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Queen’s Christmas message focuses on reconciliation and the Ebola epidemic
Monarch highlights Northern Ireland peace process and Scottish referendum, and pays tribute to health workers fighting Ebola
In the year that saw divisions over Scottish independence and the 100th anniversary of the first world war Christmas truce, reconciliation was the theme of the Queen’s traditional Christmas message to the Commonwealth.
She also highlighted the Ebola epidemic, revealing she was deeply touched by the selflessness of medical staff from the UK and other nations volunteering to help combat the outbreaks in countries such as Sierra Leone in west Africa, “often at great personal risk”.
She looked to Northern Ireland and to the trenches of the first world war as examples of divided communities coming together.
There was the briefest of mentions of September’s Scottish independence referendum, which polarised many communities from the Outer Hebrides to the main cities.
Before the vote, she had told a well-wisher outside Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, that voters in Scotland should “think very carefully about the future”, a comment said to have been crafted after consultation between the palace and the government, and interpreted as an indication of the politically neutral monarch’s personal wishes for the UK to stay together.
In her personal Christmas statement, she acknowledged the division the vote had caused, saying: “Of course, reconciliation takes different forms. In Scotland after the referendum many felt great disappointment, while others felt great relief, and bridging these differences will take time.”
Her message was recorded before the Glasgow tragedy that saw six people die and several others injured when a bin lorry careered out of control this week.
Turning to Northern Ireland, the Queen highlighted the peace process as an example of her theme. “The benefits of reconciliation were clear to see when I visited Belfast in June,” she said. Her tour of the set of medieval fantasy epic Game of Thrones may have attracted most of the media attention, but she said: “My visit to the Crumlin Road Gaol will remain vividly in my mind.”
Footage was shown of her walking through the building, now a tourist attraction and conference centre, alongside Stormont first minister, Peter Robinson, and deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, both of whom had spent time in its cells in the 1970s or 80s. “What was once a prison during the Troubles is now a place of hope and fresh purpose; a reminder of what is possible when people reach out to one another,” she said.
The acclaimed Tower of London poppy installation – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, which involved the planting of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the moat, each marking a Commonwealth soldier’s death – had served as a poignant reminder of sacrifice, she said. She and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the installation by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper in October.
“The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London drew millions, and the only possible reaction to walking among them was silence,” she said. “For every poppy, a life; and a reminder of the grief of loved ones left behind.”
“In 1914, many people thought the war would be over by Christmas, but sadly by then the trenches were dug and the future shape of the war in Europe was set,” she said.
“But, as we know, something remarkable did happen that Christmas, exactly a hundred years ago today. Without any instruction or command, the shooting stopped, and German and British soldiers met in no man’s land. Photographs were taken and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce.”Black and white photographs of the forces meeting between the lines over the 1914 Christmas period were shown.
She continued: “Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.”
On a table next to her, alongside photographs of her grandfather George V – the monarch during the first world war – and grandmother Queen Mary, the Queen had on display an embossed brass box. Boxes just like this one were sent to those serving overseas at Christmas, filled with gifts such as tobacco and chocolate, and organised by the Sailors and Soldiers Christmas Fund created by George’s daughter, Princess Mary.
Sport was “a wonderful way of bridging together people and nations”, she said, citing the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Invictus Games organised by her grandson Prince Harry for injured service personnel, and the Olympics where, in the ancient world, “wars and battles were put on hold” for the duration of the games.
She also spoke of her own Christian faith, and how Christ’s example had taught her to “respect and value all people of whatever faith or none”.
As footage was shown of the Royal Marine Band performing the Christmas carol Silent Night, she ended her address with the words: “On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914 many of the German forces sang Silent Night, its haunting melody inching across the line.
“That carol is still much loved today, a legacy of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found. A very happy Christmas to you all.”
Libya militants kill at least 22 soldiers in failed attempt to seize oil terminal
Fighters belonging to the Fajr Libya, or Libya Dawn, reportedly launched attack on al-Sidra port, firing rockets from speedboats
- Agence France-Presse in Benghazi
- The Guardian, Friday 26 December 2014 08.28 GMT
Islamists have killed at least 22 soldiers in a surprise attack using speedboats during a failed offensive to seize some of Libya’s main oil terminals, officials said.
The fighting in the oil-rich region came as pro-government forces lost ground to Islamist militias in the eastern city of Benghazi, where jihadis beheaded six people and killed 14 others, military officials said.
The militiamen belonging to the Fajr Libya, or Libya Dawn, launched the attack on al-Sidra port by firing rockets from speedboats, setting an oil tank on fire, security sources said.
Soldiers damaged three of the vessels before clashes in which the militants were eventually repelled.
“These speedboats had fired several rockets at the terminals of Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra and one of them hit a tank south of al-Sidra port which then caught fire,” said Ali al-Hassi, security spokesman for the region.
Al-Sidra is in the “oil crescent” region that has been the scene of recent fighting between government forces and Fajr Libya.
The latest clashes pushed oil prices higher in Asia on Friday, with US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rising 28 cents to $56.12, while Brent for February gained 13 cents to $60.37.
Witnesses said the attack was launched overnight, and reported seeing smoke from the burning oil tank.
Military and medical sources said 18 soldiers and a Fajr Libya fighter were killed in Sirte, and another four soldiers were killed in al-Sidra.
Most of the dead soldiers belonged to the 136th battalion responsible for monitoring a power plant west of Sirte, the sources said.
Since the clashes erupted on 13 December, the country’s oil production has dropped to nearly 350,000 barrels per day compared with 800,000 previously, according to industry experts.
“The armed forces on Thursday repelled an attack in which the Fajr Libya militia tried to seize the al-Sidra oil terminal,” said Hassi.
A medical source at Ibn Sina hospital in Sirte said earlier that the facility had received 18 bodies from the fighting.
The 136th battalion is affiliated with the military, and most its fighters are from a tribe loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar.
A military official said Haftar’s forces and pro-government troops had lost several positions in Benghazi to Islamist militias in the past 24 hours.
“Islamist gunmen seized large parts of al-Lithi in south-central Benghazi, setting fire to 45 homes of people linked to Haftar and pro-government forces,” the official said.
The official, who declined to be named, said six people were beheaded and 14 others killed in the attacks.
Haftar’s forces have been fighting alongside forces from the internationally recognised government of Abdullah al-Thani to overrun Islamists from Benghazi.
In other violence on Thursday, three Fajr Libya men were killed in a raid in Tripoli, which Islamists seized in the summer after fierce fighting with nationalist forces.
On 16 December, a warplane belonging to Fajr Libya fired missiles at a sector to the west of al-Sidra, in the first such raid in the energy-rich region.
More than three years after dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in a Nato-backed revolt, Libya is still awash with weapons and powerful militias, and has rival parliaments as well as governments.