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UN chief names US diplomat Stephanie Williams to run Libya mediation

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday appointed US diplomat Stephanie Williams to lead mediation efforts in Libya after his special envoy quit just weeks ahead of planned elections in the war-torn country.

UN special envoy on Libya, Jan Kubis, is due to step down on Friday. Guterres had informally suggested veteran British diplomat Nicholas Kay as a replacement, but Russia said it would not support Kay, according to diplomats. The 15-member UN Security Council, operating by consensus, must approve a new appointment.

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Guterres named Williams as his special adviser, which does not require council approval. Williams was the acting special envoy on Libya after Ghassan Salame quit in March 2020 because of stress and before Kubis was approved in January 2021.

Kubis, who has been based in Geneva, said last month there was a need for the head envoy to be based in Libya’s capital Tripoli and he resigned “to create conditions for this.”

Williams “will lead good offices and mediation efforts and engagements with Libyan regional and international stakeholders to pursue implementation of the three intra-Libyan dialogue tracks – political, security and economic – and support the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In October last year, the two major sides in Libya’s civil war – the internationally recognized Government of National Accord and Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army – agreed a ceasefire.

A UN political forum last year demanded parliamentary and presidential elections take place on Dec. 24 as part of a roadmap to end the war. However, disputes over the planned vote threaten to derail the peace process.

A first-round presidential vote is set for Dec. 24 and the parliamentary election has been delayed to January or February. However, rules for the elections have not yet been agreed.

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Ukrainian court sentences Russian soldier to life in prison for killing civilian

A Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion.

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Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, had pleaded guilty to killing the 62-year-old man in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28 after being ordered to shoot at him from a car.

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Saudia airline announces commercial flights to Saudi megacity project NEOM

Saudia airline has announced that it will launch weekly flights from NEOM Bay Airport to Dubai in late June, and plans a direct route to London.

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The airport represents a “vital artery” for visitors traveling to the planned city, NEOM CEO Nazmi al-Nasr said in a statement.

NEOM is situated in the northwestern corner of the Kingdom, around 1,500 kilometers from Riyadh.

Saudia operated its first-ever flights from capital Riyadh to the NEOM site in January of 2019.

The under-construction megacity currently employs 1,500 people including local and international experts from more than 65 countries.

The project was announced in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of his Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy away from oil.

It is part of a raft of developments in the Kingdom including the Red Sea Project, which is due to welcome its first tourists in 2023.

The project is intended to boost tourism both domestically and internationally, as well as real estate sales.

In January 2021 the Crown Prince announced that a 170 kilometer long belt of communities would be built in NEOM.

‘The Line,’ as it will be known, is slated to be a zero-carbon system with no roads or cars.

Commuters are instead expected to use high-speed transit systems, which reportedly will take no more than 20 minutes to ferry people from one end of the city to the other.

Promotional material for NEOM also touts it as a low-carbon sustainable city, the layout of which emphasizes physical exercise.

The project’s sports director Neil Coupland said in an interview with Al Arabiya English that those behind the project intend it to be the “most active place on the planet,” with three-quarters of the population exercising at least three hours a week.

Out of the planned megaprojects in the Kingdom, NEOM was the most popular choice for homebuyers, according to a Knight Frank survey of 1003 households and 55 high net worth individuals.

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Abdulrahman makes return to UAE squad for World Cup playoff

Former Asian player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman has been recalled to the United Arab Emirates national team for the first time in two-and-a-half years as the country prepares for their World Cup playoff against Australia next month.

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Abdulrahman, who was named the continent’s best player in 2016, was included in coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s 30-man squad for the game against the Socceroos on June 7 in Doha after a return to form for club side Shabab al-Ahli.

The 30-year-old lost his place in the national team as a string of injuries, including a cruciate ligament rupture in 2018 while on loan with Saudi Arabia’s al-Hilal, took their toll on the creative midfielder.

He last played for the UAE in the 1-0 loss in World Cup qualifying to Vietnam in November 2019 but has impressed in recent months, including leading Shabab al-Ahli into the knockout rounds of this year’s Asian Champions League.

“I am 100 per cent ready because (reaching the World Cup) is everybody’s dream, it is the dream of UAE,” Abdulrahman said last month when asked about a possible recall.

“I hope everyone stands together, not only the players, the technical staff and the administration team, but also the media, fans, and everyone during this time — because the two remaining matches can lead us to the World Cup finals.

“Of course, the first play-off against Australia will be difficult for sure, but with solidarity, we will be able to make the UAE fans happy.”

The UAE will be looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since making their debut appearance at the tournament in Italy in 1990.

Arruabarrena’s side will take on the Australians after the nations finished third in their respective groups in the third round of Asia’s preliminaries.

The winner of the meeting at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium will advance to an intercontinental playoff on June 13 against Peru with a place in November’s finals at stake.

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