JAKARTA: Indonesia on Wednesday officially lifted quarantine requirements for overseas travelers and allowed the resumption of traditional practices for the upcoming holy month of Ramadan after two years of tight pandemic restrictions.
The easing of restrictions follows a decline in Covid-19 cases in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which battled an omicron-fueled surge earlier this year.
“The Covid-19 situation in our country continues to improve. Therefore, the government decided to take some easing measures,” President Joko Widodo said in a public statement on Wednesday.
Overseas travelers will be exempted from quarantine if they return a negative PCR test.
“However, if the travelers are tested positive, our Covid-19 taskforce will handle them,” Widodo said.
The measures come two weeks after a test reopening limited to the holiday island of Bali.
The government also expanded its visa-on-arrival policy for travelers from 42 countries, an increase from 23.
With the fasting month around the corner, Widodo also announced said traditional Ramadan evening prayers (tarawih) will resume at mosques in the world’s largest Muslim majority country.
Mass prayers have been restricted since the pandemic hit the country in 2020, although some communities have defied the ban.
A yearly exodus of Indonesians to their hometowns for Eid Al-Fitr celebrations at the end of the month of Ramadan, another cherished tradition, will also be allowed to resume, the president said.
Celebrations had been prohibited for two years to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We also allow those wanting to go back to their hometowns for Eid Al-Fitr provided that they have received full doses of vaccines and a booster shot,” he said.
LONDON: The United Nations chief expressed strong hopes Monday that the Ukraine war will end in 2023 and on other global hotspots condemned the Iranian government’s crackdown on demonstrators, urged all countries to fight terrorist threats from the extreme right and called on the international community to tell Israel’s new right-wing government that “there is no alternative to the two-state solution.”
In a wide-ranging end-of-year news conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he sees no prospect of talks to end the war in Ukraine in the immediate future and expects the already escalating military conflict to continue. But he called for everything possible to be done to halt the most devastating conflict in Europe since World War II by the end of 2023 — which he strongly hopes will happen.
On other issues, Guterres urged Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers to include all ethnic groups in the government, restore girls’ rights to education at all levels and women’s rights to work, and to stop all terrorist activity on its territory. And he reiterated the UN’s determination to pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, saying the international community must also pursue this goal which “is fundamental for peace and security in east Asia and in the world.”
The secretary-general also had some advice for the managers of all social media platforms including Twitter: You have a responsibility to preserve freedom of the press and at the same time ensure that hate speech and extremist views, including of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, don’t find their way onto your platforms.
Looking back at 2022, Guterres said “there may be plenty of reasons for despair” — geopolitical divides that have made solving global problems difficult if not impossible, a cost-of-living crisis, growing inequalities with most of the world’s poorest countries “staring down the abyss of insolvency and default,” with debt service payments skyrocketing by 35 percent, the largest increase in decades.
But as the year ends, he said, “we are working to push back against despair, to fight back against disillusion and to find real solutions.”
The secretary-general pointed to the historic agreement reached early Monday on protecting the world’s lands and oceans that provides critical financing to save biodiversity in the developing world, saying, “We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature.”
He also cited “a measure of progress” in some conflicts.
In Ethiopia, he said, “efforts by the African Union to broker peace are a reason for hope.” In Congo, diplomatic efforts led by Angola and the East African Community have created “a framework for political dialogue” to end the crisis in the country’s mineral-rich east. In Yemen, a six-month truce “delivered real dividends for people” and even though it wasn’t renewed, “there have been no major military operations” and flights and fuel and food deliveries are continuing.
Even in Ukraine, he said, the July agreements brokered by the UN and Turkiye to restart grain deliveries from Ukraine and food and fertilizer exports from Russia “are making a difference.”
Without an immediate prospect for talks, Guterres said the UN is currently concentrating its efforts on expanding the initiative that has seen over 14 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain shipped from three Black Sea ports by increasing exports and inspections.
He said Russian wheat exports “have multiplied three-fold,” and the UN is looking into possibly exporting Russian ammonia — a key ingredient of desperately needed fertilizer — from a Black Sea port.
The UN is also very interested in accelerating the exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war before Orthodox Christmas which both countries celebrate in January, the UN chief said.
On terrorism, Guterres urged condemnation of every form of extremism including neo-Nazism, white supremacism, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred in Western countries and elsewhere in the world.
“This is clearly a threat, and we must fight that threat with enormous determination,” he said. Guterres pointed to the recent alleged coup plot in Germany in which more than 20 people linked to a far-right movement were detained as just one example of the threat to democratic societies around the world.
The secretary-general was also sharply critical of Iran’s crackdown on peaceful protesters, who took to the streets in September after the death of a 22-year-old woman taken into custody by the morality police and accused of not wearing her headscarf properly. Over 450 people have been killed and over 18,000 detained, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the protests.
“We are witnessing massive violations of human rights that we strongly condemned,” Guterres said, calling the Iranian government’s actions “totally unacceptable.” He said he raised the issue with Iran’s president in September and the UN has continued to protest to Iran.
As for the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers known as the JCPOA, which former US President Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018, Guterres said “we will do everything we can in the context of our limited sphere of confidence to make sure” the agreement isn’t lost.
Negotiations on the US rejoining the deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled. “We are at the present moment, in a serious risk of losing the JCPOA,” Guterres said, “which in my opinion would be a very negative factor for peace and stability in the region and further afield.”
On the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Guterres was asked about more than 200 Palestinians killed this year, most of them civilians, and Israel’s election of the most right-wing government in its history, including members opposed to a Palestinian state.
He said the UN has been very clear in condemning violence against the Palestinians and is concerned “because we believe there is no Plan B to the two-state solution, and we are very concerned with what the next Israeli government might do in that regard.”
“I think it’s very important that the whole of the international community be very clear explaining to the government in Israel that there is no alternative to the two-state solution, and that no unilateral actions should be taken putting into question the two-state solution,” Guterres said.
THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized Monday on behalf of his government for the Netherlands’ role in slavery and the slave trade, in a speech welcomed by activists as historic but lacking in concrete plans for repair and reparations.
“Today I apologize,” Rutte said in a 20-minute speech that was greeted with silence by an invited audience at the National Archive.
Ahead of the speech, Waldo Koendjbiharie, a retiree who was born in Suriname but lived for years in the Netherlands, said an apology was not enough.
“It’s about money. Apologies are words and with those words you can’t buy anything,” he said.
Rutte told reporters after the speech that the government is not offering compensation to “people — grandchildren or great grandchildren of enslaved people.”
Instead, it is establishing a 200 million-euro ($212 million) fund for initiatives to help tackle the legacy of slavery in the Netherlands and its former colonies and to boost education about the issue.
Rutte apologized “for the actions of the Dutch state in the past: posthumously to all enslaved people worldwide who have suffered from those actions, to their daughters and sons, and to all their descendants into the here and now.”
Describing how more than 600,000 African men, women and children were shipped, “like cattle” mostly to the former colony of Suriname, by Dutch slave traders, Rutte said that history often is “ugly, painful, and even downright shameful.”
Rutte went ahead with the apology even though some activist groups in the Netherlands and its former colonies had urged him to wait until July 1 of next year, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery 160 years ago and said they had not been sufficiently consulted in the process leading up to the speech. Activists consider next year the 150th anniversary because many enslaved people were forced to continue working in plantations for a decade after abolition.
Mitchell Esajas, director of an organization called The Black Archives and a member of activist group Black Manifest, did not attend the speech despite being invited because of what he called the “almost insulting” lack of consultations with the Black community.
He said it was a historic moment but lamented the lack of a concrete plan for reparations.
“Reparation wasn’t even mentioned,” Esajas said. “So, beautiful words, but it’s not clear what the next concrete steps will be.”
Rutte’s gave his speech at a time when many nations’ brutal colonial histories have received critical scrutiny because of the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in the US city of Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.
The prime minister’s address was a response to a report published last year by a government-appointed advisory board. Its recommendations included the government’s apology and recognition that the slave trade and slavery from the 17th century until abolition “that happened directly or indirectly under Dutch authority were crimes against humanity.”
The report said that what it called institutional racism in the Netherlands “cannot be seen separately from centuries of slavery and colonialism and the ideas that have arisen in this context.”
Dutch ministers fanned out Monday to discuss the issue in Suriname and former colonies that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands — Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten as well as three Caribbean islands that are officially special municipalities in the Netherlands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.
In Suriname, , the small South American nation where Dutch plantation owners generated huge profits through the use of enslaved labor, the largest opposition party, NDP, condemned the Dutch government for failing to adequately consult descendants of enslaved people in the country. Activists in the country say that what’s really needed is compensation.
“The NDP therefore expresses its disapproval of this unilateral decision-making process and notes that the Netherlands is comfortably taking on the role of the mother country again,” the party said in a statement.
The year starting July 1, 2023, will be a slavery memorial year in which the Netherlands “will pause to reflect on this painful history. And on how this history still plays a negative role in the lives of many today,” the government says.
The Dutch first became involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the late 1500s and became a major trader in the mid-1600s. Eventually, the Dutch West India Company became the largest trans-Atlantic slave trader, said Karwan Fatah-Black, an expert in Dutch colonial history and an assistant professor at Leiden University.
In 2018, Denmark apologized to Ghana, which it colonized from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. In June, King Philippe of Belgium expressed “deepest regrets” for abuses in Congo. In 1992, Pope John Paul II apologized for the church’s role in slavery. Americans have had emotionally charged fights over taking down statues of slaveholders in the South.
Now the Netherlands has joined their ranks.
But for some in the Black community, the notable day was tinged with disappointment.
“For a lot of people, it’s a very beautiful and historic moment but with — in Dutch we say — a bitter taste … and it should have been a historic moment with a sweet taste,” Esajas said.
LONDON: It happened more than three decades ago, but the horror that was the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 lives on, for the families of the slain, for the Scottish community torn apart when the flaming wreckage crashed down in pieces on their town and for the first responders who arrived to find hellish scenes none would ever forget.
For some, the arrest last week of a Libyan man charged with having made the bomb that downed the jumbo jet over Lockerbie on Dec. 21, 1988, offers the prospect of long overdue justice for the 270 victims of the disaster and their families.
For others, though, confidence in the judicial system and the joint US-Scottish investigation that has led to the latest arrest was shaken long ago by uncertainties that continue to hang over the trial and conviction in May 2000 of another Libyan, Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, who in 2001 was found guilty of carrying out the bombing.
The undisputed facts of the case, which will doubtless be rehearsed again during the upcoming trial, are harrowing.
The Boeing 747, en route from London to New York City, was just half an hour into its flight and cruising at 31,000 feet when the bomb exploded shortly after 7 p.m., scattering aircraft parts, luggage and bodies over a wide area. The investigators would be faced with a crime scene of 2,200 square kilometers.
On board the doomed aircraft were 259 passengers and crew of 21 nationalities. The oldest victim was 82, the youngest a two-month-old baby, found held tight in her dead mother’s arms.
The 190 Americans on the flight included a party of 35 students from Syracuse University, returning home for Christmas after an overseas study tour.
Eleven more people died in their homes on the ground. Among them were the Flannigans, mother and father Kathleen, 41, Thomas, 44, and their daughter Joanne, aged 10.
Joanne’s body was eventually found in the deep crater gouged out of the street where the family lived, but her parents’ remains were never recovered.
Last week, 71-year-old Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi, an alleged former intelligence officer for the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, appeared in a US court accused of being the bombmaker.
It is a stunning development in a case which, for many relatives of the dead, has never been satisfactorily settled. Masud’s anticipated trial represents an unexpected opportunity for the many remaining doubts surrounding the Lockerbie disaster to be resolved once and for all.
Key among them is the suspicion, which has persisted for three decades, that the Libyans were falsely accused of a crime that was actually perpetrated by the Iranian regime.
Iran certainly had a motive. On July 3, 1988, five months before the bombing, Iran Air flight 655, an Airbus A300 carrying Iranian pilgrims bound for Makkah, had been shot down accidentally over the Strait of Hormuz by a US guided-missile cruiser, the Vincennes.
All 290 people on board were killed, including 66 children and 16 members of one family, who had been traveling to Dubai for a wedding.
In 1991, a subsequently declassified secret report from within the US Defense Intelligence Agency made it clear that from the outset Iran was the number-one suspect.
Ayatollah Mohtashemi, a former Iranian interior minister, was “closely connected to the Al-Abas and Abu Nidal terrorist groups,” it read.
He had “recently paid $10 million in cash and gold to these two organizations to carry out terrorist activities and … paid the same amount to bomb Pam Am flight 103, in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus.”
The evidence implicating Iran piled up. It emerged that two months before the bombing, German police had raided a cell of the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command and seized a bomb hidden in a Toshiba cassette player, just like the one that would be used to blow up Pan Am flight 103.
Yet in November 1991 it was two Libyan intelligence operatives, Abdel Baset Ali Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, who were charged with the murders. The case against them was circumstantial at best.
After years of negotiations with Qaddafi’s government, the two men were eventually handed over to be tried in a specially convened Scottish court in the Netherlands. Their trial began in May 2000, and on Jan. 31, 2001, Al-Megrahi was found guilty and Fhimah was acquitted.
The crown’s case was that an unaccompanied suitcase containing the bomb had been carried on an Air Malta flight from Luqa Airport in Malta to Frankfurt. There, it was transferred to a Pan Am aircraft to London, where it was loaded onto flight 103.
Inside the suitcase, wrapped in clothing, was the Toshiba cassette player containing the bomb.
A small part of a printed circuit board, believed to be from the bomb timer, was found in the wreckage, along with a fragment of a piece of clothing. This was traced to a store in Malta where the owner, Tony Gauci, told police he remembered selling it to a Libyan man.
Gauci, who died in 2016, was the prosecution’s main witness, but from the outset there were serious doubts about his evidence. He was interviewed 23 times by Scottish police before he finally identified Al-Megrahi — and only then after seeing the wanted man’s photograph in a newspaper article naming him as a suspect.
In their judgment, even the three Scottish judges conceded that “on the matter of identification of the … accused, there are undoubtedly problems.”
Worse, in 2007 Scottish newspaper The Herald claimed that the CIA had offered Gauci $2 million to give evidence in the case.
* Abu Agila Mohammad Masud Kheir Al-Marimi recently appeared in the US District Court of the District of Columbia to face charges over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
* Masud allegedly confessed to role as bombmaker while in Libyan custody the day after the US ambassador was killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
* Five months before Lockerbie bombing, 290 people died when Iran Air flight 655 carrying pilgrims was accidentally shot down by US guided-missile cruiser.
Another part of the prosecution’s case was that the fingernail-sized fragment of circuit board found in the wreckage, believed to have been part of the timer that triggered the bomb, matched a batch of timers supplied to Libya by a Swiss company in 1985.
However, the company insisted the timer on the aircraft had not been supplied to Libya, and in 2007 its CEO claimed that he had been offered $4 million by the FBI to say that it had.
Many have denounced the trial as a sham, suggesting that Qaddafi agreed to surrender Al-Megrahi and Fhimah, accept responsibility for the attack and pay compensation to the families of the victims, only because the US promised that the sanctions that had been imposed on Libya would be eased.
After Al-Megrahi’s appeal against his conviction was rejected in March 2002, one of the independent UN observers assigned to the case as a condition of Libya’s cooperation condemned what he called the “spectacular miscarriage of justice.”
Professor Hans Kochler said that he was “not convinced at all that the sequence of events that led to this explosion of the plane over Scotland was as described by the court. Everything that is presented is only circumstantial evidence.”
It remains to be seen what evidence will be presented in the upcoming trial of Masud.
Reports say that he was released only last year from prison in Libya, having been jailed for a decade for his part in the government of Qaddafi, who was overthrown in 2011.
Last week, Libya’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said that his government had handed Masud over to the Americans.
“An arrest warrant was issued against him from Interpol,” he said on Dec. 16. “It has become imperative for us to cooperate in this file for the sake of Libya’s interest and stability.”
As Dbeibah put it, Libya “had to wipe the mark of terrorism from the Libyan people’s forehead.”
From the very beginning, one of the strongest advocates for the innocence of Al-Megrahi was Jim Swire, a British doctor whose daughter Flora died in the bombing on the eve of her 24th birthday. Now 86, Swire has spent the past three decades campaigning tirelessly to expose what he believes was a miscarriage of justice.
Al-Megrahi, suffering from prostate cancer, was released from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009. Shortly before his death in Libya in 2012, he was visited in his sick bed by Swire, who in an interview last year recalled Al-Megrahi’s last words to him: “I am going to a place where I hope soon to see Flora. I will tell her that her father is my friend.”
Last week, Swire called for the trial of Masud not to be held in the US or Scotland.
“There are so many loose ends that hang from this dreadful case, largely emanating from America, that I think we should … seek a court that is free of being beholden to any nation directly involved in the atrocity itself,” he said.
“What we’ve always been after amongst the British relatives is the truth, and not a fabrication that might seem to be replacing the truth.”
STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s Supreme Court on Monday blocked the extradition of exiled Turkish journalist Bulent Kenes, a key demand by Ankara to ratify Stockholm’s NATO membership.
There were “several hindrances” to sending back the former editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily, who Turkiye accuses of being involved in a 2016 attempt to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the court said.
Some of the accusations against Kenes are not crimes in Sweden, which along with the political nature of the case and his refugee status, made extradition impossible, the court added.
“There is also a risk of persecution based on this person’s political beliefs. An extradition can thusly not take place,” Judge Petter Asp said in a statement.
As a result, “the government… is not able to grant the extradition request.”
Sweden’s foreign ministry’s press office underscored the point.
“If the Supreme Court declares that there are hindrances to an extradition in an individual case the government has to deny the extradition request,” the ministry said.
“We can’t speculate on any potential effects on the NATO accession. Sweden’s government has to follow Swedish and international law in extradition affairs, which is also laid out in the trilateral agreement,” it added.
Kenes is the only person Erdogan has identified by name among dozens of people Ankara wants extradited in exchange for approving Sweden’s NATO membership.
Following decades — or in Sweden’s case centuries — of staying out of a military alliance, the two countries made the historic decision to apply to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The bid needs unanimous approval from all NATO members.
Apart from Hungary, which is due to ratify Sweden’s and Finland’s membership in early 2023, Turkiye is the only country to threaten to prevent the two countries from joining NATO.
Turkiye, which has accused Sweden especially of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish groups it deems “terrorists,” has held back on ratifying their NATO applications despite reaching an agreement with Sweden and Finland in June.
Ankara says it expects Stockholm in particular to take tougher action on several issues, including the extradition of criminals.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson traveled to Turkiye in November to meet Erdogan to discuss the issues.
When pressed about “terrorists” he wants extradited from Sweden during a joint press conference, Erdogan only named Kenes as one on the list.
Stockholm has repeatedly stressed that its judiciary is independent and has the final say in extraditions.
In early December, Sweden extradited to Turkiye a convicted member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who had fled to Sweden in 2015 but had his asylum request denied.
Kenes, who now works for the Stockholm Center for Freedom — an association founded by other Turkish dissidents in exile — told AFP Monday that he was “happy” but not surprised by the court’s opinion.
“It is not an unexpected decision. I have always repeated that I had 100 percent trust in the Swedish legal system and judicial system because Sweden has rule of law,” Kenes said, while stressing that the allegations against him were “fabricated by the Erdogan regime.”
He insisted he committed “neither political crime nor violent crime.
“I’m not a coup maker, I am not a terrorist,” he added.
“I am just a journalist. I am just a person doing his journalism in the framework of defending human rights,” Kenes said.
Ankara has over time increased the number of people it wants extradited: first 33, then 45, then 73, in unofficial lists published by media close to the Turkish government.
Speaking to AFP in November, Kenes said he believed he was singled out by Erdogan “because he has known me for decades” due to his long career as a journalist, and because it was the first name he came up with off the top of his head.
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim won a confidence vote in parliament on Monday, cementing his leadership of a new unity government after an election last month produced no clear winner.
Anwar, capping his three-decade political journey, became premier in late November, forming a unity government with several rival political blocs following polls that resulted in an unprecedented hung parliament.
He convened the first parliament session on Monday to prove his majority after former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin questioned his legitimacy and to remove doubts over his authority to govern and the stability of his administration.
The confidence motion was passed through a simple voice vote — where lawmakers voiced their support — following three hours of intense debate in parliament.
Anwar’s confidence vote win was “no surprise,” director of BowerGroupAsia Adib Zalkapli said, as it was “still the early days of the unity government.”
Malaysia’s fourth prime minister since 2020, who came to power after two previous administrations collapsed due to political turmoil, appears to be starting his leadership with good democratic precedent.
“Anwar is setting a good precedent in strengthening our parliamentary democracy. The government is accountable to parliament. No future prime ministers can ignore or undermine the parliament,” Zalkapli told Arab News.
Dr. James Chin, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, described the move as important.
“The two previous governments have declared a majority, but they never tested it on the floor of parliament,” Chin told Arab News. “This is really an important precedent; it means in the future, there won’t be any backdoor government and they will have to test their numbers on the first seating of parliament.”
Malaysian political parties supporting Anwar signed a cooperation pact last week ahead of the confidence vote, promising to ensure stability. They had agreed to work together to spur the economy and maintain good governance.
Dr. Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the confidence vote will give Anwar the time to resolve various issues facing the Southeast Asian nation, including devastating floods on the country’s east coast and the rising cost of living.
“The confidence vote lends Anwar some time to focus more on stimulating the uninspiring economy,” Oh told Arab News.