Abu Dhabi’s architectural gem, fitting backdrop for a man on a mission

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Pope Francis attends a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on Feb. 4, 2019. (Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS)
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Pope Francis (C-R) walking alongside Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (C-L), as they arrive at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4, 2019 . (AFP PHOTO / Vatican media handout
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Honor guards escort Pope Francis (C) and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (C-L) during his welcome ceremony at the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4, 2019 . (AFP PHOTO / Vatican media handout)
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Pope Francis (C-R) poses for a picture with Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb (C-L), as they arrive at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. (AFP / Giuseppe Cacace)
Updated 05 February 2019
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Abu Dhabi’s architectural gem, fitting backdrop for a man on a mission

  • Pope Francis arrived in the UAE on Sunday for a 3-day trip, the first ever for a Roman Catholic pope in the Arabian peninsula
  • he Pope was driven up in his Kia to the front door of the palace, where he was greeted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

ABU DHABI: He may have arrived at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in a Kia, but surely even this most humble of pontiffs could not fail to have been impressed by Abu Dhabi’s crowning architectural gem.

Pope Francis is known as the people’s pope — he refuses to live in the palatial Vatican apartment set aside for him, and eschews lavish limousines. But no amount of low-key transport, like the minibus that shuttled him away from the airport, was going to hide the UAE capital city’s splendor.

Under an azure sky, a shimmer of cloud adding that quilted texture, Monday began with the pontiff being greeted at the Presidential Palace — a vast white building near the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel.

There was a military band, and members of the UAE army, before jets flew above leaving a trail of yellow and white smoke — the colors of the Vatican flag — and a 21-gun salute echoed from behind the palace.

The Pope was driven up in his Kia to the front door of the palace, where he was greeted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

They stood for the national anthems, and shook hands with UAE government ministers and members of the Vatican delegation.

The courtyard of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, as pictured on Feb. 4, 2019 with a fisheye lens e lens, shows a view of Pope Francis arrives to visit. (AFP / Giuseppe Cacace)

The leader of the troop walked to the three leaders, saluted, and then they turned and left.

A few hours later Pope Francis appeared again, his small Kia surrounded by a vast security convoy, a helicopter flying above as he arrived at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Pope Francis stepped out of his understated black car and shook hands with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar, they posed for photos and then walked into the vast white place of worship through huge doors.

It is hard to imagine how even this pope, with all his humility, could not have felt a slight tingle of excitement as he saw the vast minarets climbing high into the sky, the vast domes softened by their subtle curves, the huge white-floor of the courtyard so clean that it provides a perfect mirror image of the building above it.

Pope Francis had arrived: The people’s pope on a quest for fraternity, asking for a unity of faiths.


France urged to suspend boat delivery to Libya over migrant concerns

Updated 25 April 2019
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France urged to suspend boat delivery to Libya over migrant concerns

  • The demand was laid out in a legal challenge that was filed at the administrative court in Paris on Thursday morning

PARIS: Eight international NGOs including Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demanded on Thursday that France suspend the delivery of boats to Libya’s coast guard on concerns they would be used to intercept migrants.

French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly had in February agreed to donate six boats to the Libyan navy, under which the coast guard operates, in a move she said was aimed at helping them “in the fight against illegal immigration.”

But the offer angered rights groups who said they would be used to block migrant boats seeking to reach Europe, forcing those on board to return to war-torn Libya.

The demand was laid out in a legal challenge that was filed at the administrative court in Paris on Thursday morning.

In it, the groups demand “the suspension of the decision” until the court decides whether or not the donation is legal. The court has 48 hours to make a decision.

The NGOs believe forcing people to return to Libya would expose them to “serious human rights violations.” Massimo Moratti, regional director for research at Amnesty International, said the pledge to deliver boats to the Libyan coast guard was “an unlawful and reckless decision.”

He said it was all the more dangerous at a time when fighting has intensified after Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive on the capital Tripoli earlier this month.

“Doing it now, as the armed conflict in Libya escalates, is even more callous and irresponsible,” Moratti said in a statement, warning the donation would make France “complicit” in trapping people inside the country.

The NGOs accused the coast guard of having a bad track record in respecting those in distress at sea, saying it should not be given the logistical means to step up such abuses.

The statement accused the coast guard of abuses including pushing those in distress back into the water, threatening them with weapons and firing toward them.

The six vessels, which are to be delivered in the coming weeks, are 12-meter, semi-rigid boats made by French specialist Sillinger.

Besides Amnesty and MSF, the legal petition was joined by France’s Human Rights League, immigrant support group GISTI, Lawyers Without Borders, migrant aid groups La Cimade and Migreurop and Italian research and aid group ASGI.