United Nations, Feb 20(AP/UNB) — The expected pullout of forces from three key ports in Yemen provides an opportunity to move to the major goal of ending the four-year conflict that has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the U.N. envoy for the war-battered country said Tuesday.
Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council that Yemen's government and Houthi Shiite rebels demonstrated that they are able to deliver on commitments they made in December in Stockholm by agreeing on the first phase of redeployment from the ports.
He said forces will initially be withdrawn from the smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa, beginning "possibly" Tuesday or Wednesday. This will be followed by a pullout from the major port of Hodeida and critical parts of the city that will allow access to the Red Sea Mills, a major U.N. storage facility holding enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, he said.
Griffiths called on the parties to fully implement the first phase and to agree on details of the second phase of the redeployment of forces, "which we hope will lead to the demilitarization" of Hodeida, whose port handles about 70 percent of Yemen's commercial and humanitarian imports.
A U.N. official said the first phase involves pulling back several kilometers, and the second phase a withdrawal of 18 to 30 kilometers (11-18 1/2 miles), depending on the location and fighters. In some places in Hodeida city, the opposing forces are facing each other about 100 meters apart, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Iranian-backed Houthis, who toppled the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. A Saudi-led coalition allied with Hadi's internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting in the Arab world's poorest country has killed thousands of civilians, left millions suffering from food and medical care shortages, and pushed the country to the brink of famine.
U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said about 80 percent of Yemen's population — 24 million people — need humanitarian assistance including nearly 10 million "just a step away from famine" and nearly 240,000 "facing catastrophic levels of hunger."
Lowcock told the council the figures "are considerably worse than last year," stressing that aid agencies are running out of money and facing restrictions in the Houthi-controlled north and on deliveries of fuel.
The U.N. is appealing for more than $4 billion to assist 15 million people across Yemen this year and Lowcock implored donors to pledge generously at a conference next week in Geneva convened by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and co-hosted by Sweden and Switzerland.
"We expect current resources to be used up by the end of March — just six weeks from now," Lowcock said. "Without adequate resources, the aid operation will grind to a halt at a time when more people need more help than ever before."
On the political front, Griffiths said the Stockholm agreement was "a breakthrough" and a major shift by the warring parties, but he said it "was only ever intended to be a preliminary step."
He recalled in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan that he previously told the council "that Hodeida was the center of gravity of the war — and it is."
"In truth, our primary interest, the real center of gravity of this war, has to be moving towards a political solution," Griffiths said. "The implementation of the Hodeida agreement as announced today gives us permission to look ahead beyond the agreement made in Stockholm."
He said starting a discussion on political and security arrangements for Yemen would be "a major step forward and an important statement of intent from the parties that they are determined ... finally, to bring this conflict to a close."
Another key part of the Stockholm agreement was the exchange of prisoners, which has been the subject of two rounds of talks in Amman.
Griffiths said both sides seek the release of all prisoners and "I would like to think that we are not far off from agreeing and realizing the release of a first batch."
Mexico City, Feb 20 (AP/UNB) — Officials in the northern Mexico border state of Coahuila said Tuesday they have closed a shelter in the border city of Piedras Negras where about 1,600 Central American migrants had been confined during the past two weeks.
Many of the migrants have been bused to neighboring states, leading to complaints that Coahuila was dumping migrants on other cities to clear out the camp at an empty factory building.
Armando Cabada, the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, to the west, said Monday that he might file a complaint against Coahuila officials. "They are offering them free transportation to bring them here. That kind of thing is not fair," Cabada said.
Jose Borrego, a Coahuila state spokesman, confirmed that the shelter in Piedras Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, was closed Tuesday, a day earlier than scheduled.
The shelter's population had been steadily falling since last week as migrants who had obtained humanitarian visas were given bus rides to other cities where they would have a better chance of finding work.
The migrants arrived at the border hoping to request asylum in the United States, but Mexican authorities corralled them in the shelter and only about a dozen were allowed to request asylum at the Eagle Pass crossing each day.
Since last week, buses have been taking migrants from Piedras Negras to Ciudad Juarez and to Hermosillo, Sonora, the latter a stepping stone toward the border city of Tijuana, which was inundated with migrants from a previous caravan last year. Other buses have gone to the nearby city of Monterrey and to the border town of Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas.
The arrival of hundreds of migrants angered authorities in Ciudad Juarez, which is across from El Paso, Texas. Officials there set up an improvised shelter at a gymnasium, but complained that Coahuila officials had lured the migrants by telling them it would be easier to cross into the U.S. at El Paso.
"They are promoting this by saying that 150 to 200 people are entering here per day, which is a complete lie," said Cabada, the mayor. "They are doing this to shove their problem off on us, and that is not fair."
Paris, Feb 19 (AP/UNB) — Chanel's iconic couturier, Karl Lagerfeld, whose accomplished designs as well as trademark white ponytail, high starched collars and dark enigmatic glasses dominated high fashion for the past 50 years, has died. He was around 85 years old.
Such was the enigma surrounding the German-born designer that even his age was a point of mystery for decades, with reports he had two birth certificates, one dated 1933 and the other 1938. In 2013, Lagerfeld told French magazine "Paris Match" he was born in 1935, but in 2019 his assistant still didn't know the truth — telling AP he liked "to scramble the tracks on his year of birth — that's part of the character."
Chanel confirmed that Lagerfeld died early Tuesday.
Lagerfeld was of the most hardworking figures in the fashion world holding down the top design jobs at LVMH-owned luxury label Fendi from 1977, and Paris' family-owned power-house Chanel in 1983. Indeed, his indefatigable energy was notable: he lost around 90 pounds in his late 60s to fit into the latest slimline fashions.
Though he spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy — including all of 20 years at Chloe — Lagerfeld's designs quickly trickled down to low-end retailers, giving him an almost unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry.
At Chanel, he served up youthful designs that were always of the moment and sent out almost infinite variations on the house's classic skirt suit, ratcheting up the hemlines or smothering it in golden chains, stings of pearls or pricey accessories. They were always delivered with wit.
"Each season, they tell me (the Chanel designs) look younger. One day we'll all turn up like babies," he once told The Associated Press.
His outspoken and often stinging remarks on things as diverse as French politics and celebrity waistlines won him the nickname "Kaiser Karl" in the fashion media. Among the most acid comments included calling President Francois Hollande an "imbecile" who would be "disastrous" for France in Marie-Claire, and telling UK's The Sun that he didn't like the face of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge's sister.
"She should only show her back," he advised.
Lagerfeld was also heavily criticized for sending out a negative message to women when he told France's Metro newspaper that signer Adele was "a little too fat."
Despite this, he did have an under-reported soft side. He was known to be very kind to his staff at Chanel and was famous for according journalists generously long interviews after each fashion show. He also shared his unmarried life in his Parisian mansion with a Siamese cat called Choupette.
"She is spoilt, much more than a child could be," he told AP in 2013, revealing also that he would take her to the vet every 10 days overcautiously.
Lagerfeld had little use for nostalgia and kept his gaze riveted toward the future. Well into his 70s, he was quick to embrace new technology: He famously had a collection of hundreds of iPods.
A photographer who shot ad campaigns for Chanel and his own eponymous label, Lagerfeld also collected art books and had a massive library and a bookstore as well as his own publishing house. He was also an impressive linguist switching between perfect French, English, Italian and his native German during interviews at post-catwalk celebrity media scrums.
Although he spent much of his life in the public eye, Lagerfeld remained a largely elusive figure. Even as he courted the spotlight, he made an apparently deliberate effort to hide what was going on behind his trademark dark shades.
"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," British Vogue quoted Lagerfeld as saying. "It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."
After cutting his teeth at Paris-based label Chloe, Lagerfeld consolidated his reputation in the 1980s when he revived the flagging fortunes of the storied Paris haute couture label Chanel. There, he helped launch the careers of supermodels including Claudia Schiffer, Ines de la Fressange and Stella Tennant.
In a move that helped make his a household name, Lagerfeld designed a capsule collection for Swedish fast-fashion company H&M in 2004 and released a CD of his favorite music shortly after.
A weight-loss book he published in 2005 — "The Karl Lagerfeld Diet" — consolidated his status as a pop culture icon. In the book, Lagerfeld, said that it was his desire to fit into the slim-cut suits by then-Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane that had motivated his dramatic transformation.
The son of an industrialist who made a fortune in condensed milk and his violinist wife, Lagerfeld was born into an affluent family in Hamburg, Germany.
Lagerfeld had artistic ambitions early on. In interviews, he variously said he wanted to become a cartoonist, a portraitist, an illustrator or a musician.
"My mother tried to instruct me on the piano. One day, she slammed the piano cover closed on my fingers and said, 'draw, it makes less noise," he was quoted as saying in the book "The World According to Karl."
At age 14, Lagerfeld came to Paris with his parents and went to school in the City of Light. His fashion career got off to a precocious start when, in 1954, a coat he designed won a contest by the International Wool Secretariat. His rival, Yves Saint Laurent, won that year's contest in the dress category.
Lagerfeld apprenticed at Balmain and in 1959 was hired at another Paris-based house, Patou, where he spent four years as artistic director. After a series of freelance jobs with labels including Rome-based Fendi, Lagerfeld took over the reins at Chloe, known for its romantic Parisian style.
Lagerfeld also started his own label, Karl Lagerfeld, which though less commercially successful than his other ventures, was widely seen as a sort of sketchpad where the designer worked through his audacious ideas.
In 1982, he took over at over Chanel, which had been dormant since the death of its founder, Coco Chanel, more than a decade earlier.
"When I took on Chanel, it was a sleeping beauty — not even a beautiful one," he said in the 2007 documentary "Lagerfeld Confidential." ''She snored."
For his debut collection for the house, Lagerfeld injected a dose of raciness, sending out a translucent navy chiffon number that prompted scandalized headlines.
He never ceased to shake up the storied house, sending out a logo-emblazoned bikini so small the top looked like pasties on a string and another collection that dispensed entirely with bottoms, with the models wearing little jackets over opaque tights instead.
Lagerfeld was open about his homosexuality — he once said he announced it to his parents at age 13 — but kept his private life under wraps. Following his widely known relationship with a French aristocrat who died of AIDS in 1989, Lagerfeld insisted he prized his solitude above all.
"I hate when people say I'm 'solitaire' (or solitary.) Yes, I'm solitaire in the sense of a stone from Cartier, a big solitaire," Lagerfeld told The New York Times in an interview. "I have to be alone to do what I do. I like to be alone. I'm happy to be with people, but I'm sorry to say I like to be alone, because there's so much to do, to read, to think."
As much as he loved the spotlight, Lagerfeld was careful to obscure his real self.
"It's not that I lie, it's that I don't owe the truth to anyone," he told French Vogue in an interview.
Beijing, Feb 19 (AP/UNB) — The Iranian foreign minister's passionate defense of Iran's interests at the Munich Security Conference has made him "a famous person" in China, his Chinese counterpart told him Tuesday, as the sides met amid efforts to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is leading an Iranian delegation to Beijing that includes parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani and the ministers of finance and petroleum, as well as the CEO of the country's central bank.
Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union have been trying to preserve the 2015 deal meant to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States last year.
"Yesterday evening I saw on TV how you defended the rights of Iran loud and clear at the Munich Security Conference," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Zarif. "I think an audience of hundreds of millions of Chinese also watched what you said and you are a famous person now."
A perception held by many Chinese that the U.S. seeks to contain their nation's global rise generates sympathy among the public for Iran and other countries, such as Venezuela, identified by Washington as hostile powers.
Zarif told the Munich conference on Sunday that a barter-type system known as INSTEX set up last month by France, Germany and Britain to allow businesses to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran, and thereby evade possible U.S. sanctions, fell short of commitments to save the nuclear deal.
He addressed the conference a day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence prodded Germany, France and Britain to follow Washington in withdrawing from the deal and to "stop undermining U.S. sanctions."
Wang made no direct comments on China's position on the deal in opening remarks before reporters on Tuesday, but said he was "really delighted" to meet with Zarif "given the major changes in the Middle East and the international landscape."
"I would like to take this opportunity to have this in-depth strategic communication with my old friend to deepen the strategic trust between our two countries and to ensure fresh progress of the bilateral comprehensive and strategic partnership," Wang said.
Zarif responded by saying Iran's relationship with China "is very valuable to us."
"We consider the comprehensive strategic partnership between Iran and China as one of our most important relations," he said.
Prior to parliamentary speaker Larijani's departure from Tehran, China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying that Iran and China have "close and amicable" relations in diverse areas, and that both sides have enjoyed the support of each other in the international arena.
China has long sought to balance its relations in the Middle East between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia — one of its chief suppliers of crude oil — while remaining a friend to Israel.
Iran is also an important source of crude imports to China, which has also invested in manufacturing and other industries in Iran.
Nigeria, Feb 19 (AP/UNB) — Nigeria's president says security forces should be "ruthless" ahead of the country's postponed election and that anyone who tries to disturb the vote "will do so at the expense of his own life."
President Muhammadu Buhari spoke Monday as both Nigeria's ruling party and top opposition party condemned the last-minute decision to delay Saturday's vote until Feb. 23.
The president's comments brought an outcry from some Nigerians since he signed a pledge last week to contribute to a peaceful election.
But a ruling party chieftain in Rivers state, Eze Chukwuemeka, said the comments didn't endorse "jungle justice, as some people are putting it. As leader, you don't sit down and watch while your nation is going down the drain."
The electoral commission has allowed election campaigning to resume.