World Briefs: Qatar-Saudi Arabia air travel resumes

A Qatar Airways service to Riyadh will be the first commercial flight between Qatar and Saudi in three and a half years.
A Qatar Airways service to Riyadh will be the first commercial flight between Qatar and Saudi in three and a half years.PHOTO: REUTERS

Qatar-Saudi Arabia air travel resumes

DOHA • Air travel between Qatar and Saudi Arabia resumed yesterday, according to the countries' airlines, a major milestone as Doha's former rivals normalise ties under a landmark agreement.

Saudi Arabia and its allies - the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt - in June 2017 slapped a blockade on Qatar over claims that it backed Islamist groups and was too close to Iran.

The blockade included closing airspace to the country.

Qatar has always denied the charges.

The four countries agreed to lift the restrictions at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit last week.

The New York Times had reported that Qatar has been paying in excess of US$100 million (S$133 million) annually to use Iran's airspace to bypass Saudi Arabia.


Pope allows women more church roles

VATICAN CITY • Pope Francis, in another step towards greater equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church, yesterday changed its law to allow them to serve as readers at liturgies, altar servers and distributors of communion.

In a decree, the Pope formalised what has already been happening in many countries for years.

But, with the change in the Code of Canon Law, conservative bishops will not be able to block women in their diocese from those roles.

The Vatican stressed, however, that the roles were "essentially distinct from the ordained ministry", and were not an automatic precursor to women one day being allowed to be ordained priests.

In the decree, called Spiritus Domini, or The Spirit Of The Lord, Pope Francis said he had acted after theological reflection.

In an accompanying letter, the Pope said he wanted to bring "stability, public recognition" to women already serving in the roles.


4 Thai democracy activists charged

BANGKOK • The Thai authorities yesterday charged four democracy activists with royal defamation, with the protest movement rocking the kingdom put on hold because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

A total of 41 people have now been charged with insulting the monarchy, in a major uptick in Thailand's use of its strict lese majeste laws since the youth-led protest movement began in July last year.

The charges can carry a 15-year jail sentence, but the threat of prosecution has not deterred protesters from demanding reform to the monarchy and greater scrutiny of its finances.

Police questioned the four yesterday and released them, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Three, including a 17-year-old, were charged over a protest in Wongwienyai, across the river from Bangkok, early last month.

In a separate case, a student was charged over allegedly printing the pro-democracy movement's 10 demands as well as transcripts of speeches by protest leaders at an August rally.

All four have pleaded not guilty.

Protests demanding political reform and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha were halted over the Christmas-New Year period and are likely to remain on hold while Thailand grapples with a surge in Covid-19 cases.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'World Briefs'. Print Edition | Subscribe