Egypt Independent: World-Main news en EU unblocks visa-free travel for Ukraine, Georgia <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p style="font-size: 14px;">The European Union will soon let Ukrainians and Georgians visit the bloc without needing a visa after diplomats and lawmakers struck a deal on Thursday to end an internal EU dispute that had been holding up the promised measures.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">Agreement on a mechanism for suspending such visa waivers in emergencies ends mounting embarrassment for some EU leaders who felt the bloc was reneging on pledges to ex-Soviet states it has promised to help as they try to move out from Moscow&#39;s shadow.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">European Council President warned on Wednesday that the EU was risking its credibility by failing to reward Georgia and Ukraine for painful reforms. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed &quot;encouraging news from Brussels&quot;.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">The prospect of easier travel to Western Europe has been used by governments in Kiev and Tbilisi to win popular backing for painful, EU-sponsored reforms. But EU leaders got cold feet about opening doors to 45 million Ukrainians after the public backlash which followed last year&#39;s refugee crisis in Europe.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">Facing strong challenges from anti-immigration parties in elections next year, leading powers France and Germany demanded strong controls before any visa deal. Late-night talks resulted in the European Parliament conceding that governments can reimpose visa requirements quickly, without lawmakers&#39; approval.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">&quot;Europe is delivering,&quot; the conservative leader in the EU legislature, Manfred Weber, tweeted after the deal.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">Georgia, with only 5 million citizens, has long been seen as ready for visa liberalization but has seen its hopes held hostage by EU hesitation over Ukraine, which is bigger, closer and currently stuck in conflict with Russia.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;"><strong>Turkish Issue</strong></p><p style="font-size: 14px;">A similar plan to ease travel for Turkey&#39;s 75 million mainly Muslim population as part of a deal whereby Ankara has helped the EU shut out Syrians and other people seeking asylum has added to political sensitivities in Brussels about the issue.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">Ankara&#39;s failure to fulfill all the EU conditions, and now anger in Europe at Turkey&#39;s crackdown on opponents following a coup attempt in July, have effectively frozen progress on that.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, who has chaired negotiations for EU member state governments, said: &quot;The fact that we have reached an agreement should open the door to further progress on visa liberalization talks with other countries that meet all the necessary requirements.&quot;</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">The bloc has said any new visa waivers can only come into force after the EU beefed up an emergency brake to suspend any free-travel deals in emergencies. But talks on exactly how that &quot;snap-back&quot; mechanism would work have dragged on for months.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">It will now allow the executive European Commission or a majority of EU states to suspend swiftly a country&#39;s visa exemption for nine months if there is a sharp rise in its citizens overstaying their permitted time in the EU, making multiple asylum requests or other problems for the Europeans.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">The EU would be able to extend the suspension period for a further 18 months in some cases, but through a more complex procedure that would also give a say to the European Parliament.</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">&nbsp;</p><p style="font-size: 14px;">&nbsp;</p> Thu, 08 Dec 2016 14:25:00 +0000 Reuters 2474749 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/02/28/504802/eu.jpg Pakistan mourns 47 killed in mysterious air crash <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Pakistan on Thursday mourned the 47 victims of its deadliest plane crash in four years, among them a famed-rockstar-turned-Muslim evangelist, two infants and three foreigners, as officials sought to pinpoint the cause of the disaster.</p><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Engine trouble was initially believed responsible, but many questions remain, stirring new worries about the safety record of money-losing state carrier Pakistani International Airlines.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The ATR-42 aircraft involved in the crash had undergone regular maintenance, including an &quot;A-check&quot; certification in October, airline chairman Muhammad Azam Saigol said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I want to make it clear that it was a perfectly sound aircraft,&quot; Saigol said, ruling out technical or human error.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The aircraft appeared to have suffered a failure in one of its two turboprop engines just before the crash, he said, but this would have to be confirmed by an investigation.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;I think there was no technical error or human error,&quot; he told a news conference late on Wednesday. &quot;Obviously there will be a proper investigation.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Outpourings of grief erupted online soon after flight PK661 smashed into the side of a mountain near the town of Havelian, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, late on Wednesday afternoon, after taking off from the mountain resort of Chitral.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>It crashed just 50 km (31 miles) short of its destination, the international airport in Islamabad, the capital.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Much of the anguish focused on Junaid Jamshed, the vocalist of Vital Signs, one of Pakistan&#39;s first and most successful rock and pop bands of the 1990s, who abandoned his musical career in 2001 to become a travelling evangelist with the conservative Tableeghi Jamaat group.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Many of the reactions on social network Twitter spoke to this apparent dichotomy between his two lives, first as a heartthrob pop sensation singing about love and heartbreak, and later as a stern, bearded preacher admonishing young people for straying from Islam.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Junaid Jamshed&#39;s journey was so quintessentially Pakistani. Conflicted, passionate, devoted, ubersmart, and so, so talented. Tragic loss,&quot; Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based development professional and analyst, said in a tweet.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Others simply shared his band&#39;s many chart-topping hits, such as &#39;Dil Dil Pakistan&#39;, which has become an unofficial anthem, played at public gatherings since its release in 1987.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Foreigners Among the Dead</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Some urged Pakistanis to remember the 46 others who perished, including two infants, three foreigners and five crew listed on the passenger manifest.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Junaid Jamshed&#39;s death has saddened many. But don&#39;t let this overshadow the tragedies of other families who lost their dear ones,&quot; tweeted Islamabad-based journalist Umar Cheema.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The foreigners included two Austrians and a Chinese man, the airline said. Foreign tourists increasingly flock to Chitral every year, besides thousands of domestic visitors, as Pakistan emerges from years of violence caused by a Taliban insurgency.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The dead included a member of Chitral&#39;s traditional royal family and his wife and family, as well as a regional administrative official, Osama Ahmad Warraich, killed with his wife and infant daughter, the Dawn newspaper said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Safety Concerns</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The aircraft, made by French company ATR in 2007, had racked up 18,739 flight hours since joining PIA&#39;s fleet that year.&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Its captain, Saleh Janjua, had logged more than 12,000 flight hours over his career, the airline said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Concerns are growing over air safety as media in recent years have reported near-misses following overshot runways, engines catching fire and landing gear deployment failures.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In the worst such disaster, in 2010, all 152 people on board were killed when a passenger plane operated by airline Air Blue crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Two years later, all 127 aboard were killed when a plane operated by Bhoja Air crashed near Islamabad.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:43:00 +0000 Reuters 2474736 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/12/08/43/2016-12-07t161410z_1007000001_lynxmpecb618i_rtroptp_2_cnews-us-pakistan-airplane.jpg Ties between Russia and the Taliban worry Afghan, US officials <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><p>Afghan and American officials are increasingly worried that any deepening of ties between Russia and Taliban militants fighting to topple the government in Kabul could complicate an already precarious security situation.</p><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Russian officials have denied they provide aid to the insurgents, who are contesting large swathes of territory and inflicting heavy casualties, and say their limited contacts are aimed at bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Leaders in Kabul say Russian support for the Afghan Taliban appears to be mostly political so far.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But a series of recent meetings they say has taken place in Moscow and Tajikistan has made Afghan intelligence and defense officials nervous about more direct support including weapons or funding.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A senior Afghan security official called Russian support for the Taliban a &quot;dangerous new trend&quot;, an analysis echoed by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>He told reporters at a briefing in Washington last week that Russia had joined Iran and Pakistan as countries with a &quot;malign influence&quot; in Afghanistan, and said Moscow was lending legitimacy to the Taliban.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pushed back at Nicholson&#39;s comments in a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday, calling them naive and inaccurate.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We have repeatedly said that Russia is not carrying out any secret talks with the Taliban and is not providing it with any kind of support,&quot; she said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Zakharova said Russia favors a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, which can only happen by cultivating contacts with all players, including the Taliban.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The Russian embassy in Kabul has scheduled a press conference for Thursday to discuss Afghan-Russian relations, amid reports that the Afghan parliament plans to investigate Russia&#39;s ties with the Taliban.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Another &quot;Great Game&quot;?</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Afghanistan has long been the scene of international intrigue and intervention, with the British and Russians jockeying for power during the 19th Century &quot;Great Game,&quot; and the United States helping Pakistan provide weapons and funding to Afghan rebels fighting Soviet forces in the 1980s.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Taliban officials told Reuters that the group has had significant contacts with Moscow since at least 2007, adding that Russian involvement did not extend beyond &quot;moral and political support&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We had a common enemy,&quot; said one senior Taliban official. &quot;We needed support to get rid of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Russia wanted all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Moscow has been critical of the United States and NATO over their handling of the war in Afghanistan, but Russia initially helped provide helicopters for the Afghan military and agreed to a supply route for coalition materials through Russia.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Most of that cooperation has fallen apart as relations between Russia and the West deteriorated in recent years over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Incoming U.S. president Donald Trump, who takes office in January, has signaled a desire to improve relations with Russia, meaning future U.S. and Russian policies could change.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>Foreign Meetings</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In recent months, Taliban representatives have held several meetings with Russian officials, according to both Taliban and Afghan government sources.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Those meetings included a visit to Tajikistan by the Taliban shadow governor of Kunduz province, Mullah Abdul Salam, said Kunduz police chief Qasim Jangalbagh.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Another recent meeting occurred in Moscow itself, according to an official at the presidential palace in Kabul.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Afghan officials did not produce evidence of direct Russian aid, but recent cross-border flights by unidentified helicopters and seizures of brand new &quot;Russian-made&quot; guns had raised concerns that regional actors may be playing a larger role, Jangalbagh said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;If the Taliban get their hands on anti-aircraft guns provided, for example, by Russia, then it is a game-changer, and forget about peace,&quot; said another senior Afghan security official.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><strong>&quot;Islamic State&quot; or United States?</strong></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to Afghan and US officials, Russian representatives have maintained that government security forces, backed by U.S. special forces and air strikes, have not done enough to stem the growth of Islamic State in Afghanistan.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Militants loyal to the radical Middle East-based network have carved out territory along the border with Pakistan, and have found themselves fighting not only Afghan and foreign troops, but also the Taliban, who compete for land, influence, and fighters.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Taliban officials dismissed the idea that their ties to Russia had anything to do with fighting Islamic State.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;In early 2008, when Russia began supporting us, ISIS(Islamic State) didn&#39;t exist anywhere in the world,&quot; the senior Taliban official said. &quot;Their sole purpose was to strengthen us against the U.S. and its allies.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>That was echoed by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, who said &quot;ISIS is not an issue&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Nicholson said the talk of Islamic State is a smokescreen designed to justify Russian policies.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Their (Russia&#39;s) narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government,&quot; Nicholson said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;So this public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO efforts and bolster the belligerents.&quot;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&nbsp;</div> Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:36:00 +0000 Reuters 2474732 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/05/09/504802/ana.jpg British parliament set to back PM May's Brexit timetable <img src="" alt="" title="" class="imagecache imagecache-media_thumbnail" width="152" height="114" /><div>The British parliament was set to back Prime Minister Theresa May&#39;s Brexit timetable on Wednesday after she headed off a rebellion in her Conservative Party over a lack of insight into the government&#39;s strategy to leave the European Union.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>May has come under pressure from lawmakers, businesses and investors to set out at the very least a broad picture of how she sees Britain&#39;s future relationship with the EU. She says giving too much away could weaken Britain&#39;s hand in the country&#39;s most important negotiations since World War Two.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The opposition Labour Party had tried to force her to reveal more details of her plan before triggering the formal divorce procedure, something she has said she will do before the end of March, by submitting a parliamentary motion.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But May has turned the tables on Labour by proposing that the debate should also be on whether lawmakers &quot;respect the wishes&quot; expressed in June&#39;s EU referendum. Few lawmakers would be likely to oppose this for fear of looking undemocratic.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Lawmakers welcomed her move to offer parliament scrutiny of her plan for Brexit, but some expressed concern that May, appointed prime minister shortly after Britain voted to exit the EU in June, might offer little more than her stock catchphrases such as wanting the &quot;best possible deal&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The focus is now where it should be: on the terms upon which we exit the EU,&quot; Keir Starmer, Labour&#39;s Brexit spokesman, said in a statement.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;Labour have consistently said that we will not frustrate or delay the process of triggering Article 50. Therefore Labour will accept the government&#39;s amendment,&quot; he said, referring to the amendment which calls on parliament to accept the referendum&#39;s outcome and May&#39;s Brexit timetable.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>With Labour on board, May should get parliamentary backing for her plan to trigger Article 50 of the EU&#39;s Lisbon Treaty to start the divorce talks by the end of March - a procedure businesses and EU officials want to get under way as soon as possible.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>For May, sticking to her timetable is crucial, and forcing parliament to approve her plan reduces the impact of a legal case over whether the government needs parliament&#39;s assent to invoke Article 50 rather than just a cabinet decision.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The government is challenging an earlier court ruling in favor of parliamentary approval in the Supreme Court.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But some critics said they feared that by amending the Labour motion, May had ensured that she would not need to offer any detail of her plans beyond a pledge to get the best possible access to the EU&#39;s single market while curbing immigration.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The government&#39;s commitment to publishing a Brexit plan is good news but the devil will be in the detail,&quot; said James McGrory, an executive director of the Open Britain campaign which is lobbying for a so-called &quot;soft Brexit&quot;.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;The plan they bring before parliament should be substantive and it should be given proper time for debate.&quot;</div> Wed, 07 Dec 2016 13:34:00 +0000 Reuters 2474729 at sites/default/files/photo/2016/10/07/505446/britains_prime_minister_theresa_may_gives_her_speech_on_the_final_day_of_the_annual_conservative_party_conference_in_birmingham_britain_october_5_2016..jpg