Drinks at Egypt climate talks now free, jailed activist not

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Drinks are on the house at this year’s UN climate talks and the price of food will be slashed in half, Egypt’s foreign minister said Thursday following complaints from delegates that they were struggling to get food and water during the event.

But on another issue that threatened to overshadow this year’s meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh — the imprisonment of a prominent Egyptian pro-democracy campaigner, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry indicated no shift in position by the government.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Shoukry took a swipe at media outlets he said “had decided that the issue of climate change is not as important as the issue of the provision of food and drink for delegates and for participants.”

He acknowledged there had been “glitches,” blaming them on the large number of participants and traffic delays due to VIP visits during the first days of the meeting.

“We have intervened and today all prices have been slashed by 50%, and water and the soft drinks will be provided for free as a matter of courtesy and at the intervention of the presidency,” Shoukry told The AP.

Asked about the case of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, now receiving medical care after going on hunger strike over his imprisonment, Shoukry made no offer of imminent relief.

“I concentrate on highlighting the importance of the COP (climate talks) and trying to focus the attention of the parties and the international community and the civil society on the existential challenge related to climate change,” he said. “I think it is beneficial for achieving our objectives that we continue to focus on this issue. This is why we are here.”

Numerous foreign leaders including President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have raised the case with Egypt during their visit this week.

Shoukry suggested such concerns could distract from some countries’ failure to live up to their climate commitments.

“Other issues that are not directly pertaining to the climate might detract from the attention and relieve, potentially, and give justification to maybe those who would prefer to concentrate on other issues to avoid having to deal with what they need to do, how they need to implement their obligations and responsibilities.”

“It is up to the parties to put the emphasis on the issues that are most important to them,” he said.

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