Mali Muslim leaders call for PM’s resignation at mass rally

In this file photo taken on May 2, 2015 Malian religious leader Cherif Ousmane Madani Haidara (L) speaks to Mahmoud Dicko, the head of Mali's High Islamic Council (HCIM), during a peace gathering organised by non-governmental organisations in Bamako following deadly clashes between Tuareg rebel groups and Malian forces and pro-government militias in the north of the country. (AFP)
Updated 10 February 2019
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Mali Muslim leaders call for PM’s resignation at mass rally

BAMAKO: Mali’s chief Muslim leaders on Sunday called for the resignation of Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga at a mass rally, accusing his government of failing to halt militant attacks and allowing “moral depravity.”
Huge crowds packed out a 60,000-seat stadium in the capital Bamako, with many veiled women sitting in stands separated from the male attendees, according to an AFP reporter.
“Muslims can’t let things go to waste. From now on, they will be vigilant and mobilize for their country, their religion and their dignity,” influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, who presides over the Islamic High Council (IHC), told his supporters.
“Mali needs a complete overhaul,” said the ultraconservative leader who organized Sunday’s event with Bouye Haidara, another leading Muslim.
Over the past decade, Dicko has emerged as one of Mali’s most prominent public figures, playing a key role in negotiations between the government and Islamist extremists.
“We must fight corruption.... We must fight moral depravity. We are the guardians of morality,” added Issa Coulibaly, Dicko’s spokesman, speaking on the sidelines of the gathering.
In 2015, Dicko stirred controversy when he called jihadist attacks “divine punishment” for Mali adopting more liberal Western traditions.
“Our guide, our leader, is Mahmoud Dicko,” said minibus driver Moussa Dicko (no relation), adding that he had taken the day off to join the gathering at the stadium.
Last year, Prime Minister Maiga sparked outrage for supporting a plan to introduce sex education school books promoting a more tolerant view of homosexuality.
Homosexuality is not illegal but remains taboo in the Muslim-majority country. Members of the LGBT community often face discrimination and even physical punishment, according to civil society groups.
Dicko and his followers had slammed the Dutch-financed proposal for “wanting to teach homosexuality to school children.”
The government eventually bowed to the pressure and dropped the project in December.
“Our country is faced with a governance problem. This rally wants to draw attention to that. People need to talk to each other,” Dicko told AFP ahead of the event.
The imam’s political profile was boosted when he became a key mediator between the government and militants who took control of large swathes of the country’s north in 2012.
Despite French military intervention and a 2015 peace deal, jihadist attacks have continued and vast stretches of the landlocked Sahel nation remain out of state control, with violence also spilling into neighboring Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Dicko, 64, has repeatedly pushed for dialogue to help solve the security crisis plaguing Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries.
In Sunday’s speech, he denounced the “terrorist attacks,” saying jihadism “has no place in Mali.”


UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

Updated 19 June 2019
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UN: Nearly 71 million now displaced by war, violence at home

  • The figures are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics
  • UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017

GENEVA: A record 71 million people have been displaced worldwide from war, persecution and other violence, the UN refugee agency said Wednesday, an increase of more than 2 million from last year and an overall total that would amount to the world’s 20th most populous country.
The annual “Global Trends” report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees counts the number of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people at the end of 2018, in some cases following decades of living away from home.
The figures, coming on the eve of World Refugee Day on Thursday, are bound to add fuel to a debate at the intersection of international law, human rights and domestic politics, especially the movement in some countries, including the US, against immigrants and refugees.
Launching the report, the high commissioner, Filippo Grandi, had a message for US President Donald Trump and other world leaders, calling it “damaging” to depict migrants and refugees as threats to jobs and security in host countries. Often, they are fleeing insecurity and danger themselves, he said.
The report also puts a statistical skeleton onto often-poignant individual stories of people struggling to survive by crossing rivers, deserts, seas, fences and other barriers, natural and man-made, to escape government oppression, gang killings, sexual abuse, militia murders and other such violence at home.
UNHCR said 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of last year, up from about 68.5 million in 2017 — and nearly a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. Among them, nearly three in five people — or more than 41 million people — have been displaced within their home countries.
“The global trends, once again unfortunately, go in what I would say is the wrong direction,” Grandi told reporters in Geneva. “There are new conflicts, new situations, producing refugees, adding themselves to the old ones. The old ones never get resolved.”
The phenomenon is both growing in size and duration. Some four-fifths of the “displacement situations” have lasted more than five years. After eight years of war in Syria, for instance, its people continue to make up the largest population of forcibly displaced people, at some 13 million.
Amid runaway inflation and political turmoil at home, Venezuelans for the first time accounted for the largest number of new asylum-seekers in 2018, with more than 340,000 — or more than one in five worldwide last year. Asylum-seekers receive international protection as they await acceptance or rejection of their requests for refugee status.
UNHCR said that its figures are “conservative” and that Venezuela masks a potentially longer-term trend.
Some 4 million people are known to have left the South American country in recent years. Many of those have traveled freely to Peru, Colombia and Brazil, but only about one-eighth have sought formal international protection, and the outflow continues, suggesting the strains on the welcoming countries could worsen.
Grandi predicted a continued “exodus” from Venezuela and appealed for donors to provide more development assistance to the region.
“Otherwise these countries will not bear the pressure anymore and then they have to resort to measures that will damage refugees,” he said. “We are in a very dangerous situation.”
The United States, meanwhile, remains the “largest supporter of refugees” in the world, Grandi said in an interview. The US is the biggest single donor to UNHCR. He also credited local communities and advocacy groups in the United States for helping refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
But the refugee agency chief noted long-term administrative shortcomings that have given the United States the world’s biggest backlog of asylum claims, at nearly 719,000. More than a quarter-million claims were added last year.
He also decried recent rhetoric that has been hostile to migrants and refugees.
“In America, just like in Europe actually and in other parts of the world, what we are witnessing is an identification of refugees — but not just refugees, migrants as well — with people that come take away jobs that threaten our security, our values,” Grandi said. “And I want to say to the US administration — to the president — but also to the leaders around the world: This is damaging.”
He said many people leaving Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador through Mexico have faced violence by gangs and suffered from “the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens.”
The UNHCR report noted that by far, the most refugees are taken in in the developing world, not wealthy countries.
The figures marked the seventh consecutive year in which the numbers of forcibly displaced rose.
“Yet another year, another dreadful record has been beaten,” said Jon Cerezo of British charity Oxfam. “Behind these figures, people like you and me are making dangerous trips that they never wanted to make, because of threats to their safety and most basic rights.”