EU laid bare: German memo showing ‘secret slide towards super-state’ revealed

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At the end of May, France and Germany announced they are backing the creation of an EU bond to raise €500billion (£447billion) to boost the European economy, severely weakened by the coronavirus pandemic. The two leaders, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, unveiled their proposal in a joint video press conference. If approved, it would be the first time the bloc has pooled its debt in this way.

The measure immediately raised objections from the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, known as the “Frugal Four”, who support the establishment of a one-off emergency fund but do not back debt sharing or a significant increase in the EU’s next seven-year budget.

However, the pressure that the pandemic poses on the EU as a whole might work in favour of the Franco-German joint proposal.

Andrew Watt, head of the unit for European economic policy at the Hans-Böckler Foundation, said: “The Frugals, on paper, have a fairly strong position in the sense that this whole thing is located within the European Union budget.

“In practice, though, none of them want to go down in the history books as the country that, faced with a pandemic, after all these countries have gone through, let them starve.”

The plan is, nonetheless, a huge turn-around move for normally fiscally cautious Germany, whose Chancellor has opposed similar proposals for years.

In 2011, Mrs Merkel’s plan to tackle the eurozone debt crisis was completely different.

According to a throwback report by The Telegraph , a leaked German government document showed that nine years ago the Chancellor wanted to set up an intrusive European body with the power to take over the economies of struggling nations.

The six-page memo, by the German Foreign Office, argued that Europe’s economic powerhouses should have been able to intervene in how beleaguered eurozone countries were run.

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The proposals wanted to see the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) transformed into a version of the International Monetary Fund for the EU.

The European Monetary Fund (EMF) would have been able to take full fiscal control of a failing country, including taking countries into receivership.

The leaked document, titled “The Future of the EU: Required Integration Policy Improvements for the Creation of a Stability Union”, came as former Prime Minister David Cameron met Angela Merkel in Berlin to talk about the eurozone crisis.

The plan started with the proposal to create “automatic sanctions” that could have been imposed on euro members spending beyond targets set by the European Commission.

If euro rules were “consistently violated”, the memo said, Brussels should have been able to demand action from the European Court of Justice.

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Germany, Finland, Austria and the Netherlands would have been able to ask EU courts to impose sanctions, from fines to the loss of budgetary sovereignty, to protect the euro.

The memo stated the EMF would have been given “real intervention rights” in the budgets of euro members who received EU-IMF bailouts.

According to The Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield, the document heightened fears that Germany’s euro crisis plans could have resulted in a “European super-state”.

At the time, think tank Open Europe called for Mr Cameron to demand concessions from Mrs Merkel in exchange for the plans, which needed the consent of all 27 EU countries.

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'Get off the grass!' Australian PM told to move on during stimulus announcement

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A media conference by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to announce a new stimulus package briefly turned comical on Thursday when he and reporters were told by a homeowner to get off a newly reseeded lawn.

Morrison travelled to a housing construction site in Googong, 28km (17 miles) south of Canberra to announce his government would spend nearly A$700 million ($480 million) to support an Australian construction sector hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

But as he spoke about the package supporting the “Australian dream” of home ownership, he was interrupted by a local resident.

“Can everyone get off the grass please,” an unnamed local shouted at Morrison and the travelling press contingent. “Come on, I’ve just reseeded that.”

Morrison quickly obliged, giving the man a thumbs up and an “all good”.

Australia has suffered far fewer coronavirus cases than most other nations but its economy is facing its first recession in almost three decades despite billions of dollars in government support.

Morrison’s handling of the pandemic has helped his popularity soar, according to a Newspoll survey conducted for The Australian newspaper released last month.

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Hong Kong's China national anthem bill aims to legislate 'respect'

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s legislature is moving forward on a controversial bill that would criminalise abuse of China’s national anthem.

A second reading of the bill is being held in the legislature on Wednesday. Protests outside the legislature are expected.

WHAT IS IT?

Hong Kong’s National Anthem Bill if passed into law by the legislature will govern the use and playing of the Chinese national anthem.

This includes provisions that threaten to punish those who insult the anthem with up to three years jail and/or fines of up to HK$50,000 ($6,450). The bill states that “all individuals and organisations” should respect and dignify the national anthem and play it and sing it on “appropriate occasions”. It also orders that primary and secondary school students be taught to sing it, along with its history and etiquette.

WHY IS IT CONTROVERSIAL?

Anti-government protests last year were primarily aimed at resisting further integration with mainland China. The Chinese national anthem has been booed at several events, including football matches.

Protesters and pro-democracy politicians say the bill represents the latest sign of what they see as accelerating interference from Beijing in the freewheeling former British colony.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule in 1997 with guarantees that the city’s core freedoms and way of life would be protected under a “one country, two systems” formula, which Beijing says it respects.

The freedoms of speech, press, association and demonstration are explicitly written into the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that guides Hong Kong’s relationship with its Chinese sovereign – freedoms that opponents of the bill now say are under threat.

More technically, some senior lawyers fear the bill is highly unusual in that it, in part, reflects the ideological aspirations of China’s Communist Party that might prove difficult to enforce.

“It is the first Hong Kong law I’ve seen that looks like it was written in Beijing,” one senior judge told Reuters recently, speaking privately. “It will be a nightmare to rule on.”

The Hong Kong Bar Association acknowledged the need for such laws but said parts of the bill “deviate from the good traditions” of Hong Kong’s common law system.

It said there was a fundamental difference between that system and the “socialist legal system of mainland China which would include political ideology and conceptual guidance”.

WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

For years, Chinese officials and their pro-Beijing allies in Hong Kong have wanted to instill a greater sense of patriotic pride across its freest – and most restive – city.

Hong Kong’s government says its bill reflects the city’s own legal system and situation.

“The main spirit of the … bill is ‘respect’, which bears absolutely no relations to ‘restricting freedom of speech’ as claimed by certain members of the community and definitely not a so-called ‘evil law’,” a spokesman said earlier this year.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Further protests and intense legislative infighting over the bill are widely expected.

The government, under pressure from Beijing, says the bill is now a priority to be passed into law before the end of this four-year legislative session in July.

Having been mired in a log-jam of legislative procedural battles, the bill could face a third reading after Wednesday’s proceedings and possibly a vote early next month.

If it misses the deadline, the government would then have to decide whether to re-introduce the bill in the next session or force it into law by promulgation, seen as a highly unusual and potentially explosive option. Deeper public consultation and a re-draft would be the alternative.

Longer term, if the bill becomes law and is enforced, constitutional challenges can be expected in courts – both into the bill’s content, and the procedural battles through which it passed.

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Dominic Cummings wife: Who is Mary Wakefield? How old is their child?

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aide Dominic Cummings travelled 260 miles from London to his family home in County Durham during lockdown. Police have confirmed they attended a property in Durham after it emerged Mr Cummings, stayed with relatives while he and members of his immediate family, including wife Mary Wakefield, were suffering from coronavirus-related symptoms.

The sightings raise questions about the Government’s commitment to the “stay at home” message it was repeating to the public in the first stage of the lockdown.

No 10 has defended the move saying “it was essential for Mr Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.”

Downing Street added Mr Cummings believed he “behaved reasonably and legally” when travelling from his London home to Country Durham during the lockdown”.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “Owing to his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.

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“His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed.

“His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside. At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported.

“His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally.”

Members of the cabinet have also lined up to defend the Prime Minister’s top aide.

Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, tweeted: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, also wrote on Twitter: “It’s reasonable and fair to ask for an explanation on this. And it has been provided: two parents with coronavirus, were anxiously taking care of their young child. Those now seeking to politicise it should take a long hard look in the mirror.”

Who is Mary Wakefield?

Ms Wakefield is a journalist, columnist and commissioning editor for The Spectator.

She has worked at the weekly magazine The Spectator for decades, since Boris Johnson was editor, and is now commissioning editor, assistant editor from 2001 and deputy editor.

She has also written for The Sun, Daily Mail, The Telegraph and The Times.

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Ms Wakefield has written in The Spectator about her experience when both she and Mr Cummings contracted COVID-19

The Prime Minister’s top aide was so badly affected by coronavirus he “should have been in hospital”, his wife has revealed.

Writing in The Spectator, Ms Wakefield described how she was stricken by the disease first and her “kind” husband had rushed home to look after her.

However, she went on, 24 hours later Mr Cummings said he felt “weird” and collapsed.

She wrote: “Day in, day out for 10 days he lay doggo with a high fever and spasms.

“Just as Dom was beginning to feel better … Boris was heading in the other direction, into hospital.”

Ms Wakefield and Mr Cummings married in 2011.

How old is Dominic Cummings’ child?

Mr Cummings and Ms Wakefield’s son, named Alexander Cedd, was born in 2016.

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Brexit warning: Boris ‘won’t hesitate’ to turn back on trade deal ‘EU doesn’t understand!’

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Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party crushed the opposition in December’s general election to secure a huge 80-seat parliamentary majority, enabling him to force his Brexit deal through the House of Commons, something former Prime Minister Theresa May failed to do on three separate occasions. This saw Mr Johnson deliver on his general election pledge to “get Brexit done” on January 31, with negotiations on a trade deal with the European Union beginning in March. But these talks are already on the verge of collapse, with the two sides trading vicious blows and insults since the conclusion of the latest round of virtual talks last Friday (May 15).

The UK and EU are at odds over several aspects of the future relationship, and have blamed each other’s negotiating stance for the lack of progress being made thus far.

David Frost, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, has warned the EU and his Brussels counterpart Michel Barnier they will have to change their stance on a number of areas by the next round of virtual talks on June 1.

Even before formal trade negotiations began, Mr Johnson threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if sufficient progress had not been made by June.

John Macdonald, Head of Government Affairs at the Adam Institute think tank, warned this scenario is now becoming more of a reality, and had scathing criticism for the EU.

He told Express.co.uk: “While a trade deal is now even more in both the EU and UK’s interests, the EU appears not to understand (despite how often it has been repeated) that unlike Theresa May, Johnson’s strong Parliamentary majority is staked on his commitment to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

“It is likely he will not hesitate to walk away from the table.

“Johnson and his top team have already shown willingness to walk away should their negotiating principles be violated.

“They refused to cave to pressure to amend their Withdrawal Agreement Bill when the Tories had no working majority, choosing the riskier strategy of pursuing a General Election over sacrificing their principles.”

Professor Alex de Ruyter, Director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University, warned the exploding tensions between the UK and EU will likely see trade deal negotiations collapse because “there is no change in sight to the UK Government’s negotiating approach”.

He told this website: “I think that ‘no deal’ is looking increasingly likely.

“For the free-market Brexit ‘ultras’ in the UK negotiating team, any form of continued regulatory alignment with the EU is anathema to them.

“I think they would prefer no deal to what they regard as continued adherence to Brussels rulings.

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“Given that we have until the end of next month to request an extension to the so-called Transition Period of continued Single Market and Customs Union membership, time is running out, and there is no change in sight to the UK Government’s negotiating approach.”

But while Kostas Maronitis, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Leeds Trinity University, conceded Mr Johnson could still turn his back on a trade deal with the EU, he outlined why the Prime Minister would be wrong to do so.

The political expert said: “Walking away would be wrong for two reasons.

“First, it would indicate a failure of statecraft and lack of political vision.

“Second, the world of trade is completely different to the one when the UK voted to leave the EU.

“The breakdown of relations between US and China and the recession caused by the pandemic do not necessarily provide any sense of safety or normality that the UK could rely on.”

Wyn Grant, Political Scientist and Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick, believes the UK is hoping its threats to pull out of trade talks could see Brussels relent in a number of areas, but he warned this strategy is fraught with danger.

He said: “I think that the UK does intend to walk away in the hope that the EU will offer a deal as the deadline approaches.

“They may do, but it would be a bare-bones deal that avoided the worst disruption.”

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‘Wake up, Boris!’ Nigel Farage rings alarm bell over China as Beijing plots ‘power grab’

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China’s ruling Community Party has moved to introduce a controversial national security law in Hong Kong, which will criminalise “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the central government. The law, which looks set to bypass Hong Kong’s lawmakers, would allow Chinese national security to operate in the city “to fulfill relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.” Implementing such a law is seen as a huge blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and has been interpreted as a move to take full control over the territory.

China has moved to introduce the measures in response to last year’s violent protests.

The law would bar “activities of foreign and external forces” interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs.

Critics have said the national security law, which is likely to pass into law in the coming days, will effectively wipe out the “one country, two systems” framework that gives Hong Kong freedoms not seen elsewhere in China.

Protests have already started to erupt in the city, in response, against what they see erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The US has heavily condemned the move by Beijing, with Donald Trump threatening serious consequences if the legislations is passed.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has also weighed in on the debate and urged the UK Government to intervene.

He wrote on Twitter: “Appalling power grab by China over Hong Kong.

“The USA government objects and ours says nothing.

“About time Huawei-supporting Johnson woke up.”

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President Trump has warned Beijing that Washington would react “very strongly” against an attempt to gain more control over Hong Kong.

The White House accused China of reneging its commitment to keep the city semi-autonomous as the new law would effectively limit opposition activity there.

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement: “We urge Beijing to honor its commitments and obligations in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

The declaration was a bilateral treaty signed in 1984 that guarantees a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong until at least 2047.

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Mr Ortagus said those commitments are “key to preserving Hong Kong’s special status in international affairs, and, consistent with US law, the United States’ current treatment of Hong Kong”.

He added: “Any effort to impose national security legislation that does not reflect the will of the people of Hong Kong would be highly destabilizing, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said she was concerned by the move to implement the law.

She wrote on Twitter: “Beijing’s announcement of yet another attempt to bring an end to the “one country, two systems” framework in #HongKong is deeply alarming.

“Attempting to circumvent the HK legislature shows a complete disrespect for the rule of law.”

The UK Government has yet to respond to the move by Beijing.

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UK PM Johnson will not face criminal action over relationship with U.S. businesswoman: Mirror

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not face criminal action following allegations of misconduct over his relationship with U.S tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct launched an investigation last September following a newspaper report that Johnson, when mayor of London, had failed to disclose his personal links to Arcuri, who received thousands of pounds in public business funding and places on official trade trips.

Johnson denied any wrongdoing, saying everything was done with full propriety and that there was no interest to declare.

The IOPC, the British police watchdog, was due to announce its findings later on Thursday but the Mirror, citing unnamed sources, said on its website it was expected to recommend there be no criminal investigation.

The matter was referred to the watchdog because Johnson was head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, a role equivalent to a police commissioner, during his 2008-2016 term as mayor.

The Greater London Authority said it had alerted the IOPC because Innotech, Arcuri’s then company, had received 11,500 pounds ($14,073) from London & Partners, the mayor’s promotional agency, for two events in 2013 and 2014.

She was attended a trade mission to Singapore and Malaysia in 2014 through Playbox, one of her companies, even though an initial application through Innotech had been declined.

Last October, the government’s Internal Audit Agency ruled a decision to award a 100,000 pound grant to a company run by Arcuri was appropriate.

Arcuri gave a number of TV interviews after the allegations came to light, saying she and Johnson had enjoyed a “very special relationship”, having bonded over classical literature, but said he had never shown her any favouritism.

She repeatedly refused to say whether she had had an affair with Johnson but castigated him, saying he had cast her aside like “some gremlin” after the reports surfaced.

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New Zealand PM Ardern's election prospects boosted by latest poll

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s popularity has soared ahead of elections in September as a result of her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, a poll showed on Thursday.

And the 1 NEWS Colmar Brunton Poll showed popularity for Ardern’s Labour rose to 59%, a rise of 18 percentage points, which if repeated in the elections would allow the party to govern on its own rather than in coalition.

The Pacific nation was locked down for more than a month and strict social measures enforced by Ardern’s government, moves which helped prevent the coronavirus spreading.

Ardern has won global praise for her leadership during the pandemic and her stratospheric rise to become New Zealand’s youngest prime minister and third woman to hold the office has been dubbed “Jacinda-mania” by some.

As preferred prime minister, 39-year-old Ardern, whose Labour party is now in a coalition with the Greens and the nationalist New Zealand First party, had 63%, while rival opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges polled just 5%.

Bridges faces a vote at his party’s caucus on Friday on whether he will lead it into the election. The National Party, the biggest party in parliament, slumped by 17 percentage points to 29%, its lowest since 2003.

Ardern’s rating is the highest in the history of the poll, which is the second this week showing her rising star, after a Newshub-Reid Research poll said she had become New Zealand’s most popular prime minister in a century.

Businesses in New Zealand including malls, cinemas, cafes and gyms reopened last week after the rate of new coronavirus cases have slowed dramatically in recent weeks. It has so far infected just over 1,500 people and caused 21 deaths.

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EU scandal: ECJ judges handed taxpayer-funded chauffeur driven cars for private journeys

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Senior members of the European Parliament have challenged the policy that hands the European Court of Justice’s 38 judges and lawyers an official car and driver. MEPs claimed the service was misused to take judges on private trips to their home countries, as shown by data from 2018. In a resolution, the EU Parliament warned of “high reputational and ethical risks” of allowing the limousines to be used for trips outside of Luxembourg.

These trips should be taken “only in exceptional and justified cases”, the paper added.

The Parliament said it “deplores” not being informed of any changes made to the ECJ’s driver service.

Czech MEP Tomas Zdechovsky, who wrote the resolution, said: “Nobody understands whether these chauffeur services can be qualified as work trips or whether they are private trips.

“It’s very problematic, there needs to be full transparency.”

In 2018, there were 13 cases where drives went to a home country to pick up a judge because their travel to Luxembourg had been hit by bad weather or strikes.

The figure was down from 32 cases in 2017 that weren’t deemed to be work-related trips.

Some journeys undertaken by judges included private viewings of art exhibitions or to attend funerals.

An ECJ spokesman said these cases had been “exceptional and justified”.

“Since then, such trips have effectively ceased,” he added.

“The Court is committed to implementing the recommendations and to respond to questions of the Parliament as quickly as possible and confirms both its openness and its determination to enhance constantly the control of all its activities.

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“We are not aware of this absence of response on our side to a question concerning the control system for official cars.”

Officials have since adopted a “more restrictive approach” to their use of official cars because it “felt the necessity to clarify the internal rules”.

The row comes as the ECJ is under intense scrutiny after a scathing judgement by Germany’s top court.

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The country’s Karlsruhe-based constitutional court threw out a decision by EU judges, questioning their authority over domestic decisions.

It questioned the legality of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme and the ECJ’s decision to support the policy.

Observers said Germany’s top court had called into question the primacy of EU over domestic laws as a result.

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Archaeology blow: How destroyed Saudi shrines could have held countless secrets

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The Islamic world and its history has long proven to be an enigma to archaeologists. A largely untapped market, archaeologists have only since the turn of the century been able to explore many Middle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia being one such potential historical goldmine.

Many pieces of ancient history have, however, been considered unsalvageable.

A combination of extremist groups in North Africa and the Middle East destroying remnants of the past, and construction works around Holy Sites, has resulted in thousands of years of history being lost.

As mentioned, Saudi Arabia is of particular concern for archaeologists who specialise in the Islamic world.

For centuries, the Kaaba – the black cube at the centre of Mecca – has been encircled by arched porticos erected three centuries ago by the Ottomans – placed above carved marble columns dating back to the 8th century.

In 2014, these precious pieces of history were reduced to rubble, making way for the Saudi government’s expansion of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

Authorities claimed it was necessary to accommodate the millions who visit Islam’s holiest point – an argument which many concede is entirely plausible.

Yet, activists claimed it to be part of a string of aggressive acts by the government in a bid to erase historical and religious sites across the kingdom.

Tim Insoll is an archaeologist and Al-Qasimi Professor of African and Islamic archaeology at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS).

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In 2014, Prof Insoll spoke on the BBC’s podcast ‘Beyond Belief: Archaeology and Religion’.

On the topic of relics in the Islamic world and their destruction, Prof Insoll revealed the extent to which countless historical secrets and our ability to understand the religion may have been lost.

He said: “I think the issue is to do with the understanding of Islamic practice – that there are different varieties within practice in the overall structure of Islam.

“I think where the destruction has taken place from which we could’ve learned an immense amount is in Saudi Arabia itself.

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“In particular the great sites of Mecca and Medina.

“If work had been possible there then we would have learned a lot.

“Both Saudi and foreign archaeologists have not been able to work in particularly those two sites and more generally in Saudi Arabia until in the last 10 years or so.

“Those two sites are so sensitive in some ways.

“There is for example in Mecca immense rebuilding that is going on that must be destroying the archaeological record.”

Many of the Ottoman and Abbasid columns in Mecca were inscribed with intricate Arabic calligraphy marking the names of the prophet Muhammad’s companions and key moments in his life.

One column believed to have been torn down supposedly marked the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse.

In 2013, the then King Abdullah appeared to show some respect towards the historical sites after he retracted expansion plans of the Al Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina that would have destroyed three of the world’s oldest mosques.

The new king, Salman, seems not to have gifted such care, however, as contraction and expansion continues throughout the metropolis that is Mecca.

Institutions such as the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation in London predict a staggering 98 percent of the Saudi kingdom’s historical and religious sites have been destroyed since 1985.

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