MAKKAH, Saudi Arabia, Aug 18, (Agencies): Hisham Mostafa briefly forgot the war in Syria and his financial worries as he looked upon Islam’s holiest sites for the first time, standing among hundreds of thousands of white-clad Muslims gathered in Makkah ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage.
“This is the first time I see the Grand Mosque and the Ka’aba. It is the best feeling of my life to be able to perform the Hajj,” said Mostafa, 50, as he looked at the cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims turn in prayer five times a day.
The accountant traveled to Saudi Arabia from Turkey where he has lived for five years since fleeing Aleppo in Syria. “War destroys everything … Life in Turkey is hard and I barely earn enough.” But he was able to join about 2 million Muslims, including 1.68 million from abroad, flooding Makkah’s narrow streets for the annual rite which starts on Sunday. Nayef Ahmed, 37, told Reuters that in order to afford the Hajj he had to sell a plot of land in Yemen, which is embroiled in a three-year proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“Because of the war the prices are very high. But being here I feel comfort and peace and I pray to God for the war to end.” Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites and organising a peaceful Hajj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
The interior ministry has put in place measures to confront any security threat from militant attacks to political protests, but no specific threats have been detected, a spokesman said. “We will prevent any actions that are not part of the HaJj ritual and any act that may impact the safety of pilgrims or their ability to perform the rite,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told Reuters. Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system. “I came for umrah (minor pilgrimage) in 2007 and today after 10 years of registering and waiting, I am here,” said Najwa, 59, from Tunisia. “I cannot describe the feeling. I cry every day.”
The Hajj itinerary retraces the route Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) took 14 centuries ago. Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of millions at the same place at the same time. This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds.
“There is a comprehensive electronic agenda for every pilgrim and we have provided many apps that offer guidance,” Minister of Haj and Umrah Mohammed Bintin told Reuters. “We have a fleet of more than 18,000 buses, all of them linked to a control system that tracks their path.” He said a high speed railway be tween Makkah and Madinah had been completed and was being now being tested.
Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil. The haj and yearround umrah generate billions of dollars in revenues from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts. Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and Hajj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.
The pilgrimage represents one of the five pillars of Islam and is required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life. In recent weeks, the faithful have arrived in Makkah from across the world, all chanting “Labayk Allahuma Labayk,” or “Here I am, God, answering your call. Here I am.” The Hajj offers pilgrims an opportunity to feel closer to God amid the Muslim world’s many challenges, including the threat of extremists in the Mideast after the Islamic State group was beaten back in Iraq and Syria and the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority. “My feeling is indescribable to perform the hajj,” said Imad Abdel- Raheem, an Egyptian pilgrim. “I also want to pray for all Muslim countries, for them to live free in all places, in Palestine and in Burma, in all places, in Afghanistan and in India.” Maj Gen Mansour al-Turki, the spokesman of the Saudi Interior Ministry, told journalists Saturday that over 2 million Muslims from abroad and inside the kingdom would be taking part in this year’s Hajj.
Men attending the Hajj dress in only terrycloth, seamless white garments meant to represent unity among Muslims and equality before God. Women wear loose clothing, cover their hair and forgo makeup and nail polish to achieve a state of humility and spiritual purity. Since arriving, many have circled the cube-shaped Ka’aba in Makkah – Islam’s holiest site.
The Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God in Islam. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during their five daily prayers. Muslims believe the Hajj retraces the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as well as those of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail – Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible. After prayers in Makkah, pilgrims will head to an area called Mount Arafat on Monday, where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) delivered his final sermon.
From there, pilgrims will head to an area called Muzdalifa, picking up pebbles along the way for a symbolic stoning of the devil and a casting away of sins that takes place in the Mina valley for three days.
BASRA, Iraq, July 16, (Agencies): Protests in Iraq continued into their second week Monday following days of clashes that left eight people dead, with demonstrators rallying to put social problems in the spotlight. Months after Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group, attention has turned from the military battle to the fight for jobs and public services.
Thousands of people rallied in fresh protests Monday in the eastern province of Diyala and the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to AFP correspondents. Kuwait’s Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and National Guard held a coordination meeting on Monday in the Operations and Plans Authority to discuss joint cooperation to address the regional conditions.
The Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Moral Guidance and Public Relations said in a statement that the joint meeting depicted the joint and ongoing cooperation between the security and military establishments for the service of the homeland security and the citizens.
The meeting was attended by Chief of the General Staff of the Kuwaiti Army Lieutenant-General Mohammad Khaled Al-Khodr, Ministry of Interior’s Acting Undersecretary Lieutenant General Essam Al-Nahham and head of operation and plans at the National Guard Maj Gen Faleh Shujaa, the statement added.
The ranking security and military officers briefed the meeting on the latest precautionary measures and steps taken to tackle the latest regional developments. They examined common plans, missions and joint training programs as well as coordination mechanisms, it said.
Taking part in the coordinative meeting were Deputy Chief of Staff General Sheikh Abdullah Al-Nawaf Al-Sabah, Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations and Planning Brigadier General Mohammed Al-Kanderi, MoI’s Assistant Undersecretary for Operations Major- General Jamal Al-Sayegh a number of high-ranking military officials.
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Iraq Salem Al-Zamanan has affirmed that the embassy continues to exert efforts to ensure the safe return of Kuwaitis to their homeland, stressing that all Kuwaitis in Iraq are in good condition and the embassy contacts them regularly, reports Al-Anba daily.
Speaking to the daily, Al-Zamanan disclosed six Kuwaitis have already left for Kuwait, indicating the embassy is now in the process of securing tickets for 21 other Kuwaitis. On the other hand, an Iraqi official told Al-Rai daily that Safwan border recently catered to several Kuwaitis and expatriates residing in Kuwait, revealing a number of travelers from Kuwait went to Basra while several others have retuned from Karbla to Kuwait.
He added the protests are still ongoing but there is no reason to worry, confirming the oil production was not affected by demonstrations in areas near an oilfield in Basra and governmental institutions in the province are operating as usual.
On Al-Najaf airport, the source clarified the airport is open but some airlines have announced cancellation of flights; asserting the airport is ready for ordinary flights. Iraqis already made their dissatisfaction with their leaders known through massive abstentions in May’s national elections, and now citizens are taking to the streets to demand they see benefits from the country’s vast oil reserves. “These oil fields belong to us, yet we get nothing,” said Hussein Ghazi, a 34-year-old protester in the port city of Basra.
The oil sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, but only one percent of jobs, as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.
Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high, in a country where 60 percent of the population is aged under 24. For the demonstrators, who have taken their campaign to the headquarters of political parties across the southern provinces, setting some on fire and ripping down political posters, corruption is central to their plight.
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the country’s new leaders and public servants reaped the benefits of public funds and natural resources, leaving citizens with only basic infrastructure, according to protesters. “We hear a lot of grand words, but we don’t see anything coming,” said Basra demonstrator Aqil Kazem, an unemployed 27-year-old.
Chronic electricity cuts continue to leave Iraqis without respite from summer temperatures, which during the protests have reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit).
Iraqis have also suffered from water shortages this year from drought and dams built by neighbouring countries. Since the daily protests began on July 8 in Basra, eight people have been killed in various cities, according to the health ministry.
The ministry did not however give details on the circumstances of the deaths, but according to different sources at least one person was shot dead by security forces in Basra.
That death, as youths demonstrated in Basra demanding jobs and against electricity cuts, fuelled the protest movement and it spread to provinces across the south: Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Muthana and Najaf. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew into the city on Friday in an effort to restore calm, a day later announcing investment worth $3 billion (2.6 billion euros) for Basra province.
He also pledged additional spending on housing, schools and services in the oil-rich but neglected region. As demonstrations continued, Abadi on Sunday met with security and intelligence chiefs in Baghdad and warned them to be on alert “because terrorists want to exploit any event or dispute”.
The prime minister also ordered security services not to use live fire against unarmed civilians. On Saturday the internet was cut across the country, as demonstrations threatened to spread.
Authorities said the shutdown was owing to maintenance work and Iraq was back online Monday. Despite the internet blackout, hundreds of protesters in Baghdad closed a highway on Sunday as they chanted slogans such as: “The people want to overthrow the regime”.
The demonstrators have won the backing of Iraq’s top Shiite authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has also called on them to refrain from violence. The latest rallies follow a 2015 protest movement against corruption and the absence of public services, led mainly by nationalist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr who won this year’s elections on an anti-graft ticket
Paris, May 13, 2018 (AFP) – A knifeman who killed one person and wounded four others in a suspected terror attack in central Paris was born in Chechnya in 1997, a judicial source said on Sunday.
The parents of the attacker, who witnesses said shouted “Allahu akbar” during the assault on Saturday night before being shot dead by police, have been taken into custody, the source added.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) – Officials in Pakistan say violent rainstorms in the northwest have caused at least 15 deaths and injured dozens.
Latif Khan, a senior disaster management official, says Sunday that most of the deaths from the severe weather overnight were caused by the collapse of mud and stone walls and houses. He says the heavy rains also caused flash flooding in some places.
Another official, Inayatur Rehman, said the roof of a seminary collapsed in the Bajur tribal region, killing six children and injuring nine.
In the cities of Nowshera and Peshawar, motorists were killed and wounded by falling billboards and downed electrical cables
Khan says rescue and relief operations are ongoing, meaning the toll could rise.
UNITED NATIONS, US, May 5, (AFP): The United States failed Friday to win United Nations Security Council backing for a statement rejecting as “unacceptable” remarks by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas about Jews that included “vile anti-Semitic slurs.” Kuwait, a non-permanent council member that represents the Arab Group of countries, objected to the draft statement, arguing that Abbas had already apologized and that it was onesided, diplomats said.
The proposed statement expressed the council’s “serious concern” about Abbas’ remarks, which “included vile anti-Semitic slurs and baseless conspiracy theories, and do not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or peace in the Middle East.” It called on him to “refrain from anti-Semitic comments.” Security Council statements are adopted by consensus of all 15 members.
The Palestinian leader triggered global outrage after he suggested that hostility toward Jews in Europe was not linked to religious intolerance, but stemmed from their “social function related to banks and interests.”
Abbas made the remarks at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council on Monday, but on Friday he offered an apology and said he condemned the Holocaust “as the most heinous crime in history.” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman immediately rejected the apology and said Abbas was a “pathetic Holocaust denier.”
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the council’s failure to agree on the statement “only further undermines the UN’s credibility in addressing” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Disgusting anti-Semitic statements from the Palestinian leadership obviously undermine the prospects for Middle East peace,” she said. The United States has twice blocked draft statements at the council expressing concern about the violence in Gaza, in which nearly 50 people have been killed by Israeli forces. The United States is pushing ahead with plans to open its embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, a move that could further stoke violence.
New Delhi, May 6, 2018 (AFP) – Indian police said Sunday they have arrested the main suspect in the gang rape and gruesome murder of a teenage girl, in the latest of several high-profile sexual assault cases in the country.
The local village chief has also been detained while the 16-year-old victim’s family have been given special police protection.
Dhanu Bhuiyan was found at a relative’s house where he was hiding after he and accomplices allegedly burned the girl alive Friday in a remote district of the eastern state of Jharkhand.
Police said Bhuiyan became enraged after the local village council ordered him to do 100 sit-ups and pay a 50,000 rupee ($750) fine for the victim’s gang rape. Bhuiyan and his accomplices allegedly attacked the girl’s parents before setting their house on fire with the girl inside.
“The main suspect has been arrested from a relative’s place where he was hiding. We have also set up a medical board which will conduct the (victim’s) post-mortem,” police inspector general Shambhu Thakur told AFP.
“We are on the case and we promise the family that the guilty won’t be spared.”
Thakur said the village head has also been arrested since he “announced a punishment that led to the murder”.
Village councils of local elders often settle disputes in rural India, bypassing a lengthy and expensive judicial system. Although they carry no legal weight, they exert massive influence over village communities.
So far 15 people have been arrested in the case, Thakur said, adding that the accused and the victim seemed to know each other.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das has called for stringent punishment and announced compensation of 100,000 rupees ($1,500) for the victim’s family.
He has condemned the killing as “barbaric”.
Indian authorities have faced renewed pressure to act in the wake of several horrific sexual assault cases, including the recent gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl by a group of Hindus.
Amid mounting outrage, the government has changed the law to allow execution for child rapists.
India previously tightened the law following the 2012 rape and murder of a student on a bus in New Delhi, a crime that triggered mass protests.
Some 40,000 rape cases were reported in 2016, with many more believed to go unreported because of stigma attached to sex crimes in deeply patriarchal India.
Sinha quits BJP saying democracy in danger
MUMBAI, April 22, (Agencies): One of India’s best known politicians, former finance and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, quit the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party was undermining democratic institutions. Sinha, who served as a minister in the first BJP-led governments headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has frequently spoken out over how the Hindu nationalist party has evolved since then.
“Democracy in India is in grave danger,” Sinha said, announcing his decision to quit at a meeting of a new political action group attended by several opposition politicians in Patna, the capital of the northern state of Bihar. “From today, my relationship with BJP is over. I’m severing my ties with the party,” Sinha said. “I’m not going to be a member of any other political party,” he said, adding, “My friends and I will lead a movement to save democracy in India.” Sinha delivered his broadside as Modi prepares to lead the BJP into a general election due by next year, with high hopes of securing a second term. Aged 80 and no longer active in electoral politics, Sinha has criticised the Modi government on a range of issues, most recently through an open letter published earlier this week.
In that letter, Sinha urged the prime minister to speak and act more forcefully on vital issues, including recent horrific rapes that have refl ected badly on the BJP. In one case party members had appeared to support the Hindu men accused of raping an eight-year-old Muslim girl, and in another case in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh a BJP lawmaker is alleged to have raped a teenager.
Sinha also said that India’s religious minorities had become alienated, and the weakest sections of society, the scheduled castes and tribes had been “exposed to atrocities as never before” and the guarantees given to them in the constitution were threatened. Sinha, whose son is a junior minister for aviation, derided the government for making “tall claims” over India’s status as the world’s fastest growing major economy.
Aside from the plight of farmers and small businesses, high youth unemployment, and an increase in banks’ bad loans, Sinha noted savings and investment had fallen drastically over the past four years. Sinha had also taken issue with the government over Chief Justice Dipak Misra. Four Supreme Court judges made an unprecedented move by publicly airing their misgivings over Misra in January.
On Friday, seven opposition parties moved to have Misra impeached for bending to political pressure and other shortfalls in his conduct.
Th e internet is being cut for hours on end in Jammu as authorities try to halt protests that have grown in the winter capital since the rape-murder of an eight year old girl opened a new front in India’s Hindu-Muslim divide. With near daily protests held across the country over the brutal killing, Jammu police say the digital clampdown is to halt the spread of “rumours” that infl ame tensions.
Much damage has already been done in the city. Eight Hindu men are on trial for the rape and murder of the Muslim girl, or for trying to destroy evidence. On the streets, Muslims are demanding justice while Hindu radicals say the inquiry is biased. Th reats have been made and state politicians forced to resign. “Hang the real guilty,” read banners carried by about 100 mainly Hindu protesters on a Jammu road on Friday. Th e group were demanding a new investigation into the events in Kathua district about 60 kms (35 miles) from Jammu.