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UK Cabinet Ministers visit Saudi Arabia to boost trade ties amid controversy

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London, May 14 (IANS/DPA) UK Cabinet ministers are visiting Saudi Arabia in a bid to bolster trade links with the kingdom amid reports that Riyadh authorised the use of lethal force to clear land for a new desert city.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer will be in the Gulf state for a two-day summit aimed at promoting economic ties.

At the event, Dowden will lead a 450-strong delegation of British businesses, including HSBC and British Airways.

Downing Street defended the visit on Monday after the BBC reported claims last week that Saudi forces had been permitted to use deadly force to clear land for a 400 billion pounds ($502 billion) desert city, which is being built by dozens of Western companies.

Villagers were reportedly evicted to make way for The Line, a 168-kilometre-long metropolis in the kingdom’s eco-region of Neom, with one person subsequently shot and killed for protesting, according to the broadcaster.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesman said the UK has “a vital national security and economic security relationship with Saudia Arabia,” but “no aspect of that relationship prevents us from speaking frankly about human rights.”

Asked by journalists whether the trip was appropriate in light of the claims, he said UK ministers “regularly raise concerns with Saudi counterparts as necessary” and that the Government would “continue to monitor” the reports.

“Particularly obviously given current events in the Middle East, it is a very important relationship (between the UK and Saudia Arabia),” the official said.

Great Futures, the event this week, is aimed at promoting British business interests in Riyadh’s Vision 2030 strategy, which includes Neom and is designed to diversify the country’s economy away from oil.

Dozens of companies from across the world, some of them British, are involved in the construction of the eco-region.

After virtual remarks from Sunak and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Dowden said: “Our collaboration has enabled an exponential increase in our mutual prosperity and demonstrated that our modern, forward-looking partnership can meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

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Saudi Arabia has also been working alongside other countries to contain the Gaza war and avoid a spiralling regional conflict that could derail its economic reform agenda.

Dowden praised the “extraordinary transformation being accomplished across economic and social domains” as he announced London and Riyadh will also establish a new joint task force to encourage further cooperation in higher education.

He will use the trip to say Britain stands to benefit from a further 3 billion pounds of investment from Saudi Arabia, helping to sustain around 2,000 jobs in the North East.

The visit comes as the UK and the Gulf Co-operation Council, which includes Riyadh, launch the seventh round of negotiations on a trade deal which the Government says could add 1.6 billion pounds to the British economy.

Before the summit, Dowden said: “Great Futures will be an important moment for British business. We’re opening up our markets to one another so that investment, exports, tourism and collaboration flow in both directions. Britain doesn’t just endorse Vision 2030, we want to be a part of it.”

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–IANS/DPA

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Lankan Police announces reward for info on coordinator of suspected IS terrorists caught in Gujarat

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Colombo, May 28 (IANS) Sri Lanka Police on Monday announced a cash reward of Rs two million to anyone providing information on the alleged coordinator who sent four suspected IS terrorists to India.

The 46-year-old handler named Osman Pushparaja Gerard is alleged to have coordinated with the four terror suspects, all natives of the island nation.

“The mastermind must have already changed his appearance,” the police stated while releasing several photos of the suspect.

Lankan Police Chief also announced that a joint team comprising two special investigating units will lead the probe into these terror suspects’ possible involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Deshabandu Tennakone said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) will be part of a special committee to investigate four Lankan terror suspects arrested by the Gujarat ATS at the Ahmedabad airport on May 19.

“India would deal with them according to their law. Sri Lanka would investigate if they have been party to any acts of terrorism, or aided and abetted any group while being in Sri Lanka, and will deal with them according to our law,” Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told media on Monday.

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According to the investigations done so far, one of the four suspects, Mohamed Nusrat (35) was involved in the business of importing phone and electrical equipment from Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore and selling in Colombo.

Living in the heart of Colombo, he had a criminal record and was arrested in September 2020 for heroin trafficking.

Another suspect, Mohamed Nafran (27) is the son of a convicted drug lord, Mohamed Naufer who was also convicted for killing a High Court judge. Nafran, who had been travelling to India and Dubai since turning 16, has been involved in businesses of importing clothes and chocolates. In 2017, he was arrested under the Gem and Jewellery Act in Sri Lanka.

The other two suspects, it is believed, have left the Lankan shores for the first time.

All four arrived in an Indigo flight out of Colombo to Chennai before being arrested by Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) for having links with the banned terror outfit Islamic State.

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They were earlier also connected to the banned Sri Lankan radical militant outfit, National Thowheeth Jamath (NJT) and allegedly joined IS after getting in touch with a Pakistani handler.

–IANS

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Israeli attorney general slams ICC prosecutor for seeking warrants

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Tel Aviv, May 27 (IANS/DPA) Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has sharply criticised International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan for applying for the arrest of top Israeli politicians in remarks to the Israel Bar Council reported in the state media.

“The decision of the prosecutor ignores, among other things, the fact that the Israeli legal system has proved its independence in the past, its impartiality, and its commitment to the values of truth and justice,” Baharav-Miara said.

Khan announced a week ago that he was seeking arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as for Hamas leaders.

Baharav-Miara said the Israeli justice system was fully competent to enforce the law.

“We do not shy away from enforcing the law against any person, even with the heads of the military and the state, if there are well-founded suspicions of violations of the law,” she told the Bar Council.

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“We don’t need outside help to clarify suspected criminal activity.”

The Israeli military was currently conducting investigations into possible violations during the Gaza War, she said.

The Attorney General noted that the ICC had been established to deal with situations where the law was dysfunctional.

“That is not our situation,” she said.

“The steps taken by the ICC prosecutor contravene the basic legal idea on which the court was founded, the principle of complementarity,” she said, referring to the principle under which functioning states have jurisdiction within their territory.

While many countries have signed and ratified the 2002 Rome Statute establishing the ICC, thus becoming state parties, Israel, the US, and Russia have all indicated that they do not intend to become state parties.

Israel nevertheless agreed to defend its position in the genocide allegation brought by South Africa to a separate UN court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), about the Gaza War.

ALSO READ:  Israel's Defence Minister says he would oppose Israeli rule in post-war Gaza

–IANS/DPA

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Bodies of seven elephants found in Sri Lanka's national park

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Colombo, May 27 (IANS) Bodies of seven wild elephants were found by wildlife officials at the Flood Plains National Park in Polonnaruwa in north central Sri Lanka last week, wildlife officials told the media on Monday.

The bodies have been handed over to the wildlife veterinary unit for further investigation, officials said.

The officials said they suspected a herd of wild elephants was swept away while attempting to cross the Ode Ela, a waterway in the area, Xinhua news agency reported.

The bodies of five young elephants, aged between eight and 10 years, and two adult elephants, aged between 30 and 35 years, were found, according to the officials.

Sri Lanka has been experiencing heavy rains for the past few weeks.

–IANS

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PM Modi congratulates Lithuanian president on re-election

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New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday congratulated Gitanas Nauseda, who was re-elected as President of Lithuania for a second term last week.

“Congratulations to H.E. Gitanas Nauseda on being re-elected as the President of the Republic of Lithuania. I look forward to working together to further strengthen the close cooperation between India and Lithuania,” PM Modi posted on X.

Lithuanians have a great interest in Indian cultural traditions, including Yoga, and the study of Indian languages — mainly Hindi and Sanskrit — has been carried out at Vilnius University for several decades.

On Monday, Nauseda also had a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who had called in to congratulate him on his victory in the presidential election.

The two leaders discussed the Ukraine Peace Conference to be held in Switzerland and the upcoming NATO Summit in Washington.

–IANS

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Archaeologists discover 2,300-yr-old gold ring in Jerusalem

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Tel Aviv, May 27 (IANS/DPA) Archaeologists in Jerusalem have discovered a 2,300-year-old gold ring believed to have belonged to a child living in the city’s Hellenistic period.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement that the ring, set with a red gem, was “exceedingly well-preserved” with no signs of rust or weathering.

It was unearthed recently at the City of David archaeological site by Tehiya Gangate, a member of the excavation team.

“I was sifting earth through the screen and suddenly saw something glitter,” Gangate said.

“This is an emotionally moving find, not the kind you find every day,” she added.

Researchers believe the ring probably belonged to a child due to its small size.

It was “manufactured by hammering thin pre-cut gold leaves onto a metal ring base,” the IAA statement said.

The ring was dated to around 300 BC.

The statement said it “reflects the common fashion of the Persian and Early Hellenistic periods, dating from the late 4th to the early 3rd century BC,” when “people began to prefer gold with set stones rather than decorated gold”.

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At the time, the region was under the dominion of Alexander the Great’s Macedonian Empire.

Alexander’s conquests “helped spread and transport luxury goods and products,” the statement said.

The latest finding reveals that Jerusalem’s residents “were open to the widespread Hellenistic style and influences,” the researchers said.

–IANS/DPA

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