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News24.com | Singapore, Japan, Azerbaijan grands prix the latest to be cancelled

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Formula One’s Singapore, Japan and Azerbaijan grands prix were cancelled on Friday over logistical problems caused by the coronavirus, officials said, in a new blow to the disrupted season.

Formula One was thrown into chaos in March when the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix was cancelled hours before practice was to begin, as the virus spread around the world. 

With lockdowns being eased in some places, organisers last week unveiled plans to start the season with two races behind closed in Austria in July, followed by six other grands prix in Europe.

But Formula One said the decision had now been taken to cancel the races in Azerbaijan, Singapore and Japan due to “ongoing challenges presented by Covid-19”.

“In Singapore and Azerbaijan, the long lead times required to construct street circuits made hosting the events during a period of uncertainty impossible,” Formula One said in a statement. 

“In Japan, ongoing travel restrictions also led to the decision not to proceed with the race.”

As well as the Australia race, grands prix in Monaco, France and the Netherlands had already been cancelled. 

The Singapore F1, a night race around the city’s floodlit waterfront, is a highlight of the calendar.

But organisers said they had not been able to start construction of the Marina Bay Street Circuit due to curbs imposed to fight the virus.

Other challenges include a ban on mass gatherings which, if still in place in September when the race was due to take place, would have made it impossible for large groups of spectators to watch the outdoor event. 

Travel restrictions would have also prevented tourists, who make up a large chunk of the F1’s audience, from coming to the city-state for the race.

Singapore, which has recorded the highest number of virus cases in Southeast Asia, has just started easing curbs.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, originally due to take place in June this year, is also a street race. It takes place in the capital Baku, with the track running along the shoreline and through the city’s medieval old town. 

The country has seen a sharp increase in virus infections since lifting a state of emergency at the end of May. 

Japan, whose Grand Prix was due to take place at the Suzuka International Racing Course in October, lifted a state of emergency last month and has suffered a relatively small outbreak. 

But it still has tough travel restrictions in place.

F1 got the green light to start when the Austrian government sanctioned the season-opening double-header at the Spielberg circuit after organisers “presented a complete and professional plan” to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Hungarian Grand Prix will be brought forward to July 19 before a two-week break, followed by consecutive races in Britain and events in Spain, Italy and Belgium. All will likely be run without spectators while participants must adhere to strict safety protocols.

Regular health tests will be conducted with the number of team members and race staff at the venue also reduced.

The blueprint for the rehashed season features further races in Asia – the Shanghai and Vietnam races have only been postponed for now – and the Americas in September, October and November before finishing in the Gulf in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in December.

The 2020 season was originally to have featured a record 22 races, but now it is set to be the shortest campaign since 2009.

Revised 2020 Formula One calendar after the Singapore, Japan and
Azerbaijan Grands Prix were cancelled on Friday because of the
coronavirus pandemic:

Scheduled races

July 3-5: Austrian Grand Prix (Spielberg)

July 10-12: Styrian Grand Prix (Spielberg)

July 17-19: Hungarian Grand Prix (Budapest)

July 31-August 2: British Grand Prix (Silverstone)

August 7-9: 70th Anniversary Grand Prix (Silverstone)

August 14-16: Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona)

August 28-30: Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps)

September 4-6: Italian Grand Prix (Monza)

Still planned

September-November: Eurasia (Russia), Asia (Vietnam and China) and Americas (Canada, United States, Mexico, Brazil)

December: Middle East (Bahrain and Abu Dhabi)

Cancelled

Australia, Monaco, France, Netherlands, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Japan

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Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have flared up

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(CNN)Long-simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan appear to have flared up in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, with both sides accusing each other of attacking civilians amid reports of casualties.

The neighboring former Soviet republics have long been at odds over the territory — which is situated within the borders of Azerbaijan — and fought a war over it that finished in 1994.
Despite the conflict ending with a Russian-brokered ceasefire, military skirmishes between the two sides are not uncommon.
While Armenia said it was responding to missile attacks launched by its neighbor Sunday, Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for the clashes.
In response to the alleged firing of projectiles by Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that his country had “shot down 2 helicopters & 3 UAVs, destroyed 3 tanks.”
Arayik Harutyunyan, leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, a de facto independent Armenian state not recognized internationally which controls Nagorno-Karabakh, said the region had lost positions to Azerbaijan.
“We have lost some positions. Mostly in the direction of Talysh and in the southern parts,” Harutyunyan said during a press conference Sunday.
As a result of the escalating tensions, the Armenian government has decided to impose martial law and to order “general mobilization,” Pashinyan said in a later tweet.
Azerbaijan’s parliament on Sunday voted to impose martial law, effective as of midnight (4 p.m. ET), and President Ilham Aliyev approved the decision.
Armenia earlier claimed that its neighbor had targeted civilians in peaceful areas, including in Stepanakert, the region’s capital.
Artak Beglaryan, an Artsakh official Artsakh, said in a tweet that a mother and child had been killed.
Beglaryan also said dozens of people had been wounded and large infrastructural damage had been caused, adding: “Azerbaijan is intentionally targeting civilian objects.”
However, Azerbaijan suggested Armenia was accountable for the latest flare-up between the two countries.
Hikmet Hajiyev, assistant of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and head of the Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the presidential administration, tweeted Sunday: “There are reports of dead and wounded among civilians and military servicemen. Extensive damage has been inflicted on many homes and civilian infrastructure.”
Accusing Armenia of “an act of aggression and use of force,” Hajiyev added that the “political-military leadership of Armenia bears full responsibility.”
At least five people in one family were killed as a result of artillery shelling by Armenian armed forces on Sunday, according to Azerbaijan’s state news agency APA, which cited the Azerbaijani prosecutor general’s office.
So far, 19 civilians have been injured and hospitalized following the clashes, APA reported.
At least 14 civilians were injured in villages along the border due to artillery and tank fire from the breakaway Armenian enclave, according to state media Azertac. CNN has been unable to independently verify claims by either side.
“Currently, the Azerbaijan Army is taking retaliatory actions and our troops fully control the operational situation,” Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement Sunday.
But Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “We strongly condemn the aggression of the military-political leadership of Azerbaijan.”
“The military political leadership of Azerbaijan bears full responsibility for the consequences of their aggression,” the statement added.
Fighting between the two sides has been increasing in recent months.
In 2016, dozens of soldiers from both countries died during clashes. Two years earlier, then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to “commit themselves to immediate de-escalation and continuing dialogue” after reports of violence and casualties along the border.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but is governed by a majority group of ethnic Armenians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for Azerbaijan on Sunday, claiming that Armenia is “the biggest threat to peace and security in the region.”
“The Turkish nation continues to stand by its Azerbaijani brothers and sisters with all its means, as it has always done,” Erdogan said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the escalation in a phone call with Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan, according to statements from the Kremlin and from the Armenian Prime Minister’s Office.
The Kremlin statement said Putin expressed concern at the clashes, saying, “It was noted that it is important now to take all necessary efforts to prevent a military escalation of the confrontation, and most importantly, to stop military operations.”
The United States said it was “alarmed” by reports of military action between Armenia and Azerbaijan and urged both sides to cease hostilities immediately, according to a statement from US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

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Armenia and Azerbaijan Clash Over Disputed Region

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Fighting erupted Sunday between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics that have clashed over control of a disputed territory for three decades, raising fear of a new full-blown war in the South Caucasus.

Armenia declared martial law and military mobilization after accusing Azerbaijan of launching a missile and artillery attack on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan blamed Armenia for triggering the fighting, calling it an act of aggression. Both sides reported civilian deaths and injuries, without…

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Tanks Ablaze As Azerbaijani Forces Attack Armenian Troops In Disputed Nagorno-Karabakh

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On Sunday morning, Azerbaijani artillery, rockets, drones and combat aircraft began a series of attacks on Armenian positions in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, just two months after clashes in July left at least seventeen dead. The shelling and air strikes were apparently followed by ground attacks.

The new round of fighting has reportedly resulted in civilian deaths and the destruction of multiple armored vehicles and combat aircraft. Both sides accuse the other of inventing the losses. Armenia has declared martial law and is mobilizing its reservists.

The conflict also threatens to involve regional powers Russia and Turkey in support of the opposing nations.

The website of Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense claims it was “striking enemy command posts…along the length of the entire front” in retaliation for Armenian artillery fire. The attack, which began around 8 a.m. local time, extended to the Nagorno-Karabakh capital of Stepanakert and reportedly resulted in the deaths of at least two civilians: a girl and a woman.

Screen capture of video released by Armenian Defense Ministry purportedly showing an Azerbaijani T-72 tank being struck by a mine or anti-tank fire.

A spokeswoman for the Armenian Defense Ministry claimed its forces shot down four Azerbaijani helicopters and 15 drones, and destroyed ten tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

It also released multiple videos appearing to show at least five tanks hitting mines or being struck by munitions, as well as several lighter vehicles apparently being destroyed.

A tank struck by a munition may not necessarily be destroyed. However, one video appears to show ammunition stores cooking off internally inside a tank, resulting in horrific jets of flame leaping from the turret. Another video shows a very tightly grouped unit of tanks being hit by shellfire—a significant tactical error.

Photo released by Nagorno-Karabakh armed forces purportedly to show destruction of an Azerbaijani armored fighting vehicle (AFV) on September 27, 2020.

Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense responded by stating the Armenian claims were “false and disinformation,” conceding only the loss of one Azerbaijani helicopter, the crew of which reportedly survived.

In turn, the Azerbaijani military claimed to have destroyed twelve Armenian 2K33 Osa (SA-8) short-range air defense systems. It released a video appearing to show three being knocked out by drone strikes.

Azerbaijan’s military also claims to have captured a half-dozen villages in territory formerly controlled by Armenian forces. Armenia denied the loss of territory.

Three Decades Of War

The two small Central Asian nations—Armenia counts nearly 3 million citizens and Azerbaijan, over 10 million—have been locked in conflict for 32 years over the fate of the ethnically diverse Nagorno-Kabarakh region, which has an Armenian majority but which was administratively designated an autonomous region in Azerbaijan during Soviet rule. Violent clashes over the region’s status began in 1988, before the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh War. Military actions in Shelli village. Photo ITAR-TASS / Sergei Mamontov; Alexander Nemyonov (Photo by TASS via Getty Images)

Full-scale warfare ended in 1994 after 30,000 deaths and atrocities committed by both sides. Today, Armenian forces back a de facto Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh) Republic which is not recognized by Baku. But Armenian and Azerbaijani forces never stopped skirmishing over the heavily fortified border, even escalating to a brief but intense border war in 2016.

Armenian forces well-entrenched in mountainous terrain have historically prevailed in most skirmishes with Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijan has over three times the population and can draw on substantial oil wealth—and in the last decade Baku has used it to purchase billions of dollars in advanced military systems.

Israeli drones in particular seemed to have facilitated some Azeri tactical successes, and also conveniently provide drone strike footage which can be used to support narratives of military success.

The unmanned combat aerial vehicle Harop is presented at Israel’s IAI Chalet at the International Paris Airshow at Le Bourget on June 17, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ERIC PIERMONT (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP via Getty Images)

Looming over the region is Russia, which is supplying powerful weapons like TOS-1 thermobaric rocket artillery to both sides of the conflict despite its alliance with Armenia. Other potent hardware Moscow has sold to the belligerents include T-90 tanks and Mi-35M armored helicopter gunships for Azerbaijan, and Iskander-E ballistic missiles which Armenia could use to strike Azerbaijan’s oil industry.

At the same time, Russia is involved in the OSCE’s Minsk Group alongside France and the United States, which is attempting to mediate a peaceful resolution to the long-running Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Turkey, meanwhile, has openly supported Azerbaijan, and its recent offensive against Armenia, which it Erdogan described Sunday as “an obstacle to peace.” The Turkish leader has in the past invoked shared Muslim faith and ethnic affinity with Azerbaijan. Erdogan also appears increasingly drawn to foreign adventures in places like Libya and Syria in a bid to reclaim the former regional influence of the Ottoman Empire.

There are unconfirmed claims that Turkey may have recruited and airlifted refugee fighters from Syria to support Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, but Ankara denies the allegations.

There are also indications that Turkey may have supported Azerbaijan’s offensive with its own very capable drone forces, possibly performing surveillance flights or even air strikes using precision munitions.

The July Clashes

The current attack was preceded by hostilities begun on July 12 on the northern end of the Armenian-Azerbaijan border, ostensibly after Armenian forces opened fired on an Azerbaijani UAZ jeep heading towards their position. (Azerbaijan claims the Armenian forces opened fire unprovoked.)

Fighting rapidly escalated to involve mortar and heavy artillery bombardments, armored vehicles, and combat and surveillance drones. Azerbaijan employed Israeli Spike-NLOS loitering precision strike missiles against Armenian positions and targeted the Armenian internet with a wave of cyberattacks. Armenia deployed Su-30SM jet fighters on air patrols and domestically built X-55 drones on reconnaissance missions. Both sides claimed to have destroyed well over a dozen drones.

Perhaps most consequentially, on July 14 over 30,000 nationalist protestors gathered in Baku calling for an escalation in the conflict. The protests eventually took on anti-government tone, leading to the storming of the parliament before being broken up.

Fighting petered off a week later, by which time twelve Azerbaijanis were killed, including a Major General and a 76-year-old civilian. The Armenian side lost five dead and one mortally wounded soldier.

Senior U.S. officials barely made any note of the crisis. Paul Stronski wrote for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that “the administration of President Donald Trump has yet to issue a policy on the South Caucasus region, creating a vacuum that other powers—including Iran and Russia—appear eager to fill. The lack of senior level response to the latest violence shows once again that Washington does not see the Caucasus as a priority.”

Given the distractions of the U.S. presidential campaign, U.S. diplomatic disengagement seems likely to continue.

In an article in Foreign Policy magazine, Neil Hauer notes that Azerbaijani governments were toppled twice in the 1990s due to military failures in the conflict with Armenia. Thus the escalation of the protests on July 14 were likely particularly alarming for autocrat Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan since 2003.

Therefore, the current Azerbaijani offensive may be a bid by Aliyev to stabilize his government by seeking to satisfy nationalistic demands for military escalation and victory, while diverting attention away from domestic problems including economic recession brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and collapsing oil prices.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 20: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev at Konstantin Palace June 20, 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The Presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia gathered in Saint Petersburg to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflct. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Moscow, in turn, may pressure Baku to deescalate as the attack weakens the credibility of the military deterrence Russia provides Armenia. Reportedly, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has already had telephone conversations both with Armenian foreign minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

Whether the new offensive can deliver military success, real or perceived, for Aliyev’s government and to what degree the fighting may escalate remains to be seen.

Whatever the case, the renewed fighting is a blow to hopes for peace in the region and the civilian communities exposed to deadly heavy artillery and drone strikes.

Article updated 8:40 AM EST on Sunday with new claims, links and videos pertaining to losses in the conflict.

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