Ja­pan con­firms re­lease of jour­nal­ist held in Syria

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

TOKYO — The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment on Wednes­day con­firmed that a jour­nal­ist kid­napped in Syria more than three years ago has been freed and is in Turkey.

“We have con­firmed the safety of Jumpei Ya­suda, who had been held cap­tive in Syria since 2015,” Ja­panese For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono told re­porters. “He ap­pears to be in good health. ... We’re very glad he’s safe.”

Ja­panese of­fi­cials said late on Tues­day they were try­ing to con­firm re­ports that the 44-year-old free­lancer had been freed.

Em­bassy of­fi­cials vis­ited him at an im­mi­gra­tion cen­ter in An­takya in Turkey, and he is ex­pected to re­turn to Ja­pan soon, af­ter health checks.

Ya­suda’s wife Myu was ap­pear­ing live on pri­vate sta­tion TV Asahi when Kono an­nounced the news.

“Thank you. ... Thank you for pray­ing for him and tak­ing ac­tion,” she said in tears.

“I want to see him in good shape. That’s all I want,” Ya­suda’s fa­ther had told re­porters ear­lier in the day.

“I don’t know how he is now, but I want to tell him he kept his chin up.”

Ya­suda was thought to have been seized by the group pre­vi­ously known as the al-Nusra Front, a for­mer al-Qaida af­fil­i­ate, in north­ern Syria.

How­ever, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by al-Qaida’s f o rm e r branch in Syria, de­nied any in­volve­ment in a state­ment on Tues­day. Al-Qaida’s for­mer Syria af­fil­i­ate was known as al-Nusra Front be­fore it cut ties with the transna­tional ji­hadist net­work in 2016 and changed its name.

In Au­gust, videos emerged show­ing Ya­suda and an Ital­ian na­tional, Alessan­dro San­drini, ap­peal­ing for their re­lease. Both men wore or­ange out­fits with armed, masked men stand­ing be­hind them. The videos did not iden­tify which group was hold­ing the men or in­clude spe­cific de­mands.

The Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, a Bri­tain­based war mon­i­tor, said on Tues­day that Ya­suda was re­leased un­der a Turk­ish-Qatari deal, with some sources say­ing a ran­som had been paid.

But Ja­pan’s top gov­ern­ment spokesman de­nied on Wednes­day that any pay­ment was in­volved. “That kind of thing never hap­pened,” Yoshi­hide Suga told re­porters.

In 2015, mil­i­tants from the Is­lamic State group be­headed Ja­panese war cor­re­spon­dent Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa in Syria.

Tokyo was crit­i­cized for what de­trac­tors saw as its flat­footed re­sponse to the cri­sis at the time, in­clud­ing ap­par­ently missed op­por­tu­ni­ties to free both men.

Syria has been one of the most dan­ger­ous places for jour­nal­ists since the con­flict there be­gan in March 2011, with dozens killed or kid­napped. Sev­eral jour­nal­ists are still miss­ing in Syria and their fates are un­known.

BRUS­SELS — The Eu­ro­pean Union set up a high-stakes bat­tle with Italy, one of the bloc’s big­gest economies, over who has fi­nal con­trol over a mem­ber state’s bud­get af­ter the ex­ec­u­tive Com­mis­sion took the un­prece­dented step of or­der­ing the coun­try to re­vise its pub­lic spend­ing plans.

In a move that es­ca­lates a month­long stand­off, the EU said the pop­ulist gov­ern­ment’s bud­get for next year is out of line and breaks ear­lier prom­ises to lower pub­lic debt.

Italy’s debt load is the sec­ond-high­est in Europe, af­ter Greece, and there are wor­ries that los­ing con­trol of spend­ing could rekin­dle fi­nan­cial tur­moil in Europe. The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment said the sharp in­crease in spend­ing is needed to jump-start growth af­ter years of malaise.

“We see no al­ter­na­tive but to re­quest the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment to re­vise its draft bud­getary plan,” EU Com­mis­sion Vice-Pres­i­dent Valdis Dom­brovskis said.

Ital­ian Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salvini was quick to warn the EU to keep its hands off. “No one will take one euro from this bud­get.”

Tues­day’s de­vel­op­ments sent mar­kets reel­ing.

The MIB-30 blue-chip in­dex on Mi­lan’s Ital­ian Stock Ex­change fell nearly 1 per­cent on Tues­day even though the EU dec­la­ra­tion came near the end of the day.

The con­fronta­tion laid bare the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem within the euro­zone where 19 EU mem­ber states share the same cur­rency, yet gov­ern­ments main­tain au­ton­omy over spend­ing pri­or­i­ties and the EU has been re­luc­tant to en­force spend­ing lim­its.

Since the euro econ­omy can be desta­bi­lized when one mem­ber state loses con­trol of its fi­nances, like Greece did a decade ago, the other na­tions want to have some say over ex­ces­sive spend­ing, es­pe­cially when it con­cerns the re­gion’s third-big­gest econ­omy.

The EU Com­mis­sion said it had no choice af­ter Italy pro­posed a deficit of 2.4 per­cent of GDP for next year — three times more than what it had pre­vi­ously tar­geted. The higher deficit means Italy would not ful­fill its prom­ise to lower its debt, which is more than 130 per­cent of GDP and more than twice the EU limit of 60 per­cent.

With­out a tough stance on the is­sue, the EU could see its cred­i­bil­ity erode and mar­kets could lose con­fi­dence in its abil­ity to keep pub­lic spend­ing in check.

The com­mis­sion said: “Given the size of the Ital­ian econ­omy within the euro area, the choice of the gov­ern­ment to in­crease the bud­get deficit ... cre­ates risks of neg­a­tive spillovers for the other euro area mem­ber states”.

EU Fi­nan­cial Af­fairs Com­mis­sioner Pierre Moscovici high­lighted how Italy’s bud­get would hurt its own peo­ple by sad­dling the young with higher debt pay­ments. The cost of ser­vic­ing Ital­ian pub­lic debt is al­ready equal to the coun­try’s en­tire spend­ing on ed­u­ca­tion — 65 bil­lion eu­ros a year.

“Italy must con­tinue its ef­fort to lower its debt be­cause it is the en­emy of the econ­omy,” he said.

The EU said it had al­ready been le­nient enough with Italy in re­cent years, giv­ing it $34 bil­lion worth of wig­gle room in its spend­ing plans, as well as in­vest­ment funds.

The EU’s ex­ec­u­tive wants the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment to pro­duce a new bud­get pro­posal within three weeks.

Italy ar­gues the spend­ing in­crease is needed to get growth go­ing and ful­fill elec­toral prom­ises. The ex­tra money will be spent on restor­ing pensions to as many as 400,000 peo­ple whose re­tire­ment age had been pushed back and on a ba­sic in­come for some job-seek­ers.

Jumpei Ya­suda, Ja­panese jour­nal­ist

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