Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the US border. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Amid wall debate, pope visits Panama with migration in mind

  • The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities
  • Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis is looking to leave the sex abuse scandal buffeting his papacy behind as he heads to Central America amid a standoff over President Donald Trump’s promised wall at the US-Mexico border and a new caravan of migrants heading north.
History’s first Latin American pope, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has made the plight of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy. He is also expected to offer words of encouragement to young people gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, the church’s once-every-three-year pep rally that aims to invigorate the next generation of Catholics in their faith.
Panama Archbishop Jose Domingo Ulloa said Francis’ message is likely to resonate with young Central Americans who see their only future free of violence and poverty in migrating to the US — “young people who often fall into the hands of drug traffickers and so many other realities that our young people face.”
The pope is expected to urge young people to create their own opportunities, while calling on governments do their share as well.
The visit is taking place as the US government remains partly shut down in a standoff between the Trump administration and Democrats over funding for Trump’s promised border wall.
Francis famously has called for “bridges, not walls.” After celebrating Mass in 2016 on the Mexican side of the US border, he denounced anyone who wants to build a wall to keep out migrants as “not Christian.”
Crowds are expected to be smaller than usual for this World Youth Day — only about 150,000 people had registered as of last week — but thousands more will certainly throng Francis’ main events, which include a vigil and a final Mass on Sunday. The Vatican conceded that the January date doesn’t suit school vacations in Europe or North America, both of which typically send huge numbers of pilgrims to World Youth Day gatherings.
Francis’ trip, the first in a year packed with foreign travel, comes at a critical moment in the papacy as the Catholic hierarchy globally is facing a crisis in credibility for covering up decades of cases of priests molesting young people.
The pope is expected to soon rule on the fate of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the high-powered US archbishop accused of molesting minors and adults. And he is hosting church leaders at the Vatican next month on trying to chart a way forward for the global church.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said there were no plans for Francis to meet with abuse survivors in Panama. Central America hasn’t yet seen the explosion of sex abuse cases that have shattered trust in the Catholic hierarchy in Chile, the US and other parts of the world.
This is the first papal visit to Panama since St. John Paul II was there during a 1983 regional tour that famously included an unscheduled stop at the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. Romero had been gunned down by right-wing death squads three years earlier, at the start of El Salvador’s civil war, for having spoken out on behalf of the poor.
Salvadoran bishops had hoped Francis would follow suit and make a stop in El Salvador this time to pay his respects at Romero’s tomb since Francis canonized him in October. But the Vatican said a Salvador leg was never really in the cards.
Nevertheless, Gisotti said Romero would likely loom large at the Panama gathering, given he is such a point of reference for young Central American Catholics who grew up learning about his defense of the poor.
The Panama visit is also the first by a pope since the Vatican embassy played a crucial role during the 1989 US invasion of Panama, when dictator Manuel Noriega took refuge there and requested asylum on Christmas Eve after four days on the run trying to escape US troops.
Noriega eventually surrendered, bringing to an end one of the more unusual US military operations: It involved US troops blasting heavy metal and rock music — including Van Halen’s “Panama” — at the embassy to try to force Noriega out.
Noriega, a onetime US ally, eventually served a 17-year drug sentence in the United States. He died in 2017 after his final years were spent in a Panamanian prison for the murder of political opponents during his 1983-89 regime.


Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

Updated 50 min 3 sec ago
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Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

  • India has beefed up security forces in Kashmir after last week's suicide attack in Pulwama
  • The attack, claimed by Kashmiri separatists, killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops

NEW DELHI: Separatist leaders in Kashmir have called for a shutdown on Sunday in protest against the “illegal detention” and “arbitrary arrest” of some of their colleagues and the deployment of an additional 12,000 troops in Kashmir valley.

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called the arrest of the senior separatist leader Yasin Malik and the crackdown on 200 Jamaat-e-Islami cadres and leadership, including its chief Ameer Abdul Hamid Fayaz,  “dictatorial” and “arbitrary.”
It said that “nocturnal raids across the valley look to be a part of the continued policy of suppression of pro self-determination leadership and narrative.”
“The last 30 years have shown that jailing and intimidating activists and leaders will not deter them from their path, nor will it stop people from demanding the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through self-determination,” said a statement issued by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
The separatist leaders also condemned the pressure tactics being used by the government against some of the local media.
Amid the crackdown on the valley-based separatist leaders New Delhi has also started deploying 12,000 additional troops in the valley.
“We are keeping two things in mind — to control the situation emerging out of the arrests of the separatist leaders and to be ready to hold elections in the valley parallel to the national elections,” a senior officials in Srinagar told Arab News.
After last week’s Pulwama suicide attack that claimed more than 40 lives of paramilitary personnel in South Kashmir, there has been a considerable build-up of troops in the valley. 
The crackdown on the separatists coincides with the crucial hearing on Article 35-A in the Supreme Court on Monday. The article grants special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and has been challenged by a section of the Hindu right wing in the Supreme Court.
The nocturnal arrests of the activists and separatist leaders have come under criticism from the valley-based mainstream political parties.
“In the past 24 hours Hurriyat leaders and workers of the Jamaat organization have been arrested. Failure to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mahbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
She questioned “under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ally in the valley Sajad Lone also questioned the wisdom of the crackdown.
“Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” said Lone in a tweet.
However, Dr. Hina Bhat of the BJP justified the arrest of the Hurriyat separatist leaders.
“If you want to bring peace in Kashmir it is important to remove all the ingredients which are causing disturbance in the state, be it separatist or Jamiat,” said Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader.
“Why you think we should go and talk to militants who are killing their own people. We are not killing these separatist leaders, we are just removing them from the scene.”
“We have tried and gave enough chances for the dialogue process with Pakistan. What happens is that when we trust Pakistan we are backstabbed and we cannot trust Pakistan for a dialogue process,” he added.
She told Arab News that “the government is taking appropriate steps to bring back peace and life in the state.”
“The militants in the state are brainwashed individuals and they pick up guns because of their personal reasons not to fight for the cause of Kashmir. Youth are being misguided and brainwashed by the separatist leaders for their political agenda. They work as the agents of Pakistan,” asserted Bhat.
Kashmir-based analyst Professor Siddiq Wahid said that “Delhi is practicing a cynical policy at its best.”
“In the last 24 hours, the fog has cleared and it is becoming apparent that the BJP is spinning Pulwama in the interests of electoral politics. Their war-cry was to isolate Pakistan, so it has not succeeded because international support for this is non-existent. Yet it has successfully stirred the BJP base,” added Wahid.
He told Arab News that “Delhi continues its policy of denial of dispute and at the same time making the Kashmiri eminently more insecure in India. It is disastrous.”