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Azerbaijani, Armenian Ambassadors Call On Compatriots In Russia To Keep Calm

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Azerbaijani, Armenian Ambassadors Call On Compatriots In Russia To Keep Calm

The ambassadors of Armenia and Azerbaijan have called on their countrymen to avoid "provocations" and confrontations amid reports that ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis have clashed in Moscow and some other Russian cities in recent days amid an escalation of tensions between the two South Caucasus countries.

Vardan Toghanian and Polad Bulbuloglu issued separate statements calling on Armenians and Azerbaijanis residing in Russia not to violate laws of the Russian Federation.

The call came after Moscow police said more than 30 foreign nationals were arrested for taking part in huge fights and riots in the Russian capital and surrounding region on July 23-24.

According to police officials, the majority of the arrested foreigners were charged with hooliganism, while some faced robbery charges as well.

"In addition, in accordance with migration laws, many of the detained individuals will be barred from entering the territory of the Russian Federation for a period of five years," the officials said.

Police did not specify which countries the detained people were from and what exactly caused the fights, but media reports said that several mass brawls between ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians took place in Moscow and other towns and cities near the Russian capital last week.

Police in Russia's second-largest city, St, Peterburg, said on July 25 that they prevented a large fight between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in an area near the city.

The reports came as the situation on the Azerbaijani-Armenian border has escalated since July 12. Both sides have reported casualties among military personnel.

Since July 17, both sides have characterized the situation as relatively calm, though both have also accused each other of shelling in the border area and near the contact line in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Armenia said on July 27 that one of its soldiers was killed overnight by sniper fire near the border, while Azerbaijan accused Armenia of using machine guns and sniper rifles along the border over the previous 24 hours.

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The two countries have been in conflict since 1988, when the mostly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region announced its secession from Azerbaijan.

In the course of the 1992-94 armed conflict, Azerbaijan lost control over Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts.

Since 1992, negotiations on a peaceful settlement of the conflict conducted by the OSCE Minsk Group, which is chaired by the United States, France, and Russia, have brought no progress in solution of the ongoing conflict.

In a phone call on July 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressed "readiness…to coordinate efforts for stabilization in the region," the Kremlin said.

A statement said that Putin "underlined the importance of not allowing any actions that promote an escalation in tensions."

Both leaders said they backed "resolving the conflict situation exclusively in a peaceful way, through talks."

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry announced that the country and its close ally Turkey will hold joint military exercises in early August.

The drills would take place on Azerbaijani soil and involve "army personnel of both countries, armored vehicles, artillery and mortars, as well as military aircraft and air defense," the ministry said.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and AFP

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Leaders of Turkey and Greece discuss COVID fallout in rare call

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ATHENS/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic by phone on Friday, Athens and Ankara said – rare such contact for two neighbours at odds over a range of issues.Mitsotakis and Erdogan addressed ways of handling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, the reopening of borders and the re-establishment of tourist flows, a statement from Mitsotakis’s office said.“Mr Mitsotakis and Mr Erdogan agreed to keep the bilateral channels of communication open,” it said, a line re-iterated in the statement from the Turkish presidency.Erdogan’s office also said the two discussed tourism, security, as well as cooperation on economic issues and the fight against COVID-19.A Greek source with knowledge of the matter said: “The two leaders didn’t discuss high policy matters, but they did agree that tension is relatively high and that channels of communication must be restored.“There cannot be a de-escalation of tensions if the two sides don’t talk.”Though NATO partners and neighbours, Greece and Turkey have testy relations and differences on issues as diverse as airspace rights, maritime boundaries and ethnically-divided Cyprus.Reporting by Michele Kambas and Renee Maltezou in Athens, and Can Sezer in Istanbul; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Spicerfor-phone-onlyfor-tablet-portrait-upfor-tablet-landscape-upfor-desktop-upfor-wide-desktop-up
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Airlines push for coronavirus tests before international flights

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Travel restrictions have crushed a global airline industry that says preflight tests would be better than quarantines.

Global airlines are calling for airport coronavirus tests for all departing international passengers to replace the quarantines they blame for exacerbating the travel slump.

Rapid and affordable antigen tests that look for pieces of the coronavirus in swab samples from people’s noses and throats – and that can be administered by non-medical staff – are expected to become available in the “coming weeks” and should be rolled out under globally agreed standards, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said during an online media briefing.

“We don’t see any alternative solution that would be less challenging or more effective,” IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac said.

Airlines hammered by the coronavirus pandemic are pressing governments to embrace alternatives to blanket travel restrictions that are still hampering a traffic recovery – and that are now tightening again in Europe amid resurgent case numbers.

With rapid antigen tests becoming available for as little as $7 each, de Juniac said, airlines will push for their use to be endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations agency that oversees global aviation rules.

IATA believes production could be quickly increased to millions per day and the tests phased in between late October and the end of the year, “helping to save a part of the winter season”, de Juniac told Reuters television.

A global agreement is needed to ensure predeparture test results are uniformly accepted by the destination country, he said, adding, “It will also boost passenger confidence that everybody on the aircraft has been tested.”

Evolving position

The airlines’ position has evolved alongside testing technology. IATA argued a month ago for new rules to recognise laboratory-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests – which also look for virus fragments – conducted 48 hours before departure.

Last-minute airport screening is more effective because it “seals off the system” against forged certificates or infections contracted just before travel, de Juniac said on Tuesday.

Antigen tests are faster but less sensitive and therefore slightly more likely to miss positive cases than the PCR alternatives, although the accuracy gap has narrowed.

Among companies marketing the new tests, German diagnostics specialist Qiagen said earlier this month that it planned to launch a COVID-19 antigen test that provided results in 15 minutes and could be deployed in airports or stadiums.

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Seaweed tides over Bali islanders after tourism slump

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Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia – In the early 1980s, seaweed farming was the main industry on the Penida Archipelago, three sun-kissed islands off Bali’s southeast coast.

But just as aquaculture was about to take off, the striking square seaweed patches that checker-boarded the islands’ bays and inlets faded away.

“When I first came here in 2010, you could see the patches everywhere and smell seaweed drying on the side of every road,” said Valery Senyk, assistant manager at Batu Karang Resort, the archipelago’s first luxury hotel. “By 2016, the only farms that remained were in the channel dividing Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan islands. By 2019, there were none left at all.”

The end of seaweed farming was a symptom of Indonesia’s tourism boom, which saw visitor numbers rocket from seven million in 2010 to 16 million in 2019, according to Statistics Indonesia. Since Batu Karang opened in 2005, land values on the islands have increased up to 20 percent each year. Thousands of Chinese day-trippers and hundreds of Australian surfers visited every day, providing jobs that offered regular wages and far easier working conditions than aquaculture.

But with the global tourism industry paralysed by the coronavirus pandemic and 13 million tourism workers now unemployed in Indonesia, seaweed farming in the Penida Archipelago is back in vogue. “When COVID-19 hit, the locals reverted immediately back to it,” Senyk said.

Seaweed farming was a huge industry in the 1980s in the Penida Archipelago but when tourism took off the industry went into decline [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Shrinking returns

Before the pandemic, Kasumba, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, was Batu Karang’s purchasing officer. Now she is one of an estimated one thousand islanders who spend their days knee-deep in seawater and busy planting, harvesting and hauling baskets of seaweed.

“My grandmother was a seaweed farmer, but I never did it before because I studied accounting in university,” Kasumba said. “It’s really hard work but I am lucky to do it. There are no other jobs here now. Without it, I might not have money to eat.”

Kasumba says she likes working outdoors and the communal aspect of the job, but she notes the returns are poor. “Between five of us we earn only $200 to $300 a month,” she said.

Her neighbour Kadek also says he earns much less farming seaweed than in his previous job as a reservation clerk at the Tamarind Resort Nusa Lembongan. “Before I made $200 a month and partied with my friends on weekends,” he said. “Now I have to work seven days a week just to earn $50 a month. I haven’t had a Bintang [beer] since March.”

Ari, a shopkeeper who used to earn $5 in profit for every T-shirt sold to tourists, now earns only $33 a month tending to a small plot of seaweed. And her return keeps on shrinking. “Last month, they paid us 13,000 rupiahs (88 cents) for one kilogramme of dried seaweed. This month they are paying only 10,000 rupiahs (68 cents),” she said of the middlemen who resell the commodity to factories in China and Vietnam where it is refined into carrageenan, an additive used in the food industry for its thickening and stabilising properties.

Farmers sell the seaweed to middlemen and get little return for their hours labouring in the sun. Many are waiting to return to their old jobs in tourism [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

When Ari asked why the price was going down, the middlemen attributed it “too much competition” between farmers in Penida and “exporting problems” associated with lockdowns.

Inconsistent supply

Djusdil Akrim, the owner of Bosowa, a carrageenan factory in South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia’s seaweed farming hub, says diminishing returns for farmers on Penida are not a symptom of oversupply or lockdowns.

“Seaweed exports from Indonesia are growing more than 10 percent a year,” he said. The estimate is corroborated by data released by the Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry that shows exports of fishery products increased seven percent in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period last year, with seaweed identified as one of the top four commodities.

The problem in Penida, Akrim says, is that the industry is unregulated. “The government is never thinking about industrial cultivation, so what we are left [with] are small farmers trying to survive,” he said. “In the Philippines, seaweed farmers have formed unions and have bargaining power with Chinese buyers. In South Korea, they’ve turned seaweed farms into tourist attractions where people pay to see how the product is cultivated. But even here in Sulawesi where there are 200,000 seaweed farmers, there is no collaboration between business and government.”

Akrim says formalisation of the industry in Penida will not be possible until there is consistent supply. “In Sulawesi, seaweed farming is different. Tourism never increased so fast like in Bali, so we never had conflict between farming and tourism where lots of the areas for farming were taken over for tourism,” he explained.

Farmers in Penida confirmed mass tourism had made it impossible to grow seaweed in the channel dividing Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan islands. “About five years ago, everyone gave up on seaweed because it wouldn’t grow well anymore,” Kasumba said.“I think it’s because all the diving boats affected the environment.”

Seaweed farmers often bring their family along [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Another farmer who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity blamed the row of now-empty bars and restaurants lining the channel for releasing sewerage straight into the water.

Seaweed cups

In 2017, when Bali’s Mount Agung volcano experienced a series of small but significant series of eruptions and tourism dropped by two-thirds, many islanders on the Penida Archipelago returned to seaweed farming.

“They started thinking if they depend only on tourism, their income will not be stable,” said Muhammad Zia ul Haq, seaweed sector coordinator at Rikolto, an NGO supporting small farmers in Bali.

“So we talked to them about combining the two activities,” he explained. Women learned how to make food and drinks out of seaweed to sell to tourists while the local government provided them with seedlings and the rope to make the netting the seaweed grows on.

“But when tourism returned and the government assistant ended, the farms were not maintained and farming stopped,” Haq said.

To help prevent the same thing from happening again, Rikolto has now joined forces with Evoware, a Jakarta-based startup that makes food wrappings from seaweed.

“I wanted to make a product that raises awareness of plastic rubbish but in a different way, and seaweed seemed perfect,” said cofounder David Christian. “Indonesia is one of the largest seaweed producers in the world. Seventy percent of our country is ocean and we can plant it everywhere. It also absorbs carbon and releases oxygen into the atmosphere, so it’s very eco-friendly.”

Evoware’s flagship product, Ello Jello, is a disposable and edible cup made from seaweed that comes in four different flavours and can be used for cold drinks. But uptake has been limited. The company can only produce 500 units daily and is yet to crack the code for heat-resistant disposable coffee cups – 16 billion of which are used each year, according to the Earth Day network. “More research and development is needed to make them heat resistant and for mass production,” Christian says.

Adds Rikolto’s Zia ul Haq: “We need good government policy and support from big manufacturing so the price of seaweed-based plastic will decrease.”

History repeating

Djusdil Akrim offers a more immediate solution for the seaweed farmers of Penida.

“So far they only export raw seaweed to China,” he said. “But if they had a carrageenan factory in Bali, they could cut out the middlemen and add value to their products. The government would also benefit. When we export seaweed to China, they don’t pay any tax. But if it was processed in Indonesia, the government would earn export tariffs.”

But Akrim is not holding his breath and expects seaweed farming to die off again in Penida the moment tourism returns.

Planted in the white sand, the seaweed creates a mosaic pattern in the water [Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Certainly, the islanders have no plans to continue farming any longer than they have to.

“I am hoping to go back to my old job as soon as I can,” said Kasumba.

Her neighbour Kadek shares her views: “I think everyone will go back to tourism because it is more profitable,” he said. “Only the old people will keep on working here because they have no other skills.”

– With reporting by Lala Samsura

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