EarthLink – News
Saudi foreign minister determined to bolster Cyprus ties
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says his country is keen to explore ways of strengthening relations with Cyprus given the European Union member country’s geographic location and long-standing ties with the Arab world.
Ibrahim al-Assaf’s visit to the east Mediterranean island nation on Wednesday where he also met with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades was the first by a top Saudi official.
Al-Assaf said there’s “high interest” in developing relations “on all fronts.”
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said the two men agreed to focus initially on tourism and investment.
Christodoulides noted a shared understanding to jointly address challenges like terrorism, the rise of extremism and climate change.
The Cypriot foreign minister said EU-Saudi cooperation is key to dealing with regional challenges and that Cyprus would continue advocating that in Brussels.
EarthLink – News
UN: Reconstruction of landmark Mosul mosque to begin in 2020
By THOMAS ADAMSON | 10:54 EDT
PARIS (AP) — The United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO announced Wednesday that a landmark reconstruction of Iraq’s al-Nouri mosque in Mosul, which was blown up by the Islamic State group in 2017, will start at the beginning of next year.
The timeline of the restoration plan of the 12th-century monument, famed for its leaning minaret, was hammered out during a meeting in Paris between UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay and several Iraqi officials, including Iraqi Culture Minister Abdulamir al-Dafar Hamdani, and Mosul’s regional governor, Mansour al-Mareed.
First launched in 2018, the mosque restoration plan will be the most eye-catching part of a $100 million UNESCO-led heritage reconstruction of Mosul.
“Revive the Spirit of Mosul” is the largest restoration plan in Iraqi history, and comes two years after the old city’s destruction at the hands of extremists.
“Today we agreed on a calendar, a precise calendar and plan of action to be mobilized on the ground in Iraq. … The ongoing phase of structural consolidation and the critical phase of site-clearing and mine-clearing (has) to be achieved from now to the end of the year,” Azoulay told reporters.
“We’ve also agreed on a timetable that would see the reconstruction start in the first semester of 2020 for the mosque,” she added.
IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared an Islamic caliphate from the al-Nouri mosque in the summer of 2014, only for IS extremists to blow it up in June 2017 as Iraqi forces closed in.
Two years after IS was evicted, Mosul is a city still very much in ruins with no meaningful international effort to rebuild — one that is still struggling with basic services like electricity, water and health care. The U.N.’s development program is working to restore private houses in the historic Old City. Most of its residents still reside in camps.
The UNESCO initiative goes far beyond the mere restoration of the mosque, and will see the cash be used to rebuild churches, schools and a street in Mosul’s Old City, which was famous for its bookshops.
The United Arab Emirates is providing $50.4 million to finance the project, focusing on the restoration of the mosque, with the European Union providing $24 million.
The decision to select Mosul, as opposed to other Iraqi cities, for a revamp owes to its particular history as a melting pot city.
“We’ve chosen Mosul as a symbol because Mosul was before the conflict a city of diversity, a city of tolerance – more than tolerance – a city where people lived together and knew each other beyond communities, beyond religious belongings,” Azoulay said.
She stressed that she’s asked that some of the $100 million go toward the rebuilding of a synagogue and Christian religious sites.
Associated Press writer Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.
EarthLink – News
Iran urges US to ‘put warmongers aside’ after Bolton firing
By NASSER KARIMI | 11:04 EDT
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president urged the U.S. on Wednesday to “put warmongers aside” as tensions roil the Persian Gulf amid an escalating crisis between Washington and Tehran in the wake of the collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.
Hassan Rouhani’s remarks signaled approval of President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of John Bolton as national security adviser, a man routinely pilloried by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as part of a “B Team” that targeted Iran.
Bolton had for years been critical of Tehran and once promised before an Iranian exile group that they’d be celebrating the overthrow of Iran’s government this year.
Bolton’s departure also comes amid speculation about Trump potentially meeting Rouhani during the upcoming U.N. General Assembly this month in New York. Whether such a meeting materializes, however, remains in question, though Iranian comments Wednesday seemed to suggest Tehran would be willing to pin hostilities on the departing Bolton rather than Trump himself.
Rouhani spoke after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, a day that saw all major newspapers in Iran cover Bolton’s departure. The pro-reform Shargh daily newspaper had one large headline that read: “Bolton: A scapegoat for Iran?”
“Americans have to realize that warmongering and warmongers are not to their benefit,” the Iranian president said in televised remarks. “They should not only abandon warmongering but also abandon their maximum pressure policy.”
Ali Rabiei, a government spokesman, said after the meeting that Bolton’s dismissal may help the U.S. have a “less biased” attitude toward Iran.
Though he stressed the dismissal was an internal U.S. issue, Rabiei called Bolton “the symbol of America’s hawkish policies and its animosity toward Iran.”
For his part, Zarif again used Twitter to write about what he calls the #B_Team, which included Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, all hawks on Iran.
Zarif said “the world — minus 3 or 2 panicked cohorts — was breathing a sigh of relief” after Bolton’s ouster. “Thirst for war — maximum pressure — should go with the warmonger-in-chief,” Zarif wrote.
Hard-liners, however, urged caution.
Gen. Mohsen Rezaee, a commander in the powerful Revolutionary Guard and its former chief, said in a tweet: “We will not be deceived by the sacrificing of Bolton.”
Ali Shamkhani, a top Iranian security official and secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said Bolton’s exit has “no impact” on how Tehran views U.S. policy. He said what matters to Iran is U.S. “compliance with international commitments as well as lifting cruel and illegal sanctions,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported Wednesday.
Bolton was critical of any potential talks between Trump and leaders of Iran and had persuaded Trump to keep U.S. forces in Syria to counter the Iranian influence in the region.
Last year, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanction on Iran in exchange for caps on Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. administration later also intensified sanctions on Iran, slashing its sales of crude oil abroad and sending the country’s economy into freefall.
In response, Iran has in recent months crept past the limits the nuclear deal imposed on uranium enrichment and its uranium stockpile. And over the weekend, Tehran announced it would use advanced centrifuges prohibited under the deal.
Meanwhile, mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone by Iran and other incidents across the wider Middle East have exacerbated the crisis in the region as Tehran tries to pressure Europe to find a way to sell crude oil abroad despite U.S. sanctions.
Rouhani has called the use of faster centrifuges Iran’s “third step” away from the nuclear deal. On Wednesday, he said that “if necessary, we will take other steps in future.”
For his part, Bolton was a longtime hard-liner on Iran who favored regime change and took money for speaking engagements from an Iranian exile group reviled by Tehran called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK. Bolton famously wrote in 2015, before Iran’s nuclear deal was struck, an op-ed in The New York Times headlined: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”
“The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton told a cheering crowd of MEK supporters in March 2018. “The behaviors and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran!”
Bolton would become Trump’s third national security adviser a month later.
“I don’t back away from any of it. Those are positions I took as a private citizen,” Bolton said when journalists asked him during a visit to Abu Dhabi in May about his prior remarks to the MEK. “Right now I’m a government official. I advise the president. I’m the national security adviser, not the national security decision-maker. It’s up to him (Trump) to make those decisions.”
Trump’s decision Tuesday was to fire Bolton. What happens next remains unclear.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
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Big Tech’s ‘nemesis’ in EU gets new term – and more power
By KELVIN CHAN 01:40 EDT
LONDON (AP) — The European Union’s competition chief is getting a new term – with expanded powers – in a move that underlines how the bloc’s battle to regulate big tech companies is only just beginning.
Margrethe Vestager, who angered the Trump administration by imposing multibillion-dollar penalties on the likes of Google and Apple, was reappointed Tuesday for a second five-year term as the bloc’s competition commissioner.
The Danish politician’s tasks will include strengthening competition enforcement in all sectors, stepping up efforts to detect cases of market abuse by big companies, speeding up investigations and helping strengthen cooperation with her global counterparts.
Perhaps ominously for the big tech companies that she has cracked down on, Vestager is also getting extra clout.
Ursula von der Leyen, the incoming president of the EU’s powerful executive arm, promoted Vestager to a commission executive vice-president overseeing the EU’s digital innovation and leadership efforts, including artificial intelligence.
“Margarethe Vestager will coordinate the whole agenda and be the commissioner for competition,” von der Leyen said at a press conference . Von der Leyen has said that by the end of her first 100 days in office, she wants to draw up legislation for a European approach on the “human and ethical implications” of artificial intelligence.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a lobby group with members including Google, Facebook and Amazon, reacted cautiously to Vestager’s reappointment.
“We encourage the new Commissioners to assess the impact of all the recent EU tech regulation to ensure that future legislation will be evidence-based, proportionate and beneficial,” it said in a statement.
Since taking office in 2014, Vestager earned a reputation as Silicon Valley’s nemesis for a string of tough enforcement decisions against tech firms __ efforts that may have helped inspire U.S. authorities, who recently opened a raft of investigations after previously taking a hands-off approach.
In the past week, separate multistate investigations have been opened into Google’s alleged “potential monopolistic behavior” and Facebook market dominance. Months earlier, the U.S. Justice Department opened its own sweeping investigation of big tech companies.
Vestager slapped Google with 8.25 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in fines for repeatedly abusing its market dominance to stifle competition, in antitrust cases involving the online giant’s shopping search results, Google’s Android software and Adsense ad service. In the Android case, Google made changes so that EU smartphone users can choose browsers and search engines, a result for consumers that Vestager likes to tout.
She also ordered Apple to pay back up to 13 billion euros ($15 billion) in back taxes from Ireland, which prompted President Donald Trump to call her the “tax lady” who “really hates the U.S.”
This summer, Vestager took action against two more U.S. tech companies. She fined U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm $271 million, accusing it of “predatory pricing” to drive a competitor out of the market almost a decade ago.
And she opened a formal investigation into whether Amazon uses data from independent retailers to gain an unfair advantage over third party merchant. EU investigators are looking at whether Amazon uses data from activity on its platform to favor its own products for sale.
Vestager did not speak publicly Tuesday but recently flagged her latest area of tech concern.
“We look at new services even before they’re introduced,” Vestager said in a speech .
She added that her team is scrutinizing Facebook’s new digital currency, Libra. “We’re looking at whether those proposals create risks for competition, so we can be ready to act swiftly if an intervention were to prove necessary.”
For all of AP’s tech coverage, visit https://apnews.com/apf-technology
Follow Kelvin Chan at www.twitter.com/chanman
EarthLink – News
Turkish high court to review Wikipedia appeal against ban
By SUZAN FRASER | 08:36 EDT
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s highest court on Wednesday began considering an appeal by Wikipedia aiming to reverse the Turkish government’s more than two-year ban on the online encyclopedia.
Turkey blocked Wikipedia in April 2017, accusing it of being part of a “smear campaign” against Turkey, after the website refused to remove content that allegedly portrayed Turkey as a country supporting the Islamic State group and terrorist organizations.
Access to Wikipedia and all its language editions was blocked under a law that allows the government to ban websites it deems pose a national security threat.
Wikipedia declined to remove content from the community-generated site, citing its opposition to censorship. It petitioned the Turkish Constitutional Court in May 2017 after talks with Turkish officials and a challenge in lower courts failed. Wikipedia is also appealing the ban at the European Court of Human Rights.
A group of five justices took up Wikipedia’s case on Wednesday but decided to submit it to the high court’s plenary assembly for deliberations. The court will decide whether the government’s blanket blocking order on Wikipedia violates freedom of expression. It was not immediately clear when a decision would come.
“We did not comply with the demand to remove the articles because we believed that the content in question was legally protected free expression and because we defend our volunteer editors’ decisions about what information should be included on Wikipedia,” said Samantha Lien, the communications manager for Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the website.
“Despite the block, the articles in question have continued to be edited and improved with more reliable sources from volunteers around the world,” Lien told The Associated Press in an email.
Last year, Wikipedia launched a social media campaign with the hashtag “WeMissTurkey” to press for the removal of the block.
“Wikipedia is richer, more representative and more accurate when many people can contribute to its articles,” Lien said. “If we lose one country, region, or culture’s participation on Wikipedia, the entire world is poorer for it.”
Turkey has a poor record on censorship and suppression of free speech, which intensified following a failed military coup in 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Tens of thousands of people were arrested or dismissed from government jobs and thousands of media organizations or civil society groups were shut in a clampdown in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
The Turkish Journalists Syndicate says a total of 131 journalists or other media workers are currently in jail.
Access from Turkey to tens of thousands of other websites is also blocked. In 2008, Turkey prevented access to YouTube for two years over videos insulting the Turkish republic’s founding leader. Twitter, meanwhile, says it receives more requests for content removal from Turkey than from other countries.
Many Turks have found ways to circumvent the ban on Wikipedia and other blocked websites, including the use of Virtual Private Network and mirror websites.
Currently, Wikipedia is also blocked in China.