Risk of no-deal Brexit increased, says EU chief

                BRUSSELS (AA) - European Commission president on Wednesday said the risk of no-deal Brexit has increased following the House of Commons’ vote.</p>    <p>Addressing the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker said Brexit was and still is a “bad idea,” and the House of Common’s Tuesday decision “has further increased the risk of a disorderly exit of the U.K.” which is possibly the “worst scenario.”</p>    <p>On Tuesday, the British parliament gave a mandate to Prime Minister Theresa May to remove the backstop clause from her Brexit deal and negotiate “alternative arrangements” with the European Union.</p>    <p>However, Juncker said: “The withdrawal agreement is the best and only deal possible,” adding that the EU will not renegotiate the deal.</p>    <p>&quot;I believe we need a safety net that secures us against this risk [...] Ireland's border is Europe's border and it's our union's priority,&quot; he added.</p>    <p>Speaking at the EU parliament, EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also said: &quot;We are fearing more than ever, that there is a risk of a no deal, and we still are focused on avoiding that scenario.</p>    <p>“The EU institution remains united and we stand by the agreement we have negotiated with the U.K., never against the U.K.”</p>    <p>The U.K. is set to leave the EU on March 29.

UK: Drone sighting grounds departures from Heathrow

                              By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal 

LONDON (AA) – All outgoing flights from Britain’s busiest airport were grounded due to an alleged drone sighting Tuesday evening.

"As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate,” Heathrow Airport said on Twitter.

The message said airport officials are working with British police “to prevent any threat to operational safety.”

The closure affected only the north runway, which departing planes use.

The incident comes in the wake of last month’s disruption at another London gateway, Gatwick Airport.

Gatwick was reopened after a 36-hour halt in operations due to drones spotted over the runway, but the disruptions caused hundreds of flights cancelled, delayed, or redirected to other airports.

UK MPs request to visit detained female Saudi activists

            By Muhammad Mussa <br>

LONDON (AA) – A cross-party panel of British parliament members and lawyers has written an open letter to the Saudi Arabian ambassador in London asking permission to visit female activists detained in the Kingdom.

In the letter to Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz on Wednesday, they expressed their concern for the imprisoned activists and requested permission to check on their wellbeing.

The group includes Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who chairs the panel, Labour MP Dr. Paul Williams, who worked with refugees, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, the first MP of Palestinian heritage, Dr. Tim Moloney QC, a leading British lawyer, and Tayab Ali, a senior partner at ITN Solicitors representing a detained Saudi activist.

“You will be aware that there have been some serious allegations made about the treatment of Women Activist Detainees in Saudi Arabia,” Blunt said in the letter.

“I have been asked by ITN solicitors, on behalf of a Saudi Arabian citizen (the Client), to convene together an independent panel of UK parliamentarians to review the conditions of these Women Activist Detainees (the Detainees) currently in detention in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“I am therefore writing to you as Chair of the Detention Review Panel for Detained Women Activists who have been detained and/or imprisoned by the authorities in Saudi Arabia. We would like your assistance in arranging a visit to Saudi Arabia to visit and speak with these Detainees.”

The letter also said the panel will conduct an independent review of the conditions of the detained women activists and will inquire into the conditions in which they are living and how they are being treated. Once the review has been conducted, its findings will be released in a report.

Among the detainees the panel hopes to visit are those named in Human Rights Watch’s November 2018 report, including Loujain al‐Hathloul, Aziza al‐Yousef, Eman al‐Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al‐Zahrani, Samar Badawi, Nassima al‐Saada and Hatoon al‐Fassi, all of whom are women’s rights activists.

The panel highlighted their concern over allegations made about the treatment of the activists and that such allegations that have been documented by human rights organizations “appear to be credible, but we acknowledge that the Saudi Arabian government says that the allegations are unfounded”.

They include torture with electric shocks, being tied down to a bed and whipping with a rope, sexual harassment, threats of rape and assault, threats of the death penalty or life imprisonment for “treason” and denial of access to family members or independent lawyers.

“The allegations made and recorded by these human rights advocates are extremely damaging to the credibility of the progressive reforms announced recently by the Saudi Arabian government,” said the letter.

“We hope that following our review, we will be able to assist Saudi Arabia in regaining confidence from the international community that its commitment to progressive reform and the protection of the rights of peaceful pro‐reform activists is both credible and sincere.”

Nigerian monarch asks UK to return Benin artifacts

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – A Nigerian monarch has urged Britain’s Prince Charles to help repatriate age-old artifacts taken from the country, again calling into question the activities of European colonialists in the African continent.

“Nigerians in general and Benin people in particular will be most delighted to have your royal highness throw his royal weight behind our efforts to have some of our ancient artifacts that were taken in 1897 from the Royal Court of Benin returned to Benin to establish Oba Palace Museum for the promotion of tourism in Benin City, Edo State,” Ewuare II, the oba of Benin, told Charles on Tuesday.

The prince of Wales is in Nigeria on the last lap of his visit to British West Africa – accompanied by his wife, Duchess of Cornwall Camila. George met earlier with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

Ewuare said stolen artifacts remain a major issue in relations between the countries.

British contact with the Benin Empire well predated its official colonization of Nigeria in the early 20th century, with locals often accusing colonial masters of not just slavery but also taking away prized artifacts from Africa.

The highly developed state of Benin, situated in present-day coastal Nigeria, dates as far back as the 11th century.

EU, Germany, UK, France deeply regret Iran sanctions

By Serife Cetin and Nilay Kar Onum

BRUSSELS (AA) – The EU, Germany, Britain and France said on Friday in a joint statement that they “deeply regret the further re-imposition of sanctions by the United States".

The statement said: “We deeply regret the further re-imposition of sanctions by the United States, due to the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA).”

It came shortly after the U.S. announced it is reimposing all sanctions lifted under a 2015 nuclear pact world powers struck with Iran.

The new wave of sanctions reimpositions, the second since August, will target Iran's energy, shipbuilding, shipping, and financial sectors.

The statement termed the nuclear pact as “a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and of multilateral diplomacy, endorsed unanimously by the UN Security Council through Resolution 2231".

"It is crucial for the security of Europe, the region, and the entire world,” it said.

The countries aim to "protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran, in accordance with EU law and with UN Security Council resolution 2231."

"As parties to the JCPoA, we have committed to work on, inter alia, the preservation and maintenance of effective financial channels with Iran, and the continuation of Iran’s export of oil and gas."

US rips international effort to evade Iran sanctions

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a stern rebuke Tuesday to the countries remaining in the Iran nuclear agreement after they announced a financial system to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran.

"This is one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and global peace and security," Pompeo told a group that advocates against the Iran deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May, defying pleas from close U.S. allies. Washington began re-imposing sanctions in August, with a more sweeping wave targeting oil exports set to go into effect Nov. 4.

The six parties remaining in the agreement — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran — announced late Monday the creation of a "Special Purpose Vehicle" which is intended to facilitate financial transactions with Iran allowed under the nuclear pact.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the system, which will be set up by EU member states, will allow "European companies to continue trade with Iran" and said the system "could be open to other partners in the world".

But Pompeo said that doing so would allow the Iranian government to solidify its "ranking as the number one state sponsor of terror".

"I imagine the corrupt ayatollahs and the IRGC were laughing this morning," Pompeo said, referring to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

As Pompeo was addressing the crowd in New York, the State Department issued a 48-page document chronicling Iran's history of "destructive behavior" dating back to 1980 and harping on its ballistic missile program and "illicit financial activities."

Pompeo's comments and the lengthy report come as Trump prepares to chair a Security Council session Wednesday that is expected to focus heavily on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is allowed to attend the session under council rules, but it is unclear if he will do so.

UK envoy hails Kurd region’s role in Iraq gov’t talks

By Arif Yusuf

ERBIL, Iraq (AA) – U.K. Ambassador to Iraq Jonathan Wilks has hailed the role being played by northern Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in the formation of Iraq’s incoming government and in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil.

According to a Thursday statement released by the KRG, Wilks made the remarks at a Wednesday meeting with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil, the KRG’s administrative capital.

During the meeting, the two men reportedly discussed ongoing negotiations in Baghdad over the formation of Iraq’s next federal government — a process that has been dogged by dispute between the country’s main political players.

Members of Wilks’s delegation reportedly stressed the importance of the KRG’s role in helping draw up Iraq’s next government and the need for Iraqi Kurds to be “equal partners in the decision-making process”, according to the KRG statement.

Delegation members also underlined the need to resolve outstanding disputes between Baghdad and Erbil through dialogue, praising initiatives proposed by Barzani in this regard.

They also voiced satisfaction regarding the KRG’s plan to hold regional parliamentary elections on Sept. 30, expressing hope that the polls enjoy a successful outcome.

Barzani, for his part, said at the meeting that talks between the KRG and Iraqi political groups were “still underway” with a view to reaching agreement on the outlines of the next government.

He also stressed the importance of maintaining unity between Iraq’s Kurdish parties and coalitions.

The campaigning period for the Kurdish region’s Sept. 30 parliamentary election officially kicked off Tuesday.

The region’s first parliamentary poll was held in 1992, followed by three subsequent elections in 2005, 2009 and 2013.

The upcoming poll was initially slated for last year, but was postponed due to deep-seated political differences and a bloody conflict pitting the Iraqi army against the Daesh terrorist group.

Meanwhile, formation of Iraq’s incoming government has been stalled since May, when the country held a hard-fought parliamentary poll, results of which were later subject to a recount.

Egypt holds war-games with UK, France in Red, Med seas

CAIRO (AA) – The Egyptian military on Monday began holding joint naval drills with its British and French counterparts in the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea respectively.

According to an army statement, Egypt will conduct joint exercises with the British Armed Forces in the Red Sea while holding simultaneous drills with French military forces in the Mediterranean.

The joint exercises with Britain, the statement explained, include the use of new methods for minesweeping “with a view to mitigating the threat of mines to international maritime navigation”.

The drills also include simulated terrorist threats to maritime security, according to the same statement, which did not specify how long the drills would go on for.

On Sunday, the Egyptian army announced the conclusion of an 11-day joint naval/air force exercise with the U.S., Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) militaries, which was also conducted in the Red Sea.

In recent years, Egypt has held a number of joint military exercises — air, land and sea — with different Arab and western countries, including the U.S., France, Britain, Russia, the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Trump arrives in UK for four-day visit

By Muhammad Mussa

LONDON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in the UK on Thursday for a four-day visit that will see him meet the prime minister and Queen.

Air Force One landed at Stansted Airport in Essex, where Trump — fresh from a two-day visit to Brussels for a NATO summit — was greeted by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.

Trump then travelled by helicopter to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London.

Mass protests are planned for the duration of Trump’s visit to reflect his extreme unpopularity in the UK and especially London, where activists will fly an inflatable ‘Trump Baby’ balloon.

Trump will largely avoid travelling around the capital and other major cities due to the anticipated protests and his meetings will take place at various country estates or palaces.

The U.S. embassy in London has warned its citizens from travelling around the capital due to fears over the planned protests.

Huge crowds grew outside the U.S. embassy as Trump arrived in the capital and protesters marched on the nearby Vauxhall Bridge, where members of Amnesty International unfurled a banner branding Trump a “Human Rights Nightmare”.

Trump has come under heavy criticism from the UK after describing it as a “country in turmoil” following a series of high-level resignations from Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet last week over her Brexit plan.

A Guardian/ICM poll published yesterday showed that an overwhelming number of Britons have a negative view of Trump, with 53 percent of respondents saying he wasn’t doing a good job and 63% saying they would not like to see a politician like him become prime minister.

Trump is due to remain in the UK until Sunday, when he will travel to the Finnish capital of Helsinki for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

EU, Iran eye ‘practical solution’ to save nuclear deal

By Sorwar Alam

ANKARA (AA) – EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday the bloc is working with Iran to save the 2015 nuclear accord after the U.S. withdrew from the agreement.

Mogherini was speaking at a press conference following talks with her counterparts from Britain, France and Germany, which were signatories to the accord aimed at stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

She said they had already launched intensive discussions to rescue the agreement, adding they would find some solutions "within weeks".

"If we want to save this deal, we know that the sooner we manage to do it, the better and the easier it will be," she said.

Mogherini underscored that the EU is committed to “full and effective implementation” of all parts of the deal.

While she noted that the EU cannot provide legal and economic guarantees to Iran after the U.S. withdrew from the accord, she noted that the EU and the Iranian side would continue to work "seriously and decisively" to keep investment flowing.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, Tehran was provided billions of dollars in relief from financial sanctions in return for curbing its nuclear program.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord, repeatedly calling it the “worst deal” he has ever seen.

Trump opted not to extend sanctions relief on Iran ahead of a May 12 deadline, vowing instead to re-impose nuclear-related economic penalties.

All of the U.S.' negotiating partners — the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the EU — agree that maintaining the accord is the best way to reign in Iran's nuclear program.