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Death Of LGBT Dalit Executive: Destroying Self-Esteem of a Person Amounts to Suicide Abetment: Justice M. Nagaprasanna of Karnataka High Court

New Age Islam News Bureau

17 August 2023


Karnataka High Court (File)



·         IIISc Bangalore: Bid to Block Teesta Setalvad’s Speech on Harmony

·         ‘Khao, Peeyo, Ne Majha Karo’ And More: How Parsis in Kolkata Celebrate Navroz Day



·         5 Churches, Many Homes Ransacked in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala

·         Punjab Orders 'High-Level' Probe After Faislabad Churches Vandalised

·         FIA Grills Imran In Attock Jail Over ‘Missing Cipher’

·         Hastily Adopted Laws Pose Threat To Press Freedom: Reporters Without Borders Calls the Pakistan Govt.

·         PML-N mulls securing bail for Nawaz before his return

·         Senator Sherry Rehman Laments Weaponisation Of Fake News

·         Role of media persons pivotal to further cause of democracy: NA Speaker

·         Caretaker PM thanks Saudi Govt for consistent support to Pakistan’s economic stability

·         Pakistan looks forward to strengthening ties with UAE: PM

·         CJ-led bench to hear plea against NAB tweaks


South Asia

·         Over 200 Media Outlets Shut Down in Past 2 Years

·         West ramping up interaction with armed groups in Afghanistan: Russia

·         Situation in Afghanistan remains deeply troubling: UN chief

·         China’s Foreign Ministry Blames US for Afghanistan’s Unfolding Crisis



·         Daesh group still has thousands in Syria and Iraq and poses Afghan threat, UN experts say

·         Syrian president’s comments reignite debate over Turkiye, Syria rapprochement process

·         Daesh continues to lose influence and effectiveness in Iraq, says US general

·         Israeli raid on Jenin kills Palestinian

·         Iran’s FM leaves Tehran for Riyadh

·         Syria doubles pay for civil servants, military personnel


Arab World

·         Saudi Arabia’s Future Intelligence Program to Educate 30,000 Students In AI

·         Saudi Arabia Expresses Deep Concern Over Armed Clashes in Libya Capital

·         Saudi Arabia Set to Launch New Satellite Channel On Culture In September

·         Yemen’s Envoy to UN Thanks Saudi Arabia for Its Political, Economic and Development Support

·         Saudi AI summer school students at Oxford University meet Kingdom’s ambassador to UK

·         AlUla World Archaeology Summit will be ‘a global platform promoting cultural heritage’

·         Saudi authorities foil drug-smuggling attempts

·         Saudi Arabia vows consistent attention to education sector



·         Public Comment Sought on Divorce Bill Regarding Muslim Marriages in South Africa

·         Muslim Leaders Protest at Lagos Assembly, Reject Sanwo-Olu’s Commissioners List

·         Kaduna Assembly calls on govt. to support victims of Zaria Mosque collapse with relief materials

·         Zimbabwe police arrest 40 opposition members as vote nears


Southeast Asia

·         Indonesia To Allocate US$2.7b Next Year to Construction of New Capital Nusantara, On Borneo Island

·         Just Focus on Your Court Cases, Anwar Tells Muhyiddin Amid Call to Step Down Over State Polls Results

·         Singapore arrests 10 foreigners, seizes S$1b assets in money laundering probe

·         Stop soliciting, giving commissions for development projects, says PM Anwar

·         Don't Punish Those Influenced by Racial Sentiments, Says PM



·         How The EU Is Cracking Down on Democracy In Moldova

·         NATO official apologizes for comments on Ukraine’s territorial claims

·         France’s Sarkozy urges West to get real on Crimea

·         Ukrainian leadership split over counteroffensive – Newsweek

·         Germany backs away from NATO spending promise – Reuters

·         Ukraine admits F-16 upset


North America

·         Michigan Orchard Owner Apologizes After Bigoted Comments Toward Muslim Customers

·         West Military Presence in Region ‘Illegal’, US Must Leave Persian Gulf: Iran Brigadier General

·         Deal on unblocking funds part of Iran’s dignified diplomacy, serves as ‘test’ for US: Amir-Abdollahian

·         Cancerous missiles: US nuke missile sites as breeding grounds for cancer

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Death Of LGBT Dalit Executive: Destroying Self-Esteem of a Person Amounts to Suicide Abetment: Justice M. Nagaprasanna Of Karnataka High Court


Karnataka High Court (File)


By: Express News Service

Bengaluru: August 17, 2023

Karnataka High Court ruled while refusing to quash a criminal case against three senior executives of a private firm over the death of a Dalit worker belonging to the LGBT community. (File)

The tarnishing of the image or destruction of the self-esteem and self-respect of a hypersensitive person would amount to abetment to suicide if the accused persons have consistently irritated or annoyed a victim by words or deeds, the Karnataka High Court has ruled while refusing to quash a criminal case against three senior executives of a private firm over the death of a Dalit worker belonging to the LGBT community.

A single judge bench of the Karnataka HC dismissed a plea by three executives of the apparel firm, Lifestyle International Private Limited, for quashing of an abetment to suicide case registered against them over the death of a 35-year-old visual merchandising executive, Vivek Raj, on June 4 this year in Bengaluru.

Ahead of his death, Vivek had filed internal complaints with the company’s committee for prevention of sexual harassment over bullying in the office regarding his sexual orientation. A day before his death, he had also filed a police complaint of caste discrimination under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.

“If the accused by their alleged acts have played an active role in tarnishing or destroying the self esteem of a hypersensitive person or even their self respect, would definitely become guilty of commission of abetment to suicide if the accused have kept on irritating or annoying the deceased by words or deeds, provoking them and driving them to the wall, would also become circumstances that would be ingredients of abetment, all prima facie,” Justice M Nagaprasanna has ruled.

Freedom Sale

“The deceased, in the case at hand, is one belonging to the LGBT community. The sensitivity of them being ostracised pervades in their psyche. Therefore, such people must be treated with all love and affection and not point at the infirmity that they have no control of. If every citizen would treat such citizens with all love and care, as is done to a normal human, precious lives would not be lost,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the precious life of a youth is lost in the case at hand, all for the prima facie allegations of pointing at sexual orientation of the deceased. Therefore, it is for every citizen to bear this in mind while interacting with sensitive people. It is necessary that every one of us introspect on this issue, after all, every one of them are human beings and all are worthy of equality,” the HC stated.

Vivek, a 2012 NIFT graduate in design, joined Lifestyle International for a second stint in September 2022 as a manager after working in the firm earlier between 2014 and 2016. A few months into his second stint, Vivek is reported to have filed a complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee formed under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013).

Vivek submitted his resignation on February 28, 2023 over the harassment (which was ruled as false by the internal committee) but sought to be reinstated in May 2023.

A day before his death on June 4, he had filed a police complaint, alleging caste abuse by his colleagues. The police registered a case under the SC/ST Act.

The three executives at Lifestyle International also approached the Karnataka HC for quashing the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 case registered against them. The HC imposed an interim stay on proceedings in investigations after it was argued that Vivek Raj’s reporting manager Malathy S B belongs to the Scheduled Tribe community and there cannot be an offence against her.

The case with regard to the quashing of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act complaint filed against the Lifestyle International executives registered on June 3 is still pending before the high court bench.


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Will Mull Out of Court Settlement Offer on Gyanvapi: Anjuman Intezamia Masajid


Gyanvapi mosque


TNN /: Aug 17, 2023

VARANASI: The Anjuman Intezamia Masajid (AIM) -- the Gyanvapi mosque management committee -- has said that the proposal of the Vishwa Vedic Sanatan Sangh (VVSS) for an out-of-court settlement of ongoing disputes over the Gyanvapi complex would be tabled before its panel for a final decision.

The VVSS, which is involved in a majority of suits filed in the Gyanvapi case since 2021, seeking the right to worship the deities inside the complex, had written an open letter to the AIM on Monday with an offer for peaceful solution of the disputes through mutual discussion.

The letter is jointly written by VVSS founder Jitendra Singh Bisen, its president Santosh Singh, general secretary Kiran Singh and founder member Rakhi Singh.

The letter released to the media on Monday night, says: "The Hindu side and Muslim side are fighting a legal battle regarding the Gyanvapi complex. Some anti-social elements want to take advantage of this fight for their personal gains. This can prove to be harmful for both the country and the society."

"In such a situation, it becomes the duty of all of us to set an example by settling this dispute peacefully through mutual negotiations, taking care of the safety and security of our country and society. Therefore, I request all of you to accept this invitation with an open and pious mind and come forward for talks to settle the above issue," the letter further says.

"It's quite possible that we are able to reach an out-of-court peaceful solution to the disputes through mutual discussion. We welcome all of you to this talk with an open and pure heart," the letter, which was sent through WhatsApp to the AIM, concludes. Talking to TOI on Wednesday, AIM joint secretary SM Yaseen said, "We have received a letter from VVSS, containing the proposal for an out-of-court settlement. We will table it before our committee for a decision."

However, AIM has not set any time frame for holding a meeting of its committee to discuss this proposal of VVSS so far. "At present, the court-mandated scientific survey of the mosque complex by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is in progress. Besides, the committee is also preoccupied with other matters. The issue will be taken up by the committee when its meeting is organised," Yaseen said.

"AIM general secretary and Mufti-e-Banaras Andul Batin Nomani has responded to the VVSS proposal on similar lines through a Whatsapp message," claimed VVSS national president Santosh Singh.

The VVSS is backing plaintiff no. 1 in suit no. 18/2022 Rakhi Singh and others vs UP state and others in which five women plaintiffs are seeking worship of Shringar Gauri and other deities in the Gyanvapi mosque compound.


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A Muslim Crowd Attacks a Christian Community in Eastern Pakistan On Wednesday Over 'Blasphemy'


Church properties set ablaze by a mob over blasphemy allegations in Pakistan’s Faisalabad on Wednesday



Reuters And PTI Lahore Published 17.08.23

A Muslim crowd attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday and set scores of houses and several churches on fire, accusing its members of desecrating the Quran, police and community leaders said.

The incident took place in Jaranwala town of the industrial city of Faisalabad, police spokesman Naveed Ahmad said. A violent crowd had attacked the community after two Christians were accused of blasphemy, he said.

The police were trying to calm the situation down but local residents said it seemed to be worsening. The crowd had grown in number, with dozens of people blocking a nearby highway.

A Christian leader, Akmal Bhatti, said the crowd had torched at least five churches and looted valuables from houses that had been abandoned by their owners after clerics made announcements in mosques inciting the mob.

Police spokesman Ahmad gave no details on the violence and did not confirm if any churches had been burnt.

Several social media posts, however, showed some churches on fire as well as houses and belongings.

The Salvation Army Church, United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church and the Shehroonwala Church situated in the Isa Nagri area in the Jaranwala district of Faisalabad were ransacked, Bhatti, the pastor of the Jaranwala tehsil, was quoted as saying by

Bhatti added that the house of a Christian cleaner, who was accused of blasphemy, was also demolished.

Punjab police chief Usman Anwar said the police were negotiating with the protesters and the area had been cordoned off.

“There are narrow lanes (in the area) in which small two to three marla churches are located and there is one main church…. They have vandalised portions of the churches,” Anwar was quoted as saying by

Christian leaders alleged that the police remained silent spectators. President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall said that “Bibles have been desecrated and Christians have been tortured and harassed, having been falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran”.


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Taliban Declare Ban on All Political Parties in Afghanistan Due to Their Lack of Alignment with Sharia Principles


Taliban soldiers celebrate on the second anniversary of the fall of Kabul on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2023.


By Fidel Rahmati

August 16, 2023

The Taliban’s Ministry of Justice announced on Wednesday a ban on the activities of all political parties in Afghanistan, citing their misalignment with the interests of the people.

Abdul Hakim Sharaee, the Acting Minister of Justice for the Taliban, stated in Kabul that political parties are deemed unnecessary due to their lack of alignment with Sharia principles.

“Political parties do not have a Sharia basis, nor are they in the nation’s interest, nor does the nation want it. Experience has shown that the current destruction of the country is due to the country’s political parties,” he said.

While before the Taliban took over, the Ministry of Justice in Afghanistan had permitted around 73 political parties to work and be involved in politics, according to records.

These political parties within the Republic’s government have been actively involved in at least three presidential elections held in the country since 2001.

Following the return of the Taliban on August 15, 2021, political figures and party leaders left Afghanistan. Leaders from these parties operate beyond Afghanistan’s borders, primarily in opposition to the Taliban administration.

The Taliban’s two rule periods in Afghanistan saw a consistent strategy of banning political parties. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned such parties and avoided compromises and collaborations with other political groups.


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US sanctions Lebanese environmental group, Green Without Border, accused of being an arm of Hezbollah





August 16, 2023

Treasury says Green Without Border’s outposts are manned by Hezbollah operatives, serving as cover for the militant group’s warehouses and munitions tunnels

WASHINGTON: The United States imposed sanctions Wednesday on a Lebanese environmental organization accused of being an arm of the militant group Hezbollah.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Green Without Borders and its leader, ZouherNahli, for allegedly providing support and cover to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon along the “Blue Line” between Lebanon and Israel “while operating under the guise of environmental activism.”

The Treasury says Green Without Border’s outposts are manned by Hezbollah operatives, serving as cover for the militant group’s warehouses and munitions tunnels. Workers at the outposts have allegedly prevent UN peacekeepers in Lebanon from accessing areas which the United Nations has authority to access.

Green Without Border is a nongovernmental organization established in 2013. It says it aims to protect Lebanon’s green areas and plant trees.

“We are not an arm for anyone,” Nahli told The Associated Press in January. “We as an environmental association work for all the people and we are not politicized.”

Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, said the US took action “as part of our efforts to prevent and disrupt financial and other support for terrorist attacks in Lebanon, Israel, and around the world.”

Brian E. Nelson, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the US rejects Hezbollah’s “cynical efforts to cloak its destabilizing terrorist activities with false environmentalism.


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IISc Bangalore: Bid To Block Teesta Setalvad’s Speech On Harmony


G.S. Mudur

Faculty at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, on Wednesday had to intervene to facilitate a talk by civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad after what they said was an attempt by the institute’s security to block her entry.

Her talk, titled “communal harmony and justice” and organised by a students’ group at the IISc, was “disallowed”, only hours before she was scheduled to speak at 5pm, a faculty member said.

Security personnel at the institute’s gates initially denied Setalvad entry until faculty members insisted that she should be allowed in, the faculty member said.

Setalvad spoke not in an auditorium as planned but outside a canteen on the campus. “There was an attempt to block this event — although the students’ group had sought permission for the talk several days ago,” a faculty member who attended the talk told The Telegraph. “We noticed that many people from outside IISc were denied entry for the talk.”

About 40 students and four faculty members participated in the talk that started around 5.45pm and the discussions that went on up to about 8pm, said a faculty member who requested not to be named. “Some of the ideas that came up were how patterns of riots have changed, how harmony and scientific temper and rationality pose a ‘threat’ to some, and how social media is being used to propagate hate,” the person said.

“The discussions were engaging — our Constitution grants us the right to freedom of speech and expression,” said Parthanil Roy, a mathematician from another institute who was among those who participated. “Academic institutions shouldn’t be trying to stifle discussions.”

The students’ group, called Break the Silence, had approached the IISc administration seeking permission for the talk several days ago but did not receive any reply.

But one of the students was called in on Wednesday and informed that the talk could not be held in the location they had sought permission for, the faculty member who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

The IISc’s response could not be ascertained because of the late hour.

Last month, over 500 scientists and academics had asked the IISc to ensure its students and faculty remain free to express and discuss a range of ideas about science and society, after the institute had cancelled a discussion on the criminal justice system.

The open letter intended for the IISc administration was the latest expression of concern from sections of the academic community in India about what some view as a campaign to suppress open discussions and the right to raise questions about controversial issues.

The Centre-funded IISc had cancelled a planned June 28 discussion on the criminal-justice system by Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, student activists who had participated in the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.

The discussion planned for June 28 at the IISc Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) had been approved by the CCE’s chair. But the IISc’s registrar on June 27 cancelled permission for the event and sent a security team to disperse an informal gathering that the student-organisers had arranged to replace the event. The security team backtracked only after the IISc faculty intervened.

In February, over 500 academics and scientists had decried the Centre’s efforts to block a BBC documentary on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asserting that the curbs violated Indians’ right to access and discuss important information about society and government.


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‘Khao, Peeyo, Ne Majha Karo’ And More: How Parsis in Kolkata Celebrate Navroz Day



Parsis celebrate New Year (Jamshedji Navroz) on March 21. Now hardly five months later we are celebrating New Year again!

As a community we love to argue and the story goes that if there is no one to argue with we will happily argue with our reflection in the mirror.

The calendar controversy is the story behind the many New Years, and it unfolds from the time of King Jamshed, whose birthday was celebrated on the day of the solar equinox, March 21. This day was celebrated as Nav (New) Roz (Day).

Ancient Zoroastrians observed a 360-day calendar. When the Sasanian King Ardeshir I ascended the throne, he changed the 360-day calendar by adding 5 extra days dedicated to the Gathas of Zarathustra (ancient Avesta texts attributed to be the words of prophet Zarathushtra). This Zoroastrian Calendar uses the suffix Y.Z. (Yazdegerddi era) indicating the number of years since the coronation of King Yazdegerd III in 632 AD.

But a solar calendar is 365 and a quarter days. Hence, the solar calendar and the Zoroastrian calendar began to diverge.

In 1096, the Solar calendar and the Zoroastrian calendar coincided. It was resolved that every 120 years an extra month would be added. This calendar was called the Shenshai or Imperial calendar. But in the course of several years (120), this was forgotten and the New Year which was supposed to be celebrated on March 21 is today being celebrated on August 16.

Now the fun begins.

The Parsis of India added the extra month only once, in 1096 CE. But the Parsis in Iran did not. In 1720, a priest from Iran, VilaitiJamaspi, came to India and discovered there was a month’s difference in the two calendars. A number of Parsis decided to follow the Iranian calendar which was called the Kadmi calendar.

So now we have three New Years.

Jamshedji Navroz on March 21.

Kadmi New Year (floating date) on July 16.

And, Shenshai New Year (floating date) is on August 16.

Five days before New Year are the Gatha days and we also call them the Muktad days or Farvadegan. We believe that on these days the Farvashis or guardian angels of our ancestors come down to earth and are welcomed by us with prayers, flowers and food. The Farvashis bless us and wish us happiness in our homes and families. These are days to remember our ancestors.

We Zoroastrians never lose any opportunity to celebrate. As we say, “khao, peeyo, ne majha karo (eat, drink and have fun)”.

We are a small (360 members) ageing community in Kolkata. Around 220 of us are over the age of 60 and only 33 children are under the age of 20. However, memories of Navroz of our old and young revolve around the community, enjoying an evening of entertainment and, of course, dinner which must have GPD, that is Gos Pulao Dal, and Patri ni Machi (fish wrapped in banana leaf), Salli Marghi and Lagan nu Custard.

Of new clothes, a visit to the Agiari (fire temple) and the century-old ‘natak’ tradition

My aunt, who is closing into her century, recalls the nataks (play) at the Corinthian Theatre where Byron’s drinks were free for all, and the children got a slab of chocolate. She remembers that there were no women acting at that time, and the men would play the women’s parts. My uncle, Homi Jila, being short in stature, would always be a girl in the play. Aunty says, it was always a full house and a noisy happy audience.

My young friend DravaspMeherji writes that on Navroz day, he garlands the pictures of his ancestors and then visits the fire temple. He enjoys the chasni (consecrated food) and the breakfast laid out for the community. More than anything he loves Sev (vermicelli pudding) which they make at home. Then relax in the afternoon and off to the Gujarati Natak followed by dinner. “That’s how I spend my Navroz every year,” he shares.

For RaizanVatcha, Navroz means being with friends and family. “How such a small group of people have had such a huge impact on my life is an extremely humbling experience,” he tells me. Yes, as a community, we are very close. The centre of the community is the Calcutta Parsee Club in the Maidan where we meet to play and socialise as often as it is possible.

Zenobia Dalal, a much-loved teacher of Pratt Memorial School, recalls, “Navroz meant new clothes, the mandatory Agiari (fire temple) visit, meeting friends… but most important was the natak with its race for seats, packets of sweets and cold drinks.” Today, she is in her seventies and the chanting of prayers, hugs and wishes of friends once again recreate the unique magic of Navroz. Some enjoyments never change. Our Calcutta Parsi Amateur Dramatic Club has maintained its tradition of performing a Gujarati play free of charge for the community for over a hundred years. As a Calcutta Parsi, it’s a day that stands out months ahead in the calendar.

‘Khao, peeyo, ne majha karo!’

It’s a day to be with family and friends and a day to forgive and start afresh to leave all bitterness and bad thoughts and words behind, says Cyrus Confectioner. Pray for forgiveness and at the end of the day, sit with family and friends and have a few drinks and a hearty tasty meal.

Ratan Postwalla, the young and dashing trustee of our agiari says that Navroz is one of those days “when I feel unquestionably Parsi”. “The day begins with a community prayer at the agiari. More than the significance of the ceremony, I look forward to the breakfast right after because that’s where we meet and wish each other and truly feel like it’s the start of a special day.” After a large family lunch, a tradition started by his mother, he rushes off to prepare for the evening natak where he is always the lead performer. The day ends with a large group of friends drinking several cups of tea at the Russel Street Punjabi Dhaba.

Aban Confectioner recalls that Navroz would always start with new clothes and a small gift made lovingly by her mom, our universal Arni aunty. Then it was meet-and-greet time at the agiari followed by doing the ‘relative rounds’ meeting close family. Lunch would be granny’s super amazing mutton pulao and large jalebis and sutarfeni (sweet made out of vermicelli). Evenings were for the natak and chatting, hardly aware of anything happening on stage. (Our youngsters today can be seen at the natak today doing exactly this). It was always a special day of being a Parsi and part of a community.

Tehnaz Punwani, our newly-elected first lady trustee writes, “Navroz to me is all about the smell of fresh flowers and prayers in the morning — starting with either sev or ravo or mitthoodahi for breakfast, prawn patio for lunch and chicken pulao for dinner. Yummm! Yes, Navroz, for me, also means feasting with my favourites. Navroz for me is also having a jolly good laugh at the annual natak – either watching it or acting in it and of course meeting friends and family and wishing everyone the very best for the day and the years to come.”

The spirit of embracing change and growth

Navroz signifies the importance of embracing change, honouring heritage, and embracing the positivity that accompanies new beginnings. Young Yasna Buchia writes, “Navroz is the one festival that I always look forward to. I’ve made so many memories… going to the natak in the evening followed by dinner with family and friends at the OMT Hall. Navroz embodies the spirit of embracing change and growth. Navroz prompts us to shed the past, embrace new beginnings, and foster connections with loved ones.”

At my granddaughter Samara Mehta Vyas’ home, the house is decorated with flowers and a special garland (toran) is placed on the front door. ‘Chalk’ is then put on the floor outside the door and everyone enjoys making different designs (rangoli). It’s a fun traditional bonding time. “On a holiday just before Navroz, we light divos (diyas) in front of the pictures of our loved ones who are no longer with us. Then Granny makes us all tell our favourite stories about our dear departed and they are remembered with lots of love. It makes me sad and also happy. On Navroz, Papa makes us say a prayer, we all light a divo and then it’s tilli time and all of us are garlanded and we get a tilli (tika) on our forehead and rice is put on the tilli with a blessing of ‘Ghannasaljeevi ne ghanooghanoosukhjoojo ji’. (Live a long and happy life). Then everyone will inspect the forehead to see how many grains of rice are stuck to see how many children we will have — each grain denotes one child as per the legend. In the evenng, we wear our new clothes and go to the natak and go to 52 Chowringhee for dinner,” she tells me with gusto.


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5 churches, many homes ransacked in Faisalabad’s Jaranwala

August 17, 2023

Asif Chaudhry | Tariq Saeed

• Violence stoked by rumours of alleged desecration of holy book, relayed through mosque announcements

• FIR registered under blasphemy charges, no case against mob so far

• Section 144 imposed; Rangers called in to avert further violence

LAHORE / TOBA TEK SINGH: A violent mob of hundreds ransacked and torched five churches, attacked the residences of members of the Christian community and the office of the local assistant commissioner, following an alleged incident of blasphemy in Jaranwala town of Faisalabad district, on Wednesday.

The district administration has imposed section 144 for seven days, prohibiting all kinds of assembly, except for events organised by the government. Meanwhile, the Punjab government has issued directions to form a high-level inquiry committee to investigate the incident, in line with orders issued by the caretaker prime minister.

As per police and local sources, the violence erupted after some locals alleged that several desecrated pages of the Holy Quran had been found near a house at Cinema Chowk in Jaranwala, where two Christian brothers resided.

Rumours of the alleged act spread like wildfire across Jaranwala after those who had levelled the allegations appro­ached different mosques, from where announcements were made to incite people to show their “reaction” to the incident.

As per local sources, the situation became more volatile when members of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) entered the fray, making public announcements from mosques and other places, riling up people to reach the site of the alleged incident. Soon, a mob gathered outside the house of the two men – who had evacuated by then – and set it on fire, sparking a spate of violent incidents.

Following this incident, people started gathering in Jaranwala town, turning into an enraged mob that allegedly attacked two churches — one Catholic and the other belonging to the Salvation Army. The mob also attacked and burnt a number of Christian homes in two nearby localities, near Chak 127-GB on the main City Road and near Chak 126-GB, Bridge Colony, along Shahrwana Canal – also known as Christian Colony.

Meanwhile, Christian community leaders said the mob also torched three other churches and looted valuables from the houses that had been abandoned by their owners, fearing violence.

Jaranwala pastor Imran Bhatti said the mob ransacked and burnt a total of five churches in the area, including the United Presbyterian Church, Allied Foundation Church and Shehroonwala Church situated in Isa Nagri. He said the attackers even didn’t spare a local Christian graveyard, where graves were vandalized and a portion of its boundary wall demolished.

Video clips and photos shared on social media showed flames and smoke billowing from some church buildings, people setting fire to furniture and removing the symbol of the crucifix from a church building.

A mob also attacked and ransacked the office of Jaranwala Assistant Commissioner Shaukat Masih, who had had already left when the mob arrived.

A group of protesters also blocked Faisalabad-Abdul Hakeem M-III motorway at Jaranwala interchange for traffic.

Christian leaders strongly condemned what they called police inaction during the whole episode. They alleged that police played the role of silent spectators when Christian families were crying for help, and delayed their response until the residents were forced to abandon their houses, leaving them at the mercy of the attackers.

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Secretary Zahid Akhtar Zaman and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Usman Anwar also reached Jaranwala to monitor the situation. The officers held a meeting with the Aman Committee members and other locally influential religious and political parties’ leaders to engage the protesters.

The Punjab government then called in the Rangers who assumed control of the troubled areas to avert any further violence. The provincial administration issued a high-alert following the incident, while the IGP deployed 3,000 police personnel from various police units, including the Elite Force.

Faisalabad Regional Police Officer Dr Abid Ali Khan and City Police Officer Usman Akram Gondal held negotiations with the leaders of the protesters and told them that an FIR has been registered under sections 295C and 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) on the complaint of City Police SHO Mansoor Sadiq.

According to the FIR, the two suspects allegedly desecrated the Holy Quran and wrote blasphemous text on its pages.

President Bishop of the Church of Pakistan Azad Marshall condemned the violence, saying the copies of Bible were burnt and desecrated, members of the Christian community tortured and harassed after being “falsely accused of violating the Holy Quran.”

Some activists on social media lashed out at the Punjab police for allegedly showing discrimination, as a blasphemy case was launched against the Christian suspects, but no FIR was registered against those who ransacked churches and attacked the house of the members of a minority community.

Following the incidents of violence, the Punjab government removed Jaranwala AC Shaukat Masih from his post and made him an officer on special duty (OSD). Sources said the AC, who is also a Christian, was made OSD to pacify the violent protesters who were pressing the government to immediately transfer the officer.


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Punjab orders 'high-level' probe after Faislabad churches vandalised

August 17, 2023

A high-level inquiry has been ordered by the caretaker Punjab government after a violent mob set fire to a number of churches and vandalised Christians' homes on Wednesday.

Around 100 people have been arrested, a first information reporter has been registered, and paramilitary Rangers have been called in to take control of the situation.

The mob made its way through a predominantly Christian area on the outskirts of the industrial city of Faisalabad after allegations spread that the Holy Quran had been desecrated.

"This was a well thought out plan to disrupt peace and a high-level investigation is underway regarding the desecration of the Holy Quran and incidents that take place afterward," a spokesperson for the provincial government said in a statement.

The spokesperson said police "foiled" the bid to attack the homes of the minorities and that the "peace committee" mobilised to ensure similar attempts are thwarted.

"The frequency and scale of such attacks — which are systematic, violent and often uncontainable — appear to have increased in the last several years," said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

The rights group called for the setting up and equipping of special police forces to protect religious minorities' sites of worship, as directed by a 2014 Supreme Court judgment.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar called for stern action against those responsible for Wednesday's violence. "I am gutted by the visuals coming out," he said.

Police and rescue officials said at least four churches had been set on fire, while residents said as many as a dozen buildings with church status had been damaged.

Several thousand police have been sent to secure the area and dozens of people detained, Amir Mir, the information minister for Punjab province, said in a statement that also condemned the alleged blasphemy.

Yasir Bhatti, a 31-year-old Christian, fled his home in a narrow alley next to one of the churches that was ransacked by the mob.

"They broke the windows, doors and took out fridges, sofas, chairs and other household items to pile them up in front of the Church to be burnt. They also burnt and desecrated Bibles, they were ruthless," he told AFP by phone.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan, where anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures can face the death penalty.

Pakistani bishop Azad Marshall, in the neighbouring city of Lahore, said the Christian community was "deeply pained and distressed" by the events.

"We cry out for justice and action from law enforcement and those who dispense justice and the safety of all citizens to intervene immediately and assure us that our lives are valuable in our own homeland," he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The United States on Wednesday urged Pakistan to investigate mob attacks against churches and Christian homes that broke out in the east of the country amid blasphemy rumors.

"We are deeply concerned that churches and homes were targeted in response to reported Quran desecration in Pakistan," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

He said that while the United States backed free expression, "violence or the threat of violence is never an acceptable form of expression."

"We urge Pakistani authorities to conduct a full investigation into these allegations and call for calm," he said.


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FIA grills Imran in Attock Jail over ‘missing cipher’

August 17, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The Fe­­d­­eral Investigation Age­n­­cy (FIA) interrogated PTI Chairman Imran Khan in Attock Jail on Wednesday in a case related to a diplomatic cable that reportedly went missing from his custody.

While media reports suggested that the PTI chief had been booked by FIA in the cipher case on Wednesday, this could not be independently verified by Dawn. Last month, on July 25, Mr Khan appeared before a joint investigation team formed to investigate the cipher case.

Mr Khan has also been under increased scrutiny following the publication of a purported copy of the secret cable by US outlet The Intercept, with many in the outgoing government pointing fingers at the PTI chief for being the source of the leak.

The timing of the purported cable’s publication also seems quite signific­ant, as it came in the wake of Imran Khan’s imprisonment over graft charges in the Toshakhana case.

Sources said that a case was still being drawn up against the former PM. In the past, outgoing interior minister Rana Sanaullah had said that if Mr Khan had indeed lost the copy of the cipher provided to him, it would constitute a crime under the Official Secrets Act.

The FIA was initially investigating Mr Khan for revealing the contents of a confidential diplomatic cable and keeping it in his possession.

However, after the disclosure of former principal secretary Azam Khan that the cipher went missing from the custody of Imran Khan, the investigation agency also started looking into this aspect.

According to the statement, Azam Khan had handed over the cipher to the ex-PM, who later told him he had misplaced it and did not return it des-pite repeated requests.


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Hastily Adopted Laws Pose Threat To Press Freedom: Reporters Without Borders Calls the Pakistan Govt.

August 17, 2023

KARACHI: Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Pakistan government to repeal “several draconian laws supposedly designed to combat ‘disinformation’, ‘cybercrimes and ‘spying’ that it [previous government] forced through parliament shortly before its [assembly] dissolution”.

“The government should instead work with civil society on real reforms that would preserve press freedom and the right to information,” RSF said in a statement.

The watchdog said it was amid “scenes of legislative chaos” hours before parliament’s dissolution that PM Shehbaz Sharif’s government “pulled off the feat” of getting both chambers to hastily adopt controversial changes to Pe­m­ra Ordinance, “which open the way to more censorship”.

Shortly before that, the government also managed to rush through adoption of its Official Secrets Amendment Act, 2023, “which could also be widely used to harass journalists”, RSF said.

“And even after its departure, it could be seen as another draconian bill, the previously introduced E-Safety Authority Bill 2023 if passed, into a law soon. All of these laws, drafted without consultation with civil society, pose serious risks to press freedom. Instead of improving the situation of the media, they threaten them with censorship,” it said.

RSF said it had found that the amendments “contain only a few meagre advances”. It said the amendments “alarm more than they reassure. In fact, the Pemra, whose main duty since 2002 has been to approve electronic media licences in accordance with constitutional criteria, could as a result of these amendments become a full-blown censorship tool in the hands of the government.”

It noted that Pemra is now given “very broad discretionary power” to suspend any media outlet or revoke its licence for spreading “fake news.” And instead of being fined up to Rs1 million rupees, a media outlet could now be fined up to Rs10m.

As for amendments to the Official Secrets Act, the RSF said Section 8-A of the law, which introduces the notion of “enemy” [of the state], “makes no distinction between a spy and a person who has disseminated sensitive information in the public interest”.

Besides, the government approved an electronic security bill that would create a new digital media regulator, the Digital Security Authority, composed of members appointed by government.

“If parliament passes the law, the government intends to give this new authority the almost-Orwellian power to record and monitor digital media content. And, with regards to (broadly defined) ‘fake news,’ it would have powers similar to those that the Pemra has over the broadcast media,” RSF said.


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PML-N mulls securing bail for Nawaz before his return

August 17, 2023

LAHORE: The PML-N leadership on Wednesday discussed the possibility of applying for bail in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for party supremo Nawaz Sharif, paving the way for his return from London, where he has been residing for nearly four years.

Sources told Dawn that senior leaders and legal brains in the party had been deliberating for the past few days over the timing of Mr Sharif’s return and the cases he is facing in Pakistan.

Once “certain matters” related to Nawaz Sharif’s return were finalised, PML-N president and former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif would fly off to London to see his elder brother, the sources said.

If all went as per the party’s plan, the sources said, the three-time premier would land in Islamabad — that is, after securing bail from the IHC — where he would address a public rally at Parade Ground.

He would then move to Lahore through GT Road. In Lahore, the scions of the Sharif family, Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shehbaz, would join hands to mobilise workers across Punjab to make a “historic rally” to be addressed by Nawaz Sharif, according to the plan.

However, there was a possibility of last-minute changes to this plan, and Mr Sharif might arrive in Lahore and address a public gathering.

Talking to journalists in London on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif said: “I wish to go back to Pakistan soon.”

Although outgoing premier Shehbaz Sharif and former defence minister Khawaja Asif have recently claimed that Nawaz Sharif would return in September, some senior party leaders believed the elder Sharif should return a month or two ahead of general elections, which may be delayed until March next year because of the delimitation of constituencies.

The PML-N circles believe that Nawaz Sharif will only return to the country once he gets relief in cases faced by him in Pakistan.

“Delay in his return shows that still some assurances are required before he books his return ticket,” a source said, adding that the possible delay in elections until February or March would provide more time to the elder Sharif to settle his cases.

Nawaz Sharif was convicted in the Al-Azizia Mills and Avenfield corruption cases in 2018.

He was serving a seven-year imprisonment at Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail in the Al-Azizia Mills reference before he was allowed to proceed to London on medical grounds.

Meanwhile, Shehbaz Sharif said that his 16-month tenure as premier was the toughest time in his life.

“I only thought about the welfare of the people and not our politics,” he said while talking to Malik Ahmad Khan and Saad Rafique, who called on him at Model Town to discuss the upcoming elections and the party’s reorganisation.


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Senator Sherry RehmanLaments Weaponisation Of Fake News

August 17, 2023

ISLAMABAD:Senior Pakistan People Party (PPP) leader Senator Sherry Rehman said on Wednesday that violent extremism was a struggle for power, and that many redlines had been crossed by the proliferation of hateful narratives.

Speaking at the launch of a research report titled 'Beyond the Red Line: Contemporary Trends in Conflict Discourse in Pakistan’, Rehman lamented the weaponisation of fake news for personal interests.

Rehman, also a former federal minister, stated hateful narratives had gone beyond extremist and violent groups, rather it was being shaped by political forces as well through currency of anger and hate, as seen in online trolling.

Rehman spoke at the launch of a research report titled 'Beyond the Red Line: Contemporary Trends in Conflict Discourse in Pakistan' by Communications Research Strategies (CRS) here, said a news release.

The report is prepared under the 'Conflict Discourse Mapping', a project by the Communications Research Strategies (CRS), with support from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

In the address of welcome CRS CEO Aniq Zafar expressed the hope that the insights gleaned from this investigation would help design strategies to counteract violence and extremism.


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Role of media persons pivotal to further cause of democracy: NA Speaker

August 16, 2023

Speaker National Assembly Raja Pervez Ashraf says role of media persons is pivotal to further the cause of democracy.

He was talking to members of Parliamentary Reporters Association in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The Speaker appreciated the role of the Association to bring Parliament and people closer.

He said media highlights the positive image of Parliamentarians and the Parliament.

Raja Pervez Ashraf congratulated the media community on successful passage of PEMRA amendment bill for welfare of the journalists.


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Caretaker PM thanks Saudi Govt for consistent support to Pakistan’s economic stability

August 16, 2023

Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki called on caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The Saudi Ambassador congratulated the Prime Minister on assuming office and conveyed best wishes on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and the people of Saudi Arabia.

Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy historic and deep rooted ties.

He emphasized that the recently-instituted Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) would continue to work as before and would lay the foundations to fast-track foreign investments, particularly from Saudi Arabia.  He highlighted energy, infrastructure, agriculture, IT and manpower as potential sectors of cooperation.

Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar thanked the Saudi government for its consistent support to Pakistan’s economic stability and development.

He particularly mentioned the large number of Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia and requested the Saudi side to continue to extend all possible facilitation to them.

The Prime Minister lauded the vision of the Saudi leadership and said that Saudi Arabia could always count on Pakistan as its trusted and reliable partner.

The Saudi Ambassador reiterated that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are bound together in a fraternal relationship characterized by mutual trust and close cooperation on all bilateral and regional issues of common interest.


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Pakistan looks forward to strengthening ties with UAE: PM

August 16, 2023

Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Pakistan Hamad Obaid Ibrahim Salem Al-Zaabi called on caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The ambassador conveyed greetings of the UAE leadership to the Prime Minister on assuming office.

The Prime Minister said he looks forward to working with the UAE on advancing the two countries’ bilateral cooperation in various fields, especially trade, investment and energy.

He said Pakistan and the UAE enjoyed historic and deep-rooted fraternal ties and expressed gratitude for the UAE’s support to Pakistan’s economic and financial stability.

Anwaar ul Haq Kakar wished the UAE success in hosting the COP28 Summit later this year.

Highlighting the important role played by Pakistani diaspora in the UAE, the Prime Minister sought UAE government’s continued support for them.


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CJ-led bench to hear plea against NAB tweaks

August 17, 2023

The Supreme Court on Wednesday fixed the cases pertaining to the amendments in the NAB Ordinance for hearing on August 18.

The SC bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, will take up the case filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan for hearing.

The apex court has so far conducted a total of 47 hearings of the case.

The PTI chief’s plea claims that the new NAB laws are a “violation of fundamental rights”.


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South Asia


Over 200 media outlets shut down in past 2 years

By Fidel Rahmati- August 17, 2023

Since the Taliban regained control of the country two years ago, over 200 media outlets have closed down, with many of these closures being attributed to financial issues exacerbated by the ongoing economic crisis.

According to the latest findings by the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA), over the past two years, more than two hundred recorded cases of violence and arrests involving journalists have occurred. Currently, 13 journalists remain incarcerated.

The AIJA finding says that more than 7,000 media professionals, including many women, have faced the distressing consequence of job loss, compelling many to seek overseas opportunities.

This unsettling trend has overshadowed the media landscape as the once-vibrant workforce is uprooted and dispersed due to the changing political circumstances.

The departure of these skilled individuals not only represents a significant loss to the domestic media industry but also raises concerns about the diversity of voices and perspectives that have been a hallmark of a thriving media ecosystem.

“Before the victory of the Islamic Emirate, we had 600 media outlets in Afghanistan, of which 213 media outlets are currently closed; most of them were print media outlets,” according to Hujatullah Mujadidi, head of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association.

“We have 13 or 12 journalists under arrest, one of whom is [Afghan-French journalist Morteza] Behboodi; another one [is in custody], but his media [employer] has not confirmed his employment; and eight other people who were arrested in the last two or three days,” Mujadidi stated.

Still, many journalists assert that media restrictions and a lack of timely information from government institutions have created challenging working conditions. They also note that the recent arrests of several journalists by the Taliban forces have sparked fear and despair among their colleagues.

Over the past two decades, media and freedom of expression were significant accomplishments within the republic. However, following the previous government’s downfall, there has been a noticeable decline in freedom of expression and media engagement within the country.


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West ramping up interaction with armed groups in Afghanistan: Russia

By Fidel Rahmati

August 17, 2023

Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, has claimed that the primary threats to the region originate from within Afghanistan.

He highlighted the escalating influence of international terrorist organizations within the country.

“The security of Russia’s CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] allies in Central Asia is a key priority for the work of Russia’s defence agencies. Today, the main challenges and threats to the region are emerging from within Afghanistan, which is seeing growth in the influence of international terrorist organizations after [the collapse of] the decades-old US protectorate,” Shoigu said at the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security, TASS news agency reported.

The defence chief pointed out that Western countries are intensifying their interaction with various ethnic-based, non-Pashtun armed groups.

According to Shoigu, their explicit intent is to create border conflicts and then offer military aid to neutralize the resulting turmoil, disregarding civilians and government stability.

“The intent of their actions is clear. On the one hand, a conflict hotspot is created in the border zones of our partners. On the other hand, military assistance is offered to neutralize the conflict [thus artificially created]. All the while, the interests of the civilian population and the stability of government authorities are not duly taken into account,” Shoigu added.


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Situation in Afghanistan remains deeply troubling: UN chief

By Fidel Rahmati

August 16, 2023

Commemorating the second anniversary of the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the UN, has voiced concerns about the prevailing situation in the country, particularly the restrictions imposed on women and girls.

He tweeted on Wednesday that “the situation in Afghanistan, including the severe restrictions on the rights of women and girls, is deeply troubling.”

“The international community must not forget the people of Afghanistan,” Guterres added.

Since reclaiming power in August 2021, the Taliban has implemented several restrictive measures. These include prohibiting girls from pursuing education beyond primary school, restricting women from participating in various sectors, even within humanitarian organizations, and enforcing regulations that mandate women to be accompanied by a male guardian when leaving their homes.

Despite considerable pressure from human rights organizations, aid providers, and Islamic countries urging the lifting of these bans, the Taliban persists in imposing further restrictions on women’s rights.

International human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have emphasized that how the Taliban treats women and girls might constitute gender persecution as a crime against humanity, akin to “gender apartheid”.

Yesterday, 15 August 2023, marked the second anniversary of the Taliban’s resurgence to power. Over the last two years, the group has enforced severe restrictions on people, particularly women and girls.

Due to the restrictions imposed by the Taliban, women and girls are denied the fundamental rights to education, employment, and free movement.


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China’s Foreign Ministry Blames US for Afghanistan’s Unfolding Crisis

By Fidel Rahmati

August 16, 2023

As the Taliban marked the two-year anniversary of its rule, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry explicitly labelled the fall of Kabul as a military and political “failure” of the United States.

Addressing a press conference on Tuesday, August 15, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that Afghanistan has been stable for two years, and the future of this country is now back in the hands of its people.

“What happened in Afghanistan marked a military, political and counter-terrorism failure of the US in Afghanistan, and once again proved that military intervention, political infiltration and “democratic transformation” from the outside will not work and will only breed turmoil and disaster”, Wenbin said.

 “The international community still has expectations for Afghanistan in building a more broad-based and inclusive government framework and safeguarding the rights and interests of all its citizens, including women and ethnic minorities,” Wenbin added.

However, the Taliban has not responded to the global community’s calls for safeguarding and promoting women’s rights. Despite multiple appeals, there remains inadequate addressing of human rights in Afghanistan, especially those about women.

Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres, expressed concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, particularly women and girls.

“It is now two years since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan & the situation in the country remains deeply troubling, including the severe restrictions imposed on the rights of women & girls, Guterres said.

“The international community must not forget the people of Afghanistan”, he added.

Since August 2021, the Taliban has imposed strict measures, such as banning girls’ advanced education, limiting women’s roles across sectors, even in humanitarian groups, and requiring women to have a male guardian when leaving home.


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Daesh group still has thousands in Syria and Iraq and poses Afghan threat, UN experts say


August 15, 2023

The experts said the Daesh has adapted its strategy, embedding itself with local populations

UNITED NATIONS: Daesh still commands between 5,000 and 7,000 members across its former stronghold in Syria and Iraq and its fighters pose the most serious terrorist threat in Afghanistan today, UN experts said in a report circulated Monday.

The experts monitoring sanctions against the militant group, also known by its Arab acronym Daesh, said that during the first half of 2023 the threat posed by IS remained “mostly high in conflict zones and low in non-conflict areas.”

But the panel said in a report to the UN Security Council that “the overall situation is dynamic,” and despite significant losses in the group’s leadership and reduced activity in Syria and Iraq, the risk of its resurgence remains.

“The group has adapted its strategy, embedding itself with local populations, and has exercised caution in choosing battles that are likely to result in limited losses, while rebuilding and recruiting from camps in the northeast of the Syrian Arab Republic and from vulnerable communities, including in neighboring countries,” the experts said.

Daesh declared a self-styled caliphate in a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq that it seized in 2014. It was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017 following a three-year battle that left tens of thousands of people dead and cities in ruins, but its sleeper cells remain in both countries.

Despite sustained counter-terrorism operations, Daesh continues to command between 5,000 and 7,000 members across Iraq and Syria, “most of whom are fighters,” though it has reduced its attacks deliberately “to facilitate recruiting and reorganization,” the experts said.

In northeast Syria, approximately 11,000 suspected Daesh fighters are being held in facilities of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which have played a prominent role in the fight against IS, the panel said. The fighters include more than 3,500 Iraqis and approximately 2,000 from almost 70 nationalities, it said.

Northeast Syria is also the site of two closed camps – Al-Hol and Roj – where the experts said some 55,000 people with alleged links or family ties to IS are living in “dire” conditions and “significant humanitarian hardship.”

Approximately two-thirds of the population are children including over 11,800 Iraqis, nearly 16,000 Syrians and over 6,700 youngsters from more than 60 other countries, the experts said.

The panel quoted one unnamed country as saying Daesh has maintained its “Cubs of the Caliphate” program, recruiting children in the overcrowded Al-Hol camp. In addition, more than 850 boys, some as young as 10, were in detention and rehabilitation centers in the northeast, the experts said.

In Afghanistan, the panel said UN members assess the Daesh group poses the most serious terrorist threat to the country and the wider region. IS has reportedly increased its operational capabilities and now has an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 fighters and family members in Afghanistan, it said.

In Africa, on a positive note, the experts said the deployment of regional forces in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province disrupted the IS affiliate, and regional countries estimate it now has 180-220 male fighters with battlefield experience, down from 280 previously.

In the east, the experts said several countries expressed concern that terrorist groups like Daesh could exploit political violence and instability in conflict-wracked Sudan.

And some countries assess that the Daesh affiliate in Africa’s Sahel “has become increasingly autonomous and had played a significant role in the escalation of violence in the region, alongside other terrorist groups,” they said, pointing to increased IS attacks on several fronts in Mali and to a lesser extent in Burkina Faso and Niger.


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Syrian president’s comments reignite debate over Turkiye, Syria rapprochement process


August 16, 2023

ANKARA: Remarks by Syria’s President Bashar Assad during an interview with Sky News Arabia recently have sparked discussions on whether this has damaged improving relations between Damascus and Ankara.

In the interview, Assad rejected any meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and suggested that Erdogan’s motive for seeking talks was aimed at legitimizing Turkiye’s presence in Syria. “Why should I and Erdogan meet? To have soft drinks?” Assad quipped.

Reacting to Assad’s comments, Turkiye’sdefense chief, Yasar Guler, emphasized Turkiye’s desire for peace while underscoring its security concerns. “Turkiye sincerely wants peace, but we also have sensitivities. It is unthinkable for us to withdraw without guaranteeing the security of our borders and our people. I believe that the Syrian president will act more reasonably on this issue,” Guler remarked.

Turkiye has prioritized the return of 3.6 million Syrian refugees to their homeland mainly due to the approaching local elections. The main concern of voters is the strain being placed on Turkiye’s economy by hosting millions of Syrians.

In the interview, Assad also accused Turkiye of financially supporting various armed groups in Syria which were attempting to overthrow his administration.

“Terrorism in Syria is made in Turkiye,” Assad said during the interview, referring to Turkish-backed militias including Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham.

Despite these tensions, Turkiye and Syria have been engaging in political talks since last year, especially between their defense and foreign ministers.

Discussions have been facilitated by Iran and Russia, aiming to thaw relations between the two neighbors. In May, ministers from both sides agreed to outline a roadmap for improving ties. Damascus, however, asserts that this roadmap should incorporate a timetable for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria, as a prerequisite for further progress in talks.

Despite Assad’s harsh rhetoric, experts suggest that Turkiye continues to inch, in slow motion, toward reconciliation with the Syrian regime. The anticipated visit of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to Turkiye, along with a meeting of the foreign ministers from the quartet — Turkiye, Russia, Iran and Syria — holds the potential to rekindle the Turkiye-Syria rapprochement process.

“Even though Syria continues its significance in the foreign policy agenda of both countries, neither Putin nor Erdogan currently can devote greater time to Syria because of different considerations,” Prof. Emre Ersen, an expert on Russia-Turkiye relations from Marmara University in Istanbul, told Arab News.

“Ankara seems to be focused on fixing its relations with the West due to economic concerns, while the war in Ukraine is dominating the Russian foreign policy agenda. Turkish-Russian relations have also become somewhat frostier in the last few months due to Ankara’s close relations with the (Ukraine President Volodymyr) Zelensky government and Moscow’s decision to withdraw from the grain deal.”

For Ersen, this means that the reconciliation process might take a little longer.

“It should also be kept in mind that Putin’s leverage over Assad has been significantly weakened following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Assad’s latest words could also be regarded as a sign of this situation,” he said.

Nevertheless, the road to diplomatic detente remains complex. Turkiye’s insistence on creating a 30-km buffer zone along its border, free from Syrian-Kurdish groups, has played a significant role in their continued military presence in northern Syria with around 5,000 to 10,000 troops. Erdogan stated on July 17 that Turkiye is committed to remaining in these areas due to ongoing counterterrorism efforts.

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Levant studies at the ORSAM think tank in Ankara, thinks that Turkiye would not agree to withdraw from Syria until it obtains internationally-backed guarantees against any Kurdish drive for autonomy in the northern part of the war-torn country.

“Ankara gives priority to agree on a joint roadmap and implement confidence-building measures before any decision of withdrawal. The latest statement of Assad signifies a retreat in the dialogue process,” he told Arab News.

Orhan suggests that the way to restore trust between Damascus and Ankara would be to revive trade between regime-held and rebel-held areas, and between regions within the country. In addition, the parties should also agree to open the strategic rebel-held M4 highway in Idlib connecting the Mediterranean coast with Aleppo and other areas in the northern provinces.

“Rather than insisting on prerequisites that Ankara categorically rejects under current circumstances, such steps would alleviate economic challenges that (the) Assad regime currently faces and would be considered as goodwill gestures by Ankara — important steps to overcome the longstanding trust deficit between the parties,” he said.

However, the broader normalization process between Ankara and Damascus is inextricably tied to Turkiye’s broader foreign relations, notably with Russia, the US, and Western allies.

“Turkiye’s recent overtures toward the West, its support for Sweden’s NATO accession, uncertainties surrounding the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and even the return of key figures from the Azov regiment to Ukraine … might well fuel apprehensions within Russia,” cautions Orhan.

“If all these steps result in a foreign policy shift from (the) Turkish side, it could also lead to the collapse of Turkiye’s rapprochement process with Syria due to the Russian factor, that is the strongest ally of (the) Damascus regime,” he added.

Meanwhile, how to deal with the country’s refugees continues to cause division, heightened now because of the upcoming Turkish mayoral elections in March 2024. Orhan suggests the government should adopt a tempered approach.

While the refugee quandary played a pivotal role in previous local elections, with opposition candidates securing victories in major urban centers, the upcoming contest could witness incremental gestures to address the issue without committing to sweeping decisions.

Orhan envisions a scenario where new settlements, bolstered by financial backing from the Qatar government, could materialize in northern Syria. Such initiatives, aimed at providing temporary relief for refugees, could be skillfully woven into campaign narratives, kindling hope among voters. The prospect of complete Syrian repatriation before the elections, he concedes, remains impossible.

For the past few weeks, Ankara has intensified its deportations, with thousands of Syrians being abruptly sent to northern Syria where many do not have any connections. The move is a part of Erdogan’s pledge, made after his recent election victory, to send 1 million Syrian refugees back home.


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Daesh continues to lose influence and effectiveness in Iraq, says US general


August 17, 2023

CHICAGO: A US military official said on Wednesday that the war to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria continues to advance, citing as proof of progress a significant year-on-year reduction in terrorist activities.

During a briefing attended by Arab News, Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, which includes forces from more than 30 countries and is based in Iraq, said there has been a “65 percent reduction” in terrorist activity by Daesh in the past year. The group is no longer militarily operational, he added, but individual remnants continue to be responsible for some incidents of violence.

Therefore, although the continuing mission to target Daesh supporters and their ideology in Iraq has been very successful, remaining members of the group continue to operate in areas outside of the coalition’s reach, he said.

“Daesh no longer controls any territory and have suffered losses of their leaders and fighters at large,” McFarlane said. “We continue to see a decrease in Daesh attacks, year on year — this year a 65 percent or greater (reduction) from last year. This last Ramadan was the most peaceful Ramadan in recent history, according to our Iraqi colleagues.

“But they (Daesh) continue to degrade. Not just in attacks but in all measurable categories I am aware of. They continue to decline or degrade (in terms of) finances, military and just numbers that we are tracking that are part of the organization. Having said that, there are still radical fighters out there that aspire to reemerge or rebuild the caliphate.

“In the last few years, the Iraqi security forces have made tremendous strides in defeating Daesh and continue in their efforts to prevent the reemergence of Daesh. While Daesh has been defeated militarily, we know their dangerous ideology remains a threat and they continue to aspire to regain some type of military capacity. That is why we continue to work with our partner forces in our shared mission to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh.”

The US-led coalition provides support for Iraqi military forces but is not actively engaged in fighting Daesh, he added, and works with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of ethnic militias and rebel groups in northern and eastern Syria.

Many regional challenges remain, McFarlane said, including the repatriation of displaced persons and Daesh detainees currently in northeastern Syria and their reintegration into their home communities.

A particular area of concern in Syria, he added, a country that remains deeply divided, is that there remains the potential for violence to escalate in some areas there.

“Daesh has increased attacks in areas that are not controlled by the coalition,” McFarlane confirmed.

Asked about the situation in Syrian territory controlled by Russian forces, he responded that their “unsafe and unprofessional actions are certainly unwelcome and put our forces and their forces at risk.”

McFarlane admitted that progress in the battle against Daesh is still “fragile” and that the “prospect of a (Daesh) resurgence remains a possibility,” despite signs of the “decreasing effectiveness” of the terrorist organization.

“The ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) show great progress but the threat to the US, to the coalition, still remains and the progress and stability we see can be fragile, if you look at what Daesh is aspiring to do, which was demonstrated over the last month in different parts of Syria,” he said.

“While they’ve been militarily defeated — they no longer hold ground — we must not be complacent. Their evil ideology persists and the prospect of a resurgence remains a possibility.

“I believe the progress we are making with our partners here, and the Iraqi Security Forces are (taking) the lead in this fight in Iraq, is an example of what we are trying to do in Syria, and we continue to see the results of this campaign in the data, which is the decrease in attacks as well as the decrease in the effectiveness of those attacks year on year.”

The recent Joint Security Cooperation Dialogue between the US and the Iraqi leadership reaffirms the bilateral security partnership between the countries and their shared interests in the stability of the region, McFarlane added.


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Israeli raid on Jenin kills Palestinian

August 17, 2023

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man in a raid on a militant stronghold in the northern occupied West Bank on Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, the latest violence in a city that has seen some of the worst bloodshed in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

Violence has gripped the region since last spring, when Israel launched near-nightly raids in response to a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks. The violence has escalated into the fiercest fighting in the West Bank in some two decades, and along with increased violence by radical Jewish settlers and settlement expansion by Israel’s far-right government, has fueled tensions in the region.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man killed as Mustafa Al-Kastouni, 32. It was not immediately clear if the man was affiliated with a militant group. The Hamas militant group said its fighters engaged in a gunbattle with Israeli troops in Jenin and lobbed explosives at the forces.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Jenin, a city where Palestinian security forces have little presence, has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israel. The city and an adjacent refugee camp have been the focus of Israel’s monthslong operation, with an intense 2-day offensive last month the height of those efforts. Israel deployed armed drones and hundreds of troops, leaving vast destruction and killing 12 Palestinians, most of them militants. An Israeli soldier also died.

Israel says the raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians see the violence as a natural response to 56 years of occupation, including stepped-up settlement construction by Israel’s government and increased violence by Jewish settlers.

The ongoing violence in the West Bank has surged to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with more than 170 Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since the start of 2023, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but stone-throwing youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.

At least 27 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis since the beginning of the year.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.


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Iran’s FM leaves Tehran for Riyadh


August 17, 2023

DUBAI: Iran foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has left Tehran for Riyadh heading a high-ranking delegation at the official invitation of his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Iranian foreign ministry said.

In June, Prince Faisal met with Iranian officials in Tehran on his first visit to the country after the resumption of diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic in March.

In March, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed in a China-brokered deal to end a diplomatic rift and reestablish relations following years of hostility that had endangered regional stability in the Gulf, as well as in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia broke ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran in retaliation for Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.


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Syria doubles pay for civil servants, military personnel


August 16, 2023

The Syrian economy has been battered by the conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011

DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar Assad has decreed a 100-percent pay rise for civil servants and pensioners while fuel subsidies were lifted in a country ravaged by 12 years of war.

The Syrian economy has been battered by the conflict that has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it began in 2011.

In two decrees issued late Tuesday, Assad doubled the salaries and pensions of those currently and formerly employed in the civil service and military, as well as contract workers.

Prior to the decision, the monthly salary of civil servants had been between around $10 and $25, depending on the Syrian pound’s street value.

The presidential decrees also set the minimum monthly wage in the private sector at 185,940 Syrian pounds, or about $13 on the black market.

In a separate statement late Tuesday, the commerce ministry announced the total lifting of subsidies on petrol and a partial lifting of subsidies on fuel oil.

As a result the price of petrol has risen to 8,000 pounds from 3,000 previously, and fuel oil to 2,000 pounds from 700 previously, according to the ministry.

The Syrian pound was trading at around 14,300 to the US dollar on Wednesday, according to unofficial monitoring websites, compared with the official rate of 8,542.

The currency has lost most of its value since the start of the war, when it was worth 47 against the greenback.

Most of the population has been pushed into poverty, according to the United Nations.


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Arab World


Saudi Arabia’s future intelligence program to educate 30,000 students in AI

16 August 2023

The initiative aims to train a cohort of 5,000 students in the Kingdom in its first phase

JEDDAH: The Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, has announced the start of registration for the Future Intelligence Programmer Program, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The initiative aims to train a cohort of 5,000 students in the Kingdom in its first phase.

The program’s main goal is to provide participants with essential skills and knowledge in data science and AI, empowering them to become proficient programmers while shaping the future in these fields.

The program aims to educate 30,000 middle and high-school students about the fundamentals of AI methods.

The program’s first stage will begin on Sept. 3 and last for 10 days. Registration is open until Aug. 21.

The program covers various subjects, including an introduction to AI, programming for smart cars, machine learning, computer vision, and additional enrichment courses to enhance students’ understanding of AI technologies.

Participants will receive certificates endorsed by both the SDAIA and the Ministry of Education upon successfully completing the program.

The SDAIA and the Ministry of Education are revolutionizing intelligence programming in Saudi Arabia and beyond. The program is a prominent endeavor within SDAIA’s knowledge initiatives, aiming to enhance understanding of AI technologies and their applications.

Meanwhile, 1,000 women from 29 countries are currently receiving training in data and AI skills through the Elevate Program. It was launched in May by SDAIA in collaboration with Google Cloud.

The program aims to train more than 25,000 women worldwide in advanced technical fields within five years. The program offers free training sessions in areas including cloud engineering, data engineering, machine learning engineering, and cloud operations.


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Saudi Arabia expresses deep concern over armed clashes in Libya capital

August 16, 2023

Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year have killed 55 people and wounded 146

A cease-fire is currently in place

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia expressed deep concern over recent armed clashes in Libya’s capital on Wednesday.

Tripoli’s worst armed clashes in a year have killed 55 people and wounded 146, Libyan media reported as a truce took hold.

Fighting erupted on Monday night and raged through Tuesday between the influential 444 Brigade and the Al-Radaa, or Special Deterrence Force, two of the myriad of militias that have vied for power in the country since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

The Kingdom called on all Libyan parties to exercise restraint and prioritise the interest of the Libyan people in a way that preserves national gains.

It also urged all parties to abide by international resolutions aimed at strengthening security and stability in Libya.


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Saudi Arabia set to launch new satellite channel on culture in September

August 17, 2023

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia is gearing up to unveil a brand-new television channel in September to spotlight the country's culture and heritage.

Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan has signed an agreement with MBC Group Chairman Walid Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim to establish and operate the forthcoming channel. The initiative aims to celebrate Saudi culture through diverse programming that will air 24 hours a day.

The channel, which will be available on MBC's satellite and digital platforms, seeks to position the Kingdom as a cultural hub with a global impact. It aligns with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, emphasizing the nation's rich heritage and civilizational contributions. The channel is expected to provide a modern and dynamic portrayal of Saudi culture, offering content that appeals to both intellectuals and the general public.

With a focus on arts, literature, heritage, poetry, theater, cinema, design, fashion, and culinary arts, the channel is poised to showcase the multifaceted aspects of Saudi culture. It will leverage cutting-edge technology to blend tradition and innovation, catering to the evolving tastes and interests of local and international audiences.

In addition to broadcasting, the initiative will extend to digital platforms, encompassing videos, articles, podcasts, and documentary productions that cater to the preferences of the young generation. By nurturing local talent and spotlighting prominent Saudi figures, the channel aims to contribute to the cultural scene, enhance national pride, and augment the global standing of Saudi Arabia.

The launch of the cultural channel comes as a response to the growing interest in Saudi culture and heritage worldwide. It represents a dynamic step forward in presenting the Kingdom's vibrant and rich cultural landscape, fostering dialogue, and strengthening cultural ties with the global community. The channel's debut is eagerly anticipated as it aspires to become a prominent medium for fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.


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Yemen’s envoy to UN thanks Saudi Arabia for its political, economic and development support

17 August 2023

He told the UN Security Council the support is ‘a translation of the depth and strength of the exceptional relations that bring together the two countries’

Yemeni PM Maeen Abdul Malik said a recently announced $1.2bn in financial aid from the Kingdom will help improve services, aid development and alleviate human suffering

LONDON: Yemen’s permanent representative to the UN, Abdullah Al-Saadi, said on Wednesday that his country appreciates the ongoing political, economic and development support provided by Saudi Arabia.

Speaking during a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York about the latest developments in Yemen, Al-Saadi said that the support, in keeping with directives from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is “a translation of the depth and strength of the exceptional relations that bring together the two countries and the two brotherly peoples,” Yemen’s official Saba News Agency reported.

The envoy noted that the latest example of the Kingdom’s assistance to his country was the announcement of “generous economic support to Yemen, amounting to $1.2 billion to support the Presidential Leadership Council and the Yemeni government, to assist in addressing the deficit in the general budget, and to support the government’s efforts in implementing a number of economic, financial and monetary reforms.”

The aid will also be used to help authorities in the war-torn country improve services and food security, and stabilize the national currency, he added.

Meanwhile, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik said the economic support provided by the Kingdom to his country will prove effective in helping to improve services and aid development.

Speaking during a meeting of the Presidential Leadership Council in the nation’s de facto capital, Aden, on Wednesday, he added that the budget support represents a boost to the Yemeni government’s efforts to alleviate human suffering and achieve economic stability.


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Saudi AI summer school students at Oxford University meet Kingdom’s ambassador to UK

16 August 2023

At the reception in London, Prince Khalid bin Bandar said that by participating in such camps the students contribute greatly to achieving the goals of Saudi Vision 2030

LONDON: Saudi students who are participating in an artificial intelligence-themed summer camp at the University of Oxford met the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK, Prince Khalid bin Bandar, at their country’s embassy in London.

During his speech at the reception, the prince said the participation of “distinguished students in such international camps contributes greatly to achieving the goals of Saudi Vision 2030,” the Kingdom’s national development and diversification plan, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

It also enhances the Kingdom’s efforts to develop national competencies and provide smart solutions for efforts to achieve sustainable development, he added.

The summer camp is organized by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, in cooperation with the summer program of Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall College.

The eight-week program aims to help students improve their capabilities in artificial intelligence technologies, as part of the effort to equip the next generation of Saudis with knowledge and skills in line with the latest international standards and practices, so that they are able to compete with their counterparts worldwide.

The student delegation was accompanied by Abdulrahim Alghamdi and Somayah Al-Gashgari, respectively the director and director of operations at the KAUST Academy; and Mohammed Al-Zahrani, director general of the SDAIA Academy.


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AlUla World Archaeology Summit will be ‘a global platform promoting cultural heritage’

16 August 2023


The summit focuses on four main themes: identity, ruins, resilience, and accessibility

It is set to take place from Sept. 13-15 at Maraya

RIYADH: The Royal Commission for AlUla is to host the inaugural AlUla World Archaeology Summit in September, which is described as “a global platform promoting archaeology and cultural heritage,” bringing together both local and international pioneers in the field.

The summit focuses on four main themes: identity, ruins, resilience, and accessibility. It will boast a range of talks such as “Archaeology Weaves an Interconnected World,” “The Preservation Paradox: How to Save Everything When There’s Not Enough Room,” and “Saving Archaeology One TikTok at a Time.”

Abdulrahman Al-Trairi, the chief of communications and PR for the commission, said: “The AlUla World Archaeology Summit reinforces the position of AlUla and Saudi Arabia as a leading international hub for archaeological discovery and a top tourism destination for those interested in exploring the heritage of northwest Arabia.

“As part of AlUla’s year-round events and attractions, the summit will bring hundreds of new international visitors to the destination, contributing to the local economy and expanding AlUla’s contribution to Saudi GDP.”

The summit, which is set to take place from Sept. 13-15 at Maraya, will include dialogue sessions aimed at developing archaeology in the Kingdom in a way that contributes to increasing discoveries and activating them on a global scale.

It will be a global stage for intellectual discourse, collaborations, and advancements on a broad scale, with more than 60 speakers exploring archaeological science and issues within the field in a modern context.

A wide number of experts and specialists from around the world will participate in the Future Forum that will be held on the sidelines of the summit. This forum will represent a space for cooperation and conversations in the fields of archaeology and heritage.

The summit will also endeavor to put ideas garnered from Saudi Arabia’s cultural legacy and scientific advancement into practice for the benefit of humanity, to help realize the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

The event takes place around the same time as Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the 45th assembly of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, from Sept. 10-25.

The summit’s goals are to publicize historical, geographical, and heritage attractions, in addition to encouraging the organization of relevant conferences that confirm the presence of AlUla as one of the most important sites in the world.

The commission hopes to position not only AlUla but the Kingdom as a whole as the premier location for the international archaeological community, by creating a central platform for research and innovation.

By jointly developing innovative, heritage-based solutions to current problems across sectors, the commission hopes to increase the relevance of archaeology to global issues.

It is also attempting to motivate the next generation of anthropologists and archaeologists to carry this forward by putting new knowledge and research into practice.

Al-Trairi stressed how global awareness of the summit will help raise AlUla’s status and help encourage greater interest in the commission.

AlUla is distinguished by its captivating landscape and originality, making it a special place and providing guests with an exceptional experience.

For more details about the summit, visit


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Saudi authorities foil drug-smuggling attempts

August 16, 2023

Preliminary legal procedures against all the suspects have been completed and their cases referred to public prosecutors

Jeddah: Saudi authorities have arrested several people and seized large quantities of illegal drugs in operations carried out across the Kingdom.

On Wednesday, Border Guard land patrols in the Al-Dair sector of the Jazan region foiled an attempt to smuggle 110 kg of qat.

Meanwhile, land patrols in the Al-Harth governorate of Jazan also prevented an attempt to smuggle 93 kg of qat.

The criminal investigation department in Riyadh arrested a female resident of Moroccan nationality and three Saudi citizens for selling 14.5 kg of hashish, amphetamine and other drugs. The suspects were also found in possession of two firearms and an unspecified sum of money.

The General Directorate of Narcotics Control arrested a citizen in the Northern Borders region for selling narcotic amphetamine, as well as two Pakistani residents in Riyadh for selling 17,780 tablets that fall under medical circulation regulations.

Police in Jeddah arrested a citizen for trafficking methamphetamine, a narcotic substance commonly referred to as “shabu.”

Preliminary legal procedures against all the suspects have been completed and their cases referred to public prosecutors.

Members of the public can report suspected smuggling or other violations in confidence via email at, or by calling 1910 from within the country or +966114208417 from overseas.

Financial rewards are offered for information that leads to the discovery of a crime involving drugs.


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Saudi Arabia vows consistent attention to education sector

August 16, 2023

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia has praised endeavors by the United Nations to unload more than a million barrels of oil from a floating tanker in the Red Sea, averting a massive environmental disaster and potential hazard to maritime safety.

The United Nations announced on Friday they successfully managed to empty the tanker, FSO Safer, floating off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.

Following a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Minister of Media Salman bin Yousef bin Ali Al-Dosari said Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the leading voices in calling for action on the tanker, appreciated the efforts by the UN and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.

Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman chaired the weekly Cabinet session held at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah.

The Crown Prince briefed the Cabinet on the contents of the discussions Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman had with the King of Eswatini, the President of Rwanda, and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The talks mainly focused on the various aspects of bilateral relations across various fields.

As the new academic year draws near, the Cabinet emphasized the Kingdom’s dedication and consistent attention to the education sector. Such endeavors have played a pivotal role in boosting intellectual growth and skill development, while also fostering fields of research and innovation, to equip individuals to excel on the global stage.

This vision corresponds with achievements that have been realized and it continues to make real impacts across every aspect of the Kingdom's economic and social landscape, Al-Dosari said in remarks to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

Al-Dosari said the Council of Ministers followed up on the latest regional developments and political changes in the global arena.

The Cabinet underscored the importance of bolstering economic and investment relations with various nations globally in line with Saudi Vision 2030, which brings unparalleled prospects in areas of mutual benefit, Al-Dosari said.

The Cabinet commended the outcome of the visits by a joint public and private sector delegation to various Latin American countries, where several memoranda of understanding were signed to expand the scope of collaborative efforts.

The Cabinet highlighted the Kingdom's commitment to strengthening cooperation with the global community across the spectrum. This commitment was reinforced during the 2nd Anti-Corruption Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) in India. During the ministerial meeting, they referred to the “Riyadh Initiative for Enhancing International Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Cooperation,” which achieved substantial milestones within its respective jurisdictions. Notably, over 161 anti-corruption agencies from 90 countries have become part of the resultant Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities (GlobE Network).

The Cabinet praised the outcomes of the international conference hosted by the Kingdom titled "Communication with the Departments of Religious Affairs, Ifta, and Sheikhdoms in the World.”

The conference aligns with the Kingdom’s dedication to serving Islam and the Muslim community and its proactive involvement in strengthening unity and collaboration among Islamic countries. The overarching objective is to combat radical ideologies and enhance the values of tolerance and harmonious coexistence among diverse populations. The Kingdom reaffirmed its esteemed mission to propagate the principles of moderation and tolerance.

The Cabinet was also briefed on several issues on the agenda and approved a number of decisions, in addition to ratifying several appointments.

It authorized the minister of energy, or a deputy, to hold talks with Argentina on a draft memorandum of understanding with the Kingdom for cooperation in the fields of energy.

It approved a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the cultural field between the Saudi Ministry of Culture and its Egyptian counterpart.

The meeting authorized the minister of culture, or a deputy, to hold talks with the Panamanian side on a draft memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the cultural field.

The Cabinet also approved the closing statements of the General Authority of Foreign Trade, the Saudi Center for Economic Business, and the Decision Support Center for the two previous fiscal years. — SPA


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Public Comment Sought on Divorce Bill Regarding Muslim Marriages in South Africa

August 17, 2023

The Divorce Amendment Bill that seeks to improve the legislative framework for Muslim marriages in the Constitution has been opened for public comment.

In its current form, the Divorce Act of 1997 excludes Muslim women who were married in accordance with Islamic law, the Shariah, and protection for children born from such marriages if they are dissolved.

In 2022, the constitutional court found that a supreme court of appeal (SCA) ruling was invalid and inconsistent with the current act because it failed to recognise Muslim marriages.

The divorce bill, presented by Al Jamah leader Ganief Hendricks, aims to provide mechanisms to safeguard the welfare of minor or dependent children born of Muslim marriages and to provide for the redistribution of assets on the dissolution of a Muslim marriage.

“We are very thrilled that cabinet has accepted the proposals and now it can go for public participation and that it can meet the deadline of June 2024,” said Hendricks.

“It has been an anomaly for the past 30 years that Muslim wives and other religious marriages are not allowed to take their grievances to the divorce court [because the marriages were not recognised] and did not have any legal consequences.”

Hendricks said the amendment would extend to Hindu, Jew and African families who could not previously use the divorce court based on the law.

The bill, which consists of four clauses, further aims to amend section 7 of the Divorce Act to empower a court to grant an order on the redistribution of assets, and an amendment to section 9 to give an order that patrimonial benefits of a Muslim marriage be forfeited in stipulated terms.

In 2018, the Western Cape high court found that the state had a constitutional obligation to recognise Muslim marriages. The supreme court of appeal upheld the ruling.

The constitutional court has given parliament a June 2024 deadline to correct the divorce law. The department of justice has said that written submissions on the Divorce Amendment Bill must be sent to before 8 September.


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Muslim leaders protest at Lagos Assembly, reject Sanwo-Olu’s commissioners list

August 16, 2023

Kehinde Folarin

In a move to express their displeasure, leaders of the Muslim Community in Lagos on Wednesday protested at the State House of Assembly over the recent list of 39 commissioner-nominees released by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Politics Nigeria recalls that the Muslim community had earlier voiced against the list of eight Muslims and 31 Christians, saying the list is unfair to those practising the Islamic faith in the state and demanding a review.

However, the state government ignored the complaints as the House of Assembly commenced the screening of the nominees on Monday.

In a swift reaction, leaders of the Muslim Community led by the President and Elder statesman, Prof. Tajudeen Gbadamosi, stormed the House of Assembly to protest against what they called official discrimination of the Muslims in the state.

Heads of various Islamic organisations and scholars also attended the protest, where Prof. Gbadamosi presented a petition to the Speaker, MudashiruObasa.

They were seen carrying banners and placards with inscriptions such as “Muslims say no to official discrimination,” “All we ask is fairness,” and “Stop the Screening Now, we want Justice”, among others.

In the petition by the President, the Muslims expressed “grievance and dissatisfaction against the blatant disregard for justice, equity and fairness in the proposed Lagos State’ Executive cabinet as contained in the list of commissioner-nominees.”

According to the group, the list “is a classic case of discrimination and religious bigotry, as it has 31 nominees who are of the Christian faith and only eight (8) nominees who are Muslims.”

The Muslim Community argued that Sanwo-Olu violated the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Constitution, particularly Sections 14(4) and 192(2).

They also called on the Lagos House of Assembly to reject the list as similarly done in the Niger House of Assembly, where a noticeable minority Christian population demanded a reversal of the list of commissioners to reflect fairness and equity to them.


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Kaduna Assembly calls on govt. to support victims of Zaria mosque collapse with relief materials

August 16, 2023

By Hassana Yakubu

Kaduna State House of Assembly has called on the state Government to provide relief materials to victims of the Zaria Mosque collapse.

The call is contained in a motion treated as a matter of urgent public importance, read by member representing Zaria City constituency, Mahmud Ismaila, on Wednesday in Kaduna

The member said the motion was raised in pursuant to order 8, rule 4, of the standing order and rules of the house.

He said the tragic event which happened on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, had claimed the lives 10 people, living more than 30 injured who are receiving medical attention at ABU Zaria Teaching Hospital and Gambo Sawaba General Hospital, Zaria.

Ismaila said part of the roof of the Zaria Juma’at Mosque, situated at Fada opposite the Emir’s palace, collapsed, killing and injuring worshipers.

He added “while the state is mourning the affected persons, another sad event of attack by bandits occurred at Gadar Gaya, Zaria, which resulted in the death of two people and two others kidnapped.

“That’s why we are asking the state government to, through its State Emergency Management Agency SEMA, provide relief materials to the affected victims. (NAN)


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Zimbabwe police arrest 40 opposition members as vote nears

August 16, 2023

Police in Zimbabwe said they arrested 40 members of the leading opposition party for blocking traffic and disrupting order during a campaign event on Tuesday, a week ahead of national elections.

The southern African country heads to the polls on August 23 to elect the president and legislature in what analysts expect to be a tense affair, marked by a crackdown on dissent and fears of vote-rigging.

The opposition Citizens' Coalition for Change (CCC) was campaigning in a southwestern suburb of the capital Harare on Tuesday when supporters were blocked by police, according to party spokeswoman Fadzayi Mahere.

Police confirmed they had arrested 40 CCC activists, alleging the party notified authorities it would hold a rally, but then diverted from the planned location.

The group "went on a car rally procession" in a nearby area, and stopped at a traffic light "openly blocking traffic", police said, adding that CCC supporters "started chanting party slogans and singing".

Footage shared on social media showed dozens of people clad in the CCC's yellow colours, some crammed in the back of a small truck, crowding an intersection.

The opposition has long complained about being unfairly targeted by authorities in the run-up to the election, with its members arrested and dozens of CCC events blocked.

A report by Human Rights Watch this month said the upcoming ballot will be held under a "seriously flawed electoral process" that does not meet global standards for freedom and fairness.

It accused police of "partisan conduct" and of using "intimidation and violence against the opposition".

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 80, who heads the ZANU-PF, in power since independence in 1980, is seeking re-election in the presidential vote next week.

His main challenger is CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor.


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Southeast Asia


Indonesia To Allocate US$2.7b Next Year To Construction Of New CapitalNusantara, On Borneo Island

17 Aug 2023

JAKARTA, Aug 17 — Indonesia is to allocate US$2.7 billion (RM12.5 billion) to the construction of its new capital city in its 2024 budget and the presidential office and a dozen apartment blocks for workers should be completed next year, ministers said yesterday.

The South-east Asian nation announced in 2019 that it would build a new capital, Nusantara, on Borneo Island, replacing an overcrowded and sinking Jakarta. The new city is expected to cost a total of US$32 billion by the time it is completed in 2045.

The government has already invested 32 trillion rupiah (RM9.7 billion) to build basic infrastructure, including a dam and a toll road.

Finance Minister Sri MulyaniIndrawati said 35 trillion rupiah from the 2024 budget would be given to the public works and housing ministry, who will build infrastructure and housing for civil servants.

“Supporting infrastructure will be finished in 2024,” Sri Mulyani said at a news conference.

The government will in September start building housing for about 16,000 civil servants, military and police officers, who are due to move in next year, said public works and housing minister Basuki Hadimuljono.

The government plans to complete 12 of 47 apartment blocks by July next year, a month before the government will hold its first independence day flag ceremony in the new capital, Basuki said.

“Four coordinating ministry’s offices, the presidential palace will be complete next year, while the field for flag-raising ceremony next year will be complete in July,” he said.— Reuters


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Just focus on your court cases, Anwar tells Muhyiddin amid call to step down over state polls results

By Soo Wern Jun

17 Aug 2023

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has today brushed aside calls for him to step down as prime minister made by Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman in return told Muhyiddin that he should instead focus on his court cases.

“We retained our victory and still have two-thirds, what is he thinking about?

“I advise him to focus on his court case,” Anwar told reporters after the Residensi Wilayah groundbreaking ceremony.

Muhyiddin has three remaining criminal charges under the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act that are pending at the Sessions Court.


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Singapore arrests 10 foreigners, seizes S$1b assets in money laundering probe

17 Aug 2023

SINGAPORE, Aug 17 — Singapore police have arrested 10 foreigners for alleged money laundering and forgery offences, in a case involving about S$1 billion (RM3.41 billion) of cash, properties, luxury cars and other assets.

The police conducted simultaneous raids on Tuesday across the city-state to arrest the suspects, their statement said yesterday.

Prohibition of disposal orders were issued against 94 properties and 50 vehicles, with a total estimated value of more than S$815 million.

Other seizures included bank accounts, cash, luxury bags, jewellery, watches, electronic devices and some documents with information on virtual assets.

The foreigners were aged between 31 and 44, and their nationalities include Chinese, Turkish, Cypriot, Cambodian and Ni-Vanuatu, Singapore police said.

In a separate statement, the Singapore central bank said it has been “in touch with the financial institutions (FIs) where the potentially tainted funds have been identified. Supervisory engagements with these FIs are ongoing”, without naming the FIs. — Reuters


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Stop soliciting, giving commissions for development projects, says PM Anwar

17 Aug 2023

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 ― Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wants the practice of soliciting and giving commissions in the implementation of any development projects, including housing, to be stopped immediately.

He said the government has never prevented any company from conducting its operations and earning profits, but the practice of giving commissions to any minister or political party for that purpose should not continue to persist.

“If the company is making profits, no problem, but don’t cut RM10 million or 15 million (of the company’s profit) just for a minister or any political party as practised before. This is what damages (the system). I understand many would be angry with me for addressing this issue, but everyone knows, just ask the developers in the Federal Territories.

“Am I right or am I wrong? Am I exaggerating or am I telling the truth? Without exception, everybody would say yes and that has been the practice and we have done so. I say we have to stop this nonsense,” he said when launching the Residensi Wilayah, ResidensiPrihatin Madani and Madani Hawkers Centre ground-breaking ceremony at Desa Tasik Sungai Besi here today.

Anwar said that it is better for the “commission allocation” to be returned to the people by implementing more balanced development projects, including housing for low-income groups or more organised markets and hawker centres.

As for the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, which is growing rapidly and driven by development, the prime minister said the unity government has set the conditions that in the construction of new housing projects, it must be balanced in order to make it a caring Madani capital city.

He said this is to ensure that the people, especially the low-income groups, would not be left out of mainstream development.

At the same time, he said the government and the private sector will continue playing an important role in ensuring more affordable housing for the groups is built.

In order to further increase the liveability of the city, Anwar said open spaces and green areas around housing projects need to be created or maintained so that they do not just become urban forests,

Developers should also create a systematic market or hawkers’ centres for the convenience of the people, he said.

“I want to see a huge shift, that in a year or two Kuala Lumpur will be well known as as a city with good landmarks, big hotels and clean stalls and beautiful in its own way,” he added.

The Residensi Wilayah and ResidensiPrihatin Madani is a housing project on a 1.4-hectare land offering 1,010 units of affordable houses to first-time buyers from the targeted groups of M40 and below.

Also present at the project ground-breaking ceremony were Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali and City Mayor Datuk Kamarulzaman Mat Salleh. ― Bernama


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Don't punish those influenced by racial sentiments, says PM


17 Aug 2023

KUALA LUMPUR: Malays and youths should not be blamed for being influenced by racial and religious sentiments during the recently-concluded state polls, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar said the rise in support for right-wing ideologies is not something surprising in Malaysia, as it is a global phenomenon.

He said that western countries have seen a rise in fascism.

“I disagree with the impromptu assumption that tries to blame and punish youths who might have been misled (by political parties)," said Anwar.

It is not something out of the ordinary. In Europe, despite advancements in technology and education, they are still seeing a rise in fascism and neo-Nazi beliefs," he added.

Anwar also said that support for right-wing ideologies is increasing in the US, where it is called the Christian right.

Speaking after officiating a ground-breaking ceremony at Sungai Besi on Thursday (Aug 17), Anwar said that leaders in the unity government should address the matter by being closer to Malaysians using their wisdom and confidence.

“I said at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday (Aug 16) that we should carry out our duties with sincerity, as it is impossible to be rejected due to sincerity and an attitude being against corruption,” added Anwar.

Anwar also said it takes time for Malay voters to be wooed by the unity government’s Madani concept.

“It is the responsibility of our machinery and leadership to work harder to realise this policy (Madani),” added Anwar.

Madani is an acronym for a policy that embraces six core values – keMampanan (Sustainability), KesejAhteraan (Prosperity), Daya Cipta (Innovation), hormAt (Respect), keyakiNan (Trust) and Ihsan (Compassion).

On Tuesday, Umno’s Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamad said Malay youths lacked the basic knowledge to understand politics and current issues.

Nur Jazlan said Umno should be rebranded into a more practical, realistic and inclusive party for all.

Meanwhile, Anwar also appeared unfazed over calls of resignation by Perikatan Nasional chairman Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin over the unity government’s performance in the state polls.

“We maintained our victory and we still have two-thirds of the seats in Parliament. I advise him to focus on his court cases,” added Anwar.

On Sunday, Muhyiddin asked Anwar and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to resign from their respective government positions due to the outcome of the recent state polls.

The state polls on Aug 12 saw Perikatan making a clean sweep of 32 state seats in Terengganu, 43 out of 45 state seats in Kelantan, and 33 seats in Kedah.

Pakatan and Barisan Nasional managed to win 29 out of 40 seats in Penang, 34 seats in Selangor, and 31 seats in Negri Sembilan.


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How the EU is cracking down on democracy in Moldova

16 Aug, 2023

By sanctioning a leading Moldovan opposition figure, the EU is working hand-in-hand with the country’s unpopular government to stifle dissent. When Western interests are on the line, ‘European values’ becomes a flexible term.

The EU imposed sanctions on Ilan Shor earlier the summer, accusing the Shor Party leader without evidence of working with the Kremlin to “destabilize the Republic of Moldova” by organizing protests against President Maia Sandu’s government. Shor and his deputy, Marina Tauber, filed applications to the European Union General Court last week to have the sanctions dropped, arguing that they were politically motivated.

“Unlike the sanctions created in respect of Russia, Belarus, Syria, Iran, and similar situations, the measures do not aim to put pressure on a foreign government, but rather to the contrary, aim to support that government against opposition forces,” Shor’s lawyers said in a press release.

The EU’s campaign against Shor coincided neatly with Sandu’s own efforts to silence her opponent, which were initiated after Moldova was granted EU candidate status last summer.

Leaked ‘prank’ calls expose top-level corruption in Moldova

Shor’s party was banned by court order in June, after it funded peaceful demonstrations in Chisinau against Sandu and her government’s inability to tame the rising cost of living. Sandu said at the time that the party was created “out of corruption and for corruption,” and “threatens the constitutional order and security of the state.”

While the EU’s Venice Commission warned that banning the party would violate its members’ right to freedom of association, Brussels did not utter a single word of condemnation as the court order was handed down.

At the time of the ban, Shor’s party was the second most popular in Moldova, behind Sandu’s Action and Solidarity Party (PAS). Despite leading Moldova’s largest party, Sandu’s approval rate consistently sits between 20% and 40%.

Even rampant corruption within Sandu’s own party has not raised eyebrows in Brussels. According to covertly-recorded videos published by the Grayzone in May, foreign investors in Moldova pay hefty bribes for access to the president’s circle. These payments guarantee preferential contracts and “100% full political support,” one PAS official admitted on camera. Former Justice Minister Stanislav Pavlovschi added that this system flourishes with the blessing of the EU and US, who exercise “very strict control” over the country.

This corruption has been noted in Western media outlets, with an EU Today report in March declaring that the problem “has become much worse under Sandu’s regime, despite its Western facade.”

A European country has banned an opposition party that was surging in the polls. Why aren't you hearing more about it?

The EU states that it uses sanctions to promote “consolidating and safeguarding democracy and the rule of law.” However, Brussels has stood by as Sandu systematically removed political opponents before.

Businessman and political leader Vladimir Plahotniuc was exiled in 2019 and convicted of fraud in absentia in May, while Socialist Party leader and former President Igor Dodon, another pro-Moscow politician, was arrested on corruption and treason charges last year. The charges came after an investigation by Community Watchdog – an NGO set up by PAS officials and funded by the US and German governments.

As well as investigating Sandu’s rivals, Community Watchdog funds protests and voter outreach – the same activities that the EU sanctioned Shor for.

Shor fled to Israel in 2019, after Sandu came to power and revoked his parliamentary immunity. He had been convicted of bank fraud four years earlier, and his sentence was doubled to 15 years in prison this April, with the verdict handed down in absentia. The EU cited Shor’s fraud conviction when it announced the sanctions against him in May, but Shor’s lawyers claim that he is a victim of “legal harassment” by Sandu’s government.

From Brussels and Washington’s point of view, maintaining a friendly government in Chisinau is a top priority. Around a third of the Moldovan population speaks Russian, and with energy costs soaring following Sandu’s decision to embargo Russian fossil fuels last year, Western leaders likely see the popularity of pro-Moscow politicians like Shor and Dodon as a very real threat to their influence in the region.

To maintain that influence, the EU and US are apparently willing to tolerate – or even reward – high level corruption, and to punish any figure threatening to upset the apple cart, no matter the cost in political credibility. Moldova has received €250 million ($270 million) in grants and loans from the EU since it was granted candidate status, and  $320 million from Washington. Sandu has also received promises of “considerable” military aid from the EU and donations of weapons from the US.

Whether this outpouring of Western support will be enough to ensure Sandu’s political survival is unclear. Nearly two thirds of Moldovans feel that their country is “heading in the wrong direction,” and Shor has vowed to win “total victory in local, presidential and parliamentary elections” with a new political bloc.

“For years we have been told that the EU stands for … political freedom and the ability to change those in power through fair and transparent elections,” Shor tweeted on Wednesday. “We believe that it is time for the west to stand up for what they pertain to believe in. Free and fair elections are the only way any future government of Moldova should be decided.”


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NATO official apologizes for comments on Ukraine’s territorial claims

16 Aug, 2023

Stian Jenssen, the chief of staff to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said on Wednesday that his peace proposal for Ukraine was a “mistake,” after it drew condemnations from Kiev.

“My statement about this was part of a larger discussion about possible future scenarios in Ukraine, and I shouldn’t have said it that way. It was a mistake,” Jenssen told the Norwegian outlet Verdens Gang (VG).

He also praised Ukraine’s “heroic effort” against Russia and said that while at the start of the conflict there had been concerns it “could collapse within weeks and days,” the topic now is “how much territory Ukraine is able to take back.”

Ukrainians will decide if and when they are ready to negotiate with Moscow, he added.

Ukraine could give up demands for Russian territory – NATO officialREAD MORE: Ukraine could give up demands for Russian territory – NATO official

Speaking at a forum in Arendal, Norway on Tuesday, however, Jenssen told the panel that a solution to the conflict “could be for Ukraine to give up territory, and get NATO membership in return,” given that the bloc has been unwilling to admit Kiev while the hostilities with Russia are ongoing.

When VG reported on Jenssen’s remarks, they drew a flurry of condemnations from Kiev. In a string of social media posts, Mikhail Podoliak, an adviser to President Vladimir Zelensky, called the idea “ridiculous” and said that trading land for peace would amount to “deliberately choosing the defeat of democracy, encouraging a global criminal, preserving the Russian regime, destroying international law, and passing the war on to other generations.”

Zelensky aide responds to NATO official’s ‘land for membership’ commentREAD MORE: Zelensky aide responds to NATO official’s ‘land for membership’ comment

Aleksey Danilov, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said that Kiev will never negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that “Russia must be destroyed like a modern-day Carthage.”

Ukrainian forces launched a major offensive against the Russian lines in early June, attempting to reach the Sea of Azov and cut off Crimea. All their efforts to break through have failed so far, however, at a cost of 43,000 men and nearly 5,000 pieces of heavy equipment, according to the latest figures from the Russian Defense Ministry. These losses include dozens of tanks and combat vehicles supplied by Kiev’s Western backers, who continue to supply Ukraine with weapons, ammunition, and equipment, while insisting they are not actually a party to the conflict.


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France’s Sarkozy urges West to get real on Crimea

16 Aug, 2023

Diplomacy is the only way to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, which should be neutral and a bridge between Russia and the EU, the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Sarkozy, 68, spoke to Le Figaro about his upcoming book, ‘The Time of Battles’, a memoir that covers the 2009-11 period of his 2007-12 presidency. “We need the Russians and they need us,” the outlet titled the interview.

Addressing the Ukraine situation, Sarkozy argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin was wrong to “invade” the country and failed to achieve his objective, but that he’s “not irrational” and should be approached through diplomacy.

“Russia is a neighbor of Europe and will remain so,” Sarkozy said, so the EU needs to get out of the current impasse because “in this regard, European interests are not aligned with American interests. We cannot stick to the strange idea of ’fighting a war without fighting.’”

EU ‘dancing on edge of volcano’ with Ukraine – French ex-presidentREAD MORE: EU ‘dancing on edge of volcano’ with Ukraine – French ex-president

In Sarkozy’s vision, a compromise would involve the West recognizing Crimea as Russian, because “when it comes to this territory, which was Russian until 1954 and where a majority of the population has always felt Russian, I think any step back is illusory.” Ideally, he added, there ought to be a referendum “organized under strict control of the international community,” to ratify the current state of affairs.

The same would apply to “disputed territories of eastern and southern Ukraine,” the former French leader said, though that would depend on what happens on the ground.

“If the Ukrainians do not completely manage to win them back, then the choice will be between a frozen conflict – which we know will inevitably lead tomorrow to a new hot conflict – or we can come out on top by resorting, again, to referendums strictly supervised by the international community to settle these territorial questions in a definitive way,” he told Le Figaro.

Ukraine “must remain” a bridge between Europe and Russia, Sarkozy argued, noting that forcing it to choose between the East and the West “seems to me contrary to the history and geography of this complex region.”

Kissinger makes Ukraine peace predictionREAD MORE: Kissinger makes Ukraine peace prediction

“We are making false promises that will not be kept,” he said of the prospect of Kiev’s membership in the EU and NATO, not just because Ukraine doesn’t meet the requirements but because “it must remain a neutral country.”

This neutrality is not an “insult” and would be guaranteed by “extremely strong security assurances” from the West, Sarkozy said.

Moscow has said that Kiev’s neutrality is a non-negotiable Russian national interest. The Ukrainian government has sought NATO and EU membership ever since the US-backed coup in 2014, which triggered the referendum in Crimea to rejoin Russia and the uprising in Donbass.

Sarkozy’s successor, Francois Hollande, helped broker the Minsk agreements aimed at peacefully resolving the Donbass conflict. Hollande and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted last fall, however, that the Minsk process had been a trick intended to buy Kiev time to prepare for war.


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Ukrainian leadership split over counteroffensive – Newsweek

16 Aug, 2023

Ukraine’s failure to break through Russian defenses has driven a wedge between top officials in Kiev, with heated debates underway over whether the country should press ahead with, or abort, its much-hyped counteroffensive, Newsweek reported on Wednesday.

Describing the dilemma facing Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, the outlet has claimed that he must now decide “whether to go all-in and risk a costly failure, or to cut Ukraine’s losses and accept a politically damaging defeat.”

The Ukrainian leadership has therefore split into two camps. One group insists that Kiev should pull back and wait for an anticipated Russian offensive in the fall and spring. The second group, which includes army chief Valery Zaluzhny, wishes to continue the counteroffensive while dismissing any criticism as “impatience rooted in misunderstanding,” according to the article.

“There definitely are some differences among the Ukrainian leadership about the military strategy,” an unnamed source “close to the Ukrainian government” told Newsweek.

Ukraine’s slow progress on the battlefield has also led to rumblings among civilian officials, with “a blame game …. brewing in Kiev,” the outlet wrote.

Ukraine could give up demands for Russian territory – NATO official

“There’s a sense that they were misled by the military in terms of how well this counteroffensive would go, that they were provided with overly rosy assessments from the military side. They’re unhappy about that,” the source said, adding that he would not rule out possible changes in the country’s military command.

However, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson has pushed back against reports of an alleged rift among Ukrainian leaders, dismissing them as a Russian propaganda narrative in a statement to Newsweek.

Ukraine launched its much-anticipated full-scale offensive along several sections of the front in early June after being reinforced by hundreds of Western-supplied tanks and other heavy equipment. However, despite two months of intense fighting, Kiev has still not gained any ground, while losing 43,000 service members since the start of the push, according to Moscow.

Kiev officials have acknowledged the difficulties, blaming them on delays in Western military assistance, lack of air support, formidable Russian defenses, and extensive minefields. In recent weeks, numerous Western media outlets have reported that Kiev’s backers were unimpressed or outrightly “alarmed” by its slow progress on the battlefield.

On Saturday, the Times reported that NATO had been overly optimistic about Ukraine’s push, partly due to “miracles” promised to the bloc by officials in Kiev.


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Germany backs away from NATO spending promise – Reuters

16 Aug, 2023

Germany has quietly dropped a plan to make NATO’s military spending targets legally binding, a government source told Reuters on Wednesday.

The budget financing law passed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet on Wednesday was missing a provision that would have made the bloc’s defense spending target of 2% of GDP a legal requirement, according to the source.

Scholz had pledged a “Zeitenwende” (sea change) in Germany’s defenses last February in the days following the launch of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, promising to “invest more than 2% of the GDP into our defense year after year.”

Then-Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht doubled down on the chancellor’s pledge in September, declaring Germany must meet NATO’s targets over the long term even after the €100 billion ($101 billion) special fund enabling its current level of military spending is used up. This, she warned, would require a serious increase in the country’s defense budget.

Germany is currently committed to meet the 2% target as an average over a five-year period. A spokesperson did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment regarding the budget.

Last week, Germany revealed it plans to more than double its funding for the NATO Security Capacity Building Initiative compared to 2022, earmarking €5.4 billion ($5.95 billion) for the project compared to €2 billion ($2.21 billion) last year.

The funds are used “primarily for military assistance to Ukraine,” according to the government’s statement, as well as for refilling Berlin’s own military stockpiles after shipments to Ukraine. Among the wealth of military hardware scheduled for delivery to Kiev are 60 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 66 armored personnel carriers, 100 Leopard tanks, Patriot missiles, 6 Gepard anti-aircraft guns, 18 self-propelled howitzers, and large amounts of ammunition.

Berlin has even purchased dozens of scrapped Leopard tanks for Ukraine, with a spokesperson for defense company Rheinmetall announcing earlier this month that 30 of the obsolete vehicles would be recommissioned and sent to Kiev, with more to be used for spare parts.

However, the country’s current defense minister, Boris Pistorius, earlier this month ruled out delivering long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine, citing “obvious” concerns that they would be used to attack Russian territory.

According to Moscow, Ukraine has lost nearly 5,000 pieces of heavy weaponry and over 43,000 soldiers since launching its long-awaited counteroffensive in June, with no significant change in the front lines to show for it. Russia has repeatedly warned that continued arms supplies to Ukraine will only extend the conflict and prolong human suffering.


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Ukraine admits F-16 upset

17 Aug, 2023

Ukraine should not expect to receive American F-16 fighter jets until sometime in 2024, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman has said, noting that Kiev’s “high hopes” for the system were unlikely to be met anytime soon.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Air Force Command representative Yury Ignat suggested the timeline for the arms transfer was still to be decided, but said Kiev would have to make do through the end of the year.

“Unfortunately, it is already clear that we will not be able to protect Ukraine with F-16s throughout the fall and this winter,” he said. “There were high hopes for these aircraft, that these could really become part of the air defense.”

Ukrainians won’t fly F-16s until summer 2024 – WaPoREAD MORE: Ukrainians won’t fly F-16s until summer 2024 – WaPo

Officials in Kiev have repeatedly requested the F-16 by name, and while some NATO states have agreed to instruct Ukrainian airmen on the system, it remains unclear when the first transfer could occur. To date, no country has made any concrete proposal, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said last month that it could take years to provide Ukraine with a meaningful capability.

“Just do a quick math drill here. Ten F-16s are $2 billion,” Milley told reporters at the time, attempting to explain the delay. “The Russians have hundreds of fourth- and fifth-generation airframes, so if they’re going to try to match the Russians one for one – or even, you know, two-to-one – you’re talking about a large number of aircraft.”

According to a recent report in the Washington Post, the initial batch of Ukrainian pilots trained on the F-16 will not be ready until after the summer of 2024, with only six airmen set to complete the first round of instruction. Officials cited by the outlet said each pilot will have to take four months in English courses before they can even begin flight training.

Moscow has repeatedly warned against foreign arms shipments to Kiev, arguing the military aid would only extend the conflict and do little to deter its objectives. Earlier this year, the Kremlin said Western powers would run “colossal risks” if they decided to supply the F-16, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would consider the aircraft a nuclear threat due to its ability to carry atomic weapons.

“We will regard the very fact that the Ukrainian armed forces have such systems as a threat from the West in the nuclear sphere,” the diplomat said.


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North America


Michigan orchard owner apologizes after bigoted comments toward Muslim customers

August 17, 2023

When Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud and his wife decided to visit Erie Orchards and Cider Mills in Monroe County on Sunday, the Ann Arbor family was expecting a fun day picking peaches with their three daughters ages 8, 4 and 6 months.

But instead of a weekend trip many in Michigan enjoy, Mahmoud said he encountered bigotry from the owner, Steve Elzinga, whom he said blocked them from leaving after a dispute over peaches, telling him in an exchange captured on video: "Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me."

When Mahmoud said he was being racist toward Muslims, Elzinga doubled down on his remarks, replying: "Of course I am," and "I don't want them (Muslims) here."

Steve Elzinga, owner of Erie Orchards and Cider Mill in Erie, Michigan, on August 13, 2023, standing near truck of Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud, of Ann Arbor. Mahmoud shared a video of Elzinga in which he is heard saying: "Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me."

Mahmoud, who is Muslim and of Arab descent, uploaded videos of the encounter that show the orchard owner making the anti-Muslim remarks. Mahmoud said he felt threatened by Elzinga, who was accusing him of not paying for peaches they picked from the orchards and then tried to block him from leaving. The videos have generated outrage from Arab American advocates and others in metro Detroit who are now calling for a boycott of the orchards.

The case illustrates the hostility that some minorities say they face when they travel to rural parts of Michigan for summer trips. Last year, a group of Muslims of Bangladeshi descent said they were threatened and harassed while on a farm near Adrian for a religious holiday.

Mahmoud's wife wears hijab, including a headscarf that's a visible indicator that she is Muslim.

"He put that fear into us," Mahmoud told the Free Press by phone. "It was (supposed to be) a Sunday fun day with the girls, but it didn't really turn out that way."

At one point, Mahmoud said, he told Elzinga: "Just leave us alone, my girls are crying. ... I'm scared now for my family."

On Wednesday, Elzinga told the Monroe News: "I should never have said a generalized comment about Muslims being thieves and coming here to take advantage of us because that's not true. I regret that I made those kinds of statements. It's just not me. We've been here for 45 years and have always been open to everybody."

Mahmoud's attorney, Abdallah Moughni, said the family plans to file a lawsuit this week. Moughni said Mahmoud spoke with a sergeant of the Monroe County Sheriff's Office after the incident. Mahmoud told police he wanted Elzinga investigated for alleged threats and harassment, but was told no crime was committed, Moughni said. A message left by the Free Press with the sergeant was not returned as of Wednesday afternoon.

What made the alleged racism ironic, Mahmoud said, is that a majority of the people visiting the orchards at the time appeared to be Muslim.

Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud, of Ann Arbor, with his three children at Erie Orchards and Cider Mills in Monroe County in Erie, Michigan, on August 13, 2013. He alleges he and his family were threatened and racially harassed with anti-Muslim comments by  the owner, who is heard on a video saying: "Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me."

It is unconscionable that such hatred and bigotry continues to exist today," Abed Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told the Free Press. "Beyond an apology, the perpetrator needs to be held accountable for his actions. We call on law enforcement to look into ethnic intimidation charges against the perpetrator."

According to Mahmoud, he had initially purchased about $70 worth of candy and pre-picked peaches. His young girls wanted to pick peaches themselves, but an employee told them they weren't many left in good condition, Mahmoud said.

"He told us that there wasn't any peaches to pick because they're all gone," Mahmoud said of the employee. "'But if you guys want to go back there, you guys could pick.' I told him if we come back with a bag, you know, what do we do? He goes, You guys are good."

His girls were eager to pick some on their own and so the employee "said we were allowed to explore without charge if we found anything in the orchard worth taking," Mahmoud wrote.

A photo Mahmoud sent to the Free Press shows him and his three daughters in the orchards picking fruit. They found some peaches and apples that were mostly rotten and then walked toward their Ford truck to leave.

"Most of it was rotten, but you know how little girls are," he said. "They want to take it home anyway, they picked it, they want it."

After they were at their truck, Elzinga then approached them and started rummaging through their pickings.

"The guy starts going through the back of my truck, where my daughter was, looking like in her diaper bag," Mahmoud said. "I was like, 'What are you doing? Why are you going through my daughter's bag? ... I explained to him like, 'Hey, look. I don't know what you're doing, but it's not right.'"

Elzinga then demanded he pay $58, which Mahmoud said didn't make sense because it was $2.49 a pound, and they had a small amount of rotten peaches, not 24 pounds worth. Moreover, the employee had told him they could have any peaches they found for free.

Elzinga then made the remarks about how all Muslims visiting there were thieves.

"I don't need you," Elzinga said on the video, referring to Muslims.

Mahmoud said he offered to pay whatever he owed. After Elzinga made the racist remarks, Mahmoud gave him back the picked peaches.

Elzinga appears in the video to block the truck and said he called police. When police didn't arrive after about 45 minutes, Mahmoud said Elzinga told him they would arrive in two hours. Mahmoud said he become worried Elzinga might attack him and his family.

Mahmoud said he then told him he was going to leave and slowly backed up his truck.

Yousef Abu Jenna Mahmoud, of Ann Arbor, alleges he and his family were threatened and racially harassed with anti-Muslim comments by the man in this still from a video he took, whom he identified as Steve Elzinga, owner of Erie Orchards and Cider Mills, on August 13, 2023. "Every Muslim that comes in here steals from me," the man is heard saying on the video, taken at the orchards in Erie, Michigan, in Monroe County.

Elzinga apologized for his remarks in his Wednesday comments to the Monroe News.

"We have a number of Muslims who come here on a regular basis and pay and are really, really good customers," he said. "So I regret that and I'm sorry for that and I apologize for that."

He said theft has been a frequent problem at the farm, and he claimed Mahmoud's was the third car that day trying to leave with produce without paying. Elzinga admitted there was likely miscommunication between Mahmoud and the staff.

"It probably was (a miscommunication)," said Elzinga. "But if you pick, you still have to pay. That's where the problem was. We've had a number of incidents where this has happened. This wasn't an isolated incident. We've had several people this year and in past years where some reason they come in and think it's free."

Moughni, Mahmoud's attorney, said Elzinga violated criminal and civil laws.

"The first thing he did was falsely imprison my client and his family," Moughni said. "He held them by their vehicle for 45 minutes under the notion that they could not leave. And my clients reasonably believed that they were stuck there. ... Then after that, he committed intentional infliction of emotional distress to my client, his three daughters and his wife. He also violated the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which says that there can be no religious discrimination within public accommodations."

Moughni said that he's concerned other Muslims and immigrants may have been harassed previously in a similar manner and may have ended up paying Elzinga to avoid confrontation.

In the incident at the farm near Adrian last year, the group of Muslims who visited the farm to purchase or take part in slaughter of animals for Eid said they felt threatened and were worried about being cheated of money they had paid.

Minhaj Russell Chowdhury, of Warren, told the Free Press last year he was inside the farm when he witnessed an attack, accusing the farmer of driving on a four-wheeler to push people off his farm.

"After that, I am very scared," Chowdhury said.

The farmer said he was tripped by one of the visitors. No charges were filed in the 2022 incident.

As he drove home Sunday with his family from the orchard in Erie, Mahmoud said he was scared: "The whole time driving my family home, I was like, 'Man, is this guy going to come out of nowhere? And hit my truck or shoot at me?' I don't know."

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Michigan, said: "We caution the Muslim community and others of good conscience from patronizing Erie Orchards and Cider Mill due to the alleged bigoted behavior and speech of its owner. There are many other orchards in Michigan where families can pick fruit in a wholesome atmosphere without being subjected to alleged religious profiling and denigration from its owners."


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West Military Presence in Region ‘Illegal’, US Must Leave Persian Gulf: Iran Brigadier General

16 August 2023

The spokesman for the Iranian Armed Forces says the military presence of Western governments in West Asia is illegitimate, stressing that the United States must withdraw its troops from the strategic Persian Gulf region.

Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi made the remarks at an event in the northwestern Iranian city of Zanjan on Wednesday as he pointed to the recent drills by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy in the Persian Gulf region.

Earlier in the month, the IRGC’s Navy launched drills to show its power and combat defense readiness in protecting the security of the Persian Gulf as well as the three islands of Abu Musa, the Greater and Lesser Tunbs.

The exercises involved operational combat, vessel, missile, drone, air-sea, electronic warfare and rapid response units, along with Basij volunteer forces.

“We sent out the Islamic Republic’s warning in the form of an exercise and we do not pull any punches with anyone regarding the three [Persian Gulf] islands and these islands totally belong to the Islamic Republic,” Shekarchi said.

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy launches drills to show its power and readiness in safeguarding the Persian Gulf and its Iranian islands.

The spokesman for the Iranian Armed Forces underlined that the enemies of the Islamic Republic keep trying to foment chaos in the West Asia region to portray their presence as legitimate.

“The issue is not so complicated, but the core of the message is for our main enemies, namely the United States, the Zionist regime, France and England, who want to prove their presence to be legitimate under [certain] pretexts and stay in the Persian Gulf, the Sea of Oman, and regional waters of West Asia, but this is what tell them, ‘Your presence is illegal and you must leave the region,’” he noted.

Shekarchi also stressed that the countries of the region should not be affected by the psychological warfare of extra-regional states.

Emphasizing that the Islamic Republic maintains a strong and powerful presence in the region, the commander said, “It is not necessary to tie your security to that of Western countries such as the US, England and France. Get rid of dependence and do not be swayed by the psychological warfare of enemies and be careful that they do not goad you into a conflict with the Islamic Republic.”

Iran says it views US military vessels lurking in the waters of the Persian Gulf as a threat to its security.

The latest drills by the IRGC’s Navy came amid reports of the US deployment of more than 3,000 sailors and Marine forces to West Asia under the pretext of protecting ships and vessels crossing the main waterways in the strategic region.

In recent years, the US navy has several times seized Iranian-controlled tankers and shipments of oil en route to other countries, citing its own sanctions on Iran's oil exports.

Iran says it views US military vessels lurking in the waters of the Persian Gulf as a threat to its security and a source of tension and instability in the region.


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Deal on unblocking funds part of Iran’s dignified diplomacy, serves as ‘test’ for US: Amir-Abdollahian

16 August 2023

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says the recent deal with the United States regarding the unblocking of Iran’s illegally frozen funds serves as a test for Washington.

Amir-Abdollahian said in a post on the X social media on Wednesday that the Iran-US deal releasing $6 billion worth of Iran's funds illegally blocked in South Korea under the pretext of US sanctions was part of the “dignified diplomacy” instructed by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei.

“Release & transfer of our funds from South Korea are parts of our dignified diplomacy as instructed by the Leader,” Amir-Abdollahian said.

“This deal is another test for US. On the right track of diplomacy, we keep up efforts to remove sanctions & for the return of all sides to int’l commitments to Iran,” he added.

In a statement on Thursday, the Iranian foreign ministry said, “The process of releasing billions of dollars from the assets of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which were illegally seized in South Korea by the United States for several years, has begun.”

“Iran has received the necessary assurances regarding America's commitment to its obligations in this matter,” it added.

The statement also pointed to the issues of Iranian prisoners held in US jails and said that the ministry has, in addition to unfreezing of the funds, been pursuing the release of the Iranian prisoners as a “fundamental duty.”

Despite having no diplomatic relations with the US, Iranian officials have said in the past that they will be open to prisoner exchange talks with the US out of respect for humanitarian issues.

Iran was granted limited sanctions relief in 2015 upon conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Germany.

The US, however, left the agreement in 2018 as part of former president Donald Trump's so-called "maximum pressure" policy against Iran, returning all the sanctions that the deal had lifted. The US's allies in the deal -- France, Britain, and Germany -- then bowed under Washington's pressure by toeing the sanction line and suspending their trade activities with Tehran.


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Cancerous missiles: US nuke missile sites as breeding grounds for cancer

16 August 2023

By Reza Javadi

Unsafe levels of carcinogens were recently detected at a US nuclear missile base in western Montana state where a large number of people had earlier been diagnosed with cancer, sending ripples of fear and anxiety.

The US Air Force found the Carcinogenic substance at two underground launch control centers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, where polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) levels were reported to be higher than the thresholds recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to Air Force Global Strike Command’s statement, the discovery “is the first from an extensive sampling of active U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile bases to address specific cancer concerns raised by missile community members.”

Considering the hazardous level of the PCBs, which are oily or waxy Carcinogenic substances that cause blood cancer, Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, ordered "immediate measures to begin the cleanup process for the affected facilities and mitigate exposure by our Airmen and Guardians to potentially hazardous conditions."

Following the damning report, fears have mounted about the existence of similarly dangerous substances in other military sites across the US, contributing to the cases of cancer, according to data from a grassroots group of former missile launch officers and their surviving family members.

The Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine has launched an investigation to look at cancer cases among the missile community after a military briefing in January showed that at least nine current or former missileers at Malmstrom were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare blood cancer.

Rate of cancers surging in US

According to the American Cancer Society, an average of 19 cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is diagnosed each year in the US for every 100,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there are about 403 new cancer cases reported per 100,000 people each year.

Moreover, according to the Torchlight Initiative, an NGO composed of current and former ICBM community, at least 268 missileer troops or their surviving family members have contracted cancer, blood diseases, or other illnesses over the past several decades.

It is worth noting that more than 21,000 servicemen are working as missileers at the country's three silo-launched Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile bases at Malmstrom, FE Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, who spend days together on monitoring and, if needed, launching fields of silo-based nuclear weapons.

Being exposed to Carcinogenic materials by thousands of these troops and their family members could bring another scandal for the US and its nuclear activities, experts believe.

The development comes as missileers had warned multiple times over the years about several defects including ventilation issues, water quality, and potential toxins they could not avoid during their duty.

Environmental impact of nuke activities

Apart from human beings, the nuclear activities by the US Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have also affected wildlife and the natural environment.

For instance, the Hanford Nuclear Site, which is located in eastern Washington State, produced tons of plutonium for use in the atomic weapon program, releasing significant quantities of waste containing hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials and dislodging them into the land and water, including into the Columbia River, posing a significant threat to fish and wildlife and their habitat.

People around the Hanford Nuclear Site are also subject to severe lung diseases, as they inhale the toxic odors released from the site, according to reports.

The chemical and nuclear waste from the nuclear site is stored in 177 underground tanks. However, according to NBC’s report, the tanks have been leaking, and the vapors they emit contain toxic and radioactive chemicals known to cause cancer and brain and lung damage.

An estimated 1 million gallons of liquid waste have leaked from tanks into the ground, threatening the Columbia River and the ecological environment around it. Radioactive trash still litters parts of Hanford.

Some nuclear experts have called Hanford "the most toxic place in America" and "an underground Chernobyl waiting to happen."

According to a report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), total cleanup costs at Hanford are projected to reach up to US$640 billion, and the job won’t be completed for decades, if ever.

Department of Energy as source of threat

According to the DOE, as cited by NBC News, the site "cannot effectively control" dangers and gives workers "no warning."

However, observers accuse the department of inaction and say it is not doing enough to act on its own findings and continues to put workers at risk.

Local neuropsychologist Brian Campbell, who had evaluated 29 people at Hanford with both respiratory and cognitive symptoms, said he witnessed "some of the worst cases of dementia that I've seen in young people, which we do not anticipate."

"More likely than not," said Campbell, "I think it's caused by the exposure they had at Hanford."

Calling the US government's response to the issue "an absolute scandal", Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib told NBC News: "When you think about the risk not only to workers but also to our water supply, it's like a Stephen King novel. This is something that I think everyone in the country should be thinking about."

Attorney General Bob Ferguson took an even more unusual step in 2016, suing the federal government.

“To be candid, they have to live with themselves on that," said Ferguson. "I ask the question all the time, 'How many more workers have to get sick at Hanford before they do something about it? How many?' Please ask them. I really want to know."

Susannah Frame, investigative reporter at Seattle NBC affiliate KING, says the risk goes beyond workers at the site and includes the risk of a possible tank explosion and the subsequent contamination of a larger area.

"Our lives don't matter," said Seth Ellingsworth. "Our health does not matter. We are simply a business decision. It costs more money to protect us than to fight us, to deal with us being sick."

Victims of US nuke activities

A new study on the victims of US nuclear activities, released in July 2023, has found that fallout from the Trinity nuclear test reached 46 US states as well as some parts of Canada and Mexico.

In an article published by The Conversation, William J. Kinsella, a professor emeritus of communication at North Carolina State University, stated that the US government’s principle of secrecy has “shrouded nuclear weapons activities from their inception.”

In a disastrous act in the 1940s and 1950s, revealed later in New York Times, Hanford’s managers knowingly released toxic gases into the air, contaminating farmlands and pastures downwind.

Without imagining the scale and scope of the disastrous outcomes, currently active nuclear weapons sites, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, are still busy manufacturing atomic weapons, seeing their share of nuclear and toxic chemical contamination.

While continuing its own devastating nuclear activities, the US government has been busy pointing fingers at countries such as Iran, which have been carrying out peaceful nuclear energy programs.

Iran, along with other West Asian nations, supports a nuclear-weapon-free zone in West Asia. However, the US policy to back the nuclear-armed Israeli regime has created a big hurdle in non-proliferation.

Back in 2012, the US unilaterally decided to cancel the 2012 NTP review meeting, saying “states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference” and again in 2015 it brazenly disagreed with a nuke-free West Asia.

Washington not only provides nuclear arms to the Israeli regime but also asks other neighboring states to stop proliferating, threatening them with military action.


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