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Gulf crisis threatens East Africa peace efforts, EU warns

ENTEBBE: Diplomatic tensions between countries in the Gulf are threatening peace efforts in East Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa, the EU’s special envoy has warned.

The crisis, which erupted nearly a year ago, has pitted Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain against Qatar, with Riyadh and its allies accusing Doha of fostering close ties with Iran and backing Islamic extremists.

But the fallout has had direct repercussions in the Horn of Africa where it has exacerbated already-existing tensions, notably in Somalia, said Alexander Rondos, Europe’s special envoy to the region.

In particular, tensions have escalated steadily between Somalia and the United Arab Emirates, which has sought to extend its influence there as the war in Yemen rages on.

Although the two countries have been traditionally close, Mogadishu’s attempts to remain neutral over the Gulf divisions have not gone down well.

One of the EU’s “most important objectives” is to make sure that East Africa “is as well protected as it can be from what is a rapidly shifting geo-political environment” in the Gulf, he said on Friday following a two-day seminar of EU envoys to the region.

Political strife between Gulf states and their alliances with east African players was “the biggest strategic issue because it could easily undermine all of the efforts to overcome East Africa’s own particular crises, whether it’s South Sudan or Somalia,” Rondos said.

“We don’t need something aggravating these efforts,” he added, describing the geo-political challenge as the “biggest game in town”.

In Somalia, the conflict has raised tensions between the federal states and the central government, with many unhappy about President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s neutral stance.

For some, there would be many economic benefits to throwing Mogadishu’s support behind Saudi Arabia or the Emirates in a development which has put pressure on already fraught internal relationships in a country already fraught with violence.

Rondos also expressed concern that the Gulf crisis could exacerbate tensions between East African nations working together on efforts to solve regional crises, notably South Sudan and Burundi, as well as in Somalia. — AFP

North and South Korea’s leaders meet inside DMZ

SEOUL: South Korea said President Moon Jae-in met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday inside the Demilitarised Zone dividing the two nations, a day after US President Donald Trump said his summit with Pyongyang could still go ahead.

The Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, said the two leaders held talks for two hours in the truce village of Panmunjom, where they had met last month and made a declaration vowing to improve ties.

“They exchanged views and discussed ways to implement the Panmunjom Declaration and to ensure a successful US North Korea summit,” the Blue House said in a statement, adding Moon would make a personal statement on Sunday morning.

On Thursday Trump cancelled his upcoming meeting with Kim which had been due to take place in Singapore on June 12 — only to reverse course a day later and say it could still go ahead after productive talks were held with the North Korean oficials.

The original decision to abandon the historic summit blindsided South Korea which had brokered a remarkable detente between Washington and Pyongyang after months of Kim and Trump trading insults and threats of war.

Pictures released by the Blue House showed Moon shaking hands with both Kim and his sister Kim Yo Jong, who has played a major public role in recent talks with the South, including leading a delegation across the border during February’s Winter Olympics.

The meeeting between Moon and Kim took place in a grand building on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, a surreal and heavily fortified village that lies between the two countries and marks the spot where the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 was signed. — AFP

Spirit of Liverpool can stop Real’s record run, says Klopp

KIEV: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has challenged his players to stop Real Madrid lifting a third consecutive Champions League trophy on Saturday and show fans that winning “big things” is still in the club’s DNA.

With a record 12 titles to their name and winners of the past two editions, Real go into the final in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium as the favourites.

Klopp admits the Spanish giants’ huge experience in Europe is “important” and that Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates will be brimming with confidence in the seconds before kick-off at 1845 GMT (2.45am Malaysian time).

But when the whistle blows, Klopp believes the spirit shown by his players on their “exceptional” run to the final could be enough to show Real that experience is not everything.

“I have never been twice in a row to a Champions League final,” said Klopp, who led Borussia Dortmund to the 2013 final where they were defeated by Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.

“Experience is important, I’m pretty sure that in the seconds before the game Real will be more confident than we are, but that’s not important because the game doesn’t end in that moment, it only starts.

“You analyse Real Madrid playing in other games against other teams and you think ‘wow, they are really strong’, but they never played us.

“We are Liverpool and we are not just a good team, this club has in its DNA that we can really go for the big things.

“Nobody expected us to be here but we are here because we are Liverpool. The games we had in the Champions League, it was the most exceptional run to a final, with the most goals.

“I can’t believe that but it’s true that’s us. The experience they have is a big advantage, 100 percent, to feel more confident but in the game the experience doesn’t help all the time.”

Winners of the first five editions of Europe’s premier club competition, Real are again enjoying another golden era in Europe.

Neither Atletico Madrid (twice) nor Juventus have been able to stop Ronaldo from inflicting pain on them in recent finals.

Yet Liverpool’s own attacking quality suggests the Olympic Stadium in the Ukrainian capital could be the scene of an unforgettable encounter.

Liverpool have scored a record 46 goals in all in this season’s Champions League, with Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah netting 11 of those.

In terms of history alone, this is a dream final.

Real’s 12 European Cup wins puts them way ahead of the rest, but Liverpool have lifted the famous trophy five times.

If Klopp needs inspiration for his pre-match pep talk, the German need look no further than the Liverpool team of 2005.

Trailing 3-0 to AC Milan at half-time in Istanbul, a side led by Steven Gerrard struck three times in the second half to force extra-time before prevailing on penalties in what is still considered the most spectacular comeback in the history of the competition.

Five for CR7?

Although Real coach Zinedine Zidane believes the final is “50-50”, recent history is on his side.

Real can became the first team since Bayern in 1976 to lift the European Cup three years running, and thereby make it five consecutive titles for Spain.

Ronaldo could also win his fifth Champions League, allowing the Portugal star to equal the individual record and edge closer to yet another Ballon d’Or.

Zidane, meanwhile, is on the brink of a third straight Champions League win as a coach.

But the Frenchman said: “People can say what they like, but we are not favourites, nor are Liverpool.

“As always in a final it is 50-50. We need to play very well to win the game and inside the dressing room we know we are not favourites.”

Stranded fans

The build-up to the game itself has been overshadowed by complaints from fans of both sides that getting to Kiev — and finding accommodation there — has been too expensive.

With many fans let down by tour operators and fans undertaking arduous over-land journeys to get to Ukraine, and paying extortionate rates for rooms, Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore has claimed Kiev cannot cope with such a big event.

Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson said Friday he had been forced to abandon an attempt to find planes to fly in hundreds of the club’s fans stranded after he was unable to find crew for back-up planes.

But some Liverpool supporters had made the journey, even without a ticket.

Steve Anderson, 50, a veteran of many of Liverpool’s previous European Cup successes, including against Madrid in Paris in 1981 when he was just a teenager, said he was still hopeful of getting into the match — but refused to pay hundreds of pounds on the black market.

“I don’t believe in paying that kind of money,” he told AFP. “I feel more for the younger ones that can’t get in. I’ve seen Liverpool win European Cups in Paris and Istanbul, but it’s been a long time. They’ve waited 11 years for this.” — AFP

Cops decline Siti Kasim’s chocolate offer

KUALA LUMPUR: Police refused to accept several packets of chocolates from lawyer Siti Zabedah Kasim, more popularly known as Siti Kasim, who had come to the Hartamas Police Station accompanied by the public, here this evening.

They were seen arriving at the police station with a couple of boxes of various types of chocolates at 4pm.

However, their gift of chocolates for the police was declined by the policemen and officers at the station. They were also not allowed to enter the police station.

The group headed by Siti Kasim then handed over all the chocolates to Sri Hartamas Fire and Rescue personnel at the station next door.

Siti Kasim organised a campaign called ‘Jom Bagi Coklat Kat Abang dan Akak Polis’ (Let’s give chocolates to our brothers and sisters in the police force) via her Facebook page, starting from 4pm to 5pm today, to get Malaysians to donate chocolates as a token of appreciation to all police personnel across the country.

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur police chief Datuk Seri Mazlan Lazim said Kuala Lumpur police thanked the public for giving chocolates as a token of appreciation to the police today.

“However, police cannot accept it because there are certain standard operating procedures that must be complied with,” he said when contacted by Bernama here today.

Checks by Bernama on the Facebook page created by Siti Kasim found many netizens claiming the chocolate gift to police officers and personnel in other areas were also declined. — Bernama

Japan end 37-year drought with Uber Cup win

BANGKOK: Japan’s women clinched the Uber Cup on Saturday, breezing by surprise finalists Thailand 3-0 in Bangkok to end a 37-year wait to regain the title.

With a team stacked with top ranked players in both the singles and doubles, Japan made light work of the hosts, who entered the finals for the first time after stunning China in the semis.

It ends an Uber Cup drought for Japan that stretches back to 1981 and is a major confidence boost ahead of the Olympics which they will host in two years’ time.

The Uber Cup is second in prestige only to the Olympics as a national team event.

World singles number two Akane Yamaguchi got Japan off to a flyer, dulling the boisterous partisan home crowd with a 21-15, 21-19 win over Ratchanok Intanon, blending deft touches at the net with patience in the rallies and power shots.

Ratchanok, world number four and Thailand’s favourite athlete, conceded that she lost concentration after bickering with the umpire early in the second set over his refusal to grant a review.

Doubles pair Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota stormed to the second point of the match winning their tie 21-18, 21-12.

The writing was on the wall for the hosts and Nozomi Okuhara made light work (21-12, 21-9) of a visibly tired Nitchaon Jindapol to seal victory.

“Thirty-seven years ago Japan was very strong … we are happy to make history again,” a beaming Okuhara told reporters.

The win caps four years of effort to push the players up through the world rankings while knitting together the national team, coach Park Joo-Bong said.

“I was worried about the atmosphere, but the team took the pressure and were hungry to win,” the South Korean coach said, adding the team are on the right track for the Olympics.

Thailand, who registered the shock of the tournament by beating perennial winners China in Friday’s semis, celebrated the runners-up medal as a sign of progress for a young side growing in confidence as the Asian Games approaches.

“We are strong contenders to win gold,” said coach Rexy Mainaky.

“Skillwise our players are world-class, but to go to the next level we have to do more. We will come back on this and evaluate what we need to add,” he told reporters.

China, absent from the women’s final for the first time ever after Thailand’s thrilling 3-2 win in the semis, have a chance to redeem national pride in the Thomas Cup on Sunday when they play Japan.

But Japan are eyeing a clean sweep led by singles star Kento Momota who swatted away world number one Viktor Axelsen in their final four matchup on Friday. — AFP

Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

BEIRUT: Five Syrian rescue workers were killed in an attack by masked assailants Saturday on one of their centres in the northern province of Aleppo, the White Helmets said.

The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader centre in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.

Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital, it wrote on Twitter.

Founded in 2013, the White Helmets are a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.

The Al-Hader centre lies in a part of Aleppo province controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist organisation whose main component was once Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

“At around 2am, an armed group stormed the Al-Hader centre, blindfolded the staff members who were on the night shift, and killed five of them,” said Ahmad al-Hamish, who heads the centre.

“Two others were wounded and another two were able to flee. The attackers were masked and escaped after stealing some equipment and generators,” he said.

It was unclear whether the attack was a robbery-gone-wrong or if the centre and its crew had been specifically targeted.

More than 200 White Helmets rescuers have been killed in Syria’s seven-year war, usually in bombing raids or shelling on their centres.

While attacks like the one on Saturday are rare, they have happened before.

In August, seven White Helmets members were killed in a similar attack in the town of Sarmin, in neighbouring Idlib province.

Most of Idlib is held by HTS, as well as a part of Aleppo and the adjacent province of Hama.

Tensions are on the rise there, with a wave of intra-opposition assassinations and clashes leaving at least 20 rebels dead in 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“You cannot separate the Al-Hader incident from the assassinations and other killings that have been happening more and more in recent weeks in areas under HTS control,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The population of Idlib province has swelled to more than two million people as a result of massive transfers of rebels and civilians from onetime opposition zones elsewhere in the country.

The killings come as the White Helmets are facing a “freeze” on funding from the United States, which is still reviewing over US$200 million (RM796 million) earmarked for stabilisation in Syria. — AFP