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Islamic World News ( 19 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Minorities Wing of RSS, BJP Seek Arrest of Wasim Rizvi over His Petition to Remove 26 Verses from the Quran


New Age Islam News Bureau

20 March 2021

 


• Shuhada Foundation of Lal Masjid Moves Court Seeking Ban on Aurat March

• Taliban Expect US to Withdraw, Vow to Restore Islamic Rule

• British Muslim Billionaire Brothers: Plans for ‘Landmark’ Mosque in North West England Approved

• Pro-Israeli Lobby Presses Biden to Reject Iran Deal In Current Format

• 'Allah' Row Gives Shaky Malaysian Government Hope of Survival

• US Intensifying Economic Pressure on Lebanon to Force Normalization of Ties with Israel: Analyst

• Iranian Speaker's Aide Raps Biden Admin for Continued Trumpism

• Nigeria's Poor Response to Boko Haram Has Left Border Communities Feeling Abandoned

 

India

• Minorities Wing of RSS, BJP Seek Arrest of Wasim Rizvi over His Petition to Remove 26 Verses from the Quran

• Surat Municipal Corporation Appeals to Muslim Leaders: Raise Awareness Among People About Covid-19 Vaccination

• 3 Months of MP ‘Love Jihad’ Law: 21 Cases, Couple Knew Each Other In Over Half Of Them

• Social Media Outrage After Priyanka Chopra Claims Her Dad Used To 'Sing In A Mosque'

• Up To Pakistan To Create Climate Suitable For Talks: India

• Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections: At This Bellwether Seat, Muslims May Decide Outcome

• UP: Shias & Sunnis rally against Waseem Rizvi’s plea on Quran verses

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Pakistan

• Shuhada Foundation of Lal Masjid Moves Court Seeking Ban on Aurat March

• PM Had Offered India To Initiate Peace Talks Soon After Assuming Office: FM

• Hindu Journalist, Ajay Lalwani, Shot Dead In Pakistan Evoked Sharp Criticism from Hindus and Muslims

• PDM plans to launch long march soon after Eidul Fitr: Fazl

• Biden Must Press Pakistan to End Persecution of Religious Minorities

• Pakistan reaffirms support to political settlement in Afghanistan

• UK lauds Pakistan’s conciliatory efforts for peace in Afghanistan

• Pakistan, Iraq discuss ways to enhance military engagements

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South Asia

• Taliban Expect US to Withdraw, Vow to Restore Islamic Rule

• Afghan govt, Taliban agree to step up peace talks after Moscow summit

• 36 killed in Afghanistan's clashes, 7 Taliban militants arrested

• 'Go back Modi': Muslims, students protest Indian PM’s visit to Bangladesh

• Taliban warn US against delaying troop pullout beyond deadline

• Lenten youth retreat fosters Christian unity in Bangladesh

• MoD calls for ‘vengeance’ following the attack on ANA helicopter

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Europe

• British Muslim Billionaire Brothers: Plans for ‘Landmark’ Mosque in North West England Approved

• UK Court Ruling Opens Door For Return Of Daesh Recruits

• Over dozen British MPs demand govt. to reconsider ties with Bahrain over rights abuses

• Erdogan blasts Biden for calling Putin ‘a killer’

• Germany honours Turkish vaccine pioneers

• French move to declassify archive draws mixed reactions in Algeria

• Defence: About 30 suspected neo-Nazi soldiers are under surveillance

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North America

• Pro-Israeli Lobby Presses Biden to Reject Iran Deal In Current Format

• US State Department blasts Houthis for attack on Saudi oil refinery in Riyadh

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Southeast Asia

• 'Allah' Row Gives Shaky Malaysian Government Hope of Survival

• High Court: Najib-era 10-point solution could have solved ‘Allah’ controversy in 2011 if 1986 ban had been retracted

• Council of Churches Says No to Dialogue with Home Ministry over ‘Allah’ Use

• PBS urges Putrajaya to withdraw ‘Allah’ appeal, tells all parties to stop politicising issue

• Indonesian Muslim Body Clears AstraZeneca Use in Emergency

• Indonesian Hardline Islamic Cleric Charged With Violating COVID Restrictions

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Arab World

• US Intensifying Economic Pressure on Lebanon to Force Normalization of Ties with Israel: Analyst

• Ankara Tells Egyptian Islamists to ‘Tone down’ Media Attacks

• UAE Fatwa Council: Covid Vaccine Use Allowed According To Islamic Laws

• Prophet's Mosque to Remain Open for Taraweeh Prayers amid COVID-19 Precautionary Measures

• Missiles, drones targeting Saudi Arabia were all Iranian made or supplied: Al-Jubeir

• Lebanon central bank will intervene in order to control the exchange rate: President

• Arab Coalition destroys explosive drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait

• Drones target Riyadh oil refinery, fire brought under control: Saudi official

• HTS terrorists planning false-flag chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib, Russia warns

• Yemeni army launches new drone strike on Aramco facility in Saudi capital

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Mideast

• Iranian Speaker's Aide Raps Biden Admin for Continued Trumpism

• Yemen’s Ansarullah Calls On Saudi-Led Aggressors to Free All Tankers in 48 Hrs. If It's Serious About Peace

• Iran Blasts E3 for Coordination with No. 1 Enemy of JCPOA

• Ten Iranian nationals charged with evading US sanctions, disguised $300 mln

• Palestinian protester killed by Israeli Army in West Bank: Ministry

• Israeli forces kill Palestinian man in occupied West Bank

• Yemeni army forces, allies make major progress in Ma’rib, liberate strategic Hilan mountain

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Africa

• Nigeria's Poor Response to Boko Haram Has Left Border Communities Feeling Abandoned

• Malians Express Doubt over Army's Capacity To Counter Jihadist Fighters

• Iran condoles with Tanzania, condemns Niger massacre

• Gunmen kill 13, injures 7 in northwest Nigeria

• US urges Somali leaders to hold elections immediately

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Australia

• Melbourne terrorism accused allegedly bought knife for attack

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL:   https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/minorities-wing-rss-bjp-seek/d/124591

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Minorities Wing of RSS, BJP Seek Arrest of Wasim Rizvi over His Petition to Remove 26 Verses from the Quran



Mar 20, 2021

Nagpur: Members of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM) — the minorities wing of RSS — ánd BJP’s minority cell workers have submitted a memorandum to the police against Wasim Rizvi over his petition to remove 26 verses from the Quran. It was issued on the letter head of BJP's minority cell.

Rizvi, who is the former chairman of the Shia Waqf Board in UP, has filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court seeking the removal of 26 verses from the book. He alleges that it teaches violence. This has led to a strong reaction from Muslim groups across the country.

Mohammed Farooq Shaikh, the state president of MRM, led a group of protesters to the Kotwali police station demanding the arrest of Rizvi for inciting religious hatred. Shaikh also heads the city unit of BJP’s minority cell.

Shaikh told TOI that the petition will only incite the fundamentalists who may use the issue to their advantage. “The petition can provide an excuse to fundamentalists to spread hate in the name of discrimination against Muslims in India,” he said.

Questioning the basis of the petition, Shaikh asked, “How can any religious text that is in existence since centuries be amended. This would also send a wrong message about the country.”

A copy of the petition demanding Rizvi’s arrest was also sent to Union transport minister and Nitin Gadkari who is the Nagpur MP.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/rss-bjp-demand-arrest-of-up-man/articleshow/81593775.cms

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Shuhada Foundation of Lal Masjid Moves Court Seeking Ban on Aurat March



March 20, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Shuhada Foundation of Lal Masjid has moved The Islamabad High Court seeking ban on Aurat March and action against its organiser Open Society Foundation for holding such activities.

The petition was taken up by Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb of the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

However, Shuhada Foundation counsel Tariq Asad requested Justice Aurangzeb to refer this matter to some other bench.

Subsequently, the judge referred the case to the IHC Chief Justice.

The petition was seeking court’s direction to “ban the organisations particularly ‘Open Society Foundation’ which were involved in the Aurat March and the organisers of the event be dealt with in accordance with law.”

The petition also sought ban on Aurat March and similar events as well other activities like Valentine Day. Besides, it requested the court to refer this matter to the Council of Islamic Ideology to examine whether the women in Pakistan are deprived of any legal right in any field and whether such event conducted on March 8 was in consonance with the injunctions religion and the provisions of the Constitution?

https://www.dawn.com/news/1613440/lal-masjid-moves-court-seeking-ban-on-aurat-march

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Taliban Expect US to Withdraw, Vow to Restore Islamic Rule

 

Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban's negotiation team, speaks during a news conference in Moscow on Friday [Alexander Zemlianichenko via Reuters]

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By Associated Press

March 19, 2021

MOSCOW - The Taliban warned Washington Friday against defying a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, promising a reaction, which could mean increased attacks by the insurgent group.

The Taliban issued their warning at a press conference in Moscow, the day after meeting with senior Afghan government negotiators and international observers to try to jump-start a stalled peace process to end Afghanistan's decades of war.

President Joe Biden's administration says it is reviewing an agreement the Taliban signed with the Trump administration. Biden told ABC in an interview Wednesday that the May 1 deadline "could happen, but it is tough," adding that if the deadline is extended it won't be by "a lot longer."

"They should go," Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters, warning that staying beyond May 1 would breach the deal. "After that, it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side. … Their violation will have a reaction."

He did not elaborate on what form the reaction would take, but in keeping with the agreement they signed in February 2020, the Taliban have not attacked U.S. or NATO forces, even as unclaimed bombings and targeted killings have spiked in recent months.

"We hope that this will not happen, that they withdraw and we focus on the settlement, peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue, in order to bring about a permanent and comprehensive cease-fire at the end of reaching a political roadmap (for) Afghanistan," Shaheen said.

Demand for Islamic government

He also reaffirmed that the Taliban were firm in their demand for an Islamic government. Shaheen didn't elaborate on what an Islamic government would look like or whether it would mean a return to their repressive rules that denied girls education, barred women from working, and imposed harsh punishments.

Shaheen did not say whether the Taliban would accept elections, but he emphasized that the government of President Ashraf Ghani would not fit their definition of an Islamic government.

Limited role for women

In previous statements, the Taliban have said their vision of an Islamic government would allow girls to attend school, and women to work or be in public life. But in every conversation, they emphasized the need to follow Islamic injunctions without specifying what that would mean.

They have said they would not accept a woman as president, and while women could be judges they could not take the job of the chief justice.

But even without the Taliban in government in Afghanistan, The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Afghanistan said Afghanistan was one of the worst places in the world to be a woman in 2020.

Only one woman attended Thursday's talks in Moscow, and in the two decades since the Taliban were ousted, successive governments in Kabul have been unable to ratify a law outlawing violence against women.

Meanwhile, the Taliban refused to promise they would not launch a spring offensive despite calls from the United States, Russia and China.

Washington has been at war in Afghanistan for nearly two decades, since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks masterminded by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden who was based in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The invasion toppled the Taliban regime, but the 20-year-war has made Afghanistan America's longest conflict.

Blinken offers warning

The Taliban, who during their rule imposed a harsh brand of Islam, now control about half of the country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that the insurgents could make even more gains without U.S. and NATO troops on the ground.

The Moscow conference was attended by U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan's National Reconciliation Council, and Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who led a 10-member delegation. Representatives of Pakistan, Iran, India and China also participated.

In a statement issued after the talks, Russia, the U.S., China and Pakistan called on the warring parties to reduce the level of violence in the country — and specifically urged the Taliban not to pursue a spring offensive.

The joint statement emphasized that the four countries do not support the restoration of an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan similar to the Taliban's past rule.

https://www.voanews.com/europe/taliban-expect-us-withdraw-vow-restore-islamic-rule

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British Muslim billionaire brothers: Plans for ‘landmark’ mosque in north west England approved

March 20, 2021

LONDON: Plans by the British Muslim brothers who own supermarket chain Asda to build a “landmark” mosque in north west England have been approved.

The £5 million ($6.9 million) project to build a mosque in Blackburn by the billionaire siblings had faced objections over the height of its minarets and the noise it may have caused, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported on Friday.

However, the local council approved the plans after the Issa Foundation agreed to address 21 issues that had been raised.

Councillor Phil Riley told the BBC it would be an “impressive facility” which could “only enhance the spirit of the town.”

Permission for the project to go ahead on the site of a former school was granted on Thursday.

Amongst concerns raised by Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Browne to a committee about the mosque was the height of the minaret towers and the noise created by the call to prayer.

However, planning manager Gavin Prescott said the proposed 29 meter towers “are considered to frame the surrounding area with the existing church towers associated” with two local churches.

He added that noise would be limited with no amplified calls to prayer.

Riley, the council’s lead on regeneration, said it was “going to be no ordinary mosque,” and “an absolutely landmark building at a very important gateway.”

“With its Islamic architecture, it obviously reflects the changing face of modern Blackburn... and this will show Blackburn in the new light of a place where there is diversity, but also where communities mix,” Riley added.

The Issa Foundation has also pledged £30,000 to improve safety at a junction close to the mosque and employ parking marshals to reduce road safety risks.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1828411/world

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Pro-Israeli lobby presses Biden to reject Iran deal in current format

20 March 2021

The pro-Israeli group, AIPAC, is lobbying to urge US President Joe Biden to effectively oppose reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, in its current format.

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) called on its supporters to urge US senators to sign on to a letter that asks Biden to reach an expanded agreement with Iran.

"Iran remains Israel's and America's greatest threat in the Middle East,” AIPAC told supporters in a text message this week.

"Please urge your senators to sign a bipartisan letter to President Biden... expressing the bipartisan consensus that 'a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to US national security interests and our allies and partners,” said the group.

A letter, led by Democratic senator Bob Menendez and Republican Lindsey Graham, urges the senate to reject a return to Iran’s nuclear agreement in its current format.

It says that Washington needs “to reach an agreement that prevents Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons and meaningfully constrains its destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and its ballistic missile program.”

“We believe it is critical you consult with our European allies, Israel, and Persian Gulf security partners on a path forward with Iran," read the letter.

While Israel is the Middle East's sole possessor of nuclear warheads, Iran's nuclear program is totally civilian which has repeatedly been confirmed by the UN nuclear agency. 

The bipartisan letter does not explicitly reject returning to the nuclear deal, but it imposes demands outside of the scope of the agreement.

Back in 2015, Iran singed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with the P5+1 group of countries — the US, the UK, France, Russia and China, plus Germany.

At the time, AIPAC had launched a campaign to reject the deal as well.

The administration of former President Donald Trump, however, unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, and reimposed anti-Iran sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.

Now with Democratic president Joe Biden in the White House, Washington has signaled its willingness to rejoin the JCPOA, yet it has conditioned the move on Tehran's resumption of its commitments under the 2015 deal, despite the US being the oath breaker.

While Washington says it would soon start a series of negotiations with Iran in a bid to resume nuclear talks, Tehran says the JCPOA has a “defined road map” and that no further talks are necessary on the accord.

The bipartisan letter has sparked concern among rights groups, who urged senators to refrain from signing the request.

An advocacy group Win Without War said that senators “are circulating a new letter that would undermine diplomacy with Iran. How? By setting up IMPOSSIBLE standards for the deal.”

A senior research analyst at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), also said the letter showed an alliance of hawkish Democrats and Republicans are "dedicated to preventing diplomatic progress with Iran.”

"Biden will be making a major mistake if he tries to placate them,” said Sina Toossi.

“Their opposition to a JCPOA return is rooted in fundamental opposition to diplomacy with Iran,” he added.

Toossi warned that policies of Menendez and Graham, whom he called as “regime-change ideologues” will lead to conflict and a betrayal of Biden's foreign policy promises.

Iran has repeatedly warned that Israel “is the party the most worried” about a possible revival of the nuclear deal.

Ali Rabiei, the Iranian administration’s spokesman, said earlier this month that Israel “did all it could to torpedo this agreement” prior to its signing.’

“Insecurity in the region is of great benefit to the Zionist regime, and on this basis, it may adopt deceptive measures to prevent the establishment of peace. Their (the Zionsts’) concern is the revival of the JCPOA,” he added.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/20/647694/US-Iran-AIPAC-nuclear-deal-senate-letter-

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'Allah' row gives shaky Malaysian government hope of survival

Ben Joseph

March 19, 2021

In politically volatile Malaysia, the nation's highest court has ruled that non-Muslims be allowed to use Islamic words including "Allah." Supporting the court’s decision will potentially deliver political dividends for the beleaguered government of Muhyiddin Yassin in the Muslim-majority nation where Christians account for 9 percent of the population.

In a shot in the arm for this weak prime minister, the high court decided to allow Christians to use the Arabic word "Allah" for their god too, reversing a 1986 government ban.

Since the 2018 election, Malaysian politics has been in turmoil with the unstable ruling coalition government constantly rumored to be on the brink of collapse.

PM Muhyiddin has made every possible effort to stabilize his 12-month-old government in the country of 32.7 million people, riding on a razor-thin majority with his foes-turned-allies.

https://www.ucanews.com/news/allah-row-gives-shaky-malaysian-government-hope-of-survival/91811

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US Intensifying Economic Pressure on Lebanon to Force Normalization of Ties with Israel: Analyst

19 March 2021

The United States has intensified economic and political pressure on Lebanon to force the country into joining the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a number of other Arab states in normalizing relations with the Israeli regime, says a political analyst.

In an interview with Press TV on Friday, Julia Kassem said the economic pressure applied by the US and its allies on Lebanon has been meant to force the Lebanese government into normalization with the Tel Aviv regime.

“The policies are designed to force an ouster of the pro-sovereign elements in Lebanon’s government, i.e. Hezbollah and its allies in parliament as well as President Michel Aoun, who is opposed to [Prime Minister-designate Saad] Hariri, the US, and their schemes, and install a complete administration compliant to US and Israeli demands of Lebanon,” Kassem said.

Over the past year, a number of Arab governments under the influence of the US have signed normalization deals with Israel.

Lebanon is facing both a political deadlock and an economic crisis. No new government has been agreed in the country some seven months after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of an explosion at the Beirut port on August 4, which destroyed swathes of the capital and left 200 people dead.

Compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades as prices are skyrocketing and more than half of the population is now living below the poverty line.

The secretary-general of the Hezbollah resistance movement, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said on Thursday that certain groups were trying to foment a civil war in Lebanon along economic, racial, and religious lines.

He warned, however, that “driving Lebanon into a civil war… is a red line.”

Kassem stressed that Hezbollah “does not want to reach the point of the civil war.”

“This is why, despite all of the economic sabotage the US and their allies have put Lebanon under, they feel they cannot impose their proposals for complete political and economic change in the current context,” she said.

Kassem said easing the economic pressures on Lebanon, “pushed by the West and its allies, will alleviate the social tension that is the precursor to internal instability.”

Prime Minister-designate Hariri has failed so far to form a new, inclusive government. On Wednesday, President Aoun called on Hariri to step down if he cannot form a new government soon, given the difficulties faced by the country.

Hariri has, in turn, accused the president of obstructing government formation, a claim that Aoun has denied.

The Lebanese people have been staging protests since 2019 as the financial crisis has so far slashed almost 90% of the value of the Lebanese currency and raised the risk of widespread hunger.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/19/647667/US-intensifying-econ--pressure-on-Lebanon-to-force-normalization-of-ties-with-Israel--Analyst

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Iranian Speaker's Aide Raps Biden Admin for Continued Trumpism

2021-March-19

“Ongoing sanctions policy, friendship with terrorists and Biden's offense to Russian president show how Trumpism virus has critically contaminated the White House,” Amir Abdollahian wrote on his twitter page on Thursday.

“Biden is the very D. Trump. US President Nixon wrote 47 years ago: Today, the US civilization has inflicted deadly disease," he added.

In relevant remarks on Wednesday, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani said that the deceptive strategy adopted by the Western states, specially the US, is the only reason for the current deadlock with Iran.

“Nothing will happen unless the United States takes effective actions to lift the oppressive sanctions. The current stalemate is not tactical and domestic, but related to the West's deceptive strategy,” Shamkhani wrote on his twitter page.

He also used the "#DecisiveWord" in his twitter message.

Shamkhani’s remarks was in response to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said on Tuesday that efforts to revive the Iran nuclear talks are stalling because of “tactical problems” and the domestic situation in Iran ahead of its presidential election in June.

Le Drian, however, did not say what he meant by the tactical problems.

Iran and the G5+1 group of countries - the US, Britain France, Russia and China plus Germany - reached a landmark nuclear deal in 2015 after years of diplomacy and intensive negotiations.

The fate of the deal, officially dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), remains unclear primarily due to the US sanctions and also the failure of the European side to shield business with Iran in the face of Washington’s bans and threats. 

Iran says the US needs to take the first step to lift the sanctions and return to its commitments as it was Washington that quit the agreement in 2018 in total disregard for the international law.

Iranian officials say all the sanctions need to be removed before Tehran would halt the remedial actions it has taken under a mechanism enshrined in Article 36 of the JCPOA.

Under this provision, if a signatory to the deal deems an unresolved issue to constitute “significant non-performance” by its counterparts, it can treat it as ground “to cease performing its commitments under the JCPOA in whole or in part” until others are brought back to order.

Iran in February halted the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a remedial measure.

In January, Iranian Envoy and Permanent Representative to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi underlined that if Biden decides to return to the nuclear deal, Washington should comply with all its undertakings in exact accordance with the internationally-endorsed agreement.

“We make decision and take reciprocal action considering Biden's moves vis a vis the nuclear deal. We have repeatedly demanded the US to return to the nuclear deal and this return should be complete and without preconditions, that is to say, no issue related or unrelated to the nuclear deal should be put forward for discussion,” Takht Ravanchi said.

“It should only be clear that the US international undertakings cannot be half-fulfilled. If they claim to return to the nuclear deal, this return should be accompanied by the full implementation of their undertakings with no hesitation or controversy,” he added.

Takht Ravanchi stressed Iran’s clear position towards the nuclear deal, and said, “We live up to our undertakings.”

He referred to the parliament’s bill to take strategic measures to counter the US sanctions against Iran, and said, “There is a timetable in the parliament’s bill and we are moving in the same direction, so we (at the foreign ministry) are not entitled to specify the period for how long we will wait. In the first place, we make decisions based on national interests, and secondly, we should act on the basis of and within the framework of the parliamentary bill.”

His remarks came after Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi announced that the country is at present producing nearly half a kilo of uranium enriched to the 20% purity level, meantime, saying that Tehran’s steps to reduce nuclear deal undertakings after the West’s disloyalties can all be backtracked.

“Based on the latest news I have, they (the Iranian scientists at nuclear installations) are producing 20 grams (of 20% enriched uranium) every hour; meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day,” Salehi said in an interview with the Persian-language Khamenei.ir website released in January.

“We produce and store this 20% (enriched uranium) and if they return to the nuclear deal, we will return to our undertakings too,” he added.

Asked about the recent bill approved by the parliament to adopt strategic measures to remove sanctions against Iran, Salehi said that the AEOI is required to implement it.

“It is a reality and both the government and the AEOI have declared that they do not have any technical problems with implementation of the parliament’s bill and we launched 20% enrichment within 24 hours,” he said.

Salehi also underlined the need for Washington to remove all sanctions against Iran, specially those which prevent the country’s oil sales and banking transactions.

Iranian legislators had in January praised the AEOI for restarting enrichment of uranium at 20-percent purity level, and called for the full implementation of the recent parliamentarian law to counter the illegal US sanctions against the country.

In a statement, 190 legislators expressed their support for the AEOI’s resumption of 20% uranium enrichment and urged the body to fully and precisely implement the law ratified as a counteractive move to the sanctions illegally imposed on the country, especially those by the United States.

The lawmakers said the parliament approved the ‘Strategic Counteractive Plan for Lifting Sanctions and Safeguarding Rights of Iranian People’ to highlight Iran’s legitimate right to use peaceful nuclear technology and the importance of lifting all cruel sanctions against the country.

The Iranian parliamentarians in a meeting on December 1, 2020 ratified the generalities of a bill to adopt strategic measures to remove sanctions against the country and defend the nation’s interests.

The lawmakers, in November, had given the green light to the single-urgency of the strategic motion, but the plan turned into a double-urgency on Sunday after the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh's car was targeted by an explosion and machinegun fire in Damavand's Absard 40 kilometers to the East of Tehran on Friday November 27, 2020.

Under the bill, the AEOI is required to start in two months after the approval of the present bill to produce at least 120 kg of 20%-enriched uranium annually at Fordow nuclear site and store it inside the country, increase the enrichment capacity and production of enriched uranium to at least 500 kg per month, start the installation of centrifuges, gas injection, enrichment, and storage of materials up to proper purity levels within 3 months, via at least 1000 IR-2m centrifuges in the underground part of Shahid Ahmadi Roshan facility in Natanz, transfer any enrichment, research, and development operations of IR-6 centrifuges to the nuclear site of Shahid Ali Mohammadi in Fordow, and start enrichment operation via at least 164 centrifuges and expand it to 1000 by the end of 20 March 2021 (end of the Iranian calendar year) and return the 40 megawatts Arak heavy water reactor to its pre-JCPOA condition by reviving the heart (calandria) of the reactor within 4 months from the date of the adoption of this law.

Also, the government is required to suspend the nuclear deal-based regulatory access under the Additional Protocol and beyond within 2 months after the adoption of the law based on the articles 36 and 37 of the nuclear deal.

Iran signed the JCPOA with six world states — namely the US, Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and China — in 2015.

Trump, a stern critic of the historic deal, unilaterally pulled Washington out of the JCPOA in May 2018, and unleashed the “toughest ever” sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticism in an attempt to strangle the Iranian oil trade, but to no avail since its "so-called maximum pressure policy" has failed to push Tehran to the negotiating table.

In response to the US’ unilateral move, Tehran has so far rowed back on its nuclear commitments four times in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions.

Tehran has particularly been disappointed with failure of the three European signatories to the JCPOA -- Britain, France and Germany -- to protect its business interests under the deal after the US' withdrawal.

On January 5, 2020, Iran took a step in reducing its commitments, and said it would no longer observe any operational limitations on its nuclear industry, whether concerning the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, the volume of stockpiled uranium or research and development.

Meantime, US President Joe Biden said in a CNN article during his presidential campaign that he wants a renegotiation of the contents of the deal before he agrees to rejoin the agreement.

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” he wrote, mentioning that he wants changes to the contents of the nuclear deal and guarantees from Tehran that it would be open for compromise to strike multiple deals over its missile and regional powers as well as a number of other issues that have been the bones of contention between the two sides in the last four decades.

In response, Zarif had stressed that the US has violated the nuclear deal and is in no position to ask for any conditions for its return to the JCPOA, adding that it's Tehran that has its own terms to allow the US back into the internationally endorsed agreement.

The foreign minister has reiterated time and again that Tehran would not change even a single word of the agreement, and cautioned the US that it needs to pay reparations for the damage it has inflicted on Iran through its retreat from the nuclear agreement and give enough insurances that it would not go for initiating the trigger mechanism again before it could get back to the deal.

In relevant remarks in February, Spokesman for the AEOI Behrouz Kamalvandi said his country enjoys the capability to produce 120 kg of uranium with 20% purity in 8 months, that's 4 months faster than the one-year period required by a recent parliament approval.

https://www.farsnews.ir/en/news/13991229000403/Iranian-Speaker's-Aide-Raps-Biden-Admin-fr-Cnined-Trmpism

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Nigeria's Poor Response to Boko Haram Has Left Border Communities Feeling Abandoned

17 MARCH 2021

For over a decade, the North-eastern region of Nigeria has been ravaged by insecurity, as the militant group Boko Haram has destabilised border communities. The damage ranges from loss of life to destruction of property and farmlands.

We analysed the efforts of various state and non-state actors (both local and international) to address these security challenges, and found evidence of uncoordinated actions between government agencies and other stakeholders.

This has forced international actors to withdraw their troops and support from the fight against Boko Haram, leaving the border communities in crisis.

To win the confidence of communities under threat, the Nigerian government needs to demonstrate its resolution and sincerity of purpose. It must devise coordinated efforts with other stakeholders to end the insurgency.

Responses to insurgency

We conducted group discussions and individual interviews in six border communities in 2017 and 2018. A total of 276 participants were interviewed in the states of Borno, Adamama and Yobe. We also looked at the legal framework backing Nigeria's counterinsurgency and considered the state's military responses as well as the quality of support received from external actors.

It was only after the United States decided to blacklist Nigeria and Nigerians for terrorism in January 2010 that the Nigerian government enacted anti-terrorism legislation. The Terrorism Prevention Act was signed into law in June 2011. The Money Laundering Prohibition Act also came into being in 2011, aiming to cut off financial support for terrorism.

The Federal Government established a special Joint Task Force in Maiduguri in 2011. It comprised the military (Army, Navy and Air Force), the Department of State Security and the Nigerian Police Force. It allowed for coordinated intelligence gathering and sharing among the security formations.

But security experts have questioned the kind of intelligence gathered by the Joint Task Force. It used a military approach to fight an organisation whose identity and structure was fluid, and yet to be established. This is a serious weakness in the government's response and a reason why the Boko Haram insurgency continues to thrive.

Shortly after the task force was formed, 30,000 troops were deployed to the trouble spots. But a succession of task forces were unable to defeat Boko Haram, which continues to attack military bases and communities. The group gets financial strength, manpower and support from international terrorist networks.

A comprehensive National Counter-Terrorism Strategy was adopted in 2014. This strategy stipulated who would be involved and what mechanisms would be used.

The country closed the borders between northern Nigeria and the neighbouring states of Niger, Chad and Cameroon after it was established that the insurgents were using the porous borders. This move was meant to curtail the activities of Boko Haram, prevent them from escaping into neighbouring states and cut their supplies from foreign terrorist networks.

Some Boko Haram elements still found their way through unmanned parts of the border and attacks continued. The Joint Task Force was often overpowered by the insurgents with superior firepower and guerrilla tactics.

The Nigerian state has received support from external actors, both within the West African sub-region and outside the continent. A Multinational Joint Task Force was formed in 1998 by Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, and joined in the fight against Boko Haram in 2012. Benin Republic joined in 2014. The multinational troops also received support from the African Union and the Lake Chad Basin Commission. But their activities triggered attacks by the Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, causing the security situation to deteriorate further.

Countries outside Africa provided training, technical and intelligence support and arms. Some sent troops to assist in the fight, but they were frustrated with the way the Nigeria military handled the intelligence they supplied. The United States then withdraw its military.

Local perceptions

Despite these efforts, our field research  revealed that people in the border communities felt they had been neglected by the government and left to their fate. Some said the military's intervention came too late and that the task force was unable to confront Boko Haram. Young people we spoke to said the failure of government to intervene made them regroup themselves to defend their people and fight back against Boko Haram oppression. They also spoke of being harassed and maltreated by task force members.

Many of the respondents lamented the hardship the military had imposed on them, including the restriction on their movements which prevented them from carrying on their daily activities.

The failure of the Joint Task Force pushed some aggrieved people in border communities to take up arms against Boko Haram. The effectiveness of these groups caught the attention of the Chief of Army Staff, who recognised them officially as the Civilian Joint Task Force and co-opted them into the Joint Task Force formation.

Why government's efforts failed

The initial military approach introduced to combat Boko Haram was largely problematic. It is difficult to fight an organisation when its identity and organisational structure are not known. The counterterrorism drive by the government is crippled by the inability of the Nigerian Police Force to gather intelligence and carry out forensic investigations, and by corruption in the force.

Another part of the problem is that the Joint Task Force engages in unlawful killings, arrests, extortion and intimidation of residents. Officers are not local to the regions where they operate and are not familiar with the culture and terrain of those localities. The local people see themselves as under siege by a foreign security force. They have lost trust in the government's promises.

And Boko Haram's financial strength remains robust. It has even been suggested that it received money from some states to stay out of their areas. Once payment stopped they resumed attacks.

Way forward

The Nigerian government still has a lot to do in the fight against insurgency in North-eastern Nigeria. The fact that the border communities have devised survival strategies such as forming alliances with Boko Haram for protection or taking up arms themselves suggests the conflict is far from over.

A sincere government would combat corruption in both the government and the military, and direct attention and resources to the fight against Boko Haram.

Until this is done, insurgency will continue to pose a serious threat.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202103180105.html?utm_source=iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2123331_

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India

 

Surat Municipal Corporation Appeals To Muslim Leaders: Raise Awareness Among People About Covid-19 Vaccination

By Kamaal Saiyed

March 20, 2021

With many from Muslim community not turning up to take the Covid-19 vaccine, the health department officials of the Surat Municipal Corporation carried out a meeting with the community leaders at Memon hall at Chowk Bazaar on March 18 night.

The Maulvis of different mosques in Surat, during the afternoon prayers on Friday, appealed to the people of Muslim community to get the first and second doses of the vaccine before and after holy month of Ramzan, which starts from April

Sources in the health department in SMC said that out of 1.60 lakh people who had the taken vaccine only 0.2 per cent were from the Muslim community.

The meeting on March 18 was attended by several clerics along with leaders of Muslim community and other social and political leaders. Several issues were raised during the meeting about spread of fake news regarding the vaccine, which was clarified by the health department officials. The health and police department officials requested the leaders to spread awareness among the people of the community regarding vaccine. Muslim leader Kadir Peerzada who also attended the meeting said, “I have also got myself vaccinated and there is no side effects. We have intimated the Muslim youths in residential societies in Surat city to take the elderly people to the health centres were vaccine is given. ”

On Friday, several Maulvis who were above 65-year-old also got themselves vaccinated in the health centres. They also made video appealing to people from the community to get vaccinated.

In one such video, which had gone viral, chief of Mufti of Darul Uloom Ashrafiya, Rander and vice president of Surat city Chand Committee Mufti Kalim Saab said, “I also got vaccinated … I have appealed to the Muslim community people in Surat to get vaccine doses before and after holy month of Ramzan.”

Doctors’ body to help in Vadodara

In Vadodara, Covid-19 vaccination drive among the Muslim community has posed a challenge that has been easier to overcome with the help of the Baroda Muslim Doctors Association (BMDA), which has been working with the administration since the outbreak of the pandemic in March last year to bridge the gap.

Although members of the Muslim community, who understand the importance of the vaccine have come forth and taken the jab, the administration is relying on centres run by Muslim trusts to instill the confidence among the rest.

Dr Mohammed Hussain, President of BMDA, has just received the approval to start a vaccination centre in his private hospital Dr Hussain said, “There is a general sense of mistrust among the community for vaccinations. The Covid19 vaccination is no different. The best way to eliminate the suspicion among the people is to lead by example.”

https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/smc-appeals-to-muslim-leaders-raise-awareness-among-people-7236820/

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3 Months of MP ‘Love Jihad’ Law: 21 Cases, Couple Knew Each Other In Over Half Of Them

By Iram Siddique

March 20, 2021

Within just three months of BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh clearing an anti-conversion ordinance modelled on a legislation in Uttar Pradesh to check what it calls “love jihad”, the state police have registered 21 cases against 47 people with 25 arrests recorded so far.

Police records investigated by The Indian Express show that in at least 11 of the 21 cases, the women who registered complaints under the Freedom to Religion Act 2021 knew the accused — they were friends, in a relationship, and in one case, married for over five years.

Records show that in at least four cases, the couple had eloped and returned before the women involved approached the police. Three other cases were lodged after the intervention of Hindutva groups. The remaining six cases were recorded against those alleged to be Christian missionaries “trying to lure villagers” to convert.

Of the 21 cases, four have been registered in Indore, three in Seoni, two in Bhopal, and one each in Barwani, Khargone, Rewa, Harda, Chhatarpur, Balaghat, Alirajpur, Mandsaur, Dindori, Khandwa, Sehore, and Dhar.

Speaking to reporters after the law was passed in the State Assembly, Home Minister Narottam Mishra had said: “Any love that heads towards jihad, we will oppose it. Any love that offends our sentiments, we will oppose it. Any love that will make our daughters and sisters suffer, will be opposed by us.”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Additional Director General of Police (Crime Against Women), Pragya Richa Srivastava said: “We have so far received 21 cases and as per our details, a majority of these cases are by women, both minor and major, who have stated that they have been pressured to convert their religion, in many cases after being sexually assaulted. As per their statements, FIRs have been registered and we are carrying out investigations.”

Consider these illustrative cases:

* On February 24, a 19-year-old woman in Harda registered a complaint under the new law accusing a 22-year-old man of kidnap and rape along with attempts at forced conversion. The FIR states that the woman knew the accused, Salman Khan, for eight months, and that they had eloped on January 25. It states that the two reached Maharashtra’s Aurangabad, stayed in a rented house and returned to Harda after they ran out of money. The next day, the woman approached the police.

* On February 26, police in Khargone district’s Mandleshwar booked two youths from Indore who were celebrating a birthday with two girls who were their classmates from high school, at Jam Gate, which is a picnic spot. The four of them were spotted by members of a local Hindutva outfit and taken to the police station. The complaint registered on February 26 by relatives of the girls accused the two youths, Sohail Khan and Hassan Khan, of forcing them to convert.

In January, The Indian Express reported on how police in UP registered 14 cases and made 51 arrests within a month of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, coming into effect on November 28.

In Madhya Pradesh, the anti-conversion ordinance was cleared on January 9 and The Freedom to Religion Bill 2021 passed on March 8 by the Vidhan Sabha. Section 3 of the new act prohibits unlawful conversion or attempt at conversion through misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat, force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or other fraudulent means. Section 5 defines punishment for those booked under section 3, with jail terms ranging from one to 10 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.

On March 4, the Madhya Pradesh High Court sought the response of the state government on a plea demanding a repeal of the law on the grounds that section 3 is in contravention of the rights to life, liberty, equality, free speech and religion guaranteed in the Constitution.

Significantly, the new law does not mandate victims to record their statements before a magistrate — unless it’s a case of sexual assault. Instead, the law says investigating agencies can choose to utilise this provision, if they decide it is necessary.

In all the 21 cases, the accused are from minority communities, including Muslims (15 cases) and Christians (six cases). Records show that in 15 cases, the charges include those under sections of the IPC for rape and molestation.

In 12 cases, the complainants approached police alleging forced conversion through written applications. And in at least one glaring case, the application directly contradicted a statement recorded earlier by the complainant in a police station.

On January 17, an 18-year-old from Rewa who had gone missing on December 26 reached the police station in Saman with a man identified as Ibraz Khan. She recorded a statement that she had left her house of her own free will with Ibraz, who lived in her village, after her parents tried to get her married to someone else.

However, with her family having already registered a “missing person” complaint, police “counselled” the woman for three days after which she was handed over to her parents on January 20.

On January 27, the woman returned with her parents and submitted an application that she had been forcefully abducted by Ibraz, also known as Yuvraj, and kept locked in a room, raped and pressured to convert for marriage. Ibraz was booked for kidnap and rape, and under the new law.

Of the 21 cases, six were registered against those accused of forcing others to convert to Christianity “through allurement”.

* A complaint lodged in Balaghat’s Lalburra police station on January 27 states that Chhattar Singh Khatre, a government school teacher, had called a prayer service at his house to mark his daughter’s departure to pursue higher education. The complainant, Deepak Patel, alleged that he had attended the function where people were being lured to convert to Christianity. Khatre and two others were arrested on the same day.

* On February 22, the principal of a convent school in Khajuraho was booked under the new law on a complaint from an assistant librarian whose salary had been docked and services terminated. But the principal, Sister Bhagya, was granted anticipatory bail after she argued in the High Court that the case was “false” and “registered out of frustration” as the employee Ruby Singh’s services were terminated on account of poor attendance and lack of documentation.

Maria Stephen, Public Relations Officer in MP for The Christian Community, a global organisation, said the new law “has left people feeling scared to pray even inside their own homes”. “All are equal before the law, but this law is being used in such a manner that it has empowered fundamentalists to act against minorities without any fear,” she said.

Sayyed Sajid Ali, Senior Advocate in the High Court, alleged that the new law “is clearly targeting” minorities. “The act has empowered fundamentalists who are reaching out to families of those who either eloped or had a fight with their partner of a different religion, and luring them to give false statements and getting cases registered under the anti-conversion act,” he said.

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/mp-love-jihad-law-7236429/

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Social Media Outrage After Priyanka Chopra Claims Her Dad Used To 'Sing In A Mosque'

March 20, 2021

International star Priyanka Chopra Jonas in the promo of her upcoming interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey claimed that her late father Ashok Chopra used to sing in a mosque.

As Priyanka talked about her personal life, memoir ‘Unfinished’ and growing up as a child in India, Oprah discussed with the actor that reading her book made her reflect on her own trips to the country and said that "One of the things that was so powerful is the spiritual energy. The sense of connectedness between people and prayer" Adding that "it is all so present", she asked Priyanka whether she had a spiritual foundation growing up.

To this Priyanka replied, "I think in India it's hard not to, you're right - with the swirling number of religions that we have that live within the country as well. I grew up in a convent school - when I went to school, I was aware of Christianity, my dad used to sing in a mosque, (so) I was aware of Islam, I grew up in a Hindu family I was aware of that. So, spirituality is such a large part of India that you can't ignore it."

Her statement caused a social media outrage with many questioning the former Miss World as to which mosque allowed her dad to sing.

Priyanka also said that she misses India. “I have not been back since Holi last year and, you know, India's my home and I just want to come back visit and smell it and live it and meet my friends and I also want to, you know, do a Hindi movie." "I have not done that for a while. So, I just miss home a lot. I just want to be able to get on a flight and land in Mumbai.”

In what seemed to be like an idyllic interview setting in Maui, this candid conversation was actually a transatlantic interview with Priyanka in London and Oprah in Hawaii. This intimate dialogue was made possible through cutting-edge technology, which will give audiences a deeper look into the life of India's beloved international superstar.

On work front, Priyanka is set to star opposite British actor Richard Madden in Amazon Studios’ upcoming thriller series "Citadel".

Besides "Citadel", PC will also feature in the upcoming romantic drama 'Text for You', directed by Jim Strouse. She is developing an untitled comedy with Mindy Kaling and Dan Goor, and also has a role in "The Matrix 4".

https://www.freepressjournal.in/entertainment/bollywood/social-media-outrage-after-priyanka-chopra-claims-her-dad-used-to-sing-in-a-mosque

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Up to Pakistan to create climate suitable for talks: India

Mar 20, 2021

NEW DELHI: In the wake of “peace signals” from Pakistani PM Imran Khan and Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, the Centre on Friday iterated the onus was on the neighbour to create an atmosphere conducive for the two sides to address outstanding issues bilaterally.

This was even as diplomatic sources confirmed that Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers, S Jaishankar and Shah M Qureshi respectively, were likely to participate in the Heart of Asia (Istanbul process) conference, an initiative for peace in Afghanistan, in Dushanbe on March 30. In Rajya Sabha, the government called for "credible, verifiable and irreversible" action by Pakistan to not allow any territory under its control to be used for cross border terrorism against India in any manner.

Sources in Delhi and Islamabad neither confirmed nor denied reports of a meeting between the two. However, an official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the possibility of a "pull aside" on the margins of the conference couldn't be ruled out with both sides looking to build upon the ceasefire agreement last month. It was on the sidelines of the same conference in 2015 in Islamabad that the two sides had unsuccessfully tried to revive the dialogue process in the name of comprehensive bilateral dialogue.

The government's statement, in response to questions on the recent ceasefire agreement, came after the Pakistan Army chief appealed to the two countries to bury the past and move forward but added that it was India's responsibility to create a conducive environment.

While the ceasefire agreement has fuelled speculation about a possible rapprochement, official sources said it was incumbent upon Pakistan to shun cross-border terrorism and also ensure that the ceasefire held before any step was considered in the direction of normalisation of ties. On multilateral fora, like at the UNHRC this week, India has continued to accuse Pakistan of exporting terrorism.

In reply to a written question, junior foreign minister V Muraleedharan recalled that during the visit of then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Pakistan in December 2015, it was decided to have a meeting at the level of the foreign secretaries to work out the modalities of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. However, the meeting could not take place due to the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase in January 2016 and the continued support, he said, to cross-border terrorism and ceasefire violations by Pakistan.

"The government’s consistent position has been that India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan and is committed to addressing issues, if any, bilaterally and peacefully in an atmosphere free of terror, hostility and violence," the minister said.

He added that India and Pakistan maintained regular channels of communication through the respective high commissions and other established mechanisms such as hotlines, flag meetings and scheduled talks between the Directorate Generals of Military Operations (DGMO). Through these well-established mechanisms, the government regularly takes up all cases of unprovoked ceasefire violations and support for cross-border terrorist infiltration by Pakistani forces, he said. Pakistan has been consistently called upon to abide by it’s 2003 ceasefire commitment for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the international boundary and the LoC.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/up-to-pakistan-to-create-climate-suitable-for-talks-india/articleshow/81597335.cms

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Tamil Nadu Assembly elections: At this bellwether seat, Muslims may decide outcome

Mar 19, 2021

The popular belief is that the alliance that wins Madurai central would go on to form the government. Since 1984, it has been proven wrong only once, in 2016, when the DMK’s P T R Palanivel Thiagarajan won, but the AIADMK retained power.

With the DMK’s confidence level high, Thiagarajan does not want to fall by the wayside this time, for, he may go on to become a minister if Stalin forms the government. Thiagarajan is banking on his track record. He said he had visited the constituency 392 times, after getting elected; which means, he has visited each ward 40 times. He said he had spent more than 90% of his MLA funds and completed over 150 works. “I have also spent my own money and provided pipeline connections,’’ he said.

This constituency is the cultural hub of Madurai. It houses the Madurai Meenakshi Temple, its satellite temples and monuments like Thirumalai Naicker Mahal and Pudumandapam. One of the oldest parts of the city, its roads, sewerage and drainage systems were laid during the British era and should have stood the test of time but for the civic agency digging up roads and damaging pipe lines for implementing the Rs 1,000 crore Smart City projects in 2018. A modern Periyar bus stand, heritage walk and Vaigai river front development, which are some of the promises under the Smart City plan, should have been completed in May 2020, but they don’t seem to be getting over anytime soon. As a result, life of people has gone haywire.

Its high Muslim population, comprising almost 30% voters, is a major hurdle for the BJP and its allies. Yadavas are not far behind in terms of numbers. It has a sizeable share of thevars, dalits and Saurashtras. The voter profile underwent a drastic change in Madurai central after the 2007 delimitation exercise. A sizeable share of its Saurashtra population has been moved to Madurai south constituency.

Its working-class population has been moving out of the constituency for decades and the traders who dot its streets don’t reside there. The only big employer, Madura Coats, the erstwhile Harvey Mill, is an apology for its earlier self. From 4,000 workers, its employee strength has dwindled to less than 500 now. The area has jewellery shops, with gold smithies attached to most of them and long rows of inviting wayside eateries that thrive on shoppers. The segment has not voted consistently in favour of any party. For instance, along with the rest of Tamil Nadu, it voted the DMK to power in 1967 and stayed with the party in 1971 too, but after MG Ramachandran launched the AIADMK, it tilted towards his party and ally, the Congress. After MGR’s death, it elected DMK’s S Paulraj in 1989.

N Jothi Muthuramalingam, founder of Pasumpon Desiya Kazhagam, is contesting the AIADMK’s two leaves symbol. Though not a heavyweight, Muthuramalingam has shifted his house from Pasumpon in Ramanathapuram to Madurai central, indicating that he is ready for a long haul. He promises to expedite the Smart City projects, usher in hygiene and make it a model constituency.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/tamil-nadu-assembly-elections-at-this-bellwether-seat-muslims-may-decide-outcome/articleshow/81582721.cms

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UP: Shias & Sunnis rally against Waseem Rizvi’s plea on Quran verses

Mar 15, 2021

LUCKNOW: Hundreds gathered outside the Bara Imambara on Sunday afternoon rallying against former chief of UP Shia central Waqf Board, Waseem Rizvi, who has raked up a controversy by moving a plea before the Supreme Court (SC) to remove 26 Quranic verses.

Call to the ‘Tahaffuz-e-Quran’ (In protection of the Quran) protest was given by Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Hind general secretary Maulana Kalbe Jawad and was attended by both Shia and Sunni clerics, including former All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member Maulana Salman Nadwi, Imam of thr Teeley Wali Masjid Maulana Fazley Mannan Rahmani, SC lawyer Mahmood Pracha among others.

As slogans against Rizvi were made asking people to shelve his surname and replace it with some expletive, the angry crowd demanded that SC should scrap Rizvi’s petition and the government must arrest him for blasphemy and attempt to breach peace.

A memorandum to the Prime Minister, home minister and state chief minister was also sent in this regard on Saturday. Maulana Kalbe Jawad in his address also said that if action was not taken against Rizvi, it would be considered that the government was supporting him. A similar Shia-Sunni protest is scheduled to be held at Delhi’s Jama Masjid next Friday after Juma prayers.

Meanwhile, Rizvi’s brother released a video message stating his family -- mother, sister and brothers -- have got nothing to do with him and his nonsensical antics. He also said that his brother was committing grave sin.

Suggesting a solution to Rizvi’s offences against the Quran, Maulana Salman Nadwi said, “Ramzan is approaching -- the month in which the Quran was bestowed upon us. We should have Quranic recitations at all mosques in the city all through the day and night in Ramzan. It is very important that Shias and Sunnis keep their differences at bay as we are all but one Ummah.”

Echoing the same sentiments, Imam of Teeley Wali Masjid, Maulana Fazley Mannan said, “He is trying to create a rift between us but that has only brought us together as one Ummah, one book and one Prophet. We should hold on to Allah stronger than ever and the government should put him behind bars.”

Kalbe Sibtain Noori, son of senior cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq added that since Rizvi’s own family was tagging him to be a kafir, he should not be buried in a Muslim cemetry.

“Mutawwali of the Talkatora Imambara where he has reserved a grave for himself, should take a decision to cancel his grave as a Muslim cemetery can only bury Muslims,” he said.

Listing out the memorandum to be sent, Maulana Kalbe Jawad said, “Animosity against the Quran is not new and the Qiran itself announces that those with a problem with the Holy word should attempt to answer just one verse if they can.”

“Rizvi is not a Muslim so he should not be made a member of any Muslim organisation in the future. He should be arrested for disturbing peace, his petition be scraped by SC and legal action taken against him,” he said.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/shias-sunnis-rally-together-to-denounce-rizvis-sc-plea/articleshow/81500693.cms

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Pakistan

 

PM had offered India to initiate peace talks soon after assuming office: FM

March 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Friday recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan had offered to take two steps towards peace if India takes one soon after assuming office.

In a statement, the foreign minister said that Pakistan will not shy away from dialogue if India reviews its policy and expresses readiness for peaceful solution of all issues including Kashmir dispute. Responsibility rests with India to create an enabling environment for dialogue with Pakistan, he added.

Qureshi further said that the re-enforcement of ceasefire agreement after talks between the DGMOs of both countries is a positive development.

His comments come a day after Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa renewed the offer of peace to India and said Pakistan was ready to resolve all lingering disputes with its neighbours through dialogue “in a dignified and peaceful manner”.

Addressing the gathering on the final day of the two-day Islamabad Security Dialogue, the army chief, who was the chief guest on the occasion, said that Pakistan’s “choice [to seek a dialogue] is deliberate” and based on reason, and not a result of any external pressure.

A stable relationship between arch-rival neighbours was key to unlocking the potential of south and central Asian regions by way of ensuring connectivity between East and West Asia, he said.

He said that it was high time that synergies are created in the region through connectivity, peaceful coexistence and resource sharing to fight common enemies such as hunger, illiteracy, and diseases instead of fighting forever wars.

“The Kashmir dispute is at the heart of it [issues between India and Pakistan],” he said.

The army chief stressed the need to understand that without the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the process […] will always remain vulnerable to derailment to politically-motivated bellicosity.”

The unresolved disputes in South Asia were dragging the entire region into debt and poverty, he observed.

“Despite being an impoverished region, we end up spending a lot of money on defense which naturally comes at the expense of human development,” he said.

Gen Bajwa observed the national security encompassed more than just matters and affairs related to strengthening the country’s security forces. “It included development and human security as well,” he said.

He also noted that “despite rising security challenges, Pakistan has been one of the few countries that have resisted the temptation of involving itself in an arms race”, citing the decrease in the country’s defence expenditure.

“Today, the leading drivers of change in the world are demography, economy and technology. However, one issue that remains central to this concept is economic security and cooperation. Frayed relations between various powers centres of the globe and boomeranging of competing alliances can bring nothing but another stint of Cold War.”

Pointing to Islamabad’s role in easing the start of reconciliation talks between warring Afghan parties, Gen Bajwa said that the Afghan peace dialogue is solid evidence of Pakistan’s benevolent goodwill.

He observed that Pakistan persuaded the Taliban to negotiate and sign a landmark agreement with the United States in February 2020, leading to the commencement of the intra-Afghan negotiations first in Doha and now in Moscow.

He said that Pakistan will continue to seek a sustained and inclusive peace process for the betterment of the people of war-town Afghanistan and regional peace.

He further said that Pakistan has also undertaken unprecedented measures to enhance Afghan trade and connectivity by reenergising the Afghan-Pakistan transit trade agreement and also providing access to Afghanistan to export its goods to India.

The army chief said that the country’s efforts for lasting peace in Afghanistan and responsible and mature behaviour towards India manifested its desire to change the narrative of geo-political contestation to geo-economic integration.

Gen Bajwa said that Islamabad’s long fight against terrorism and extremism also “manifested our resolve and national will”. He said: “We have come a long way but short still of our final objective. We are determined to stay the course.”

The army chief said that “we had realised that unless our own house is in order, nothing good could be expected from outside”. Now Pakistan has begun work towards sustainable development and improving the economic conditions of underprivileged areas, he added.

He said that the military has contributed immensely towards this national cause by rebuilding and mainstreaming some of the most neglected areas through massive development, besides ensuring peace and security.

He also said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has been at the heart of Pakistan’s economic transformational plan. He further said that Pakistan has made sincere efforts to make the gamechanger project “inclusive, transparent, and attractive for all global and regional players with the aim of bringing its benefits to everyone”.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/03/19/pm-had-offered-india-to-initiate-peace-talks-soon-after-assuming-office-fm/

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Hindu Journalist, Ajay Lalwani, Shot Dead In Pakistan Evoked Sharp Criticism from Hindus and Muslims

Mar 20, 2021

AMRTISAR: The killing of Ajay Lalwani, a Hindu journalist from Sukkhur in Sindh province of Pakistan has evoked sharp criticism not only from the Hindu leadership of the country but also from the Muslims.

Lalwani was shot at by unidentified gunmen while he was sitting at a hair-cutting saloon on Wednesday. He was rushed to the civil hospital but the journalist succumbed to the injuries and died on Thursday, March 18.

The Muslims staged a demonstration in Sukkur, questing the safety of journalists and demanded immediate arrest of the culprits, who is believed to be an influential politician of the region.

“We have information that Ajay was killed on the insistence of a local Muslim politician of Sindh who has not only lend his support to the Islamic clerics having a major role in the conversion of Hindu girls to Islam but also provides shelter to them since Ajay had been exposing their deeds." said a source

"We believe that the said politician had orchestrated his murder,” the source said.

He was on the target of a few local politicians who enjoyed the support of some bureaucrats.

A demonstration in Sukkur city of Pakistan was held on Saturday demanding the immediate arrest of the culprits.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Hindu Member National Assembly (MNA) Lal Chand Malhi condemned the incident and directed police to arrest investigate the matter and arrest the assailants at the earliest.

Sahil Jogi, Lalwani's colleague, said Lalwani is the fourth journalist to have been killed by militants in the past one year.

The Journalists Union held a demonstration Sukkhur on Saturday condemning the killing of journalists and demanded safety for the journalist fraternity.

Four Hindu girls have been kidnapped in the last 36 days in Sindh.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/hindu-journalist-shot-dead-in-pakistan/articleshow/81602044.cms

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PDM plans to launch long march soon after Eidul Fitr: Fazl

March 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) President Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Friday said that the alliance has already decided to go public and the long march is expected to take place after Ramzan.

Speaking to media, Fazl said that he is in contact with all the parties of the alliance, including Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif.

“PPP has convened a meeting of its CEC (Central Executive Committee) and a positive response is expected. We are mulling a proposal to tender resignations from the assemblies in phases. In the first phase, resignations from the National Assembly would be submitted and in the second phase, resignations from the provincial assemblies would be given while the lawmakers of the Sindh Assembly would resign in the third phase,” said the PDM chief.

He said that it is clear that the opposition has no choice but to protest. “Because if we only have to fight in the assemblies, then why we formed the PDM,” he argued.

He said that conspiracies are being hatched to break the PDM. “But we are not kids. Allah has given us intellect. If we do not understand how to deal with the situation, then we have no right to do politics,” he added.

According to sources, Zardari has sought more time from the PDM chief. A meeting of the PPP’s CEC has been convened. Another important meeting in this regard will be held on April 4 immediately after the death anniversary of PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, sources said.

They added that all efforts aimed at creating divisions within the PDM would be foiled and a middle ground to accommodate the PPPs reservations would be found.

According to a report, after requesting the PPP co-chairman to convene a meeting of his party’s CEC soon, Fazl has been conveyed that it is difficult to convene a meeting of the CEC immediately.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/03/19/pdm-plans-to-launch-long-march-soon-after-eidul-fitr-fazl/

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Biden Must Press Pakistan to End Persecution of Religious Minorities

by Qasim Rashid

March 18, 2021

Last year the U.S. State Department labeled Pakistan a country of particular concern over its increasing persecution of religious minorities.

This label is the State Department’s strongest condemnation under the International Religious Freedom Act, and normally mandates sanctions for the designated country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intervened, however, with a presidential waiver to avoid such punishment.

The alliance between the two nations has sent $70 billion in economic and military aid to Pakistan since Pakistan’s founding. If not for the sake of sheer justice, then at least for the sake of protecting American interests, President Joe Biden must hold U.S. ally Pakistan accountable to repeal its discriminatory anti-Ahmadi legislation and actions. While the legislation particularly targets Ahmadi Muslims, it tragically also enables societal discrimination and violence against Pakistan’s Christian, Sikh, Hindu, and Shia communities.

Most recently, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has intensified the government’s decades-long violent persecution of religious minorities — particularly that of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. For the first time, the PTA has filed a lawsuit against two American citizens who belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, seeking to shut down a U.S. based website, trueislam.com. The PTA argues that because Ahmadis built the U.S.-based website, it violates Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws. The PTA applied the same convoluted logic to order Google to remove any app built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community from the tech giant’s Play store.

Google has, sadly, capitulated to the draconian demands. Sam Brownback, the former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, has compared Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadi Muslims to the Chinese dictatorship, exclaiming, “[This is] Pakistan following in the China model.”

A Brief History of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in 1889 by a man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the awaited Messiah to reform Muslims, peacefully revive Islam, and reject all forms of religious violence. Despite suffering decades of violent religious persecution, it is well documented that Ahmadi Muslims have maintained their position against all forms of religious violence. Pakistan’s persecution of Ahmadis escalated in 1974, when, in an unprecedented vote, the General Assembly amended the country’s Constitution to formally declare the  Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ‘outside the fold of Islam.’

Imagine, for a moment, if the United States passed a constitutional amendment declaring Catholics outside the fold of Christianity? Notwithstanding this absurd amendment, in 1984 Pakistan added Ordinance XX to its penal code, criminalizing any Ahmadi Muslim who proclaims to be a Muslim with arrest and fine. By 1986, Pakistan added Section 295-C, mandating up to and including the death penalty for Ahmadi Muslims.

These draconian laws have predictably left Ahmadi Muslims to languish in apartheid conditions. All books, literature, events, speech, and websites belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Pakistan are criminalized. Pakistan denies Ahmadis free and fair voting and forces Ahmadi Muslims to declare their faith on their passports as a means to prevent them from performing the Hajj pilgrimage. To perform Hajj, a Pakistani citizen must have “Muslim” on their passport for religious affiliation. To obtain a passport with “Muslim” as the religious affiliation, Pakistan requires applicants to complete a form declaring Ahmadi Muslims as “non-Muslim.” Since Ahmadis refuse to declare themselves non-Muslim, they are identified as “Ahmadis,” and thus denied the ability to perform Hajj. In other words, Pakistan’s government has created special ID cards to single out Ahmadis.

These apartheid conditions have led to systemic persecution of Ahmadi Muslims, including mass murder, grave desecration,  expulsion of school children for their faith, and a complete lockdown of all religious practice. Pakistan has faced repeated condemnation from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for its incessant violation of religious freedom, yet the discriminatory laws remain.

The U.S. Must Demand Justice for Ahmadi Muslims

When President Biden repealed the ‘Muslim Ban’ his first day in office, he condemned the ban as “contravening our values, undermin[ing] our national security, jeopardiz[ing] our global network of alliances and partnerships and a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over.” Indeed, we cannot ignore the connection between persecution of religious minorities and collapse of national and economic security. Look no further than the last four years in the United States. The United States has seen historic highs in hate crimes targeting American Muslims, Jews, and Black, Indigenous, and persons of color (BIPOC) individuals — all of which has undermined American national security.

Pakistan’s government has traversed this dangerous road for several decades, suffocating its own national security, and becoming “a safe haven for certain regionally focused terrorist groups,” according to the State Department. Pakistan’s economy also suffers as a consequence. For example, in the 1960s—prior to enacting discriminatory legislation—Pakistan’s economy grew at a rate of 6% per year, double neighboring India’s growth. By the 1990s, as Pakistan was in full swing of enforcing discriminatory legislation and implicitly legitimizing extremist groups, India surpassed Pakistan’s growth, and has never looked back. Major U.S.-based companies have already threatened to leave Pakistan due to its censorship laws.

The persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan is increasing, with yet another innocent Ahmadi gunned down last month in a spate of targeted murders. The U.S.-Pakistan alliance should continue. However, it should not be indiscriminate. If we do not emphatically demand justice of Pakistan’s government to its own citizens, we give a greenlight to not only continue that violent persecution, but also escalate in targeting American citizens. Advancing the U.S.-Pakistan alliance on the principles of justice and protecting religious minorities is imperative for a just, prosperous, and secure future.

https://www.justsecurity.org/75383/biden-must-press-pakistan-to-end-persecution-of-religious-minorities/

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Pakistan reaffirms support to political settlement in Afghanistan

March 19, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has reaffirmed Pakistan’s resolve to facilitate all efforts for a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan, underlining the importance of exercising vigilance against the role of “spoilers.”

Qureshi said this in a telephonic conversation with his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar on Friday. Views were exchanged on matters of mutual interest, including Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and the latest status of Afghan peace process during the phone call.

Reiterating Pakistan’s consistent support to the Afghan peace process, the foreign minister underlined that the intra-Afghan negotiations provided a historic opportunity to achieve an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan.

The foreign minister urged Afghan parties to work constructively for the shared objective of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. He underscored the need to remain cognizant of the challenges and impediments on the way, which could be overcome through patience, perseverance and persistence.

In the bilateral context, the foreign minister reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to forge closer cooperation with Afghanistan in all fields. He underlined the importance of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APAPPS) as a vital platform to carry forward the bilateral cooperation on key tracks.

The foreign minister also emphasised the need for early conclusion of talks relating to the APTTA.

The two foreign ministers exchanged greetings and good wishes on the eve of Nowruz.

Foreign Minister Qureshi extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Atmar to visit Pakistan at the earliest convenience.

In a related development, Afghan President’s Special Envoy for Pakistan Affairs Mohammed Umer Daudzai has said that Kabul wants Islamabad to play the same role in facilitating an agreement between the government of Asfhraf Ghani and the Taliban as it did in the Doha pact which was possible due to Pakistan’s cooperation.

“The agreement between the Taliban and the US, there was serious Pakistan cooperation in it and the US thanked Pakistan. Now we, as their brothers and sisters, expect Pakistan to do the same between the Afghan Republic and the Taliban,” he said.

About the role of government in Islamabad, Daudzai said that Afghanistan has its expectations from Pakistan to use its influence over the Taliban, to consistently come to a negotiation table and also to follow the negotiation on a result base.

“The other thing we expect [from Pakistan] is to again use influence over Taliban to agree to a ceasefire,” the Afghan envoy said.

This peace effort, he said, is different from the earlier efforts as the animosity between the Taliban and the US are over. “The Taliban used to claim that Afghanistan is occupied by the US and as long as it continues we will fight. Now they have signed an agreement in February last year in Doha which means their problem is over, they have overcome their problem but now they have continued to fight against the Afghanistan government forces.”

He said that since 2018, a framework has been developed, specifying areas of cooperation. “The first one is state-to-state friendship and cooperation. The second is Pakistan’s cooperation in the peace process, third is the trade and transit, the fourth one is counter-terrorism and the fifth one is refugee return.”

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/03/19/pakistan-reaffirms-support-to-political-settlement-in-afghanistan/

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UK lauds Pakistan’s conciliatory efforts for peace in Afghanistan

March 19, 2021

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and British High Commissioner to Islamabad Dr Christian Turner on Friday discussed Afghan peace process in detail.

The British high commissioner called on the foreign minister on Friday. During the meeting, the two sides discussed bilateral and regional issues, including Afghan peace process in detail.

Qureshi said that Pakistan attaches special importance to bilateral relations with the United Kingdom. The British high commissioner commended Pakistan’s conciliatory efforts for peace in Afghanistan.

Alluding to the Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir, the foreign minister urged the international community to play its due role for the resolution of Kashmir dispute as per the UN Security Council resolutions.

Both sides agreed to further enhance relations in all areas of mutual interest.

Russia on Thursday hosted a peace conference between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Moscow, as the Kremlin pushes for a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in the war-ravaged nation. The talks come after negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban have stalled in the Qatari capital of Doha, while Turkey is due to hold another peace conference in April. The Moscow talks included US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, along with officials from Pakistan and China.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/03/19/uk-lauds-pakistans-conciliatory-efforts-for-peace-in-afghanistan/

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Pakistan, Iraq discuss ways to enhance military engagements

March 19, 2021

The defence authorities of Pakistan and Iraq discussed measures to enhance the level and scope of bilateral military engagements between the two countries, said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Friday.

Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Nadeem Raza, who is on an official visit to Iraq, held talks with Iraqi Defence Minister Juma Enad Sadoon Khattab Al Jibori, Iraqi Chief of Staff General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yar Allah Al Lami and Commander Iraqi Air Force Lieutenant General Shahab Jihad Ali, said the military’s media wing in the statement.

During the meetings, both sides deliberated upon various areas of interest including security and defence cooperation and prevailing regional situation. They discussed measures to enhance the level and scope of bilateral military engagements between the two countries and reaffirmed to continue to forge deeper ties, said the ISPR.

The CJCSC also visited Defence University for Higher Military Studies and called on its Rector Lieutenant General Saad Mizhir Muhsin Hashim Al Allaq.

On the occasion, General Nadeem Raza highlighted the positive role of Pakistan in countering violent extremism and also shared Pakistan’s efforts for regional peace and stability especially in Afghanistan, said the ISPR.

Earlier on February 25, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa said that Pakistan acknowledges sacrifices rendered by Iraqi nation in fight against terrorism. The Chief of Army Staff said this during a meeting with Iraqi Defence Minister Jummah Enaad Saadoon Khatab Al Jibori who called on him at General Headquarters (GHQ), said the ISPR in a statement.

The army chief also offered all possible assistance and cooperation to Iraq in development and defence-related fields. According to ISPR, during the meeting, matters pertaining to mutual interest, regional security issues and measures to further enhance bilateral defence collaboration were discussed. Both sides reaffirmed their determination to work together for enhancing security and stability in the region.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2021/03/19/pakistan-iraq-discuss-ways-to-enhance-military-engagements/

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South Asia

 

Afghan govt, Taliban agree to step up peace talks after Moscow summit

Mar 20, 2021

The Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on Friday to try to accelerate peace talks, at a meeting in Moscow that followed an international conference there on the peace process, a senior Afghan official was quoted as saying.

The US, Russia, China and Pakistan called on Afghanistan's warring sides to reach an immediate ceasefire at the conference, held in Russia just six weeks before a deadline agreed last year to withdraw the US troops. "We expressed our readiness to accelerate

the process," Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, said. “They (the Taliban) did as well.” Abdullah said the sides had not discussed any specific issues. — Reuters

Expect troops withdrawal: Taliban

The Taliban warned Washington against defying the May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, promising a “reaction”, which could mean increased attacks.

“They should go,” Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, said. AP

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/world/afghan-govt-taliban-agree-to-step-up-peace-talks-after-moscow-summit-227637

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36 killed in Afghanistan's clashes, 7 Taliban militants arrested

2021-03-20

KABUL, March 20 (Xinhua) -- At least 36 people were killed in insurgent activities and clashes in Afghanistan in the past 24 hours, according to a local independent war monitoring group early Saturday.

"Within the past 24 hours, our team has documented 36 deaths, including one Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) member, and 35 Taliban militants," Reduction in Violence (RiV) said on social media.

The group said there were also 31 Taliban militants, and four security forces wounded in the cited period.

The casualties came from four violent incidents that took place in four of the country's 34 provinces, according to the RiV figures.

In an unrelated incident, the ANDSF arrested seven Taliban militants during a cleanup operation in Jaji Aryob district of eastern Paktia province on Friday, the Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed in a statement earlier in the day.

The statement added that vast areas were cleared off from Taliban in the district, in the mountainous region. Enditem

http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/asiapacific/2021-03/20/c_139823607.htm

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'Go back Modi': Muslims, students protest Indian PM’s visit to Bangladesh

March 19, 2021

Muslims and student activists rallied in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to denounce the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join the celebration of the country’s 50th anniversary of independence.

Modi is due to arrive in Dhaka on March 26, which Bangladesh celebrates as its independence day. It was the date in 1971 when Bangladesh declared itself independent from Pakistan. Aided by India, Bangladesh emerged as a new nation after nine months of bloody war.

After Friday prayers, about 500 Muslims marched onto the streets outside the country’s main Baitul Mokarram Mosque in downtown Dhaka amid tight security.

The protesters carried no banners and did not declare if they have any allegiance to any political parties. They took their shoes in their hands to show disrespect to Modi. They chanted anti-India and anti-Modi slogans, asking him not to come to Dhaka.

Separately, about 200 left-leaning student activists marched through streets on Dhaka University campus where they called Modi “the butcher of Gujarat”.

Some protesters carried posters reading “Go Back Modi, Go Back India” and “Go Back Killer Modi.”

Modi was chief minister in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 when Hindu-Muslim riots left more than 1,000 people dead. Allegations that authorities allowed and even encouraged the bloodshed have long followed Modi, who has repeatedly denied having any role. India’s Supreme Court has said it found no evidence to prosecute him.

The protesters criticised Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for inviting Modi, saying the two countries had many disputed issues. The protesters said Modi and his Hindu-nationalist party oppressed Muslims in India. They also criticised the killings of Bangladeshis by Indian border guards. India says such casualties happen when Bangladeshis are involved in cross-border smuggling and attempt to cross the border illegally.

“India’s subordinate government of Hasina has invited Modi, we are here to protest against that,” Hossain Mohammed Anwar said in front of the mosque.

Modi’s visit is the first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic began. He is scheduled to travel to a place outside Dhaka that is sacred to the Matua community of India’s West Bengal state.

Matua is a Hindu religious sect that is expected to determine the winner of at least seven constituencies in the Indian state’s assembly elections next month.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1613419

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Taliban warn US against delaying troop pullout beyond deadline

March 20, 2021

MOSCOW: The Taliban warned Washington on Friday against defying a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of American and Nato troops from Afghanistan.

The Taliban issued their warning at a press conference in Moscow, the day after meeting senior Afghan government negotiators and international observers to try to jumpstart a stalled peace process to end Afghanistan’s decades of war.

President Joe Biden’s administration says it is reviewing an agreement the Taliban signed with the Trump administration. Biden told ABC in an interview on Wednesday that the May 1 deadline could happen, but it is tough, adding that if the deadline is extended it won’t be by a lot longer.

“They should go,” Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiation team, told reporters, warning that staying beyond May 1 would breach the deal. “After that, it will be a kind of violation of the agreement. That violation would not be from our side... Their violation will have a reaction.”

He did not elaborate on what form the reaction would take, but in keeping with the agreement they signed in February 2020, the Taliban have not attacked US or Nato forces, even as unclaimed bombings and targeted killings have spiked in recent months.

“We hope that this will not happen, that they withdraw and we focus on the settlement, peaceful settlement of the Afghan issue, in order to bring about a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire at the end of reaching a political roadmap (for) Afghanistan,” Shaheen said.

He also reaffirmed that the Taliban were firm on their demand for an Islamic government. Shaheen didn’t elaborate on what an Islamic government would look like or whether it would mean a return to their repressive rules that denied girls’ education, barred women from working, and imposed harsh punishments.

Shaheen did not say whether the Taliban would accept elections, but he emphasised that the government of President Ashraf Ghani would not fit their definition of an Islamic government.

In previous statements, the Taliban have said their vision of an Islamic government would allow girls to attend school, and women to work or be in public life. But in every conversation, they emphasised the need to follow Islamic injunctions without specifying what that would mean.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1613537/taliban-warn-us-against-delaying-troop-pullout-beyond-deadline

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Lenten youth retreat fosters Christian unity in Bangladesh

Stephan Uttom

March 19, 2021

Catholic and Protestant youngsters joined an ecumenical retreat during Lent in northern Bangladesh with an aim to foster unity among Christians of various churches.

About 100 young Christians, mostly college and university students, from six denominations joined the program in Rajshahi city jointly organized by Rajshahi Diocese and the Church of Bangladesh on March 17.

The program at Caritas Rajshahi aimed to promote ecumenism and spiritual bonding among young Christians ahead of Easter Sunday.

Church officials said the event focused on making young men and women more aware about the importance of prayer, fasting and the resurrection of Jesus.

“The main objective of this event was to give spiritual consciousness to the youth, to prepare them for the resurrection of Jesus and to explain the greatness of resurrection,” Father Patrick Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Commission for Christian Unity and Inter-Religious Dialogue, told UCA News.

“We arranged it with the aim of uniting the youth of different churches and helping them to become more respectful to each other's religious principles. We have also wanted to make them more comfortable in the presence of each other.”

Catholics and Protestants are generally on good terms but sometimes fringe Christian groups who campaign aggressively draw new members, even from the Catholic Church, and create tensions and rifts among Christians, the priest said.

“There are doctrinal differences that infuse divisions, but ecumenical efforts like this can help us overcome all the differences,” Father Gomes said.

Samuel Baroi, 25, a Baptist Christian and a university student, said the program helped broaden his mind and he felt the importance of Christian unity.

“I used to think Catholics were very radical but this program changed my mind. I think this kind of program should be arranged frequently so that we know each other well and bring an end to our prejudices and differences,” Baroi told UCA News.

Pastor Daniel Mondol, head of Rajshahi Church of Bangladesh, said that unity and collaboration among Christians were essential for the survival and prosperity of Christians in the country.

“Sometimes we see ourselves as distinct groups detached from each other, which hinders unity and harmony. The more ecumenical programs we have, the more our differences will be abolished. Our future generation must be united and better connected to thrive on ecumenism,” he told UCA News.

Bangladesh's Christians are a tiny minority: less than half a percent of 160 million people in the Muslim-majority country. Of an estimated 600,000 Christians, the majority, about 400,000, are Catholics spread in two archdioceses and six dioceses.

There are two major coalitions of Protestant churches. The National Council of Churches in Bangladesh (NCCB) has 15 members while the National Fellowship of Churches, Bangladesh (NFCB) has 19 member churches.

Since the late 1960s, following the Second Vatican Council, the country’s bishops have promoted interreligious dialogue and ecumenism through the Commission for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh and the Protestant fellowships in 2011 formed the United Forum of Churches in Bangladesh (UFCB), which draws representatives from all member associations.

The UFCB arranges ecumenical programs including dialogues, seminars and common religious feasts with an aim to promote unity.

https://www.ucanews.com/news/lenten-youth-retreat-fosters-christian-unity-in-bangladesh/91825#

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MoD calls for ‘vengeance’ following the attack on ANA helicopter

20 Mar 2021

The Ministry of Defense on Saturday has pledged to take revenge for the attack on a military helicopter in Maidan Wardak.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Fawad Aman has told media that based on the investigations and evidence, the Afghan Air Force helicopter was shot down by Alipur’s militia in Behsud.

Fawad Aman said MoD will “revenge the attacks at any cost”.

The attack happened on Thursday at around 1 am when ANA helicopters were transferring security force members, equipment, and food.One of the choppers was shot down by Alipur militias in the Behsud district of Maidan Wardak.

According to reports Alipur is a local militia man in the region reportedly backed by outsiders to disrupt security situations.

https://www.khaama.com/ministry-of-defense-calls-for-vengeance-following-the-attack-on-ana-helicopter-4324444/

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Europe

 

UK court ruling opens door for return of Daesh recruits

March 19, 2021

LONDON: Three Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh have won an appeal against a government ruling that stripped them of their citizenship, in a decision that could open the door for more terrorists to re-enter the UK.

A judge ruled on Friday that two women and a man had been rendered stateless by a Home Office move that stripped them of their British citizenship. It is illegal under international law to make someone stateless.

All three people are Bangladeshi by ethnicity, but did not have Bangladeshi citizenship when their British citizenship was revoked.

Under Bangladeshi law, any blood line to a Bangladeshi-born citizen retains the country’s citizenship until the age of 21.

The trio were said by the British government to be a threat to national security because of their links to Daesh, and were thus stripped of their citizenship to prevent them returning.

The judge said the three “were not nationals of Bangladesh or any other state apart from the UK. This means that orders depriving them of their British citizenship would make them stateless.”

The judge added: “The secretary of state had no power to make orders with that effect. For that reason — and that reason alone — the appeals against the decisions to make those orders succeed.”

Upon return to the UK, government sources said they will be subject to counterterror investigations and restricted movements, contacts, and use of the Internet and phones.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We are extremely disappointed with this judgment and the court’s decision that deprivation cannot stand in these cases. The government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the UK.”

The ruling could mean that more people rendered stateless while in Syria have their British citizenship returned.

High-profile cases such as that of British-Bangladeshi Shamima Begum, who traveled to Syria to join Daesh when she was 15, could be influenced by the ruling.

She was 19 when she was stripped of her citizenship, but is now 21 and so may not be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship.

It is unclear exactly how many British adults remain in Syria in camps administered by the West’s Kurdish allies, but politicians such as Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood have previously warned that blocking their return to the UK may not be in the nation’s best security interests.

He said last year: “We’ll see a repeat of Al-Qaeda regrouping and becoming a very real threat, and that threat won’t just pose itself in the Middle East, but also to Britain.”

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1828366/world

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Over dozen British MPs demand govt. to reconsider ties with Bahrain over rights abuses

20 March 2021

More than a dozen British lawmakers have called on the UK government to “reconsider its relationship with Bahrain” to pressure the Al Khalifah regime into releasing political prisoners as a heavy-handed crackdown on pro-democracy activists persists in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.

In a letter sent to UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab earlier this week, 14 parliamentarians criticized the government for continuing to support the Manama regime despite the fact that its record on human rights has been described as dismal.

“Ahead of the 10th anniversary of the arrest of political leaders and activists in Bahrain for their participation in pro-democracy protests, we, the undersigned, are writing to draw your attention once again to the ongoing suppression of democracy and political opposition in Bahrain,” the letter, composed by Labor Party politician Zarah Sultana, read.

The letter noted that seven prominent Bahraini opposition leaders, including Hassan Mushaima, Abdelwahab Hussain, and Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, were arrested on March 17, 2011, and later sentenced to life imprisonment on trumped-up charges of communicating with foreign countries and inciting murder and destruction of properties.

The legislators urged the UK government “to disengage from blind support of those who abuse civil society for the mere expression of opinion.”

The letter asked the government to follow its mission statement on Bahrain, to “help Bahrain to return to a stable and reformist state with a good human rights record.”

The British lawmakers called for the immediate and unconditional release of Bahraini political prisoners.

They also demanded reconsidering relationship with Bahrain, as a country of concern, until the demands of the Bahraini people are adequately met.

The news comes as leaked documents indicate that Raab has stated that the UK will pursue trade deals with countries irrespective of their poor human rights records.

Raab said he hoped establishing and maintaining trade links with such countries would act as a "positive influence" on their human rights records.

“We don't junk whole relationships because we've got issues – we have a conversation because we want to change the behavior,” Raab said according to leaked audio from a video call.

Last week, the European Union Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to condemn human rights violations in Bahrain, where the death penalty is retained for a wide range of offences.

The parliament called on Bahrain to quickly halt the imminent execution of 26 death row prisoners and condemned the ongoing use of torture against detainees and the persecution of human rights defenders.

"[Members of the European Parliament] are deeply concerned that ten years after the Bahraini 'Arab Spring' uprising, in 2011, the human rights situation in the country continues to worsen," it said in a statement.

Demonstrations in Bahrain have been held on a regular basis ever since a popular uprising began in mid-February 2011.

The participants demand that the Al Khalifah regime relinquish power and allow a just system representing all Bahrainis to be established.

Manama, however, has gone to great lengths to clamp down on any sign of dissent.

On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were deployed to assist Bahrain in its crackdown.

On March 5, 2017, Bahrain’s parliament approved the trial of civilians at military tribunals in a measure blasted by human rights campaigners as being tantamount to imposition of an undeclared martial law countrywide.

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah ratified the constitutional amendment on April 3, 2017.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/20/647692/Over-dozen-British-MPs-demand-govt--to-reconsider-ties-with-Bahrain-over-rights-abuses

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Erdogan blasts Biden for calling Putin ‘a killer’

19 March 202

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized US President Joe Biden for calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “a killer,” saying the comment is “unacceptable” and not befitting of a leader.

“Mr. Biden’s statements about Putin are not fitting of a president,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul on Friday, praising Putin for giving a clever and “classy” response.

“For me, Mr. Putin has done what is necessary by giving a very, very smart, very classy response,” he said.

Erdogan further called Putin a “friend and a strategic partner” despite differences over conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, and Libya.

In an interview with ABC on Tuesday, Biden was asked whether he thought the Russian president was a “killer,” to which he responded “I do.”

The American president also said that his Russian counterpart would “pay a price” for his alleged attempt to undermine Biden’s candidacy in the US election in 2020.

Russia recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations in response.

But President Putin himself responded by wishing the 78-year-old Biden “good health.”

“I remember in my childhood, when we argued in the courtyard, we used to say: it takes one to know one. And that’s not a coincidence, not just a children’s saying or joke,” the Russian president said.

Putin also said that Moscow would not cut ties with Washington over the matter.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow expected a formal apology from Washington over Biden’s comment, the Interfax news agency reported.

Tensions have been running high between the US and Russia in recent months, especially over an allegation that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2020 US election in favor of Biden’s then-rival Donald Trump.

Moscow has called that allegation “baseless” and “unsubstantiated.”

Separately, the US has been pressuring Turkey to drop a contract to purchase advanced Russian missile defense systems.

In a 2019 interview, Biden also called Erdogan an “autocrat.”

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/19/647656/Erdogan-blasts-Biden-for-calling-Putin-%E2%80%98a-killer%E2%80%99

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Germany honours Turkish vaccine pioneers

Ayhan Simsek  

19.03.2021

BERLIN

Germany’s president conferred Turkish scientists Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci with the country’s highest award on Friday for inventing the world’s first effective vaccine against COVID-19.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier presented the Order of Merit to Sahin and Tureci at a ceremony held at the Bellevue Palace, which was also attended by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“On behalf of our country, I would like to thank you both for your outstanding scientific achievements, and I wish that your further major research plans would bring about similar groundbreaking successes for you and for all of us,” Steinmeier said at the ceremony.

He underlined that Sahin and his wife Tureci’s pioneering work in the field of mRNA technologies, and their development of the coronavirus vaccine against in less than a year, made a decisive contribution to containing the pandemic.

“Your groundbreaking discovery is saving human lives, it is securing the necessities of life, ensuring our social, economic and cultural survival. With every vaccinated person we can take a small step towards normalization, a step towards the life we miss and the people we love,” he said.

The Great Cross with Star of the Order of Merit, which was given to the Turkish-German scientist couple, is one of the country’s most prominent honors to pay tribute to the individuals for their great services to the nation.

Both Sahin and Tureci were born to immigrant parents from Turkey who moved to Germany in the 1960s, and after studying medicine at the university, they have built successful careers in the fields of cancer immunology, molecular biology and the mRNA vaccine technology.

The pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which the couple founded in 2008, managed to develop the world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine together with its US partner Pfizer.

Ruling CDU leader praises Sahin and Tureci

Armin Laschet, the leader of Germany’s governing party Christian Democratic Union (CDU),  praised the scientists for their great achievements in a message he posted on Twitter.

Condemning far-right propaganda against the country’s immigrant population, Laschet underlined the valuable contributions of immigrants to the country.

“Sahin’s father was seen as a ‘guest worker’ by many, they wanted to send him back to Turkey. It’s good that we’re a country of immigration, it’s good that he stayed here, and his son made a career by studying here,” he said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also congratulated the couple for receiving the Order of Merit of Germany, and said they have become role models for many people.

“Europe can consider itself lucky, as it greatly benefited from the vision of Ozlem Tureci and Ugur Sahin in fight against the virus,” she said on Twitter.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/germany-honors-turkish-vaccine-pioneers/2181730

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French move to declassify archive draws mixed reactions in Algeria

Hossam El Din Islam 

19.03.2021

French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to begin the declassification of defense documents up to 1970 has received mixed reactions in Algeria.

While Abdelmadjid Cheikhi, the Algerian president’s advisor welcomed the decision, describing it as "positive and important”, former MP Kamal Belarbi said it was difficult to believe that the French will lift the veil on its colonial legacy in Algeria. He urged for continuing the battle to hold France accountable for its colonial crimes.

In a statement released by the official news agency, Cheikhi said that Macron's decision is good. He added the issue now needs follow-up and the decision needs to be applied widely. He also noted the period from 1920 to 1970 is very important to the history of Algeria.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, former MP Kamal Belarbi expressed skepticism on the French move to lift the aura of secrecy clouding their role in Algeria.

Belarbi, who had earlier piloted a bill to criminalize colonialism, said the French will not hand over the secret documents.

"France will continue to tamper with the archives. The most important thing is that we remain committed to our demands to hold France accountable for crimes it committed in Algeria for 132 years," he said.

He added that it was misleading to expect that France will hand over documents containing the most heinous massacres that it had committed against the Algerians.

Taoufik Bougaida, professor of political science at the University of Algiers said the unveiling of documents will not significantly affect French relations with Algeria.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Bougaida said Macron’s decision was aimed at calming tensions surrounding the issue.

"The outstanding issues between France and Algeria are not related to these documents, which were decided by French law [that they are the property of France]. Rather, the dispute concerns documents before the colonial period [1830-1962],” he said.

He said France does not have the right to own pre-colonial documents. “They are a human heritage belonging to the Algerian people, and this is what Paris rejects,” he said.

Algeria is demanding the restoration of the entire pre-colonial archive, which Paris transferred when its forces were leaving the country.

Acknowledge and apologize

Previously, Macron and his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune agreed to appoint two historians, one from each country, to discuss the issue of returning the memory files.

Following this decision Benjamin Stora from the French side and Abdelmadjid Cheikhi from the Algerian side took up the issue.

The Algerian authorities accuse French forces of smuggling hundreds of thousands of maps and historical documents during the colonial period (1830-1962), including those dating back to the Ottoman era (1518-1830).

Algerians have been asking France to acknowledge and apologize for the discriminatory practices and crimes committed during its colonial rule in the country.

Based on estimates by Algerian historians, 1.5 million Algerians were killed during the 1954-1962 Algerian War of Independence. French historians put this figure at 400,000 from both sides.

Macron’s office decided to declassify documents while acting on recommendations from historian Benjamin Stora.

In his 120-page report, he suggested measures to address the enduring grievances, such as the establishment of a joint commission comprising French and Algerian historians to probe kidnappings and assassinations that included those of Europeans, killed in Oran in July 1962. It also called on to identify the places where the inmates executed were buried during the war.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/french-move-to-declassify-archive-draws-mixed-reactions-in-algeria/2181218

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Defence: About 30 suspected neo-Nazi soldiers are under surveillance

18 March 2021

The military intelligence service SGRS is keeping a group of around 30 serving soldiers under close surveillance, on suspicion they have extreme right-wing or neo-Nazi sympathies, the RTBF has revealed.

The question of a presence of right wing extremists in the Belgian forces arose after it was revealed that the French army contains a sizeable number of extremists, who display their affiliations openly and apparently without any sanction.

The problem of right-wing extremists is not new, although in recent years attention has concentrated more on an increase in Islamist extremism within the armed forces.

As recently as last year, however, with the declining influence of IS, the intelligence services have turned their attention to right-wing extremism, which appears to be on the rise – at least partly as a reaction to Islamic extremism and to successive waves of refugees and migrants escaping that very problem.

The RTBF contacted Tony Bargibant of the union that represents members of the armed forces, to find out if Belgium has the same problem as that revealed in France.

“As far as I know, the SGRS carries out checks at this level. So there could be problematic cases but it is a tiny minority, they hardly represent anything. The problem is not the same as in France,” he said.

If the intelligence service has any reason to suspect a particular person, he explained, they start a campaign of close surveillance, involving the person’s online life as well as every detail of their private activities.

That report was confirmed to the RTBF by a spokesperson for the defence ministry, run by Ludivine Dedonder (PS), who pointed out that the SGRS is aware of a rise in right-wing extremism.

“We have a platform that works on non-religious extremism, including the far right. The SGRS focuses on the extreme right within the armed forces,” the spokesperson said.

“We are currently following around 30 soldiers very closely, for their sympathies or their obvious links with radical right-wing groups. It’s important to follow and we’re doing it well. We dig and we find. Screening is working well. However, we wish to stress that the threat remains minimal within the military.”

And while some active cases are under investigation, the military aims to screen out possible cases at the recruitment stage.

“New recruits must pass certain tests and in particular an interview with a psychologist and other doctors,” Bargibant explained.

“That is when problematic cases can be detected. A screening is also carried out on each candidate, into whether a candidate has, for example, a criminal record on the subject or an obvious link with an extreme right-wing group. Then they will not be engaged either. The forces have put things in place to avoid hiring a person close to extreme ideologies whatever they may be,” he said.

https://www.brusselstimes.com/news/belgium-all-news/160587/defence-about-30-suspected-neo-nazi-soldiers-are-under-surveillance/

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North America

 

US State Department blasts Houthis for attack on Saudi oil refinery in Riyadh

Joseph Haboush

19 March ,2021

The United States Friday condemned the latest Houthi attack, which targeted an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh and caused a fire.

The Iran-backed Houthis have escalated their attacks on Saudi Arabia since US President Joe Biden took office and revoked the terror designation against the Yemeni group. Biden also removed three senior Houthi officials from the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list.

“We have seen that the Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks and condemn the Houthis’ attempts to disrupt global energy supplies by targeting Saudi infrastructure,” a State Department official told reporters during a phone briefing.

Such attacks demonstrate a an utter lack of concern for safety of the civilians that work and live near the oil refineries, Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said.

“We remain deeply concerned by the frequency of attacks on Saudi Arabia,” Porter added.

The Houthis have escalated their attacks on Saudi Arabia since US President Joe Biden took office and revoked the terror designation against the Yemeni group. Biden also removed three senior Houthi officials from the Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) list.

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/03/19/Terrorism-US-State-Department-blasts-Houthis-for-attack-on-Saudi-oil-refinery-in-Riyadh

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Southeast Asia

 

High Court: Najib-era 10-point solution could have solved ‘Allah’ controversy in 2011 if 1986 ban had been retracted

19 Mar 2021

BY IDA LIM

KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 ― The long drawn-out controversy over the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications could have been resolved if the Malaysian government had fully implemented its 10-point Solution in 2011 and dropped its 1986 ban on such use, the High Court said in its ruling in a Sarawakian Bumiputera Christian’s case.

In this particular court case, Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Sarawakian native Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill of the Melanau tribe had filed a court challenge against the home minister and the Malaysian government, after eight educational compact discs ― containing the word “Allah” in the titles ―- for her personal use were seized by the government.

Jill Ireland had in her court case sought for Constitutional reliefs, including a declaration that the 1986 directive ― issued by the Home Ministry and which was used by the ministry to justify the seizure of her eight CDs ― was unconstitutional and unlawful.

While some Muslims in Malaysia believe “Allah”, the Arabic word for God, to be exclusive to Islam, it was adopted into the national language generations ago and used throughout by Malay-speaking Christians in the country, especially those living in Sabah and Sarawak.

The word is also part of terms referring to God in the indigenous languages of tribes in east Malaysia such as the Iban, Bidayuh, Lun Bawang, Lun Dayeh and Kelabit.

About the 1986 government directive

In the full grounds of the High Court’s March 10 judgment that was released this week, Justice Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin examined the government’s 1986 written directive which had banned the use of four words ― including “Allah” ― in Christian publications.

The judge noted the government’s position in the court case that the 1986 directive was the then Cabinet’s decision which related to the government’s policy at that time to “avoid any confusion among the Muslims and Christian community which is likely to be prejudicial to public order and creating religious sensitivity amongst the Malaysians”.

About the 10-point solution

While ultimately finding the 1986 directive to be unlawful and unconstitutional due to reasons such as the home minister acting beyond his legal powers to issue the ban, the judge had also explored the 10-point solution that was provided by the Malaysian government in 2011 to the Christian community and which lawyers had raised during the High Court hearing of Jill Ireland’s case.

The judge was referring to the 10-point solution which was a collective decision by the Cabinet and which was announced on April 2, 2011, and set out in full by then-prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his April 11, 2011 letter to the Christian Federation of Malaysia.

The judge then summed up the 10-point solution as having “demonstrated the Cabinet’s acceptance and acknowledgment that the usage of the word ‘Allah’ is never an issue in Sabah and Sarawak and the Christians are allowed to use the word in the two states without restriction.”

The judge also highlighted that the 10-point solution had not attached any conditions to the importation and local printing of the Bible in all languages ― including Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and indigenous languages ― in Sabah and Sarawak in recognition of the large Christian community in the two states.

At the same time, when it comes to Peninsular Malaysia and taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community there, the 10-point solution required the printing of the words “Christian publication” and the “cross” sign on the front covers of Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Indonesia that are imported or printed.

“By doing this, one will not be confused that this is a Christian publication,” the judge said when touching on the Cabinet’s solution of the labelling of Bibles in such languages when it comes to Peninsular Malaysia.

“I have reason to believe, premised on the submissions of both parties, that the 10 Point Solution is an all encompassing religious tolerance initiated by the Cabinet that may provide the solution to end the long standing religious controversy as there seems to me to be a consensus between the parties in resolving rather than entering into religious debates and polemic on the use of the word ‘Allah’,” the judge said in her 96-page judgment that was sighted by Malay Mail, referring to the submissions or arguments provided in court by lawyers who represented those involved in Jill Ireland’s case.

The judge, however, indicated that the then-federal government had failed to give full effect to the 10-point solution when it was announced in 2011, as it did not retract the 1986 government directive.

The 1986 directive had put a total ban on the word “Allah” in Christian publications, unlike the 2011 solution which allowed Christian publications with the word “Allah” for the Christian community’s use based on location-specific conditions.

“However, despite the strong commitment shown by the Cabinet, the impugned directive was allowed to remain and has never been withdrawn till to date.

“Even after nearly a decade following its announcement, the uncertainty continues as to whether the 10 Point Solution would ever be effectively implemented.

“If the Cabinet had withdrawn the impugned directive when the announcement on the 10 Point Solution was made, there would really be no serious dispute before this court anymore,” the judge said, referring to Jill Ireland’s court matter.

Malay Mail’s checks of the 10-point solution in Najib’s 2011 letter to the local Christian community showed the Cabinet’s collective decision as also allowing the importing and local printing of Bibles in all languages including Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia, and the indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak such as Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang, as well as the Cabinet’s decision that there should be no restrictions for people bringing along their Bibles and Christian materials when travelling between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia in recognition that many travel between such locations.

Also as part of the 10-point solution, the Home Ministry’s secretary-general had issued a directive in the form of a memorandum dated April 8, 2011 to direct all civil servants to comply with the Cabinet decision, Malay Mail’s checks showed.

Public order not threatened in allowing Christians’ use

In the same High Court judgment released this week, Nor Bee indicated that the 1986 directive remains unlawful even after the 10-point solution was introduced, saying: “The 10 Point Solution certainly cannot remedy the illegality of the impugned directive.”

Saying that the 10-point solution has no force of law, the judge said the relevance of this 2011 Cabinet decision to Jill Ireland’s case was only to show that the 10-point solution did not come about because of any threats to public order.

Citing the same 2011 letter by then-prime minister Najib which outlined the 10-point solution, the judge noted that the Cabinet decision was instead made due to the government’s concern over the Home Ministry’s officers’ act then of impounding Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Indonesia, which the letter said had “triggered concerns and tensions within the country” and which had to be urgently addressed.

“There could not be any issue of public order or threat to public order if the Cabinet alone that have access to the necessary information on national security, have taken a much more liberal approach in manning the religious issues compared to the position previously taken as demonstrated in P.U (A) 134/1982,” the judge said when noting the 10-point solution as showing that there was no threat to public order.

PU (A) 134/1982 refers to a gazetted government order made by the Home Ministry in the year 1982 to prohibit the printing, publication or possession of Bibles in Bahasa Indonesia except when used in churches by Christians.

Among other things, the judge concluded that the available evidence as a whole showed that the government’s reliance on the issue of “public order” to justify the issuing of the 1986 government directive was irrational.

Earlier in the same judgment, the judge had noted that the government had also failed to provide any evidence to back its claim that the 1986 government directive was needed to avoid alleged confusion and “misunderstanding” if the common word “Allah” was used by both the Muslim and Christian communities.

But even before ruling that the 1986 government directive to ban the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications could not be justified by the reasons of preventing alleged confusion or misunderstanding that would allegedly disrupt public order, the judge had already listed out reasons why the 1986 directive was unlawful and unconstitutional.

This included reasons such as the home minister not having powers under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to issue the 1986 directive, and as the 1986 directive did not have statutory backing and was in conflict with the 1982 gazetted government order.

Among other things, the judge also highlighted how the 1986 directive by the Home Ministry ― which placed a total ban on the word “Allah” in Christian publications ― had changed the Cabinet’s May 1986 policy decision to only place a conditional ban on such usage.

The Cabinet had decided that the word could be used in Christian publications if Untuk Agama Kristian was specified on the publication’s cover page.

Other than declaring the government directive issued by the Home Ministry’s publication control’s division via a circular dated December 5, 1986 as unlawful and unconstitutional, the High Court in the same March 10 judgment also granted two constitutional declarations sought by Jill Ireland.

This included a declaration that it is Jill Ireland’s constitutional right under the Federal Constitution’s Article 3, 8, 11 and 12 to import the publications ― in the form of the eight CDs for her personal use ― in exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education.

The remaining order was a declaration under the Federal Constitution’s Article 8 that Jill Ireland is guaranteed equality of all persons before the law and is protected from discrimination against citizens on the grounds of religion in the administration of the law ― specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Customs Act 1967.

Following the High Court’s decision, the government and the home minister have since filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

On March 18, former minister Baru Bian disclosed that Jill Ireland’s court case could have been resolved out of court in the recent two years if the government had adopted a proposal to use an administrative resolution to amend the 1986 directive to incorporate the 10-point solution.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/03/19/high-court-najib-era-10-point-solution-could-have-solved-allah-controversy/1959327

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Council of Churches says no to dialogue with Home Ministry over ‘Allah’ use

19 Mar 2021

BY SOO WERN JUN

KUALA LUMPUR, March 19 ― The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) has expressed disagreement with the Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin’s proposal to initiate a dialogue session to resolve dispute over the use of the word ‘Allah’.

The council today in a statement said it would be inappropriate to hold a dialogue regarding the issue since the government had on March 15 filed a Notice of Appeal against the High Court decision.

“Since the matter is now in the Court of Appeal, we are of the view that it is highly inappropriate for the issue to be resolved through a dialogue initiated by the Home Ministry, who is one of  the Appellants,” the council said.

Earlier today, Hamzah said he would call for a dialogue at the end of the month with Islamic and Christian scholars to resolve the dispute over the use of the word ‘Allah’ which has been a legal issue since 2008.

He, however, pointed out that while finding solutions to this issue, it must be within the framework of the Federal Constitution.

Hamzah also said the appeal against the High Court decision allowing Christians to use the word “Allah” in religious publications for educational purposes would proceed.

The government had on Monday said it was appealing against the High Court decision and a notice of appeal was filed at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

On March 10, the High Court had ruled that the Malaysian government’s directive issued in 1986 with a total ban on the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications is unconstitutional and invalid.

It also declared orders to affirm Sarawakian Bumiputera Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill’s right to not be discriminated against and practice her faith.

The judge granted three of the specific constitutional reliefs sought by the Sarawakian native of the Melanau tribe.

The three orders granted by the judge include a declaration that it is Jill Ireland’s constitutional right under the Federal Constitution’s Article 3, 8, 11 and 12 to import the publications in the exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education.

The other two declarations granted by the judge today are that a declaration under Article 8 that Jill Ireland is guaranteed equality of all persons before the law and is protected from discrimination against citizens on the grounds of religion in the administration of the law ― specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Customs Act 1967), and a declaration that government directive issued by the Home Ministry’s publication control’s division via a circular dated December 5, 1986, is unlawful and unconstitutional.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/03/19/council-of-churches-says-no-to-dialogue-with-home-ministry-over-allah-use/1959284

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PBS urges Putrajaya to withdraw ‘Allah’ appeal, tells all parties to stop politicising issue

19 Mar 2021

BY JULIA CHAN

KOTA KINABALU, March 19 ― Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) today urged Putrajaya to reconsider its appeal against the ruling allowing Christians to use the word ‘Allah’, saying that Christians in East Malaysia have always been free to use the word.

PBS secretary-general Datuk Joniston Bangkuai said the issue is nothing new and was sorted a decade ago with a 10-point Standard Operating Procedure for Christians in both east Malaysian states.

“There is no hindrance for Christians in Sabah and Sarawak to use the word ‘Allah’ in their religious practices. It is time for our fellow Christians in West Malaysia to also enjoy the similar privilege,” he said.

He added that PBS adopts the same position and stand as the Sarawak state government.

“We fully identify and concur with the position stated by them.

“PBS is also aware that this is also the unspoken stand of the GRS (Gabungan Rakyat Sabah) since even before independence and before we became part of Malaysia. We have always enjoyed peaceful co-existence with all Sabahans irrespective of their religious beliefs.

“We will continue to preserve this religious unity and harmony. PBS as a multiracial party has always adhered to this belief and stand. There is no need to politicise the issue and we need not be influenced by the tactics of the opposition,” said Bangkuai.

On March 10, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the government directive via a December 5, 1986 circular issued by the Home Ministry’s publications control division was unlawful and unconstitutional.

This government directive was the one that banned the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications.

Since then, the federal government has appealed against the decision, a move that was lauded by Malay-based political parties but did not sit well on Sabah and Sarawakian parties.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/03/19/pbs-urges-putrajaya-to-withdraw-allah-appeal-tells-all-parties-to-stop-poli/1959275

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Indonesian Muslim Body Clears AstraZeneca Use in Emergency

By Niniek Karmini

March 20, 2021

AstraZeneca’s vaccine against COVID-19 was cleared Friday for use in Indonesia after the drug regulator declared it safe and clerics in the world’s most populous Muslim nation said a pig-derived element was acceptable in a pandemic.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy had delayed using AstraZeneca’s product after more than a dozen countries in Europe suspended the vaccine due to concerns of some people who received the vaccine developing blood clots. The World Health Organization said it saw no evidence the vaccine was to blame for the clots, and some European countries were resuming its use.

“The benefits of using the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca outweigh the possible risks, so that we can start to use it,” Indonesia’s Food and Drug Authority said in its announcement.

The Indonesian agency said the risk of death from COVID-19 was much greater, “Therefore, the community still has to get vaccination against COVID-19 according to the designated schedule.”

At the same news conference, an official from Indonesia’s highest Islamic body declared the AstraZeneca vaccine “haram,” or forbidden in Islam, for containing materials derived from pigs but still approved its use by Muslims given the emergency situation.

Asrorun Niam Sholeh, from the Indonesia Ulema Council, said trusted experts have explained the dangers posed by people not being vaccinated while halal vaccines are lacking.

“Indonesian Muslims must participate in the COVID-19 vaccination program implemented by the government to achieve herd immunity and be free from the COVID-19 outbreak,” Sholeh said.

He emphasized, however, that once the pandemic is under control or is no longer an emergency, the government should do better to guarantee the availability of halal vaccines, given the majority of Indonesians are Muslims.

Sholeh, the head of the council’s fatwa commission, said the AstraZeneca vaccine used trypsin, an enzyme that breaks down proteins, from pigs during its production process.

AstraZeneca and other manufacturers have said pork products are not part of their COVID-19 vaccines. A concern about vaccines for other diseases has been pork-derived gelatin, a widely used stabilizer that ensures vaccines remain safe and effective during storage and transport.

Health ministry official Siti Nadia Tarmizi said distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine would start by next Monday. “The earlier we distribute the vaccine, the earlier we can get out of this pandemic,” she said.

The food and drug monitoring agency, however, cautioned against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people with a low blood platelet count and blood clotting disorders.

Indonesia has received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 8, through COVAX — a multilateral effort seeking to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccination — with another 10 million more expected next month.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is the second to arrive in Indonesia after the one made by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, which received the approval of the Muslim council.

The country remains the worst hit in Southeast Asia with more than 1.4 million cases as of Friday and over 39,300 deaths.

Indonesia aims to inoculate more than 181 million of its 270 million people by March 2022 as part of a free vaccination drive that began in January.

https://thediplomat.com/2021/03/indonesian-muslim-body-clears-astrazeneca-use-in-emergency/

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Indonesian Hardline Islamic Cleric Charged With Violating COVID Restrictions

By VOA News

March 19, 2021

Indonesian prosecutors accused hardline Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab of incitement and widespread coronavirus restriction violations in his first virtual court appearance on Friday.

Shihab’s legal team says the charge is politically motivated, with the cleric saying in court that he was being "forced and denigrated" and that it was his right to appear in a regular courtroom. He previously refused to take part in online court proceedings.

Prosecutors in the case outlined how Shihab’s return from exile in Saudi Arabia in November was celebrated with a massive rally and how his hosting his daughter’s wedding breached large-scale social restrictions.

Both events collectively drew more than 10,000 people, with 33 guests at the wedding testing positive, as well as Shihab.

Shihab left Indonesia in 2017 to complete a pilgrimage to Mecca shortly after being charged in a pornography case and for insulting the official state ideology. The charges were subsequently dropped.

https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/indonesian-hardline-islamic-cleric-charged-violating-covid-restrictions

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Arab World

 

Ankara tells Egyptian Islamists to ‘tone down’ media attacks

20/03/2021

ANKARA--Turkey is urging Egypt’s Istanbul-based opposition media to “tone down” criticism of President Fattah al-Sisi as Ankara tries to mend ties with Cairo, the people involved said Friday.

Egyptian authrorities welcomed the “good initiative from the Turkish side.”

Ayman Nour, an exiled Egyptian opposition figure and head of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked al-Sharq television station, confirmed in televised comments that Turkish officials demanded that the channels tone down their rhetoric. He said they were not ordered to shut down or to stop airing programmes.

“A dialogue has started between us and Turks in the framework of changing the rhetoric (of these channels),”Nour said.

After the 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, Nour fled to Turkey, where he has been a strident critic of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. In April 2017, a lawsuit to strip him of his Egyptian citizenship was filed but then dropped.

An editor at al-Sharq told The Associated Press that Turkish officials made the request during a meeting in Istanbul on Thursday with managers from al-Sharq and two other channels, Mekamleen and Watan. The officials told the broadcast managers they could continue to make programmes about Egypt but not against the Egyptian government, citing Turkey’s negotiations with Egypt, according to the editor.

The Turkish megapolis is home to three mostly pro-Brotherhood television channels staffed by Egyptian media activists: Al Sharq, a liberal outlet owned by opposition figure Ayman Nour; Watan, the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mekameleen, an independent channel close to the Islamist movement.

Nour told AFP he had a meeting with Turkish officials on Thursday in which they expressed Ankara’s “desire to see these media outlets tone down” their criticism of Sisi’s rule.

Nour denied reports Turkey had threatened to shut down the Egyptian opposition channels or expel opponents of Sisi.

“The possibility of closing down channels or expelling journalists or political opponents was never raised,” Nour said, calling the meeting “civilised in tone and involving no diktats”.

But sources within the Istanbul-based Egyptian opposition said that in meetings with some of the media outlets, the Turkish officials raised the idea of “suppressing certain programmes and excluding certain presenters”.

This suggestion “was rejected”, one of the sources told AFP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks.

But “all options are on the table, including leaving Istanbul and moving to another country if rules are imposed on us that we cannot accept,” the source said.

Yasin Aktay, an adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also denied Ankara was planning to expel or hand over Egyptian journalists and political opponents to Cairo.

“Turkey will not arrest anyone or hand anyone over,” Aktay said on social media.

The TV channels however immediately stopped broadcasting some political programmes, an editor said who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

There was no immediate comment from the Muslim Brotherhood group.

Hamza Zawba, a former spokesman of Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, arrived in Turkey in 2014 and has till now presented a show on the Mekameleen television channel.

“Turkey accepted us to live here as exiles, nobody else did that,” he told Al Jazeera a few months ago, adding that Turkey provided them with a vital space to challenge Sisi’s narrative.

“[The show] is a venue to express my views and to give some analysis, to face the  media claims about the coup and to raise awareness over what’s going on,” he said.

All that could be over now. The editorial limits of anti-Sisi channels have clearly shrunk.

Egypt’s state minister for information, Ossama Heikal, welcomed the Turkish move, calling it in a statement a “good initiative from the Turkish side that establishes a favorable atmosphere to discuss issues of dispute between the two nations.”

Ankara has been on a charm offensive aimed at re-establishing relations that were broken off when Sisi spearheaded the military’s ouster of Turkish-backed Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Turkey seems bent of showing the Egyptians it is serious about bilateral reconciliation after a lukewarm reaction by Cairo to its overtures. But there is still a long road ahead for Turkey to break the pattern of hostility to countries in the region.

Earlier this month, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry acknowledged that diplomatic contact had been established with Turkey but addressing parliament’s foreign relations committee cautioned “words are not enough, they must be matched by deeds,”.

Analysts say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been extending olive branches to his rivals in the face of potential sanctions from the European Union and a tough new diplomatic line from US President Joe Biden.

Relations between Ankara and the Arab quartet of formerly-boycotting countries remain mired in animosity and geopolitical differences including the role of Turkey and its alliances in the region, diplomats and the informed sources said.

“Those ideological and political divisions won’t disappear overnight,” said Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

“Still, there are signs that both sides are wearying of the proliferating battles and more willing to cut losses, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.”

https://thearabweekly.com/ankara-tells-egyptian-islamists-tone-down-media-attacks

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UAE Fatwa Council: Covid Vaccine Use Allowed According To Islamic Laws

December 22, 2020

The Council urges everyone to cooperate with governments to ensure the success of vaccination campaigns.

The UAE Fatwa Council, under the chairmanship of Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, has issued a 'fatwa' (Islamic ruling) allowing the coronavirus vaccines to be used in compliance with Islamic Sharia’s objectives on the protection of the human body and other relevant Islamic rulings.

This comes in response to growing concerns among Muslims over the halal status of the Covid vaccines and following a request for an advisory opinion addressed by the Minister of Religious Affairs of Malaysia, to the UAE Fatwa Council on the same subject.

The Council urges everyone to cooperate with governments to ensure the success of vaccination campaigns.

The UAE Fatwa Council, under the chairmanship of Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, has issued a 'fatwa' (Islamic ruling) allowing the coronavirus vaccines to be used in compliance with Islamic Sharia’s objectives on the protection of the human body and other relevant Islamic rulings.

This comes in response to growing concerns among Muslims over the halal status of the Covid vaccines and following a request for an advisory opinion addressed by the Minister of Religious Affairs of Malaysia, to the UAE Fatwa Council on the same subject.

https://www.khaleejtimes.com/coronavirus-pandemic/uae-fatwa-council-covid-vaccine-use-allowed-according-to-islamic-laws

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Prophet's Mosque to remain open for Taraweeh prayers amid COVID-19 precautionary measures

March 19, 2021

MADINAH — Worshipers can offer Taraweeh prayers (special night prayers) during the holy month of Ramadan amid preventive and precautionary measures, the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques announced on Thursday.

“Taraweeh prayer will be performed in the Prophet’s Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan along with the obligatory prayers,” Sheikh Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais,” president of the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, pointed out while announcing the presidency’s plans for the holy month.

He further said that the plans include programs, targets, alternatives, emergencies, and crisis management for the months of Shaaban and Ramadan as well as for Eid Al-Fitr holidays.

He added that the plans were meticulously drawn up while taking into account the impact of the latest directives on the programs and targets and the intensity of the movement of visitors and worshipers in the Prophet’s Mosque.

“The season this year is exceptional amid the COVID-19 pandemic, characterized by the presence of worshipers in the Prophet’s Mosque in certain numbers, in line with the precautionary measures,” Al-Sudais stressed.

As part of the plans, the Prophet’s Mosque will close for half an hour after the Taraweeh prayer and will reopen two hours before the Fajr prayers except for the last ten days of Ramadan when it will be open 24/7.

The total capacity of worshippers in Ramadan will be 60,000 worshippers at one time amid social distancing measures. The Prophet’s Mosque has a maximum operational capacity of 45,000 while the new western piazzas can accommodate 15,000 worshipers.

Worshipers are allowed to pray in the “Hassawaat Area”, expansions, roofs, and piazzas, according to a grouping plan based on densities and implementation of the precautionary measures.

Performing prayers inside the Old Haram and the Rawdah area will continue to be restricted to the workers and staff of the Prophet’s Mosque, and relatives of the deceased, and those joining funeral processions, in case of funeral prayer.

Last Ramadan, authorities had suspended the holding of Taraweeh prayers at the Two Holy Mosques in a bid to curb the spread of the COVID-19 in the Kingdom.

https://saudigazette.com.sa/article/604588/SAUDI-ARABIA/Prophets-Mosque-to-remain-open-for-Taraweehprayers-amid-COVID-19-precautionary-measures

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Missiles, drones targeting Saudi Arabia were all Iranian made or supplied: Al-Jubeir

Joseph Haboush

19 March ,2021

Attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent weeks had links to Iran as they were carried out using Iranian-made or Iranian-supplied weapons, a senior Saudi official said Friday.

“All of the missiles and drones that came into Saudi are Iranian manufactured or Iranian supplied,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said in an interview.

“Several of them, as we’ve said, came from the north; several came from the sea,” he told Arab News, referring to the attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities.

The Iran-backed Houthis continue to launch bomb-laden drones and ballistic missiles at Saudi Arabia on an almost daily basis.

And despite US condemnations of the attacks, the Biden administration pushed ahead with revoking the terrorist designation of the Yemeni group days after President Joe Biden took office.

Washington and other aid groups claimed that the designation would make it difficult for humanitarian aid to flow through the country. According to US and UN officials, Yemen is home to one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the world.

Biden also lifted the Specially Designated Globally Terrorist (SDGT) listing of Yemen’s leader and two other senior officials.

But Al-Jubeir said the terrorist designation did not and would not have stopped aid to the country.

He said Saudi Arabia made this “very clear” to European and American allies, as well as the United Nations.

The Saudi official went on to provide examples of countries that are home to terrorist organizations, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Afghanistan’s Taliban, ISIS in Syria and Al-Shabab in Somalia. This doesn’t stop aid from getting to the countries, he said.

The Houthis are the problem, Al-Jubeir insisted, saying they steal foreign aid and sell it to “finance their war machine.”

Al-Jubeir added: “They induct young boys — 9, 10, 11 years of age — and put them on the battlefield, which is against international law and a severe violation of human rights.”

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/03/19/Missiles-drones-targeting-Saudi-Arabia-were-all-Iranian-made-or-supplied-Al-Jubeir

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Lebanon central bank will intervene in order to control the exchange rate: President

19 March ,2021

Lebanon’s central bank will allow banks to conduct currency transactions similar to exchange dealers and will step in to rein in the pound/dollar rate, the presidency said on Friday.

Sharp new falls in the Lebanese pound, which has lost 90 percent of its value, have fueled unrest in recent weeks.

“As of next week, banks will be allowed to deal with currencies like legitimate exchange dealers...via the (central bank’s electronic) platform,” a spokesman for President Michel Aoun said after his adviser met Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.

https://english.alarabiya.net/business/economy/2021/03/19/Lebanon-economy-Lebanon-central-bank-will-intervene-in-order-to-control-the-exchange-rate-President

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Arab Coalition destroys explosive drone targeting Saudi Arabia’s Khamis Mushait

Joanne Serrieh

20 March ,2021

The Arab Coalition intercepted and destroyed an explosive-laden drone launched by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia toward Saudi Arabia's Khamis Mushait, the Coalition announced on Saturday.

Khamis Mushait is a southwestern city home to the King Khalid Air Base.

The Coalition said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) that the Houthi militia continues to target civilians. Yemen’s Houthis regularly launche drones and missiles into Saudi Arabia, many of which Riyadh says it intercepts.

Friday morning, Houthi drones targeted an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh, causing a fire which was brought under control, a Ministry of Energy official said. No injuries were reported and the attack did not affect the oil supply nor its derivatives.

On March 7, the Arab Coalition said a barrage of drones and missiles had been intercepted en route to targets including an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, the site of a refinery and the world's biggest offshore oil-loading facility. A residential compound in Dhahran used by Saudi Aramco was also targeted.

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/03/20/Arab-Coalition-destroys-explosive-drone-targeting-Saudi-Arabia-s-Khamis-Mushait

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Drones target Riyadh oil refinery, fire brought under control: Saudi official

Joanne Serrieh

19 March ,2021

Drones targeted an oil refinery in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh Friday morning, causing a fire which was brought under control, a Ministry of Energy official said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The source also said there were no injuries reported, adding that the attack did not affect the oil supply nor its derivatives.

“The Kingdom asserts that such acts of terrorism and sabotage, repeatedly committed against vital installations and civilian… do not target the Kingdom alone, but more broadly the security and stability of energy supply to the world, as well as the global economy,” the source said, according to SPA.

On March 7, the Arab Coalition said a barrage of drones and missiles had been intercepted en route to targets including an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, the site of a refinery and the world's biggest offshore oil-loading facility. A residential compound in Dhahran used by Saudi Aramco was also targeted.

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/03/19/Riyadh-oil-refinery-targeted-by-drones-fire-brought-under-control-Saudi-official

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HTS terrorists planning false-flag chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib, Russia warns

20 March 2021

Russia has warned that foreign-backed terrorists are preparing for a false-flag chemical attack in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib to implicate government troops and fabricate pretexts for foreign acts of aggression on the war-ravaged Arab country.

Rear Admiral Alexander Karpov, the deputy head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties in Syria, said on Friday that the center had received information that the foreign-sponsored Takfiri terrorists, affiliated with the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) terrorist group, were seeking to escalate tensions in the northeastern part of the province through organizing an attack on the village of Kityan in order “to frame the Syrian army for the use of chemical warfare against civilians.”

Karpov noted that his center has frequently been informed about terrorists’ provocative actions in Syria and their attempts to carry out false-flag chemical attacks.

Back on March 9, the HTS militants were intending to stage a chemical attack on the village of Kabana in Idlib.

The Russian Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Parties in Syria announced on February 20 that the HTS terrorists had been planning a provocation with the use of toxic agents northeast of the de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib Province.

The center said at the time that the al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists had already delivered truck containers with toxic agents, presumably chlorine, to the town of Turmanin.

“According to our information, militants plan to simulate a chemical attack entailing casualties among local residents in order to accuse the Syrian government forces of the use of chemical weapons against civilians,” it stated back then.

Also on April 4, 2017, a suspected sarin gas attack hit the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria’s Idlib Province, killing more than 80 people.

The Western countries rushed to blame the incident on the Syrian governemnt, with the US launching a missile attack against Shayrat Airbase in Syria’s Homs Province on April 7, 2017.

Washington claimed that the air field had been the origin of the chemical attack. Damascus, however, said the Khan Shaykhun incident was a fabrication to justify the subsequent US missile strike.

Russia has repeatedly criticized the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for ignoring the information about toxic provocations in Syria, saying the body is biased against the Damascus government.

Recently, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said the OPCW is being used as a political tool by the Western countries to put pressure on the states they deem as "undesirable".

Moscow and Damascus have on many occasions accused members of the so-called White Helmets civil defense group of staging gas attacks in a bid to falsely incriminate Syrian government forces and fabricate pretexts for military strikes by the US-led military coalition.

The group claims to be a humanitarian NGO but has long been accused of collaborating with anti-Damascus militants.

On April 14, 2018, the US, Britain and France carried out a string of airstrikes against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack on the city of Douma, located about 10 kilometers northeast of the capital Damascus.

Washington and its allies blamed Damascus for the Douma attack, an allegation rejected by the Syrian government.

Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack takes place.

This is while Syria surrendered its stockpile of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United States and the OPCW, which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry. It has also consistently denied using chemical weapons.

Syrians slam US occupation, call for withdrawal of Turkish forces from Hasakah

Meanwhile, Syrians in northeastern province of Hasakah have attended a tribal forum to protest the deployment of US and Turkish military forces in their areas, and express their full support for the anti-terror operations of Syrian army troops.

Participants in the forum, organized by Taei tribe in the city of Qamishli, stressed the need for popular resistance as the most viable strategy in the face of foreign forces, who plunder natural resources and steal agricultural crops to increasing the sufferings of people in the Jazira region.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Faris, a senior tribal leader, told Syria’s official news agency SANA that “The forum is being held after ten years of resilience against terrorism.”

He noted that the residents of Jazira region strongly support the territorial integrity of their motherland as well as the unity of all Syrians, and stand by government troops.

Sheikh Faris emphasized that members of local clans will cast their ballots in the forthcoming presidential election.

‘US military forces smuggle wheat crops from Hasakah into Iraq’

A convoy of dozens of US trucks has left Hasakah for the neighboring Iraq, carrying tens of tons of grain, reports said.

SANA, citing local sources, reported that 17 military vehicles loaded with wheat crops from silos of Touwiba village headed towards Iraqi territories.

The sources added that the trucks were escorted by US-sponsored militants affiliated with the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/20/647680/HTS-militants-preparing-false-flag-chemical-attack-in-Syria-Idlib-Russia-warns

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Yemeni army launches new drone strike on Aramco facility in Saudi capital

19 March 2021

Yemen’s army says it has successfully carried out another drone strike against a facility belonging to oil giant Aramco in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, in retaliation against the kingdom’s ongoing military aggression and siege against its southern neighbor.

Yahya Saree, spokesman for the Yemeni army, announced in a series of tweets on Friday that six drones had been used in the retaliatory attack that hit the oil facility “with high precision” at dawn, without specifying the type of the UAVs and the exact location of the target.

In retaliation for the stepped-up Saudi-led military campaign and blockade, “Yemeni Armed Forces carried out today at dawn the sixth operation of Shaaban with six drones targeting Aramco in capital of the Saudi enemy, Riyadh,” the military official said.

“The General Command of the Armed Forces confirms that its operations are continuing and escalating as long as the aggression and siege continue,” Saree added.

1- In retaliation to escalation of brutal aggression and its unjust blockade on Yemen , Yemeni Armed Forces carried out today at dawn the sixth operation of Shaaban with six drones targeting Aramco in capital of the Saudi enemy, Riyadh.

— Yahya Sare'e (@Yahya_Saree) March 19, 2021

He also delivered a warning to civilians as well as the foreign firms operating on Saudi soil to stay away from “military and vital” targets, indicating Sana’a’s determination to keep up its attacks the regime in Riyadh, which has been leading a bloody coalition war against Yemen since early 2015.

Initially, Saudi authorities kept silent about the raid, but following Yemen’s announcement, the regime’s Oil Ministry admitted to the incident and said the drone attack had triggered a fire at the facility.

The ministry, however, claimed that the fire had been “brought under control.” It added that the attack had caused no casualties and had not disrupted oil supplies.

Key Saudi air base comes under drone attack

Later in the day, the Yemeni forces continued their defense campaign with a drone strike against King Khalid air base near the southwestern Saudi city of Khamis Mushait in the Asir region

Saree said the base had been struck with two Qasef-2K drones “with high precision,” renewing the warning to civilians and foreign firms to keep away from strategic sites in Saudi Arabia.

The news comes as Yemeni army troops, backed by popular and tribal forces, have been making major gains in their decisive push to liberate the city of Ma’rib from the grip of Saudi-funded militants loyal to ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

Ma’rib — the capital of an oil-rich province of the same name — is seen as the last major stronghold of the Saudi-led mercenaries in the north. The city’s loss would deal a stinging blow to the former Riyadh-backed government, which Riyadh and a group of its allies have been trying to reinstall in Sana’a on the back of their devastating US-sponsored military campaign.

Fearful of such a loss, the Saudi-led coalition has intensified its air raids on Sana’a and elsewhere in Yemen, which usually target residential areas and civilian infrastructure. The alliance has also tightened the already-crippling siege of Yemen, blocking the entry of food, medicine, fuel and basic humanitarian supplies into the war-torn country.

In response, the Yemeni army has also increased its cross-border missile and drone attacks against military targets and vital infrastructure on Saudi soil.

In the latest such attacks, the Yemenis launched a barrage of drones and missiles at Ras Tanura, the site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil-loading facility. An Aramco was also targeted.

The first Yemeni attack on Aramco took place in mid-September 2019, when the army deployed as many as 10 drones to bomb Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities run by Aramco in the kingdom’s east.

The attack knocked out more than half of crude output, or 5% of global supply in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest oil producers, sending global crude prices high.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/19/647644/New-drone-strike-targets-Aramco-facility-in-Riyadh

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Mideast

 

Yemen’s Ansarullah calls on Saudi-led aggressors to free all tankers in 48 hrs. if it's serious about peace

20 March 2021

Yemen’s Ansarullah movement has called on the invading military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to release all Yemeni ships within the next two days as a first step to end a persisting blockade against the Yemeni people.

In a number of tweets on Friday night, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a member of Yemen's Supreme Political Council, called on the invading coalition and its supporters to end bloody aggression against the Yemeni people and lift a years-long blockade against them. 

“We call on the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and their allies for holding a comprehensive ceasefire throughout the Republic of Yemen and removing the current blockade,” al-Houthi tweeted.

He also stressed that the Saudi-led invading collation would have to “release all the 14 detained ships within the next forty-eight hours” as the first step to remove the current blockade against the Yemeni nation if they “are serious about peace and stopping the human tragedy” in Yemen.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has been waging a bloody military aggression against Yemen with help from its regional allies, and using arms supplied by its Western backers.

The aim of the war has been to bring former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and defeat the Ansarullah movement.

Tens of thousands of Yemeni people have so far been killed in the ongoing war.

More than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed during the war at a time when Yemenis are in desperate need of medical supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least 80 percent of the 28-million-strong population is also reliant on aid to survive in what the United Nations (UN) has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Separately, Yemeni Petroleum Company (YPC)'s Executive Director Ammar al-Adhra'i, for his part, said that the impounding of the tankers by the Saudi-led coalition came as “they are licensed by the United Nations (UN) and international organizations.”

He also warned that the lives of 26 million Yemenis “are in danger as a result of the theft of the tankers and their continued detention.”

Al-Adhra'i also warned of the dire humanitarian consequences of the closure of most of Yemen's service and vital sectors due to fuel shortage, calling on the world community to pressure the invading coalition to end its brutal war against the Yemeni nation.

Earlier, Yemen’s health ministry had warned that the inhumane blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition had practically crippled the ministry.

“If the oil products needed by the hospitals run out, we will see 500 people die every day in Yemen,” it had warned in a statement.

The war has also destroyed, damaged, and shut down Yemen's infrastructure, including a large number of hospitals and clinics.

The Yemeni population has been subjected to large-scale hunger and diseases aggravated by the naval blockade imposed on the country by the coalition of aggressors.

The US and a number of European countries are major suppliers of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/20/647679/Yemen-Saudi-Arabia-oil-tankers-US-Houthis

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Iran Blasts E3 for Coordination with No. 1 Enemy of JCPOA

2021-March-20

Zarif made the remarks after France’s President Emmanuel Macron accused Tehran of continuing what he called violations of the nuclear agreement and urged Iran to act “in a responsible way”.

Macron said Iran “must stop aggravating a serious nuclear situation with an accumulation of violations of the Vienna accord,” referring to the remedial measures that Iran has been taking progressively under Article 36 of the agreement — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — following Washington’s unilateral pullout in May 2018.

The Israeli regime, which is estimated to have at least 90 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, has refused, with the US’s invariable support, to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that is aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

Prior to the JCPOA’s conclusion, Israel lobbied intensively to torpedo a deal on Iran’s nuclear accord. As the main supporter of Washington’s pullout from the accord, Israel has likewise been trying to throw a wrench in the JCPOA’s revival through a range of plots such as influencing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s cooperation with Iran.

Zarif wrote on his twitter page on Friday that the European trio — France, Germany and Britain — are making such a call to Tehran only to “appease a terrorist regime with illicit nukes,” in a reference to Israel, the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East region.

The top diplomat further reminded the trio — also known as E3 — that if the JCPOA remained alive following the US’s exit and the European side’s failure to compensate for Washington’s absence, “it was solely because of Iran’s responsible conduct”.

To appease a terrorist regime with illicit nukes, E3 urge Iran "to act responsibly", he added.

“Reality check: The JCPOA is alive SOLELY because of Iran's responsible conduct,” Zarif wrote.

“Instead of coordinating with enemy No.1 of the JCPOA, the EU/E3 and US must act responsibly and comply with UNSCR 2231,” he added.

Iran and the G5+1 group of countries - the US, Britain France, Russia and China plus Germany - reached a landmark nuclear deal in 2015 after years of diplomacy and intensive negotiations.

The fate of the deal, officially dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), remains unclear primarily due to the US sanctions and also the failure of the European side to shield business with Iran in the face of Washington’s bans and threats. 

Iran says the US needs to take the first step to lift the sanctions and return to its commitments as it was Washington that quit the agreement in 2018 in total disregard for the international law.

Iranian officials say all the sanctions need to be removed before Tehran would halt the remedial actions it has taken under a mechanism enshrined in Article 36 of the JCPOA.

Under this provision, if a signatory to the deal deems an unresolved issue to constitute “significant non-performance” by its counterparts, it can treat it as ground “to cease performing its commitments under the JCPOA in whole or in part” until others are brought back to order.

Iran in February halted the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a remedial measure.

In January, Iranian Envoy and Permanent Representative to the UN Majid Takht Ravanchi underlined that if Biden decides to return to the nuclear deal, Washington should comply with all its undertakings in exact accordance with the internationally-endorsed agreement.

“We make decision and take reciprocal action considering Biden's moves vis a vis the nuclear deal. We have repeatedly demanded the US to return to the nuclear deal and this return should be complete and without preconditions, that is to say, no issue related or unrelated to the nuclear deal should be put forward for discussion,” Takht Ravanchi said.

“It should only be clear that the US international undertakings cannot be half-fulfilled. If they claim to return to the nuclear deal, this return should be accompanied by the full implementation of their undertakings with no hesitation or controversy,” he added.

Takht Ravanchi stressed Iran’s clear position towards the nuclear deal, and said, “We live up to our undertakings.”

He referred to the parliament’s bill to take strategic measures to counter the US sanctions against Iran, and said, “There is a timetable in the parliament’s bill and we are moving in the same direction, so we (at the foreign ministry) are not entitled to specify the period for how long we will wait. In the first place, we make decisions based on national interests, and secondly, we should act on the basis of and within the framework of the parliamentary bill.”

His remarks came after Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi announced that the country is at present producing nearly half a kilo of uranium enriched to the 20% purity level, meantime, saying that Tehran’s steps to reduce nuclear deal undertakings after the West’s disloyalties can all be backtracked.

“Based on the latest news I have, they (the Iranian scientists at nuclear installations) are producing 20 grams (of 20% enriched uranium) every hour; meaning that practically, we are producing half a kilo every day,” Salehi said in an interview with the Persian-language Khamenei.ir website released in January.

“We produce and store this 20% (enriched uranium) and if they return to the nuclear deal, we will return to our undertakings too,” he added.

Asked about the recent bill approved by the parliament to adopt strategic measures to remove sanctions against Iran, Salehi said that the AEOI is required to implement it.

“It is a reality and both the government and the AEOI have declared that they do not have any technical problems with implementation of the parliament’s bill and we launched 20% enrichment within 24 hours,” he said.

Salehi also underlined the need for Washington to remove all sanctions against Iran, specially those which prevent the country’s oil sales and banking transactions.

Iranian legislators had in January praised the AEOI for restarting enrichment of uranium at 20-percent purity level, and called for the full implementation of the recent parliamentarian law to counter the illegal US sanctions against the country.

In a statement, 190 legislators expressed their support for the AEOI’s resumption of 20% uranium enrichment and urged the body to fully and precisely implement the law ratified as a counteractive move to the sanctions illegally imposed on the country, especially those by the United States.

The lawmakers said the parliament approved the ‘Strategic Counteractive Plan for Lifting Sanctions and Safeguarding Rights of Iranian People’ to highlight Iran’s legitimate right to use peaceful nuclear technology and the importance of lifting all cruel sanctions against the country.

The Iranian parliamentarians in a meeting on December 1, 2020 ratified the generalities of a bill to adopt strategic measures to remove sanctions against the country and defend the nation’s interests.

The lawmakers, in November, had given the green light to the single-urgency of the strategic motion, but the plan turned into a double-urgency on Sunday after the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh's car was targeted by an explosion and machinegun fire in Damavand's Absard 40 kilometers to the East of Tehran on Friday November 27, 2020.

Under the bill, the AEOI is required to start in two months after the approval of the present bill to produce at least 120 kg of 20%-enriched uranium annually at Fordow nuclear site and store it inside the country, increase the enrichment capacity and production of enriched uranium to at least 500 kg per month, start the installation of centrifuges, gas injection, enrichment, and storage of materials up to proper purity levels within 3 months, via at least 1000 IR-2m centrifuges in the underground part of Shahid Ahmadi Roshan facility in Natanz, transfer any enrichment, research, and development operations of IR-6 centrifuges to the nuclear site of Shahid Ali Mohammadi in Fordow, and start enrichment operation via at least 164 centrifuges and expand it to 1000 by the end of 20 March 2021 (end of the Iranian calendar year) and return the 40 megawatts Arak heavy water reactor to its pre-JCPOA condition by reviving the heart (calandria) of the reactor within 4 months from the date of the adoption of this law.

Also, the government is required to suspend the nuclear deal-based regulatory access under the Additional Protocol and beyond within 2 months after the adoption of the law based on the articles 36 and 37 of the nuclear deal.

Iran signed the JCPOA with six world states — namely the US, Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and China — in 2015.

Trump, a stern critic of the historic deal, unilaterally pulled Washington out of the JCPOA in May 2018, and unleashed the “toughest ever” sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticism in an attempt to strangle the Iranian oil trade, but to no avail since its "so-called maximum pressure policy" has failed to push Tehran to the negotiating table.

In response to the US’ unilateral move, Tehran has so far rowed back on its nuclear commitments four times in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions.

Tehran has particularly been disappointed with failure of the three European signatories to the JCPOA -- Britain, France and Germany -- to protect its business interests under the deal after the US' withdrawal.

On January 5, 2020, Iran took a step in reducing its commitments, and said it would no longer observe any operational limitations on its nuclear industry, whether concerning the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, the volume of stockpiled uranium or research and development.

Meantime, US President Joe Biden said in a CNN article during his presidential campaign that he wants a renegotiation of the contents of the deal before he agrees to rejoin the agreement.

“I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern,” he wrote, mentioning that he wants changes to the contents of the nuclear deal and guarantees from Tehran that it would be open for compromise to strike multiple deals over its missile and regional powers as well as a number of other issues that have been the bones of contention between the two sides in the last four decades.

In response, Zarif had stressed that the US has violated the nuclear deal and is in no position to ask for any conditions for its return to the JCPOA, adding that it's Tehran that has its own terms to allow the US back into the internationally endorsed agreement.

The foreign minister has reiterated time and again that Tehran would not change even a single word of the agreement, and cautioned the US that it needs to pay reparations for the damage it has inflicted on Iran through its retreat from the nuclear agreement and give enough insurances that it would not go for initiating the trigger mechanism again before it could get back to the deal.

In relevant remarks in February, Spokesman for the AEOI Behrouz Kamalvandi said his country enjoys the capability to produce 120 kg of uranium with 20% purity in 8 months, that's 4 months faster than the one-year period required by a recent parliament approval.

https://www.farsnews.ir/en/news/13991230000052/Iran-Blass-E3-fr-Crdinain-wih-N-Enemy-f-JCPOA

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Ten Iranian nationals charged with evading US sanctions, disguised $300 mln

20 March ,2021

US prosecutors charged 10 Iranian nationals on Friday over an alleged long-running scheme to dodge US sanctions on Tehran by disguising $300 million in transactions, including the purchase of two oil tankers.

The eight men and two women were outside the US and had not been arrested, a spokesman for the US Attorneys Office in Los Angeles said. He declined to say if foreign governments had been asked to take them into custody.

“In a wide-ranging scheme spanning nearly two decades and several continents, the defendants conspired to abuse the US financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions on behalf of the government of Iran,” Acting US Attorney Tracy Wilkison said in a statement.

All ten defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate legal sanctions against Iran. The US government has also filed a civil forfeiture action seeking more than $157 million.

Reuters was not able to contact any of the accused and it was not clear if they had retained attorneys.

Prosecutors say the scheme dates back to 1999, when defendants Seyed Ziaeddin Taheri Zangakani, Salim Henareh and Issa Shayegh opened a business called Persepolis Financial Services in Los Angeles, which was used to illegally funnel US dollars to Iran.

The three men later moved to Canada and the United Arab Emirates where they used Persepolis and a second front company, Rosco, to carry out further transactions, aided by defendant Reza Karimi and others, according to the criminal complaint.

In 2012 Zangakari and another defendant, Abbas Amin, wired $20 million to Malaysia to buy piping equipment for an Iranian oil company, the document said.

Zangakari, Amin, Salim Henareh and Khalil Henraheh are charged with using a Hong Kong-based front company to quietly buy two $25 million oil tankers from a Greek businessman that same year. The Greek businessman, who is not named in the documents, was later sanctioned by the US government.

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/03/20/Iran-sanctions-Ten-Iranian-nationals-charged-with-evading-US-sanctions-disguised-300-mln

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Palestinian protester killed by Israeli Army in West Bank: Ministry

19 March ,2021

A Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said.

“A citizen who was shot in the head with live ammunition died,” the ministry said, adding the incident happened in the village of Beit Dajan, near Nablus. The Israeli army did not immediately comment on the report.

The man was shot in the head and taken to a hospital near the West Bank city of Nablus where he later died, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Asked for comment, the Israeli military said the incident was under examination.

The Palestinian killed was involved in a weekly protest against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan, near Nablus.

A group of Palestinians threw stones towards two Israeli soldiers posted there, and the soldiers then opened fire, said the Reuters witness, a photographer.

A group of Palestinians carried the man away.

Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Palestinians, who have limited self-rule in the West Bank, say Israel’s settlements there will deny them a viable state. Most countries view the settlements as illegal under international law.

Israel disputes this, citing security needs as well as biblical and historical ties to the land. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2021/03/19/Palestinian-Israeli-conflict-Palestinian-protester-killed-by-Israeli-Army-in-West-Bank-Ministry-

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Israeli forces kill Palestinian man in occupied West Bank

19 March 2021

Israeli forces have shot dead a Palestinian man during another round of anti-settlement protests in the occupied West Bank.

According to a statement by the Palestinian Health Ministry, the deadly incident occurred on Friday when Israeli soldiers opened live fire on the Palestinians who were holding a protest rally in the village of Beit Dajan, east of Nablus City.

"A citizen who was shot in the head with live ammunition died," the ministry said.

Abdelrahman Hanani, the mayor of Beit Dajan, said the 42-year-old victim, identified as Atef Yussef Hanaysheh, was killed when clashes erupted between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians who were demonstrating against Israeli settlement construction activities.

"The soldiers fired when we approached a wildcat settlement near the village," he told AFP news agency.

Last Friday, Israeli forces opened live fire on anti-settlement protesters in the same village, leaving three people injured. Two others were hit with rubber bullets fired by the Israeli troops, who also used tear gas against the demonstrators, leaving tens of them suffering breathing difficulties.

A settlement outpost has recently been established in the village.

Every Friday, Palestinians organize anti-settlement protests in a number of villages and towns in the occupied West Bank.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Emboldened by the anti-Palestine policies of former US president Donald Trump, Israel stepped up its settlement expansion in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which pronounces settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds a flagrant violation under international law.

All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they are built on occupied land.

Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/19/647645/Palestine-Israeli-forces-shooting-victim-settlement-protests-clashes-Nablus-West-Bank-Beit-Dajan-village

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Yemeni army forces, allies make major progress in Ma’rib, liberate strategic Hilan mountain

19 March 2021

Yemeni armed forces have made major gains against Saudi mercenaries in the strategic central province of Ma’rib, establishing full control over Mount Hilan overlooking the provincial capital.

Since last month, the forces have been pushing to liberate Ma’rib, the last northern stronghold of Saudi-backed militants and the capital of an oil-rich region.

The forces "took control of Mount Hilan overlooking the city, after fighting which left dozens of dead and wounded on both sides," AFP cited an unnamed source close to Saudi-backed former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi on Friday.

"Marib is in danger," another source said, adding the loss of the mountain posed "a threat to Marib's first line of defense".

The spokesman of the Yemeni armed forces General Yayha Sare'e was about to make an important announcement later Friday. 

Other sources said the Yemeni army troops had cut supply lines to Saudi-backed mercenaries on some fronts, and were now within firing range of the al-Mashjab line west of Mar’ib city.

They are on the verge of retaking the strategic district of Sirwah, despite the heavy deployment of military equipment and troops by the invading Saudi-led coalition to Ma'rib.

The Lebanon-based and Arabic-language al-Akhbar daily newspaper reported on Friday that the Yemeni troops and their allies have also scored territorial gains in al-Moshaja area and east of the Kassara front, which lies northwest of Ma’rib city, and established control over a number of military sites.

The report said the Yemeni armed forces managed to retake Malbouda area, situated north of al-Atif area, from Saudi-led coalition troops and their mercenaries despite heavy air cover by Saudi-led military aircraft.

Akhbar noted that the Yemeni soldiers and Popular Committees fighters have tightened the noose around Saudi-led forces and their allied militants, and seized 17 military sites from them.

According to the report, the developments mean the Yemeni armed forces are now in control of strategic heights overlooking Aydat al-Ra'a area.

Tribal sources in Ma’rib, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Akhbar that there has been a major collapse in the ranks of pro-Hadi forces, who are backed by extremist Salafist and al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The sources added that following the advances of the Yemeni forces in al-Atif area, they are very close to retaking the areas of Tala'at al-Hamra and Tabat Maher among other regions on the western flank of Ma’rib city.

Saudi-led warplanes have accordingly stepped up their airstrikes, bombing various regions in the province in regular intervals.

The warplanes have carried out repeated air raids against the Sirwah district, and pounded Medghal and Sirwah districts.

Local sources said several residential buildings as well as private properties had been damaged in the airstrikes.

Sirwah district hosts around 30,000 people displaced in harsh conditions as a result of earlier fighting, and the UN has repeatedly warned in recent weeks of a humanitarian crisis for civilians because of the current battles.

According to the UN, more than 8,000 people have been newly displaced in and around Sirwah since early February, many of them fleeing existing displacement camps.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/19/647638/Yemeni-army-forces,-allies-make-major-progress-in-Marib-seize-strategic-Hilan-mountain

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Africa

 

Malians express doubt over army's capacity to counter Jihadist fighters

18/03/2021

At least 33 soldiers were killed in an attack in northern Mali this week after one of two devastating attacks in the Sahel region since Monday.

Concerns have been raised over the capability of the Malian army to deal with the frequent attacks that have claimed hundreds of the security forces.

A number of civilians and high-ranking officials have expressed their discontent and concern after the deadliest attack.

Some civilians expressed disappointment over the way the national army was handling the issue of security with some even calling for a more robust way to deal with incompetent soldiers.

"If your enemies are among you, it will be difficult to deal with the enemy you are facing. So you have to investigate that, and if there are doubts about someone you have to replace that person," Nouhoum Togo, former advisor to the Ministry of Defence and Veterans Affairs of Mali said.

Much of the central Sahel has been locked in a vicious conflict between state forces, jihadists and ethnic militias for years, in a battle that shows no sign of abating.

Dozens of assailants on motorbikes and pickup trucks on Monday stormed a military post southwest of the town of Ansongo, near the borders with Burkina Faso and Niger, the army said on social media.

The attack came on the same day as a brutal massacre of 58 civilians just 100 kilometres (60 miles) away in Niger, where militants attacked four buses carrying villagers returning from a market in the west of the Sahel state.

The military said on social media at around midday on Wednesday that the death toll had climbed to 33 soldiers, with 14 wounded in a force that has lost hundreds of men in recent years.

A Malian army commander, who requested anonymity, told AFP earlier that the wounded had been transported to the nearby northern city of Gao.

Much of the central Sahel has been locked in a vicious conflict between state forces, jihadists and ethnic militias for years, in a battle which shows no sign of abating.

Islamist fighters in the Sahel first emerged in northern Mali in 2012, during a rebellion by ethnic Touareg separatists that was later overtaken by the jihadists.

France intervened to crush the rebellion, but the jihadists scattered and regrouped, taking their campaign into central Mali in 2015 and then into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Militants frequently target Mali's army, which is largely underfunded and poorly equipped.

Monday's attack against the soldiers represents the largest single loss of life for Mali's military this year.

https://www.africanews.com/2021/03/18/malians-express-doubt-over-army-s-capacity-to-counter-jihadist-fighters/?utm_source=iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2123331_

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Iran condoles with Tanzania, condemns Niger massacre

20 March 2021

Iran has offered condolences to Tanzania over the demise of President John Magufuli.

Khatibzadeh expressed the Iranian nation and government's deep regret and sorrow to the Tanzanian nation and government.

The 61-year old president has died due to heart disease, the government announced on Wednesday, more than two weeks after he was last seen in public.

The president’s absence had raised speculation about his health and sparked rumors he had contracted COVID-19, although officials had denied he was ill.

Following his death, the country’s Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in on Friday.

The East African country’s first female president, announced 21 days of mourning for Magufuli, in a public address on Thursday.

Nigeria attack

Iran also condemned recent deadly attacks in Niger, that left dozens of people dead close the country's border with Mali, earlier this week.

In a statement on Thursday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh offered Iran’s sympathy to the Nigerien nation and government.

Khatibzadeh also offered condolences to the families of the victims.

On Monday, unidentified gunmen attacked a bus and nearby villages in the Tillaberi region located in the "tri-border area," – a flashpoint zone where the frontiers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge.

The militants “intercepted four vehicles carrying passengers back from the weekly market of Banibangou to the villages of Chinedogar and Darey-Daye," the government said in a statement.

“The toll from these barbarous acts (is) 58 dead, one injured, a number of grain silos and two vehicles burned and two more vehicles seized," it added.

No group claimed responsibility, but Niger has been the target of attacks by militants in the west near Mali and a decade-old militancy by the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2021/03/20/647689/Niger-attack-terror-Iran-condemn-Tanzania-

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Gunmen kill 13, injures 7 in northwest Nigeria

Ibrahim Garba Shuaibu  

20.03.2021

Thirteen people were killed on Friday and seven injured in attacks in local government areas of Kano state in northwest Nigeria.

State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs Samuel Aruwan said the attacks were reported to the Kaduna State government by the military under the auspices of Operation Safe Haven (OPSH).

Armed bandits attacked a man and his brother as they returned from their farm in the Gora Gan village of Zangon Kataf LGA. He was killed, while his brother escaped, according to the report.

In another attack, bandits attacked the Kizachi village in the Kauru local government area, killing 10 and injuring four others.

Also, 56 homes and 16 motorcycles were razed, with several barns raided and burned.

The commissioner said the injured are receiving treatment at a hospital.

Furthermore, Masaka village in the Chikun local government was attacked. One person was killed, and two others were injured.

Aruwan said troops were mobilized to the area and eventually repelled the attack.

One person was killed in Kurmin Kaduna in Chikun and one was injured.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai noted the report with sadness, and prayed for the repose of the souls of those who were killed, while sending condolences to their families.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/gunmen-kill-13-injures-7-in-northwest-nigeria/2182180

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US urges Somali leaders to hold elections immediately

Mohammed Dhaysane  

19.03.2021

MOGADISHU, Somalia

Expressing concern over the lingering electoral impasse in Somalia, the US on Friday urged the Somali leaders to immediately hold transparent and inclusive elections.

“We call on Somalia’s federal and member state leaders to set aside narrow political objectives, uphold their responsibilities to the people of Somalia, and agree to immediately hold transparent and inclusive elections,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement issued by the US State Department.

The US said the current impasse in Somalia undermines progress made to date, delays reforms urgently needed for Somalia to continue on the path to full debt relief, and hinders the fight against terrorism.

“The United States supports the right of Somali citizens to protest peacefully and firmly opposes the use of violence by any party,” added the statement.

The US urged Somalia’s leaders to safeguard the country’s future and reach an agreement to immediately conduct parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Horn of African country witnessed a political stalemate after presidential and parliamentary elections were delayed and the president's constitutional mandate expired on Feb. 8.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed has called on regional leaders to hold talks to end the political deadlock.

On Thursday, opposition leaders in Somalia also announced a new opposition political alliance, National Salvation Council, led by Senate Speaker Abdi Hashi, to find a political consensus imperative for holding elections in the country.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/us-urges-somali-leaders-to-hold-elections-immediately/2182064

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Australia

 

Melbourne terrorism accused allegedly bought knife for attack

18 Mar 2021

One of two brothers arrested in terror raids in Melbourne’s north allegedly purchased a knife this week in preparation for a terrorist attack, police say.

Aran Sherani, 19, and his 20-year-old brother, Ari Sherani, faced Melbourne magistrates court on Thursday after being arrested by counter-terror officers on Wednesday.

Both are facing charges of attempting to engage in a terrorist act over an incident at Humevale, north of Melbourne, on 21 February.

Aran Sherani is facing three additional charges including intentionally causing injury to an unnamed person in Preston on 9 March.

Court documents state Aran Sherani is also accused of knowingly being a member of the terrorist organisation Islamic State and allege he purchased a knife at Epping on Wednesday in preparation for a terrorist attack.

The brothers were arrested in Wednesday’s raids alongside a 16-year-old boy from Pascoe Vale who was subsequently released without charge.

The older men each faced court via video link on Thursday and did not apply for bail.

Aran Sherani’s lawyer, Sarah Condon, said he had no prior convictions and this was his first time in custody. She said for those reasons and the nature of the charges he would be vulnerable behind bars.

Lawyer Louis Dean said the same applied for his client Ari Sherani. Both men are due back in court on 20 July.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/mar/18/melbourne-terrorism-accused-allegedly-bought-knife-for-attack?utm_source=iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2123331_

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