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Russian Patriarch to Obama: Syria’s Christians Nearing ‘Extermination’

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While many were fixated on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent letter to the American people, another letter from another Russian leader—this one directly addressed to the U.S. president—was missed.

On September 10, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill issued a letter addressed to “His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama, President, United States.” Whether one wishes to interpret this communique as a product of politics or sincerity, it accurately highlights the plight of Syria’s Christians, especially in the broader context of a larger civilizational struggle.

I repost major portions of the letter below, interspersed with my observations for added context:

Your Excellency, Dear Mr. President,

The tragic events in Syria have raised anxiety and caused pain in the Russian Orthodox Church. We receive information about the situation there not from the news reports but from living evidence coming to us from religious figures, ordinary believers and our compatriots living in that country.

This is an important point: the “news reports” evaluated by the Russian church are from “living evidence coming to us from religious figures, ordinary believers and our compatriots living in that country.” The fact is, outside of America’s biased “mainstream media,” the evidence concerning what is going on in Syria—namely, that Islamic militants are committing human rights atrocities, including possibly the chemical attacks in question—is overwhelming. Countless eyewitness testimonies, videos, pictures—all those things that rarely make it to the U.S. MSM—make this abundantly clear.

Ask the average Syrian about the current turmoil engulfing their land—and I have, as have numerous Russian Orthodox representatives in communion with Syria’s ancient Christian community, as noted by Kirill—and few have any illusions as to its nature: an authoritarian, but secular, Assad vs. radical Islamists and jihadis.

Naturally most Syrians choose Assad.

Only in America, and to a lesser extent Western Europe, is the myth of “freedom fighters” trying to “liberate” Syria still being peddled.

Patriarch Kirill:

Syria today has become an arena of the armed conflict. Engaged in it are foreign mercenaries and militants linked with international terrorist centres. The war has become an everyday golgotha for millions of civilians.

To be sure, one of the most obvious indicators that this is no “civil war” in the name of “liberty” is the fact that the majority, up to 95%, of those fighting Assad are not even Syrian, but rather al-Qaeda linked jihadis—from Chechnya to the Philippines—trying to form an Islamic emirate in Syria as they did in the 1980s-90s in Afghanistan. Back then, foreign jihadis like Saudi Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Ayman Zawahiri—again, also supported by the U.S.—traveled to Afghanistan, “liberated” it from the U.S.S.R, and then gave us 9/11 in return a decade later.

Here, for example, is a video of foreign militants in a conquered Syrian town singing praises in honor of Osama bin Laden: “They called me a terrorist and I said ‘that will be my honor,’ this is a divine call …. We defeated America … the Trade [Center] became a bunch of rubble … Greetings from the Taliban and its leader mullah Omar… Victory is ours, winning is ours, and Allah with all his strength is with us, the infidel masses have come together to defeat us but they will not defeat us.”

Patriarch Kirill:

We were deeply alarmed to learn about the plans of the US army to strike the territory of Syria. Undoubtedly, it will bring ever greater sufferings to the Syrian people, first of all, to the civilian population. An external military intervention may result in the radical forces coming to power in Syria who will not be able and will not wish to ensure inter-confessional accord in the Syrian society.

U.S. military intervention would undoubtedly lead to even more human rights abuses, first and foremost at the hands of al-Qaeda jihadis—who in fact are on record vowing to slaughter Christians after the U.S. intervenes and overthrows Assad; Obama just waived a U.S. law prohibiting the banning of terrorist organizations simply to arm and ultimately help them realize their ambitions.

U.S. military intervention would undoubtedly lead to even more human rights abuses, first and foremost at the hands of al-Qaeda jihadis—who in fact are on record vowing to slaughter Christians after the U.S. intervenes and overthrows Assad; Obama just waived a U.S. law prohibiting the banning of terrorist organizations simply to arm and ultimately help them realize their ambitions.

Patriarch Kirill:

Our special concern is for the fate of the Christian population of Syria, which in that case will come under the threat of total extermination or banishment. It has already happened in the regions of the country seized by militants. An attempt made by the armed groups of the Syrian opposition to seize the town of Ma’loula whose residents are predominantly Christians has become a new confirmation of our concerns. The militants keep shelling the town in which ancient Christian monasteries are located—the sites of special veneration by the faithful all over the world.

All absolutely true—especially “the threat of total extermination or banishment,” which has been the case wherever and whenever U.S.-backed Islamists come to power:

  • Afghanistan: Under U.S. auspices, the supposedly “moderate” Karzai government still upholds the apostasy law—persecuting those who seek to convert to Christianity, making them just as intolerant as the Taliban—and, under U.S. auspices, destroyed the nation’s last Christian church.
  • Iraq: After the U.S. “liberated” the nation from Saddam Hussein, the “chemical-weapon-using-tyrant”—sound familiar?—Christians are still being terrorized into extinction, more than half leaving their homeland.
  • Libya: Since U.S-backed terrorists came to power—giving American the Benghazi consulate attack on the anniversary of 9/11—the tiny Christian community there has been persecuted, including bombed churches and threatened nuns—things unprecedented under the “tyrant” Gaddafi.
  • Egypt: After coming to power, the Obama administration’s Muslim Brotherhood allies enforced draconian blasphemy codes against Christians and are currently destroying countless churches and in some regions forcing Christians to pay jizya.
  • Syria: Atrocities against Christians by the U.S.-backed jihadis know no bounds—such as the recent gang rape and slaughter of a 15-year-old Christian girl by the U.S.-supported “freedom fighters.” And now in Ma’loula, Christians are being forced to choose between converting to Islam or dying and other atrocities.

Patriarch Kirill:

The Christian hierarchs of Aleppo, Metropolitans Paul and John Ibrahim, have been held captive by militants since April 22. Nothing is known about their fate despite of the fact that a number of religious figures appealed to the leaders of their states to help to release them.

Indeed, here is yet another example of the nature of the people the U.S. government is supporting. Paul and John Ibrahim were traveling in Syria doing “humanitarian work” when their driver was killed and they were kidnapped. Maybe John McCain can phone his al-Qaeda kidnapping allies and ask them to release them? At any rate, there is no end to the amount of Christians, like Fr. Murad, who have been kidnapped and/or slaughtered by the jihadis in Syria.

Patriarch Kirill:

I am deeply convinced that the countries which belong to the Christian civilization bear a special responsibility for the fate of Christians in the Middle East.

Here the good patriarch speaks a language that may have once resonated with Americans and Europeans—that is, the people from “the countries which belong to the Christian civilization”—but which is increasingly meaningless to those whose “humanitarian concerns” extend to anyone but those unfashionable Christians, and to some American Protestants who are unaware that Christians actually exist outside of the U.S.

As do all eastern churches, however, the Russian Orthodox Church has centuries long experience with Islamic oppression and violence—beginning with the “Tatar yoke” and continuing to the present—and hence, not only sympathizes with the plight of Near East Christians, many of whom are Orthodox, but, as Putin himself recently asserted in a Russian conference dealing with the plight of Christians under Islam, “Russia has tremendous experience in reaching and maintaining inter-confessional peace and accord, and is ready to share it.”

Patriarch Kirill:

The Russian Orthodox Church knows the price of human sufferings and losses since in the 20th century our people survived two devastating world wars which claimed millions of lives and ruined many people’s lives. We also regard as our own pain the pain and losses the American people suffered in the terrible terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.

Alas, some people remember the lessons of history, to their benefit; others forget, to their regret.

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Are The U.S. And Its Partners Losing The Grip On Syria’s North East?

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The oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor located in Eastern Syria has witnessed another escalation between the local Arab populace and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Unexpectedly for the SDF and the U.S. military, the protesters have established control over a number of towns, and it seems they are willing to go further.

Sources close to the SDF initially reported that the protesters limited their demands by requesting a solution to a number of minor issues, but soon enough it became evident that it was not the case and the issue – and a major one – was the presence of SDF in the area. The demonstrators were quick to turn from chanting slogans to taking control of towns: in a single day they captured all of Shuhayl, Al-Hawayej, Diban and forced the SDF members to leave before blocking the roads.

The protests were sparked by a series of assassinations of influential leaders of Al-Aqidat and Al-Baqara tribes. Three Deir Ezzor sheikhs were killed in less than a week: Sheikh Suleiman Khalaf al-Kassar from Al-Aqidat was shot in Busayra village July 30. The next day Sheikh Suleiman Al-Weis who belonged to Al-Baqara was shot in the head by two gunmen on a motorcycle in Al-Dahla. Finally, Sheikh Muttshar al-Hamoud al-Hifl was shot in the outskirts of Al-Hawayej on Sunday, August 2. His relative Sheikh Ibrahim al-Hifl was also wounded in the incident but survived.

In a peculiar coincidence, a few weeks before the assassinations the tribal leaders were invited to a meeting with the SDF Commander Mazloum Abdi with the U.S. servicemen also present. The agenda reportedly included co-operation between the tribes and the SDF. It was reported that at least one of the victims, Muttshar al-Hifti, declined to participate and to engage with the Americans.

An insight into the details of these meetings can be gained through the reports about an oil deal allegedly struck by the SDF and a little known American oil developer Delta Crescent LLC. Delta Crescent was granted exclusive rights for production, refinement and export of the oil from Deir Ezzor fields potentially bringing the participants annual profit of hundreds of millions dollars, according to statements made by U.S. officials. The deal was met with harsh response from the Syrian government who labeled it a “deal between thieves”.

According to sources on the ground, the implication is that those who fell victim to the assassinations shared this view and opposed the deal. Their removal, however, has clearly failed to deliver the results intended by the masterminds behind their deaths, yet another time when the Kurds were thrown to the wolves by the U.S. who is accustomed to making their allies bear the consequences of the reckless pursuit of the American interests.

Meanwhile the SDF started to amass forces in the vicinity of the areas shaken by the unrest. The reinforcements sent from Al-Shadadi, Al-Sousa and Baghuz are gathering at the US military base near Al-Omar oil field. Moreover, two US Apache attack helicopters were spotted patrolling the area. These developments combined with lack of report on any negotiations between the protesters and the SDF leadership paint a grim picture, indicating that the SDF likely intends to use force to disperse the protests.

It is not the first time the SDF resorts to the use of force when faced with the discontent of the local populace in north-eastern Syria, although this approach had never brought the desired result. All areas affected by the protests have been subjected to dozens of raids of the SDF and the US special forces. Reports on these operations unfailingly mentioned arrests of ISIS terrorists. They failed to mention, however, what the Pentagon files under the category of “collateral damage” – deaths of civilians killed in the result of the actions of the US military and their allies.

The upheaval in Deir Ezzor is yet another evidence that the SDF, initially an independent movement, has degraded to a tool or a lever of American influence in Syria, and now finds itself fighting consequences instead of locating the root cause of the unrest – widespread corruption among the officials of the Kurdish administration and dramatic deterioration of the living conditions.

The regional turbulence created by Washington’s constantly shifting stance – or rather a lack of stance – on Syria has grown so strong it finally turned against the American interests. The latest escalation in Deir Ezzor should be considered nothing but a byproduct of this ill-designed policy and, perhaps, marks a beginning of the end of the US and SDF hegemony in Syria’s North East.

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Middle East

The Looming Disaster of the Safer Oil Tanker Moored off the Coast of Yemen

Amb. Sahar Ghanem

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Amidst the raging conflict in Yemen, the challenge of the Safer Oil Tanker emerges as one of the most hazardous risks to the environment safety in the Red Sea as a result of the potential oil spillage in the Red Sea at any moment.

Following expressing deep alarm, the United Nations Security Council called on 29 June,2020, to immediately grant unconditional access for the United Nations technical experts to assess the tanker’s condition without overdue to prevent growing risk of possible rupture, explosion or even spillage.

The threat of the floating Oil Tanker, moored off the coast of Yemen, does not only impose challenges to the geopolitical and strategic importance of the Red Sea, but it rather represents a huge challenge that threatens the environment safety, leading to one of the largest environmental hazards in the world, after the unforgettable 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Siberia – Russia.

On 18 July 2019, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Mr. Mark Lowcock informed the UN Security Council of the growing threats of the deserted Safar Oil Tanker, warning of possible explosion or leakage of its loads [1.14 M barrels of crude oil]. In his briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, he pointed out that such an incident would result to a disastrous crisis to the marine life in the Red Sea and maritime in the straits of Bab-Al Madeb and Suez Canal which are two significant water corridors to the world.

It is known that the Red Sea is home for some scarce invertebrates such as corals and 600 species of fish. Unless preventative measures are taken now and immediately to prevent oil spill or possible tanker explosion, we will concretely witness a disastrous incident leading to severe effect on the Red Sea marine environment, and on both biodiversity and livelihoods starting from Yemen and extending north to Suez Canal through Jobal strait and the Gulf of Suez and south through Bab-Al Madeb strait reaching even Hormoz strait through the Arabian sea.

Environment experts’ projections expect that 115 islands are vulnerable to the risk of oil pollution; 126,000 fishermen will lose their source of income, among them 76,000 fishmen are in Al Hodeidah governorate; 850 tons of fish stocks will be exposed to the danger of contamination and death in Yemen, in the Red Sea and in Bab Al-Mandam; more than 500 fish species are at high risk of disappearing; and 300 corals will certainly disappear as a result.

The problem emerged following the takeover of the Capital Sanaa on 21 September 2014, when Houthi militias implemented unilateral actions inter alia dissolving parliament and taking over Yemen’s government institutions, which have seriously escalated the situation, leading to illegitimate seizure of power “coup d’etat”, and eventually leading to current conflict in Yemen.

The floating storage and its connected offloading terminals have not been inspected or maintained since 2015 after Houthis militias took control of the area including port of Ras Isa to which the floating tanker is connected by terminals extending 9km off the coast of Yemen.

Yemen’s internationally-recognized government has warned in many letters of evident corrosion and lack of maintenance, creating the conditions for serious environmental disaster. The Yemeni government made an urgent call for the UN to send inspection team to scale the risks.

Unfortunately, the UN inspection team was denied access to the floating tanker by the Houthi militias many times. The UN inspection team is tasked with the mission to provide the necessary inspection and put recommendations for the needed maintenance and continuing to create obstacles will refrain the team from reaching the tanker and delivering the urgent inspection.

Lately, the Government of the Republic of Yemen repeated asserting the urgent emergency of the imminent catastrophe of the floating “Safer Oil Tanker”. The government confirmed that “given the critical nature of the aging floating tanker’s situation, on 27 May 2020 leaks have been reported in the tanker causing water leaked into the tanker’s operational machineries raising the possibilities of the tanker rupturing, sinking or even exploding.

Despite urgent fixing of leaking occurred, the deteriorating situation of the tanker threatens continuing eroding. As a result, on 15 July 2020, the UNSC held a session to debate latest urgent developments and called for urgent response to be taken by the Houthi militias as required by the inspection team. It is worth mentioning that the Houthis always show willingness to accept the inspection team just like the assurances made by the Houthis in August 2019 only to be withdrawn right before the inspection team was due to board the tanker.

The Yemeni government has always approved all relevant initiatives recommended by the UN to allow addressing the serious matter and proposing necessary urgent solutions to the Safer oil tanker, as part of the responsibility to the humanitarian and economic measures proposed by the office of the UN Special Envoy Mr. Martin Griffiths and as part of its responsibility to building and sustaining environment safety; however, the Houthi militias continue refusing to allow permissions to the UN inspection team to visit the oil tanker, noting that the situation of the Safer oil tanker is becoming extremely critical more than ever, causing increasing threats of possible oil spillage, tanker sinking and explosion at any moment.

In conclusion, the Safer Oil Tanker is a floating time-bomb and allowing inspection and maintains is the only possible means that will stop a serious catastrophe from happening. If incidents of explosion or even oil spill occur, that will lead to one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the Red Sea. Action must be taken immediately while we have in hand an opportunity to protect the environments and spare the lives of millions of people in Yemen and the region from a looming tragedy.

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Middle East

Greater Implications of the Iran-China Deal on India

Dhritiman Banerjee

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Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee and Subarna Mustari*

India entered as a stakeholder in the development of Iran’s Chabahar port in 2016 as part of an India- Afghanistan- Iran trilateral agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor. A landmark strategic victory for India, this agreement not only connected New Delhi with Kabul but also provided India a link to Eurasia through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, it sought to challenge China’s investment in the Gwadar Port in Pakistan as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Indian involvement in the Chabahar- Zahedan Railway project therefore has far-reaching implications for New-Delhi’s interests in the Asian geopolitical scenario. However, after Iran’s signing of a landmark investment deal with China earlier this year, we aim to analyze the implications of the deal on India in this article.

The Middle East is particularly important to India because of its vast energy resources. Stephen P. Cohen feels that five factors steer India’s policy in the Middle East namely:

1. Energy Security: India is very reliant on Oil and Gas resources from the Middle East and therefore relations with most of the major suppliers including Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are strategically important to India. And India does not want to become a victim to a sudden increase in Oil and Gas prices or a temporary embargo of these resources as the pipeline from Central Asia to India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan is not likely to materialize soon.

2. The Muslim Factor: Although a secular democratic State, India has a very high Muslim population who resonate with countries in the Middle East which brings out the relation between India’s foreign and economic policy on the one hand and domestic politics on the other. This linkage has particularly increased in importance after the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by the Modi Government which is thought to be discriminatory against Muslims and has provoked sharp criticism from the international community.

3. The Kashmir Factor: For Indian foreign policy it is of paramount importance that the Middle Eastern States do not interfere in Kashmir or support Pakistan regarding the issue. Therefore it conducts a “sophisticated balance of power diplomacy” in order to contain the spread of Pakistani influence regarding Kashmir and to keep the Kashmir issue out of all discussions.

4. The Israel Factor: India’s recent cultivation of strategic relations with Israel has led to important advancements in the technology, intelligence, and military sectors as well as important leverage in the US but many analysts in India are still skeptical about cultivating close relations with Tel Aviv. Eventually it can be said that a balance between Tel Aviv and Tehran will become an important factor in Indian Foreign Policy.

5. The Non-Proliferation Factor: Because of India’s strategic relations with the US, India does not want to violate American non-proliferation goals in the region. But Indian strategists have had a long history of skepticism regarding American non-proliferation strategies and tactics with skepticism. In fact the Indian leadership was at the forefront in the development of the theoretical case against the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the global non-proliferation regime. In fact, most of the arguments developed by India are now used by Iran and North Korea to justify their opposition to the NPT and therefore India must find a solution to this paradox in the near future as although its record of horizontal proliferation has been very good, it has been an example for States regarding vertical proliferation.  

China’s offer to invest $400 billion in Iranian oil and gas sectors over 25 years tokening a comprehensive trade and military partnership between the two nations is undoubtedly far more beneficial to Iran than India’s promise of a $150 million investment scheme over 10 years. This deal is mutually beneficial for both China and Iran and the Iranian economy reeling under sanctions will get a much needed lifeline. Similarly, China is facing international criticism over its aggressive political and military strategies that include attempts at hegemonizing the South China Sea (SCS) at the cost of the other littoral States, passing a new security law to strengthen its control over Hong Kong and engaging in a border standoff with India in Ladakh. This deal therefore allows China a strategic leverage in the Middle East. China’s strategic decision for such an investment into Iran comes at a notable time – immediately following the Sino-Indian Border Clash of June 2020. Iran’s decision to choose a more lucrative deal from a more lucrative regional partner facing the same extra-regional opponent – the United States – intersects directly with India’s vested security interests in Iran against both China and Pakistan. Furthermore, India’s relations with the United States puts both India and Iran in a very complicated situation with Iran at greater risk of allowing more Chinese presence than India in the region, given the former’s bigger investment and the mutual threat of the United States.

India, compared to China, not only has far less to offer economically to neutral yet strategic prospective allies (Iraq, Iran, and other Gulf nations) in countering China in the West Indian Ocean Region (IOR), but its alliance with the extra-regional United States has compromised Iran’s faith in India as concrete ally. With such a timely investment, China has in one stroke obtained a highly strategic regional ally against the United States in securing its energy concerns, and simultaneously taken the battle directly to Iran where India is attempting to undermine China’s String of Pearls (SOP) strategy (Gwadar Port, Pakistan) through the Chabahar Port.

Furthermore, India’s recent history of erratic dealings in the middle-east, and compliance with the US’s policies in Asia has dipped the region’s confidence in India as a reliable regional partner. China’s already expanding foothold in the middle-east and Africa, and stronger deliverance makes it a better prospective partner for Arab nations who see China as such. In fact, in recent years China’s influence has grown in the region through an increase in economic investment.  Between 2005 and 2019, China has invested over $55 billion in the region according to the AEI’s China Global Investments tracker. Between 2004 and 2014, China also gave financial assistance of $42.8 billion to the region according to Aid Data Research lab. Also for many States in the Middle East, China is their most reliable trade and strategic partner as well as a key source of technology and armed drones. Therefore, it can be claimed that while Iran and China have patterned their foreign policies in such a way that it regionally benefits them against extra-regional influences; India’s current foreign policy narrative accounts to a degree of dependency on extra-regional powers that limits its regional interests of security against its two biggest border rivals – China and Pakistan. Secondly, India’s engagement with the United Sates in the maritime arena remains limited in the eastern side of the Indian Ocean at a time when India needs to increase a collaborative presence on the western side – which, given the unfavorable economic effects of the pandemic and wishful economic management of the Indian Government, leaves room only for clever diplomacy on India’s part. Therefore, Indian dealings in the middle-east and in the West IOR have to be strategically designed with not just extra-regional allies which share the same apprehensions of Chinese presence; but also look to secure greater strategic partnerships with East Asian nations like South Korea and Japan to balance its over-dependence on the United States for energy and geopolitically diversify its defense against China’s SOP doctrine.

India, apart from expedient solidification of its energy, trade, and security interests in the middle-east, has to double-down on its Act East Policy especially with Indonesia and Malaysia. In fact, in this regard it can be said that relations with these two countries, particularly with Indonesia, will be of paramount importance to India. This will help cement India’s claim of a rules based maritime order in the Indo-Pacific in order to check Chinese attempts to hegemonize the region. In this regard, the link between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Aceh Province in Indonesia will cement maritime ties between the two countries and help to check Chinese advances near the strait of Malacca through the SOP strategy. However, a major restriction to such collaborations in this regard, would be the persecution of Muslims under the Modi government in India and the religious radicalism prevailing in the country. Another more viable option available to India is the QUAD group consisting of India, US, Australia and Japan. India can use this grouping to not only uphold its claim of a rules based maritime order but also gain a foothold in the SCS region and pose a challenge to China through close alliances with the QUAD and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). Therefore, to conclude, it can be said that a new Cold War maybe brewing between India and China which might set to define the very nature of Asian geopolitics in the near future.

* Subarna Mustari is an undergraduate student of Political Science at Bethune College, Kolkata. Her interests lie in Political Science and International Relations as well as in history of war, colonialism and philosophy. She has recently published for Modern Diplomacy.

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