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Spain is lobbying for NATO to pay more attention to security threats on its southern flank when the military alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid later this week.

But with the war in Ukraine entering its fifth month, the priority for Spain’s NATO partners remains firmly on deterring Russian in the east.

When NATO leaders convene in Madrid on June 28-30 they are due to revamp the alliance’s strategic concept, which outlines its main security tasks and challenges but has not been revised since 2010.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares has been pushing for NATO to broaden its scope to help deal with non-military threats such as “the political use of energy resources and illegal immigration” in Africa.

“The threats are as much from the southern flank as from the eastern flank,” he told a Madrid news conference on Wednesday.

Madrid is also concerned about lawlessness and violent Islamist movements in the Sahel region, a vast territory stretching across the south of the Sahara Desert.

“We have this war in Europe, but the situation in Africa is really worrying,” said Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles.

The issue is particularly acute for Spain, a main gateway into Europe for irregular migration from Africa and a country which relies on Algeria for gas supplies.

Last year Morocco allowed thousands of migrants to enter Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta during a diplomatic crisis over the disputed Western Sahara, prompting Madrid to accuse Rabat of “blackmail.”

Although the two countries recently normalized their relations after Spain ended its decades-long position of neutrality over Western Sahara to publicly support Morocco’s stance, the migration crisis hasn’t come to an end.

On Friday at dawn, around 2,000 African migrants tried to storm the border with Melilla, the other Spanish enclave on Morocco’s northern coast. At least 23 died in the incursion, making it the deadliest incident to occur at the borders of the two Spanish enclaves — the only borders between the EU and Africa.

And earlier this month Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria suspended a co-operation treaty with Spain in response to Madrid’s U-turn over Western Sahara.

But with an active conflict on NATO’s eastern flank, it is going to be “an uphill struggle” to convince member states to make a commitment to the southern flank, said Sinan Ulgen, a NATO expert at the Carnegie Europe think-tank in Brussels.

“The war in Ukraine has changed the equation. The threat from Russia has become the main preoccupation for almost all the countries,” the former Turkish diplomat said.

In Washington, US national security spokesman John Kirby said “the focus right now is on the eastern flank.”

“But there remains a continued effort to make sure we are also paying attention to the southern flank,” he added.

In an interview published Saturday by Spanish daily El Pais, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said the Alliance would “strengthen (its) cooperation with southern countries,” mentioning Mauritania in particular.

Aside from Russia, Washington’s other major concern is China, which is expected to be mentioned in NATO’s strategic concept for the first time.

To try to convince its NATO allies, Spain has sounded the alarm over the growing presence of Russian mercenaries in African nations like Mali and the Central African Republic, arguing instability could increase African migration to Europe.

Madrid has also suggested that Russia was behind Spain’s recent diplomatic spat with Algeria.

“Unfortunately the threats from the south are increasingly Russian threats from the south,” Albares said.

Ulgen said that another difficulty is that while other southern European nations want a greater NATO engagement in Africa, they have different priorities, making it hard to set a common alliance-led strategy.

“Rome, Paris, Madrid, Ankara still assess the political and security challenges differently. That is the fundamental reason why there is not a stronger push for NATO to have a bigger role” in the southern flank, said Ulgen.

In addition, many top US policymakers believe NATO should focus on territorial defense, not non-conventional threats, said Angel Saz, the director of the Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics at Spain’s Esade business school.

“And the only threat to territorial defense is Russia. The Sahel can destabilize Europe, but it will not conquer Spain or Italy,” he said.

Spain has “perhaps put too much emphasis” on the call for a greater NATO role in the southern flank and “it runs the risk of under accomplishing,” he added.

Business

Sri Lanka central bank holds rates steady

Policy makers are assessing effects of interest hikes this year on cooling price growth, amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) has kept its key rates steady, a widely anticipated move as it awaits the effect of past hikes to trickle through the economy while a fall in global commodity prices is also expected to soothe domestic inflation.

The Standing Lending Facility rate stayed at 15.5 percent on Thursday, while the Standing Deposit Facility Rate remained at 14.5 percent.

Eleven out of 15 economists and analysts polled by the Reuters news agency had expected rates to remain unchanged.

The central bank has raised rates by a record 950 basis points so far this year to battle high inflation in Sri Lanka, which is wilting under a severe economic crisis.

A foreign exchange shortage has left the government struggling to pay for essential imports of fuel, fertilisers, food and medicine.

Inflation hit 60.8 percent year-on-year in July, and food costs expanded by a searing 90.9 percent, according to the latest government data.

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News

Japanese fashion pioneer Hanae Mori dies

Japanese fashion designer Hanae Mori, nicknamed “Madame Butterfly” for her signature winged motifs, has died. She was 96.

She died of old age in her Tokyo home on August 11 and was given a private funeral, local media reported.

Mori was most famous for being the first Japanese – and Asian – designer to join the hallowed ranks of haute couture designers in 1977.

The exclusive Parisian club is seen as the pinnacle of high-end fashion.

Born in western Japan in 1926, Mori graduated from the Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.

She opened her first atelier above a noodle shop in Tokyo in 1951. She has described meeting Coco Chanel during a trip to Paris in the 1960s as a “turning point” in her career, and said that Chanel inspired her to design for women to stand out rather than fit in.

Mori went on to dress Hollywood celebrities such as Grace Kelly and famous personalities such as Nancy Reagan. Japan’s then-Crown Princess Masako – now empress – wore a Hanae Mori wedding gown for her marriage to Emperor Naruhito in 1993.

Her outfits, often featuring butterfly prints, were also popular among career women. When she began to make a name herself in the fashion world, it was still unusual for a woman to head business, much less one of global fame.

Mori’s designs often mixed elements from the East and West, such as dresses with inspired by kimonos.

She also created costumes for on-stage performances, including traditional Japanese Noh and Kabuki theatre and a performance of “Madame Butterfly” in 1985.

She was presented with the Legion of Honor by the French government in 2002.

Agencies

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Arabic and international

CDC: Gorgeous island nation in Asia now at ‘high’ travel risk for Covid

The CDC added three new destinations on Monday to its “high” risk list for Covid-19, including an Asian island nation in the Pacific beloved by tourists for its stunning beaches.
The Philippines, a country of 7,000 tropical islands featuring stunning oceanic scenery, delicious food and people renowned for their hospitality, joins Russia and mountain-trekker favorite Nepal in the “high” risk group, also called Level 3.
Locations at Level 3 now account for almost 130 of the roughly 235 places monitored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — more than half of all listings.
Level 3 became the top rung in terms of risk level in April after the CDC overhauled its ratings system for assessing Covid-19 risk for travelers.
The designation applies to places that have had more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. Level 2 and Level 1 are considered “moderate” and “low” risk, respectively.

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