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‘Heinous, cowardly’: World reacts to attack on Moscow concert hall

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At least 133 people have been killed and more than 100 injured after gunmen opened fire on concertgoers near Moscow and set fire to the venue in one of the deadliest attacks in Russia in decades.

An affiliate of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), which has been active in Afghanistan and Iran, claimed responsibility for the assault.

In a televised address to the nation, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack a “barbaric terrorist act” as he declared a national day of mourning on Sunday.

Here are some of the global reactions:

United Nations

The UN Security Council condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack” at Crocus City Hall in Moscow’s northern suburb of Krasnogorsk.

“The members of the Security Council underlined the need to hold perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism accountable and bring them to justice.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is on a visit to Egypt’s border with the Gaza Strip, “firmly” condemned the attack on the concert hall.

“We consider absolutely intolerable the attack that took place in Moscow and we encourage all countries to cooperate with each other in order to make sure that ISIS [ISIL] will not have the capacity to strike anywhere else in the world,” he told reporters.

The UN secretary-general called ISIL “a terrorist organisation that is operating in several parts of the world and is a very serious threat to us all”.

“[It] needs to be fought with determination, with a lot of international cooperation,” he said.

NATO

NATO spokesperson Farah Dakhlallah said the military alliance “unequivocally” condemns the attack.

“Nothing can justify such heinous crimes. Our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” she said on X.

We unequivocally condemn the attacks targeting concertgoers in Moscow. Nothing can justify such heinous crimes. Our deepest condolences to the victims and their families.

— Farah Dakhlallah (@NATOpress) March 23, 2024

China

President Xi Jinping sent his “condolences” to Putin, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.

Xi “stressed that China opposes all forms of terrorism, strongly condemns the terrorist attack and firmly supports the Russian government’s efforts to safeguard its national security and stability”.

Turkey

“We strongly condemn this heinous terrorist attack targeting innocent civilians,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a public rally in the capital Ankara.

“Terrorism is unacceptable no matter who it comes from or who the perpetrator is.”

Erdogan said Turkey shared Russia’s pain, adding, “We’ll continue to fight against terror, the common enemy of humanity.”

View of the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue following a shooting incident, outside Moscow, Russia, March 22, 2024. REUTERS/Yulia Morozova
A view of the burning Crocus City Hall concert venue outside Moscow, Russia, on March 22, 2024 [Yulia Morozova/Reuters]

United States

White House spokesperson John Kirby said, “The images are just horrible and just hard to watch, and our thoughts obviously are going to be with the victims of this terrible, terrible shooting attack.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the deadly attack and said Washington condemns “terrorism in all its forms”.

“We send our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those killed and all affected by this heinous crime. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and stand in solidarity with the people of Russia in grieving the loss of life from this horrific event,” Blinken said in a statement.

European Union

The European Union said it was “shocked and appalled” by the attack.

“The EU condemns any attacks against civilians. Our thoughts are with all those Russian citizens affected,” said an EU spokesperson.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also condemned the attack.

I strongly condemn the terrorist attack against civilians in the Crocus City Hall in Moscow claimed by the Islamic State.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families during this tragic time.

— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) March 23, 2024

United Kingdom

Foreign Minister David Cameron said the UK condemned “in the strongest terms the deadly terrorist attack”.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences and express our deepest sympathy to the families of the many victims.”

The UK condemns in the strongest terms the deadly terrorist attack at the Crocus City Hall near Moscow.

We offer our heartfelt condolences and express our deepest sympathy to the families of the many victims.

Nothing can ever justify such horrific violence.

— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) March 23, 2024

India

“We strongly condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Moscow,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on X.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. India stands in solidarity with the government and the people of the Russian Federation in this hour of grief.”

We strongly condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Moscow. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. India stands in solidarity with the government and the people of the Russian Federation in this hour of grief.

— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 23, 2024

France

President Emmanuel Macron said he “strongly condemns the terrorist attack claimed by the Islamic State [ISIL]”, in a statement released by the Elysee Palace.

“France expresses its solidarity with the victims, their loved ones and all the Russian people,” it said.

The foreign ministry said, “The images coming out of Moscow are terrible,” and added that “light must be shed on these odious acts”.

Germany

“The images of the horrific attack on innocent people at Crocus City Hall near Moscow are horrific,” Germany’s foreign ministry said. “The background must be clarified quickly. Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the victims.”

“We condemn the terrible terrorist attack on innocent concertgoers in Moscow. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and all those injured,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on X.

A child places a toy at the fence next to the Crocus City Hall, on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, March 23
A child places a toy at the fence next to the Crocus City Hall, on the western edge of Moscow, Russia, on March 23, 2024 [Vitaly Smolnikov/AP Photo]

Afghanistan

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the Taliban administration condemned the attack in the “strongest terms”. Kabul considers it “a blatant violation of all human standards”.

Cuba

President Miguel Diaz-Canel said, “Cuba condemns the atrocious terrorist act that occurred in Moscow. Our sincerest condolences to the government and people of Russia.”

Italy

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni condemned what she said was an “odious act of terrorism”.

“The horror of the massacre of innocent civilians in Moscow is unacceptable,” Meloni said, expressing her “full solidarity with the affected people and the victims’ families”.

Japan

Japan’s foreign ministry said it “strongly” condemned the attack. “Japan extends its sincere condolences to the bereaved families and expresses its heartfelt sympathy to those who were injured.”

Venezuela

“We express our strongest condemnation of the armed attack that has been carried out against civilians today in Moscow in the exhibition centre Crocus City Hall,” Foreign Minister Yvan Gil said.

“We send out condolences to the families of the victims and we stand in solidarity with the Russian government.”

Israel

“Saddened by tonight’s tragic events in Moscow. Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and to all those affected,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz posted on X.

Palestinian Authority

The presidency of the Palestinian Authority condemned the attack and “affirmed its solidarity and support for the Russian leadership and the friendly people of Russia, emphasising its keenness on stability in the friendly Russian Federation,” according to the official Wafa news agency.

Malaysia

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “reaffirms its stance in rejecting terrorism and violent extremism in all forms and manifestations.

“Malaysia continues to underscore the urgent need for a concerted international effort to eliminate the scourge of terrorism in a comprehensive and effective manner,” it said in a statement.

Spain

Spain said it was “shocked” by the attack, saying it “condemns any form of violence”.

“Our solidarity with the victims, their families and the Russian people,” the Spanish foreign ministry wrote on X.

Syria

The foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms, the cowardly terrorist attack … which comes after the great achievements gained by the friendly Russian people”, adding that “Syria stresses the need for intensifying global efforts in facing such massacres and bring their perpetrators to justice.”

Norway

The foreign ministry condemned the “appalling terror attack”.

“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families,” it said on X.

Sweden

The foreign ministry said on X that it condemns “any attacks against civilians”.

Denmark

Condemning the “terrible attack”, the foreign ministry sent its condolences “to the victims and their loved ones”.

Denmark condemns the terrible attack in #Moscow and sends its condolences to the victims and their loved ones.

— Denmark MFA 🇩🇰 (@DanishMFA) March 23, 2024

Poland

Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said Poland was “constantly monitoring the situation.

“I am in contact with the general staff of the Polish Army, all services and our allies. We are analysing this situation in terms of its possible impact on Poland’s security.”

United Arab Emirates

“The UAE expresses its strong denunciation of these criminal acts, and its permanent rejection of all forms of violence and terrorism that aim to destabilise security and stability and are inconsistent with international law,” the foreign ministry said.

Saudi Arabia

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent condolences to Putin, the foreign ministry said.

“The crown prince strongly condemned this criminal act, and expressed deepest condolences and sincere sympathy to the president, the families of the victims, and the people of the Russian Federation, wishing the injured speedy recovery.”

Egypt

“Egypt strongly condemns the shooting incident,” the foreign ministry said.

“The government and the people of Egypt express their sincere condolences and sympathies to the government and people of Russia in this painful tragedy and to the families of the victims, wishing them a speedy recovery to all the injured.”

Greece

The Greek Foreign Ministry wrote on X that it was “shocked by the terrible images coming from Moscow” and sent its “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims.

The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also said that the goverment and all Greeks condemn the “brutal terrorist attack” against innocent Russian citizens.

Shocked by the terrible images coming from Moscow following the horrific attack at Crocus City Hall.

Our thoughts are with the families of the victims to whom we extend our heartfelt condolences.

— Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών (@GreeceMFA) March 22, 2024

South Africa

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote on X: “We are deeply saddened and we pay our condolences to the people of Russia following the tragic terror attack that killed so many people. I will be talking to President Putin to convey our condolences”.

Iceland

The Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote on X: “The terrorist attacks in Moscow are appalling – attacks directed at civilians can never be justified. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families”.

Belgium

The Belgian Foreign Ministry wrote on X that it was “appalled by the shooting in a theatre in Moscow”. It offered condolences to the families of all victims of “gratuitous violence”.

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North Korea conducts test on new ‘super-large warhead’: State media

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Pyongyang says new warhead designed for cruise missiles, adding that a new anti-aircraft rocket was also tested.

North Korea has conducted a test on a “super-large warhead” designed for a strategic cruise missile, state media reports, adding that it also launched a new type of anti-aircraft missile.

“The DPRK Missile Administration has conducted a power test of a super-large warhead designed for ‘Hwasal-1 Ra-3’ strategic cruise missile”, KCNA news agency reported on Saturday, referring to North Korea by an abbreviation for its official name – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea also carried out a test launch on Friday afternoon of a “Pyoljji-1-2”, which state media said was a “new-type anti-aircraft missile”.

KCNA added that “a certain goal was attained” through the test without providing further details.

The weapons tests were part of the “regular activities of the administration and its affiliated defence science institutes”, KCNA reported, referencing the operation of “new-type weapon systems”.

The tests “had nothing to do with the surrounding situation”, KCNA added, but did not give any further information.

In early April, North Korea said it had tested a new medium-to-long-range solid-fuel hypersonic missile, with state media sharing a video of it being launched as leader Kim Jong Un looked on.

Cruise missiles are among a growing collection of North Korean weapons designed to overwhelm regional missile defences. They supplement the North’s vast arsenal of ballistic missiles, including intercontinental variants, which are said to be aimed at the continental United States.

Analysts say anti-aircraft missile technology is an area where North Korea could benefit from its deepening military cooperation with Russia, as the two countries align in the face of their separate, intensifying confrontations with the US.

The US and South Korea have accused the North of providing artillery shells and other equipment to Russia to help extend its warfighting ability in Ukraine.

Since its second nuclear test in 2009, Pyongyang has been under heavy international sanctions, but the development of its nuclear and weapons programmes has continued unabated.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ecuador weighs security, international arbitration in latest referendum

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Quito, Ecuador – He was elected president at a time of crisis, as Ecuador’s murder rate skyrocketed and gang violence seeped across the country.

Now, Ecuadorian leader Daniel Noboa is taking a plan of action to the voters, with an 11-part referendum on Sunday.

The referendum includes a wide range of proposals, from the militarisation of Ecuador’s police to tougher punishments for crimes like drug trafficking, murder and money laundering.

But Sunday’s vote is set to go beyond beefed-up security practices. One question, for example, aims to reform the judiciary system. Another considers whether arbitration should be the default approach to settling international financial disputes.

Noboa has been pushing for Ecuadorians to vote in favour of all 11 ballot measures, in an effort to streamline the economy and stamp out gang violence.

“Voting yes will strengthen our laws and leave no opportunities for those criminals who wish to joke with our justice [system] with the help of corrupt lawmen,” Noboa said in a public event on Monday.

But the broad nature of the proposals has prompted concern, with critics wondering what the consequences could be for human rights, the economy and efforts to stabilise Ecuador’s security situation.

Some have even questioned whether the referendum reflects a shift towards the “mano dura” or “iron fist” policies popular in countries like El Salvador, where human rights organisations have warned of false imprisonment and a lack of due process.

Daniel Noboa speaks into a microphone.
Daniel Noboa has made the national security referendum a goal of his presidency [Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo]

Limited opposition

Still, only one major political group in the country has consistently called for Ecuadorians to vote “no” on all 11 ballot measures: the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE).

The group has accused the government of exploiting the referendum to further Noboa’s political ambitions, as the country approaches its 2025 general election.

Noboa — a 36-year-old politician and heir to a banana industry fortune — was sworn in last November to serve an abbreviated 18-month term, after the departure of embattled President Guillermo Lasso. But he is widely expected to run for a full term in the next race.

In a virtual forum on April 11, CONAIE president Leonidas Iza called the referendum a chance for Noboa to rally support.

“The government needs to consolidate its strength to impose neoliberal policies,” Iza said.

Referendums, he added, are costly to organise, and he called for the policies to instead be considered in Ecuador’s National Assembly.

Another CONAIE leader, Agustin Cachipuendo, was later quoted in the newspaper El Universo as saying any repercussions from the vote would disproportionately fall on marginalised groups.

“This government does not know poverty [but] makes decisions that affect the poor,” he said.

Soldiers in fatigues and combat gear walk through fields in rural Ecuador.
Soldiers patrol during a presidential visit to dairy farms in Poalo, Ecuador, on March 21 [Dolores Ochoa/AP Photo]

Rallying public support

Nevertheless, the referendum enjoys relatively broad public support. According to the research institute Comunicaliza, 42.7 percent of voters plan to back Noboa’s proposals.

Still, another 27.5 percent said they have not made up their minds yet.

Maria, a 48-year-old resident of Guayaquil who asked to use a pseudonym for her safety, is among those supporting the president’s measures to tighten security in the country.

Her city has been at the forefront of the crisis. In January, for instance, a criminal group stormed a local TV station during a live broadcast and held employees at gunpoint, generating international outcry.

Maria explained she had been targeted by a criminal group herself: They blackmailed her by threatening her children. But she said she feels safer thanks to the state of emergency Noboa imposed in January, which allowed the military to be deployed to city streets.

“Policemen and soldiers have been patrolling the borough in these months, so we can finally sleep tight at night,” Maria told Al Jazeera.

She credits the soldiers with curbing the violence in her neighbourhood. The referendum could pave the way for the military to have a permanent role in policing, something Maria hopes will happen.

“If they will leave us, what happens then? This is what everyone is worried about,” she said.

A soldier stands in shadow in front of a row of orange-clad prisoners.
A soldier guards cell block 3 of the militarised Litoral prison in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on February 9 [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

Searching for a permanent fix

Noboa’s government has argued that the referendum is a necessary step to curb the wave of violence that has rattled the country since 2018.

Declaring a state of emergency, officials argue, is only a temporary solution.

“The general purpose of the [referendum] is to establish some permanent mechanisms, breaking the cycle of enacting emergency decrees and then going back to business as usual,” said the government spokesperson Roberto Izurieta in an interview with local television station Teleamazonas.

The state of emergency granted the government additional powers, allowing officials to impose a curfew and take stronger action against gangs.

Under the state of emergency, for instance, Noboa’s government labelled 22 criminal groups as “terrorist” organisations, clearing the way for the police and military to focus extra resources towards combatting them.

Security forces also seized 77 tonnes of drugs and detained 18,736 people, 300 of whom have since been accused of terrorism. According to the authorities, violent deaths have reduced by 26 percent since Noboa took office.

But in early April, the state of emergency came to an end. Ferdinando Carrion, a security expert, believes some of the reforms in the referendum could help Noboa to continue his campaign against the violence, but more structural reforms are needed.

“They achieved good results in the first two months,” Carrion said of the government’s state of emergency. “But it looks like the effect has been exhausted.”

He pointed to Ecuador’s prison system as a particular area of vulnerability. Investigations have shown that criminal organisations use prisons as spaces through which they can run their operations.

But under the state of emergency, the military was allowed to intervene. Carrion said that produced positive results.

“They intervened in 18 prisons out of 36, managing to sever [the gang leaders’] relations with the outside,” Carrion explained.

“But the minute the army leaves the prisons and gives them back to the national service SNAI, they will return to business as usual, since it has shown problems of efficiency, corruption and collusion.”

Carrion would like to see even greater reforms to government agencies like SNAI, beyond what is on the ballot on Sunday.

“Strengthening our institutions is paramount,” he told Al Jazeera, calling for the creation of a new body to replace SNAI.

A tank sits in front of a Guayaquil prison
The Ecuadorian government has deployed the military to control prisons like the one in Guayaquil [Santiago Arcos/Reuters]

Elections in the crosshairs

Still, some analysts question the efficacy of the referendum, even if it is successful.

Carla Alvarez, a professor studying security at the National Institute for Higher Studies, believes that the referendum will fall short of addressing the country’s gang crisis.

“No query made for public consultation will damage the structure of criminal organisations,” she told Al Jazeera.

She echoed concerns that the referendum has done more to bolster Noboa’s public image than to address the roots of crime in Ecuador.

Many experts trace the rise in the violence to Ecuador’s strategic location between the two largest cocaine producers in the world, Colombia and Peru.

They also point out that Ecuador’s economy was significantly weakened during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving unemployed youth vulnerable to gang recruitment.

But Alvarez said Noboa’s emphasis on holding the referendum is also motivated by his future ambitions. “This vote is happening in the middle of an electoral race. And this allows the president to revive his image on social media and achieve more visibility.”

The security situation has a direct impact on the integrity of Ecuador’s democracy. In the lead-up to the snap election last August, a presidential candidate running on an anticorruption platform was gunned down outside of a rally.

And in recent months, politicians have continued to be targets of the spike in violence.

Five mayors have been shot dead since the year began, the most recent murder unfolding on Friday, just days before Sunday’s vote.

The slain mayor, Jorge Maldonado of Portovelo, was the third to be killed in less than a month. His death followed that of Mayor Brigitte Garcia of San Vicente and Mayor Jose Sanchez of Camilo Ponce Enriquez.

Suspects kneel in front of armed police officers. In front of them is a blue table with guns arrayed as evidence.
Suspects and weapons are displayed for reporters at a police station in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on January 11, shortly after a TV station was stormed during a live broadcast [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

Chance of a split vote

Critics like Alvarez underscore that referendums are no silver bullet to the security crisis.

Rather, they are a relatively common political tool. Since 2006, Ecuadorians have been asked to express their will through referendums nine times, on issues ranging from oil exploration to presidential term limits.

Paulina Recalde, director of pollster Perfiles de Opinion, also questions whether Sunday’s referendum will create the groundswell of support Noboa seeks.

While Noboa is angling for approval on all 11 items, Recalde’s research suggests that voters will not unanimously back all the proposals.

“Since the very beginning, we never found an overall majority. People won’t vote the same in all the 11 queries,” she said.

Recalde also said there was confusion over the vote. According to her research, 68 percent of respondents knew little or nothing about the referendum a month ago.

She added that the power outages Ecuador is currently experiencing — as well as a controversial police raid on Mexico’s embassy in Quito — could dent Noboa’s popularity, regardless of the vote’s outcome.

“If people vote yes to expand the role of the military, does it mean that they are providing strong support for the president? I would say no,” she said.

An armed soldier in a helmet stands guard on a Quito city street.
A member of Ecuador’s security forces stands guard outside the Ministry of Energy and Mines in Quito, Ecuador, on April 16 [Karen Toro/Reuters]

Arbitration on the ballot

One of the most controversial ballot measures in Sunday’s referendum asks Ecuadorians to implement a system of “international arbitration” to resolve conflicts between the state and private foreign investors.

In international arbitration, a third neutral party is used to reach a binding decision that settles any claims.

Supporters of the measure feel arbitration could safeguard foreign investment in Ecuador, thereby boosting the country’s economy.

“In a dollarised economy like Ecuador, we need an increase in strong direct foreign investments aligned with our public policies,” said Eric Vinueza, investment counsellor for the Corporation for the Promotion of Exports and Investments (Corpei) who supports the measure.

But activists have criticised this proposal as a tool to discourage the government from enacting environmental reforms that might disadvantage foreign mining interests and other overseas companies.

With arbitration, foreign investors could file complaints and negotiate settlements behind closed doors, leaving the public no recourse to appeal.

“These are private and unilateral judicial spaces which allow transnational companies to sue the states, where the states are only able to defend themselves,” said Ivonne Ramos, a mining expert at the NGO Accion Ecologica.

In the 2008 constitution, Ecuador prohibited any international agreement that would limit its national sovereignty, including through international arbitration.

Sunday’s referendum would undo that protection. Ramos added that international arbitration could come with steep expenses for taxpayers.

Ecuador already owes $2.9 trillion to foreign companies. It is currently involved in 29 different lawsuits before international tribunals, with half of the complaints related to mining and fossil fuels.

“Three of the eight pending procedures could cost more than another $10 trillion, which is our national budget for education and health for 2024,” Ramos said.

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What’s the solution to the rising tensions between Israel and Iran?

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The United States says it was warned in advance of the Israeli drone strike on Iran.

Iran has shot down Israeli drones in the latest confrontation on Friday.

There have been global calls for restraint – with both East and West fearful of what further conflict could mean for the region and the world.

So, what is the thinking in Iran and Israel? And what is next?

Presenter: Elizabeth Puranam

Guests:

Mohammad Marandi – Dean of the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran

Gideon Levy – Columnist for the Haaretz Newspaper

Roxane Farmanfarmaian – Professor of Modern Middle East Politics at the University of Cambridge

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