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EU winter gas plan to enter into force next week

An emergency mechanism to trigger a bloc-wide alert in the event of widespread gas shortages is also included to make the gas-savings targets mandatory, reports Asian Lite Newsdesk

An emergency European Union (EU) gas conservation plan, prompted by fears of a cut-off of Russian gas supplies, will enter into force at the start of next week after the bloc’s member states completed a final procedural step, the Czech EU Presidency announced.

The plan provides for a voluntary 15 per cent reduction in EU member states’ gas consumption between August 1, 2022 and March 31, 2023, compared to the average consumption in the same period over the past five years, reports dpa news agency.

An emergency mechanism to trigger a bloc-wide alert in the event of widespread gas shortages is also included to make the gas-savings targets mandatory.

The aim of the consumption cuts is to ensure emergency transfers of gas to member states who face shortages if supplies fall to critical levels, in a move to reduce Russia’s leverage over the EU.

EU member states agreed the plan in July as Russia cut gas deliveries to the bloc, citing maintenance and technical issues linked to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for invading Ukraine.

Picture shows Nord Stream pipeline equipments before the opening ceremony of the North Stream second gas link in Portovaya bay, near the town of Vyborg in northwestern Russia. (Xinhua_IANS)

The EU regards the decision as retaliation for the punitive measures and politically motivated.

Germany in particular is under pressure to save gas amid severely restricted Russian supplies.

Based on European Commission data, dpa has calculated that Germany needs to reduce its gas consumption by more than any other EU state in order to achieve the bloc’s agreed savings target of 15 per cent.

In order to reach the EU target, Germany must save 10 billion cubic metres of natural gas between the beginning of August and March next year, the equivalent to the average annual gas consumption of 5 million four-person households.

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Pak Illegal Immigrants Undermine European Security

European security is at stake as several illegal migrants from Pakistan were reportedly looking for opportunities to make quick money through crime. With official in league, trafficked Pakistanis in Europe engage in terrorism and crime. 11 people trafficked by Dr Israr Husain, a BS-21 officer at the Foreign Office, is at the heart of the new scandal. This is the latest development in a series of incidents spread over the last few years wherein, as per official Pakistani estimates, about 40,000 Pakistani nationals enter Europe every year, travelling via Iran and Turkey … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Many European Governments have taken notice of the security-related issues with Pakistani illegal immigrants engaged in crime to make quick money. They also attend private conclaves organised by Islamist extremist bodies and get influenced there to take up violence, reports said.

The Pakistan Government is yet to probe a high-ranking diplomat who is at the heart of a human trafficking scandal, having facilitated visas from several European Embassies in Islamabad for 11 ineligible persons.

Dr Israr Husain, a BS-21 officer at the Foreign Office (File)

Dr Israr Husain was additional secretary (Europe) at the relevant time when he sent messages and emails supporting visa applications of those who either disappeared or sought asylum in different European cities, Pakistani newspaper The News International newspaper reported.

The newspaper in a report on August 2 quoted unnamed government officials who said this was a fit case for a thorough probe, but there had been no word from the government.

This is the latest development in a series of incidents spread over the last few years wherein, as per official Pakistani estimates, about 40,000 Pakistani nationals enter Europe every year, travelling via Iran and Turkey. The European authorities are unable to treat activities by these illegals as petty crimes since, for instance, a group in Turkey was found taking pictures of women for local female trafficking rackets.

There have been reports of Pakistani diplomats and officials abroad themselves engaged in crime. In October 2018, Pakistani bureaucrat Zarar Haider Khan was caught on camera stealing the wallet of a Kuwaiti delegate. Haider Khan was arrested after the incident which took place at the Pakistan-Kuwait joint ministerial meeting. On April 27 last year, two diplomats from Pakistan’s Embassy in South Korea were caught shoplifting at a store in Seoul and were arrested.

The latest scandal came to light on the basis of a complaint by a travel agent who submitted detailed correspondence. He had arranged travel documents and the stay in Europe for the 11 Pakistani nationals who paid PKR 1.5 million each on the promise of getting jobs. On failing to get them, they sought asylum.

The newspaper quoted the travel agent/complainant, Tariq Javid Khan, who dated back his story to the time Husain was in the Czech Republic when he “made an offer to me to facilitate the issuance of visit, work and residency visas for Italy, the Czech Republic, Spain, Poland and South Korea. He also introduced me to the ambassadors of these countries in Pakistan.”

Reading through the complaint is like touring the world of human smuggling and the way it works.

Khan wrote to the government that he had a complete record of all payments made to Hussain in the form of bank receipts. Khan attached several of them as evidence, which has been seen by The News. In addition, Khan mentioned having videos/ voice/ text messages exchanged between him and Husain. The visas couldn’t be issued and Husain refused to return the money and allegedly threatened Khan of dire consequences in case the word went out. However, in the meanwhile, another opportunity arose.

Husain requisitioned a group of Qawwal from Pakistan in Prague. Khan said he arranged their tickets, accommodations and all other expenses there in Prague.

“Behind this show was an ulterior motive. A group of 10 Pakistanis also accompanied the cultural troupe. As many as Rs.1.5 million were collected from each of them with the promise that they would get work and residency permits in Prague, according to Khan’s complaint. Husain didn’t keep the promise and they were forced to seek asylum.

Khan then mentions Husain’s past behaviour that he came to know through his colleagues. He alleged that Husain was “a persona non-grata in several of the countries in his previous postings.” Khan has mentioned a few ambassadors who, he hopes, would give further credence to the charges he has levelled against Husain.

Please contact, his complaint reads, “the ambassador of Italy, the ambassador of the Czech Republic and the Ambassador of Spain “who will be happy to confirm Mr Hussain’s disorderly conduct and they will provide evidence regarding his continuous requests for the illegal issuances of visas.”

The ambassador of the Czech Republic in Pakistan and the ambassador of Pakistan in the Czech Republic, according to Khan, made a formal complaint to the foreign office regarding Hussain’s deceptive conduct. “An investigation was carried out by the Foreign Office, however, Mr Husain was exonerated due to his batch-mates being the investigators of the case,” Khan wrote.

Incidentally, Khan is “doing the same” this time, The News observed, as Khan has since withdrawn his complaint in what seems a compromise and settlement, or even an attempt by the government to hush up the case.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered a fact-finding inquiry to determine the veracity of allegations levelled by Khan, he has withdrawn his complaint apparently in an out-of-office settlement with Husain. Whether the ministry will proceed further on this remains to be known, The News reported.

“Since the allegations are specific in nature and evidence has also been shared, it is yet to be seen what the ministry does. Ideally, it should hold an inquiry. The ministry can’t stop doing that on the whims of a complainant. Rather, he should also be investigated,” an official told The news.

Husain didn’t answer the questions sent by The News.

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EU plans to shore up alternative routes for Ukrainian grain exports

However, hopes are currently pinned on the agreement with Russia enabling a resumption of regular Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea…reports Asian Lite News

Despite the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports under a UN and Turkish-brokered deal between Moscow and Kiev, the European Union (EU) intends to continue its efforts to create alternative freight routes for Ukrainian grain exports.

Despite the re-opening of maritime routes, an immediate return to pre-war levels of Ukrainian exports remains challenging and alternative export routes are still crucial, an EU Commission official said.

European Commissioner for Transport Adina Valean stressed that there was “room for improvement”, in the alternative routes being worked on, citing a lack of freight wagons, barge operators and storage facilities for Ukrainian produce.

According to the European Commission, Ukraine was the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the third largest exporter of rapeseed and barley, the fourth largest exporter of maize, and the fifth largest exporter of wheat before the beginning of Ukraine’s invasion by Russia in February.

However, hopes are currently pinned on the agreement with Russia enabling a resumption of regular Ukrainian agricultural exports via the Black Sea.

According to EU figures, before the war, up to 5 million tonnes of grain passed through Ukraine’s Black Sea ports each month.

Reaching that level again in the near future is considered highly unlikely, however, with the first ship to leave the port of Odessa under the UN deal carrying just 26,000 tonnes of maize.

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Kashmiri diaspora urged to stem Pakistani propaganda

Mr Bashir Assad, a Srinagar-based senior journalist and researcher engaged in peace-building initiatives in Jammu and Kashmir, said the Pakistani narrative on Kashmir is getting an edge over the real stories … reports Asian Lite News 

A prominent Kashmiri author told the diaspora to stem the Pakistani propaganda to denigrate the image of the Valley in the global arena.

Mr Bashir Assad, the author of three famous books on Kashmir – K File: The Conspiracy of Silence and Kashmir – The War of Narratives – An Insider’s Perspective and Kashmir beyond Article 370, told a London gathering that Pakistan is using a two-pronged strategy to fuel terrorism in Kashmir.

“The Pakistani propaganda is spreading the idea of the Islamic Caliphate to radicalise the youths in the Valley. They are using the outdated UN resolutions and plebiscite calls to muster support from the global audience. It is high time to stem the false narratives on Valley.”  

The event was organised by South Central Asia Academic Forum (SCAAF UK) in London to discuss Bashir’s new book “Kashmir – The War of Narratives – An Insider’s Perspective.”

Woking Councillor Josh Brown, with Sonal Sher, Bashir Assad, Bisma Nazir

Mr Vinod Tikoo, founder member of the Jammu and Kashmir Study Centre in London, welcomed the gathering.

Ms Bismah Mir, the editor of The Kashmir Central, also addressed the gathering. She said the militants are using rape as a weapon to terrorise women and children in the Valley. “They are forcing youngsters to join the militant by threatening their mothers and sisters.”

Mr Assad, a Srinagar-based senior journalist and researcher engaged in peace-building initiatives in Jammu and Kashmir, said the Pakistani narrative on Kashmir is getting an edge over the real stories. 

Bashir Assad’s new book – Kashmir- The War of Narratives

“The stereotypical Kashmir narrative runs on a grinding machine of disinformation, half-truths, and concocted accounts unrelentingly flowing from Pakistan,” said Mr Assad.  “This is an obfuscation of truth. Through the cruel, merciless arms of terrorism, atrocities, and pain have been inflicted upon the Kashmiris. Hair-raising terrorist atrocities over more than 30 years tell the story of how Pakistan has ripped apart the life and happiness of Kashmiris.”

He urged the Kashmiri diaspora from the Valley to come forward and stem the misinformation campaign of Pakistan. He also revealed that the high number of Mirpuri immigrants in countries like the UK makes the Pakistani version dominant in the media and political circle. Some leaders are creating vote banks and setting personal agendas by using Kashmir cards.

Bashir Assad, Bisma Nazir with Bob Blackman MP

“Everybody wrote about Kashmir,” said Mr Assad. “There will be oceans of content about Kashmir. Most of them are confining to certain narratives. My concern in is about the society and the society has been destroyed by these narratives. The eco-system created by these narratives.”

Mr Assad said the militants are relying on the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in the Valley to garner support at the local level. They are exploiting the outdated UN statements to grab attention on the International arena.

He also said the revocation of Article 370 has changed the power balance in the union territory. But, the Muftis are still wielding power in certain areas. This has to change.

Mr Bashir said there won’t be peace in Valley unless all stakeholders – the Kashmiris themselves, the Indian state and the political parties in Kashmir get together and negotiate peace with the militants. The ideology of holy Jihad and the aspiration for the kingdom of God has now co-opted women and teenagers as their strongest campaigners in Kashmir, turning paradise into hell. The change from a political problem to a religious matter needs to be understood and strategically challenged.

Mr Burzine Waghmar, Royal United Services Institute, said the global communities are not updated on the latest stance on Kashmir by the United Nations. He said the international body has already announced that the call for the plebiscite is obsolete. The Clinton administration had also clarified the US stance on Kashmir during the President’s tour in India.

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‘EU wants to enhance ties with Saudi Arabia, GCC countries’

The EU wants to enhance its relationship with Saudi Arabia in a number of fields, particularly in the field of energy and green transition, the spokesperson added…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union seeks to enhance relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, an EU spokesman said on Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, the EU lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy Peter Stano said: “The European Union, Saudi Arabia, and all countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council share the interest to develop this relation, our cooperation.”

He added that the European bloc wants to enhance its partnership with GCC countries because “that is something mutually beneficial for us and for people in these countries.”

“So this is one of the objectives of the EU and we want to engage further both with the GCC and its member states including Saudi Arabia,” Stano said.

The EU wants to enhance its relationship with Saudi Arabia in a number of fields, particularly in the field of energy and green transition, the spokesperson added.

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EU proposes new draft text for Iran n-deal revival

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was reviewing the “draft understanding” Borrell shared with Iran and other parties to the 2015 deal and would respond directly to the EU…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has proposed a new draft text to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying there is no room left for further major compromises.

“I have now put on the table a text that addresses, in precise detail, the sanctions lifting as well as the nuclear steps needed to restore the JCPOA,” the European Union’s Josep Borrell wrote in an essay in the Financial Times.

“After 15 months of intense, constructive negotiations in Vienna and countless interactions with the JCPOA participants and the US, I have concluded that the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted,” he added.

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, confirmed Borrell had put forth a new proposal, adding on Twitter, “We, too, have our own ideas, both in substance & form, to conclude the negotiations which would be shared.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that Washington was reviewing the “draft understanding” Borrell shared with Iran and other parties to the 2015 deal and would respond directly to the EU.

According to Reuters, Borrell did not provide details about his proposal, but he suggested – as many Western officials have before – that time was running out to restore the deal under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.

“It is now time for swift political decisions to conclude the Vienna negotiations on the basis of my proposed text and to immediately return to a fully implemented JCPOA,” he wrote. “If the deal is rejected, we risk a dangerous nuclear crisis, set against the prospect of increased isolation for Iran and its people.”

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Europe’s heatwave is a strong warning

When we think of Europe, we mostly think of cold and enjoyable weather, as compared to our scorching heat and humid weather. But in 2022, the European continent is facing one of the worst summers, writes Asad Mirza

The extreme temperatures witnessed in Europe during the last fortnight, are the results of our own making, and maybe this is a wake-up call for the humans to stop playing with nature.

When we think of Europe, we mostly think of cold and enjoyable weather, as compared to our scorching heat and humid weather. But in 2022, the European continent is facing one of the worst summers.

Usually, by Indian standards even the European summers were considered to be much better than our winters, but record-breaking heat affecting parts of Western Europe during the fortnight, with UK temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius for the first time since record-keeping began in 1772, has proved us wrong.

Temperatures dived in many other countries in Europe, with 64 different areas in France experiencing record highs and temperatures in Portugal reaching 47 degrees Celsius.

The dangerously high temperatures have had other additional consequences, too, with Portugal reporting more than 1,000 heat-wave-related deaths in the last fortnight. At least 13 people have died in open water-related incidents in the UK.

People cool off at a fountain in Berlin, capital of Germany. (Xinhua Shan Yuqi IANS)

Extreme heat-wave warnings were issued in France and record July temperatures were reported in the Netherlands. In Paris, the thermometer crossed the 40 degrees Celsius for the third time this summer.

In addition, wildfires continue to sweep across parts of Southwest Europe. As well as increased ozone pollution, the European heat wave is also exacerbating the scale and intensity of wildfires currently raging across southern Europe, especially in south-western France, Spain and Portugal. The worst affected regions to date include the Gironde region south of Bordeaux, Extremadura and Galicia in Spain, and parts of Portugal.

This is also accompanied with the fact that Europe is witnessing more and more floods in the regions where they were unheard of like in Germany and the UK. Experts blame Climate Change for the soaring temperatures across the world, especially Europe, and have warned that worse is yet to come.

Scientific View

The Guardian reported Prof. Richard Allan, of the University of Reading as saying that Climate Change is intensifying these heat waves as greenhouse gas increases raise temperatures and a warmer, more thirsty atmosphere dries out the soil, so that more of the sun’s energy is available to heat the ground rather than evaporating water.

The Politico quoted Mariam Zachariah, climate scientist at Imperial College London, as saying that build-up of CO2 from burning fossil fuels has made heat waves more intense and more frequent across the globe, including in Europe.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warned last week that Europe’s heat wave could persist into the middle of next week, whereas the negative impacts of climate change are bound to continue at least until 2060s.

Robert Stefanski, chief of Applied Climate Services at the WMO, at a joint press briefing with the World Health Organisation (WHO), also said that record heat waves are becoming more frequent because of climate change.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) scientists are predicting very high levels of surface ozone pollution across a large region of Europe as temperatures soar. They also warn about very high levels of ozone pollution in southern Europe caused by the heat wave could now affect north-western regions in the coming week. The prediction comes after extremely high surface ozone pollution was experienced across western and southern Europe, particularly along the west Coast of Portugal and parts of northern Italy.

Mark Parrington, Senior Scientist from the CAMS, says the potential impacts of very high ozone pollution on human health can be considerable both in terms of respiratory and cardio-vascular illness. Higher values can lead to symptoms such as sore throat, coughing, headache and an increased risk of asthma attacks. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition estimates that ozone pollution causes approximately one million additional deaths per year. This is why it is crucial that we monitor surface ozone levels.

Recently BBC has published a revealing report, which highlights how the major culprits responsible for environmental degradation had planned and executed a bold campaign 30 years ago, to spread doubt and persuade the public that Climate Change was not a problem. The tie-up between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

Firefighters battle a wildfire in Cebreros, Castilla y Leon, Spain, on July 21, 2022. (Junta de Castilla y LeonHandout via Xinhua IANS)

Climate Change and Big Business

The Global Climate Coalition (GCC), which represented the oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries, hired a communications partner to change the narrative on Climate Change. The strategy was implemented through an extensive media campaign, including placing quotes and pitching opinion pieces. The groundwork was laid meticulously for the industry’s biggest campaign to date – opposing international efforts to negotiate emissions reductions in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

This makes us wonder where we have gone wrong. It is indeed true to say that during the last 100 years humans have wrecked the earth so much that nature is turning back on them.

We hear constant talk of environment planning and tackling Climate Change effects, but find most governments wanting in fulfilling their pledges committed at different environment foras, such as COP26 and other international bodies.

The basic requirement is that we’ll have to change our lifestyles too, to cope with the climate challenges. We’ll have to change the way we are constructing our commercial and residential buildings, all clad in either glass or aluminium cladding requiring more heat intensive mechanisms to maintain cooler temperature. In hotels worldwide it is a normal practice to maintain the building temperature at 17 degrees Celsius, why can’t we make it a more reasonable 21 degrees Celsius? In addition we also need to change our style of construction using a judicious mix of stone, cement and wood, not just relying on one particular product, besides ensuring less usage of wood.

If we humans don’t act now instead of just preaching and making hollow promises then we could just look forward to our own extinction much earlier than envisaged by nature.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He writes on Muslims, educational, international affairs, interfaith and current affairs. The views expressed are personal)

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EU slams execution of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leaders

They will only exacerbate the polarisation, violence, and dramatic humanitarian situation in Myanmar…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union has strongly condemned the execution of Myanmar’s former NLD Member of Parliament Phyo Zeya Thaw, prominent activist Kyaw MinYu, as well as Aung Thura Zaw, and Hla Myo Aung by the southeast Asian country’s military regime.

“These politically motivated executions represent yet another step towards the complete dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar. The four men were the first prisoners to be executed in Myanmar in more than three decades, a move that is contrary to the overall worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty,” the office of the High Commissioner said in a statement, adding that the EU is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty “as an inhumane, cruel and irreversible punishment that violates the inalienable right to life”.

“The executions are reprehensible acts that show that the military authorities have no respect for the life or dignity of the very people they are supposed to protect. They will only exacerbate the polarisation, violence, and dramatic humanitarian situation in Myanmar.

“The EU stands unequivocally with the people of Myanmar and their aspirations for freedom, and urges the military regime to end all acts of violence without further delay and calls for the unconditional and immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, as well as to return to a democratic path,” it said.

“We will continue to support all efforts by the United Nations and ASEAN to this end,” the statement said.

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EU condemns execution in Myanmar

“The four men were the first prisoners to be executed in Myanmar in more than three decades, a move that is contrary to the overall worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty,”the statement said…reports Asian Lite News

The European Union has strongly condemned the execution of Myanmar’s former NLD Member of Parliament Phyo Zeya Thaw, prominent activist Kyaw MinYu, as well as Aung Thura Zaw, and Hla Myo Aung by the southeast Asian country’s military regime.

“These politically motivated executions represent yet another step towards the complete dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar. The four men were the first prisoners to be executed in Myanmar in more than three decades, a move that is contrary to the overall worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty,” the office of the High Commissioner said in a statement, adding that the EU is fundamentally opposed to the death penalty “as an inhumane, cruel and irreversible punishment that violates the inalienable right to life”.

“The executions are reprehensible acts that show that the military authorities have no respect for the life or dignity of the very people they are supposed to protect. They will only exacerbate the polarisation, violence, and dramatic humanitarian situation in Myanmar.

“The EU stands unequivocally with the people of Myanmar and their aspirations for freedom, and urges the military regime to end all acts of violence without further delay and calls for the unconditional and immediate release of all those arbitrarily detained, as well as to return to a democratic path,” it said.

“We will continue to support all efforts by the United Nations and ASEAN to this end,” the statement said.

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13 projects for Portugal’s recovery plan signed

According to Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Portugal will receive a total of 1.6 billion euros ($1.63 billion) from the EU for the program…reports Asian Lite News

The first batch of 13 projects for the Portuguese Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR) were signed in Lisbon to receive funds from the European Union (EU) to overcome the post-pandemic economic crisis.

The projects were selected through the program “Mobilizing Agendas for Business Innovation” in the sectors of agri-food, biotechnology, and electric mobility, reports Xinhua news agency.

According to Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Portugal will receive a total of 1.6 billion euros ($1.63 billion) from the EU for the program.

Still, there is a “possibility of adding another 2.3 billion euros” if Portugal uses loans from the EU, he said.

Costa said that the funds will be used to “structurally change the profile of the Portuguese economy”, and create “high-technology exporting sectors”.

In addition to the 13 projects financed, there are still another 38 ones that have already been selected to receive European funds in the coming months.

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