghans, exhausted, sat around a small bonfire.

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Later, 26-year-old Najibe Rezayi, also from Afghanistan, carried her seven-month-old daughter in her arms. “We want a place to stay, food, warmth,” he said through an interpreter as they walked through the fog in frost-covered fields.

Greek police and the army have arrested people attempting to cross the country. “They are all Afghans, not Syrians,” said an army officer. “Are these the Syrians (Turkish president Tayyip) Erdogan was talking about?”

Alkis Konstantinidis’ report on Lesbos, Lefteris Papadimas in Kastanies, Renee Maltezou in Athens; Ali Kucukgocmen in Turkey and Tsvetelia Tsolova in Bulgaria; Written by Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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The Swiss court convicts a British lawyer for defamation of the oil trader at MI5

GENEVA (Reuters) – A Geneva court has found a British lawyer guilty of defamation and attempted to be extorted for writing letters to Western intelligence services accusing his former client, a Russian-led oil dealer, of financing terrorism.

An indictment presented to the court by a public prosecutor in Geneva states that Matthew Parish, a 44-year-old Cambridge graduate, wrote in a letter to MI5 on April 27, 2018, that Integral Petroleum had close ties to terrorist groups such as the Taliban and was Islamic.

Parish also accused the company of using facade companies to carry out what he called “the biggest fraud in recent history”. The prosecution claims that a dispute arose between the parties in 2017/2018 over bills that Parish stated that Integral owed him. The parish denied this, saying they fell for business reasons.

In May 2018, he sent similar letters to the U.S. and EU authorities, according to the prosecution.

Late Thursday, a spokesman for the Geneva prosecutor said: “Mr. The parish is found guilty of defamation, slander, attempted coercion and failure to comply with an authority’s decision.”

He said Parish was sentenced to a fine of CHF 5,000 ($ 5,121) and the total costs of the proceeding and that he was sentenced to a one-year prison sentence.

He was also commissioned by the court to see a psychiatrist.

Reuters was unable to determine how the court reached its verdict. Judgments of the Geneva court are made public only if an appeal is lodged and only a few weeks after the judgment.

David Bitton, Integral’s attorney and plaintiff, confirmed the verdict over the phone on Thursday. He did not respond to subsequent requests for further comments.

The British interior ministry, which oversees MI5’s domestic intelligence agency, declined to comment. The Foreign Ministry said it provided consular assistance to a Briton in Switzerland, but did not provide any other details.

The EU commission did not provide any immediate comment. A spokeswoman for the United States Department of Justice declined to comment. The CIA and the office of the director of national intelligence did not respond to a request for comment.

Parish said he would appeal the verdict.

“How can you be guilty of defamation for notifying the enforcement bodies of the crimes without anyone completing an investigation into whether these crimes were committed?” Parish said.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether an investigation had been conducted or was ongoing.

Bitton, Integral’s actor and lawyer, said in court today that the actions of the Parish justified a “particularly tough” verdict.

Bitton told the court that Parish knew that the allegations against Integral were false and that he made them to push the company to pay around 800,000 CHF ($ 781,000) of taxes required by Parish.

Several other parties, including another Swiss-based oil company Petroforce Trading and Shipping and the Russian CEO of Integral Murat Seitnepesov, also joined the lawsuit.

“Matthew Parish severely damaged (Petroforce’s) honor and it was essential for the firm to formally establish the defamatory nature of Parish’s remarks,” said Marc Hassberger, one of Petroforce’s attorneys.

“This judgment fully satisfies my client.”

Petroforce and Seitnepesov joined the case because they were also named in the letters Parish sent to the intelligence authorities in 2018, according to the prosecution.

Integral Petroleum focuses on trade and logistics in the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Central America, according to its website. It is one of many commodity trading companies based in the Swiss city.

Additional reports by Guy Faulconbridge in London, Mark Hosenball in Washington and Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Curated by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis

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Afghans hope for peace while the U.S.-Taliban agree on a troop withdrawal agreement

KABUL / DOHA (Reuters) – Millions of Afghans predict that the longest American war ever fought in their country will end on Saturday, while U.S. and Taliban negotiators are expected to sign an agreement to allow for a reduction in U.S. troops and a permanent ceasefire.

Afghan men celebrate in anticipation of the US-Taliban agreement to allow a reduction of US troops and a permanent ceasefire, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 28 February 2020. REUTERS / Parwiz

If the US-Taliban agreement is signed, Afghanistan, which has been at war since the American bombing in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, will witness the potential end to the violence that has caused tens of thousands of lives. .

A 31-member Taliban delegation arrived in Qatar on Saturday to oversee the signing of the troop withdrawal agreement, officials from the hard-line Islamist group said, adding that their political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will sign the agreement on their behalf. .

The signing ceremony between the warring parties will take place at the Sheraton hotel in the capital of Doha, Qatar.

The photographs of the venue showed a large banner indicating “Agreement to bring peace to Afghanistan” placed in a conference room adjacent to the hotel. Security was enhanced outside the hotel as hotel guests, journalists and government officials invaded the lobby.

Security experts said the deal is a foreign policy bet for U.S. President Donald Trump and would give the Taliban international legitimacy.

But for millions of Afghans, there is the possibility of ending the ongoing struggle to face fear, anxiety and violence.

“Peace is extremely simple and my country deserves it. Today is the day that perhaps we will see a positive change, “said Javed Hassan, 38, a school teacher who lives on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul.

Hassan’s children were killed in a bomb explosion by the Taliban in 2018. Since then, he has written letters to world leaders to urge them to end the Afghan war that dominated the country’s land-locked landscape.

Saturday’s deal could be the first step towards restoring Afghanistan’s future when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is ready to testify to the signing of the deal and pave the way for a political solution between the warring parties.

The top American diplomat will remain with the political leaders of the Taliban, the ex-sovereigns of Afghanistan who protected Osama bin Laden and his militant network until 2001 while planning and conducting the September 11 attacks.

A Trump statement on Friday says Pompeo would be present for the signing of the agreement which will pave the way for U.S. troop numbers that will drop to 8,600 from around 13,000 in the weeks following the deal.

Further reductions in Western forces will depend on the Taliban adhering to a “violence reduction” commitment, a condition that will be evaluated by the United States.

But the prospects for the war-torn future of Afghanistan are uncertain. The deal sets the stage for peace talks involving Afghan factions, which are likely to be complicated.

According to the agreement, the Taliban want 5,000 fighters to be released from jails run by Afghanistan, but it is unclear whether the Afghan government will agree.

There are also questions about whether Taliban fighters loyal to the stronger Islamist splinter groups will be willing to join the reduction in the violence deal.

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Some senior Taliban commanders who arrived in Doha for the signing ceremony said that they will ensure that the governments of the United States and Afghanistan accept all the conditions set by the group that controls about 40% of Afghanistan, according to Afghan defense officials.

Taliban sources earlier this month said they are ready to launch a spring offensive and have recruited over 6,000 fighters and suicide bombers if the deal breaks down.

Further reports by Ooroj Hakimi in Kabul and Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar, Written by Rupam Jain, Edited by Ed Davies and Christian Schmollinger

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Turkey opens the border for Syrian refugees to enter Europe after the strike killed the troops

ANKARA / ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will no longer prevent Syrian refugees from reaching Europe, a senior Turkish official said, while Ankara responded Friday to the assassination of 33 Turkish soldiers in a strike by Syrian government forces in the region of Northwest Idlib of Syria.

Displaced Syrians are seen in an IDP camp located in Idlib, Syria on February 27, 2020. REUTERS / Umit Bektas

The opening of the border could trigger a repetition of the migration crisis of 2015-2016, when over a million people arrived by sea in Greece and crossed the Balkans on foot, until Turkey closed its border in an agreement with the EU.

In the early hours of Friday, refugees and migrants were already heading for border posts. The official said police and border guards were told to withdraw and allow both land and sea exit.

A column of migrants walked to the border on foot in the early morning light, with a man carrying a baby in his arms. Others headed for taxis.

“We heard about it on television,” said 16-year-old Afghan migrant Sahin Nebizade in a group crammed into one of three taxis parked on a highway on the outskirts of Istanbul.

“We lived in Istanbul. We want to go to Edirne and then to Greece,” Nebizade said before taxis headed for the northwestern province of Edirne and crossed the border into Bulgaria and Greece, 200 km (124 miles) away. west of Istanbul.

A million civilians have been displaced since December in Syria near the Turkish border in desperate winter conditions, perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis of the nine-year war. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot do more.

Syrian government forces, supported by the Russian Air Force, launched an assault to capture the Northwest, the last remaining territory held by rebels who are supported by Turkey. With sponsored diplomacy from Ankara and Moscow in tatters, NATO member Turkey has moved closer than ever to the conflict to direct confrontation with Russia on the battlefield.

Ankara’s fury over Thursday’s attack – the deadliest suffered by the Turkish army in nearly 30 years – raised the prospect that President Tayyip Erdogan will launch a large-scale operation against the Russian-backed Syrian army.

Russia said Erdogan discussed the crisis over the phone on Friday with President Vladimir Putin.

“We have decided, effectively immediately, not to prevent Syrian refugees from reaching Europe by land or sea,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “Now all refugees, including Syrians, are invited to join the European Union.”

EUROPE ON THE EDGE

The Syrian civil war has worsened dramatically in recent months, despite having largely vanished from the agenda of Western countries. Since 2016, Europe has relied on Turkey to stop the flow of refugees and for several years the West has left the responsibility for diplomacy in the hands of Moscow and Ankara.

Any mass movement of people in Europe would create a new crisis for the EU, whose leaders have contemplated restrictions on internal borders and public meetings to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus. Greek government sources said that land and sea borders with Turkey are narrowing.

Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to open doors to migrants to travel to Europe, reversing Turkey’s commitment to the EU in 2016.

The United Nations and others have called for an immediate ceasefire, but three rounds of talks between Ankara and Moscow have failed to reach an agreement and fighting has continued.

Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military armaments to Idlib in recent weeks, and Erdogan warned that Turkey would repel President Bashar al-Assad’s forces unless they withdrew from Turkish observation posts in the region.

RETALIATION

Thursday’s airstrike raised Turkey’s military death toll to 54 in Idlib in February. The governor in Turkey’s border province said 32 other troops were injured. It was the worst loss suffered by the Turkish army after a 1993 attack by Kurdish separatist guerrillas.

Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar said the attack took place despite coordination with Russian officials on the ground and continued even after the alarm was raised following the first attack.

Turkey’s director of communications, Fahrettin Altun, said that in retaliation, “all known” targets of the Syrian government were shot by Turkish air and ground support units.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that Turkish troops affected by the bombing should not have been in that area and Ankara had not informed Moscow in advance of their position. An elderly Russian legislator said that any large-scale Turkish military operation in Idlib would end badly for Ankara.

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In the midst of the growing crisis on Syria, the Turkish lira dropped to a 17-month low and its main stock index plunged 10% on Friday at the start, although authorities banned short selling on all Turkish stocks.

The State Department said the United States is very concerned about the reported attack on the Turkish soldiers and is stopping by “our NATO ally Turkey”.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “serious concern” over the escalation to Idlib.

Further reports from Ali Kucukgocmen, Can Sezer and Ceyda Caglayan in Istanbul and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Written by Jonathan Spicer, Daren Butler and Peter Graff, edited by Robert Birsel, Simon Cameron-Moore and Timothy Heritage

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Exclusive: the United States wants the Afghan president to postpone the planned inauguration – sources

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States wants Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to postpone his second-term inauguration for fears that he may inflame an election feud with his political rival and jeopardize U.S.-led peacemaking efforts, two sources who are familiar with the matter declared Monday.

PHOTO FILE: President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani and German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (not pictured) attend a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 3, 2019. REUTERS / Omar Sobhani / File Photo

Ghani claimed victory last week in a disputed September 28 election and plans to take an oath on Thursday, an Afghan official said. His opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s former deputy, has also proclaimed himself a winner and is planning a parallel inauguration, according to Afghan media.

Competing claims, none of which Washington acknowledged, threaten a U.S.-led peace process that got a boost on Saturday with the start of a week-long reduction in violence that will culminate on Saturday with the signing of a US-Taliban deal on a withdrawal of US troops.

The agreement between the United States and the Taliban will be followed by inter-Afghan talks on a political agreement to end decades of war.

But the feud Ghani-Abdullah threatens to further complicate the appointment of a delegation to negotiate with the insurgents, a process already mired in delays and controversies.

A source familiar with the matter said that because of these concerns, United States Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been in Kabul since last week, wants Ghani to delay his expected inauguration to the second five-year term. .

The U.S. Department of State and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Afghan embassy in Washington declined comment.

President Donald Trump has made the withdrawal of some 13,000 US service members from Afghanistan an important foreign policy target. An agreement with the Taliban to end the longest American war could increase Trump’s prospects for reelection.

A former senior Afghan official claimed that Khalilzad, an Afghan American diplomatic veteran, was pressing Ghani to postpone the ceremony and trying to get Abdullah to do the same to preserve the peace process.

The sources requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

VOTE ASSIGNMENTS

The former senior Afghan official said that even if an “inclusive” delegation had been chosen to speak with the Taliban, the Ghani-Abdullah feud could “spill over into the negotiation process”.

The counting process for the presidential election on 28 September was beset by allegations of fraud, technical problems with biometric devices used for voting and other irregularities.

The Independent Electoral Commission stated on February 18 that Ghani had won 50.64 percent of the vote, while Abdullah was named second place with 39.52 percent.

Abdullah rejected the results and said he would appoint his government. Last weekend, he appointed loyalist governors of two provinces.

US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban rulers who provided the sanctuary where the al Qaeda militant group planned the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people.

U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan are part of a U.S.-led NATO mission that is training and assisting Afghan forces and carrying out counter-terrorism operations to support the Kabul government and prevent an al-Qaeda resurgence.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; Additional reports by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Peter Cooney editorial staff

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