New Age Islam
Thu Dec 03 2020, 06:07 AM

Islamic World News ( 16 March 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Pakistan: People Urged To Seek Allah’s Help in Fight against Coronavirus







• Indonesian Ulema Council Issues Fatwa, Implementing 'Social Distancing' For Islamic Worship

• Coronavirus: UAE Suspends Prayer in All Houses of Worship Including Mosques

• Morocco to Close All Mosques as A Measure Against The Coronavirus Outbreak

• A Group Of Iranian Lawyers And Attorneys Known As, ‘Lawyers Without Borders’ Urge Indian Bar Council To Uphold Muslims' Rights

• Covid-19: Federation of Muslim Associations Asks Anti-CAA Protesters to Postpone Shaheen Bagh-Style Protests In Tamil Nadu

• Khalilzad Welcomes Taliban’s Statement on ISIS in Afghanistan

• US: Sanders Calls United Arab Emirates a 'Dictatorship'

• Did The Christchurch Attacks Change How We View Anti-Muslim Bigotry?

 

Pakistan

• Pakistan: People Urged To Seek Allah’s Help in Fight against Coronavirus

• Clerics Urged To Postpone Religions Gatherings amid Virus Outbreak

• PIMA tells elderly worshippers to stay at home as coronavirus cases in Pakistan increase

• President Alvi arrives in China to explore avenues for collaboration

• Kartarpur corridor project gets ex post facto approval

• Three opposition parties file petition against arrest of Jang group owner

• PPP leader wants army medical corps to take charge of hospitals

• CJP calls NJPMC meeting to deliberate on anti-virus steps in courts

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Southeast Asia

• Indonesian Ulema Council Issues Fatwa, Implementing 'Social Distancing' For Islamic Worship

• Mosques to Remain Closed Until Mar 26 amid Risk of Large COVID-19 Cluster Forming From Malaysia Gathering

• Malaysia Loses Its Grip On Covid-19 Outbreak

• Indonesia blocks building of Baptist church amid protests

• Uncivil society: How democracy is being undermined from within

• Malaysia reports 125 new coronavirus cases after 16,000 people gather

• Surge in Malaysia, Brunei coronavirus cases linked to religious event

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Arab World

• Coronavirus: UAE Suspends Prayer in All Houses of Worship Including Mosques

• Prominent Sunni Cleric Says Chinese Students in Qom Behind Coronavirus Outbreak

• Not getting paid: Lebanese politicians donate salaries to coronavirus fight

• Lebanese start new radio station amid coronavirus outbreak

• Turkish-backed militants undermine Russia-Turkey joint patrols in Idlib

• After 9 years of conflict, Iran is the decision-maker in Syria

• Egyptian police kill 6 ‘terrorist elements’ in North Sinai

• Senior MP: No Need to New Parliament Approval to Expel US Forces

• Egypt confirms 40 new coronavirus cases raising total to 166, two new deaths

• Iraq suspends flights at domestic airports over coronavirus fears

• Turkey bans flights to 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia, UAE

• Saudi Arabia reports 15 new coronavirus cases raising total to 133

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Africa

• Morocco to Close All Mosques as A Measure Against The Coronavirus Outbreak

• 50 Boko Haram terrorists killed in southeastern Niger

• Coronavirus: Morocco to close eateries, cinemas, sports and entertainment venues

• Somali army captures strategic town of Janale from Al-Shabaab

• Suspected Al-Shabaab IED attack leaves 2 dead in Garissa

• It’s all lies, returnee says of Shabaab promises to youth

• Six Nigerian soldiers killed in Boko Haram ambush

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Mideast

• A Group of Iranian Lawyers And Attorneys Known As, ‘Lawyers Without Borders’ Urge Indian Bar Council To Uphold Muslims' Rights

• Netanyahu's Downfall Begins As Rival Told To Form Cabinet

• Iranian President Asks People to Stay Home to Prevent Coronavirus Epidemic

• Iranian religious fanatics protest closure of Shia shrines due to coronavirus

• Iran’s death toll from coronavirus reaches 853 with 129 new deaths: Official

• Commander Elaborates on Latest IRGC, Basij Measures in Campaign against Coronavirus

• Knowledge-Based Company in Iran Produces Home-Made Oxygen Concentrator for Coronavirus Patients

• Several European Countries Tighten Controls as Spread of Coronavirus Widens

• Leader Calls Anti-Coronavirus Recommendations Mandatory for Everyone

• PM Netanyahu says Israel to fast-track cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases

• Turkey confirms 29 new coronavirus cases raising total to 47

• Coronavirus: Iran closes key Shia pilgrimage sites in Qom, Mashhad and Tehran

• Israel swears in newly elected parliament in surreal event

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India

• Covid-19: Federation of Muslim Associations Asks Anti-CAA Protesters to Postpone Shaheen Bagh-Style Protests In Tamil Nadu

• Delhi's Muslims Despair of Justice after Police Implicated In Riots

• Corantine: Even Indians from EU, Turkey, UK barred entry

• TADA court frames charges against Yasin Malik and 6 others in 1990 killing of IAF personnel

• PM assured that Omar, Mehbooba, other political prisoners in J&K will be released soon: PDP leader

• Coronavirus: India bans entry of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia

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South Asia

• Khalilzad Welcomes Taliban’s Statement on ISIS in Afghanistan

• Coronavirus Threatening 40,000 Prisoners in Afghanistan, Warns Taliban

• No Coronavirus among Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: WHO

• Bangladesh Islamic leader’s death sentence sent to jail

• Shocking video emerges showing the killing of Afghan man by Australian forces

• India prohibits travel of passengers from Afghanistan, 2 other countries

• Taliban militants, Afghan forces suffer heavy casualties in Ghor clash

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North America

• US: Sanders Calls United Arab Emirates a 'Dictatorship'

• US Warns Iraq It 'Will Not Tolerate' Attacks on Americans

• US sanctions against Iran are ‘crimes against humanity’: Ex-US Senate candidate

• The Military Surveyed Troops on Extremist Activity Decades Ago. Here's What it Found

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Europe

• Did The Christchurch Attacks Change How We View Anti-Muslim Bigotry?

• Russia urges US to lift anti-Iran measures amid COVID-19 pandemic

• Spain’s king distances self from father in scandal tied to Saudi Arabia

• Russian asylum-seeker extradited from South Korea for Al-Qaeda links

• One year after mosque massacre, New Zealand is fighting rising hate

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/pakistan--people-urged-to-seek-allah’s-help-in-fight-against-coronavirus/d/121329

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Pakistan: People Urged To Seek Allah’s Help in Fight against Coronavirus

Kalbe Ali

March 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Acting President Sadiq Sanjrani and National Assembly Speaker Assad Qaisar have appealed to the nation to offer special prayers seeking help from Allah Almighty in the nation’s and the government’s unprecedented battle against coronavirus pandemic.

In a video message aired on Monday, the acting president appealed to the nation to take precautionary measures and say joint or individual prayers at 10.30am by coming out of their homes or staying indoors on Tuesday. “We need to pray to Allah Almighty to protect us from this calamity,” the acting president said in the video message to the nation.

The National Assembly speaker in a statement appealed to people to cooperate with the government in the fight against the deadly virus.

Meanwhile, Ulema of all schools of thought of the country have announced complete support to the government in its fight against coronavirus.

Responding to the government’s request, top leaders of seminaries of all schools of thought — Deobandi, Barailvi, Ahle Hadees and Shia — have announced closure of their seminaries till April 5.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541448/nation-urged-to-seek-allahs-help-in-fight-against-coronavirus

PIMA asks elderly worshippers to stay away from mosques

Advising elderly people to stay away from mosques and offer prayers at their homes to avoid contracting coronavirus, Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) Monday also urged people to make ablution (Wuzoo) at their homes and bring their prayers mats offering prayers (Namaz) in the mosques.

Health experts associated with the PIMA said they have developed the guidelines to protect worshippers and places of worship safe from coronavirus pandemic in light of recent medical knowledge and advised of experts in the field.

They maintained that “social distancing” is one of the key concepts to reduce the spread of this potentially deadly disease, therefore, people are advised to avoid coming to mosques, or meet with large number of people, if they are sick and have any symptoms of illness. Likewise, if somebody is sick and not feeling well, he should be advised against coming to the mosque.

People who are elderly, have poor general health or suffer from significant lung, heart disease, should also avoid coming to mosques and if there is a doubt, such people should consult their doctor or coronavirus helpline.

If a person has travelled to a country/place with high number of COVID-19 patients or came into close contact with a coronavirus patient, such people should also avoid coming to mosques, PIMA guidelines said adding that these restrictions are for fourteen days from the incident (being sick, or contact, or travel). Preferably they should avoid visiting in mosques till the coronavirus scare is cleared by the government.

Those barred from attending masjid on health grounds, should be assured that since their niyyat (intention) is to protect others, even their absence from mosques will be a course of ajr for them, and Allah will give them sawaab of praying in the mosque in such cases.

Likewise by disobeying the law, for example by hiding the truth and still attending congregational prayers, they will be sinning rather than being rewarded for praying in a mosque.

PIMA experts said those who do attend masjid or religious gatherings, should adopt safe etiquettes, should make Wuzoo at their homes, offer Sunnah prayers at home, minimize social time in mosques, should not shake hands or embrace others, especially those who are sick and they themselves are sick.

“People should cover nose and mouth with flexed elbow when coughing and sneezing, or tissue which should be disposed of properly. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds should be practiced while people should use their own prayer-mat if having allergy”, PIMA said adding that it is important to be careful, every person should avoid being paranoid and harsh to fellow worshippers or other persons, or spreading panic.

At the same time, administrations of mosques should take extra care for cleanliness, including disinfecting areas of worship. Simple soap, phenyl and diluted bleach in daily use can be good enough. Avoid heavy carpets in prayer areas, as they are harbours of germs and are very difficult to clean. If not feasible to remove, clean them thoroughly at times when masjid is empty.

“Mosque administrations should ask any person with signs of illness to leave the masjid, or be escorted to a health facility if he cannot. Worshippers and Imams should be reminded to follow the precautions in such instances and consider them as wajib, because not doing so will endanger their lives as well as many others which is haram in Islam”, the guidelines said.

Moreover, mosques will become unsafe (on medical grounds) for people to visit; the gunaah of such happening will be on all such people who do not obey the orders of the Ahl-e-Amr, PIMA guidelines said, adding that for all Muslims, whether Namazi or outside, to be close to Allah in all the ways possible, Salaah, Dua, recitation of Quran, zikr, repenting (taubah) etc. It is Only Allah who can save us from illness or give us health. Let us all revitalize our faith.

“We should all avoid spreading unconfirmed news, unproven remedies and unnecessary discussions on the coronavirus issue. Leave it to those who are responsible (government, doctors etc). Panic is to be avoided. What you cannot do, will not be helped by your discussion”, it added.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/16/pima-asks-elderly-worshippers-stay-away-mosques/

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Indonesian Ulema Council Issues Fatwa, Implementing 'Social Distancing' For Islamic Worship

March 17, 2020 

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has issued a fatwa on compulsory Muslim prayers specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MUI Fatwa Council chair Hasanuddin said in a written statement on Monday that Muslims in areas where COVID-19 had spread “uncontrollably” were “not permitted to perform Friday prayers in those areas until the situation returns to normal”.

“They are obliged to replace [the Friday prayer] with the zuhr [midday] prayer [at home]. Likewise, it is [forbidden] to hold religious activities that involve large numbers of people that could further spread COVID-19,” Hasanuddin said in the statement.

He added that Muslims in areas "less affected" by COVID-19 could perform the Friday prayer at mosques. However, people were encouraged to minimize physical contact, bring their own prayer mats and wash their hands diligently.

The MUI also prohibited Muslims who tested positive for COVID-19 from attending Friday prayer at mosques, and instructed them to replace the obligatory Friday prayer with the zuhr at home.

"It is haram for a [person with] COVID-19 to carry out sunnah activities that create opportunities for contagion, such as performing the daily prayers in congregation, the tarawih [special Ramadan prayer] and the Eid prayer at mosques and other public places, as well as attending public [Quranic] recitations or majelis taklim [Quran study groups],” the fatwa stated.

The statement also said that the bathing the bodies of the dead should be carried out by medical authorities in compliance with their protocols and with regard to Islamic law.

Hasanuddin added that funeral prayers and burials should be conducted as usual, but with precautions in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

The fatwa council also stated that actions that caused panic and/or public losses, such as hoarding basic necessities and face masks, were haram.

On March 16, Indonesia reported 134 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including five deaths. The virus has spread throughout the country, including major regions like Jakarta, Yogyakarta, West Java, Central Java, Banten, Bali, North Sulawesi and West Kalimantan. (aly)

https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/03/17/mui-issues-fatwa-implementing-social-distancing-for-islamic-worship.html

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Coronavirus: UAE suspends prayer in all houses of worship including mosques

16 March 2020

The United Arab Emirates suspended prayer in all houses of worship including mosques across the country as of Monday evening for four weeks, as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus, state news agency WAM reported.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UAE stood at 98 as of Sunday, according to the ministry of Health.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

The government had put in place several measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus including the suspension of issuing visas, stopping flights to a number of countries, closing tourist attractions, theme parks, gyms, bars, pubs, cinemas, banning all establishments from hosting wedding parties, as well as urging the public to avoid gatherings where there are more than 50 people.

Find out more about what is currently banned in the UAE by clicking here.

Arabian Gulf countries move to lockdown

The UAE's measures are in line with neighboring countries which have moved to contain the spread of coronavirus by limiting human-to-human contact.

In Saudi Arabia, which had reported 133 cases as of Monday, malls and commercial markets excluding pharmacies and food supply stores have been closed. Restaurants have been ordered to serve takeaway only, and barbershops have also been closed. The Kingdom has also stopped all incoming flights for two weeks.

Read the full list of measures taken in Saudi Arabia here.

Likewise, Kuwait announced on Saturday it would close shops, malls, and barbershops to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Bahrain, which recorded the first death from coronavirus in the Arabian Gulf on Monday, Oman, and Qatar have all taken similar precautions.

Coronavirus hits religion worldwide

Religious gatherings have been hit by the coronavirus worldwide, as authorities seek to minimize the amount of human contact.

Saudi Arabia suspended the Islamic pilgrimage of Umrah, which Muslims can make at any time to Mecca, earlier this month. Millions of Muslims make Umrah every year, with the decision having a knock-on effect on both pilgrims and travel agents who facilitate their journeys.

The decision comes as religious gatherings have been some of the sites in which coronavirus spreads. In South Korea, the leader of a cult church apologized after his congregation became the center of an outbreak of the virus in the city of Daegu. In Malaysia, authorities reported a jump in the number of cases after 16,000 people attended a religious gathering.

However, the virus may also have other, unpredictable affects on religious practices. According to Dr Steven Davies,  pandemics are often associated with an upsurge in millenarian religion, with the idea that the end of the world is imminent, unless we change our wicked ways.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/16/Coronavirus-UAE-suspends-prayer-in-all-houses-of-worship-including-mosques.html

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Morocco to close all mosques as a measure against the coronavirus outbreak

16 March 2020

Morocco is closing all mosques and informing its citizens to pray inside their homes as the country implements further measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, according to a state news agency report.

The North African country’s Academic Authority on Fatwas issued its ruling on Monday reassuring that mosques will reopen once the outbreak of the virus is under control.

The ruling on Monday comes as Morocco closed all restaurants, cinemas, sports and entertainment venues amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Moroccan authorities on Sunday increased the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 28, from 18. One person has so far died from the virus in Morocco.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/03/16/Morocco-to-close-all-mosques-as-a-measure-against-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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A Group Of Iranian Lawyers And Attorneys Known As, ‘Lawyers Without Borders’ Urge Indian Bar Council To Uphold Muslims' Rights

17 March 2020

A group of Iranian lawyers and attorneys, known as Lawyers without Borders, has condemned violence against Muslims of India, urging the country's Bar Council to uphold their rights.

In a Monday letter to Chairman of the Bar Council of India Manan Kumar Mishra, the Lawyers Without Borders expressed concern over the "significant and unjustified violence by extremist Hindu groups" against Muslim protesters, who were peacefully objecting to the newly-passed controversial "Citizenship Act".

"Apparently the security forces have not been able to control the violence and some of the extremists have been backed up so that security in some areas in New Delhi has been endangered," the letter reads.

The letter warns about the grave consequences of such policies, emphasizing that the "discriminatory" law has raised international concern.

Relatives mourn the death of a man killed in communal violence against Muslims in New Delhi (Photo by AP)

"It is clear that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act distinguishes between refugees of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, Christian religion and Muslims in accepting Indian citizenship. It subsequently discriminates between refugees based on their religions and can be considered as a discriminatory act," the letter added.

It went on to say that Muslims in India have used their fundamental right to peaceful protest, but have faced "violent and inhuman treatment".

"Some Hindu extremist groups have taken advantage of this situation and resorted to violent and inhuman treatment of Muslims whether they had objected to the law or not, and thus have turned such a peaceful protest into a conflict between Muslims and Hindus," it reads.

The Lawyers Without Borders reminded the chairman of India’s Bar Council that the current violence and discrimination against Muslims is "clearly in contradiction with the UN Charter and the fundamental human rights instruments".

It also expressed the hope that the "prestigious" Bar Council of India will "take fundamental steps to uphold the rights of people, especially Muslims, and help to reduce violence.

The letter finally requests the Indian officials to take the necessary steps to end serious concerns of the international community about the situation of India's Muslims in India.

As Hindu extremists targeted the Muslim minority in the capital last month, the Indian police engaged in direct violence against Muslims and helped Hindu mobs in their atrocities against Muslims, or just stood aside watching, a report showed last week.

The New York Times in a report on Thursday presented newly-emerged evidence of Indian police directly engaging in violence against Muslims or actively helping the Hindu mobs during rampages in the capital late last month, when they torched Muslim homes and targeted Muslim families.

The violence began amid widespread protests across India over a citizenship law that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government introduced in December last year offering citizenship to six religious groups from neighboring countries, specifically excluding Muslims.

Critics insist the law is discriminatory, coming in the wake of other severe government measures against the country’s Muslim population such as the withdrawal of autonomy for Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir.

There are 200 million Muslims in India, comprising more than 14 percent of the country’s population.

Critics of Modi’s government have blamed the anti-Muslim violence on members of the prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was crushed in local Delhi elections early last month. The party has embraced a militant brand of Hindu nationalism and its leaders have openly vilified Indian Muslims.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621031/Iranian-lawyers-decry-violence-against-Indian-Muslims

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Covid-19: Federation of Muslim associations asks anti-CAA protesters to postpone Shaheen Bagh-style protests in Tamil Nadu

Mar 16, 2020

CHENNAI: The Federation of Tamil Nadu Muslim Political Parties and Organisations on Monday appealed to anti-CAA protesters to postpone the ongoing Shaheen Bagh-style protests in the state in view of Covid-19 outbreak.

Shaheen Bagh-style protests were going on in 58 places in the state to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The first such protest started at Washermenpet in Chennai on February 14.

On Friday, chief secretary K Shanmugam held a meeting with the religious leaders and members of the federation and requested them to call off the Shaheen Bagh-style protests to ensure the safety of people and protect them from Covid-19.

Senior officials, including the Chennai city police commissioner, held talks with Muslim leaders on Sunday night and appealed to them to withdraw the protests. On Monday, the federation issued a statement appealing to the protesters to postpone the stirs.

However, the federation warned of intensifying the protests if the state government tried to implement the NPR. “We will launch a non- cooperative movement with the support political parties and democratic forces if the Tamil Nadu government tries to implement the NPR,” said the federation in the statement.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/covid-19-federation-of-muslim-associations-asks-anti-caa-protesters-to-postpone-shaheen-bagh-style-protests-in-tamil-nadu/articleshow/74650924.cms

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Khalilzad welcomes Taliban’s statement on ISIS in Afghanistan

17 Mar 2020

The U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed the statement by Afghan Taliban in which the group denounced the ISIS terrorist group and vowed to stop any attempts by the terror group to recruit, fundraise or train inside Afghanistan.

“I welcome the Taliban’s statement denouncing Daesh & committing to stop any attempts by Daesh to “recruit, fundraise, or train” inside #Afghanistan. These mirror Taliban’s public commitments (in our agreement) against Al Qaeda & all other groups that threaten the US or its allies,” Ambassador Khalilzad said in a Twitter post.

He also added “We expect the Taliban to deliver on their commitment. The fulfillment of our commitments within the agreement will depend on the Taliban delivering on their commitments. The Taliban statement on Deash and their recent operations against terrorists in Kunar are positive steps.”

The U.S. and Taliban signed a peace deal late last month after almost 18 months of negotiations in Qatari capital of Doha.

Counter-terrorism assurances, intra-Afghan talks, ceasefire and troop withdrawal were among the key topics the sides held in-depth discussions before signing the peace deal.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that the ongoing violence in certain parts of the country could derail the peace process as the Taliban militants sporadically continue to their attacks in remote parts of the country.

The State Department last week confirmed that the Taliban group has taken steps to stop attacks against the coalition forces and in the cities but the group is still killing too many Afghans in the countryside.

Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokesperson said the current high level of violence by the Taliban is unacceptable.

“We acknowledge the Taliban have taken steps to stop attacks against the Coalition and in cities,” Ortagus said in a statement, adding that “But they are killing too many Afghans in the countryside.”

She also added “This must change. Violence at these levels risks drawing both sides into a vicious cycle, serves no one, and undermines peace.”

https://www.khaama.com/khalilzad-welcomes-talibans-statement-on-isis-in-afghanistan-04523/

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US: Sanders calls United Arab Emirates a 'dictatorship'

Beyza Binnur Donmez  

16.03.2020

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the two remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls, termed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a “dictatorship” during Sunday’s televised debate against former vice president Joe Biden.

The Vermont senator’s remarks came after Biden accused him of supporting dictatorships by praising the socialist Sandinista movement in Nicaragua and the education system of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro.

The discussion started after one of the moderators asked Sanders why Cuban Americans would support him after his praise for Castro’s policies.

In response, the veteran politician asserted his opposition to autocratic regimes and his view on the global shift towards authoritarianism.

"I think we condemn authoritarianism, whether it is in China, Russia, Cuba, or any place else, but to simply say that nothing ever done by any of those administrations had a positive impact on their people; well, I think that to be incorrect," he added.

Sanders stressed that he had taken a clear stance on the matter long before his political counterparts. "... before it was considered good policy, [or even a] good idea, I was condemning the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, with a lot of other people in Washington with me. I was condemning the dictatorship in the UAE."

He vowed to be a standard-bearer for democratic values if elected president. "What I believe right now in this world is that we are faced with a global crisis and a movement toward authoritarianism. That's what Putin in Russia is leading. That's what [Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman] MBS in Saudi Arabia is leading.

“As president of the United States, unlike Donald Trump, I will put the flag down and say that in this country and in this world, we have got a move towards democracy and human rights. That is my view and has always been my view," Sanders said.

Turning to Biden, the moderator said former President Barack Obama had also hailed Castro's education and health care systems as “huge achievements”, and asked the Democratic front-runner how that was any different from what Sanders had said.

“Obama was trying to change Cuban policy so that the U.S. can impact on Cuba's policy, by getting them opened up,” the former vice president said.

To this, Sanders said, “President Obama was more generous in his praise of what Cuba did in health care and education than I was. I was talking about a program 60 years ago in the first year of the Castro revolution.”

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/americas/us-sanders-calls-united-arab-emirates-a-dictatorship/1767896

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Did the Christchurch attacks change how we view anti-Muslim bigotry?

March 17, 2020

The attacks on mosques in New Zealand made it impossible to deny the threat from right-wing terrorism.

“My boy's dream was to be an international goalkeeper for Manchester United," said the father of a 15-year-old boy who was shot and killed at point-blank range, along with his mother, inside a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand a year ago today.

The man’s wife and son would count among the 51 Muslim worshippers whose lives were violently cut short shortly before Friday prayers began on March 15, 2019.

It wasn’t only the scale of violence that so deeply shocked the world and traumatised a small South Pacific country, one unfamiliar with acts of armed conflict and terrorism, but the manner in which the gunman, an avowed white nationalist, carried out his dastardly deeds, live streaming each and every kill on his social media feeds.

Having to report the attack for TRT World, and then later debate the root causes of right-wing terrorism on Newsmakers, the cable television network’s flagship program, I made a personal decision to watch video footage of the entire attack, a decision I instantly regretted, and one that haunts me still.

The images of men, women, children and families huddled in groups together, pleading for mercy in the final seconds of their lives will remain with me forever.

Moments after watching the footage, I wrote the following for TRT World:

Tarrant recorded every second of his 17 minutes of horrific mayhem via a camera attached to his helmet. You see him drive his car up the mosque, retrieve a semi-automatic weapon from the trunk, where you see multiple guns, ammunition, and jerry cans. He then walks towards the mosque and begins shooting. When he burst through the front doors, you hear the cries and screams of panicked and huddled worshippers, and that’s when the slaughter starts, with one-by-one executed at point blank range.

Whatever doubts remained regarding the arrival of a right-wing terrorism wave, they were most certainly extinguished with the lives of 51 Muslims that terrible day.

 Were the events of March 15 not horrific enough, then they have been compounded by the fact that in the 12 months since, the live streaming of attacks on mosques, synagogues, black churches and anywhere else targeted minorities gather has become a calling card or “blue ribbon event” for similarly like-minded, violently racist individuals.

“Attacks always spark reactions from different extremist communities, but when it comes to the far-right, there was never anything like the response to the Christchurch attack,” Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

She added that Tarrant’s targeting of Muslims, coupled with his “deadly execution” and live streaming of the attack has generated an “unprecedented response”, describing it “like nothing we’ve ever seen thus far from the far-right across the globe.”

This week, The Saturday Paper published a classified report produced by Australia’s top spy agency - Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) – that revealed how far-right extremists and white supremacists are drawing inspiration from the Christchurch attack to carry out similar attacks in hope of “accelerating the race war.”

“The Christchurch attacks will have an enduring impact on the extreme right-wing community... and will contribute to the radicalization and inspiration of future attackers for at least the next 10 years,” according to ASIO.

This warning sprung to life in the form of a threat made against the al-Moor mosque in Christchurch last week, with New Zealand police announcing they were investigating a post made on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which featured a hooded man posting a photo of himself in his car outside the mosque along with a gun emoji and threatening text.

The fact Christchurch has been cited as a source of inspiration for the maniac who murdered a Jewish worshipper at a synagogue in San Diego; the gunman who slaughtered 21 mostly Hispanic Americans at a mall in El Paso, Texas on August 3 of last year; the Norwegian terrorist who attacked on a mosque in Norway on August 10, and the right-wing extremist who shot up a cafe frequented by immigrants in Hanau, Germany last month, leaving 11 mostly Turkish immigrants dead, serves as a deadly reminder that the same kind of “toxic combination of political polarization, anti-immigrant sentiment and modern technologies that help spread propaganda online” that helped produce the Christchurch terrorist continues to produce more like him throughout the Western world.

The attack has not only “fundamentally changed” New Zealand, as stated by the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, but also the way we’ve come to visualise the right-wing terror threat.

https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/did-the-christchurch-attacks-change-how-we-view-anti-muslim-bigotry-34579

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Pakistan

 

Clerics urged to postpone religions gatherings amid virus outbreak

March 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri on Monday urged clerics to postpone all religions gatherings as a precautionary measure against coronavirus.

In a video message, Qadri urged them to temporality call off Jumma prayers to avoid large scale public gatherings.

He reiterated the government is taking effective steps to tackle the pandemic.

Separately, the Sukkur administration has closed the shrines and public libraries for three weeks as part of safety measures.

According to an official, the wedding hall owners are also directed to temporarily stop holding functions. Strict action would be taken against violators of these directives, he added.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2020/03/16/clerics-urged-to-postpone-religions-gatherings-amid-virus-outbreak/

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PIMA tells elderly worshippers to stay at home as coronavirus cases in Pakistan increase

By M. Waqar Bhatti

March 16, 2020

KARACHI: Advising elderly people to stay away from mosques and offer prayers at their homes to avoid contracting coronavirus, Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA) Monday also urged people to make ablution (Wuzoo) at their homes and bring their prayers mats offering prayers (Namaz) in the mosques.

Health experts associated with the PIMA said they have developed the guidelines to protect worshippers and places of worship safe from coronavirus pandemic in light of recent medical knowledge and advised of experts in the field.

They maintained that “social distancing” is one of the key concepts to reduce the spread of this potentially deadly disease, therefore, people are advised to avoid coming to mosques, or meet with large number of people, if they are sick and have any symptoms of illness. Likewise, if somebody is sick and not feeling well, he should be advised against coming to the mosque.

People who are elderly, have poor general health or suffer from significant lung, heart disease, should also avoid coming to mosques and if there is a doubt, such people should consult their doctor or coronavirus helpline.

If a person has travelled to a country/place with high number of COVID-19 patients or came into close contact with a coronavirus patient, such people should also avoid coming to mosques, PIMA guidelines said adding that these restrictions are for fourteen days from the incident (being sick, or contact, or travel). Preferably they should avoid visiting in mosques till the coronavirus scare is cleared by the government.

Those barred from attending masjid on health grounds, should be assured that since their niyyat (intention) is to protect others, even their absence from mosques will be a course of ajr for them, and Allah will give them sawaab of praying in the mosque in such cases.

Likewise by disobeying the law, for example by hiding the truth and still attending congregational prayers, they will be sinning rather than being rewarded for praying in a mosque.

PIMA experts said those who do attend masjid or religious gatherings, should adopt safe etiquettes, should make Wuzoo at their homes, offer Sunnah prayers at home, minimize social time in mosques, should not shake hands or embrace others, especially those who are sick and they themselves are sick.

“People should cover nose and mouth with flexed elbow when coughing and sneezing, or tissue which should be disposed of properly. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds should be practiced while people should use their own prayer-mat if having allergy”, PIMA said adding that it is important to be careful, every person should avoid being paranoid and harsh to fellow worshippers or other persons, or spreading panic.

At the same time, administrations of mosques should take extra care for cleanliness, including disinfecting areas of worship. Simple soap, phenyl and diluted bleach in daily use can be good enough. Avoid heavy carpets in prayer areas, as they are harbors of germs and are very difficult to clean. If not feasible to remove, clean them thoroughly at times when masjid is empty.

“Mosque administrations should ask any person with signs of illness to leave the masjid, or be escorted to a health facility if he cannot. Worshippers and Imams should be reminded to follow the precautions in such instances and consider them as wajib, because not doing so will endanger their lives as well as many others which is haram in Islam”, the guidelines said.

Moreover, mosques will become unsafe (on medical grounds) for people to visit; the gunaah of such happening will be on all such people who do not obey the orders of the Ahl-e-Amr, PIMA guidelines said, adding that for all Muslims, whether Namazi or outside, to be close to Allah in all the ways possible, Salaah, Dua, recitation of Quran, zikr, repenting (taubah) etc. It is Only Allah who can save us from illness or give us health. Let us all revitalize our faith.

Full report at:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/630101-pima-tells-elderly-worshippers-to-stay-at-home-as-coronavirus-cases-in-pakistan-increase

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President Alvi arrives in China to explore avenues for collaboration

March 17, 2020

BEIJING: President Dr Arif Alvi arrived here on Monday on a two-day visit to China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping.

He is accompanied by a delegation including Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar and senior officials.

The president was warmly welcomed by Chinese Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs Han Changfu, Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi and other senior officials of the Chinese government and Pakistan Embassy in Beijing.

A smartly turned out contingent of the People’s Liberation Army presented a guard of honour.

President Alvi will hold separate meetings with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese leaders.

A number of memorandums of understanding are expected to be signed during the visit.

This is the president’s first visit to China, which is specifically aimed at conveying strong support and solidarity of Pakistan towards the government and the people of China in their battle against coronavirus.

The visit will play an important role in further solidifying the historic bonds of trust and mutual support between the two countries.

It will also serve as an opportunity for the leadership of the two countries to review bilateral, regional and international issues and to advance the shared goals of promoting peace, prosperity and development in the region and beyond.

Pakistan and China are the closest friends and staunch partners. They are joined together in an all-weather strategic cooperative partnership. This time-tested friendship is based on unparalleled mutual trust, understanding and commonality of interests.

The leaderships of both countries are fully committed to building closer China-Pakistan community of shared future in the new era.

During a brief media talk prior to his departure to China, President Alvi said he was undertaking the visit to China at the invitation of President Xi Jinping where he would express solidarity with the people of China who had fought the coronavirus epidemic.

He said China wanted to thank Pakistan for expressing solidarity during the coronavirus epidemic and the way Pakistan as a brother trusted them for taking care of the Pakistanis residing there.

“I am visiting China to express solidarity with the Chinese people and to express condolences over loss of lives,” he added.

The president said that he would also get input from the Chinese experiences in handling the coronavirus pandemic.

China donates $4m, supplies

China has provided emergency assistance to Pakistan for COVID-19 prevention and control, according to the China Global Television Network (CGTN).

“China has provided emergency assistance to Pakistan for #COVID19 prevention and control, including 12,000 test kits, 300,000 masks, 10,000 protective suits and 4 million US dollars to build hospitals, according to ambassador Yao Jing,” the news outlet wrote on Twitter.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541459/president-alvi-arrives-in-china-to-explore-avenues-for-collaboration

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Kartarpur corridor project gets ex post facto approval

Khaleeq Kiani

March 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The government on Monday approved six major development projects with a cumulative estimated cost of Rs100.68 billion, including ex post facto clearance of Rs16.5bn Kartarpur Corridor.

The projects were approved at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) presided over by Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh. The projects involve a foreign financing equivalent of about Rs44bn.

Ecnec approved the ‘Pakistan Raises Revenue Project’ at an estimated cost of Rs12.48bn with a foreign exchange component of $80 million. The project aims to eliminate the country’s fiscal constraints through a sustainable increase in revenues and reduced tax expenditure by broadening the tax base and modernising the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) with advanced ICT-based operations.

The project is part of the World Bank-funded international development assistance (IDA)-based soft loan amounting to $400m. It has two components — $320m for result-based disbursement linked indicators (DLI) financing and $80m for its traditional investment project financing (IPF). The project involves upgrade of connectivity of FBR offices through installation of ICT (information and communication technology) equipment and customs control posts for data sharing and communication.

The meeting also gave ex post facto approval to the development of Kartarpur Corridor on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC)/turnkey basis for phase-1 of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, Narowal district, at a modified cost of Rs16.546bn.

Former planning and development minister Ahsan Iqbal raised questions over the ex post facto approval of such a large project being built without completion of codal formalities. He said he had been thrown into jail and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) registered cases for a Rs2.9bn project that was implemented after following all rules and regulations and approvals by the relevant forums and through bidding process.

“But here, a project has been implemented without approval of the CDWP (Central Development Working Party) and Ecnec and without bidding and yet ex post facto approvals are being granted. These are double standards,” he said and asked if NAB would now launch investigations against the incumbent planning minister or the finance minister.

Ecnec also approved the Winder Dam project at a cost of Rs15.231bn. It will be constructed on the Winder river in Lasbela district of Balochistan. The project was approved with a condition that command area development and land acquisition components would be started in parallel to the main project by the government of Balochistan.

The provincial government will also ensure completion of the project within the approved scope and cost. In case of further revision, the increase in cost will be borne by the provincial government from its own resources. It is expected to be completed in four years.

Ecnec approved a revised cost of Rs22.92bn for the Katchi Canal project (remaining work on phase-I) in Dera Bugti district of Balochistan. The meeting set a condition that there will be no deviation from the scope and cost firmed up by a follow-up committee constituted by the CDWP. A component of detailed engineering design, tender documents, etc, for phase-II and phase-III costing Rs120m has been added to the cost of the project.

The Balochistan agriculture department will ensure resolution of land settlement issues and development of command area of 102,000 acres to be developed by December. Responsibility of technical soundness of the design will rest with project consultants Nespak (National Engineering Services Pakistan) and no deviation from the design will be made. The project shall be completed in three years.

The meeting approved the Lahore Water and Wastewater Management project — sewerage system from Larech Colony to Gulshan-i-Ravi, Lahore — at a revised cost of Rs14.431bn. This includes a Rs14.165bn ($256m) loan from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The project aims to develop a comprehensive and detailed design of the sanitation system for disposal of sewerage and wastewater from Larech Colony to Gulshan-i-Ravi through trenchless technology. The project intends to ensure efficiency in safe and quick disposal of sewage and wastewater by laying a trunk sewerage system and developing a comprehensive technically viable plan.

The meeting approved the construction of Eastern Wastewater Treatment plant (44MGD) of Faisalabad city (Phase-I) at a cost of Rs19.071bn. The foreign component of the project includes loan and grant from the government of Denmark amounting to Rs17.238bn – 35pc grant and 65pc loan.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541434/kartarpur-corridor-project-gets-ex-post-facto-approval

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Three opposition parties file petition against arrest of Jang group owner

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh | Malik Asad

March 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Three opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) — have jointly filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against what they called a crackdown by the government on Geo TV and the arrest of Jang group editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman.

Hearing another petition in this connection, the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday issued a notice to the National Accountability Bureau. The petition, filed by Mr Rehman’s wife, has challenged the arrest and physical remand of her husband in a case of 54-kanal land allegedly allotted to him by then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif in 1986.

The petition filed in the IHC was signed by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N and some lawmakers of the JUI-F and JI.

The IHC will take up the petition on Wednesday.

The petitioners through Barrister Zafarullah Khan have cited the NAB chairman, the secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcas­ting and the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as respondents. They alleged that by issuing the orders for the arrest of Mr Rehman the NAB chairman had abused the statutory powers of arrest by NAB under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, and that the arrest was in violation of constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and the law laid down by superior courts.

The petitioners have referred to the IHC’s order of March 8, 2020 in which the court had set parameters and guidelines for NAB regarding arrest of an accused.

The petition claimed that before arrest of the Jang group’s chief, the government had warned the Geo TV’s management over its criticism and urged it to hold friendly programmes.

“There is no legal basis for issuing the arrest warrant as the accused [Mir Shakilur Rehman] is not a fugitive nor a terrorist nor a wanted criminal,” says the petition, adding: “He is the head of the biggest and the well-reputed media house in Pakistan who was fully cooperating with the NAB and furthermore, it was mere a second call-up notice for complaint verification as the proceedings had not been converted into inquiry or investigation stage.”

The petition said it appeared that the arrest of Mr Rehman was an attempt to curb free media in the country and that it was seen in the light of show-cause notices issued to some channels by Pemra on behalf of NAB.

An IHC division bench headed by Chief Justice Athar Minallah will take up a similar petition on Tuesday against the alleged closure of Geo TV on the cable and the relegation of the channel to lower numbers.

The petition was filed by Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon on behalf of Ahsan Satti.

The petition has cited the cabinet secretary, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal and Pemra chairman Saleem Baig as respondents.

The petition has argued that the court should declare the act of controlling media ‘illegal’ and that Geo TV should be returned to its place on the cable where it was before the arrest of Mr Rehman.

Some questions

Shaheena Shakil, wife of Mr Rehman, filed the petition through Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan and personally attended the proceedings before a two-judge bench comprising Justice Ali Baqar Najafi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh. Mir Ibrahim and two other sons of the media mogul also joined their mother in the court.

Responding to the bench’s queries, Barrister Ahsan said that NAB had not supplied any formal questionnaire to the petitioner’s husband; however, he was asked a few questions by the investigators on his first appearance before a combined investigation team.

Mr Rehman appeared before the team on March 12 fully prepared to answer the questions, but he was arrested, though the complaint against him was still at the stage of verification.

The counsel argued that the NAB chairman issued the arrest warrants for Mr Rehman while sitting in Islamabad and without knowing the facts. He said the petitioner’s husband was in illegal detention of NAB.

Justice Najafi asked Mr Ahsan if a petition against alleged illegal detention was maintainable after the grant of physical remand by a court of law.

The counsel said the accountability court granted the physical remand unlawfully and without mentioning any reason in its order.

“Is this the same inquiry wherein former premier Nawaz Sharif has also been summoned?” the judge asked the counsel who responded in the affirmative.

Referring to the issuance of arrest warrants on the same day of call-up notice, Justice Najafi observed that the authority concerned should have applied mind reasonably.

In a dialogue with NAB prosecutor Faisal Raza Bokhari, Justice Najafi observed that accountability should be without any discrimination but within the limits of the law.

Mr Bokhari said all the suspects in custody were medically examined on a daily basis as the bureau had its own doctors available round the clock. He said there was no need of any independent medical board. He said a daily meeting of a suspect with his family members and lawyers was not possible.

The bench sought a reply and para-wise comments from NAB by March 26.

Earlier, Shaheena Shakil requested the court to issue release order of her husband, saying he would not go anywhere.

However, Justice Najafi remarked that all were equal before the court either a former prime minister or a media house’s owner.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) vice chairman Abid Saqi on Monday condemned the arrest of the Jang group’s owner.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541452/three-opposition-parties-file-petition-against-arrest-of-jang-group-owner

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PPP leader wants army medical corps to take charge of hospitals

Iftikhar A. Khan

March 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, Senator Rehman Malik, asked Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday to immediately hand over all designated hospitals across the country to Army’s Medical Corps to combat the deadly coronavirus.

In a series of tweets in which he tagged the prime minister, Malik invited his attention towards the fast growing number of individuals infected by coronavirus.

“It is not all good as being reported to you. We have potentially growing victims of coronavirus and, therefore, identify countrywide good hospitals and hand over their managements to the Army Medical Corps urgently”.

He said he was requesting the prime minister well in time as there was hardly any medical or administrative control in these hospitals, adding that let the army prepare the medical care logistics and be ready to handle coronavirus outbreak.

“I am suggesting this as a long-term solution to combat coronavirus and I have suggested the AMC to take over all those hospitals which have been notified to deal with coronavirus emergency.” He said it was purely his own personal suggestion keeping the national interest in view.

Mr Malik said the Army Medical Corps was well trained. He also referred to the role played by it in Malakand and Swat operations against Taliban.

He said the government and the army may temporarily take over private medical colleges and universities in the country and convert them into anti-coronavirus testing and treatment centres.

He advised the government to gear up efforts against coronavirus, upgrade the basic health units (BHUs) and rural health centres (RHCs) with screening facilities and establish mobile medical units to visit rural areas for identification of coronavirus patients.

“By upgrading BHUs, RHCs and establishing mobile medical units, the elderly people could be screened for coronavirus at their homes.” He said it was worrisome that screening tests were not being properly conducted in some areas while it would be considered as criminal negligence to overlook the spread of pandemic which could prove fatal for the entire country. He said he would soon hold a press conference on the issue.

Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Senator Sirajul Haq has asked the government to move beyond lectures and advices and focus on practical steps towards preventing spread of the deadly virus. He said the situation so far showed that the federal and local governments lacked capability and capacity to deal with any calamity.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541456/ppp-leader-wants-army-medical-corps-to-take-charge-of-hospitals

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CJP calls NJPMC meeting to deliberate on anti-virus steps in courts

Nasir Iqbal

March 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed has called an emergency meeting of the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) on Thursday (March 19) to take stock of the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and devise a strategy for the courts.

Presided over by the chief justice, the NJPMC meeting will be held at the Supreme Court building at 4pm on Thursday.

The NJPMC was set up under an ordinance in 2002 to coordinate and harmonise judicial policy within the court system and in coordination with the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP). The committee is headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan while the chief justices of the Federal Shariat Court and the five high courts are its members.

The committee also makes recommendations for bringing about an improvement in the capacity and performance of the administration of justice, setting performance standards for judicial officers and persons associated with performance of judicial and quasi-judicial functions, improvement in the terms and conditions of service of judicial officers, court staff and to ensure skilled and efficient judiciary.

To minimise the spread of COVID-19, an announcement by the court office explained, the Supreme Court had been issuing circulars, guidelines and advisories from time to time for its staff, lawyers, litigants and security personnel.

Preventive steps

But in view of the gravity of the situation, a set of additional preventive measures in the vicinity of Supreme Court building has also been taken. And as a part of additional precautionary measures, the announcement said, the litigants represented by their counsel have been advised to avoid entering the Supreme Court premises to avoid overcrowding. However, respondents and in-person petitioners/parties may attend the court when summoned, the order added.

Meanwhile, a number of measures have been taken in the Supreme Court building in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak. Wash basins and liquid soap dispensers have been installed at all entry points.

Fumigation has been carried out in the entire building and biometric attendance has been suspended for the time being.

Medical personnel have been deputed at all entry points to take the temperature of every person regularly through infrared thermometers.

Full report at:

https://www.dawn.com/news/1541455/cjp-calls-njpmc-meeting-to-deliberate-on-anti-virus-steps-in-courts

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Southeast Asia

 

Mosques to remain closed until Mar 26 amid risk of large COVID-19 cluster forming from Malaysia gathering

By Hidayah Salamat

By Zhaki Abdullah

16 Mar 2020

SINGAPORE: All mosques in Singapore will remain closed until Mar 26 to prevent further spread of COVID-19, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) on Monday (Mar 16).

MUIS first announced on Mar 13 that mosques would close for five days for cleaning after several congregants tested positive for the coronavirus following a religious gathering in Malaysia.

"Subsequent contact tracing by the Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed that the five infected individuals frequented at least 10 mosques during their infectious period," said MUIS in a statement, adding that the list of mosques was disseminated and members of the public who had attended them were advised to monitor their health.

MOH found that 101 people here had attended the religious gathering in Malaysia, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told media on Monday.

"Even with the increased pre-emptive measures and temporary closures of our mosques, it is possible for more cases to emerge through secondary transmission, either from close contacts of the five infected individuals or from among members of the community who had visited the 10 mosques," said MUIS.

"It is not possible to identify and trace all persons in the second category as our mosques do not operate on a membership system and lacks a register of exclusive regular congregants. This means contact tracing will not be a sufficient measure to prevent onward transmission of the virus," it added.

MUIS said, after consulting with MOH, that it is of the view that the risk of a large cluster forming from the participants of the gathering in Malaysia "continues to be real".

"The religious justification to close the mosque and suspend Friday prayers, in the form of the fatwa issued by the Fatwa Committee, still applies," said MUIS.

It added that it has accepted MOH's recommendation to extend the closure for an additional nine days, "completing one incubation period to break the cycle of transmission".

On Monday, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) also recommended that all mosques in the country be closed for 10 days and that activities including the Friday prayers be suspended, based on advice from the country's health ministry.

MEASURES TO BE TAKEN UPON RE-OPENING

Upon re-opening of the mosques, enhanced measures will be implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Among them are mandatory temperature-taking of all congregants, requiring congregants to bring their own personal prayer items such as prayer mats and telekung (prayer garments), as well as conducting "physical checks to identify at-risk congregants" and turning away those who are unwell, said MUIS.

A "full contact-tracing regimen" will also be instituted, it said, adding that there will also be no handshakes at the end of prayers or other physical greetings.

"Meanwhile, in meeting the community's spiritual needs, mosques will resume the azan (call to prayer), which will be adapted with a call to the community to perform prayers at home," said MUIS.

Elaborating during a press conference on Monday, Mr Masagos said the azan will continue to be sounded five times a day, but it will contain a "modification", calling Muslims to "do their prayers at home".

"The same call to prayer that you hear on the radio at home will also be adjusted as such," he said.

Mr Masagos said this has been practised elsewhere before in "many places around the world", but "it is the first time (Singapore) is putting this into practice".

Mufti Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said this is being done to remind the community of its religious duties but "in the context of the challenges being faced".

Mr Masagos said that when the mosques reopen on Mar 27, which is a Friday, some mosques here will conduct a trial of having two congregational Friday prayers, instead of one.

These will be conducted at fixed timings, which congregants will be informed of ahead of time, said Mr Masagos, who is also the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

This is being done to reduce the number of people congregating in the mosques at any one time, he said.

The initiative will begin with four mosques - Masjid An-Nur in Woodlands, Masjid Maarof in Jurong West, Masjid Muhajirin in Toa Payoh and Masjid Mujahidin in Queenstown.

"As we learn to how to operationalise it, we will do it in more mosques," added Mr Masagos.

Friday prayers at all mosques will also be limited to no more than 30 minutes, he added.

The sermons delivered during these sessions will be abridged versions, noted Dr Nazirudin, adding that longer versions of the sermons would be made available online.

Software is also being tested to inform people how many people are already at a particular mosque to prevent overcrowding, said Mr Masagos.

Having many people in one area over an extended period of time, with a lot of interaction - as is the case with many religious activities - has a very high chance of resulting in secondary infections, he said.

Putting into place such precautionary measures would act as a "circuit break" for such infections, said Mr Masagos, adding this is based on experience with other clusters such as the SAFRA Jurong cluster and the two church clusters.

"The Office of the Mufti will also work with mosques to produce more Islamic learning and talks via online content," said MUIS.

"Working together with the mosques, the community can ensure that Muslim religious life can continue with the necessary adjustments. This is the best way to prevent large clusters from developing and spreading beyond the community," it added.

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid-19-mosques-remain-closed-mar-26-risk-cluster-12542904

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Malaysia loses its grip on Covid-19 outbreak

By NILE BOWIE

MARCH 16, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR – A sudden spike in coronavirus infections has triggered alarm in Malaysia, with the Muslim-majority country now reporting the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

The country experienced its biggest single-day jump in infections on March 15, with 190 new cases. That number rose again on March 16 (Monday) with 125 more infections, bringing the national total to 553.

Until now, Malaysia had a relatively low number of coronavirus cases and appeared to have well-managed the situation through selective travel restrictions and a transparent response that earned World Health Organization (WHO) praise. 

The rapid surge in new infections follows a tumultuous and unexpected shift in political power in Putrajaya, which saw the country operate for two weeks without a Cabinet or a health minister.

For Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s weeks-old government, the widening outbreak is proving to be a baptism of fire.

“Covid-19 represents the new government’s first, biggest and most visible test of competence,” said Khor Swee Kheng, a health systems specialist and a former frontline doctor at a public hospital in Malaysia during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak. “Any failures, perceived or real, will further affect the legitimacy of this government.”

When the new premier was sworn-in on March 1, Malaysia had only 29 Covid-19 cases. As the outbreak widened, Muhyiddin delivered a special address on March 13, where he announced measures to postpone all mass assemblies until April 30 to confront a “second wave” of infections that he warned would threaten economic growth.

“Up until today, there is an increase of new Covid-19 positive cases following the detection of two main clusters that mostly involve Malaysians,” said Muhyiddin, 72, in his speech. “With the current trend, this outbreak is estimated to continue for a period that is quite long. It will not be over in the near future.”

The nation’s first fully locally transmitted cluster has been linked to “Patient 26”, who came forward earlier this month and identified himself as Hisham Hamdan, a top official at Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund Khazanah.

According to the Ministry of Health (MoH), he had been in close contact with at least 21 confirmed cases.

The second cluster spread from a gathering of Islamic missionaries at a religious event held on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur from February 27 to March 1, which saw an estimated 16,000 attendees including foreigners from around the region.

Newly-recorded cases in neighboring Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia are also linked to the event.

Cases have spread across the country as an estimated 14,500 Malaysian event participants have since returned to their home states. Some 90 people from Brunei attended, where cases have soared from zero to 50 in less than a week. The sultanate barred its citizens from exiting the country on March 15 in an effort to contain the Covid-19 spread.

Though Muhyiddin has declared all international conferences, sporting events and mass social and religious gatherings either canceled or postponed, it is not clear whether smaller-scale religious congregations will continue to be held in mosques and other places of worship.

Zulkifli Mohamad, the country’s new religious affairs minister, allowed Muslim Friday prayers to proceed in the Federal Territories on March 13 despite the worsening outbreak, but said prayers can be carried out at home if the situation worsens. Attending Friday prayers is a compulsory religious obligation for Muslim men.

Only the northern state of Perlis directed Muslims not to perform Friday prayers in the state’s mosque in response to the MoH’s recommendation to avoid mass gatherings. Islam is incorporated into the administration of each Malaysian state; constitutional monarchs or rulers determine Islamic law guidelines for their states.

The federal government can, however, order closures of mosques or the cancellation of Friday prayers to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, said constitutional lawyer Lim Wei Jiet.

“Primacy must be given to federal law if there is an overlap of jurisdiction. If state muftis or state governments don’t agree, the federal government prevails,” he said.

“However, I believe that because it is a sensitive matter which may involve the input of state rulers, the federal government is not taking such drastic action and is merely paying an advisory role thus far. For the moment, each state can issue their own guidelines for Friday prayers.”

A state fatwa committee in Negeri Sembilan, a coastal state south of Kuala Lumpur, has since followed suit by declaring all mosques and suraus closed between March 17 to 26 following the spike in Covid-19 cases.

Health experts have called for a halt on religious congregations as part of “social distancing” measures to contain the outbreak.

In neighboring Singapore, mosques islandwide have been closed until at least March 26, with Friday prayers cancelled for the first time in the city-state’s history.

When Malaysia’s previous Cabinet was dissolved on February 24 after then-premier Mahathir Mohamad resigned in the midst of a tussle for political power, the country was left without a health minister.

Malaysians were agog as an attempted parliamentary coup, now known as the “Sheraton Move”, unfolded a day earlier. As political chaos ensued throughout late February and early March, the Covid-19 outbreak significantly advanced its spread around the globe, with cases proliferating in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Khor remarked that the MoH’s performance during the country’s political limbo, led by Director General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah, “did not miss a beat” despite an expected rise in cases.

The health systems specialist said the MoH and newly-appointed Health Minister Adham Baba must now lead “an all-of-society response” to combat the outbreak.

“Dr. Adham Baba is trained as a general practitioner and has experience setting up and managing a chain of primary care clinics, which should help him in this new portfolio,” said Khor. “It remains possible for Malaysia to ‘flatten the curve’ and spread out the patient numbers over a longer time period.”

However, Asia Times spoke with another Malaysian health specialist who was less sanguine about both the government and health system’s readiness to handle a worsening outbreak.

“There are two issues we’re facing right now. One, the change in government. We have a whole new Cabinet and a new health minister who doesn’t know the ropes at all. They’ve just come in and are in a very, very tight spot and are scared to make drastic decisions,” said the specialist, who requested anonymity.

“The second thing is, we are not ready as a community and as a health service. Protective equipment is an issue. The private sector is also concerned with a lack of masks and the personal risks of infection.”

The specialist said further drastic social distancing measures, including the closure of schools, religious congregations and certain non-essential businesses, are required to prevent a wider national emergency.

“Many are not ready to face this epidemic as we have been lulled into thinking things are under control. But we are already getting community spread extensively, and if we don’t go for broke right now, we are headed for a wildfire Italy-style epidemic in two weeks’ time,” the specialist said, expressing a view echoed by other medical experts in the country.

The Malaysian Health Coalition, a group of local medical experts representing seven professional societies, urged authorities on March 16 to implement firm measures, including social distancing, to curb the spread of coronavirus to avoid overwhelming the health system.

“We’ve never invested in an intensive care capacity as much as we need to, although there have been rather pleas from many of us,” said the specialist, who noted that Malaysia has fewer than 1,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in public hospitals nationwide, many of which are usually already occupied by ill patients.

Full report at:

https://asiatimes.com/2020/03/malaysia-loses-its-grip-on-covid-19-outbreak/

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Indonesia blocks building of Baptist church amid protests

MARCH 16, 2020

Local authorities are not allowing a Baptist church in the Central Java province of Indonesia to complete the construction of its house of worship, which has the required permit, due to opposition from Muslim residents in the area, according to a persecution watchdog.

The construction of Indonesian Baptist Church in the Tlogosari area in the city of Semarang has halted for six months, the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern reported.

Last August, the local government asked the church to collect more than 60 signatures from local residents, and the church got 84 signatures. However, community groups continued to pressure the government to block the church’s construction.

In the Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, churches often face opposition from local groups that typically question the authenticity of the signatures to obstruct the construction of non-Muslim houses of worship.

The church said it will take legal action to resolve the dispute.

“We are ready to take legal channels to fight against the people’s refusal,” the church’s attorney, Zainal Arifin, was quoted as saying. “The reasons for the rejection are changing, starting from falsified signatures, expired IMBs (permits) until finally, the residents’ refusal does not touch the issue of principle permits.”

The church’s pastor, identified only as Wahyudi, said, “We will continue to fight for this because if left unchecked it will set a bad precedent for freedom of religion and worship in Semarang.”

Last year, the permit for a Pentecostal church in Indonesia’s special region of Yogyakarta was revoked by the Bantul district chief following protests and threats from radical Muslim groups in the area.

The official justified the reasoning by contending that the permit issued to the church at the beginning of that year did not meet requirements established by a 2006 joint ministerial decree regulating houses of worship.

The decree is one that hundreds of religious leaders have called for an end to, saying it is misused to block the construction of churches and other worship buildings.

The church’s pastor, Tigor Yunus Sitorus, told UCAN at the time that he asked members to attend services at other churches. He did not want to issue a statement in order to avoid worsening the atmosphere for the community’s Christians.

While Indonesian Muslims are seen as tolerant and moderate, radical Islamic groups seek to promote a violent version of Islam.

“Most problems for believers and churches come from confrontations with radical Islamic groups that continue to exert significant influence,” says the 2020 report of Open Doors’ World Watch List. “In certain hot spots like West Java or Aceh, churches that evangelize often become targets of these groups.”

In May 2018, a court in Tangerang, Java, sentenced a Protestant pastor, the Rev. Abraham Ben Moses, a well-known former Muslim apologist, to four years in prison and slapped him with a fine of $3,565 because he shared his faith with a taxi driver.

Full report at:

https://www.christianpost.com/news/indonesia-blocks-building-of-baptist-church-amid-protests.html

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Uncivil society: How democracy is being undermined from within

Vedi Hadiz

March 16, 2020

When I was a young democracy activist in Indonesia, my colleagues and I wanted to strengthen civil society against President Soeharto’s authoritarian state.  It hardly occurred to us that civil society could foster identity politics focused on marginalizing minorities.

But this is exactly what a newer generation of democracy advocates in Indonesia now confront – not only hindrances from the state but also from civil society groupings. It is a challenge that democracy advocates around the world are increasingly facing, even in well-established Western democracies. Civil society has become part of the problem.

In Indonesia, some of these identity-based civil society groups operate in the name of religion while others thrive on hyper-nationalism, and some have paramilitary wings prone to using violence and coercion. This is happening in a country lauded as the new model of democracy in Southeast Asia and the third largest democracy in the world.

Before Indonesia, Thailand was touted as Southeast Asia’s model democracy, yet, there too, educated members of the urban middle class, who are usually assumed to group together for democratic purposes, have helped reinstall military-dominated authoritarianism.

In India, civil society organizations linked to President Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have helped to drive policies that show how democracy can be – paradoxically – used for repressive purposes. Right wing paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been at the forefront of violent actions against India’s large Muslim minority as well as secular groupings. Their activities have given rise to fears that India is being reconceived as a Hindu nation.

In the US, civil society groups like the Tea Party have contributed for many years to the erosion of democratic values. The Tea Party ultimately paved the way for the Trump presidency and the practices that are now wreaking havoc on American democracy.

The rise of Trump is associated with the resurgence of populism globally, including in European democracies, where highly illiberal if not overtly anti-democratic political parties have recently made gains.

It is perhaps high time then to re-evaluate, more seriously, many commonly held rosy assumptions about the relationship between civil society and democracy. We should be paying more attention to the rise of civil society groups which, around the world, will increasingly pose a challenge to democracy as we know it.

These can range from exclusivist ethnic or religious organizations, gun-toting militias, all the way through to any of the xenophobic groupings now all too easily found in rich, modern societies.

What is clear is that the liberal triumphalism that greeted the end of the Cold War seems out of place now. It was this triumphalism that led the World Bank to argue that a vibrant civil society was necessary for economic success, assuming of course that it would be politically and economically liberal.

At the same time, political scientists had become immersed in ‘transitology’, with its singular interest in states ‘transitioning’ to democracy and ‘consolidating’ it. Civil society, they thought, would play a big role in the successful democratisations they envisaged.

But how do we address the democratic retreat we are now seeing, even in places where democracy has been long-entrenched?

A considerable change in mindset is required. This entails dismissing the notion that there is some sort of automatic relationship between a "strong" civil society and democratization.

It is a difficult task because civil society’s long association with democracy goes back at least to the classic work of Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, written in the 19th century. More recently, Robert Putnam’s influential work, Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community, suggested that ‘social capital’ glued civil society together as the basis for modern democratic life.

What has been overlooked is the reality that civil society may be dominated by anti-democratic interests that win out in concrete political struggles. Most infamously, the Nazis were able to dominate German civil society in the 20th century.

Today, much of the discussion about the ‘crisis of democracy’ has focussed on the rise of populism around the world. At the most basic level, populism involves conceiving politics as the "good masses" confronting "bad elites," including those "elites" who may have taken control of intermediary institutions like parties and parliaments.

Yet American right-wing populism has been partly funded by ‘elites’ like the billionaire Koch brothers.  In Australia, the mining magnate Clive Palmer poured $A90 million into the last election, pushing for policies that have helped shift the country’s political center to the right. In Indonesia too, there were links between the still wealthy family of former dictator, Soeharto and groups espousing populist versions of Islamic politics. These had supported the Prabowo candidacy in the 2019 presidential election.

The reality is that assorted elites have climbed onto the populist bandwagon, exploiting whatever long-simmering frustrations there are with the economy or with political institutions in different countries. Their self-interested actions have helped to shape the evolution of civil society. 

Rather than being fuelled by liberal pluralist values, some civil society organizations grow because of the insecurities of significant portions of the population – insecurities driven by rising economic precariousness and inequality.

Counter to how followers of Tocqueville or Putnam perceive civil society, these groups peddle identity politics or tough law and order agendas, and flourish on insularity and xenophobia.

Full report at:

https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2020/03/16/uncivil-society-how-democracy-is-being-undermined-from-within.html

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Malaysia reports 125 new coronavirus cases after 16,000 people gather

16 March 2020

Malaysia reported 125 new coronavirus cases on Monday, with most linked to a religious gathering attended by around 16,000 people.

The new cases bring the total tally to 553 in the country, which remains the worst affected in Southeast Asia.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/world/2020/03/16/Malaysia-reports-125-new-coronavirus-cases-after-16-000-people-gather.html

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Surge in Malaysia, Brunei coronavirus cases linked to religious event

March 16, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Health Ministry announced that 190 people had tested positive for coronavirus on Sunday, the highest number of infections reported in a day in the country. Most of the cases are linked to a mass religious gathering held at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur last month.

The new infections bring Malaysia’s total to 428, the highest number of reported coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia.

“Based on early investigation, most of the new cases are linked to the Tabligh gathering at Sri Petaling Mosque,” Health Minister Dr. Adham Baba said in a statement on Sunday.

It is estimated that 16,000 people arrived in Kuala Lumpur for the four-day religious event in late February, some of them from neighboring Singapore and Brunei.

Malaysian health authorities are trying to track down 14,500 nationals who attended the event.

The ministry has called on them and their close contacts to undergo virus testing and self-quarantine for 14 days.

On Thursday, the minister said that all mass gatherings should be avoided due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Gatherings of more than 50 people are considered a mass gathering, so the public should avoid them,” he said.

A day later, however, more than 30,000 people participated in a Hindu event, the Floating Chariot Festival in Penang state.

Stricter measures have been imposed by Malaysia’s neighbors.

Brunei announced on Sunday that it is barring its citizens from traveling out of the country as the number of persons infected with the coronavirus has reached 50.

Most of the cases are related to the Kuala Lumpur Tabligh event. Authorities have also requested mass gatherings be avoided and events such as weddings be held at home with a limited number of guests.

Singapore has suspended Friday prayers and closed all mosques for disinfection. It has also tightened its border control measures.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1642271/world

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Arab World

 

Prominent Sunni cleric says Chinese students in Qom behind coronavirus outbreak

16 March 2020

The coronavirus outbreak in Iran was caused by Chinese students studying at a religious seminary in the Shia holy city of Qom, Iran’s most prominent Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdul-Hamid, said in a video published on his website Friday.

“It is known that Chinese students studying at Al-Mustafa International University (MIU) brought coronavirus to Iran,” Abdul-Hamid said. Abdul-Hamid is the Friday prayer leader in Zahedan, the capital of the Sunni-populated province of Sistan-Baluchestan.

MIU is a state-funded, Shia seminary based in Qom with almost 40,000 foreign students. MIU purports to be an international academic, Islamic, and university-style seminary institute.

MIU released a statement in response to Abdul-Hamid, criticizing the Sunni cleric and denying that its Chinese students were behind the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

“Have any officials made any such claims or has any evidence been presented? A religious scholar is expected to be more accurate in expressing himself,” MIU said in a statement.

Mohammad Hossein Bahraini, head of Mashhad’s medical university, was quoted as saying last month that coronavirus spread to Qom through 700 Chinese students studying at MIU.

The university later denied Bahraini had made such remarks.

Qom is an epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran and the first city to report cases of the virus.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Prominent-Sunni-cleric-says-Chinese-students-in-Qom-behind-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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Not getting paid: Lebanese politicians donate salaries to coronavirus fight

16 March 2020

As Lebanon gets accustomed to living under near-total lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, several politicians have pledged to donate their salaries to the fight against the disease.

On Sunday night, Lebanon’s Cabinet announced a series of stringent measures to combat the coronavirus, closing borders, ordering public and private businesses to shut down, and calling on citizens to avoid leaving their homes.

Since the declaration of a “state of health emergency,” more than 20 MPs and ministers have said that they would hand over their March salaries to those on the front lines of combating the virus, including public hospitals, the Lebanese Red Cross, or the “National Corona Defense Fund” set up by Health Minister Hamad Hasan.

Over the last week or so, a social media campaign had been calling for public officials to donate their salaries under the hashtag #YouWontGetPaid.

Rola Tabsh, an MP with former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement, announced on Twitter that she was donating her March salary to Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the government hospital chosen as the hub for testing and treating coronavirus patients.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English Monday, Tabsh described the donations as an “initiative to encourage all people to help during this exceptional time.”

“While this is not our role - it is the role of the government - we all have to come together to survive.”

On Monday, the Health Ministry announced the number of cases in Lebanon had reached 109. Three people have died so far, while one patient has made a full recovery.

The arrival of the coronavirus, technically known as COVID-19, could hardly have come at a worse time for Lebanon, which was already struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades. Jobs have been cut, the local currency has lost more than 40 percent of its value and nationwide dollar shortages have threatened essential imports, including medical supplies.

Medical workers have for months been warning of the existential threat faced by the healthcare sector, as a lack of government investment has been compounded by the increasingly limited access to equipment and medicine.

The Lebanese Red Cross, which is staffed by volunteer medics and reliant on donations, has also ramped up calls for financial support amid the outbreak, as each “coronavirus mission” costs the organization more than $850.

Yassine Jaber, a veteran MP with the Amal Movement who donated his salary to the Nabatieh Governmental Hospital, admitted that donations from MPs’ salaries would unlikely have any significant impact on the fight against the coronavirus.

MPs receive a monthly salary of just over LL10 million, including benefits.

“Our salaries alone are not going to save the country,” he told Al Arabiya English, “these problems are inherited from successive governments.”

The 2020 state budget has slashed healthcare expenditure by 7 percent compared to 2019, and hospitals in Lebanon are owed some $1.3 billion by the state, according to the head of the private hospitals’ syndicate, with dues dating back as far as 2011.

The Rafik Hariri University Hospital remains the only public hospital equipped to test and treat coronavirus patients, and at present only has around 140 beds available. However, as the number of cases rises, so will the strain on the healthcare system.

To cope with the increasing demand, the health minister announced last week that eight additional hospitals were being prepared to accept coronavirus patients, with the help of a World Bank loan of $39 million.

However, according to the head of Parliament’s health committee, Assem Araji, those hospitals will only provide a total of around 300 additional beds, leaving Rafik Hariri University Hospital to bear the burden of coronavirus care.

Just last week, staff at Lebanon’s largest public hospital went on strike to decry months of unpaid salaries and poor working conditions.

One senior hospital employee, who spoke to Al Arabiya English on condition of anonymity, said that while they were “grateful” for the politicians’ offers of support, the public donation campaign has come too little, too late.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/03/16/Not-getting-paid-Lebanese-politicians-donate-salaries-to-coronavirus-fight-.html

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Lebanese start new radio station amid coronavirus outbreak

17 March 2020

Locked down in their respective houses under the shadow of coronavirus, a group of friends from a community space in Beirut have launched a radio station to help themselves and others pass the time in quarantine.

Radio al Hey, or “The Neighborhood’s Radio,” launched on Friday, with a group of around 10 DJs each working from their own houses – most of them in Lebanon, some living abroad – taking turns playing songs and sharing stories.

One DJ offered horoscope readings. Another played theme songs from beloved cartoon shows of the 1980s and 1990s. Yet another plans to give a recorder to his father and have him narrate his weekly walk in the wilderness, where he gathers wild herbs for cooking.

“The only rule that we have is to not talk about coronavirus,” said Majd al-Shihabi a graduate student of urban planning at the American University of Beirut, who organized the project along with a group of friends involved in running Mansion, a community space in Beirut’s Zoukak al Blat neighborhood.

“Basically, if you want news about the coronavirus you can just open any social media or turn on your TV,” al-Shihabi said.

“Anywhere you turn, you will find news about coronavirus, so this is a place where you can have a quarantine from the quarantine.”

Shihabi was inspired by an Italian friend who is part of the team running Radio Quartiere, a similar concept set up in Italy to pass the time during the quarantine. After consulting with his friend, the Beirut group set up their own offshoot using Radiojar, a software that allows users to create online radio stations.

“It’s very simple. [The DJs] don’t need any special equipment – it’s just whatever built-in mic they have on their laptop and they just upload the files directly,” Shihabi said. “Each one messages me, I give them the keys for the back end, and everyone brings their own musical taste, musical background.”

On Monday, the first day of official lockdown in Lebanon after officials declared a state of health emergency Sunday, one DJ shared his favorite recipe for bamieh (okra) and interspersed reminiscences about the stories his grandparents used to tell him about their youth, sitting on their jasmine-scented balcony, with verses of a ballad by classic Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez playing.

Another DJ, a Lebanese art student in the Netherlands, shared musings about the experience of living far from home in times of crisis as she played Tunisian composer Anouar Brahem’s piece “A Coutances.”

While most of the listeners are in Lebanon, some are tuning in from abroad. As of Sunday, Shihabi said, the station had about 90 people listening per hour, for a total of about 1,700 listeners throughout the day.

He encouraged others to set up stations in their own community.

“It’s meant to be a neighborhood radio,” Shihabi said. “I’m more interested in having many radio stations with a few listeners than having one radio station with a lot of listeners.”

As to whether the radio station will continue once the lockdown is over, he said, “I’m not 100 percent sure. Some people are suggesting that we should (continue), but it’s a lot of coordinating work. If I have a group of volunteers who would like to continue coordinating, maybe I’ll hand it off to a committee at [the artistic space] Mansion or something.”

Shihabi said he sees the station as an extension of the mission of Mansion, a formerly abandoned villa that has been transformed into a collective space over the past eight years, providing a residence and workspace for artists, researchers, and others and an open community event space. However, the future of the space is currently uncertain. Shihabi said he hopes the radio project will call attention to the role the space has played in the community.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Life-under-lockdown-Lebanese-start-new-radio-station-amid-coronavirus-outbreak.html

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Turkish-backed militants undermine Russia-Turkey joint patrols in Idlib

16 March 2020

Russia and Turkey have cut short their first joint patrol in Syria's Idlib after Turkish-based militants blocked a main roadway liberated by the Syrian army in January.

The M4 highway, connecting the Syrian government-held provinces of Latakia and Aleppo, was due to be patrolled by Turkish and Russia troops under a ceasefire agreed in Moscow this month.

However, hundreds of militants took advantage of the absence of Syrian troops on Sunday to cut off the highway, witnesses and Russian news agencies said. 

The militants rejected the presence of Russian forces and what they said was an agreement that did not guarantee their re-settlement after being pushed out of the region, the report said.

Under the March 5 ceasefire reached between presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, Turkish and Russian forces are to establish a security corridor on either side of the M4, as well as carry out joint patrols along it.

The Russian defense ministry said the joint patrols were cut short because of militant "provocations" and civilians being used as human shields.

Militants, some waving so-called Syrian National Army flags, climbed atop Turkish tanks or stood in their path, according to witnesses.

The militants were cleansed by the Syrian army in January from the regions around M4 and M5 highways which link Damascus to Aleppo.

The liberation of the highways and further advances by the Syrian army did not go well with Turkey which deployed massive troops and armaments to Idlib to prevent a final rout of terrorists.

The military intervention resulted in confrontation with Syrian troops, in which scores of Turkish troops were killed. The clashes stopped after Erodgan traveled to Moscow and clinched a ceasefire.

According to the agreement, joint Russian-Turkish patrols should secure a six-kilometer-wide corridor along the M4 highway connecting the government-held provinces of Latakia and Aleppo.

The ceasefire also consolidates Syrian control over the M5 highway, which links the capital, Damascus, to the major cities of Hama, Homs, and Aleppo.

On Monday, Russia's foreign ministry said the militants are not complying with the ceasefire. The ministry said the militants were taking counter-offensive action in the region.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/620972/Turkish-backed-militants-stop-joint-patrol-Idlib

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After 9 years of conflict, Iran is the decision-maker in Syria

March 17, 2020

LONDON: Almost 118,000 civilian deaths, 6.6 million internally displaced, 5.6 million refugees worldwide, four peace conferences, nine years, one war, one country: Syria.

What started off as peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad quickly escalated into a bloody proxy war involving the US, Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Nine years and hundreds of thousands of deaths later, foreign players backing the opposition have come to terms with Assad staying in power.

But one would not have expected such an outcome in 2013, with most of the country split among anti-Assad groups and Kurdish militias.

That year, then-US President Barack Obama delivered his now-infamous “red line” speech following the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in an attack on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. Also that year, Iran deployed 4,000 troops to Syria in support of Assad.

“Without Iran and its proxies, Assad wouldn’t be in power,” Phillip Smyth, Soref fellow at the Washington Institute, told Arab News.

“Iran’s Shiite militias both helped rebuild what was left of the SAA (Syrian Arab Army), allied militias, and provided the bulk of the forces needed to not only retake territory, but hold many strategic areas. Iran’s involvement was the key game-changer for the conflict.”

Now Iran and its proxies — namely its strongest, Hezbollah — run the show, with only one option in mind: Total military victory.

On Nov. 18, 2015, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian said: “If not for Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the efforts of its military advisers, Damascus would have fallen during the first three years of the war.”

Former Syrian Brig. Gen. Ahmed Rahhal told Arab News: “It’s Iran and Hezbollah who are fighting today and making all the political and military decisions.”

He added: “The Assad regime obeys the Iranian military and follows the Iranian approach, and Iran accepts only the military option … Iran is unable to find a solution, but is rather capable of obstructing all solutions.”

Alongside Hezbollah are Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp. and its Quds Force. On Jan. 13, 2020, the Assad regime honored Qassem Soleimani — commander of the Quds Force, who was killed in Iraq on Jan. 3 by a US missile strike — with the “Hero of the Syrian Arab Republic” medal, Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Ahmad Khasm, a 29-year-old human rights activist in northern Syria who was forcibly displaced from southern Idlib, told Arab News: “The loss that I have is a decade of my life. I should’ve had a family by now enjoying a youthful life, learning, and being with my family and friends in our hometown.”

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1642381/middle-east

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Egyptian police kill 6 ‘terrorist elements’ in North Sinai

Monday, 16 March 2020

Egyptian police have shot dead six suspected members of a terror outfit affiliated to the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in the restive North Sinai region.

In a statement released along with gruesome photos of the slain militants on Monday, the Egyptian Interior Ministry said the firefight broke out as police forces raided a hideout of "terrorist elements" intent on carrying out "hostile operations."

Weapons and explosives were found in the place.

The ministry did not mention when the raid had been carried out.

Last month, armed men blew up a gas pipeline connecting the Occupied Territories to Egypt. The sabotage operation took place in the Sinai's Bir el-Abd region on February 2.

The Sinai Peninsula has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, after a deadly terrorist attack left 33 Egyptian soldiers dead.

Over the past few years, terrorists have been engaged in anti-government activities and fatal attacks in Egypt, taking advantage of the turmoil that erupted after the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup in July 2013.

The Velayat Sinai group, which is affiliated with Daesh, has claimed responsibility for most of the assaults.

In February 2018, the Egyptian army launched a full-scale counterterrorism campaign after a terror attack in North Sinai claimed the lives of more than 300 people at a mosque.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/621018/Egypt-Sinai-Velayat-Sinai-Bir-el-Abd-Daesh-Morsi

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Senior MP: No Need to New Parliament Approval to Expel US Forces

Mar 16, 2020

“There is no need to a new approval” and the latest bill which calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces in Iraq is sufficient for the government’s action and attraction of international support for the move, Bassem Khashan told the Arabic-language al-Ma’aloumeh news website on Monday.

He added that the next interim government will prioritize ending the foreign forces’ military buildup in Iraq.

The Iraqi military and the presidency condemned the US recent airstrikes against the security forces, and summoned both the American and UK envoys to the country.

“The Iraqi Presidency condemns airstrikes on several bases in Iraq, including a recently opened airport in the Holy City of Karbala which led to the death of security forces and civilians,” the presidency said in a statement on Friday.

The Iraqi military also denounced the US raids as a targeted aggression against the nation's official armed forces and a violation of its sovereignty.

According to the Iraqi military statement, three soldiers, two police officers and one civilian were killed in the attacks.

The statement added that four soldiers, two police officers, one civilian, and five individuals affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) were also wounded.

The Pentagon had claimed earlier on Friday that the strikes targeted five weapons stores used by Iraqi groups that “targeted US forces”.

Iraqi resistance groups denied such allegations.

The attack came only a day after more than a dozen Iraqi fighters were killed in airstrikes targeting an area in Syria's Eastern province of Deir Ezzur.

The Iraqi parliament has voted to expel American troops, prompting President Donald Trump to threaten that the US would seize Iraq's oil money held in a bank account in New York if it was forced to withdraw.

Spokesperson of Iraq Joint Operations Command Major General Tahsin al-Khafaji announced on Sunday suspension of cooperation with the so-called US-led anti-ISIL coalition after Washington’s recent attacks against Iraqi armed forces.

Al-Khafaji told the Arabic-language al-Ma’aloumeh news website that the Iraq Joint Operations Command condemns aggression against the country’s official military forces as a hostile move and aggression.

He added that cooperation with the US-led coalition will be suspended and halted until a new partnership is declared.

Al-Khafaji also said that no group has yet claimed responsibility for attacks on the US forces in al-Taji base.

Also, Iraqi legislators have warned the US to withdraw its soldiers from the country based on the parliament’s earlier approval or wait for the nation's furious and forceful response.

“If the US insists on remaining in Iraq, there are several ways to expel the US forces and if these ways fail to expel the occupiers who savagely attacked the Iraqi forces last Friday, the military option will be put into effect,” member of the Iraqi legislature’s security and defense committee Karim Aliwi said in an interview with the Arabic-language Baghdad al-Youm on Sunday.

He underlined the necessity for the Iraqi government to take rapid action to enforce the parliament’s approval on the expulsion of foreign forces.

Also, Hassan al-Ka’abi, the representative of Badr fraction at the parliament, warned the US that if the American forces are not pulled out of Iraq, they will come to witness a harsh response.

“Insistence on illegal presence in Iraq will have negative impacts on the US and the coalition forces,” he told Baghdad al-Youm.

Different Iraqi groups and figures have deplored the recent US attacks against the security forces in Babel and Karbala provinces, warning that they will expel the American soldiers by force if faced by the government’s procrastination.

Al-Nahj al-Watani fraction in the parliament condemned violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and attacks against the security forces by Washington, warning of extensive consequences of the aggression for security of Iraq and the region.

Also, Na’eim al-Aboudi, a representative of As’aib Ahl al-Haq in the Iraqi parliament called on the government to accelerate measures for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

Meantime, Seyed al-Shohada Brigades, affiliated to Hashd al-Shaabi (Iraqi popular forces), reminded the American army of its retaliatory acts in the past, warning of the group’s outrage and wrath.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981226000516

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Egypt confirms 40 new coronavirus cases raising total to 166, two new deaths

17 March 2020

Egypt reported on Monday 40 new coronavirus cases raising the total number of cases to 166, in addition to two new deaths, raising the death toll to four people, according to the ministry of health.

Thirty-five of the new cases were Egyptian nationals, while five where foreigners. Eight of the forty had returned on Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia and the rest had come into contact with infected people detected and reported earlier.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

The two deaths were a 72-year-old German man in Luxor, and a 50-year-old Egyptian man from Dakahlia Governorate and had come into contact with the Egyptian Lady who died in there on March 12. The ministry added that the family of the deceased Egyptian man had their blood tested and their coronavirus results came back positive.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Egypt-confirms-40-new-coronavirus-cases-raising-total-to-166-two-new-deaths.html

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Iraq suspends flights at domestic airports over coronavirus fears

16 March 2020

Iraq has suspended flights at its domestic airports from March 17 to March 24 as the coronavirus spreads, the civil aviation authority said on Monday according to the state news agency.

On Sunday, Iraq suspended all flights to and from Baghdad international airport over the same period.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Iraq-suspends-flights-at-domestic-airports-over-coronavirus-fears.html

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Turkey bans flights to 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia, UAE

16 March 2020

Turkey will impose flight bans to six more countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, making the total number of countries 20, the country’s health minister announced on Monday.

Switzerland, Egypt, the United Kingdom, and Ireland would also be added to the list, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters.

Turkey has identified a total to 18 coronavirus cases, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday. The government has ramped up measures to halt the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, as well as holding sports events without spectators.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Turkey-bans-flights-to-20-countries-including-Saudi-Arabia-UAE.html

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Saudi Arabia reports 15 new coronavirus cases raising total to 133

17 March 2020

Saudi Arabia reported 15 new coronavirus cases, raising the total number of cases in the country to 133, the ministry of health said on Monday.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

The new cases were as follows:

A Saudi woman coming from Spain who is isolated now at a health facility in Dhahran.

A Saudi woman who was in contract with a previous case, and she is now isolated at a health facility in Qatif.

Two Saudi men coming from Morocco who are now isolated now at a health facility in Jeddah.

An Afghan resident coming from Afghanistan, and he is now isolated now at a health facility in Jeddah.

A Saudi national coming from Turkey and an Egyptian resident in Makkah, both are isolated at a health facility in Makkah.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2020/03/17/Saudi-Arabia-reports-15-new-coronavirus-cases-raising-total-to-133.html

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Africa

 

50 Boko Haram terrorists killed in southeastern Niger

James Tasamba  

17.03.2020

KIGALI, Rwanda

At least 50 Boko Haram terrorists were killed in an attack on a military camp in southeastern Niger, local media reported, citing a Nigerien defense ministry statement Tuesday.

“Heavily armed Boko Haram terrorist elements in about 20 vehicles attacked the military camp in Toummour in Diffa region. The spontaneous response of our defence and security forces helped to repel the enemy,” the report said of the fighting Sunday. “[Fifty] Boko Haram fighters were neutralized while one soldier was wounded. After the attack, reinforcements from the Niger’s army special intervention battalion immediately pursued the enemy to its base on the shores of Lake Chad.”

The statement said Niger’s military captured several suspects, weapons and seized two vehicles.

Diffa has been under a state of emergency for the past five years since Boko Haram launched a military campaign in February 2015.

The terror group has had a presence in Nigeria since the early 2000s and has killed more than 20,000 since 2009.

It has carried out attacks in Cameroon, Chad and Niger since 2015.

On Boko Haram attack on a Niger’s Chetima Wangou military camp in the Diffa region March 7 killed eight killed and three are missing. The government said that almost all of the assailants who carried out the attack on were killed in airstrikes.

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/50-boko-haram-terrorists-killed-in-southeastern-niger/1768556

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Coronavirus: Morocco to close eateries, cinemas, sports and entertainment venues

16 March 2020

Morocco will close restaurants, cinemas, sports and entertainment venues amid the coronavirus outbreak, the state news agency reported.

Several special flights departed Morocco on Sunday taking thousands of stranded Europeans home as the kingdom announced it was suspending all regular air traffic due to the coronavirus, authorities and airports said.

Moroccan authorities on Sunday increased the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 28, from 18. One person has so far died from the virus in Morocco.

The country has taken a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, cancelling sporting and cultural events and banning public gatherings of more than 50 people.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/north-africa/2020/03/16/Coronavirus-Morocco-to-close-eateries-cinemas-sports-and-entertainment-venues.html

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Somali army captures strategic town of Janale from Al-Shabaab

March 16, 2020

The Somali National Army has captured the strategic southern town of Janale from the militant group, Al-Shabaab.

Janale, a strategic agricultural town in Lower Shabelle region, was under the control of the Al-Qaeda-linked militants for over 4 years.

Its fall is a huge blow to Al-Shabaab who have suffered a string of defeats after the army seized strategic areas it previously held in Lower habelle Region.

The group had been collecting huge revenues from farmers in the area for the last four years since it took over the town after a deadly attack against Ugandan AMISOM forces, forcing them to withdraw from the town in 2015.

Full report at:

https://www.somaliaffairs.com/news/somali-army-captures-strategic-town-of-janale-from-al-shabaab/

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Suspected Al-Shabaab IED attack leaves 2 dead in Garissa

MARCH 15 2020

Two people died in Garissa County on Sunday after an ambulance hit an improvised explosive device (IED) while a patient was being rushed to hospital.

Speaking to the Nation, North-Eastern Regional Commissioner Nicholas Ndalana said they suspected the attack was by Al-Shabaab terrorists.

"The ambulance coming from Sangailu Dispensary was heading to Hulugho with  four people on board - its driver, a woman and two boys. Upon reaching Qurahindi location, it ran over an IED," said Mr Ndalana.

He said the woman died at the scene and one of the boys was injured.

Full report at:

https://www.nation.co.ke/counties/garissa/Garissa-IED-attack-leaves-2-dead/3444784-5491998-fiav89/index.html

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It’s all lies, returnee says of Shabaab promises to youth

MARCH 16 2020

A paltry Sh14,000 lunch allowance split between nine unemployed youth, a promise to serve in the Somali National Army and a promised Sh10 million pay-out is all it took to convince the Kenyan youngsters into joining Al-Shabaab.

The man recruiting them has been labelled a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) by the United States.

Ahmad Iman Ali alias Abu Zinira is the founder of Al Hijra, the terror group’s radicalisation wing, and served as the head of Al-Shabaab in Kenya.

The recruitment of the young men took place in 2008 inside Majengo Mosque in Nairobi.

UNEMPLOYED YOUTH

The target was young unemployed youth, so desperate that they would easily fall for a promise of a job and hard cash.

The promises were too enticing to resist. But in the end, it all proved to be lies.

Joe (not his real name) is one of the young men who was talked into joining the terror group.

But he later managed to escape and returned to his native home in Nyeri.

Joe told his story to the Nation.

JOE'S* STORY

“It does not take much to convince a Kenyan youth to join Al-Shabaab. They look for the most desperate ones and promise them the best in life. My best friend and I are some of those who were easily lured into the terror group.

“I had just finished high school but instead of going back to Nyeri, I opted to live with my best friend’s family in Eastleigh. This was our strategy – to hit the ground running in life; you know, hustle as we waited for results and the possibility of joining university.

“His parents were very welcoming and his father actually gave us a single-roomed house to stay in as we hustled. Edu* and I got our first hustle selling mitumba and slippers together with his mother at Gikomba market.

VISIT MOSQUE

“Life seemed normal at the beginning as we experienced the many surprises of adulthood. One of the places we would frequent most was Jamia Mosque and the Majengo Mosque.

“I am not a Muslim, but I was used to living with Muslims. Even while we were still in school, we would sneak out together with other Muslim students to go to the mosque on Fridays. For us, it was for leisure and the thrill of not having to be in class on Fridays.

“One day while we were at the Majengo Mosque, some people approached us and invited us to a meeting. I did not know who they were but this did not bother me as I assumed they were Edu’s friends.

“At the time, the mosque was still under construction so we held the meeting in one of the old rooms on the ground floor. We were nine of us.

“During the meeting, one of the men who invited us told us that there were job openings in Somalia. He told us that we would join the Somali army. It all sounded like hitting the jackpot. They said we would be in the Somali army and when we returned we would be untouchable.

GIVEN MONEY

“At the end of the first meeting, we were given Sh14,000 to split among ourselves. This was a kind of a lunch allowance for attending the meeting. Of course when we were invited for the second time all the nine of us showed up. Who wouldn’t? That is how they got us to attending more meetings.

“During the meetings that followed, they told us that if we agreed to join the army, we would all receive Sh10 million as payment. That is how they convinced us that this was the best move for us. Imagine getting Sh10 million. I could live a lavish life with good things and nice cars.

“But we had to do one thing before we could proceed for training. We had to convert to Islam since none of us was a Muslim. We all agreed and took new names. I took the name Farah Idid. We were promised certificates to show we were Muslims but we never saw them.

SHABAAB LEADER

“At the mosque, we were introduced to someone who would turn out to be a leader of Al-Shabaab in the country. We met an Iman who would come for Madrasa classes where they taught us Sharia law and other Islamic doctrines.

“At some point, we started pushing to be told where we would go for training since they had already told us that we were joining an army. Since we insisted a lot, a trip to the training camp was planned.

“They told us our destination was El Wak in Mandera. We were given facilitation and put on a bus. We did not carry any clothes or personal belongings.

NO ID

"Actually, I did not even have a national identification card. I was still in the application process and I was even supposed to travel to Nyeri to get my mother’s particulars. I abandoned that plan and lied to my mother that I had found a job in Mombasa. She sent me Sh3,000 for emergencies.

“We travelled to El Wak and then to a village called Basili. In the village we met a man by the name Farouk. With him were other men who appeared to be of Pakistani origin. From what we were told, they were aid workers who had volunteered to build a mosque in El Wak.

MEETING MILITANTS

“They would later take us to some camps in the bushes where there were other militants. They called themselves Jeish.

“Farouk and the rest of the commanders would sleep in tents while the Jeish stayed up to guard the camp.

“Our training started by being shown a lot of propaganda videos of Al-Shabaab missions and talk about Jihad. They would show some of the militants and claim that they used to be Kenyan police officers. During the day, they taught us how to use guns; they started by showing us how to operate a pistol.

SCARED

“A few days into the training, I started getting scared of the whole idea because what we had been taught at the mosque had now turned into something dark. This was no longer the Islam I knew of from my friends.

“I spoke to Edu about it and told him this was a bad idea. But his focus was on the money. Talking him out of it was not going to work but I had already made up my mind that I would run away.

“So, one day when we were asked to help out with some supply errands to El Wak I sneaked away from the group and boarded a lorry that was transporting animals.

“From there I hitch-hiked all the way to Mombasa but using different routes because I was afraid they would try and set a trap along the way we had used to the camps.

HIDING

“Once I returned to Nairobi I stayed in hiding. I wanted to go to the police and report what had happened but I was scared. I feared that they would see me as a terrorist and kill me. So I opted to write a letter and put it inside the suggestion box at the Central Police Station.

“After that I still feared for my safety in Nairobi because I felt that the recruiters would come after me to silence me. That was when I decided to return to Nyeri.

Full report at:

https://www.nation.co.ke/counties/nyeri/How-I-was-lured-to-join-Al-Shabaab/1954190-5493122-1eq7vjz/index.html

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Six Nigerian soldiers killed in Boko Haram ambush

March 16, 2020

Suspected members of the Boko Haram on Sunday morning ambushed Nigerian troops in Banki area of Borno State killing six soldiers.

Military sources confirmed that the attack occurred close to Banki junction.

PREMIUM TIMES is withholding the identities of the slain soldiers to allow the army brief the families. However, the victims, members of the 151 Task Force battalion, include two sergeants, two lance corporals and two privates.

“We lost six soldiers to Boko Haram terrorists this morning. The guys came unexpectedly with sophisticated weapons,” an army officer in Borno said, asking not to be named for fear of victimisation.

Banki is 130 km southeast of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital. Apart from the original residents, the community also houses some 45,000 people displaced by the Boko Haram violence.

When contacted on the attack, the army spokesperson Sagir Musa said he has no information about it.

“I don’t know what you want me to confirm because as I speak to you I’m not in Nigeria. I’m on course in London. Thank you,” he said.

Sunday’s attack in Banki is the latest in a string of attacks by the terror group on Borno communities.

The Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria has caused over 30,000 deaths and displaced millions of others, mainly in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, according to the United Nations.

Full report at:

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/382068-six-nigerian-soldiers-killed-in-boko-haram-ambush.html

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Mideast

 

Netanyahu's downfall begins as rival told to form cabinet

16 March 2020

Israel's president has tapped ex-military chief Benny Gantz to form a cabinet, setting in motion a swing that could result in the political downfall of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision is also a blow to US President Donald Trump who spent a lot of his political capital through an extremely biased Mideast plan and annexation to have Netanyahu back in power.

Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin on Sunday asked Gantz to form the the cabinet after 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset backed the decision in order to end a year of political stalemate.

Gantz, the leader of Blue and White party, will be officially appointed as prime minister-designate on Monday. He will have up to four weeks to form a cabinet - a mission which he may not accomplish just like Netanyahu.

However, what matters is that Gantz has now a chance to take control of the Knesset, appoint the speaker from his party, control the main committees and start pushing legislation that could prevent Netanyahu from forming a cabinet due to his corruption indictments.

Netanyahu was in January formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, becoming the first Israeli premier ever indicted in office.

His trial was due to open on Tuesday, but he took advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to shut down the courts, making it impossible for his trial to begin as scheduled.

Israel has been in a political stalemate after three inconclusive elections, the latest of which was held earlier this month.

With the coronavirus outbreak weighing down, Rivlin summoned the two rivals to a meeting on Sunday evening for an "urgent conversation," which ended without agreement.

Israel has hundreds of confirmed cases of coronavirus, with tens of thousands in home-quarantine.

Authorities have banned gatherings of more than 10 people and ordered schools, universities, restaurants and cafes to close, among other measures.

On Saturday, Netanyahu gave Israel's spy agency Shin Bet the green light to use "counter-terrorism" operations against those infected with the new coronavirus, treating the pandemic as a security menace.

Former minister of military affairs Moshe Ya'alon, who is currently a lawmaker from the Blue and White political alliance, took to Twitter to denounce Netanyahu's new regulations as a "cynical exploitation of the coronavirus crisis for the personal interests of a defendant before trial."

Netanyahu had pledged to annex the occupied West Bank “within weeks” provided that he was re-elected.

Trump contributed his own extreme measures to the campaign. In January, he unveiled his most controversial plan for the Middle East, which is absolutely biased in favor of Israel.

The extraordinary chance given to Gantz is a shocking blow to those efforts after Netanyahu appeared to come out ahead in the elections held earlier this month.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/620963/Netanyahu-rival-Gantz-Israel-government

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Iranian President Asks People to Stay Home to Prevent Coronavirus Epidemic

Mar 16, 2020

"Based on the figures, we are past the peak of the disease but I still suggest people to stay at home, and in case of urgency, observe all health protocols,” Rouhani said on Monday, addressing a meeting of the National Headquarters to Control and Fight against Coronavirus.

"The ministries of Health and Interior will be monitoring people for signs of fever from tomorrow in checkpoints established at the cities' entrances and exits," he added.

President Rouhani appreciated the Iranian Leader for his supports and guidelines and the Armed Forces that have always been at the forefront of all difficulties and active in recent days to help the health ministry fight against the coronavirus.

He also praised the non-stop efforts of all medical staff in the country in battle against the COVID-19 virus epidemic and treatment of patients.

President Rouhani referred to the closure of educational centers and the need for remedial procedure for the students, and said make-up classes will surely be held.

He also stated that the next meeting of the anti-coronavirus national headquarters will be held on March 21.

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected over 171,000 people in the world, claiming more than 6,500 lives.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Sunday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 13,989, while the death toll rose to 724 people. A sum of 4,790 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

Last Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981226000643

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Iranian religious fanatics protest closure of Shia shrines due to coronavirus

17 March 2020

The closure of Shia pilgrimage sites in Iran’s Shia holy cities of Qom and Mashhad as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus has prompted sit-ins and protests in the two cities, according to videos circulating on social media.

Iran closed the Shia holy shrines of Imam Reza in Mashhad, Fatima Masumeh in Qom and Shah Abdol-Azim in Tehran on Monday until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Several videos showed protesters demanding authorities to re-open the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, the epicenter of the outbreak.

One video showed angry protesters trying to force their way in through one of the shrine’s entrance doors.

رضا حقيقت‌نژاد

@rezahn56

بعد از بیست روز چالش، بالاخره حرم معصومه مشهور به دارالشفا به خاطر جلوگیری از شیوع کرونا بسته شد ولی برخی از مردم قم در جلوی حرم تجمع کرده و به بسته شدن آن اعتراض دارند؛ زنجیره شیوع.

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A group of protesters partially damaged one of the shrine’s entrance doors, while another group were able to make it inside chanting religious slogans.

رضا حقيقت‌نژاد

@rezahn56

معترضان قمی با نقض مصوبه ستاد مقابله با کرونا، با شعار حیدر، حیدر درب حرم معصومه را باز کردند و رفتند که شفا بگیرند، کرونا کیلویی چند؟

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The protesters were eventually dispersed and the shrine’s entrance door was closed again, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Another video showed protesters staging a sit-in outside the shrine. Men could be heard wailing and crying in the video.

محسن‌حسام مظاهری

@mohsenHmazaheri

 • 11h

و بالاخره‌ اتفاقی که پیش‌بینی می‌شد، رخ داد.

پس از چند هفته تعلل، وقتی امروز با نظر مقامات و در راستای تمهیدات بهداشتی، درهای حرم حضرت معصومه بسته شد،‌ جمعیتی در اعتراض به این تصمیم اجتماع کرده و با فریاد «حیدر! حیدر» (ذکر متداول قمه‌زنان)نهایتا توانستند وارد حرم شوند./1

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محسن‌حسام مظاهری

@mohsenHmazaheri

پس از تمرد از ممنوعیت نماز جماعت داخل حرم و برگزاری نماز جماعت در ظهر جمعه پشت در مصلای قم، این سومین مورد از مخالفت گروهی از مردم قم با سیاست تعلیق موقت مناسک است.

ظاهرا امروز بستن درهای حرم حضرت رضا(ع) در مشهد نیز با حاشیه‌هایی همراه بوده است. /2

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Videos have also emerged from the Shia holy city of Mashhad showing protesters demanding the Imam Reza shrine to be reopened.

Protesters were seen chanting religious slogans outside the shrine in one video.

cheshm_abi

@chawshin_83

پس از حرم معصومه در قم ، الان در #مشهد متحجرین افراطی به در حرم بسته شده #امام_رضا با شعار حیدر حیدر هجوم آورده اند

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Another video showed security forces desperately attempting to keep angry protesters out of the shrine’s courtyard.

حاج حیدر

@haj_haydar

بعد از شکستن درب حرم حضرت معصومه(س) در قم، نوبت به هتک حرمت حرم امام رضا(ع) رسید!

جماعتی در مشهد، با فریاد حیدر حیدر! و همزمان با عربده کشی و فحاشی!! به سمت خادمان امام رضا(ع) حمله کردند تا به زور وارد حرم شوند.

امشب حرم‌های مطهر در ایران مورد حمله پیروان #شیعه_انگلیسی قرار گرفت.

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https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Iranian-religious-fanatics-protest-closure-of-Shia-shrines-due-to-coronavirus.html

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Iran’s death toll from coronavirus reaches 853 with 129 new deaths: Official

16 March 2020

Iran's death toll from coronavirus reaches 853 with 129 new deaths announced on Sunday, according to tweets from an Iranian health official.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected nearly 14,000 people and killed over 720, according to official figures.

The number of coronavirus deaths and infections have been on the rise ever since the first two fatalities were announced on February 19.

According to the health ministry, the rising trend is due to the increasing number of tests being carried out.

Iran is yet to impose a lockdown but it has temporarily closed parliament, barred pilgrims from gathering at a holy tomb and postponed the second round of legislative elections.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Iran-s-death-toll-from-coronavirus-reaches-853-with-129-new-deaths-Official.html

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Commander Elaborates on Latest IRGC, Basij Measures in Campaign against Coronavirus

Mar 16, 2020 6

“20 normal and 9 makeshift hospitals have been prepared by the IRGC Ground Force and 4 normal and 4 makeshift hospitals have also been equipped by the IRGC Navy” to be used to treat the coronavirus patients, General Salami told the IRGC commanders via a video conference on Monday.

The General said a sum of 380 IRGC clinics are rendering service to the public in various cities.

He also added that nearly 650,000 Basij forces have been mobilized to distribute hygiene materials, disinfect streets and public places and screen the people suspected of coronavirus infection in cities.

General Salami said that around 6,000 suspected patients have been received in Baqiyatallah hospital, supervised by the IRGC, so far, adding that the hospital has also prepared 1,000 beds for the future to keep the coronavirus patients who will be recovering.

He also said the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has gifted 100,000 financial aid packages to the people that have received financial losses from the covonavirus epidemic.

The government also announced that it would provide similar aid to 3 million people.

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected over 171,000 people in the world, claiming more than 6,500 lives.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Monday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 14,991, while the death toll rose to 853 people. A sum of 4,996 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

Last Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981226000909

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Knowledge-Based Company in Iran Produces Home-Made Oxygen Concentrator for Coronavirus Patients

Mar 16, 2020

The company which is affiliated to the Executive Headquarters of Imam Khomeini's Directive (Setad), supervised by Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei’s office, is capable of manufacturing home-made oxygen concentrators and has activated its workers for 3 shifts to speed up production.

Meantime, researchers in Sirjan city in the Southeastern Kerman province have made a makeshift hall that is attached to the entrance of buildings and offices to disinfect outcomers' clothes and shoes.

Other researchers, knowledge-based companies and private sector plants across Iran are also working to produce the needed health and hygiene products, including diagnosis kits, masks and disinfectants, to intensify the country’s battle against the deadly virus.

Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps base in the Northern city of Rasht Mohsen Jafari told FNA on Monday that the IRGC forces sterilize 10 governmental offices which have a large number of clients on a daily basis.

“We also produce 1,500 masks by over 200 Basij (volunteer) forces every day and provide it to the hygiene centers,” he added.

Also, researchers at Islamic Azad University in Lahijan in Northern Iran found the formula to produce material used for disinfection of hands.

The formula is based on ethanol, glycinin and hydrogen peroxide. Large amounts of the disinfectant have been produced and they will be distributed among the poor people and those who are in large contact with the crowd, including bakers and taxi drivers.

Another measure adopted by the health officials is deployment of health workers at the entrances of cities and towns of different provinces, including the capital city of Tehran, to identify passengers who are infected with COVID-19 virus by thermal screening.

Deputy Head of Iran’s Red Crescent Society Bahman Sobhani said that 1.5mln people have been screened by 3,200 volunteer forces cooperating with the society across the country.

He also added that 10,000 masks and 10,000 liters of disinfecting materials are being produced each day by the companies active under the Red Crescent’s supervision, promising to increase the amount.

Officials in East Azarbaijan province said on Monday that as a result of implementing the plan for the thermal screening of passengers at the entrance of the province, some 53 people suspected of infection with coronavirus have been identified and referred to medical centers.

Also, authorities in the Northeastern province of Semnan turned the hotel which earlier hosted the athletes in Shahroud city into a center to keep the coronavirus patients who are recovering from the disease.

They have also decided to adopt similar measures in the two other towns of the province, Garmsar and Damqan.

Meantime, promising reports from many Iranian provinces, including Semnan, North Khorassan and Hormozgan, also said that hundreds of coronavirus patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a new respiratory disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the outbreak as a pandemic.

According to the latest reports, the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has infected over 171,000 people in the world, claiming more than 6,500 lives.

The Iranian health ministry announced on Monday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 14,991, while the death toll rose to 853 people. A sum of 4,996 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

Last Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981226000825

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Several European Countries Tighten Controls as Spread of Coronavirus Widens

Mar 16, 2020

The first death from the coronavirus has been reported in Guatemala, Bahamas, and Bahrain.

The spread of the coronavirus epidemic has forced Germany to introduce travel restrictions and enhance control over people’s movements. On Monday, Germany imposed checks and suspended visa-free travel on its land borders with five nations: France, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and Luxembourg, while Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic have not been affected by the new restrictions so far.

Germany has seen at least 13 deaths with coronavirus and more than 6,200 cases of infection.

Spain's tally of coronavirus cases rose to 9,191 on Monday and the number of fatalities rose to 309, Fernando Simon, the Head of Health Emergency Center, stated.

Spanish ministers said on Monday that a state of emergency over the coronavirus which has shut down much of the country will have to be extended beyond an initial 15-day period, and the government was also considering closing borders.

Italy is the second worst hit country in the world after China, and the outbreak has shown no signs of slowing, with 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths by Sunday. Last week the government imposed nationwide restrictions to curb the virus spread, closing schools, shops and sporting events and ordering people to stay home, except for essential travel.

“Scientists are telling us that the outbreak has not reached it peak, these weeks will be the most risky, and the maximum precaution is needed,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told daily Corriere della Sera in an interview.

French Public Health Authority has reported several new deaths and infections from the coronavirus, taking the total to 127. The European country has registered more than 5,400 confirmed cases.

France is struggling to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, top health official Jerome Salomon stated on Monday, as authorities consider whether to implement a partial lockdown.

The Netherlands will close all schools, cafes, restaurants and sport clubs nationwide, the government decided on Sunday, in its most far-reaching moves yet to curb the coronavirus epidemic. The country has reported 1,413 coronavirus cases so far, with 24 deaths.

Austria confirmed over 100 new cases of the coronavirus disease on its soil, which brings the total number of those infected to 800, the health ministry said on Sunday. Two patients have so far died of the sickness in the country.

Norway will close the border for foreigners without a residence permit in Norway to contain the coronavirus epidemic. The cuntry has invoked emergency powers to close a wide range of public and private institutions, including schools and kindergartens, in a bid to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus cases in Denmark has risen to 900, with four deaths. The country had announced it would shut its borders to most foreign visitors for a month from Saturday, to halt the spread of coronavirus.

A total of 1,043 people in Sweden have been found infected by the coronavirus, as the death toll has reached six.

Belgium reported its fifth death related to the coronavirus, as there are 1,058 cases of the virus in the country.

Greece announced it would ban road and sea routes, as well as flights, to Albania and North Macedonia on Sunday, as well as banning flights to and from Spain to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The country has also stated that people arriving in the country from abroad will be placed in a two-week quarantine, while retail stores will be shut effective on Wednesday.

Slovakia declared a state of emergency on Sunday to contain the coronavirus outbreak, ordering the closure of all shops except food stores, pharmacies, banks, petrol stations and post offices from Monday morning.

Serbia and Armenia have also introduced a state of emergency to halt the spread of coronavirus.

Hungary will close its borders for international passengers, close cultural and sports events and establishments and limit the opening hours of restaurants, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Parliament on Monday.

The Czech Republic tightened restrictions on Monday to combat the coronavirus outbreak, banning people from moving around except for work, shopping and some other limited activities until March 24.

Turkey identified 12 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 18, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday, marking the highest daily rise since the country announced its first case last week.

The death toll from the coronavirus in China has increased by 14 in the past day, while the number of confirmed cases grew by 16, and 838 people recovered in the last 24 hours, China's National Health Commission reported on Monday.

The total number of confirmed cases in China thus reached 80,860, while a total of 67,490 people recovered, and 3,213 people died.

South Korea reported 74 new coronavirus infections on Monday, slightly lower than the previous day, health officials stated, taking the tally of cases to 8,236, with 75 deaths.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan effectively closed their borders on Sunday after Central Asia's two biggest nations confirmed their first coronavirus cases.

The Philippines recorded four additional coronavirus deaths and 30 new cases, bringing the domestic tally of infections to 140, with 12 fatalities, as authorities placed the entire capital Manila under "community quarantine" for about a month beginning on Sunday.

President Michel Aoun declared a medical state of emergency in Lebanon on Sunday and called on people to work from home as the country steps up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia ordered the closure on Sunday of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks and gardens, while exempting supermarkets, pharmacies and food delivery, in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The Iraqi government has imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad as of March 17 until March 24 to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Qatar said on Sunday it would ban non-Qataris from entering the country for two weeks as of Wednesday and announced measures to support the economy including providing 75 billion riyals ($20.5 billion) in financial incentives to the private sector.

Several African and American countries on Sunday closed borders, canceled flights and imposed strict entry and quarantine requirements to contain the spread of the coronavirus, as cases keep rising.

Airlines around the world announced they would make more drastic cuts to their flying schedules, shed jobs and seek government aid after countries further tightened border restrictions because of the fast spreading coronavirus.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981226000856

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Leader Calls Anti-Coronavirus Recommendations Mandatory for Everyone

Mar 16, 2020

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said strategies and recommendations adopted by Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education and its national headquarters, set up to manage the nationwide fight against coronavirus outbreak, are obligatory for all Iranians.

“The strategies adopted by the national headquarters and Health Ministry to prevent spread of [coronavirus] disease are obligatory for all people,” the Leader said in a Sunday message issued to commend the efforts made by relevant authorities to contain an ongoing virus outbreak.

Ayatollah Khamenei said the national mobilization plan drawn up to combat coronavirus, which has scientific support, is accompanied by religious, jihadi and humane motives.

"It is an efficient plan and is the very measure, which God willing, will turn the mishap into blessing and the threat into opportunity," Ayatollah Khamenei stated.

The Leader also thanked endeavors made by Iran's Health Minister Saeed Namaki and the ministry's staff to fight the coronavirus and wished them success.

Iranian Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced on Sunday that the number of coronavirus patients in the country has increased to 13,989, while the death toll rose to 724 people, adding that 4,790 coronavirus patients have also recovered so far.

Last Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry declared that despite Washington’s claims of cooperation to transfer drugs to Iran via the new Swiss-launched payment mechanism, the US is troubling the process amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Although US claims that medicines and medical equipment are not under sanctions, they have practically blocked the transfer of Iran’s financial resources in other countries into the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi said.

As the death toll from the virus surges, Iran intensifies its preventive safety measures. Closures of schools and universities have been extended for the next two weeks.

The government also imposed travel restrictions, specially on Iran’s north, which is among the red zones. The country has also adopted strict digital health control procedures at airports to spot possible infections.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced earlier this month that a new national mobilization plan would be implemented across the country to fight against the coronavirus epidemic and more effectively treat patients.

Namaki said that the plan will include all the 17,000 health centers and the 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages.

He added that the plan will include home quarantine, noting that infected people will receive the necessary medicines and advice, but they are asked to stay at home.

Namaki said that people with a more serious condition will stay at the hospitals, adding that the public places will be disinfected, the entries of infected towns and cities will be controlled to diagnose and quarantine the infected cases.

He added that the necessary equipment and facilities have been provided, expressing the hope that the epidemic would be curbed.

Namaki said that the number of medical laboratories to test coronavirus infection has reached 22, and will increase to 40 soon.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says Iran's response to the virus has so far been up to the mark. Still, it says the US sanctions are a big challenge, and Washington would be complicit in the rising death toll in Iran if it would not remove its sanctions.

Full report at:

https://en.farsnews.ir/newstext.aspx?nn=13981226000158

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PM Netanyahu says Israel to fast-track cyber-monitoring of coronavirus cases

17 March 2020

Israel’s government will invoke emergency regulations to speed up the deployment of cyber monitoring in the fight against the new coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

The plan to use anti-terrorist technology to track infected people and anyone with whom they have come in contact drew criticism from civil rights groups when Netanyahu first proposed it over the weekend.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

Such a move would normally require parliamentary consent. Netanyahu moved to circumvent that process when he said in a nationally televised address on Monday night that his cabinet would invoke emergency regulations overnight to put the order into effect, for 30 days only.

“Israel is a democracy and we must maintain the balance between civil rights and the public’s needs,” Netanyahu said. “These tools will very much assist us in locating the sick and stopping the virus from spreading.”

The Association for Civil Right in Israel called the move, “a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope.”

Further measures announced by Netanyahu on Monday included putting most the country’s public sector workforce on a one-month leave and reducing private sector employees to 30 percent attendance at their workplaces.

There are nearly 300 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness that can cause pneumonia in Israel and no fatalities reported so far.

Israel has taken stringent steps to contain coronavirus - closing schools, malls, restaurants and most places of leisure, as well as limiting gatherings to 10 people.

Israel’s defense minister said on Monday that some empty hotels would be converted to isolation centers for patients and would begin operating this week.

The measures even affected the swearing-in of The Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Lawmakers on Monday took the oath in groups of three at a time to comply with the social distancing instructions, instead of the usual ceremony attended by all 120 parliamentarians.

The March 2 election, the third in less than a year, has left the country in political deadlock with Netanyahu’s caretaker government running the country on a version of the 2019 budget.

The Finance Ministry’s chief economist said on Monday that Israel’s economy will likely grow between zero and one percent in 2020, if the impact of the coronavirus subsides by June. A recession would be inevitable if the health crisis continues for a longer period, she said.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/PM-Netanyahu-says-Israel-to-fast-track-cyber-monitoring-of-coronavirus-cases.html

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Turkey confirms 29 new coronavirus cases raising total to 47

17 March 2020

The number of coronavirus cases in Turkey rose to 47 on Monday, with 29 new cases confirmed, the country's health minister said.

"All recent 29 cases are directly or indirectly related to the United States, Middle East and Europe, while 3 cases have arrived from Umrah," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

"Contact with foreign countries will remain a risk," Koca warned.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/17/Turkey-confirms-29-new-coronavirus-cases-raising-total-to-47.html

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Coronavirus: Iran closes key Shia pilgrimage sites in Qom, Mashhad and Tehran

16 March 2020

Iran closed three key Shia pilgrimage sites on Monday as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus, state media reported.

The holy shrines of Imam Reza in Mashhad, Fatima Masumeh in Qom and Shah Abdol-Azim in Tehran will be closed until further notice based on the recommendations of the committee to combat coronavirus and the health ministry, according to state television.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

State news agency IRNA said the closure the Fatima Masumeh shrine prompted angry protests in Qom, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran which has killed 853 people so far.

Some of the protestors chanted “religious slogans” and damaged the entrance door, IRNA added.

Health Minister Saeid Namaki said on state television that the shrines and other unspecified "holy sites are announcing that they agree with our request for closing completely until after the New Year holidays" which start on Friday.

Tehran, Qom and Khorasan Razavi, where Mashhad is located, are some of the worst-hit provinces in Iran.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2020/03/16/Coronavirus-Iran-closes-key-Shia-pilgrimage-sites-in-Qom-Mashhad-and-Tehran.html

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Israel swears in newly elected parliament in surreal event

March 17, 2020

JERUSALEM: Israel swore in its newly elected parliament on Monday in a surreal ceremony.

Instead of the typical festive gathering of parliament’s 120, the new lawmakers took the oath of office in groups of three over 40 staggered rounds, in keeping with a Health Ministry ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin presided over the unusual event after the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, was thoroughly sprayed with disinfectant.

The president, flanked by the Knesset speaker and secretary, opened the first session of parliament before an empty chamber save for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz. They sat several rows apart and made little eye contact.

Rivlin called for unity and compromise from the two leaders, saying the Israeli people “are in need of rest, we are in need of healing” after three parliamentary elections in under a year.

After Netanyahu and Gantz were sworn in, they were ushered out of the hall and the lawmakers were brought in three-by-three for brief swearing-in ceremonies.

The event, coming two weeks after national elections, will give the country a new legislature. But Israel still seems a long way from establishing a stable government.

Rivlin on Monday formally designated Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, the task of forming a coalition after the retired military chief secured a slim majority of recommendations from incoming lawmakers.

Gantz promised to “do whatever it takes to form within as few days as possible a national, patriotic and broad government.”

But beyond a joint desire to oust the longtime prime minister, Gantz’s bloc of supporters has little in common. It is deeply divided along ideological lines and appears unlikely to band together for an alternative government that could replace Netanyahu, who faces serious legal troubles as he prepares to go on trial to face corruption charges.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1642386/middle-east

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India

 

Delhi's Muslims Despair of Justice after Police Implicated In Riots

By Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizur Rahman in Delhi

16 Mar 2020

On one side of the marketplace, it was carnage. As the Hindu mob descended, Muslim-owned stalls selling car parts were slowly reduced to debris and ashes. But just 100 metres away stood two police stations.

As the mob attacks came once, then twice and then a third time in this north-east Delhi neighbourhood, desperate stallholders repeatedly ran to Gokalpuri and Dayalpur police stations crying out for help. But each time they found the gates locked from the inside. For three days, no help came.

“How could they set fire to our market in such a horrific way, while it is so close to two police stations, and not be stopped?” said a shopkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “But if I make any complaint against the police and if they know my identity, I will face very serious trouble.”

Since the riots broke out in Delhi at the end of February, the worst religious conflict to engulf the capital in decades, questions have persisted about the role that the Delhi police played in enabling the violence, which was predominately Hindu mobs attacking Muslims. Of the 51 people who died, at least three-quarters were Muslim, and many Muslims are still missing.

“During the recent riots in Delhi the role of the police has been very reprehensible,” said SR Darapuri, a retired senior police officer from Uttar Pradesh. “They not only openly sided with the Hindu mobs attacking Muslims but also used brutal force against them. They purposely failed to respond to the SOS calls from the Muslims trapped in many violence-hit areas. Evidently, the role of the police has been communal, unethical and unprofessional.”

Delhi’s police are under the direct control of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party government, specifically the home minister and party president, Amit Shah, who is one of the most fervent advocates of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda, which aims to establish India as a Hindu, rather than secular, nation. As a result, the political agenda of the BJP government of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, which is widely seen as vehemently anti-Muslim, appears to have become firmly entrenched in the mindset of the Delhi police, which is already an overwhelmingly Hindu force.

In the weeks that have followed the riots, the alleged bias of the police has extended to accusations of a cover-up to protect the Hindu rioters and a widespread refusal to file or investigate complaints made by Muslim victims.

Delhi police did not respond to repeated requests for comment but speaking in parliament last week, Shah praised the “commendable” job done by the Delhi police and said that “people should not look for religion in riots”. The police themselves claim they did everything in their power to restore law and order. But those who took part in the riots on the Hindu side tell a very different story.

The catalyst for the riots is widely acknowledged to have been a comment by Kapil Mishra, a BJP leader, who on 23 February issued a public ultimatum declaring that if the police did not clear the streets of a protest against a new citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim, his supporters would be “forced to hit the streets”.

Ravinder, a 17-year-old who works in his father’s property business and is part of India’s lower-caste Gujjar community, said he and other young Hindu men had heard Mishra’s call to action against the Muslim community, and began to mobilise on the morning of 24 February without any fear of police reprisal.

“There was a clear instruction of catch-and-kill action against any Muslim we could spot,” said Ravinder. “I was in a group of around 15 boys. Many senior brothers said to us that police would not take any action against any member of our community and we could attack the people on the other side [Muslims] the way we liked.”

Ravinder described how he and a group of seven men had captured a Muslim rickshaw driver in his 40s, beaten him with wooden sticks and metal rods until he appeared dead, and then threw him in an open drain while police stood by. He also said the police had instructed them to destroy the CCTV cameras as they marauded through the streets.

“Some policemen were standing just a few metres away,” said Ravinder. “They did not say anything to us. They turned their faces away from us. We understood that police would not intervene if we turned violent against any Muslim … and a large section of the police all along backed us throughout.”

His account was echoed by a Hindu priest from Bihar state. The Brahmin, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had witnessed young Hindu men in his neighbourhood, who were all BJP supporters, declare that the “police brothers are with us” as they gathered stones, iron rods, knives, machetes, wooden sticks and guns ready to attack Muslims.

“The men were displaying weapons openly,” the priest recounted. “One young man with a pistol shouted: ‘Brothers, we are on a mission in the interest of the nation. Our [BJP] leaders have given the call to come out in the open ... There is nothing to worry about. Join us and increase our strength.’

“They were mobilising other youths to come out with all types of arms. This was in the presence of police. It was clear that police were on our side,” he added.

While the authorities have denied that police were in any way involved in the violence, video footage captured during the riots and corresponding witness testimony shows police accompanying and encouraging the Hindu mobs or even taking part in pelting Muslims with stones and destroying CCTV cameras.

One piece of mobile phone footage, which went viral laid bare the anti-Muslim bigotry of Delhi police. On 24 February, in one of the first clashes of the riots, police officers were captured beating five Muslim men who had not taken part in any violence. They kicked and hit them with sticks until their bodies were limp and broken, and then as the wounded men lay in the street, police forced them to sing the national anthem to prove their “loyalty” to India.

Most victims of the riots now believe that police complicity in the violence means they will never receive justice. Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer who is providing free legal assistance to riot victims, alleged that the police were now trying to prevent the mobs that carried out the violence being brought to account.

“Police are using pressure tactics and trying to ensure that no complaint is filed against the rioters,” said Pracha. “We have received hundreds of complaints from Muslim people that police are threatening people, including women and children, that if they filed complaints, they would be implicated in false cases.”

Even a retired Muslim policeman said no officers had responded to dozens of calls as his house was looted in the riots. Mahmood Khan, 66, who worked for Delhi police all his life, had his house raided three times by Hindu mobs. He said no police had responded to his calls, his letter to a senior officer had gone unanswered and the police had initially refused to let him file a report about the damage.

“Maybe they will pretend to look for the culprits but in the end they will be protected,” said Khan. “We are Muslims. There is no justice for us.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/16/delhis-muslims-despair-justice-police-implicated-hindu-riots

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Corantine: Even Indians from EU, Turkey, UK barred entry

Mar 17, 2020

NEW DELHI: In measures aimed at containing Covid-19, the government on Monday extended the travel ban beyond affected countries and prohibited entry of all passengers, including Indian nationals, from the European Union, European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the UK to India with effect from March 18.

The government also expanded compulsory quarantine for minimum 14 days for passengers coming from or transiting through the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

On Monday, the health ministry reported 114 confirmed positive cases of Covid-19. Of these, 13 cases are cured, whereas two patients with co-morbidities died. The total 114 positive cases include 97 Indians and 17 foreigners.

With reference to the EU, EFTA, Turkey and UK, the new travel advisory said, “No airline shall board passenger from these nations to India with effect from 1200 GMT on March 18. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure.” The decision was taken after a high-level group of ministers (GoM) meeting on Monday.

Govt to pvt firms

A senior airline official said, “At this moment, given the restrictions, the option for people to travel between India and Europe/UK/Turkey include flying first to the Far East, to Thailand (Thai), Singapore (Singapore Airlines), Malaysia (Malaysian) or to Bangladesh (Biman to London), Colombo (Sri Lankan to London). They can also use Gulf carriers and Aeroflot (taking connections from Moscow). Some of the options will mean quarantine on return.” The options for US are non-stops of Air India and United (will announce 50% truncated network soon). A senior AI official said the airline will suspend its UK flights from March 18.

Last week, the government suspended almost all visas and even passenger traffic on several border check-posts to protect further import of infected cases from abroad. The move came in the wake of rising Covid-19 cases globally and the World Health Organization declaring it a global pandemic.

More on Covid-19

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International travellers with symptoms associated with Covid-19 who have so far entered India have also been advised home quarantine where they are monitored for more serious indications. Travellers from affected countries named by the government have to undergo quarantine at an official facility. Depending on norms and protocols, travellers are either quarantined at Army facilities or advised home isolation.

Besides travel-related instructions — which will be in force till March 31 and will be reviewed subsequently — the government also proposed ‘social distancing measures’ as a preventive strategy. This includes closure of all educational institutions, gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres. This is in the nature of advisories for states but intends to bring about uniformity in action and underline the need to curb large congregations.

The private sector has been encouraged to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible and meetings to be done through video-conferences to avoid people coming together unless necessary.

“Contact tracing activity of these positive cases has led to identification of around 5,287 people, who are kept under rigorous observation,” health ministry joint secretary Lav Agarwal said. Apart from these contacts, another 40,000 people are under active community surveillance.

Responding to calls for more testing, the government maintained there was “no need to unnecessarily panic and carry out unnecessary testing” as India was still at stage II with limited localised transmission of the virus. Aggarwal said travel restrictions were further tightened to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from high-risk areas.

As a preventive measure, local authorities have been advised to have a dialogue with “opinion leaders and religious leaders to regulate mass gatherings and should ensure no overcrowding or at least one metre distance between people”.

Local authorities have been asked to instruct trader associations and other stakeholders to regulate hours, exhibit do’s and don’ts, and take up communication drives in market places like sabzi mandi, anaj mandi, bus depots, railway stations and post-offices where essential services are provided.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/corantine-even-indians-from-eu-turkey-uk-barred-entry/articleshow/74664374.cms

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TADA court frames charges against Yasin Malik and 6 others in 1990 killing of IAF personnel

Mar 16, 2020

JAMMU: A special court here on Monday farmed charges against chief of the banned JKLF Yasin Malik and six others in a 30-year-old case of gunning down of IAF personnel on the outskirts of Srinagar.

The additional sessions TADA judge III, a designated court for hearing the case, had on Saturday said that there was enough evidence to frame charges against Malik and six others in the case, officials said.

On Monday, the court ordered framing of charges against all the seven accused after hearing the CBI as well as defence counsel, they said.

The accused were produced before the court through video-conferencing as Malik is lodged in Delhi's Tihar Jail in connection with a case registered by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged terror funding of separatist activities in Jammu and Kashmir.

A note for signature of Malik had also been sent to him at Tihar Jail as he was present throughout the trial through video-conferencing, the officials said.

The judge had ordered on Saturday that charges could be framed against Malik, Ali Mohammed Mir, Manzoor Ahmed Sofi alias Mustafa, Javed Ahmed Mir alias 'Nalka', Showkat Ahmed Bakshi, Javed Ahmed Zargar and Nanaji.

They all have been charge-sheeted for murder, attempt to murder and sections from now-defunct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.

Decks for the trial of Malik and others in the case were cleared last April when the Jammu and Kashmir high court struck down a 2008 order that had transferred their hearing to Srinagar.

The CBI's counsel Monika Kohli had argued before the high court that the agency had opposed transfer of cases to Srinagar which was rejected. She also informed the court that petitions challenging the order of TADA court were filed with the high court but the same could not be heard so far.

Highlighting the CBI objections, Kohli also informed the high court that the TADA court in Srinagar had been abolished and the designated court in Jammu was given jurisdiction throughout the state with headquarters in Jammu in May 1990.

In a 27-page judgment, Justice Sanjay Kumar Gupta had vacated an order by a single bench of the high court which had stayed trial against Malik in 1995, besides observing that the October 25, 2008 order of special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court of Jammu allowing Malik's petition for shifting trial to Srinagar was not correct.

"...from bare perusal of contents of petitions and relief sought therein, one can definitely come to conclusion that petitioners (Malik) have sought transfer of their cases from designated court Jammu to additional court at Srinagar, which is not permissible under law," Justice Gupta said in his order.

The framing of charges was in connection with the case related to the killing of Indian Air Force officers on January 25, 1990 on the outskirts of Srinagar city. The charge sheet was filed by the CBI same year in August.

According to the CBI, IAF personnel were fired upon by terrorists in which 40 of them, including a woman, received serious injuries and four IAF personnel were killed on the spot.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/tada-court-frames-charges-against-yasin-malik-and-6-others-in-1990-killing-of-iaf-personnel/articleshow/74658670.cms

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PM assured that Omar, Mehbooba, other political prisoners in J&K will be released soon: PDP leader

Mar 16, 2020

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday assured that all detained political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, including former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, would be released soon, PDP's Rajya Sabha member Nazir Ahmad Laway said.

Laway, who called on the Prime Minister at Parliament House, said he had a 20-minute meeting during which he apprised Modi about the latest situation in Jammu and Kashmir and requested him to release all detainees, including Omar, Mehbooba and former IAS officer Shah Faesal.

"I also requested (him) to release all those youths who are lodged in and out of the union territory," he said.

Laway said that he got the "assurance that all political detainees will be set free very soon".

He said that the development process, including political engagements, in the state will resume soon. "I also requested the prime minister for rolling out job opportunities for the youth," he said.

Many political leaders, including the former chief ministers, were detained by the government after the abrogation of special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5. After being kept in custody for six months, the J&K administration had slapped the two chief ministers with the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA) on February 5 this year.

The government last week revoked the Public Safety Act against former chief minister and veteran politician Farooq Abdullah after keeping him in detention for 221 days.

The meeting comes days after a delegation of newly created Jammu and Kashmir 'Apni Party' led by its chief Altaf Bukhari had called on the Prime Minister and home minister Amit Shah.

During their meeting on Saturday, the Prime Minister had underlined that the government will work with all sections of the population to realize the hopes of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir at an early opportunity

According to Bukhari, the home minister during a meeting on Sunday, had assured that the remaining political prisoners in would be released "very soon".

The government had informed in Parliament last week that a total of 451 people are under detention in Jammu and Kashmir, including 396 slapped with the Public Safety Act.

Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy had said the Jammu and Kashmir authorities had taken 7,357 persons in preventive custody since August, 2019 when the special status of the erstwhile state was abrogated and it was divided into two Union Territories.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/pm-assured-that-omar-mehbooba-other-political-prisoners-in-jk-will-be-released-soon-pdp-leader/articleshow/74659708.cms

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Coronavirus: India bans entry of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia

Mar 17, 2020

The government on Tuesday banned the entry of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia to India with immediate effect, according to an additional travel advisory.

In continuation of the travel advisory issued on March 11 and March 16, the following additional advisory has been issued.

“Travel of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines and Malaysia to India is prohibited with immediate effect,” it said.

No flight shall take off from these countries to India after 1500 hours Indian Standard Time (IST). The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure, according to the advisory.

This instruction is a temporary measure and shall be in force till March 31 and will be reviewed subsequently. With coronavirus cases swelling in the country, the government banned the entry of passengers from EU countries, Turkey and the UK from March 18 till March 31 on Monday.

https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/coronavirus-india-bans-entry-of-passengers-from-afghanistan-philippines-and-malaysia/story-0eDC7j31wbQvUxQ2sl9bXK.html

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South Asia

 

Coronavirus threatening 40,000 prisoners in Afghanistan, warns Taliban

16 Mar 2020

The Taliban group has warned that the coronavirus is threatening at least 40,000 prisoners across Afghanistan as the group called on international health and rights organizations to seriously consider the condition of prisons in Afghanistan.

The group issued a statement, expressing concerns regarding the lack of cleanliness and health facilities in prisons, warning that the spread of coronavirus spread in Afghan jails could result into a major humanitarian disaster.

The statement further added that the Afghan government would be responsible in the event of disaster in Afghan jails.

This comes as Taliban group is awaiting the release of at least 5,000 prisoners from Afghan jails following the signing of a peace deal with the United States late last month.

The Afghan government however opposed the release of all 5,000 prisoners and President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani issued a decree earlier this week stating that the government would conditionally release the prisoners in three stages with the first batch of 1,500 prisoners to be released on 14th March.

On the other hand, the public health authorities have reported 21 positive cases of coronavirus in Afghanistan.

The Public Health Ministry said it has recorded five new positive cases of coronavirus in three provinces of the country in the past 24 hours.

Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Health confirmed that two of the new cases have surfaced in western Herat province, bringing the total number of the positive cases to 12.

The authorities have also recorded two more positive cases in central Logar province while the fifth new case has surfaced in northwestern Badghis province.

The officials say they have so far recorded 21 positive cases of coronavirus in seven provinces of Afghanistan.

https://www.khaama.com/coronavirus-threatening-40000-prisoners-in-afghanistan-warns-taliban-04519/

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No coronavirus among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: WHO

SHEHAB SUMON

March 16, 2020

DHAKA: No coronavirus cases have been reported among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh despite overcrowding at their camps in Cox’s Bazar, World Health Organization (WHO) officials in Dhaka told Arab News.

More than a million Rohingya refugees are living in 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar district in southeastern Bangladesh.

Most of them fled neighboring Myanmar following a brutal military crackdown in August 2017.

Although the camps are cramped with limited access to clean water, no coronavirus cases have been reported among refugees or aid workers tending to them, and no one has been quarantined, WHO officials said. Emergency preparedness measures in Cox’s Bazar have been in place for several weeks.

“There’s a global shortage of supplies for coronavirus preparedness and response,” WHO Bangladesh spokesman Catalin Bercaru told Arab News.

“Coordination among partners is underway on having supplies stocked to be made available as and when required.”

Besides emergency medical teams, more than 100 national and international partners are supporting the health sector in Cox’s Bazar, Bercaru said.

Health officials are ready to immediately isolate people showing coronavirus symptoms, said Louise Donovan, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokeswoman in Cox’s Bazar.

“If a person is believed to have contracted coronavirus, they’ll be kept in an isolated area until they can be safely transported to a designated isolation unit in a pre-identified facility,” she told Arab News.

Aid agencies have been raising awareness among members of the Rohingya community about personal and food hygiene measures to avoid infection.

“More than 1,400 refugee community health volunteers work within the camps to ensure key messages are shared regularly with the refugee population. These include systematic health prevention and promotion messages,” Donovan said.

“More than 400 protection community outreach workers will also support message dissemination, as well as other volunteers and community leaders.”

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1642316/world

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Bangladesh Islamic leader’s death sentence sent to jail

Md. Kamruzzaman  

17.03.2020

DHAKA, Bangladesh

A death sentence against a leader in Bangladesh's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, was sent to jail authorities Monday, an official told Anadolu Agency.

“We received the written copy of the verdict yesterday. Following all procedures, we sent the death warranty to the jail authorities today,” registrar of Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) Syed Ahmed confirmed to Anadolu Agency.

The high court on Oct. 31, 2019 upheld the death sentence against ATM Azharul Islam.

Islam’s execution would be carried out within the next 15 working days, if there is no review petition, Ahmed added.

Defense counsel Shishir Muhammad Munir told Anadolu Agency, however, he would file a review petition against the sentence after receiving a certified copy of the verdict.

“We will file the petition within the next 15 working days and we have also a last step that is a mercy petition to the president if review petition is rejected”.

After assuming power in 2009 the ruling Awami League party formed the ICT to judge crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War amid worldwide concerns on the fairness and neutrality in the judicial procedures.

Full report at:

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/bangladesh-islamic-leader-s-death-sentence-sent-to-jail/1768520

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Shocking video emerges showing the killing of Afghan man by Australian forces

17 Mar 2020

A disturbing has emerged of what appears to be the killing of an unarmed Afghan man by an Australian Special Forces soldier in 2012.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) aired the footage in Four Corners program on Monday which shows part of a raid by Australian Special Forces in southern Uruzgan province in May 2012.

The helmet-camera footage an Australian soldier aiming his rifle at the man lying on the ground, who was subdued by an SAS squad dog and was lying on the ground.

The soldier shoots the man three times in the head and chest from about two metres away after calling out to his superior officer three times, saying: “Do you want me to drop this c—?”

Reacting to the airing of the video, the Australian defense minister Linda Reynolds says she was “deeply disturbed” after new allegations emerged that Australian special forces soldiers killed unarmed Afghans.

Reynolds issued a statement late on Monday in which she stated that “I am deeply disturbed by what has been aired in tonight’s Four Corners report.”

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/shocking-video-emerges-showing-the-killing-of-afghan-man-by-australian-forces-04521/

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India prohibits travel of passengers from Afghanistan, 2 other countries

17 Mar 2020

India has prohibited the travel of passengers from Afghanistan and two other countries in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease.

“Travel of passengers from Afghanistan, Philippines, Malaysia to India is prohibited with immediate effect. No flight shall take off from these countries to India after 1500 hours Indian Standard Time (IST),” according to an official statement released by government of India.

The statement further added “This instruction is a temporary measure and shall be in force till 31st March 2020 and will be reviewed subsequently.”

The Ministry of Health of India has confirmed that the authorities have recorded 103 positive cases of coronavirus across the country which includes 22 foreign nationals.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/india-prohibits-travel-of-passengers-from-afghanistan-2-other-countries-04522/

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Taliban militants, Afghan forces suffer heavy casualties in Ghor clash

16 Mar 2020

The Taliban militants and Afghan security forces suffered heavy casualties during a clash in Ghor province, the local officials said.

The incident took place late on Sunday night in Kotal-e Salah area of Shahrak Ghor district.

The district administrative chief of Shahrak Ghor Mohammad Kabiri said the Taliban militants attacked the security posts in Kotal-e Salah area for the second time on Sunday night.

Kabiri further added that 11 security personnel lost their lives during the clash and 5 others sustained injuries.

The Taliban militants also set two Humvee Armored Personnel Carriers on fire, Kabiri said, adding that the security forces also killed 15 Taliban militants during the clash.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/taliban-militants-afghan-forces-suffer-heavy-casualties-in-ghor-clash-04520/

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North America

 

US warns Iraq it 'will not tolerate' attacks on Americans

Mar 16, 2020

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraq Monday the US would retaliate "as necessary" against any new assaults on Americans after a slew of rocket attacks.

The United States last week launched airstrikes against an Iranian-allied paramilitary group following a deadly attack on an Iraqi base housing US troops - but rocket fire has continued unabated.

In a phone call with Iraq's caretaker prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, Pompeo said that Baghdad "must defend coalition personnel" who are officially deployed as part of the campaign against the Islamic State group.

"Secretary Pompeo noted that America will not tolerate attacks and threats to American lives and will take additional action as necessary in self-defense," the State Department said in a statement.

A fresh spate of rockets - brazenly fired in the daytime - targeted the crowded Taji air base north of Baghdad on Saturday, wounding three members of the US-led coalition.

None of the attacks have ever been claimed but the US has blamed hardline Shiite paramilitary groups, which are allied with neighboring Iran and incorporated into the Iraqi state.

On Wednesday, a similar rocket attack at Taji killed two American personnel and a British soldier in the deadliest such incident at an Iraqi base in years.

The US responded Friday with airstrikes on arms depots it said were used by the faction Kataeb Hezbollah and destroyed part of the under-construction airport in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala.

Iraq's military said that five members of its security forces and one civilian were killed, none members of the targeted paramilitary group.

Iraq -- which has long feared getting caught in spiraling US-Iran tensions -- denounced the "American aggression" and said it would lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council.

The conflict dramatically escalated in early January when the United States killed Iran's best-known general, Qassim Suleimani, in a drone strike at the Baghdad airport.

Baghdad responded by urging US forces to leave but Washington has refused, with Pompeo saying that Iraqi leaders privately wanted troops to stay and President Donald Trump threatening sanctions if US forces are booted out.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/us-warns-iraq-it-will-not-tolerate-attacks-on-americans/articleshow/74658091.cms

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US sanctions against Iran are ‘crimes against humanity’: Ex-US Senate candidate

16 March 2020

The US sanctions against Iran are impeding the Islamic Republic’s efforts to combat the ongoing outbreak of new coronavirus (COVID-19) and considered “crimes against humanity” that are being pushed by Israel, a former US Senate candidate says.

“These are crimes against humanity; these are war crimes that are being committed against the people of Iran for absolutely no good reason and for one compelling reason, and that is the fact that the American government is being run by the Israeli [regime]”, said Mark Dankof, who is also a broadcaster in San Antonio, Texas.

“This is nothing new of course; this is just the latest outlandish example of how the United States is pursuing a criminal policy in the Middle East,” Dankof told Press TV on Monday.

“We have a Zionist occupied government, and the United States government is being led around by the nose by [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and by the very, very powerful Israel lobby,” he added.

China said Monday the "immoral" sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran must be lifted as soon as possible, because they hamper Tehran’s ability to fight the global coronavirus pandemic, thus damaging ordinary people's lives.

Speaking at a regular press briefing in Beijing, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Geng Shuang, said Washington should lift any sanctions imposed on Iran to ensure that the country receives timely humanitarian aid to help it fight the coronavirus pandemic.

He added that it would be immoral to keep sanctions in force at a time when the fight against the virus in Iran "has entered a crucial stage."

President Donald Trump reinstated US sanctions on Iran in May 2018 after he unilaterally left the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and major world powers.

The US claims it does not get in the way of food and medicine exports to Iran, but the Islamic Republic says Washington has been creating problems for a Swiss humanitarian channel that is aimed at enabling the transfer of commodities.

In a letter sent to a number of world leaders on Friday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said unlike many countries infected with coronavirus, the Islamic Republic is faced with serious obstacles and restrictions emanating from two years of extensive and illegal sanctions, a maximum pressure campaign as well as systematic acts of sabotage by the US administration.

It is not possible for any country to handle the dangerous crisis by itself let alone a country that has numerous problems in having access to international financial markets and supplying its required commodities, the Iranian president stated.

In Iran, a total of 14,991 people have so far been infected, 4,996 have recovered, and 853 have lost their lives to the infection.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/621016/US-Iran-coronavirus-Mark-Dankof

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The Military Surveyed Troops on Extremist Activity Decades Ago. Here's What it Found

14 Mar 2020

U.S. troops will soon see a new question on routine workplace surveys: one asking whether respondents have ever "experienced or witnessed extremist activity in the workplace [or] reported such activity."

The addition is the result of a mandate from Congress in the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill. But it's not the first time the military has attempted such a survey in an effort to crack down on hate in the ranks. And documents obtained from earlier reports raise key questions about whether this method of monitoring the problem is reliable and effective.

The presence -- and possible surge -- of hate group, nationalist and racial supremacist behavior and thinking in the ranks was recently spotlighted by a rash of social media incidents and a high-profile Coast Guard criminal case.

After Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson was arrested on drug and gun possession charges in February 2019, investigators reported an astonishing discovery at the officer's home: a draft letter to a "known American neo-Nazi leader" in which Hasson identified himself as a white nationalist; documents appearing to target a number of high-profile lawmakers; and lengthy missives to friends in which he said he was "dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth."

Related: Coast Guard Officer Christopher Hasson Sentenced to More than 13 Years in Alleged Plot

In March 2019, military officials launched multiple investigations after the Huffington Post linked five troops and two Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets with the white supremacist group Identity Evropa. That June, procedures were started to kick a Marine lance corporal out of the service after he was found to have shared a number of racist social media posts, including a picture of a swastika.

Last month, Military Times published an eye-popping poll of 1,630 subscribers in which more than one-third said they had "personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideologically-driven racism" within their services in recent months.

According to testimony presented to lawmakers the same month by criminal investigative unit leaders from the services, there does appear to be wider cause for concern.

The head of the Army's Criminal Intelligence Division, Joe Ethridge, testified that the unit had seen in early 2019 "a small increase" in criminal investigations involving soldier participation in extremist activities: seven, compared with an average of 2.4 from the four previous years. FBI officials, he said, had also noted that domestic terrorism organizations are now actively seeking veterans for their skills.

Christopher McMahon, the executive assistant director of the National Security Directorate for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, cited a similar increase in the Navy.

The last major military reckoning on hate group activity came following a 1995 incident in which three white soldiers were charged with killing a black man and woman outside Fort Bragg, North Carolina. One of the soldiers had proudly displayed a Nazi flag above his bed on base.

After the murders, the military commissioned multiple force surveys, including one within the Air National Guard and another within the active-component Army. Both were led and staffed by minority service members. Air Force Lt. Gen. Russell Davis, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, led the ANG effort, while Togo West, the second-ever African American Army secretary, oversaw the Army one. Military.com obtained copies of both, completed in 1999 and 1996, respectively.

The First Extremism Surveys

The now-retired Lt. Col. Terry Davis, deputy team chief for the ANG survey, told Military.com that that service component was included because extremist groups were considered a militia issue -- and the National Guard elements were seen as the U.S. military's militia force.

The 99-page ANG report -- completed after visiting all 50 states and surveying nearly 8,800 personnel in person or on paper -- was remarkably sanguine. While "community sightings of the Ku Klux Klan and skinheads were commonplace" as the survey team traveled, they reported no incidents of ANG members participating in extremist groups or activity.

Despite that, the survey authors reported an uncanny depth of knowledge among Air Guard members regarding regional hate groups and their symbolism. Davis showed Military.com a thick binder of symbols, markings and information about these groups -- all compiled, he said, from the regional knowledge of the airmen.

Included is an encyclopedia of elaborate gang hand signs; pages of graffiti tags and supremacist symbolism, ranging from swastikas to the less-recognizable logos for groups like American Front and the crosstar of the Nationalist Movement; and a detailed lexicon of insider terms used by these groups.

"Members occasionally offered altruistic views of the Klan and neo-Nazis," the report states. "At practically every installation the team found knowledgeable persons on the various extremist groups recognized by DoD. ... [At] times the reason for high levels of awareness was not apparent."

Elsewhere, the report appeared to gloss over what would later be recognized as major military-wide problems, raising questions about the completeness of reporting.

"While reported instances of sexual harassment were few in number, it was quite apparent that ANG men and women do not believe the playing field is level for women," the survey found, concluding that "the human relations climate must continually be a command emphasis item."

The survey also suffered from a lack of specificity. Respondent gender and demographic data was not recorded, and answers to the 15 questions specific to extremist activity were condensed in the report to give a general sense of responses.

"Less than 10% of the respondents think that hate crimes are a great or very great problem," the report's authors write. "Of this 10%, it is difficult to truly assess the magnitude of this problem because all of the hate crimes cited may have been against a family member, or occurred in a community or place that is outside the ANG's responsibilities.

Despite the optimism in the survey, Davis, the project's deputy team chief, said it provided a cold wake-up call to military brass about the prevalence of hate groups and supremacist thinking in the communities of their troops; the depth of knowledge those in uniform had about these groups; and the lack of education provided about how to respond to the issue.

'Head in the Sand'

"At the command level, it was absolutely head in the sand in terms of action being taken or education being done without the survey being put in front of them," Davis said. "I just want to believe the commanders ... had more knowledge than they were willing to share about what they knew."

For Davis, another major concern was what the service did with the insights from the limited data it had managed to collect. From his perspective, the effort was lost to history after the survey team turned in the report.

Today, the report appears not to exist online, although Davis keeps his own hard copy of the findings in a thick binder.

"The ANG needs to make a firm determination on where it will maintain the data gathered in the assessment so that it may be used as a baseline for future initiatives on extremist activities or of the overall human relations environment," the survey's authors wrote in one of their five recommendations.

The other recommendations included: Develop an Air National Guard policy on extremism; issue a policy statement incorporating dignity and respect for others as an ANG core virtue; foster a climate where units will take appropriate actions to ensure personnel are well informed of extremist activities in the surrounding areas; and release the findings of the survey on extremism to units for their awareness and education.

A spokesman for the Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Devin Robinson, said he was unable to turn up any information specific to the 1999 survey and actions taken on its findings. However, he did note that, over the years, the National Guard Bureau has implemented a number of policies that address the concerns the survey found.

They include, he said, multiple policy instructions on diversity and inclusion, with the most recent, published in 2018, authorizing adjutant generals in all states and territories to develop their own initiatives and procedures in support of the goal of an inclusive force. And like the rest of the military, guardsmen participate in regular climate surveys administered by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.

"Each of the 90 Wings across the Air National Guard also have Human Resource Advisors who are considered the 'Diversity Practitioners' for the Wings," he said. "The ANG Diversity and Inclusion Directorate has developed an orientation course to train the HRAs and empower them to provide additional training at the local level."

Discipline, Not Data

The 87-page survey completed by the Secretary of the Army's Task Force on Extremist Activities, which does exist online, involved interviews with 5,957 soldiers at 28 different bases. It turned up 26 soldiers with ties to extremist activity and even noted a few common characteristics they seemed to share: "very short 'high and tight' haircuts," a taste for wearing "blue jeans, boots, suspenders" and "interest in the punk rock culture."

While it found most soldiers' views aligned with the Army's on intolerance and discrimination, it also called for clearer policies regarding active and passive participation in extremist groups; a new reporting process for information-sharing on extremism among law enforcement, judge advocates and equal opportunity officials. The Army, the report found, should "develop a process to evaluate soldiers' behaviors, adaptability and sensitivity to human relations issues during recruitment and initial entry training, and screen for extremist views and participation during recruitment and initial entry training."

Dr. Carter F. Smith, a retired Army CID special agent, was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when the Army's survey on extremism was completed. The findings, he said, were pretty sound, but the task force fell short of defining extremism, leaving that decision to individual unit commanders -- a move he said made effective discipline of extremist behavior nearly impossible.

"You can't function that way in our society," said Smith, now a recognized gang expert and professor at Middle Tennessee University. "You have to have bright-lined laws."

Where the U.S. military as a whole lost the thread on discipline problems in the ranks, including extremism and gang activity, he said, was in 2001 following the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks.

"On Sept. 10, 2001, you could call just about any gang cop and they would tell you about gang stuff," he said. "On the 12th, they were part of a joint task force ... terrorism was the new flavor of the month."

Issues like these don't fade and resurface so much as lawmakers and military leaders shift their focus to different priorities, he added.

Rather than asking troops about their subjective experiences with extremism and hate-motivated behavior, the military should focus efforts on working with law to pinpoint problems and discipline them consistently, he said -- something that in his experience has been lacking.

Policing Extremism

"Decide what it is we want to police and be consistent with that," he said. "If you act on your biases, and that action is contrary to the good order and discipline of the Army, you should be punished. And if you're not, everyone else will notice."

Discipline and its limits is an issue that grabbed lawmakers' attention at a February hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on white supremacist behavior in the military.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, expressed frustration that in some services, including the Air Force, membership in a nationalist or racial supremacist group isn't enough to get a service member investigated; the member would have to demonstrate "active participation," such as fund-raising for the group or helping to lead it.

"Active participation does not equal being a member of one of these extremist organizations. And I find that astonishing," Speier said.

Rep. Debra Haaland, D-New Mexico, raised the case of an Air Force master sergeant found to be an active, fundraising member of Identity Evropa, which she described as "one of the most visible neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations in Colorado." He was disciplined administratively, but procedures to dismiss him from the ranks were not initiated until the service faced intense public scrutiny as a result of media reports, she said.

Assessing the Units

While Smith, the retired CID agent, believes surveys are not what's needed to fix the military's extremism problem, the lawmaker who introduced the measure to restart an extremism survey process maintains the data has value.

Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Maryland, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told Military.com earlier this year that he'd like to see a more specific question added to climate surveys -- one that specifically references white nationalism and racism, rather than just extremism. He said he hopes the process will encourage more candid responses and give an accurate sense of what's happening unit to unit.

"Direct dialogue between commanders and their service members is critical to fostering an inclusive environment," Christian Unkenholz, Brown's press secretary, told Military.com in a statement. "Congressman Brown's hope is that the inclusion of these questions in the command climate survey will continue to improve it as a mechanism for addressing unacceptable behavior within a unit."

Unkenholz added that Brown wants to evaluate initial survey data and then assess what steps might need to be taken to improve the survey and responses.

Davis, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who helped to lead one of the first survey efforts, believes the presence of extremist ideology and activities inside the military services may be even worse now than it was in the late 1990s, due to what he perceives as a permissive current political atmosphere and mixed messaging around concepts like nationalism.

Davis said he believes surveys are still a valuable way to collect information for commanders, but noted that he found the most insightful questions were the ones that got a sense of troops' attitude toward hate groups and racist ideologies, as those highlight areas vulnerable to division and discipline issues.

Full report at:

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/03/14/military-surveyed-troops-extremist-activity-decades-ago-heres-what-it-found.html

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Europe

 

Russia urges US to lift anti-Iran measures amid COVID-19 pandemic

17 March 2020

The Russian Foreign Ministry has lashed out at Washington's “inhuman" sanctions against Iran in the middle of its battle against the deadly coronavirus.

The ministry said in a statement that  the US sanctions create a strong barrier for Iran that has been hit heavily by the virus.

"Illegal unilateral US sanctions, imposed since May 2018 as part of the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, are a powerful obstacle to effective fight against the infection,” it said.

“The reason for the many victims, caused by it, lies not only in the disease itself, but also in the fact that the US, purposefully hinder the resistance [to the coronavirus],” the statement added.

"Millions of Iranian citizens were cut off from the possibility of purchasing necessary medical supplies, no matter how hard Washington tried to distort it. The anti-human policy of the US provokes deep regret, alarm and serious concern," it went on to say.

The Russian Foreign ministry urged Washington to lift the restrictive measures "hitting the human rights in Iran."

"The global pandemic is not a time for settling geopolitical accounts, especially those that have no basis, invented in Washington for the purpose of satisfying their own ambitions," it said.

The statement came shortly after Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the UK and other European countries to defy the US bans as they hamper the Islamic Republic’s fight against COVID-19.

In a Monday phone conversation with his British counterpart Dominic Raab, Zarif denounced the US’ illegal and unilateral sanctions against Iran as an obstacle to the battle with the global pandemic.

He called on the UK to defy the US’ cruel sanctions against the Iranian nation under such circumstances, both on the basis of London’s commitments under the JCPOA and for human considerations.

Iran has been trying to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected some 14,000 people and killed 853 until Monday.

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/17/621035/No-good-time-for-anti-Iran-hostility-Russia-tells-US

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Spain’s king distances self from father in scandal tied to Saudi Arabia

16 March 2020

Spain’s King Felipe VI has distanced himself from his father, a former monarch who has been hit by allegations of financial irregularity.

Felipe renounced his personal inheritance from his father and stripped the former King Juan Carlos 1 of his annual stipend on Sunday.

A statement by the Royal House said King Felipe renounced his inheritance, including “any asset, investment or financial structure whose origin, characteristic or purpose may not be in accordance with the law or with the rectitude and integrity” of the crown.

The move came after media reports emerged that Felipe was poised to receive millions from a secret offshore fund with ties to Saudi Arabia. In 2008, when Juan Carlos was still in power, he had allegedly set up the secret offshore fund and named Felipe as a beneficiary.

The 82-year-old former monarch, who had been receiving an annual stipend of around 194,000 euros (216,000 dollars), abdicated in 2014 after a series of scandals ruined his public image and his popularity sank.

Since taking the throne, Felipe has made efforts to repair the royal family’s tarnished image.

That hard task was made even more difficult after his sister, Infanta Cristina, was caught up in a financial scandal involving her husband, the former Olympic handball player Iñaki Urdangarín.

The new damning reports

Reports published by the Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve earlier this month alleged that Juan Carlos had received 100 million dollars (90 million euros) from Saudi Arabia via an offshore account.

The money was deposited in a Swiss bank account in the name of a Panamanian foundation, the paper said.

A separate report published by The Daily Telegraph alleged that Felipe was a beneficiary of the offshore fund.

The alleged offshore account held a “donation” of around 72.5 million dollars paid by “the king of Saudi Arabia,” according to The Sunday Telegraph.  The account was set up at an office in Panama City and tied to an account with Geneva’s Mirabaud private bank, according to the report.

Reports said the fund could be linked to kickback payments to the former monarch for his alleged involvement in brokering business deals with Saudi Arabia.

Full report at:

https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2020/03/16/620967/Spain-king-father-scandal-Saudi-Arabia

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Russian asylum-seeker extradited from South Korea for Al-Qaeda links

March 17, 2020

SEOUL: A Russian man who sought asylum in South Korea was deported on charges of having links to Al-Qaeda, Korean police confirmed on Monday.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, the Ukraine-born Russian national was arrested in December and extradited in January.

He was found to be an “instructor” of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front group operating in Syria.

Korean police acted on an Interpol red notice to detain the man, who was already wanted in Russia.

“Police obtained intelligence that an Al-Qaeda instructor had sneaked into South Korea to apply for refugee status,” a police spokesman said.

“With the help of the Federal Security Service in Russia, we identified and arrested the suspect to hand him over to the Russian government.”

He added that the militant had fled to South Korea in November 2016 and sought asylum twice — in 2017 and 2019.

The application was rejected both times.

The arrest raises concerns that more terrorists from former Soviet republics, especially in Central Asia, may be operating in the country, some of them under the guise of seeking asylum.

Suspect

In November, a Kazakhstani worker was arrested by South Korean authorities for financing a terrorist group in Central Asia.

The suspect, in his 20s, entered the country in 2016 and had been staying illegally without a visa, according to police.

The man was accused of having transferred about $1,000 to a terrorist group.

He was the first foreigner to be arrested for breaching South Korea’s act for countering the financing of terrorism, which was enforced in 2017.

In February last year, a UN Security Council report warned that terrorists operating in Central Asia would try to enter South Korea, which has a large community of migrants from the region. Most of them originate from Uzbekistan.

Full report at:

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1642436/world

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One year after mosque massacre, New Zealand is fighting rising hate

16/03/2020

Days before the first anniversary of the shootings in Christchurch that killed 51 Muslims, a post appeared on an encrypted messaging app showing a balaclava-clad man outside one of the attacked mosques with a threat and a gun emoji.

The message was the latest threat against minorities in New Zealand, evidence of what experts said is an increase in hate crime and xenophobia since the mosque massacre by a suspected white supremacist on March 15, 2019.

The gunman, armed with semi-automatic weapons, attacked Muslims attending Friday prayers in the South Island's largest city, broadcasting New Zealand's worst mass shooting live on Facebook. Brenton Tarrant, an Australian national, faces 92 charges in relation to the attacks on Al Noor and Linwood mosques. He pleaded not guilty and faces trial in June.

New Zealand's extraordinary outpouring of love and compassion for the Muslim community after the attack was led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She swiftly introduced new gun laws and started a global movement to stamp out online hate in a response that was hailed as a model for other leaders.

However, the attack seems to have inspired far-right nationalists and anti-immigration campaigners to be more active both online and offline, Muslim leaders, activists and experts said.

"The attack certainly emboldened people who want to spread hate," said Anjum Rahman, co-founder of the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand.

The council has repeatedly alerted the government about the rise of the extreme right and the growing threat felt by Muslim women in New Zealand. Rahman reported a recent threat against Al Noor Mosque to police after she was shown the image shared on the encrypted social media messaging app Telegram.

Police said a 19-year-old man was charged with failing to assist police with a search warrant in relation to the incident. Local media reports linked the man to a white nationalist group called Action Zealandia, which was formed in July 2019, after the Christchurch attack. On its website it says it is focused on "building a community for European New Zealanders."

In response to the incident, Action Zealandia said in a statement on Twitter the alleged actions of the accused are not within its code of conduct and were "immature and unproductive as we do not use violence to reach our goals."

Police said they were working to ensure they have an in-depth knowledge of individuals and groups whose actions pose a threat but did not comment on any specific group.

More Extremists

In a parliamentary committee meeting in February, New Zealand's spy chief explained the growing challenge since the attack.

"It (the attack) has given encouragement to some people. It has been inspirational to other people and so it remains still quite a fluid picture," New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge told the committee, transcripts stated.

"We have got more information about more people who are expressing extremist views than we had before March 15 (2019) and some of those people existed beforehand, and then there is the impact of the attacks themselves afterward," she said.

Between 30-50 people are being actively investigated by the agency at any given moment for posing a terror threat, a higher number than in previous years. Kitteridge said between last March 15 and the end of June 2019 the spy agency received leads about people who had expressed racist, Nazi, identitarian or white supremacist views.

A survey by online safety agency Netsafe in December indicated that hate speech online increased in New Zealand in the previous 12 months, with about 15% of the adult population targeted with online hate. Offline, too, white supremacist posters have appeared in Auckland universities in recent weeks leading up to the March 15 memorial.

There are 60-70 groups and 150-300 core right-wing activists in New Zealand, said Paul Spoonley, from Massey University, who has researched far-right extremism for decades. The number was similar in proportion to population size to far-right activists in Germany, he said.

"New Zealand is now part of an international far-right ecosystem in a way that you can't have said 20 years ago," Spoonley said. "We do well on the league tables for tolerance but that does not mean there are no extreme elements."

Hate Speech

Ardern said she was "devastated" by recent threats against Al Noor Mosque and said that indicated more work needed to be done. "We have to get back to the basics of why is it that people would feel that they can make those kinds of threats against other people's lives," she said.

Part of the problem was that, unlike the United States or Britain, New Zealand has never recorded specific hate crime offences, raising questions about what signs security agencies may have missed.

Police have started recording instances of offences that appear to be motivated by hate, New Zealand Justice Minister Andrew Little said.

The ministry is reviewing the country's hate speech laws, although those plans have been challenged by groups that say free speech would be curtailed by such laws.

Full report at:

https://thearabweekly.com/one-year-after-mosque-massacre-new-zealand-fighting-rising-hate

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