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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 5 February 2019: His Holiness Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City, has delivered an historic Papal Mass to 180,000 Catholics in the United Arab Emirates that was televised around the world.

 

The scale of the event, which took place at Zayed Sports Stadium in Abu Dhabi, is unprecedented for an event of this kind in the Arabian Peninsula and saw tens of thousands come from every corner of the UAE and overseas to participate.

 

The event saw 1500 paramedics, police and security staff on duty to ensure the safety and security of the Catholics attending the Mass. 

 

There were 100 Emiratis on duty managing gate security for the thousands who flocked to the event – the majority of whom traveled on the 2000 buses organised by the UAE Government in association with the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia (AVOSA), the territorial jurisdiction of the Catholic Church covering the UAE, Oman and Yemen.

 

It captured world media attention with 250 international journalists among the 600 media who covered the Papal Mass and broadcast the event live around the world.

 

His Holiness arrived on his Popemobile to greet the excited crowds both inside and outside the Zayed Stadium where he conducted the 90-minute Mass.

 

Guests included the UAE Minister of Tolerance H.E. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan

and H.E. Noura Al Kaabi, Minister for Culture and Knowledge Development among other

senior Government officials.

 

During his homily on a specially constructed stage within the stadium, Pope Francis thanked the UAE’s leadership and people saying “I would like to thank the children of Zayed in the land of Zayed” which received a rapturous welcome from the diverse multinational audience.

 

Reflecting what was one of the most diverse gathering of nationalities for a Papal Mass outside of Rome – elements of the 90-minute service were conducted in Italian, English, Arabic, Tagalog, Hindi and Korean.

 

The Mass was attended by nearly 20 per cent of the estimated one million Catholics living and working in the UAE.

 

Coming just days after the final of the Asian Cup, organisers worked day and night to transform the stadium and surroundings into the largest outdoor place of Christian worship ever seen in the Arabian Peninsula.

 

*Source: AETOSWire

  • Document On Human Fraternity Signed in UAE
  • Agreement To Help Bring an End to Conflicts and Fight Extremism

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, 4 February 2019: His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Dr. Ahmed At-Tayyeb have signed the historic Abu Dhabi Declaration – a document on Human Fraternity in the United Arab Emirates.

The “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” seeks to encourage stronger relationships between people to promote coexistence among peoples and to confront extremism and its negative impacts.

The signing ceremony was in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and attended by more than 400 religious leaders.

During the ceremony His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum also presented the first “Human Fraternity Award – From Dar Zayed” that was jointly given to Pope Francis and the Grand Imam.

The award was given to Dr. Ahmed at-Tayyeb in recognition of his firm position in defence of moderation, tolerance, global values and his vehement rejection of radical extremism.

Pope Francis meanwhile is well known as an advocate for tolerance and the laying aside of differences and for his determined call for the pursuit of peace and fraternity among humanity, and the award recognises this continued commitment and approach.

In a speech before signing the Abu Dhabi Declaration, Pope Francis said "hatred and violence" in the name of God cannot be justified, praising the value of education in reducing conflict.

Meanwhile Dr. Ahmed At-Tayyeb, who is one of the world’s foremost Muslim leaders, called on Muslims to protect Christian communities in the Middle East and for Muslims in the West to integrate into their communities.

"You are part of this nation... You are not minorities," he said during his speech at the ceremony.

The ceremony was part of the broader Human Fraternity Meeting that has witnessed the first ever Papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula and hosted by the UAE Government.

*Source: AETOSWire

Joram van Klaveren, a Dutch former far-right MP and right-hand man of anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders, set tongues wagging in the Netherlands on Tuesday after revealing he has converted to Islam.

For years Van Klaveren fought a relentless campaign in the Lower House against Islam in the Netherlands as a lawmaker for Wilders' party.

At the time, the “hardliner pleaded for banning the burqa and minarets, saying 'we don't want any Islam, or at least as little as possible in the Netherlands',” the daily tabloid Algemeen Dagblad (AD) said.

But the 40-year-old Van Klaveren said he had changed his mind halfway through writing an anti-Islam book.

The work “became a refutation of objections non-Muslims have” against the religion, he told the respected NRC daily on Tuesday.

“If everything I wrote up to that point is true, and I believe that, then I am a de facto Muslim,” he told the NRC.

Van Klaveren converted to Islam on October 26 last year, the NRCadded in the interview piece ahead of the release of Van Klaveren's book titled: “Apostate: From Christianity to Islam in the Time of Secular Terror.”

The former politician who grew up in a Protestant Christian environment said of his conversion that he “has been searching for a long time.”

“It feels a bit like a religious homecoming for me,” he told Dutch newspapers.

Van Klaveren could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

'No words'

I have no words,” Wilders told RTL television news.

“It's up to him of course. But it's good that he left the PVV five years ago, otherwise it would have been time for him to go now.

“I expect a lot but I didn't see this coming.”

Van Klaveren split with Wilders in 2014 after the PVV leader's controversial comments that year when asking supporters whether they wanted “fewer or more Moroccans in your city and the Netherlands”.

Wilders in 2016 was found guilty on discrimination charges. The sentence is currently being appealed.

Van Klaveren went on to form his own far-right party called “For Netherlands” (VNL) but left politics after failing to win a single seat in the 2017 elections.

“If this really isn't a PR stunt to promote his book, then it really is an extraordinary choice for somebody who had a lot to say about Islam,” his former VNL co-founder Jan Roos told the AD.

“But we have religious freedom in the Netherlands. He can worship whomever he wants,” Roos added.

Said Bouharrou, who serves on the Board of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, praised Van Klaveren.

“It is great when somebody who has been so critical of Islam... realises that it is not so bad or perverse,” he told the AD.

“It is brave that he's prepared to do it in public,” Bouharrou said.

Around five per cent of the Dutch population of 17 million people, or some 850,000, are Muslim, according to the Dutch Central Statistics Bureau (CBS).

Despite Wilders' objections, the religion is growing, with experts expecting that number to double by 2050.

The Netherlands also last year introduced a partial burqa ban in some public places such as schools and hospitals, ending years of discussions on the hot-button issue.

Van Klaveren is not the first high-profile PVV member to convert to Islam.

He follows in the footsteps of Arnoud van Doorn, a former Hague-based PVV city councillor who switched in 2013.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018 filer, the Sea-Watch rescue ship waits off the coast of Malta. A migration official says survivors have told rescuers that up to 117 migrants might have died when a rubber dinghy capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya. Flavio Di Giacomo of International Organization for Migration says three survivors were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 and they say 120 were aboard when the dinghy left Libya AP

ROME, Jan 20, (AP): Three survivors of a rubber dinghy that sank in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya say up to 117 other migrants were aboard at the time, a UN migration official said Saturday.

 

It appeared to be the latest tragedy on the dangerous central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe. Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Italian state TV that “unfortunately about 120” migrants were reported by survivors to have been on the overloaded smugglers’ dinghy when it was launched from Libyan shores on Thursday evening. “After a few hours, it began sinking and people began drowning,” Di Giacomo said.

It appeared to be the latest tragedy on the dangerous central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Europe. Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Italian state TV that “unfortunately about 120” migrants were reported by survivors to have been on the overloaded smugglers’ dinghy when it was launched from Libyan shores on Thursday evening. “After a few hours, it began sinking and people began drowning,” Di Giacomo said.

Among the missing are 10 women and two children, including a twomonth- old baby, he said. Survivors indicated their fellow migrants came from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Sudan, Di Giacomo said. Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who has urged that the government show more compassion for migrants, expressed his “deep sorrow for the tragedy that has taken place in the Mediterranean.” Premier Giuseppe Conte told reporters he was “shocked” at the reports of the sinking and vowed that Italy would continue to combat human traffickers.

Italy’s populist government has banned private rescue boats from bringing migrants to Italian shores. Together with Malta, Italy has also launched probes of the rescue groups themselves, claiming their operations might facilitate trafficking.

The three survivors of the sinking were plucked to safety by an Italian navy helicopter on Friday afternoon, the navy said. The Italian navy said when its patrol plane first spotted the sinking dinghy it had about 20 persons aboard.

The plane’s crew launched two life rafts near the dinghy, which inflated, and a navy destroyer 100 nautical (200 kilometers) away sent a helicopter to the scene. That helicopter rescued the survivors, two from a life raft and one from the water, the navy said, adding that all had hypothermia.

They were flown to Lampedusa, an Italian island near Sicily, and treated in a hospital, Di Giacomo said. Many migrants cannot afford to pay for life vests, an extra cost when boarding a smuggler’s boat in Libya.

The survivors said the migrants aboard the dinghy didn’t have any. It wasn’t immediately clear exactly how many migrants might have died before the navy plane spotted the sinking dinghy.

The Italian Coast Guard says Libya asked a nearby cargo ship to search for survivors but the ship reported it found no one. Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Gassim said one of its boats was sent Friday to the scene but it “had a mechanical issue and we had to call it back.” The official said 50 migrants were believed to have been aboard the dinghy when it set sail.

According to the IOM, at least 2,297 people died at sea or went missing trying to reach Europe in 2018. In all, 116,959 migrants reached Europe by sea routes last year, it says. The UN refugee agency UNHCR, said Saturday it was “appalled” at the news of the latest migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. In a statement from its Geneva headquarters, it said in addition to those missing off Libya, 53 people died in recent days in the western Mediterranean, where one survivor was rescued by a fishing boat after being stranded for more than 24 hours at sea.

It was a Saudi wedding like any other — clutching a decorative sword, the groom bobbed and swayed in a traditional dance. But there was one striking difference — a tiny guest list.

Weddings in the oil-rich kingdom are typically lavish affairs, with a bulging guest list which is seen both as a social obligation and a symbol of affluence.

Such expectations are often a source of economic strain for grooms, who foot most of the bill which includes renting out exorbitantly-priced marriage halls where nuptial celebrations are usually held.

But millennials like Basil Albani are increasingly hosting weddings at home, defying family traditions and social pressure and making huge savings instead.

Fewer than two dozen close relatives and friends were invited to the 26-year-old insurance executive's recent wedding feast comprising kabsa — a traditional rice and meat dish — at his ancestral home in western Jeddah city.

It was a microscopic figure by Saudi standards.

"People go all crazy with weddings, inviting hundreds of guests and spending millions in one night to get the best singers, best bands, best thobes," said Maan Albani, the 21-year-old brother of the groom, dressed in a gold-trimmed cloak.

"We wanted to do something different with a smaller celebration at home, which can also be fun."

Arab world's biggest market

Although prevalent for years, home weddings symbolise a war on excess by the country's youth as much as they are a barometer of the lagging economy.

They appear to be gaining popularity in the petro-state in a new age of austerity amid low crude prices.

Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest concentrations of super rich households.

But with cuts to cradle-to-grave subsidies and a new value-added tax amid soaring youth unemployment, Saudi households are seeing stagnating disposable incomes and what experts call a lifestyle downgrade.

The change in fortunes in the once tax-free kingdom facing a youth bulge is a stress point that poses a challenge for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto leader.

And there are signs of an impact on the Saudi wedding market.

Annual spending on marriages in the kingdom exceeds two billion riyals ($533 million, 466 million euros), the highest in the Arab world, organisers of the Saudi international wedding fair said last year.

Statistics on frugal home marriages are hard to come by, but two wedding planners with a large Saudi clientele told AFP that average spending on marriages had dropped by 25 per cent over the past year, with many trimming back the pomp and pageantry.

A retailer of wedding invitation cards in Riyadh said business fell by 70 per cent over the period, as many customers demand rich designs at cheaper prices.

Family feud

"Weddings should not start with a bank loan," said Murtada al-Abawi, a 29-year-old Uber driver.

It typically costs 80,000 riyals ($21,300, 18,600 euros) to rent a wedding hall and pay for the dowry and bridal accoutrements — including gold and makeup — a price Abawi was unwilling to pay.

He created a family storm when he suggested a small soiree in the local community centre for his own wedding in 2016.

A physical altercation broke out with his elder brother, who branded the idea shameful because "people will call us poor".

His parents and those of the would-be bride were equally furious but, ultimately, they all caved when Abawi cannily resorted to emotional blackmail.

He threatened to remain unmarried and flee to neighbouring Bahrain, a relatively liberal archipelago that many conservative Saudis view as a seedy offshore Las Vegas.

Abawi put his foot down: no dowry, no gold, no post-wedding party.

For the main wedding party, he used another ploy — he invited all his friends and relatives so as not to offend anyone, but hosted the late-evening celebration on a busy weeknight, forcing families with school-age children to voluntarily opt out.

The wedding, ultimately, cost only 9,000 riyals ($2,400, 2,100 euros).

The experience led Abawi to start an "affordable marriage" self-help group in his native eastern city of Al Ahsa, which counsels young men on tackling the social pressure to overspend.

Cultural minefield

Not everyone is cutting wedding expenditure, however, with many Saudis still splurging on designer prom dresses for the bride and belly dancers from Egypt for the entertainment.

Many still succumb to the pressure — or choose to get hitched overseas to circumvent the cultural minefield that hosting a small wedding can become.

In a 2017 newspaper column titled "Expensive weddings, a waste of money", writer Abdul Ghani al-Gash chided the kingdom's religious scholars for failing to educate the masses that weddings were not an occasion to show off.

Weddings, typically segregated by gender, are also known for wasting colossal amounts of food. Mountains of food, which culturally reflect generosity and class, often end up in the trash can.

The pressure to keep up appearances amid rising costs and unemployment is prompting many young men to delay marriage up to the age of 40, the Saudi Gazette newspaper reported in September.

But even Saudis who can afford to splurge are discovering an aesthetic value in simplicity and cutting back waste.

"My wife looks back at our wedding and says 'why did we even spend 9,000 riyals?'" said Abawi.

"We could have travelled with that money."

BANGKOK: This handout picture shows 18-year-old Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun being escorted by a Thai immigration officer and a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official at Suvarnabhumi international airport yesterday. — AFP

BANGKOK: The Saudi woman who made a desperate plea for asylum after landing at Bangkok airport has been placed “under the care” of the United Nations refugee agency, a Thai official said late yesterday. Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun told AFP she ran away from her family while travelling in Kuwait because they subjected her to physical and psychological abuse. The 18-year-old said she had planned to seek asylum in Australia and feared she would be killed if repatriated by Thai immigration officials who stopped her during transit on Sunday.

Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn had said Sunday that Qunun was denied entry because of her lack of documents. But he made an abrupt about-face the next day, following a global media frenzy as the young woman pleaded on Twitter for different countries to help her. After announcing that Thailand “will not force her” to leave, Surachate told reporters late yesterday that Qunun would be “allowed to stay” after a meeting with officials from the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

“She is under the care of the UNHCR now but we also sent Thai security to help take care (of her),” Surachate told reporters at Suvarnabhumi airport. He said Qunun had told UNHCR officials she “wants to stay in Thailand for a while seeking asylum to a third country”. The agency “will take five days to consider her status” and another five days to arrange for travel, Surachate said, adding that he would meet with Saudi diplomats today to explain Thailand’s decision.

Following the announcement, a relieved Qunun tweeted that she felt safe “under UNHCR protection with the agreement of Thailand authorities”, adding that her passport had been returned to her after being taken away on Sunday. UNHCR’s spokesman in Geneva Babar Baloch confirmed Qunun had “left the airport to a safe place in the city” and said agency officials would interview her once she had had some rest.

Surachate had told reporters earlier yesterday Qunun was stopped by immigration because Saudi officials had contacted them to say she had fled her family. “Thailand is a land of smiles. We will not send anyone to die,” he said. “We will take care of her as best as we can.” Qunun had earlier posted a video on Twitter of her barricading her hotel room door with furniture in a bid to stop her deportation from Thailand.

She said Saudi and Kuwaiti officials had taken her passport from her when she landed – a claim backed by Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Abdulilah Al-Shouaibi, charge d’affaires at the Saudi embassy in Bangkok, told Saudi-owned TV channel Khalijia that the woman’s father – a senior regional government official – had contacted the diplomatic mission for “help” bringing her back. But he denied that her passport had been seized and that embassy officials were present inside the airport. A Twitter statement from the Saudi embassy in Bangkok said Qunun was stopped by Thai authorities for “violating the law”.

The ultraconservative Saudi kingdom has long been criticized for imposing some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women. That includes a guardianship system that allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives. In addition to facing punishment for “moral” crimes, women can also become the target of “honor killings” at the hands of their families, activists say.

If sent back, Qunun told AFP she would likely be imprisoned and was “sure 100 percent” her family would kill her. “My family is strict and locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said. She told Reuters via text and audio messages she had fled Kuwait during a family visit there, and had planned to travel to Australia to seek asylum. She said she was held after leaving her plane in Bangkok and told she would be sent back to Kuwait. “They will kill me,” Qunun told Reuters. “My life is in danger. My family threatens to kill me for the most trivial things.”
Qunun said her family was powerful in Saudi society but she did not identify them. Asked why she was seeking refuge in Australia, she told Reuters: “Physical, emotional and verbal abuse and being imprisoned inside the house for months. They threaten to kill me and prevent me from continuing my education. They won’t let me drive or travel. I am oppressed. I love life and work and I am very ambitious but my family is preventing me from living.”

Qunun said she had obtained an Australian visa and booked a flight. She said she had planned to spend a few days in Thailand so she would not spark suspicion when she left Kuwait. Surachate, however, said that Qunun did not have a visa for Australia. The Australian Embassy said it had no immediate comment.

HRW’s Robertson said Qunun “faces grave harm if she is forced back to Saudi Arabia”. “Given Saudi Arabia’s long track record of looking the other way in so-called honor violence incidents, her worry that she could be killed if returned cannot be ignored,” he said. “She has clearly stated that she has renounced Islam which also puts her at serious risk of prosecution by the Saudi Arabian government.”

An Australian government spokesman said the claims made by Qunun “that she may be harmed if returned to Saudi Arabia are deeply concerning” and they are monitoring the case “closely”. Australian embassy representatives in Bangkok have reached out to Thai authorities and the UNHCR to “seek assurances” that she will be able to access the “refugee status determination process”. The UNHCR said that according to the principle of non-refoulement, asylum seekers cannot be returned to their country of origin if their life is under threat. – Agencies

WASHINGTON: The United States does not want to be the “Policeman” of the Middle East, US President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday, as he defended his controversial decision to pull US forces out of Syria. “Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight….,” he tweeted.

Trump added: “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the US leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!” The US president faced intense opposition to his abrupt announcement Wednesday that Islamic State had been defeated in the region, and that he was ordering the 2,000 US troops in Syria to exit the country.

US allies were stunned after President Donald Trump declared victory over the Islamic State group in Syria and abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US ground troops from the country. The decision runs counter to long-established US policy for Syria and the region. It blindsided lawmakers, the Pentagon and international allies alike. Britain and France warned on Thursday that the fight against jihadists in Syria was not finished.

‘We won against ISIS’ 
Trump earlier said: “We’ve won against ISIS,” in a short video posted on Twitter. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” A withdrawal could have major geopolitical ramifications, and plunges into uncertainty the fate of US-backed Kurdish fighters who have been tackling Islamic State jihadists, thousands of whom are thought to remain in Syria.
A US official told AFP that Trump’s decision was finalized Tuesday. “Full withdrawal, all means all,” the official said when asked if the troops would be pulled from across Syria. Currently, about 2,000 US forces are in the country, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS. Pentagon officials scrambled for a reaction. A spokeswoman eventually said the Defense Department had “started the process” of bringing troops home.

Lawmakers assailed Trump’s decision, saying it could embolden Ankara to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the president’s decision was unwise and put the Kurds “at risk.” Democratic Senator Jack Reed said it amounted to a “betrayal” of the Kurds that “provides further evidence of President Trump’s inability to lead on the world stage.” Blasting the move as a “huge Obama-like mistake,” Graham said “I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region and throughout the world.”

Most US troops are stationed in northern Syria, though a small contingent is based at a garrison in Al-Tanaf, near the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Trump has previously voiced skepticism about the US presence in Syria, saying in March he wanted to bring troops home “soon.” But military advisors and international allies warned Trump against a precipitous pullout, and he later acquiesced to an indefinite Syria mission.

The US official would not provide a withdrawal timeline, saying only it would come “as quickly as possible.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the US-led coalition that includes dozens of nations would continue fighting the jihadists. “These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said in a statement.

The Pentagon refused to say what effect the troop withdrawal would have on air operations in Syria that have been ongoing since late 2014. A senior administration official said Trump’s decision was consistent with comments he has made for years. “The notion that anyone within the administration was caught unaware, I would challenge that,” the official said. – AFP

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