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Islamic World News ( 27 March 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Polygamy and Halala Inseparable from Islam: Cleric Farangi Mahli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rice pyramid: The Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, Tuesday led hundreds of farmers in the state to launch a pyramid of rice in Maiduguri, the state capital.

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Polygamy and Halala Inseparable from Islam: Cleric Farangi Mahli

Focused Affirmative Action Needed For Muslim Empowerment: Hamid Ansari

How John Bolton and Mike Pompeo mainstreamed Islamophobia

Isis Supporter Jailed For Life for Trying To Build Child Army in London

Pakistani Court Ruling Aims To Publicly Identify All Religious Minorities

Chinese Officials Remove Islamic Domes and Motifs

 

India

Polygamy and Halala Inseparable from Islam: Cleric Farangi Mahli

Focused Affirmative Action Needed For Muslim Empowerment: Hamid Ansari

Islam Not For Unjustified Violence, Forced Conversions: New Hurriyat Chief

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Statue Pulled Down In Bengal, Blame Game On

Dont send views on 3 forms of Islamic marriage: Law panel to public

Harassment of diplomats: India, Pakistan move to de-escalate

Trouble At Hindu Festival In India Triggers Clashes With Muslims; Three Dead

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North America

How John Bolton and Mike Pompeo mainstreamed Islamophobia

Saudi Crown Prince, on U.S. Visit, Urges Tough Line on Iran

US Media Coverage of Terrorism: Combating the ‘T’ Word

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Europe

Isis Supporter Jailed For Life for Trying To Build Child Army in London

France Wrestles Once Again With How To Counter Salafists' Sway

Moroccan FM visits Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa, to meet Abbas in Ramallah

41 Swedish Citizen Islamic State Fighters Arrested in Syria

Italy detains Egyptian imam accused of preaching violence

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Pakistan

Pakistani Court Ruling Aims To Publicly Identify All Religious Minorities

Pakistan Calls for ‘Collective Pressure’ On Afghan Taliban

‘Pakistan and Iran should join hands to ensure regional peace’

Pakistan defends nuclear safety record after US sanctions companies

Four terrorists arrested after futile attack on FC, CTD personnel

US not engaging Pakistan as a democracy, says defence minister

‘Tashkent Declaration’ calls for Afghan govt-Taliban direct talks

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Southeast Asia

Chinese Officials Remove Islamic Domes and Motifs

Thamrin Bombings Case Witness Says He Learned Radicalism From Telegram App, News Portal

Controversial vigilante quits Muslim consumer group over fund swiping claims

Indonesian professor receives award from King Salman

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South Asia

Afghan Clerics in Talks with Isis to Break Polio Vaccine Myths

Buddhists Fan Flames of Islamophobia in Southeast Asia

Facebook: A global threat to minority Muslim communities

I would be killed right away in Bangladesh: Writer Taslima Nasrin

5 years on, Meiktila Muslims still facing hardships

Shrinking space for freedom of expression in Bangladesh

Afghan Air Force drops first laser-guided on Taliban in Farah

Taliban fully or partially controls half of Afghanistan, claims Moscow

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Arab World

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Banned From Politics

At Least 27 People Killed As Militants Attack Syrian Capital Damascus

US reportedly building large military base in Syria’s oil-rich Dayr al-Zawr

Iraqi Roma village school reopens 14 years after destruction

Syria, Russia threaten new assault on Ghouta town

Syria: More Militants to Leave Eastern Ghouta for Idlib

Militants Agree to Reconcile with Syrian Army in Northern Homs

Fresh Infighting Erupts among Terrorist Groups in Northern Syria

Russian Warplanes Pound ISIL's Strongholds in Eastern Syria

‘Biggest convoy yet’ leaves rebel pocket of Syria’s Ghouta

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Mideast

Countries Sponsoring Terrorism Pay US for Support: Iran Diplomat

Recent US Decisions Equal to Declaration of War On Palestinians: PA Spox

Israel Arrests Hundreds of Palestinian Workers before Jewish Holidays

Gaza’s graduates finally get recognition they've demanded

Half a million students drop out in Yemen war

Iran mocks Saudi threats but worries about destabilization

Saudi Arabia demands Iran be held accountable for missile supply to Houthis

Israel Expedites Process for US Embassy Construction in Al-Quds

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Africa

Despite Boko Haram, Borno Launches First Rice Pyramid in North-East

Somalia: Qatar Calls United Front against Al-Shabaab Militants

African Horn Org. chief: Qatar using extremist group to sabotage Eritrea

Nigeria: Whistleblower Names Israeli Firm That Hacked Buhari's Emails

Boni residents cutting trees, burning charcoal to fund al Shabaab - police

Boko Haram: Borno to return 12,000 IDPs to Bama

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/polygamy-and-halala-inseparable-from-islam--cleric-farangi-mahli/d/114746

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Polygamy and Halala Inseparable from Islam: Cleric Farangi Mahli

Yusra Husain

Mar 27, 2018

LUCKNOW: Imam of Lucknow's Aishbagh Eidgah, Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahli on Tuesday expressed his "discomfort" with the Supreme Court (SC) deciding to examine validity of polygamy and certain forms of Nikah within the Muslim community. He said that both polygamy and Nikah Halala were not inseparable” parts of the Islamic Shariah, which cannot be altered, or interference allowed in it

In a press statement released by the Sunni cleric, who is also an executive committee member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), Farangi Mahli said Muslims should however not fell uneasy and have faith in AIMPLB to take up the issue in SC. "Shariah ke aadhesho mai hastakshep mai apni bechaini ka izhar (Expression of discomfort with the interference in Shariah orders),' read the statement.

Seven months after it declared instant triple talaq invalid and unconstitutional, the SC on Monday, decided to turn its lens and examine the validity of practices of polygamy and certain forms of Nikah followed by the Muslim community.

"The Indian constitution has not only given freedom to all Indians, including Muslims, to follow their personal law but has also promised to safeguard it. The SC had also reiterated the same thing in its judgment during the triple talaq case seven months ago. This change in stance now by the SC, causes unease," he said.

Drawing comparison between the live-in relationship and polygamy, Maulana Farangi Mahli also said, in his statement, that "It is unbelievable that live-in relationships in the country are protected under law and is an acceptable part of the society. But if a Muslim man, due to certain circumstances of constraint, under Islamic Shariah, undergoes a second marriage, demands are raised from a few people to make it unlawful!."

He went on to say that going by statistics, it is not Muslim men who perform polygamy more in India, but men from other religions. "Muslims should however not get uneasy or disheartened and have faith in AIMPLB will make a detailed interpretation of the SC's resolve on the aspect of Islamic Shariah," he said.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/polygamy-and-halala-inseparable-from-islam-lucknow-cleric/articleshow/63492295.cms

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Focused affirmative action needed for Muslim empowerment: Hamid Ansari

March 28, 2018

Former Vice President Hamid Ansari on Tuesday said Muslims require focused affirmative action to make ‘Sabka saath, Sabka vikas’ slogan meaningful.

Speaking at the launch of a book, ‘Working with Muslims – Beyond Burqa and Triple Talaq’, Ansari said: “Muslims are a religious minority, like other faith-based minorities… and what was insufficiently recognised till the Sachar (Committee) report of 2006, is that many among them also suffer from multiple developmental deficits and therefore require empowerment through focused affirmative action to enable them to join others and take their place at the commencement point from which ‘Sabka saath Sabka vikas’ becomes meaningful,” he said.

The book focuses on the work done by NGOs in eight states with Muslim women and their stories. According to the author, Farah Naqvi, and researchers, who worked on the book, getting NGOs to talk about their work was an arduous process.

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/focused-affirmative-action-needed-for-muslim-empowerment-hamid-ansari-5113881/

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How John Bolton And Mike Pompeo Mainstreamed Islamophobia

Mar 27, 2018

John Bolton, President Trump’s pick for his next national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to be the next secretary of state, are well-known hawks. Less well known are their deep and extensive ties to an organized group of anti-Muslim writers and activists.

The members of the so-called “counter-jihad” movement aren’t exactly household names. But its leading lights — people like Reagan Defense Department official Frank Gaffney, activist Brigitte Gabriel, and blogger Pamela Geller — are surprisingly well-financed and influential.

Their major arguments include the idea that Islam is an intrinsically violent religion and that most mainstream American Muslim organizations are involved in a secret plot to replace American law with Islamic law. One “study” published by Gaffney’s organization, the Center for Security Policy, argued that 80 percent of mosques in America “are incubators of, at best, subversion and, at worst, violence and should be treated accordingly.”

Neither Bolton nor Pompeo has endorsed views this radical, though both have come relatively close. In February 2015, Pompeo appeared on Gaffney’s radio show and warned darkly of an Islamic conspiracy against America.

“There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” Pompeo said in a February 2015 interview on Gaffney’s radio program. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”

Bolton, for his part, has defended the Islamophobic attacks against Huma Abedin, a Muslim American who spent years as a top aide to Hillary Clinton. Some Republican members of Congress accused Abedin being a secret Islamist operative (which, it goes without saying, is wholly unfounded) in 2012; that July, Bolton went on Gaffney’s show and said there was nothing wrong with that line of attack. “What is wrong with raising the question?” Bolton asked.

These radio appearances aren’t one-offs: Bolton and Pompeo have been on Gaffney’s show dozens of times. The two men have also appeared at counter-jihadist events, accepted the endorsement of prominent counter-jihadists, and (in Bolton’s case) penned a glowing foreword to a counter-jihadist book.

There are no signs that either Bolton or Pompeo has cut ties with Gaffney or others like him, or that either is willing to disavow their past affiliations with them. That means that in the coming months, some of the most extreme anti-Muslim voices in the US will have friends in some of the Trump administration’s most powerful national security personnel.

Bolton’s ties to the counter-jihad

In 2010, two prominent counter-jihadist writers — Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer — co-wrote a book called The Post-American Presidency. In it, they alleged that President Barack Obama took part in the Islamist war on America. Obama, they wrote, was helping with the “implementation of a soft sharia: the quiet and piecemeal implementation of Islamic laws that subjugate non-Muslims.”

Bolton penned the book’s foreword. While he doesn’t explicitly endorse its most inflammatory claims, he praises the book for “[carrying] forward the ongoing and increasingly widespread critique of Barack Obama as our first post-American president.” What The Post-American Presidency “recounts is disturbing, and its broader implications more disturbing still,” Bolton writes.

Praising counter-jihadist work, courting their support, but not outright endorsing their most radical claims: Those are the hallmarks of the Bolton approach to the movement. He advances their priorities without openly committing to their hardest-line positions.

One of the core counter-jihadist arguments is that mainstream American Muslim organizations, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamic movement that aims to establish Islamist governments in a number of predominantly Muslim countries.

These organizations, they contend, are secretly working on the Brotherhood’s behalf to subvert the United States from within. Their goal is to replace American legal codes with Islamic law (Sharia).

“The majority of Islamic organizations in America are affiliates of or associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in some way,” a report issued by Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy (CSP) argues. “Any organization that does not embrace sharia and the MB line has not been able to gain broad recognition as a Muslim-American force.”

Bolton has not explicitly endorsed this view. However, he used an appearance on Gaffney’s show to endorse CSP’s principal policy proposal for dealing with the group, which is to “get on with the business of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization.”

This may seem unimportant, given that the Brotherhood has not been linked to a terrorist attack in decades. But it takes on much darker tones when you recall that counter-jihadists think the majority of Muslim American groups in the United States are Brotherhood fronts. It’s illegal for any American to provide assistance to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

This policy change would, in the counter-jihadist imagination, set the stage for a massive federal inquisition into America’s major Muslim organizations based on counter-jihadists’ own conspiracy theories.

Bolton is endorsing a core policy idea of the counter-jihad — effectively, serving as their voice without the most extreme baggage.

Another illustrative example: In 2011, Gaffney was banned from CPAC, the country’s premier conservative political conference, on grounds of being too aggressively anti-Muslim. In 2016, the Atlantic’s Peter Beinart reports, Bolton lobbied to get Gaffney back in — and won.

This is Bolton’s role in the movement. He doesn’t endorse their views, explicitly, but he serves as connective tissue between the anti-Muslim right and the mainstream conservative world, in which he’s deeply connected. Now, he’s poised to be national security adviser.

Pompeo and the counter-jihad

Trump’s pick for secretary of state has, like Bolton, aligned himself with the counter-jihad without endorsing their most extreme ideas.

In a 2013 speech, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Pompeo criticized the “silence in the face of extremism coming from the best-funded Islamic advocacy organizations and many mosques across America.” This alleged silence, according to Pompeo, “casts doubt upon the commitment to peace among adherents of the Muslim faith” and “has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts.”

While in the House of Representatives, Pompeo sponsored a briefing for Republican Congress members from a group called ACT for America. ACT, which bills itself as the NRA of national security, is the activist arm of the counter-jihad. Its president, Brigitte Gabriel, believes Islam is an intrinsically violent religion.

“Islam went from being strictly a spiritual movement, after 12 years, to becoming a political movement cloaked in religion,” she said in one address. “Jihad is mentioned in the Quran 40 times — 36 times out of 40 as a holy war against the infidels, to either kill them or subjugate them.”

Pompeo believed Gabriel’s group was the kind of organization that should be briefing Republicans in Congress. ACT returned his affection: In 2016, Pompeo received the organization’s National Security Eagle Award, its highest honor.

The game that Pompeo and Bolton are playing — use rhetoric that counter-jihadists find appealing, move them closer to the mainstream, all without endorsing their full conspiracy theories — is fairly transparent. It’s anti-Islam dog whistling.

It’s possible that they merely recognize that counter-jihadists are a powerful constituency on the right, and are working with them as a way of building political support. It’s also possible that they share the counter-jihadist view of Islam as a fundamentally evil religion but know that saying so publicly would be risky politically. It’s very hard to tell from their public record, and I’m not going to hazard a guess either way.

But we know that Bolton and Pompeo — Trump’s picks for two of the highest offices in the land — are at very least willing to listen to counter-jihadist arguments, and work to help them reach a larger audience. It’s very plausible they could convey these ideas to President Trump, whose views on Islam are already unfavorable.

There’s a shockingly low level of public outcry about allies of Islamophobic groups taking over US national security infrastructure. In fact, it didn’t even come up at Pompeo’s confirmation hearing last January to become CIA director.

Full report at:

https://www.vox.com/world/2018/3/27/17157534/john-bolton-mike-pompeo-trump-islam-jihad

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Isis supporter jailed for life for trying to build child army in London

27 Mar 2018

An extremist who attempted to build an army of child jihadists has been jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years for a range of terrorism offences.

Umar Haque was convicted of attempting to groom children as young as 11 at the Ripple Road mosque in Barking, east London, where he showed them footage of beheadings and conducted terrorism role-play exercises.

The self-confessed Isis supporter was also convicted of planning to use guns and a car packed with explosives to strike 30 high-profile targets including Big Ben, the Queen’s Guard and Westfield shopping centre in east London.

The court heard he played Isis propaganda to students at the fee-paying Lantern of Knowledge Islamic school in east London, where he taught an Islamic studies class despite having no teaching qualifications and being employed only as an administrator.

Sentencing him at the Old Bailey on Tuesday, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said Haque, 25, wanted to do “something big” and his ambition was “extreme and alarming”.

The worst aspect was the deliberate and sustained grooming of children to join a “mini militia”, he said, unbeknownst to their parents who had paid for after-school classes at the mosque.

He was a “very real” threat to the young and old alike, the judge said, adding: “Haque was a dangerous liar. He is intelligent, articulate and persuasive, with an easy smile. He is narcissistic and clearly enjoys the power he wields over others.”

The judge told Haque: “You have violated the Qur’an and Islam by your actions, as well as the law of all civilised people. It is hoped you will come to realise this.”

Haque could be heard talking about “domination” and “hunger and insecurity” as he was sent down.

Police believe Haque attempted to radicalise at least 110 children at the mosque and the school, with 35 of them now receiving long-term support.

“His plan was to build an army of children,” said Commander Dean Haydon, the head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard. “He tried to prepare the children for martyrdom by making them role-play terrorist attacks in London. Part of that re-enactment included attacking police officers.”

Haque was employed as an administrator at Lantern of Knowledge school from September 2015 to September 2016 but also carried out duties as a classroom assistant. He was accused of using his laptop to project images of guns, knives and beheadings on to a whiteboard at the school, the court heard.

The trial heard it was “common ground” with the defence that Haque had played an Isis video to pupils at Lantern of Knowledge but jurors were unable to agree a verdict on a charge of disseminating terrorist material at the school.

Haque was convicted of offences related to evening classes he ran at a madrasa based in a large marquee attached to the mosque in Ripple Road in late 2016 and early 2017.

He told the boys, who were aged about 11-14, that he had established contact with Isis and showed them a series of videos projected on to the inside of the marquee, ensuring the doors were closed.

There were images of blood, wounds and people falling from buildings. One film showed the exhumation of a boy. Haque told the children the child’s body had deteriorated because he had been beaten after death when he was unable to answer questions put to him by angels.

He also directed the children in the madrasa to do push-ups and to race and grapple with each other in order to train them.

There were sessions of role-playing during which the children would be divided into police and attackers, and there were demonstrations on how to sever a head. After the Westminster Bridge attack by Khalid Masood last March, Haque used the atrocity as an inspiration for one of the role-playing exercises.

Haque was stopped at Heathrow airport in April 2016 as he attempted to board a flight to Istanbul, a common route to Syria for Isis recruits. As a result of searches conducted of his phone, he had his passport revoked the following month and police began investigating him.

The Charity Commission previously opened a statutory inquiry into the Lantern of Knowledge Educational Trust. It is also investigating the Ripple Road mosque.

Full report at:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/27/isis-supporter-umar-haque-jailed-build-child-army-london

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Pakistani court ruling aims to publicly identify all religious minorities

Mar 27, 2018

LAHORE, PAKISTAN — A high court in majority-Muslim Pakistan has ruled that citizens must declare their religious affiliation before joining the civil service, military or judiciary. All birth certificates, identity cards, passports and voting lists must also indicate the person's faith.

The judgment, a victory for hard-line clerics pressuring the state to single out minorities in their midst, adds that all Muslim candidates for national or provincial assemblies must swear that Islam's Prophet Muhammad was the last of God's prophets.

This has spread fear among Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other religious minorities already under pressure in the South Asian nation. Ahmadis, who believe another Muslim prophet came after Muhammad, feel especially targeted because they could not take the parliamentary oath.

"Already it is difficult for us as minorities to retain our government jobs. With this court judgment, we can forget whatever normalcy we had in our lives," said Ejaz Mall, 34, a Christian civil servant in Lahore.

"Many people will face socioeconomic exclusion if the order is implemented."

In its March 9 ruling, the Islamabad High Court argued that citizens should be easily identifiable by their faith and that applicants for public offices should declare their beliefs before being considered for employment.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, in a remark clearly aimed at Ahmadis, said it was "alarming that one of the minorities was often mistaken for being Muslims" because their names and general attire were like those of Muslims.

The court's ruling outraged human rights activists, who fear it would blackball minorities and lead to more persecution. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on the government to counter it immediately.

"It is essential that the government acts in aid of its minority citizens by appealing this ruling," said Commission Chairperson Mehdi Hasan.

"Forums for justice such as the Islamabad court should play their due role in safeguarding the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable sections of society."

The ruling is the latest in a long series of attempts by officials to clearly distinguish between religions in Pakistan. A 1974 constitutional amendment declared the Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and a 1984 ordinance barred them from practicing Islam in public.

Although Ahmadi Muslims, also known as Ahmadiyya, believe in the Quran and Prophet Muhammad, many mainstream Muslims consider them to be heretics because they also believe their 19th-century founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a latter-day prophet.

In 1992, lawmakers proposed indicating religion on official identity cards, but they dropped the idea when Christians protested.

Christians, the second-largest religious minority in Pakistan, comprise less than 2 percent of the country's 208 million population, followed by Hindus, then Ahmadis and the others.

Non-Muslims have faced discriminatory laws, violence and prejudice for decades in Pakistan. Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department placed Pakistan on its Special Watch List for severe violations of the religious freedom of minorities.

"Religiously discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the country's blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, continue to result in prosecutions and imprisonments," the report said.

Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, a Lahore-based group that advocates for religious minorities in Pakistan, said the government should promote harmony rather than further division.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2017 annual report that "the Pakistani government continued to perpetrate and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations" in the previous year.

"Minorities, who are living under threat and are already fleeing the country, need to be assured of security, protection and equality," he said.

The campaign against Ahmadis has gained momentum in the run-up to Pakistan's general election slated for July. A new ultraconservative religious party shut down Islamabad for three weeks late last year in protests against a new election law that seemed to ease some restrictions on Ahmadis.

Last December, lawmaker Muhammad Safdar Awan called for a ban on Ahmadis from joining the armed forces. Safdar is the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"These people are a threat to this country, its constitution and ideology. I want to bring a resolution to ban the recruitment of Qadianis (Ahmadi Muslims) in the armed forces of Pakistan," Safdar said at the time.

"A person who doesn't believe in the jihad in the path of Allah, that person cannot be a part of our pious army."

Ruby Tabbasum, a 32-year-old Ahmadi mother of two, knows this discrimination firsthand.

"In 2016, my husband, Qamar ul Zia, was stabbed to death outside our house in broad daylight. His crime — he was an Ahmadi," said Tabbasum, who lives in Rabwah, a majority-Ahmadi city 100 miles west of Lahore that once hosted the community's international headquarters.

Zia was hounded for years by Islamists for supposed offenses like posting his father's name, Muhammad Ali, on his house gate or displaying the Arabic expression "mashallah" ("God has willed it") on the window of his mobile phone shop.

After a few assaults, a group armed with knives killed him as he was bringing his children back from school.

"I fear for my children. They know what happened to their father. They also know that they are not accepted in this society," said Tabbasum. "We left our home after the killing because the children were teased in the school for being Ahmadis."

Other minorities say they now feel as if they have an even larger target on their backs than they did before.

Full report at:

https://www.ncronline.org/news/world/pakistani-court-ruling-aims-publicly-identify-all-religious-minorities

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Chinese Officials Remove Islamic Domes and Motifs

March 27, 2018

Chinese Islam must adhere to official Sinicization policies by conforming to cultural norms, according to the government-linked Islamic Association of China.

Association chairman Yang Faming stressed this on March 10 at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

A Hong Kong newspaper reported Yang as saying negative outside influences on Islam in China interfered with secular society.

Some people paid more attention to religion than national laws, labeling themselves solely as believers rather than citizens, Yang said.

Two days later, photos were circulated via the internet showing the removal of domes and religious motifs from mosques in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region of northern China.

Regional centers where action was taken against religious deviations from official dictates included Zhongwei, Yinchuan and Wuzhong.

For example, new religious affairs regulations that came into effect nationwide on Feb. 1 were subsequently acted upon by Communist Party officials in Da Zhanchang town, Zhongwei City.

A declaration was made requiring the national flag to be raised by local mosques along with the removal of non-Chinese Islamic symbols.

Many mosque decorations are of Middle Eastern origin, including elaborate geometric designs, stylized Arabic script and the ubiquitous crescent moon and star.

Mosques were further required to adopt Chinese-architectural styles, with all domes to be demolished by the end of March.

Minors, defined as being under the age of 18, were banned from entering mosques to study, including during vacations.

Clerics were told they had to register their residential addresses as well as providing personal details and documentation.

A prohibition was imposed on the use of loudspeakers for calls to prayer and Koranic recitations.

Some restrictions also came into effect in the second half of 2017.

Netizens in Yinchuan shared photos of a crane being used to dismantle elements of Islamic buildings deemed to breach the Sinicization directive.

Arab-style buildings were to be converted into Chinese-style pavilions.

In addition, all shops in Yinchuan were required to replace an Arabic "halal food" logo with one employing Chinese characters and Roman alphabet Pinyin.

It was reported Yinchuan had been ordered to drop the word "Muslim" when promoting itself as a trading center.

Halal signs as well as Arabic Islamic motifs, including the crescent moon and star, were also replaced in Wuzhong City.

Intensified Sinicization measures had already been implemented in far-western Xinjiang, where Turkic-speaking Islamic militants resist largely ethnic-Han Chinese rule.

Full report at:

https://www.ucanews.com/news/chinese-officials-remove-islamic-domes-and-motifs/81906

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India

 

Islam Not For Unjustified Violence, Forced Conversions: New Hurriyat Chief

Peerzada Ashiq

MARCH 27, 2018

Mr. Sehrai, 74, took over from Syed Ali Geelani as chairman of TeH, which is an influential constituent of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference headed by Mr. Geelani.

Newly-appointed Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) chairman Ashraf Sehrai, in his first ever public speech on Tuesday, said Islam was “a movement of justice for all, including Hindus and Sikhs,” and warned against “unjustified violence or forced conversions”.

“Islam is a bestowed movement for social justice to all, including Hindus and Muslims. Its followers require promoting the good and fighting the evil and the oppressor. It does not believe in forced conversions or use of violence, like beheading, to settle disagreements,” said Mr. Sehrai in his first ever public speech made on the death anniversary of lawyer Jalil Andrabi in Srinagar’s court complex.

Mr. Sehrai, 74, took over from Syed Ali Geelani as chairman of TeH, which is an influential constituent of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference headed by Mr. Geelani.

Describing Kashmir “an issue of right to self determination”, Mr. Sehrai said the people of Kashmir “was struggling against India’s broken promises and its ploys to usurp the State”. “Our sacrifices is our asset and will safeguard it till the goal is achieved,” he added.

He said Kashmir requires a unification (among the separatists) against the present regime in New Delhi on the lines of Hurriyat of 1993.

In an oblique reference to the militant outfits questioning Hurriyat’s role, Mr. Sehrai said: “Any disagreement with the Hurriyat leadership is positive. But any bloodshed in the name of differences is unacceptable. No one should divide people in the name of sects, Shias or Sunnis etc. The Hurriyat is open to accountability. Those who have issues should directly come to the leadership,” he added.

Modi could launch mini war: Yasin Malik

Speaking on the occasion, JKLF chief Yasin Malik said the current BJP’s regime at the Centre “may thrust a mini war on Jammu and Kashmir to win votes in case their support base shrinks”.

“This is time to withstand the onslaught and show resistance. The Modi government’s Kashmir approach is dangerous. He can impose a mini war on us to win polls. He is trying everything to make us surrender, which we will not,” said Mr. Malik.

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/islam-not-for-unjustified-violence-forced-conversions-new-hurriyat-chief/article23364564.ece

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Maulana Abul Kalam Azad statue pulled down in Bengal, blame game on

by SWEETY KUMARI

March 28, 2018

WHILE THE deaths of two persons in clashes triggered by Ram Navami processions organised by the BJP and Sangh Parivar outfits in the state have been reported, another man was killed and a statue of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad pulled down during an armed rally led by Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders in North 24 Parganas district on Sunday. The incident occurred in Bhatpara municipality area, about 40 km from Kolkata.

According to sources, local TMC leaders, including MLA Arjun Singh and Bhatpara Municipality Chairman-in-Council Md Maqsood Alam, participated in the rally, which began around 4 pm. People were carrying swords and trishuls, said residents of the area. But Alam claimed that their procession was “hijacked by people with the wrong intentions”, who “were raising pro-BJP slogans”.

“We had clear instructions to take out a procession without arms. It was a huge crowd, people kept joining us. Who came with what arms is a matter of police investigation. If someone wants to join with a sword in hand, how can we throw him out? After all, it is a matter of belief. We tried our best to control the crowd,” he said.

Meanwhile, asked about the Ram Navami processions, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in New Delhi: “There were two-four processions, but the media plays it up to seem that there were many more. Even the Ganesh Puja did not happen earlier. What is this ploy to defame Ram by carrying pistols in his name, threatening other communities? This is against the Constitution.”

An eyewitness said the trouble in Bhatpara began when the crowd was passing by Jama Masjid in Ghosh Para (a Muslim-dominated area).  “A group of people said something, which the Muslim community objected to. There was an argument between the two groups, followed by stone-pelting. It was a long procession, and half the people were already near the Kankinara rail bridge, which was recently renamed after Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. When these people heard about the incident near the Jama Masjid, they pulled down the statue of Maulana Azad. The mob also targeted vehicles parked in the area,” said the eyewitness.

According to residents, the statue, at one end of the Kankinara rail bridge, was inaugurated on January 26 this year. All that is left now is an empty platform. However, local TMC MLA Arjun Singh claimed that the statue was never there. “The statue had not been constructed yet. Rumours are being spread and people are taking advantage of the situation,” he said.

“The mob first attacked the statue with a sword and then pulled it down. The statue was installed recently, after the new bridge was inaugurated by local TMC leaders,” said Anwara Khatoon, a resident. While purported video clips of the statue being pulled down are being circulated on social media, police refused to comment on the issue. “The statue is not a big thing. Our focus should be human lives. Statues can be reconstructed,” said a police official who did not want to be named.

Read | Raniganj tensed: 18 arrested, prohibitory orders clamped; Trinamool, BJP trade barbs

Even as the police were trying to control the situation in Kankinara, one person, Maqsood Khan (30), was reportedly shot in Katapukur, near the Jama Masjid. “My husband heard about the tension in the area and went out to bring back our six-year-old daughter, who had gone out to buy a chocolate. He didn’t come back. Somebody fired at him and he collapsed on the road. Some people rushed him to the police station, and then to hospital, where the doctors declared him dead,” said Khan’s wife, Gulabsa Begum. “There was firing and Maqsood was hit by a bullet on his chest. I had a narrow escape, with a bullet injury on my leg,” said Ashraf Ali, a resident of the area.

Asked if there was firing, a senior police official said, “Bullets were fired but anti-socials were involved. We have to check if the firing was linked to the Ram Navami procession.”

Asked about the death, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Barrackpore, Dhrubjyoti Dey said: “It’s being investigated… We first want to maintain peace in the area, and then probe details of the incident and the reason behind it. We have received a complaint, the relatives of the deceased have named a few people. We are investigating.”

“Kankinara has always been a sensitive area, police should have been prepared… It’s a failure of the police and administration. There were two-three processions, which resulted in clashes, these should be probed,” said state BJP president Dilip Ghosh.

Full report at:

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/maulana-abul-kalam-azad-statue-pulled-down-in-bengal-blame-game-on-ram-navami-violence-5113811/

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Dont send views on 3 forms of Islamic marriage: Law panel to public

March 27, 2018

New Delhi, Mar 27 (PTI) The Law Commission today shrunk its ambit of consideration of the contentious Uniform Civil Code by asking the public not to send their views on three ways of marriages practiced in the Islam, saying the issue is now pending before the Supreme Court.

A few days ago, while issuing a fresh appeal to the general public to send views on UCC, it had said the stakeholders should not send their responses on instant triple talaq as a bill seeking to criminalise it was pending in the Rajya Sabha.

In a statement issued today, the law panel said people should also avoid sending comments on nikah halala, nikah mutah and nikah misyar as petitions relating to the practices have been admitted in the apex court.

Earlier, the commission had said it has received an overwhelming response by the people on the UCC and it was appropriate to elicit detailed submissions on the issue from the stakeholders again.

The submissions can be in the form of working papers or consultation and can touch any issue related to the UCC, except (instant) triple talaq, it had said.

Suggestions from government and non-government bodies and other stakeholders can be submitted till April 6.

A uniform civil code will mean a set of common personal laws for all citizens. Personal law, among other issues, covers marriage and divorce.

The BJP is yet to respond to a law commission questionnaire on the contentious uniform civil code floated in October 2016, while most of the opposition parties which replied have dubbed the move -- to refer the matter to the law panel -- a part of the ruling partys "political agenda".

Sources in the panel said the questionnaire has so far received over 45,000 responses which continue to pour in even after the expiry of the deadline.

While the deadline to send responses ended on December 21, 2016, the law panel said it would continue to entertain responses received after that as well.

"The uniform civil code is one of the important projects before the Law Commission. The responses/replies received by the commission are being processed. The response/replies received, if any, after the date may also be considered," it had said in a brief statement earlier.

Law panel chairman Justice B S Chauhan (retd) had recently said the commission will recommend religion-wise piecemeal amendments to family laws if it finds it difficult to come out with a composite UCC.

Full report at:

https://www.indiatoday.in/pti-feed/story/dont-send-views-on-3-forms-of-islamic-marriage-law-panel-to-public-1199261-2018-03-27

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Harassment of diplomats: India, Pakistan move to de-escalate

by Shubhajit Roy

March 28, 2018

A FORTNIGHT into the tit-for-tat diplomatic spat, New Delhi and Islamabad have started working the phones at the “senior official level” to put a stop to incidents of harassment and intimidation of diplomats and their families, sources have told The Indian Express. This phase was the worst since 2002-2003, when similar incidents of harassment were reported by both sides.

Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua is in touch with Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, Ajay Bisaria, in a bid to stop the incidents of harassment, while Pakistan’s envoy Sohail Mahmood is also in discussions with the Ministry of External Affairs. A source said, “We are talking (on the issue)…we are in touch (with each other).”

Upset at Pakistan’s security agencies “raiding” the under-construction residential complex of the Indian High Commission on the night of February 15, India had decided at the highest level to hit back at Pakistan’s establishment after nearly 15 days of deliberations and requests to Pakistan Foreign Ministry to make amends.

“The decision was not taken lightly… after considering that Pakistan’s side had violated the basic rule of not entering each other’s diplomatic premises,” a source said. The decision was taken nearly 5-6 days before the tailing and blocking of cars belonging to Pakistan’s diplomats and their families began on March 7, sources said.

While the Indian side raised the issue with Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry through diplomatic channels — Indian envoy Ajay Bisaria had met top officials in Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry on February 16 — South Block deliberated on the “quality of the response”. Sources said that New Delhi decided to “retaliate” with “much bigger force” in a bid to drive home the message to Pakistan’s establishment. This led to almost daily incidents of harassment and intimidation, including with families of Pakistan’s diplomats, since March 7.

Sources said that while aggressive tailing of Indian diplomats continues in Islamabad, incidents of harassment in New Delhi have also been reported.

According to sources, an Indian contractor who provides different types of services — from regular civil works to electrical and plumbing jobs in Pakistan High Commission’s residential complex — has not resumed work yet. Sources in Pakistan’s High Commission said such work has to be resumed and the situation has to be restored to how it was before March 6.

Sohail Mahmood, who had been called back for consultations in Islamabad, returned on the eve of Pakistan’s National Day on March 23.

Full report at:

http://indianexpress.com/article/india/harassment-of-diplomats-india-pakistan-move-to-de-escalate-5113798/

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Trouble At Hindu Festival In India Triggers Clashes With Muslims; Three Dead

MARCH 27, 2018

KOLKATA (Reuters) - Clashes in India between supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and those of an opposition party snowballed into Hindu-Muslim rioting, with three people killed and dozens injured over two days of violence, police said on Tuesday.

The trouble in the eastern state of West Bengal began on Sunday with rival processions by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress marking the birth of the Hindu god Rama.

Violence broke out on Sunday and spilled over into Monday, turning into clashes between Hindus and Muslims.

Anuj Sharma, a top police official in the state, said officials had held an emergency meeting on Tuesday and security had been increased, with riot police deployed, and about 100 people detained to snuff out the violence.

“Large scale arrests are underway,” Sharma told Reuters.

The danger of communal violence is a constant worry in the world’s biggest democracy.

Tension between Muslims and Hindus has increased in some places since Modi and his Hindu-nationalist BJP came to power in 2014.

Babul Supriyo, a BJP federal government minister from West Bengal, blamed Muslims for the violence.

“Goons from the minority community” had torched shops and “pulled Hindus out from their houses and assaulted/injured them brutally with choppers & swords”, he said on Twitter.

Police declined to comment on Supriyo’s assertion while a Trinamool Congress leader denounced it as “highly regrettable”.

Muslim community leaders were not available for comment.

State BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said at least half a dozen senior BJP members had been named in police complaints for causing disharmony between communities and illegally carrying weapons, but the party denied wrongdoing.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who heads the Trinamool Congress and is one of Modi’s biggest critics, ordered strict police action against all trouble-makers.

Modi’s party has been trying hard to gain ground in West Bengal, one of the few states it has never ruled.

Full report at:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-defence/exclusive-satellite-images-reveal-show-of-force-by-chinese-navy-in-south-china-sea-idUSKBN1H3135

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North America

 

Saudi Crown Prince, on U.S. Visit, Urges Tough Line on Iran

By BEN HUBBARD

MARCH 27, 2018

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has renewed his attack on the Iran nuclear deal during a visit to the United States, saying the agreement would delay but not prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“Delaying it and watching them getting that bomb, that means you are waiting for the bullet to reach your head,” Prince Mohammed, 32, the heir to the Saudi throne, said Monday during his first meeting with editors and reporters from The New York Times. “So you have to move from today.”

Prince Mohammed, on a cross-country charm offensive in the United States, is visiting Washington, New York, Silicon Valley, Houston and other areas. His trip is aimed at reinforcing ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States and drumming up American investment in the kingdom. He discussed his plans for economic and social changes in Saudi Arabia, his views on the kingdom’s conflicts with Iran and Qatar and the war in Yemen.

The meeting was off the record, but Saudi officials allowed some of Prince Mohammed’s comments to be published.

He reserved his most forceful comments for Iran, Saudi Arabia’s political and religious nemesis. The two countries follow different sects of Islam and are locked in a regional struggle for power and influence that plays out across conflicts in Yemen and Syria, among others.

The United States and other world powers reached a 2015 agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions on the country. However, some American officials, including President Trump, have criticized the agreement and threatened to repeal it.

Prince Mohammed accused Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons so that it could act freely in the Middle East without fear of retribution.

“We know the target of Iran,” he said. “If they have a nuclear weapon, it’s a shield for them to let them do whatever they want in the Middle East, to make sure that no one attacks them or they will use their nuclear weapons.”

He said that the current nuclear agreement should be replaced with one that would ensure that Iran never obtained a nuclear weapon while also addressing Iran’s other activities in the Middle East.

Prince Mohammed sought to paint a positive picture of Saudi progress in the war in Yemen. He claimed that the Houthis, the Iranian-aligned militia that took over the capital, Sana, in 2014, were increasingly isolated politically.

He dismissed the seven missiles the Houthis fired at Saudi Arabia from Yemen on Sunday as “a last-ditch effort” that only showed they were weak.

Saudi Arabia, he said, is now seeking to end the war through a political process, trying to divide the Houthis and maintaining military pressure on them.

Prince Mohammed also spoke about his efforts to change Saudi Arabia’s religious rhetoric to ensure greater openness toward other faiths. Saudi Arabia has long been known as the homeland of Wahhabism, an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam that imposes strict social rules and often looks down on non-Muslims.

“I believe Islam is hijacked,” Prince Mohammed said, criticizing the way he said that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda had distorted the religion.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/world/middleeast/mohammed-bin-salman-saudi-prince-interview.html?mtrref=www.google.co.in&gwh=A93F988960B5EF7EDC4B6FDA6D14D8C2&gwt=pay

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US Media Coverage of Terrorism: Combating the ‘T’ Word

AYMAN S. ASHOUR

MARCH 27, 2018

Why is it that when a terrorist blows himself up, in the name of Islam, people in Egypt don’t describe him as a “Muslim” terrorist? Yet, the very same act and person are highlighted as Islamic and Muslim when it happens in the USA?

I’m in disagreement with the many people alleging hypocrisy in the news coverage of the latest American suicide bomber. The criticism goes something like this: if an apparent killer isn’t a Muslim, and his act wasn’t in the name of Islam, then the media won’t refer to the attack as terrorism; the media won’t refer to his faith, his skin color nor his ethnic origin. Critics are upset that the media does not refer to a suspect as white, third generation English and German who grew up Episcopalian or Presbyterian. The media doesn’t name the act of killing as terrorism or the suspect as a terrorist.

It is actually a simple game of numbers, and percentages. People form their knowledge, ideas and indeed prejudices about the “other” through media coverage. We argue that a small percentage of acts of terrorism, committed in the USA, is actually carried out by “Muslims”. But in reality,  there is a sharp increase in such acts of violence attributed to Muslims who only represent a small percentage of the population. We lose this game. Political correctness can’t bridge the gaps in statistics.

There is a problem and there is no denying that there is a global surge in acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or other Muslim majority countries, the labeling is more nuanced. The apparent terrorists could be labeled as Jihadists, Islamists, extremists or other qualifiers for the type of deviant Islam they fight for. But in the West, the narrative is different; it is just plain Muslim terrorist carrying out a terrorist act in the name of Allah.

This, of course, isn’t good as tens of millions who have never met a Muslim or know nothing about Islam form an impression of violence and anger in relevance to Islam. Politicians like Donald Trump stoke the fears; I still remember the ugly 2016 campaign direct mailers of Trump and other GOP candidates.

Calling the media on the use of “Muslim-terrorist” won’t make the issue go away. Combating this, as Muslim Americans, or other Muslim minorities in the West, requires some obvious yet not so simple steps.

As for legality, Arab and Muslim Americans must be vigilant in using anti-discrimination laws to fight vigorously all forms of discrimination stemming from stereotypes. I don’t care if 99 percent of Muslim Americans are bad people, the law and the constitution shall protect the remaining 1 percent. Let’s make it really expensive for those who discriminate against Muslims in employment, housing, education or travel. Let’s create a legal defense fund, let’s create a Muslim Anti Defamation League!

Muslim Americans must embrace the language of diversity when they are talking about themselves. I’m fed up with fundamentalist Muslim Americans trying to define all Muslims to be the same as they are. Who was behind the shut down of the lively website Muslim Wakeup? Who labeled as enemies the Progressive Muslim Union and the gay Muslim organization Al Fatiha? It was mostly other Muslims in the USA and elsewhere ganging up on these activities fearing it will influence their own families and threaten their faith.

Like it or not, in the West, Islam, like Judaism, is both a religious and secular identity. Most Muslim organizations in the USA count secular Muslims when they are seeking to show Muslims as an impressive number, yet they fight tooth and nail to exclude these very same people from whatever platform is afforded to Muslims. Again organizations like ISNA, MSA and CAIR fight the appearance diversity of Muslim and insist on the one narrow definition of Islam. All these organizations continue to suffer from the influence and mindset if not necessarily the outright control of Muslim Brotherhood. These organizations must evolve into becoming inclusive political, not religious organizations.

Muslims, in general, have become ultra sensitive to the ‘T’ word, terrorism. Often times, a hate crime is a far more serious moral and legal charge than terrorism. I’ve heard people angrily protest: “What do you mean hate crime, this isn’t just hate crime, this is terrorism.”

Well, I have news for some of my fellow Muslims: hate crime may have zero purposes other than the expression of hate. Hate crimes often have no political goals whatsoever and all the goals of hate crimes are immoral. The goals of terrorism can be mired in hate, but with terrorism, it’s the means that are abhorrent regardless of the goals. Hate crime has no moral standing whatsoever on means or goals whereas terrorism, at least conceptually, may have moral goals. Blowing up abortion clinics is abhorrent terrorism, it’s using terror for a goal that some may view as moral. From the left, incidents of terrorism on behalf of environmental or animal rights goals happen; here, we see liberal progressive goals being expressed through terrorist acts. There are worse charges than terrorism, hate crimes are and should rightly be so.

Full report at:

https://egyptianstreets.com/2018/03/27/us-media-coverage-of-terrorism-combating-the-t-word/

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Europe

 

France wrestles once again with how to counter Salafists' sway

27 March 2018

As France prepares to honour a policeman killed in the latest attack by a homegrown jihadist, debate has again flared over how to counter the influence of radical Salafist interpretations of Islam, with some officials urging an outright ban.

In the wake of Friday's shootings by Radouane Lakdim, officials disclosed his links starting in 2013 with "the Salafist movement", a Sunni Muslim branch originating in Saudi Arabia which promotes a strict conservative lifestyle.

While a majority of Salafists disdain violence as they adher to the fundamentalist traditions of "pious ancestors", some of its followers embrace using force to promote their beliefs.

"It's not about forbidding a religion or even an idea, but I'm saying very clearly that we must forbid the spread of Salafism, because it's the enemy," former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls said in a radio interview Tuesday.

"Of course not all Salafists are terrorists, but all the terrorists are Salafists."

Many of the jihadist attackers who have struck France since the January 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris were later found to have frequented Salafist circles.

Legal experts almost unanimously dismiss the idea of a ban, saying any effort to outlaw a religious movement would run counter to freedom of belief and never hold up in court.

Other critics say such moves would only drive extremist preachings underground, making it harder for authorities to monitor young people at risk of falling under the Salafists' sway.

But outrage over the killing of Arnaud Beltrame, the French officer whose throat was slit by Lakdim after taking the place of a hostage, and three other people could put new pressure on President Emmanuel Macron to take more aggressive measures.

Some lawmakers have also renewed calls for "preventive detention" of the most radicalised Islamists already on watchlists, after it emerged Tuesday that Lakdim had been on the lists and was summoned for an interview with the authorities days before his attacks in southern France.

"Our country must launch an extensive campaign to eradicate Salafism," the rightwing Figaro daily wrote in a front-page editorial Tuesday.

"With all due respect for the apostles of 'living in harmony', this virus is incompatible with our freedom to live, move and think."

- Foreign financing -

Macron, who pledged in January a "restructuring of Islam in France", had already signalled his determination to clamp down on Salafist mosques and imams.

Confronted in 2016 by a Montpellier resident who said "a Salafist is a citizen like any other", he replied: "There are associations which do not respect the laws of the republic in the name of their religion, these I want to dismantle."

Yet France has already passed several laws since 2012 aimed at curtailing extremism, most recently last year's tough anti-terror laws which enshrined many measures of the state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 attacks in Paris which killed 130 people.

The government estimates there are about 2,500 mosques and prayer halls in France, about 120 of which are considered to be preaching radical Salafism.

Authorities have shut down some of them, most recently in December in Marseille, where the Algerian imam El Hadi Doudi was accused of distributing texts liable to incite hatred.

Police said several people who attended his As-Sounna mosque had claimed allegiance to Al-Qaeda or had fought in Iraq and Syria, and this month officials confirmed that Doudi would be deported.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Monday reiterated her calls to block foreign financing of mosques -- a reference to the funds provided by Saudi Arabia for Salafist mosques around the world.

But Prime Minister Edouard Philippe appeared to pour cold water on the idea of outlawing Salafism outright, though he admitted "a real question about the combat of civilisations" was posing a threat to French values.

"We cannot prohibit an idea," Philippe told parliament on Tuesday.

"We can punish the behaviour it provokes, if it disrupts the public order, the country's laws or the minimum standards of social life," Philippe said, garnering widespread applause from lawmakers.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/france-wrestles-once-again-counter-salafists-sway-161946702.html

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Moroccan FM visits Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa, to meet Abbas in Ramallah

03/27/2018

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita visited the holy Muslim site Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem on Tuesday before heading to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Israel’s Channel 10 television network reported.This is the second visit by an Arab leader to Al-Aqsa in the last two months, a rare event because it involves entry to Israeli territory and contact with Israeli authorities.Last month the Omani Foreign Minister Yousif Bin Alawi also visited the site. Bourita was accompanied by various directors in charge of overseeing Jerusalem’s religious Muslim sites as well as the Palestinian Ambassador to Morocco, Jamal al-Shobaki.A director of one of the Islamic trusts in Jerusalem, Azzam al-Khatib said that Bourita’s visit to Al-Aqsa reflects “Morocco’s strong support for Jerusalem and its holy sites,” the Jerusalem Post reported, adding that the foreign minister was said to pray at the site.Morocco is the head of the Al-Quds Committee, established by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1975 to oversee the Islamic sites in Al-Quds--Jerusalem in Arabic--and to support Islamic claims to Jerusalem, including as the capital of a Palestinian state.The OIC itself was founded in 1969 as "the collective voice of the Muslim world", consisting of 57 members states.Bourita is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah later Tuesday.

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/170948-180327-moroccan-fm-visits-jerusalem-s-al-aqsa-to-meet-abbas-in-ramallah

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41 Swedish Citizen Islamic State Fighters Arrested in Syria

27 Mar 2018

Kurdish forces have arrested 41 Swedish citizens in Syria who left Sweden to fight for the Islamic State with five being described as high-level members of the terror organisation.

Kurdish authorities fighting in Northern Syria revealed that they had captured Swedish citizens or permanent residents, telling Swedish media over the weekend: “Five of them have had key positions within IS. One of them has been responsible for propaganda,” Expressen reports.

“We treat well those who we capture, even though they are terrorists who have murdered innocent people,” the Kurdish source told the newspaper.

One of the most famous Swedish Islamic radicals to travel to Syria was former Islamophobia expert Michael Skråmos. A convert to Islam, Skråmos had participated in propaganda for the Islamic State and called on fellow jihadists to carry out attacks in Sweden. His last known location was the former Islamic State capital of Raqqa.

Magnus Ranstorp, one of Sweden’s leading terrorism experts, slammed the government’s slow response in dealing with radical Islamic jihadists who have travelled to the Middle East to fight for Islamic radical groups like the Islamic State.

“We have had a delay effect because we have not had legislation in place. There has been a low level of expertise throughout the chain, both in terms of legislation and prevention,” Ranstorp said. So far, around 150 fighters have returned to Sweden from the Middle East and few have been prosecuted under Swedish law.

Swedish Interior Minister Morgan Johansson refused to strip the citizenship of Islamic State fighters last year and Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke suggested the fighters be welcomed back and helped to integrate back into society.

Whether or not Sweden will take back Swedish prisoners from the Kurdish militias is still unknown, though some sources have claimed that low-level talks between the Kurds and the Swedish government are ongoing.

Full report at:

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2018/03/27/41-swedish-islamic-state-fighters-arrested-syria/

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Italy detains Egyptian imam accused of preaching violence

28 March 2018

ROME: Police in southern Italy have detained an Egyptian imam who ran a cultural center where he allegedly preached extremist and violent interpretations of Islam to children.

Financial police in Foggia say Mohy Eldin Mostafa Omer Abdel Rahman is accused of criminal association with the aim of terrorism and instigation to violence. During a raid Tuesday, police seized his Al Dawa cultural center.

A police statement said the seizure was part of a larger investigation that resulted in the arrest in July of a Chechen man, Eli Bombataliev, accused of fighting with the Daesh group in Syria and participating in a deadly attack on foreign and Russian journalists in Chechnya.

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1274746/world

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Pakistan

 

Pakistan calls for ‘collective pressure’ on Afghan Taliban

y Kamran Yousaf

March 28, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday called for exerting ‘collective pressure’ on the Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups in order to bring them to the negotiating table.

The statement came from Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif who led a Pakistan delegation to the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan.

Asif told the regional moot that there was need for collective pressure on Taliban to avail this opportunity to shun violence and join the peace process.

Delegates from several regional countries, including Afghanistan, China, Russia, Iran and India, attended the conference in Tashkent to discuss options for reviving the moribund peace process.

Asif stressed the need for a regional approach for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the whole region. He appreciated Uzbekistan and its leadership on this regional initiative for peace in Afghanistan and for cooperation on counter-terrorism. The foreign minister said Pakistan had consistently called for resolution of the Afghan conflict through a political settlement. He said that bringing Taliban to the dialogue table and establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan was a shared responsibility of the international community.

In February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a fresh initiative, inviting the Afghan Taliban for unconditional talks with an offer to recognise them as political entity. The Taliban have not yet responded to the offer. However, it is anticipated that they might be considering Ghani’s overtures.

Taliban openly active in 70 per cent of Afghanistan, reveals BBC study

Asif reiterated Pakistan’s support for Afghan president’s national peace and reconciliation plan unveiled during the Kabul process meeting on February 28 and his offer of peace talks to the Taliban under an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.

He, however, expressed concerns over unchecked proliferation of Da’esh and a phenomenal increase in the drug production in Afghanistan. He called for cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists and criminal networks.

The foreign minister said that Pakistan’s proposal entitled ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity’ was aimed at developing mechanisms for bilateral cooperation in security, counter-terrorism, border controls and smooth return of Afghan refugees to their homeland.

On the margins of the Tashkent Conference, Asif called on Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The two sides reaffirmed commitment to continue efforts for deepening bilateral relations through concrete cooperation in trade, economy, defence and cultural fields.

Asif also held bilateral meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Abdyldaev Erlan and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1670868/1-pakistan-calls-collective-pressure-afghan-taliban/

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‘Pakistan and Iran should join hands to ensure regional peace’

MARCH 28, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Appreciating Pakistan’s neutral stance over Yemen conflict, former Iranian minister and Foreign Relations Strategic Council Head Dr Kemal Kharazi stressed Pakistan and Iran should join hands and work together to ensure regional and global peace.

He was addressing the session Emerging Regional & Global Scenario – A Perspective From Iran which was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad. The session was chaired by former foreign secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan.

Dr Kemal Kharazi was of the opinion that any cooperation between Iran and India can never be against Pakistan, much the same way no Pakistan alliance with Saudi Arabia can be made against Iran. He said that every country operates to serve its own interests but its increasing relations with India were not going to hurt Pakistan in any way.

He said that Pakistan and Iran enjoyed cultural, religious, geographical and historical ties and even their interests were not much dissimilar from each other. It was thus the need of time that these deep-rooted relations be graduated to economic ones, which would provide significant impetus to the region’s economic growth. The linking of Gwadar and Chabahar Port was termed an important step by the Iranian former foreign secretary that should be taken in this regard.

Speaking about some of the conflicts that existed between Iran and Pakistan, the speaker said that none of those issues were very serious in nature and hence they should not be reflected on the policies of either country.

Shedding light on the developing situation in Afghanistan, Dr Kharazi termed the involvement of Taliban in Afghanistan’s government necessary, stating that any such development will invalidate any legitimate reasoning for United States’ stay in Afghanistan. The speaker stressed that Iran and Pakistan should join hands and work together in this regard as both the countries have suffered extensively over the matter. The US on the other hand, he viewed, would want to extend its stay in Afghanistan as much as possible as this will help in keeping an eye on China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

Talking about the status of a nuclear deal between US and Iran following US President Donald Trump’s threats, Dr Kharazi said that though Iran was still sticking to the agreement, US was trying to run away from it and had already started violating the deal in the process. He said that the options for Iran were still open in case of US violation.

On the matter of Daa’ish, the speaker said that the organisation was formed to counter the Iranian revolution but it failed to serve the purpose. He said that Daa’ish had recruited 80 thousand personnel which included 50,000 fighters from different countries. If Daa’ish becomes successful in Iran and Syria, then it will break the countries into parts, which will eventually benefit Israel.

The speaker also explained the reasons behind the Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government stating that according to their reports, it was Israel’s plan to break Syria into two by making use of Daa’ish. He believed that such a situation will not be in good interests of the Islamic world, the reason why Iran keeps raising the question over why Saudi Arabia and other powers were supporting US over the matter? Since any such occurrence will also have an impact on Iran, it was only natural for Iran to favour Bashar al-Assad over the matter, Dr Kharazi said.

The matter for Iran was not about the Shia-Sunni divide as the country was already working with Sunnis in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine, he added.

Shamshad Ahmad Khan opined that Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia should join hands to provide the much-needed leadership for the Muslim world. He said that Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi Arabia-led military alliance was not against Iran; instead the country’s involvement might help in making sure that no offensive measure was being taken by the alliance against Iran.

Throwing light on the state of the Muslim countries, the former foreign secretary said that the Muslim world possessed about 80 percent of all energy resources and about 60 percent of all natural resources of the world, sadly though the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Muslim countries constituted only five percent of the world’s total GDP.

Building on his argument, the speaker said that the United Nations had failed to stamp its authority by not playing any role to improve the situation in Indian-held Kashmir and Palestine, whereas Afghanistan and Syria were also burning but UN was doing nothing in this regard as well. He said that the Muslim world needed the alliance of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in such a situation if it was to answer the stern challenges faced ahead.

Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, who also presided over the event, stressed the need for a multilateral approach, involving Pakistan and Iran, for regional peace and security. He, however, underscored that Islamabad and Tehran would have to be mindful of each other’s concerns.

He noted that the border issue, which had been a major irritant in bilateral ties because of cross-border terrorist attacks, had been largely addressed.

Raza Rabbani warned about the emerging Indo-Israel-US nexus and maintained that it would determine the course of events in near future. He also pointed out the “strategic chain” in American threat perception involving China, Iran and terrorist groups and contended that US policies towards the region flow out of that thinking.

Defense Analyst Dr Shireen Mazari said Iran would have to make hard choice of whether to support US design for the region by being a partner of India, the US ally in the region, or have cooperative relations with Pakistan, which too is under pressure from US.

Dr Shireen Mazari worried that Pakistan’s parliamentary resolution on Yemen was being disregarded by the government. “A lot of questions are hanging on Pakistan’s role when the threat is coming closer to home,” she said adding that Pakistan’s resolve to stay out of Middle Eastern mess was weakening.

Iran’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost recalled the upward trajectory in Pak-Iran ties over the past few months and hoped that it would gain further momentum in coming days.

IPS Executive Director Professor Sajjad Bokhari, in his opening remarks, said, “Political divergences, differences in geo-strategic worldview, aggressions and acts of terrorism have aggravated the mutual trust crisis among the regional states.”

This gulf, he said, can be bridged through dialogue and confidence building measures.

Full report at:

https://dailytimes.com.pk/220712/pakistan-and-iran-should-join-hands-to-ensure-regional-peace/

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Pakistan defends nuclear safety record after US sanctions companies

Mar 27, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has defended its record on nuclear safety after the United States sanctioned seven Pakistani companies over alleged links to the nuclear trade, saying the suspicions over the companies should not be used to discredit it.

Ties between the United States and nuclear-armed Pakistan have frayed in recent years over Pakistan’s suspected support for Islamist militants waging war in Afghanistan, something Pakistani officials deny.

The US Bureau of Industry and Security, Commerce imposed sanctions on the Pakistani companies on March 22, placing them on its “Entity List”, making it harder for them to operate in the United States and do business with US companies.

The sanctions could complicate Pakistan’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 48-nation club dedicated to curbing nuclear arms proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials that could foster nuclear weapons development.

Pakistan’s foreign office said many companies around the world are placed on the US commerce department’s Entity List, including businesses from countries that are part of the NSG, and the sanctions should not be politicised by Pakistan’s opponents.

“Pakistan’s efforts in the area of export controls and non-proliferation as well as nuclear safety and security are well known. Pakistan and U.S. have a history of cooperation in these areas,” the foreign office said in a statement late on Monday.

“We reject attempts by Pakistan’s detractors to exploit these listings to cast aspersions on Pakistan’s non-proliferation credentials.”

Pakistan applied to join the NSG in 2016 but little progress has been made.

The United States has been concerned about Pakistan’s development of new nuclear weapons systems, including small tactical nuclear weapons, and has been trying to persuade it to make a unilateral declaration of “restraint”.

The seven privately owned companies, which are little known in Pakistan, are accused of either being involved in “proliferation of unsafeguarded nuclear activities” or helping other Pakistani companies already on the Entity List.

Pakistani officials have in the past been accused of handing over nuclear secrets to North Korea. The government has denied the accusations.

Full report at:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pakistan-defends-nuclear-safety-record-after-us-sanctions-companies/articleshow/63479179.cms

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Four terrorists arrested after futile attack on FC, CTD personnel

March 28, 2018

QUETTA: Four terrorists were arrested on Tuesday after they tried to attack a caravan of Frontier Corps (FC) and Counter Terrorism Department near Margat on Tuesday. However, fortunately, all the officials escaped unhurt.

Margat is near Digari about 80 Km east of Quetta.

Arms and ammunition were also recovered from their possession. Seized arms and ammunition included explosives, hand grenade, rockets, cartridges and kalahsinkovs.

https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2018/03/27/four-terrorists-arrested-after-futile-attack-on-fc-ctd-personnel/

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US not engaging Pakistan as a democracy, says defence minister

March 27, 2018

Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan has said that the strained bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the United States (US) stems from Washington’s focus on a military partnership with Islamabad rather than engaging the country as a democracy, according to Voice of America News.

In an interview with the news agency, the minister argued that the approach pushed Pakistan to turn towards China and initiate rapprochement with Russia, as the US moves away from providing military assistance to a major non-NATO ally.

The US-Pakistan relationship has suffered as successive White House administrations have blamed the country for not doing enough to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries along the PAk-Afghan border.

Defence minister vows to defend robustly every inch of Pakistan’s soil

US President Donald Trump suspended more than $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan in January this year, as part of his new strategy to incrementally increase pressure on Islamabad until it takes action against militants.

Verbal attacks by Trump accusing Pakistan of “nothing but lies and deceit” in return for US cooperation have also contributed to a new historic low in the ties between the two countries.

“We are still very serious in maintaining our engagement with the United States…Unfortunately, the Trump administration has chosen to focus on the transactional part of the relationship,” Dastagir told VOA, while referring to US military assistance for counter-terrorism operations.

Diplomats have been shuttling back and forth between Washington and Islamabad ever since Trump announced the decision to suspend aid, as signs of a thaw in bilateral ties are still not visible.

The defence minister says that despite adverse actions, Pakistan has not “impeded or blocked” lines of communications which are vital sustain the international military presence in Afghanistan.

Dastgir has also questioned whether a “productive partnership” with the US is still possible in the present circumstances.

Details of troops’ deployment in Saudi Arabia can’t be revealed: Senate told

“You can’t have a country whom you would accuse of being deceitful and simultaneously being a major non-NATO ally. So, the contradictions in 2018 have become too large,” the minster stated.

Dastgir rejected the allegations as “illogical” that Pakistan harbors “safe havens” and cited the US military’s latest assessments that the Taliban controls or contests large chunks of the Afghan territory.

“[Nearly] half of the country is a safe haven but your [US] focus is on remnants in Pakistan…When you don’t control 45 per cent of Afghanistan and don’t know what is going on there, who is there, who is moving in and out of that safe haven, but you keep blaming us,” he lamented.

Over the years, Pakistan has conducted military operations in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, which have recently resulted in the elimination of all terrorists groups from the region.

Pakistan also maintains that the country has lost tens of thousands of lives in the war against terror since 2001, and US demands of “do more” are viewed as disappointing in Islamabad.

Pakistan has struggled with militancy and terror in the last decade, as security problems have scared away foreign investment, caused a huge energy crisis and resulted in billions of dollars in economic losses.

“That was the time [2013] when Pakistan’s democracy needed consolidation and it was at that time that the US chose to begin pulling away,” Dastgir said in the interview.

Pakistan-US intelligence cooperation almost non-existent, insists defence minister

The quantum of US military and economic aid had become “insignificant” by 2018, he said, and explained why China has since increased its influence in Pakistan.

“China acted first and Pakistan needed support very seriously and grievously. Now that we have it five years later, we have nearly resolved the energy crisis, we have nearly resolved the terrorism crisis. So, now that people of Pakistan and the government of Pakistan, which represents the people, look back, we see China as standing with us and the US is constantly receding.”

The unprecedented Chinese investment in Pakistan, under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will add 12,000 megawatts of electricity in the national grid by June this year, according to reports.

The defence minister called on the US president to revisit the new South Asia policy for a more stable and productive partnership with Pakistan.

“The US has not made, in our view, a serious effort to engage Pakistan as a democracy, and a democracy which has an elected government,” he insisted.

Full report at:

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1670269/9-us-focuses-military-partnership-not-engaging-pakistan-democracy-khurram-dastgir/

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‘Tashkent Declaration’ calls for Afghan govt-Taliban direct talks

Tahir Khan

MARCH 28, 2018

ISLAMABAD: An international peace conference in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent on Tuesday while calling for direct talks between Afghan government and the reconcilable elements within the Taliban emphasized that a political settlement was the best way to end violence in the war-torn country.

Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif led a high-level Pakistani delegation at the two-day conference on ‘Peace Process, Security Cooperation and Regional Connectivity’, which endorsed the National Unity Government’s offer of direct talks with the Taliban without any preconditions with the ultimate goal of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement also backed by the international community.

The ‘Tashkent Declaration’ issued at the conference called upon the Taliban to accept offer for a peace process that is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and is in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council.

Taliban have so far refused to accept calls for direct talks with the Kabul administration and instead insist on direct talks with the United States, who they say is a major party to the conflict.

The moot was attended by representatives from Afghanistan, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, EU and the UN.

The participants reiterated their support to the efforts of the Afghan government to begin direct talks with the Taliban. They acknowledged that the ‘Kabul Process’ was the main forum and vehicle along with other regional and international initiatives on Afghanistan. “We call on the Taliban to recognise their share of responsibility for bringing peace and security to Afghanistan in order to end the suffering of the Afghan people and officially declare their willingness for entering into direct peace talks with the Government of Afghanistan with full support from the international community through a mutually agreed format,” the declaration said.

The participants urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to move towards a political settlement, adding that an inclusive peace agreement will be a victory for all the parties and a defeat for none.”It should guarantee the inclusion of the Taliban in the political process as a legitimate political actor, the renunciation by the Taliban of violence and breaking of all ties to international terrorism, including Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other Transnational Terrorist Networks (TTNs), as well as the respect of the Afghan Constitution including the equal rights of all Afghans,” the declaration said.

The participants offered their support to the Afghan government in creating favourable conditions for the start and progress of the peace talks through provision of effective incentives and opposing those who prove themselves irreconcilable to peace, continue to commit violence, bloodshed and atrocities and provide assistance to terrorist networks.

The declaration stressed the importance of full and meaningful participation of women in Afghan reconciliation, security and economy.The participants pledged continued support for international efforts aimed at Afghan women’s empowerment and vowed to remain fully committed to support the implementation of the Afghanistan’s national action plan on women, peace and security.

The declaration called on all the countries to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and adhere to the policy of non-interference in its internal affairs in order to achieve a peaceful country from where terrorism is not able to threaten other countries and which can fully rely on its own forces in ensuring security within its territory.

The delegates emphasized the importance of regional and international cooperation for the elimination of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations in accordance with the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant UNSC resolutions,

They affirmed that all security assistance to Afghanistan should be provided through the Afghan government and strongly opposed any provision of financial support, material assistance or arms to the Taliban and ISIS.

Speaking at the conference, Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif said that bringing Taliban to the table and establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan was a shared responsibility of the international community, according to a statement released by the Foreign Office.

The minister stressed the need for collective pressure on Taliban to force them to avail this opportunity to shun violence and join the peace process. He reiterated Pakistan’s support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national peace and reconciliation plan unveiled during Kabul Process meeting on February 28 and his offer of peace talks to the Taliban under an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process.

The foreign minister expressed concern over unchecked proliferation of Daesh and phenomenal increase in the drug production in Afghanistan.He emphasized the need for cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists and criminal networks, adding that Pakistan’s proposal titled ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity’ was aimed at developing mechanisms for bilateral cooperation in security, counter-terrorism, border controls and smooth return of Afghan refugees to Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif called on Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on the sidelines of the conference. The two sides reaffirmed commitment to continued efforts for deepening bilateral relations through concrete cooperation in trade, economy, defence and cultural fields, the Foreign Office said.

Full report at:

https://dailytimes.com.pk/220609/tashkent-declaration-calls-for-afghan-govt-taliban-direct-talks/

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Southeast Asia

 

Thamrin bombings case witness says he learned radicalism from Telegram app, news portal

March 27, 2018

Denying prosecutors' allegations that his terror attack on a North Sumatra Police checkpoint post was inspired by the radical teachings of cleric Aman Abdurrahman, Syawaluddin Pakpahan testified in the South Jakarta District Court on Tuesday that he learned about radicalism from websites and messaging service Telegram.

Syawaluddin, who along with another perpetrator attacked the post in June last year to steal weapons for future attacks, said he had learned about becoming a militant long before he knew Aman, the defendant in the 2016 Thamrin suicide bombings case. He claimed he had never met Aman and only knew about him from the internet.

"I learn about [being a militant] from news websites. I never learn from clerics," said Syawaluddin, who admitted that he could not read the Quran.

He said he followed the latest developments in Syria, a war-stricken country, where terrorist group Islamic State (IS) was established, from instant messaging app Telegram. He said he knew of Aman's writings from a channel on the platform.

He went to war-stricken Syria alone in 2013 and stayed there for six months before being returned to Indonesia by government officials.

He admitted, however, that what the convicted terrorist Aman spread did not contravene his perception about democracy, which he believed was against Islam and Muslims, and the country should get rid of the concept.

"I once partook in a democratic election and cast my vote. But not anymore. I also no longer salute the Indonesian flag," Syawaluddin said.

Aman, who is also known as a supporter of IS, is serving a sentence at Nusa Kambangan maximum-security prison in Central Java for his role in some terror acts in Indonesia. He was indicted for having incited people to commit several terror attacks, including on Jl. MH Thamrin, Central Jakarta on Jan. 14, 2016, which killed eight people including civilians.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/03/27/thamrin-bombings-case-witness-says-he-learned-radicalism-from-telegram-app-news-portal.html

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Controversial vigilante quits Muslim consumer group over fund swiping claims

March 28, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 ? Yusuf Azmi has quit the Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) as special action unit director after he was accused of misappropriating funds.

Sinar Harian reported that Yusuf has denied the allegations made by four former PPIM employees, who had accused him of profiteering from loan shark victims assisted by the consumer rights group.

“I have decided to not be with PPIM anymore. I will only attend talks that I am invited to but I will not take any more cases. I cannot afford to continue the struggle with PPIM due to such betrayal,” Yusuf was quoted saying.

Following his resignation from PPIM, Yusuf said he plans to spend more time with his family and even to build a cat shelter for stray cats.

“At least I know the cats won't bite me back,” he said.

Yusuf explained that he had given out loans to victims in the millions, yet he never asked them to pay back.

“We do not expect anything in return, but please do not bite me in return,” he said.

Yusuf also said he had forgiven the four individuals who claimed there was a misappropriation of funds by him in the loan shark cases he handled.

PPIM head activist Datuk Zaim Johan said he accepted Yusuf's resignation, but clarified that PPIM will always have a place for him.

“I have consoled him yet he refuses to stay on. However PPIM will always accept him with open arms if he decides to come back,” he said.

The 29-year-old Yusuf was never shy of controversies since joining PPIM in 2011, handling cases from phone scams to loan sharks.

Most notably, he was known for “raiding” a vehicle warehouse belonging to AGR Auto Trade Holding Berhad to claim back vehicles of owners who said they were cheated by the car leasing company last year.

Another case was the affordable housing scheme done by DBI Technology Sdn Bhd led by actor Datuk Noruliman A. Rahman, or known as Boy Iman.

Yusuf claimed many were cheated by the housing scheme which claimed owners can own homes from as low as RM50,000.

His aggressive tactics where he directly confronted the supposed perpetrators were often shared on social media when he gained a reputation as a defender of consumer rights.

Full report at:

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/controversial-vigilante-quits-muslim-consumer-group-over-fund-swiping-claim

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Indonesian professor receives award from King Salman

March 28, 2018

Kuala Lumpur (ANTARA News) - The Vice Dean of the International Institute for Halal Research and Training (INHART) and the Secretary of the Council of Professors at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) from Indonesia, Prof. Irwandi Jaswir, has received US$200 thousand from King Salman.

A report from Saudigazette and Jaswir`s statement, received by ANTARA via WhatsApp here on Tuesday, mentioned that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque, King Salman, handed over the award to the winners of King Faisal International Prize (KFIP) 2018 in Riyadh on Monday evening (March 26).

Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, the Emir of Makkah, advisers for the Guardians of the Two Holy Mosques, the Chairman of King Faisal Foundation, as well as several other princes, senior government officials, academics, and scientists attended the ceremony held at Prince Sultan Grand Hall of Al-Faisaliah Center.

King Salman congratulated the prize winners in five categories.

At the event, the king and other officials watched a documentary featuring the 40-year-old award for the winners.

Prince Khaled remarked that the Saudi Kingdom has been awarding 258 prominent scholars and scientists for 40 years.

Five researchers and scientists from Indonesia, Jordan, Tunisia, US, and Britain received prizes in five main categories, namely Services for Islam, Islamic Studies, Arabic Language and Literature, Medicine, and Science.

Jaswir collaborated with other scientists to develop new methods to quickly detect non-halal substances in food, cosmetics, and other consumptive goods used by Muslims.

Halal refers to what is permissible or lawful in Islamic law, which is applied to food, drinks, and other products.

Full report at:

https://en.antaranews.com/news/115163/indonesian-professor-receives-award-from-king-salman

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South Asia

 

Afghan clerics in talks with Isis to break polio vaccine myths

27 Mar 2018

Islamic clerics have agreed to work with the Afghan government to persuade militant groups in the country that vaccination programmes should be allowed in remote areas.

Imans are to consult with the Taliban, Islamic State and other factions in the mountainous Kunar province in a bid to get efforts to eradicate polio back on track, after six new cases were reported in Afghanistan this year.

Hard-line Islamist militants and clerics in the three countries where the disease still exists, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, have been opposing polio vaccination campaigns, as myths have become ingrained that they are part of a  or a . There have been several attacks and killings of nurses and volunteers.

The Afghan government began a national immunisation campaign earlier this month, with around 70,000 workers knocking on doors and stopping families in health centres, streets and at border crossings. Almost 10 million children were vaccinated but a significant population lives in  like Kunduz where Taliban insurgents last year banned inoculations.

The vaccination programme was badly discredited, after a fake campaign was used as cover in the  in Pakistan.

Cleric Mawlawi Mohammad Ajmal, from Kunar, told the Guardian: “Islam won’t deny the treatment and prevention of sickness and disease, if our aim is to have a normal and healthy society then we need to allow and support health field workers and polio vaccinators to reach every child under five in each and every household, village and district.”

Mawlawi Abdul Khaliq, another religious leader from Kunar province, said: “Giving three drops of vaccine to every child under five is the guarantee for the polio-free life and polio-free generation, so we must support the vaccination campaign across the country and discuss this issue with the people who are in remote and mountainous regions.

“We are fully responsible for the next generation living in a polio-free environment,” he said. “The role of Islamic scholars is important.”

Nevertheless, cultural issues were still obstructing the vaccination campaign, said Gul Maki, a health worker in Kunar. “Cultural difficulties remain a crucial hurdle against female [health] workers. However, this doesn’t just affect the vaccination campaigns but every aspect of of daily life.”

He added: “The Taliban and Isis presence is huge and they are controlling most of the districts. Due to the worsening security, the vaccinators are unable to go there.”

Muhammad Ishaq, from the Afghan health ministry, confirmed that a three-year-old girl in Kunar had been diagnosed with polio. “The health ministry sent her tests to a laboratory in Islamabad and it has been confirmed that she is the latest victim of the crippling disease.”

Kunar’s public health director Aziz ur Rehman Safi said: “Due to the Isis ban on the vaccination drive ... there is a fear that an estimated 12,000 children are unlikely to be vaccinated in the latest campaign.”

Clerics said they believe that by the end of 2017 polio vaccination teams had been unable to immunise more than 14,000 children in the province, and there were fears that this figure would continue to rise.

For health workers, administering the polio vaccinations continued to be dangerous work, said David Lai, World Health Organization Health Cluster Coordinator. “One polio worker was killed, one driver of an organisation working in health was killed and one other is still missing,” he said.

He also said a health facility in Nika, in south-eastern Pakita province, had been damaged in conflict and had ceased functioning.

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/mar/27/afghan-clerics-in-talks-with-isis-to-break-polio-myths

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Buddhists fan flames of Islamophobia in Southeast Asia

27.03.2018

Sri Lanka was in a state of emergency for almost two weeks in response to days of clashes that erupted around the country after a Buddhist was attacked and seriously injured by four Muslims near the popular tourist town of Kandy. Radical Buddhists, including the nationalist organization of monks known as Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Force), took to social media to mobilize supporters.

Their messaging included conspiracies that Muslims were lacing food and clothing with contraceptives to eradicate Buddhists. A number of mosques, homes and Muslim businesses were destroyed during the clashes, in which two people were killed. As a result, the government imposed a curfew and blocked social media for 12 days.

Myanmar, too, has been the scene of repeated violence against Muslims since 2012. Although a number of Muslim groups have been targeted, the Muslim-minority Rohingya community has been most severely affected. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar since 2017. Radical Buddhist monks have played a key role here, too.   

Thailand's violence-plagued south

Since 2001, Thailand has also been the scene of repeated violence, especially in its southern provinces. The Thai newspaper Bangkok Post reports that at least 6,500 people were killed in the those Muslim-majority provinces between 2004 and 2015.

In contrast to Sri Lanka and Myanmar, a number of well-organized Islamic militant groups are actively fighting for the establishment of an independent Islamic caliphate in southern Thailand. The Thai government has responded with a heavy hand. Groups such as Human Rights Watch have documented numerous human rights abuses on all sides of the conflict. Nine in every 10 victims of violence in the region have been civilians.  

As in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Buddhist monks are part of the conflict in Thailand. For instance, Thailand has a number of so-called soldier monks who spend time in monasteries, take up the robe and the alms bowl of the order, yet do not put down their arms.

Read more: 'Islamophobic narratives' inflame Sri Lanka communal tensions

In October 2015, the popular Thai monk Phra Maha Apichat took to Facebook to proclaim that a mosque should be burnt to the ground for each Buddhist monk killed in the conflict. He has since been expelled from his monastic community.

Although it is clear that such radical monks in all three countries are in the minority, it is a vocal minority.

Islamophobia

Religious studies professor Michael Jerryson of Youngstown State University in the United States says Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand are worried. "I've heard from monks in all three countries that they see Buddhism being under threat" and fear "Islam and Muslims are trying to take over their country," he told DW.

In part, those fears can be traced back to the particular histories of each country, in which Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion. Adherents of Theravada claim that it is the oldest form of Buddhism and thus the one with the closest relationship to the teachings of Buddha.

Buddhism and nationalism

Myanmar and Sri Lanka both were under British control during the age of European colonialism. "When the British colonized these countries they disrupted a historically supported state-Sangha (the Buddhist community) relationship," said Jerryson. Although Thailand was not colonized, it was surrounded by French and British colonies and feared losing its independence. "[People] asked, who is going to protect Buddhism?"

That fear led to the formation of movements linking the ideas of nationalism, imported from Europe in the early 20th century, to Buddhism in the fight for independence and, ultimately, to save Buddhism. Although the fundamental reasons and political factors for such movements were different in each country, according to Jerryson the result was the same: "a more robust form of religious nationalism and religious identity in the form of Buddhism." To this day, it is impossible to separate national identity from the religious belief that dominates each country: "To be a true citizen of Myanmar means to be a Buddhist."

Counternarrative

Thus the Buddhist belief that it is under threat is deeply rooted and is an integral part of Buddhist identity. Jerryson said anti-Muslim sentiment is in part fueled by "a transnational Islamophobic rhetoric coming from the West" and can be found in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. "[Many people in the West] do see religion like Buddhism as being peaceful whereas a religion like Islam being violent which is unfortunately incorrect," he explained. "And I think this damages the people and their history and cultures."

"Every global religion has instructions, has doctrine that encourage people towards peaceful interactions and peace within themselves," Jerryson said. "But every religious system including Buddhism has histories of violence."

Those who measure a sense of threat by what is happening in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand must eventually come to the conclusion that the concept is flawed, said Jerryson: "It simply doesn't fit, it doesn't fit at all."

Only about 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million citizens are Muslims; in Myanmar that number is roughly 4 percent (of 51 million residents) and in Thailand it is about 5 percent (of 67 million residents). "These population sizes have not changed dramatically for over four decades," said Jerryson

Thus, the widely propagated claim that Muslims are overtaking Buddhists demographically is incorrect, although it is true that Muslim populations are growing in some regions. Such demographic changes have been brought about by, for instance, the fact that large numbers of Buddhists have fled southern Thailand due to increasing violence. In Rakhine State in Myanmar, Muslim birthrates are also higher than those of Buddhists.

Jerryson believes that a counternarrative is needed to alleviate growing tensions between Muslims and Buddhists. The establishment thereof faces two major hurdles, however. First among them is the authority of Buddhist monks. People believe what the monks tell them, he said: "The counternarratives need to come from those who are seen to have power within those cultures."

Full report at:

http://www.dw.com/en/buddhists-fan-flames-of-islamophobia-in-southeast-asia/a-43158407

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Facebook: A global threat to minority Muslim communities

March 28, 2018

In a new wave of religious violence, Muslim minority populations throughout Asia are living in fear of being lynched, assaulted, raped or killed by adherents of religious faiths so often associated with peace and tolerance.

In Myanmar, more than 10,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed and another 600,000 displaced since Myanmar security forces and Buddhist extremist groups began carrying out what the UN described as "textbook ethnic cleansing" in August 2017.

In Sri Lanka, the government was forced to impose a state of emergency after Buddhist mobs began carrying out a wave of violence against Muslims all across the country, while India is experiencing levels of Hindu extremist violence against Muslims not seen in decades.

Clearly there's nothing about the respective faiths - Buddhism and Hinduism - that should make their followers encourage hatred or violence towards followers of Islam, so there must be something else going on, and that something else appears - at least in part - to be Facebook.

In short, Facebook has now become an existential threat to Muslim minorities around the world.

"Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended," said Yanghee Lee, a United Nations United Nations investigator who described the social media platform as a vehicle for inciting "acrimony, dissension and conflict", and blamed it for driving the Rohingya Muslim genocide in Myanmar.

"Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar," she told reporters. "It was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebook [accounts] and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities," she said.

In the months and years leading up to the government crackdown on the Rohingya, Facebook accounts in Myanmar were awash with fake news stories about Muslims plotting to carve out an Islamic emirate, impose Sharia law, or attack Buddhist temples. Some even used doctored photos to claim Rohingya Muslims had already carried out such acts, all of which instilled a nationwide fear that Myanmar was facing an existential threat from an external enemy or foreign other.

"Facebook has been bad for Myanmar," a Rakhine village leader told The New York Times recently, explaining how social media has been manipulated by political entrepreneurs who seek to benefit by pushing anti-Rohingya Muslim propaganda. "Young people are using their smartphones a lot. They don't see with their eyes; they just see with their phones."

Similarly, the Sri Lankan government accused Facebook of failing to control rampant anti-Muslim propaganda, blaming the social media network for the anti-Muslim riots that took place in multiple cities earlier this month, which left four Muslims dead, dozens of mosques and Muslim owned businesses destroyed, ultimately forcing the government to impose a state of emergency in an effort to quell the violence.

Harin Fernando, the island nation's telecommunications minister, said the government was forced into taking this "unprecedented" step of shutting down social media networks for 72 hours in response to fears that anti-Muslim Facebook posts, including fake videos claiming to be Muslims torching Buddhist temples, would ignite further violence against Sri Lanka's two million Muslims.

"This whole country could have been burning in hours," Fernando told  the Guardian. "Hate speech is not being controlled by these organisations and it has become a critical issue globally."

To emphasise his point, telecommunications minister referenced a Facebook post that read, "Kill all Muslims, don't even let an infant of the dogs escape."

In India, too, the spreading of fake news via Facebook has been a major contributor to the alarming rise in the number of acts of violence carried out by Hindus against Muslims. In fact, communal violence rose for the first time in several years in 2015, and has climbed since, and much of this violence traces back to inflammatory or erroneous posts on Facebook.

Last year, for instance, members of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were arrested on charges of "spreading fake news and creating communal disharmony", which helped ignite and inflame riots in the West Bengal part of the country.

In fact, one BJP member encouraged Hindus to do to Muslims what they did in the 2002 Gujarat riots, when 790 Muslims were killed after Hindu extremists falsely accused Muslims of starting a fire on a passenger train that killed 59 Hindu pilgrims.

"Today, Hindus are not safe in the West Bengal state. Hindus in Bengal should respond to people involved in communal violence as Hindus in Gujarat did. Otherwise, soon Bengal will turn into Bangladesh," tweeted BJP Legislative Assembly Member, Raja Singh. This is a serious, and insufficiently recognised problem, especially in developing countries. Facebook posts that are meant to mischievously and intentionally victimise minorities gain great traction in places with low literacy rates, and even lower rates of media literacy.

Sri Lanka however, has a high literacy rate but poor media literacy levels, which means, according to Sanjana Hattotuwa, an analyst with the Center for Policy Alternatives in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, "The population can read and write but tends to immediately believe and uncritically respond to that which they see on social media."

Full report at:

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2018/3/27/facebook-a-global-threat-to-minority-muslim-communities

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I would be killed right away in Bangladesh: Writer Taslima Nasrin

Mar 27, 2018

Women’s rights crusader and controversial writer Taslima Nasrin was only 32 when she was hounded out of her country and forced to live in exile in Europe and America. Twenty-four years on, she’s lost all hope of returning to her native Bangladesh, where the crowds once bayed for her blood and where she feels she “would be killed right away”.

Starting out with her first collection of poetry in 1986, she published several books before Selected Columns, that led to the formation of Taslima Smash Committee. Her newspaper columns explored everyday perils women face and, to a large extent, held Islam responsible for the subjugation of women and their rights.

“Fundamentalists were angry because I was writing against Islam. It did not matter to them that I was also writing against other religions. In fact, I was not writing against anyone but for women and their rights,” Nasrin says.

Notwithstanding this complication, her second book of essays was published in 1992, but copies of it were soon burnt at the National Book Fair in Bangladesh which she was not allowed to visit.

Almost at the same time – not very far away from her home country – a large crowd of Hindu kar sevaks demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and just as a series of communal riots were engulfing India, Nasrin could feel its ripples back in Bangladesh.

“I was seeing and observing everything. Hindus were being targeted. Their shops were being broken down by mad crowds of people and so many Hindu patients were in hospitals telling their horror stories. I visited many places to see what was happening. I gave shelter to some of the Hindus. I just thought that nobody should be oppressed or tortured because of some buildings being destroyed. It was not the fault of Bangladeshi Hindus,” she explains.

And so her documentary novel Lajja, which is a protest against the torture on the minority community of Bangladesh, was published, and banned simultaneously in 1993. However, contrary to popular beliefs Lajja or Shame, was not the reason behind her ouster from Bangladesh.

“In Lajja, I didn’t write anything against Islam. The fanatics were angry from before, because of my newspaper columns on women, not Lajja. It was not against Islam, but my Selected Columns was very much against Islam because I was defending women. Fanatics were demanding the banning of my other books, not Lajja. They were happy that it was banned though,” she maintains.

In April 1994, Nasrin was invited to Paris for a talk on Press freedom and stopped in Kolkata on her way back to Dhaka. “I gave an interview to The Statesman newspaper and said that Quranic law should be changed, but it was misunderstood and headlined that Quran should be changed,” she says.

Nasrin issued a rejoinder immediately, saying “I don’t believe in religion so why should I feel the need to change it” and the newspaper obliged by publishing a corrigendum the following day – but it was too late.

“When I entered Dhaka, aag jal raha tha (the city was on fire). They would have killed me right away. They believe Allah has written the Quran and the interview said that I wanted to change the Quran. It was a big thing. There were lakhs of people on the streets across the country. The government filed a case of blasphemy against me. The fundamentalists were already angry, now they had got something solid against me,” she says.

Through June and July of 1993, Nasrin remained in hiding. “Baad main mera bail hua on condition that I had to leave the country,” she recalled. Meanwhile, several Human Rights organisations were pressurising the governments in the West to come to her rescue. Noted writers like Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie, among others, wrote open letters, published in several leading European newspapers at the same time.

“One night, the police put me on a flight. I was received in Bangkok by the Chief Security officer of Sweden and they took me to Sweden. I just didn’t want to believe that it was forever. I thought it would be for one month, two months or three months, maximum six months. So I was very restless to go back to my country. I never wanted to settle anywhere else... but I slowly realised it was not possible. Bangladesh was left far behind,” she laments.

From Sweden to Germany to Paris and then to the United States and finally to India, Nasrin was living what she calls the “celebrity life” – her books were being translated into foreign languages, many ministers would come to visit her and she was being bestowed with several prestigious honours. “It was all too big for me. Prize, prize. But I always wanted to go back to my country – that would have been the real prize,” she said.

“I so much wanted to go back to my country, but now all my close relatives and family are gone. And I know that the country has been totally Islamised now. All my old classmates now wear the hijab, so many of my friends have been hacked to death. Bloggers are being killed. Those people are being hacked to death and I am their old target. I would be killed right away,” she says.

Nasrin maintains that “I will never be able to go back because the government will always prevent me from entering”, but yearns for freedom of movement. “Why should Bangladesh say that you are not allowed to enter this country? I should be allowed, if I don’t go there, that is my choice, but as a universal citizen, I should be allowed to move freely. Not only me, everybody,” she maintains.

Nasrin’s latest book is titled Split and its Bengali original was banned by the Left Front in West Bengal as well as by Bangladesh in 2003. While the West Bengal government lifted the injunction after the ban was struck down by the Calcutta High Court in 2005, Nasrin was eventually driven out of Kolkata, the city that she found closest to her home in Bangladesh.

Full report at:

https://www.hindustantimes.com/books/i-would-be-killed-right-away-in-bangladesh-writer-taslima-nasrin/story-rnuyJrxiayX2c68n8DNMXJ.html

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5 years on, Meiktila Muslims still facing hardships

27.03.2018

The Muslim community in a central Myanmar town is still facing hard times even five years after they had suffered a Buddhist mob rampage.

Meiktila in central Mandalay region had seen a violence in March 2013 that left 43 people dead and about 12,000 homeless, most of them Muslims.

Community leaders are slowly healing the emotional scar caused on the people by the violence through the interfaith dialogues and activities.

“The incident destroyed our mutual trust. So we are working together with Buddhist leaders to rebuild it since after the violence,” said San Win Shein, a Muslim community leader in Meiktila.

“It is not that easy (to make people fully recover) as both sides had been hurt by the violence,” he told Anadolu Agency by phone on Monday.

“However, the relations between Buddhist and Muslim communities were improving,” he said.

The violence erupted after a mob attacked a Muslim-owned gold shop in the center of Meiktila following a dispute on March 20, 2013.

Over the next two days more than 40 people were killed by the mob, which also destroyed Muslim homes, set fire to mosques and attacked religious schools.

Radical Buddhist faction

“The residents now seem to have realized how bad the effect of such incident on society is,” said San Win Shein, who is joint-secretary of the town’s inter-faith association formed by the government after the violence.

“So they are cooperating with us in making sure such bad things never happen here again,” he said.

However, the community leaders described radical Buddhist faction “a major threat” to their effort to maintain stability and harmony between the two communities.

A group of hardline Buddhists including monks is carrying out events propagating hate speech routinely since it was established in early 2016.

Withodda, a Buddhist monk in Meiktila, is famous for his effort to save around 800 Muslims during the violence. Despite the threat from the Buddhist rioters, he let Muslims taking refuge in his monastery.

He told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that the events organized by the group of hardline Buddhists are losing audience. “However, it still attracts people with poor knowledge on non-Buddhist religions,” he added.

“That’s why we are working at full speed to raise public awareness on multi-religion and multi-culture,” Withodda said.

However, he said some government officials still need to “change their mindset” on non-Buddhist religions.

Freedom of worship

“Like Buddhists, followers of other religions should also enjoy their rights,” he said, pointing out to recent reports of authorities imposing limits on the places of worships on Christians and Muslims.

“They also need to act with wisdom and courage for freedom of worship,” he said.

Five years on, seven out of 13 mosques in Meiktila -- which had been chained shut during the 2013 violence -- remain closed, making difficulty for Muslims to worship.

“It’s obvious that six mosques are not enough for Muslim population here,” said Htein Lin Khaing, a Meiktila-based activist.

Moreover, a recent order by the township administrative office banned the prayer service at non-religious building.

The letter dated on March 7 states action will be taken on those who conduct religious activities at building which has not authorized by the authorities. “This is unnecessary, and will only make people panic,” said Htein Lin Khaing.

A Muslim resident, who asked not to be named due to security concerns, told Anadolu Agency that he is taking great care in dealing with his daily life so that they avoid the nightmare again.

Full report at:

https://aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/5-years-on-meiktila-muslims-still-facing-hardships/1100727

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Shrinking space for freedom of expression in Bangladesh

March 28, 2018

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Bangladesh face challenges from religious fanatics and from a government that is all out to consolidate power by stifling dissent and suppressing independent media.

Though Bangladesh's constitution guarantees freedom of expression, political Islam has spread its wings since the 1975 coup and consequent military rule. Islam was made the state religion and secularism was removed from the original constitution of 1972.

Eventually, Islamist political parties enjoyed a revival in the South Asian nation of 165 million people, of whom 90 percent are Muslim, despite the country having a long tradition of religious harmony and pluralism.

In recent years, homegrown extremists inspired by regional and global jihadist outfits including the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have killed dozens of free thinkers, journalists and bloggers.

In power since 2008, the Awami League, which led Bangladesh's Liberation War against Pakistan in 1971, has failed to restore the original constitution of 1972.

Bangladesh's present constitution declares secularism as one of four key principles but maintains Islam as the state religion. In 2010, the Awami League faced criticism for its "double standard" when it reinserted secularism but kept Islam as the state religion.

Pro-Awami League theorists lauded the party's shrewd approach as it kept Islam as the state religion for its political implications.

The Awami League has augmented its power in the present parliament, which does not have an effective opposition as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami boycotted the national election in 2014.

Since 2009, the International Crimes Tribunal has handed down the death penalty to a number of top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami and the BNP for crimes against humanity during the Liberation War.

Secular bloggers and writers launched the Shahbag movement in Dhaka in 2013 against a "lenient" war crimes verdict against Abdul Kader Mollah, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader. The movement was joined by tens of thousands, and it turned into one of the largest popular movements in the country's recent history. Among its demands were banning religion-based politics and political parties including Jamaat-e-Islami, and confiscation of businesses owned by the party.

The movement also led to a counter movement by Islamist parties and the nation has since seen the killing of secular bloggers, writers and journalists. In 2013, a hit list of 84 atheists, free thinkers, anti-Jamaatis and secular bloggers was widely circulated by Islamist fundamentalist groups.

On Aug. 12, 2015, a group calling itself the Ittahadul Mujahidin sent a letter to the media threatening to kill 19 bloggers, artists, ministers and teachers for being "satanic bloggers", "enemies of Islam" and "atheists."

Bangladesh police recorded that 597 persons were sued for terror links in 2015 when at least 25 people were killed in 26 attacks by suspected militants. The attacks were also aimed at foreigners including priests and religious minorities.

There was a deep sense of fear among free thinkers. Police warned of legal action against those whose writings could hurt religious sentiments. Some police officials even labeled both writers and their killers as extremists.

A deadly militant attack on July 1, 2016, in a Dhaka cafe left nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian and three Bangladeshis dead. All these events led to the development of serious self-censorship among all walks of life, especially secular voices and independent and progressive journalists.

In August 2015, Prothom Alo, the most popular Bangla newspaper, reported it had lost at least 35 percent of its advertising revenue, while English-language sister paper The Daily Star's revenue had plummeted about 25 percent.

According to an Al Jazeera report on Oct. 7 that year, the decline in advertising followed instructions from Bangladesh's military intelligence agency to major companies to stop advertising in those two leading independent newspapers after they published on Aug. 16 a story on the army's killing of five men in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, whom they termed as "indigenous" instead of "terrorists."

Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam in a TV talk show in 2016 conceded that reports published in the newspaper in 2007 alleging corruption by Sheikh Hasina, now prime minister, were based on uncorroborated leaks fed by military intelligence. The fact is that almost all the media then did the same but without admitting it. Anam's admission led to attacks against him from the government and ruling Awami League loyalists. He faced around 80 cases of sedition and defamation.

When the country's most prominent editor faced such actions, other media got the message about the sort of challenge they may face for speaking against the government, however true it might be. Self-censorship in the media became more common.

The law also threatens media freedom. Bangladesh's Information and Communication Technology Act of 2006 has been severely criticized, particularly for section 57, which criminalizes online content regarded as defamatory or blasphemous.

Dozens of journalists, bloggers and rights activists have been charged under this repressive law. Amid local and international criticism, the government decided to revoke the draconian provision only to reinsert it in the upcoming Digital Security Act.

The new law, if passed in its current form, would make the lives of journalists, writers, free thinkers and rights advocates even more difficult.

The government says the law aims to curb online crime and terrorism following a deadly rise of militancy; but the act also includes some controversial provisions that would thwart freedom of expression.

Full report at:

https://www.ucanews.com/news/shrinking-space-for-freedom-of-expression-in-bangladesh/81845

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Afghan Air Force drops first laser-guided on Taliban in Farah

Mar 28 2018

The Afghan Air Force successfully deployed a laser-guided bomb during a combat mission and targeted a hideout of the Taliban in Farah, just three months after completing their training to use the laser-guided bombs in combat missions.

According to a report by the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, the bomb was dropped during a mission on 22nd of March in western Farah province of Afghanistan.

“On March 22, the Afghan Air Force tasked the A-29 squadron to destroy a Taliban compound in Farah. The Afghan attack pilots were equipped with both guided and unguided bombs, and elected to employ the GBU-58 laser-guided bomb to avoid collateral damage,” the report stated.

According to the alliance, the drop resulted in a direct hit along the route of a major Afghan National Army clearing operation, marking the first time the AAF dropped a laser-guided bomb in combat.

The AAF used the laser-guided technology because of the target’s close proximity to civilians, the report adds.

The success comes just three months after the AAF completed training to employ a laser-guided bomb. AAF weapons personnel and crew chiefs loaded, armed, and launched the aircraft with minimal advisor input.

“Key pieces that you’re seeing is that the Afghan Air Force itself, one of the more lethal organizations they have, and one that we’re looking to triple in size by 2023, is conducting significantly more air operations in direct support of the ANDSF on the battlefield, to the tune of 500 more sorties this year than they did the year before,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Lance Bunch, director of future operations, Resolute Support, in a December 2017 press conference.

Bunch also noted the Afghan forces conducted their combat operations through 2017 with the lowest level of support from the coalition forces in the 16-year war here, yet has seen some of the most success they’ve ever had.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/afghan-air-force-drops-first-laser-guided-on-taliban-in-farah-04736/

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Taliban fully or partially controls half of Afghanistan, claims Moscow

Mar 27 2018

The Russian officials are saying that the Taliban group has control over half of Afghanistan’s territory as they insist on intra-Afghan peace talks to end the conflict.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in his speech at the Tashkent conference on Afghanistan, claimed that the Taliban group has fully or partially control over half of the territory of Afghanistan.

He said the group continues to conduct military and acts of sabotage which have resulted into the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

He also insisted that achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan was only possible by launching a constructive dialogue beteween the Afghan government and the Taliban group.

Lavrov rejected that the conflict in Afghanistan would be resolved through use of power.

In other parts of his speech, Lavrov said his country was concerned regarding the growing activities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, particularly in northern parts of the country.

This comes as President Ghani also warned the regional countries regarding the growing menace of terrorism posing threats to Afghanistan and other regional countries as he called for joint cooperation to implement the strategy against terrorism.

Speaking during the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan, President Ghani said the terrorist groups do not recognize any geography, emphasizing that Afghans have made major sacrifices in the fight against terrorism, insisting that the fight against terrorism cannot be limited to one nation.

Full report at:

https://www.khaama.com/taliban-fully-or-partially-controls-half-of-afghanistan-claims-moscow-04732/

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Arab World

 

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood banned from politics

March 28, 2018

The largest group representing political Sunni Islam in Egypt for the past 90 years has been banned from politics, after being labelled a “terrorist” organisation - a charge the group firmly denies.

It is not the first time that the Muslim Brotherhood has been persecuted by the state.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/03/egypts-muslim-brotherhood-banned-politics-180327141501428.html

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At least 27 people killed as militants attack Syrian capital Damascus

Mar 28, 2018

At least 27 people have been killed by militant shelling in the Syrian capital city of Damascus, says the Russian military.

According to the TASS news agency on Tuesday, almost 60 other civilians were also injured in the mortar attacks which originated from Eastern Ghouta.

Holed up inside Eastern Ghouta, foreign-backed militants have been launching indiscriminate mortar and rocket attacks on Damascus, which have resulted in many civilian deaths. They are also using civilians as human shields in the face of army advances.

The latest developments come amid reports that Syrian government forces have gained control over 90 percent of the Eastern Ghouta region.

Syria has established a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to leave the operation zone, while Russia has been enforcing daily pauses in fighting to facilitate people's exit.

West of guilty of political blackmail: Syria

Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to the UN has claimed that Western countries are guilty of attempting to politically blackmail the Syrian government with their hysteria about the situation in Eastern Ghouta.

"We have been witness to a state of hysteria over the past weeks in the council as the Syrian government sought to exercise its sovereign right and to combat terrorist groups ... and to restore security and stability," Bashar Ja'afari said.

He noted that the Western countries' actions are aimed at protecting the terrorists. He added that contrary to claims made by the US, Eastern Ghouta has not fallen and that in fact it is terrorists who have failed.

Russia defends ceasefire efforts in Syria

Also on Tuesday, Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia has defended his country's efforts to implement a ceasefire in Syria.

"The Russian Federation has proactively taken measures to normalize this situation," he said.

Nebenzia added that Russia was the only UN Security Council member to engage in solid efforts aimed at preserving the ceasefire.

"Some members of the Security Council prefer to squander time on letters and rhetoric with unfounded claims against our country," he added.

Nebenzia's remarks were made after the US envoy to UN claimed that the Syria ceasefire had failed to yield any positive outcome.

"History will not be kind when it judges the effectiveness of this council in relieving the suffering of the Syrian people," said Nikki Haley calling for the council to pass a new resolution expressing outrage over the failure to heed the call for a halt to the fighting.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/28/556688/syria-damascus-ceasefire-shelling

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US reportedly building large military base in Syria’s oil-rich Dayr al-Zawr

Mar 27, 2018

The United States has begun the process of building a large military base in Syria’s oil-rich Dayr al-Zawr province, a report says.

Citing a high-ranking representative of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Russia‘s Sputnik News broke the news in a report on Tuesday.

According to Mehdi Kobani, the SDF's press secretary in Dayr al-Zawr, major military installations are underway in the vicinity of al-Omar oilfield –the biggest oil deposit in Syria.

"The US is building a large military base in the oil-rich al-Omar region of Dayr al-Zawr province. Due to security concerns we cannot provide information about the acreage of this new installation. There is currently construction machinery working in the vicinity of the base, and security is being provided by SDF forces," he said.

Local media outlets had earlier shown US military helicopters operating in the area.

The US and its allies have been running a military campaign against purported terrorist targets in Syria since September 2014 without a mandate from the UN or Damascus, while backing militants fighting to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/27/556682/Eying-Syrias-oil-US-builds-military-base

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Iraqi Roma village school reopens 14 years after destruction

28 March 2018

AL-ZUHOUR, Iraq: Carrying her bag on the way home from class, Malak is glowing: the 10-year-old girl has just finished her first-ever semester of school in her Iraqi Roma village.

In 2004 armed Islamists attacked the village of Al-Zuhour in Iraq’s Diwaniya province, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Baghdad, destroying the only school for the marginalized Roma community.

“On television, I would see other children with school bags and they looked happy,” Malak told AFP.

“I was a bit jealous because our school was destroyed years ago,” she said.

The 2003 US-led invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime had changed things dramatically for the Muslim Roma minority, who had come to Iraq centuries before from India.

During the dictator’s rule, Iraq’s Roma — also called “Kawliya” or gypsies — were primarily known as professional musicians and dancers invited to feasts, weddings and parties.

But since the rise of hard-line Islamist groups in Iraq after Saddam’s fall, the Roma have increasingly been persecuted, accused of loose morals and of participating in parties where alcohol was served.

Many of the country’s tens of thousands of Roma have been forced to flee their native villages, often reduced to begging on the streets.

The same held true for the people of Al-Zuhour after Islamist fighters attacked the village leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.

For 14 years the village children had no school to go to.

But today, thanks to an online campaign, Al-Zuhour’s nearly 100 remaining families have opened a school amid dusty dirt roads often lined with rubbish.

“As soon as we heard about it, I was the happiest person in the world. I begged my father to sign me up,” Malak told AFP, wearing a beige hijab to match her coat.

During her first-ever school semester Malak says she was taught “to read and write, mathematics and sciences.”

Now she “dreams of becoming a school teacher” in her village, home to stone structures with thatched palm roofs.

Before the new school opened, some children from Al-Zuhour tried to continue their studies in nearby villages but they were not welcomed, said activist Manar Al-Zubeidi.

“They were insulted and sometimes beaten, so many stopped going to school,” Zubeidi, who helped launch the campaign for the new school, told AFP.

After being turned away by a number of human rights associations, Zubeidi took her campaign to the Internet along with several other volunteers using the Arabic-language hashtag “Roma are human.”

The campaign attracted the support of Iraq’s ministry of education, the government body for human rights and the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF).

Once the material for the school was obtained, it became necessary to recruit teachers. But “social barriers” still exist, said Zubeidi.

Many candidates declined the job for fear of being associated with the Roma of Diwaniya, the second poorest province in Iraq.

Qassem Abbas, who was tipped to become the principal of the newly-named Al-Nakhil (Palm Trees) school, said he was initially hesitant and concerned about his reputation in the tribal province.

“But when I knew that these children had no school for 14 years, I reminded myself that I worked in education to teach everyone, regardless of their gender or origin, so I accepted,” he told AFP.

Abbas stuck with the job despite being the target of criticism on social media, he said.

He teaches a group of 27 primary schoolchildren with the help of two other teachers.

Their efforts were clear at the end of the first semester.

“Ninety percent of the students passed the final exams, and many with high marks,” he said.

When Al-Nakhil school first opened it was set up in a tent but it now comprises nine prefabricated rooms: six for the school proper and three that serve as an infirmary.

Haydar Sattar, the UNICEF representative in Diwaniya, said the infirmary provides health services to the students and the rest of the village.

“The people of Al-Zuhour face forms of sectarian discrimination, marginalization and racism,” he said. “But the most important issue (until now) was the lack of education services.”

Full report at:

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1274896/middle-east

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Syria, Russia threaten new assault on Ghouta town

March 28, 2018

BEIRUT - Syria and its ally Russia have threatened to resume bombing the final opposition holdout of Douma in Eastern Ghouta unless rebels there agree to evacuate, sources told AFP on Tuesday.

Jaish al-Islam, the powerful Islamist faction that holds Douma, had hoped that talks with Moscow would result in their staying in the town, instead of being bused out like other rebels. But negotiations have stalled and Russia has demanded a full withdrawal from Douma, two opposition sources close to the negotiations said.

"At the end of their meeting Monday, the Russians gave Jaish al-Islam two choices: surrender or face an attack," one of them told AFP.

Russia gave the group a few days before a military assault on the town, they said.

The source said Moscow urged them to follow the example of Faylaq al-Rahman, another Islamist faction that agreed last week to withdraw from its zone in Ghouta after immense military pressure. Russia has brokered deals with Faylaq and another hardline group that has seen more than 17,000 rebels, their relatives, and other civilians bused out of Ghouta. Before they faltered, talks over Douma's fate had envisioned Jaish al-Islam laying down its heavy weapons in exchange for government-provided water and electricity returning to the town. Douma had been relatively calm as negotiations were underway, without the heavy bombing raining on other towns.

But Moscow was no longer willing to accept a special exception for Douma, the second opposition source told AFP. "The Russians don't want an agreement for Douma that's different from other parts of Ghouta, but Jaish al-Islam wants to stay and doesn't want any residents to leave," the source said. "They gave them an ultimatum," the source said, adding that the group had "until Wednesday or Thursday" to respond.

Al-Watan, a newspaper close to the Syrian government, reported Tuesday that military forces were already amassing around Douma.

"All forces involved in Eastern Ghouta are heading towards Douma ahead of a massive military operation if the terrorists of Jaish al-Islam do not agree to hand over the city and leave," the daily said, citing a military source.

Full report at:

https://nation.com.pk/28-Mar-2018/syria-russia-threaten-new-assault-on-ghouta-town

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Syria: More Militants to Leave Eastern Ghouta for Idlib

Mar 27, 2018

The sources said that a number of buses started to arrive in Jobar, Zmelka, Arbin and Ein Terma militant-held regions in Eastern Ghouta to pick up another group of gunmen and their families to Idlib.

They added that the army units on Tuesday morning secured the exit of another group of civilians who were held by terrorists in the Northern part of the Eastern Ghouta through al-Wafedeen camp corridor.

The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier today that more than 6,700 militants and their families left Syria’s Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus via a humanitarian corridor on Monday, adding that they were transported to Idlib province.

“On the basis of an earlier agreement signed by senior officials of the Russian center for Syrian reconciliation and leaders of the Faylaq al-Rahman group, militants continued to withdraw from the settlement of Arbin (Eastern Ghouta) on March 26, and a sum of 6,749 militants and members of their families left the area through the organized humanitarian corridor and were transported by 110 buses to the province of Idlib,” the ministry’s statement read.

The total number of militants and their families, who have left Arbin in the past three days, has reached 13,190 people, the ministry added.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970107000709

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Militants Agree to Reconcile with Syrian Army in Northern Homs

Mar 27, 2018

The reports indicated that the militants in the towns of Talbiseh, al-Ghantou, and al-Rastan have agreed to the terms offered by the Russian reconciliation center, the AMN reported.

The reconciliation will be signed and applied in one week, the sources added.

Part of the deal will require the rebels to handover their heavy weapons to the government and raise the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic over the towns they control.

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970107000570

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Fresh Infighting Erupts among Terrorist Groups in Northern Syria

Mar 27, 2018

The sources said that the blow delivered by Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at hit the ranks of Syria's Tahrir Front merger faction Nouralddeen al-Zinki (notorious for beheading a child in 2016) at the town of Maklabis.

The sources went on to say that the Tahrir al-Sham infiltration troops (inghamasis) managed to kill at least a dozen Syria's Tahrir Front fighters and leaders within a matter of minutes, including senior commander Abu Walid al-Homsi and two other field commanders.

In a relevant development on Monday, heavy infighting erupted between Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at and Syria's Tahrir Front in Ajel and Jamiat al-Sa'adiyeh villages in Western Aleppo, the towns of Khan al-Sobol and Kafr Batikh in Idlib, the village of al-Jaradeh in Southern Idlib and the two villages of al-Mansoureh and Kharbat al-Naqous in Western Hama.

Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at also won control of al-Mohandeen Awal, al-Mohandeseen Thani, Sheikh Ali, Reef al-Ateba, al-Fouj 46, Tadil, Ajil, Urum Soqra, Taqad, Kafr Nouran, al-Tawameh, Kafr Karamayn, Ma'arat al-Na'asan and Mirnaz regions.

Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at erected checkpoints in the village of Atmeh near the border with Turkey and stopped traffic of fuel vehicles from Northern Aleppo to Idlib.

Reports from the region said Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at also imposed control over Ram Hamdan, Hazreh, Kafr Yahmoul, Ma'arat Mesrin, Tarmanin, Tala'adat Waqah, Aqrabat, Kafr Lousin, Atmeh and Deir Hissan regions in Northern Idlib.

The infighting erupted after a huge blast rocked the base of the foreign members of Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at in Central Idlib on Saturday, inflicting tens of casualties on the terrorist group.

Militant-affiliated sources reported that a bomb-laden car was detonated in front of a building called 'National Salvation Government' in the Center of Idlib city.

The sources added that the building belongs to the Uzbek militants of Tahrir al-Sham, saying that at least 15 militants were killed and tens of others were wounded in the explosion.

Tensions have intensified among the terrorists in Idlib province in recent days.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970107000618

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Russian Warplanes Pound ISIL's Strongholds in Eastern Syria

Mar 27, 2018

The sources said that the fighter jets targeted and destroyed a main position of the ISIL terrorists on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

The report added the ISIL suffered heavy casualties as a result of the Russian attack.

Rumors were spread on Monday that the US had bombed the Syrian Army’s positions in Eastern Deir Ezzur; however, a military source told the MNA that the attack never occurred.

The alleged US attack on the Syrian Army was likely confused with the Russian assault on ISIL’s positions in Eastern Deir Ezzur.

Field sources said on Tuesday that the US had established a new base in Southeastern Deir Ezzur and dispatched weapons and military equipment to the region, as Russia warned of American forces' possible attack on Syrian army positions.

The sources said that the US forces built a new and advanced military base in al-Omar oilfield in Southeastern Deir Ezzur, adding that they also transferred a large volume of arms and equipment, including missiles, military vehicles and bridge equipment to the regions of their deployment in Koniko oilfield, al-Omar oilfield and al-Jafreh.

Full report at:

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13970107000266

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‘Biggest convoy yet’ leaves rebel pocket of Syria’s Ghouta

27 March 2018

The largest convoy yet of evacuated Syrian rebel fighters and civilians began leaving a devastated pocket of Eastern Ghouta overnight, state media said on Tuesday.

One hundred buses carrying 6,749 people -- around a quarter of them fighters -- left a part of the enclave controlled by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel faction, the SANA state news agency said.

The departure was part of a deal reached last week between the Islamist group and Russia, which is helping its Syrian ally negotiate such deals to clear the last rebels out of Ghouta.

Russian-backed Syrian troops and allied militia have waged a brutal offensive since February 18 in which they have recaptured more than 90 percent of Ghouta, a onetime rebel bastion on the edge of Damascus.

Moscow has negotiated two evacuation deals so far for Ghouta.

One, implemented last week, saw hardline Islamist rebels from Ahrar al-Sham leave the battered town of Harasta in the west of the enclave.

The agreement with Faylaq al-Rahman was announced on Friday and its implementation started the following morning.

Nearly 1,000 people -- including rebels, their relatives and other civilians -- were evacuated on Saturday, followed by 5,435 people on Sunday.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2018/03/27/Biggest-convoy-yet-leaves-rebel-pocket-of-Syria-s-Ghouta.html

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Mideast

 

Countries sponsoring terrorism pay US for support: Iran diplomat

Mar 27, 2018

A senior Iranian diplomat says some countries, which are sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East region, are paying billions of dollars to the US administration to support their destructive policies.

Kamal Kharrazi, a former Iranian foreign minister and the current president of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, made the remarks in an address at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Monday night.

“Some countries, which sponsor terrorism and destabilize the region, are paying hundreds of billions of dollars to the incumbent US administration to support their destructive policies,” Kharrazi said.

He added that enemies of the Islamic Republic are portraying the country's sacrifices in the fight against Takfiri terrorists in a negative light.

In their vast propaganda, the enemies claim that Iran's campaign against terrorism spreads instability in the region; however, many governments and nations in the world are well aware that such bids against the Islamic Republic pursue no goal but to conceal their role in supporting terrorism, the Iranian official noted.

"Reports reveal that certain southern Persian Gulf countries and the United States of America are playing a role in transferring terrorists to other regions, including Afghanistan," Kharrazi said.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in January expressed regret over the deaths of Afghan civilians in Daesh terror attacks, saying the United States has been relocating the terror group from the Middle East to the South Asian country to justify its military presence in the region.

By transferring the Daesh terror group from Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan, the US seeks “to justify the continuation of its presence in the region and to create security for the Zionist regime,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami also said in February that the US was transferring Daesh to Afghanistan to justify its military presence in the Central Asian country following heavy blows dealt to the Takfiri terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

The Iranian defense minister also stressed that the US created Daesh to use it in Syria and Iraq.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Kharrazi urged independent regional countries to strengthen cooperation and help restore stability to the region given the ongoing developments across the world.

"As it has been shown in practice, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to cooperate with other countries whether in mutual or multilateral forms in order to solve regional problems and establish stability and security," the senior Iranian official pointed out.

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/27/556651/Kamal-Kharrazi-Institute-of-Policy-Studies-Islamabad-terrorism

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Recent US decisions equal to declaration of war on Palestinians: PA spox

Mar 27, 2018

The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman says the recent decisions by the United States to cut direct financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority in meeting its recurrent expenditure and delivery of public services and additional US military aid to Israel ate “equivalent to a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.”

Nabil Abu Rudeinah said in a statement published on the official Wafa news agency that Washington’s support for the Tel Aviv regime’s policies of occupation, settlement expansion and aggression, US Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem al-Quds as the capital of Israel and relocation of its embassy to the occupied city leave no doubt that the US cannot be an honest mediator.

He added the US aid cut to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and its threat to stop aid to the Palestinian Authority will only increase the Palestinian people's steadfastness and adherence to their national rights.

The senior Palestinian official further noted that the Palestinian leadership and nation will eventually beat off their challenges and will not allow any ambition project aimed at terminating the Palestinian cause to progress.

Rudeinah added al-Quds and its sacred sites in addition to Palestinians’ rights are not up for sale, and that the true peace can only be achieved by the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

He said the US pledge to provide $705 million to the Israeli military while cutting off aid for the Palestinian nation will further sour the already tense atmosphere, and undermine the interests of all.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/27/556647/Recent-US-decisions-equal-to-declaration-of-war-on-Palestinians-PA-spox

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Israel arrests hundreds of Palestinian workers before Jewish holidays

Mar 28, 2018

Tel Aviv’s forces have arrested hundreds of undocumented Palestinian laborers working in Israel ahead of Jewish holidays during a massive operation denounced by rights activists as “racist.”

In the operation dubbed “Biur Chametz,” meaning cleaning a house from non-Kosher food, nearly 2,300 officers and “volunteers,” assisted by Israel’s air force, have raided dozens of locations in Israel since Saturday.

Out of the 569 arrested, 468 were Palestinian laborers working in Israel without permit, 17 were accused of harboring laborers, 24 were suspected of transporting and eight were suspected of employing.

“These operations will continue as long as necessary in different areas, as part of security in order to prevent incidents from taking place,” Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman said.

Rights activists have slammed the operation for both its crackdown on undocumented workers and the insulting connotation of its name.

Racist name of operation

Biur Chametz refers to a religious Jewish tradition of removing all traces of non-kosher food from a home either by cleaning all surfaces, burning leftovers, or giving them to non-Jews.

“Israeli police’s terminology towards people, like food that must be cleaned and removed, attests to the racist character of the police activity,” Adalah, an NGO dedicated to Palestinian legal rights in Israel, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Indeed, this is an ethnic cleansing.”

“These Palestinians do not have any intention to harm anyone yet the police treat them like criminals who must be arrested, for no fault of their own,” Adalah pointed out.

Israeli forces typically intensify crackdown on Palestinians before and during Jewish holidays, including massive arrests and closure of crossings into the occupied territories.

As of Thursday, a day before the Jewish holiday Passover, Israeli forces will close crossings from the West Bank and Gaza Strip for eight days, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

According to the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), 70,000 Palestinian workers with permits crossed daily into Israel in 2017.

Israeli police regularly carry out raids targeting undocumented workers, as well as the Israeli citizens suspected of employing them and housing them.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/28/556704/Palestine-Israel-worker

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Gaza’s graduates finally get recognition they've demanded

Khaled Abu Amer

March 27, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Ministry of Education and Higher Education of the Palestinian national consensus government announced in a statement March 13 the first step of a plan aimed at solving the problem facing graduates of universities that were established following the 2007 Palestinian division and were not recognized by the ministry in the West Bank. This step consists of approving certificates issued by these unrecognized universities and colleges in the Gaza Strip. Further steps will be taken before the start of the academic year in September, according to the statement.

On March 14, dozens of holders of bachelor's degrees rushed to the headquarters of the Ministry of Education in Gaza to have their certificates certified.

Students who graduated from universities and disciplines established during the Palestinian division hold diplomas that are not recognized by the ministry in the West Bank city of Ramallah. This prevents them from entering the labor market and working in government departments or associations in Palestine and around the world. It also prevents them from applying to graduate programs that require a certificate approved by the Education Ministry.

According to the ministry’s statement, only two categories of students are to benefit from the decision. The first category includes graduates of university programs approved by the ministry's Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission (AQAC) in the West Bank and recognized by the Ministry of Education in Gaza. The second category includes students who had a minimum high school GPA of 2.3. Such accreditation is to go in accordance with the exceptions issued by the Ministry of Education; during the period of division, the ministry in Ramallah allowed fewer than 20 students who did not have a GPA of 2.3 to study in recognized universities.

Of note, the Palestinian division led AQAC to adopt different approval standards in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip.

According to statistics of the Ministry of Education, from the 2016-17 academic year, the number of higher education institutions in Gaza recognized and licensed by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education amounts to 15: five traditional universities, four university colleges and six community colleges. Meanwhile, there are seven unrecognized universities that were founded in the wake of the Palestinian division in 2007: Ummah Open University, Academy of Management and Policy for Graduate Policies, Al-Awda University College, Palestine Polytechnic University, Ribat University College, Zaytuna College and University College of Al-Sahaba.

The number of graduates from unrecognized universities amounts to 13,000, while the number of students who are still studying at these universities amounts to 12,000.

These universities were founded in the wake of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, and they are unrecognized because they were established in the absence of a legitimate authority. Tens of thousands of students attended these universities because they offered unique specialties that were not found elsewhere, such as police science and law offered at Ummah Open University.

Ayman al-Yazuri, the assistant undersecretary of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, told Al-Monitor, “Ever since Minister of Education and Higher Education Sabri Saidam assumed his duties in Gaza on Oct. 3, the issue of unrecognized universities has been on the table. The minister instructed the formation of a six-member committee on Jan. 6 to address the situation of universities and graduates in Gaza. The committee recommended studying the programs offered by each university established after 2007, and the first step of the plan referred to by the ministry’s March 13 statement is to recognize certificates held by graduates of programs that obtained the dual approval of the Ministries of Education and Higher Education in the West Bank and Gaza.”

During the Palestinian division, while the Ministry of Education approved some university programs adopted by unrecognized universities, it still refused to recognize the certificates held by graduates of such universities.

“The number of students benefiting from this recognition will reach 5,000 students, to which another 8,000 graduates will be added before the start of the next academic year in September,” Yazuri said. “The decision involves students who have already graduated."

Although the minister’s decision aims to address the status of unrecognized universities, Ummah Open University in Gaza will not be included in the decision because it accepted students with a minimum GPA of 2.0, and it has not gotten any authorization for its programs from AQAC in Gaza.

Raafat al-Hor, the acting president of Ummah Open University, told Al-Monitor, “The university rejects the ministry’s exclusion of Ummah Open University and its refusal to recognize any of the 12 programs offered by the university. The university met all the conditions and criteria set [by AQAC] for the establishment of universities. It also obtained the approval of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Gaza in 2008, and was recognized by a number of Arab educational organizations such as the Arab Network for Open and Distance Learning, Association of Arab Universities, Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World and Arab-ACRAO [Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers]; 7,000 students have graduated from this university and 5,000 are currently studying there.”

Raba Hussam, a 22-year-old student in the faculty of dentistry at the University of Palestine, told Al-Monitor, “I spent five years studying dentistry. I faced all kinds of challenges and I defied my parents and friends who wanted me to find another university that offers the same program. I refused to bow to such pressure. I graduated two months ago hoping that a decision would eventually be issued by the minister to solve the issue of unaccredited certificates and to obtain a master’s degree or a doctorate in an Arab or European country.”

The faculty of dentistry was established during the Palestinian division without an approval from AQAC in Ramallah. However, on April 4, 2017, AQAC suddenly decided to approve the program, which makes graduates of this faculty among the categories that can benefit from the ministry’s decision.

In addition to new specializations, these unaccredited universities also offered other benefits such as cheaper tuition fees. Plus, maritime navigation graduates at Ribat University College, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Interior in Gaza, get a job in the police force upon graduation.

Aya Islim, the spokeswoman for the student movement for unrecognized Palestinian universities in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “The decision of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education is long overdue. Over the last 10 years, students have lost many job opportunities and failed to pursue master’s degrees both inside Gaza and abroad. We are still organizing protests and demonstrations in front of the headquarters of the Ministry of Education to ask the ministry to recognize all the universities and graduates who fell prey to the division.”

Full report at:

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/03/palestine-gaza-graduates-higher-education-accreditation.html

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Half a million students drop out in Yemen war

March 28, 2018

SANAA - Close to half a million Yemeni children have dropped out of school since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in the country’s civil war, UNICEF said Tuesday.

That brings the number of children without access to education to two million, as minors are increasingly recruited in the fighting, according to the UN children’s agency.

“An entire generation of children in Yemen faces a bleak future because of limited or no access to education,” said Meritxell Relano, UNICEF’s Yemen representative. “The journey to school has also become dangerous as children risk being killed en route,” Relano said.

“Fearing for their children’s safety, many parents choose to keep their children at home. The lack of access to education has pushed children and families to dangerous alternatives, including early marriage, child labour and recruitment into the fighting.” At least 2,419 children have been recruited by armed groups since 2015, according to UNICEF.

Another 4.5 million risk losing access to public schools as teachers have not been paid in more than a year amid a crisis that has seen Yemen - long the Arab world’s poorest country - reach the brink of official famine.

Full report at:

https://nation.com.pk/28-Mar-2018/half-a-million-students-drop-out-in-yemen-war

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Iran mocks Saudi threats but worries about destabilization

March 28, 2018

TEHRAN - Iranian officials and analysts on Tuesday rejected claims of supplying weapons to Yemeni rebels and mocked Saudi warnings of retaliation for a weekend missile attack.

But while deriding the threat of direct Saudi military action, conservative analysts in Tehran did express worry about what they said were increasingly coordinated efforts by the United States and its allies to destabilise the country.

The latest flashpoint in the ever-volatile region came on Sunday when Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen fired seven missiles into Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh said the missiles were Iranian-made and vowed “to respond against Iran at the right time and right place”.

Iran supports the Huthis, but denies any military ties. “The aim of such claims by Saudi Arabia is to divert public opinion from the atrocities (they) are committing in Yemen,” said Yadollah Javani, a political officer for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, according to the conservative Tasnim news agency.

“The reality is that the nation of Yemen is standing up to Saudi aggression and has managed to build defence tools by relying on its own capabilities, including missile power, and this is the very thing Saudi Arabia never imagined,” he added.

Javani said it was impossible to send weapons to Yemen due to the blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, which has been engaged in an aerial bombing campaign against the Huthis since 2015. Analysts in Tehran dismissed the threats from Riyadh, saying the Yemen conflict had exposed Saudi Arabia’s weakness. “The Saudis are incapable of defeating one of the poorest countries in the world,” said Mohammad Reza Marandi, a political analyst at the University of Tehran.

“The people of Yemen are fighting the Saudis in their slippers. They don’t even have boots. Even though the Saudis have hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons from Western countries to massacre these people and impose starvation, they have failed completely,” he added.

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen says it does what it can to avoid civilian casualties and investigate civilian deaths, but has been accused by rights groups of possible war crimes.

Military confrontation aside, there are concerns in Iran over what appears to be the increasingly coordinated attempts to target Tehran by Gulf Arab monarchies, the United States and Israel.

“What I am concerned about is the Saudis’ intensified efforts to unite all anti-Iran elements including non-state actors... with the political and military support of its allies, particularly the US,” said Mojtaba Mousavi, a conservative political analyst in Tehran.

He cited the alleged support Riyadh has given to anti-Iran jihadist militias and the exiled opposition group, the People’s Mujahideen, considered a terrorist organisation by Tehran and blamed for stoking recent protests in the country.

“While a direct military war against Iran, either by Saudi or the US, is unlikely, there are efforts to destabilise Iran by empowering militia groups and increasing economic pressure on its society,” said Mousavi.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to walk away from a 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran when it next comes up for renewal in May.

Mousavi said the economic pressure on Iran was aimed at reducing public support for the Revolutionary Guards and their ballistic missile programme.

Widespread protests in Iran in December and January included chants against Iran’s overseas interventions, which some Iranians see as draining much-needed money from the struggling economy.

Iran’s enemies are seeking “to persuade the Iranian government and people to decrease the role of the IRGC (Revolutionary Guards) and their military capabilities like the missile programme,” said Mousavi.

Such efforts are not new, he said, but “a coalition of the US, Israel and Arab states is what makes it different from the past.”

There are recurrent rumours that Washington has worked to broker ties between the Gulf monarchies and Israel - who still have no diplomatic relations - in order to better confront common foe Iran.

European governments have meanwhile sought to salvage the nuclear deal by putting fresh pressure on Iran to curb the Guards’ regional activities and missile tests, in the hope this will appease Trump.

Iran’s conservatives worry that President Hassan Rouhani, who has already clashed with the Guards over their intrusion into the economic sphere, is poorly placed to confront this outside pressure since he has staked his legacy on efforts to rebuild trade ties with Europe.

Full report at:

https://nation.com.pk/28-Mar-2018/iran-mocks-saudi-threats-but-worries-about-destabilization

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Saudi Arabia demands Iran be held accountable for missile supply to Houthis

27 March 2018

Saudi Arabia submitted a letter to the UN Security Council regarding the Iranian ballistic missiles which the Houthis fired towards the kingdom and demanded holding Iran accountable for supplying the Houthis with ballistic missiles.

Saudi Arabia also called on the UN Security Council to bear its responsibilities to maintain international security and stability.

The letter which was submitted by Abdullah Al-Muallami, the kingdom’s permanent representative at the UN, to the UN security general and to the president of the UN Security Council, comes a day before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with UN Security General Antonio Guterres.

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/gulf/2018/03/27/Saudi-Arabia-demands-Iran-be-held-accountable-for-missile-supply-to-Houthis-.html

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Israel expedites process for US embassy construction in al-Quds

Mar 27, 2018

Israel has expedited the bureaucratic process for construction of temporary quarters for the future US embassy in Jerusalem al-Quds by waiving some building permits required for the site.

On Tuesday, Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said he would authorize the Jerusalem al-Quds municipality to waive the permits required for a wall and an escape route at the site, which is located at a provisional site in the city that currently serves as a US consular section.

"We will not allow needless bureaucracy to hold up the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, Israel's eternal capital," Kahlon said.

“The planning agencies under me will do whatever is necessary to accommodate the schedule being demanded," he added.

Tel Aviv says the temporary site for the US embassy will be inaugurated on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s formation on May 14.

Earlier this month, Mayor of Jerusalem al-Quds Nir Barkat expressed concern about the timeline and the tightness of schedules.

"Initially, the interim embassy in (the Jerusalem neighborhood of) Arnona will contain office space for the Ambassador and a small staff," a US embassy official in Tel Aviv said.

"By the end of next year, we intend to open a new embassy Jerusalem annex on the Arnona compound that will provide the Ambassador and his team with expanded interim office space," he said.

Construction of a permanent embassy could take several years and the search for its site has already started.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds during the Six-Day War in 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.

In December last year, US President Donald Trump sparked global uproar by announcing a dramatic shift in Washington’s policy on Jerusalem al-Quds. He declared that the US was recognizing Jerusalem al-Quds as the “capital” of Israel and planning to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the city.

Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state, with the eastern part of Jerusalem al-Quds, which remains at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as its capital.

Relations between the US and Palestine have been strained and there have been regular anti-US protests by Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since Trump declared his decision on al-Quds. Many say Trump's move has effectively killed any chances of further negotiations.

The dramatic shift in Washington’s Jerusalem al-Quds policy drew fierce criticism from the international community, including Washington's Western allies, and triggered protests against the US and Israel worldwide.

Full report at:

http://www.presstv.com/Detail/2018/03/27/556650/israel-US-embassy-alquds

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Africa

 

Despite Boko Haram, Borno launches first rice pyramid in North-east

March 27, 2018

The Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, Tuesday led hundreds of farmers in the state to launch a pyramid of rice in Maiduguri, the state capital.

The thousands of bags that was piled into a pyramid at the city’s civic centre, Ramat Square, was a demonstration of the bumper harvest recorded in parts of the state during the last farming season by farmers who are mostly assisted by government.

The pyramid was realised under the federal government assisted Borno Anchor Borrowers Programme, through the (CBN) Anchor Borrowers scheme.

The scheme is aimed at scaling up the local production of rice in order to reduce over-dependence on foreign import of the staple food.

Organisers of the rice pyramid programme, Wal Wanne and Sons Ltd, said about 18,000 farmers were engaged in the scheme.

The local formers in the safe zones like Jere, Konduga, Mafa, Biu, Hawul and Shani local government areas of the state took part in the scheme during the last wet season during which government availed them with farm inputs and tool.

The organisers said at the maturity of the crops, they bought up all the produce at what they called Guaranteed Market Price (GMP) and deducted the cost of producing the rice per hectre, from the total amount, “and any excess money after the deduction is considered as profit to the farmer”.

Mr Shettima launched the pyramid amidst large a turnout of over 1000 local farmers who staged a parade displaying their implements and products.

He commended President Muhammadu Buhari and the Armed Forces of Nigeria for providing security in Borno State, without which he said the Anchor Borrowers Scheme would not have been possible.

Mr Shettima said the state government had invested billions of naira in the procurement of agro-allied equipment in order to advance his agricultural revolution initiative across the entire state. He said the successes recorded in the six safe local government areas was just a sign that the state still retains its potential of feeding a significant portion of the country when peace finally returns.

Borno farmers were unable to till their farmlands for about five years following displacement by Boko Haram. Many farmers lost their farm products as Boko Haram attacked them at the peak of harvest.

Hundreds of farmers have lost their lives while tilling the bush while others are still being killed around Maiduguri.

https://www.premiumtimesng.com/regional/nnorth-east/263263-despite-boko-haram-borno-launches-first-rice-pyramid-in-north-east.html

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Somalia: Qatar Calls United Front Against Al-Shabaab Militants

26 MARCH 2018

Qatar participated in the 13th meeting of the Co-ordinating Committee of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), held in the Japanese capital, Tokyo.

Qatari Foreign Minister's Special Envoy on Counterterrorism and Mediation in Disputes' settlements ambassador Dr Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani headed the country's delegation during the meeting.

Participating delegations discussed ways to strengthen international co-operation in the area of counter-terrorism and ways to operationalise the forum's initiatives.

Qatar stressed its support for these initiatives, stressing the importance of constructive co-operation without politicising the efforts.

During the meeting, Qatar presented its point of view in the fight against terrorism and extremism from a regional perspective, stating that most of the root causes of the conflicts related to terrorism and extremism in the Middle East belonged to sectarian differences, regional rivalry and ongoing conflicts in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Qatar further stressed that the real war on terror is not the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria militarily, it is to establish social norms to ensure peaceful coexistence, democracy, equal opportunities and political integration.

Qatar considers that suffering and injustice paves the way for terrorism to flourish, in addition to the extremist religious doctrines that posed a threat to all, it is a sign that these extremist ideologies exist in all cultures and are not exclusive to Islam.

In this context, Qatar referred to the persistence of the evil axes in the region in distorting religious principles in their favour and poisoning the minds of the desperate, stressing that the policy of "adventure" must be put to an end "and political manoeuvres by the new adventurers in the region.

Full report at:

http://allafrica.com/stories/201803270256.html

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African Horn Org. chief: Qatar using extremist group to sabotage Eritrea

27 March 2018

A top Eritrean diplomat has told Al Arabiya English that the statement of the Eritrean Foreign Ministry on the Qatari threat to Asmara came after “patiently waiting for a period of time for the Qatari brothers who have been trying in recent years to add Eritrea to the list of candidate countries for sabotage.”

In statements given to Al Arabiya English, Abdul Kadir Bekri Hamdan, president of the African Horn Organisation and the representative of Eretria to international organizations in the Austrian capital Vienna, added that Qatar’s attempts to destabilize his country have been ongoing for a while.

“It is no different from its ready-made recipe to other countries that have been revealed, starting with polarizing people and then opening the door to them in their media in Qatar and abroad," Hamdan said.

He pointed out that it was interesting that during the late months of last year, there was a focus on some Eritrean figures who are connected with the Muslim Brotherhood organization and who are known for their criticism of Asmara and its policies and also their close relations with Doha-based hardline cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

He said that the campaign intensified against the backdrop of a government decision to close a school suspected of encouraging extremist ideology. “Now it seems that Doha has decided to go to the second stage of its plan by making false reports through its media to find an excuse to justify the formation of an anti-Eritrean group led by the same people who have clear and established relations with Qatar and al-Qaradawi.”

The Eritrean government released a statement accusing Qatar of sending Sudan three fighter planes to thwart a purported attack from Eritrea, and of secretly funding an Eritrean Islamist opposition office in an isolated area in Sudan.

Full report at:

https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2018/03/27/Top-diplomat-Qatar-attempting-to-sabotage-Eritrea-in-recent-years.html

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Nigeria: Whistleblower Names Israeli Firm That Hacked Buhari's Emails

28 MARCH 2018

By Eromosele Abiodun with Agency Reports

The whistle-blower at the heart of the Facebook data scandal engineered by embattled data analysis firm, Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, has named the Israeli firm that hacked into President Muhammadu Buhari's private medical and financial records via his emails, in a bid to scare voters and sway the 2015 election in favour of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Wylie, while giving evidence Tuesday before the British Commons Culture Select Committee, which is investigating fake news, revealed that Cambridge Analytica used the services of an Israeli private intelligence firm, Black Cube, to undermine the Nigerian elections in 2015 by spreading propaganda to demoralise voters.

He claimed that SCL Elections, Cambridge Analytica's parent company, had been involved in a project in Nigeria in 2015, which involved hacking the private information of Buhari, who was running for president.

He also claimed Aggregate I.Q (AIQ), a digital advertising, web and software development company based in Canada, had distributed compromising material - known as kompromat - and videos designed to intimidate Buhari's supporters.

According to him, "The company utilised the services of an Israeli private intelligence firm, that firm is Black Cube. That has not been reported, although Channel 4 has undercover footage that they haven't been able to put in the public domain of Alexander Nicks talking about the relationship with Black Cube.

"Black Cube, on the Nigerian, project was engaged to hack the now president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, to get access to his private medical records and his private emails.

"Aggregate I.Q (AIQ) worked on that project. AIQ was handed material in Nigeria from Cambridge Analytica to distribute online. That's distribution of kompromat and of incredibly threatening and violent video content, which I've passed on to the committee. "The video that AIQ distributed in Nigeria with the sole intent of intimidating voters included content where people were being dismembered, where people were having their throats cut and bled to death in a ditch.

"They were being burned alive, there was incredibly anti-Islamic and threatening message portraying Muslims as violent. This is again... (interjects self). So you've got Aggregate I.Q which received 40 per cent of the vote leave funding (referring to the UK referendum on Brexit) also working on projects that involved hacked material, compromised and distributing violent videos of people being bled to death to intimidate voters and this is the company that played an incredibly pivotal role in politics here (UK).

"And so, something that I will strongly recommend to the committee is that they actually not only push the authority here but give them the support that they need in order to actually investigate this company and what they were doing in Brexit."

But in a statement issued after the hearing, Black Cube said it has always operated within the law, reported UK's Daily Mail newspaper.

Black Cube said: "Whilst we are flattered that we are seemingly being connected with every international incident that occurs, we will state that Chris Wylie's testimony is a flagrant lie.

"We categorically declare that neither Black Cube, nor any of its affiliates and subsidiaries, have ever worked for, or engaged with, SCL, Cambridge Analytica, or any of their affiliates and subsidiaries.

"Black Cube has never operated in Nigeria nor has it worked on any project connected to Nigeria, and none of its employees has ever set foot in Nigeria.

"Black Cube will investigate this claim on a pro bono basis, and will reveal the truth and the motive behind Wylie's defamatory lie."

They also threatened to sue Wylie.

The British press had reported last week that Cambridge Analytica was hired by an unnamed Nigerian oil billionaire to work on the re-election campaign of then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and was paid an estimated £2 million ($2.8 million) to orchestrate a "ferocious campaign" against Buhari, then leading opposition candidate at the time.

Buhari went on to secure a historic election win in 2015. Before that, however, Cambridge Analytica reportedly attempted to furtively use hacked personal emails of Buhari, which were provided by Israeli hackers.

Cambridge Analytica staff working on the Nigerian elections reportedly met the Israeli hackers at the firm's London offices after which Alexander Nicks, the recently suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO, allegedly asked staff to search the hacked emails for damaging information to be used against Buhari.

But "alarmed" staff members refused to do so believing that the data was possibly obtained illegally.

For its part, SCL Elections confirmed that it was hired "to provide advertising and marketing services" for the Jonathan campaign but denied receiving or using hacked information during the campaign.

In the build-up to the elections, the Jonathan campaign notably focused on social media and public messaging questioning Buhari's educational qualifications and also, contentiously, his health status, setting off intense rumours and speculation.

Wylie, at the hearing Tuesday, also disclosed that his predecessor died in a Kenyan hotel room and may have been poisoned while working for President Uhuru Kenyatta in his 2013 election campaign.

He said Dan Muresan was working for Kenyatta's election campaign when he was found dead in 2012 amid reports that a deal he was working on went "sour".

Giving evidence to members of parliament (MPs) on the Commons committee, Wylie told how rumours that Muresan had been killed circulated around the controversial data firm.

Wylie alleged that he heard talk that the Kenyan police had been bribed not to enter the hotel room for 24 hours in a bid to cover up the possible murder.

According to the Daily Mail, rumours that the death could have been murder will fuel concerns about Cambridge Analytica and the shady world it operated in.

He said: "Cambridge Analytica was working with Kenyan politicians, but because in a lot of African countries if a deal goes wrong you pay for it.

"Dan was my predecessor... what I heard was that he was working on some kind of deal of some sort - I'm not sure what.

"The deal went sour. People suspected he was poisoned in his hotel room. I also heard that the police had got bribed not to enter the hotel room for 24 hours."

He added: "That is what I was told - I was not there, so I (cannot) speak to the veracity of it."

Wylie said that when he joined Cambridge Analytica in 2012, he did not know the name of his predecessor or what happened to him.

But he asked his colleagues after he could not find a file he was hunting for. It was then that he heard the rumours about the death, the British MPs were told.

Muresan was the son of former Romanian agriculture minister, Ioan Avram Muresan, who is now in prison on corruption charges.

His mysterious death made the news in his home country.

According to a report of his death, which ran in 2012 in the Bucharest Herald, the 32-year-old had studied at the LSE in London and had coordinated election campaigns in Europe, Africa and the U.S.

Romania's foreign ministry told the Bucharest Herald at the time: "The Romanian citizen was working with a British telecommunications company, based in Kenya for a while.

Full report at:

https://allafrica.com/stories/201803280055.html

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Boni residents cutting trees, burning charcoal to fund al Shabaab - police

Mar. 27, 2018

Police have accused Boni residents of supplying food and water to al Shabaab militants hiding in the forest.

On Tuesday, Lamu county boss Muchangi Kioi said some of the people are using proceeds from illegal logging and charcoal burning to fund the terror group.

But Kioi noted that police were conducting a massive crackdown on the loggers and charcoal burners.

“The fact that people burn charcoal and cut timber to fund such acts is unimaginable. That’s why we have launched this crackdown. We have already arrested four suspects,” he said.

Terror attacks in the area have left hordes of security officers and civilians dead.

At least 250 bags of charcoal and tonnes of timber were recovered on the first day of the operation at Ziwa la Kengo, Ziwa la Taa and Maisha Masha areas.

It comes days after Kenya Forest Service officers in the county recovered eight tonnes of Bambaru wood with a street value of Sh800,000 at Maisha Masha area in Witu division.

Full report at:

https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2018/03/27/boni-residents-cutting-trees-burning-charcoal-to-fund-al-shabaab_c1736909

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Boko Haram: Borno to return 12,000 IDPs to Bama

March 27, 2018

By Maina Maina

The Borno State Government on Tuesday urged the Federal Government through the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiatives (PCNI) to without further delay commence the immediate implementation of Bama Initiatives meant for the reconstruction of social infrastructures that were destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents in Bama Local Government Area.

The government said, most of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were set to return to their original homes on Monday 2nd April, 2018.

Twelve thousand (12,000) IDPs have been screened at the IDPs camps housing victims of the Boko Haram insurgency from Bama local government for resettlement in the first phase of returning IDPs to their towns and villages across the local government.

Addressing Journalists on Tuesday in Maiduguri, the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Alhaji Usman Jidda Shuwa, who led other stakeholders from Bama, said facilities in Bama town and its environs, particularly the road networks within the town needed to be reconnected to other areas.

According to him, the Federal Ministry of Finance was said to have released some funds to that effect.

“As part of Borno state Government’s declared intention and deliberate commitment to the restoration of full normalcy in all parts of the state, the State Security Council meeting held last Thursday 15th March, 2018 approved the phased return of all IDPs from Bama.

“This is after careful and meticulous assessment of the overall security situation in Bama town and its surrounding communities, as well as the massive reconstruction efforts by the state government which resolved that the time is ripe and the atmosphere is favourable for the IDPs to go back to their homes in phases.

“It would interest you to know that Gov. Kashim Shettima has committed billions of naira despite its meagre resources to the reconstruction of virtually all institutional structures and most of the private residential buildings callously destroyed by the insurgents in Bama town and other communities, so most of our IDPs are guaranteed to a decent accommodation upon their return.

“However, in the first Phase as I said earlier, a special template is being designed to capture the essential personal data of prospective returnees for the purpose of easy identification and security clearance. All IDPs who have been shortlisted to return, would be accompanied by their respective District and Wards Heads, and adequate security by not only the conventional security agencies like the Police, DSS and Army, but also by Vigilante Groups and Hunters,” Shuwa stated.

The Chairman Transition and Relocation Committee, Alhaji Abba Jato Mohammed said so far the committee had registered and screened 12,000 IDPs at the IDPs camps for resettlement in the first phase for Saturday and that about 11,000 residential houses had been numbered and reconstructed for the owners in Bama town by the Borno state ministry of reconstruction rehabilitation and resettlement.

Full report at:

http://dailypost.ng/2018/03/27/boko-haram-borno-return-12000-idps-bama/

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