Watch Isha and Taraweeh prayers live from the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Saudi Arabia announces 4 more COVID-19 deaths
- The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 369,613
- A total of 6,514 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far
LONDON: Saudi Arabia announced four deaths from COVID-19 and 375 new infections on Thursday.
Of the new cases, 162 were recorded in Riyadh, 66 in Makkah, 61 in the Eastern Province, 24 in the Northern Borders region, 14 in Madinah, 11 in Asir, six in Hail, two in Najran and two in Jazan.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 369,613 after 336 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,514 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
- The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack
- Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan
STOCKHOLM: The suspect in the stabbing that left seven injured in Sweden is a 22-year-old Afghan, who arrived in the Nordic country in 2018, media reported Thursday.
Swedish police are investigating a possible terror incident after a man stabbed and injured at least seven people in the city of Vetlanda on Wednesday.
A police statement early Thursday revised the number of injured in the attack to seven from eight but did not give further details.
The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack in the southern city of 13,000 inhabitants.
Speaking to AFP, police said the man had used a “sharp weapon,” while local media reported that he had brandished a knife.
Police initially treated the incident as “attempted murder” but later changed it in a statement to include a “suspected terrorist crime,” without giving further details.
Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan and had arrived in Sweden in 2018.
Three of those attacked were said to have suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others were in serious condition, according to the local health authority in Jonkoping where they were being treated in hospital.
Regional police chief Malena Grann later clarified that a preliminary investigation was still under the designation “attempted murder,” but details had emerged that meant they were also looking into “potential terror motives.”
“There are details in the investigation that have led us to investigate whether there was a terror motive,” Grann said, without giving details.
He added that the police were working closely with the Swedish intelligence service Sapo.
The suspect was a resident of the area and previously known to police, but in the past had only been accused of “petty crimes,” including small-scale cannabis use, according to local press.
The extent of his injuries were also unknown but police said they believed they would be able question him.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven condemned the “horrific violence” in a statement published on his Facebook page.
“We face these despicable actions with the combined force of the community,” Lofven said.
“We are reminded of how frail our safe existence is,” Lofven added.
Swedish intelligence services said the terrorist threat was high.
The Scandinavian country has been targeted twice by attacks in recent years.
In December 2010, a man carried out a suicide bomb attack in the center of Stockholm. He died after only slightly injuring passers-by.
In April 2017, a radicalized Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians in Stockholm with a stolen truck, killing five people. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
- The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday
HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court on Thursday denied bail to 32 out of 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law, ending a four-day marathon court hearing.
The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong’s government.
The mass charges against the activists were the most sweeping action taken against the city’s pro-democracy camp since the national security law was implemented last June.
With the 32 activists remanded in custody until the next court hearing on May 31, it means that a majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Bail proceedings for the activists began on Monday, often taking a full day and at times continuing into the early hours of the morning.
The bail proceedings ongoing since Monday have lasted often a full day and at times into the morning, and several defendants have fallen ill.
Under Hong Kong’s common law system, defendants are usually granted bail for non-violent crimes. But the national security law removed the presumption of bail, with a clause saying it will not be granted unless the judge has sufficient grounds to believe defendants “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The 47 are part of a broader group of 55 activists who were arrested in January for their role in the primary elections. Eight of them were not charged on Sunday.
The primary was aimed at determining the strongest candidates to field for a legislative council election that would give the pro-democracy camp the best chance to gain a legislative majority. The government later postponed the legislative elections, citing public health risks from the coronavirus.
If the pro-democracy camp had won a majority, at least some members of the camp had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign. Authorities said the activists’ participation in the primary was part of a plan to paralyze the city’s legislature and subvert state power.
The national security law criminalizes secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs as well as terrorism. Serious offenders could face life imprisonment.
Prominent pro-democracy advocate Joshua Wong, who is currently serving a 13 1/2-month jail sentence on protest-related charges, as well as Benny Tai, the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, are among the activists charged this week.
India merchants almost halt exports to Iran as its rupee reserves fall
- Under US sanctions, Tehran is unable to use US dollars to transact oil sales
- The Islamic Republic was buying mainly basmati rice, tea, sugar, soymeal and medicines from India
MUMBAI/ DUBAI: Indian merchants have almost entirely stopped signing new export contracts with Iranian buyers for commodities such as rice, sugar and tea, due to caution about Tehran’s dwindling rupee reserves with Indian banks, six industry officials told Reuters.
“Exporters are avoiding dealing with Iran since payments are getting delayed for months,” said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading house.
Iran’s rupee reserves in India’s UCO and IDBI Bank , the two lenders authorized to facilitate rupee trade, have depleted significantly and exporters are not sure whether they would be paid on time for new shipments, the dealer said.
Under US sanctions, Tehran is unable to use US dollars to transact oil sales.
Iran previously had a deal to sell oil to India in exchange for rupees, which it used to import critical goods, including agricultural commodities, but New Delhi stopped buying Tehran’s oil in May 2019 after a US sanctions waiver expired.
Tehran continued using its rupees to buy goods from India, but after 22 months of no crude sales, Iran’s rupee reserves have fallen, said the sources, who asked not to be named, citing business privacy.
Iran’s reserves have reduced significantly and “will be over soon probably because trade has stopped,” said a senior official with IDBI Bank.
The Islamic Republic was buying mainly basmati rice, tea, sugar, soymeal and medicines from India.
“Rice exporters are concerned about the current payment mechanism,” said Vijay Setia, a rice exporter and former president of the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA).
“There was too much of delay in payments from last year’s shipments. Exporters received payments six months after shipments,” Setia said.
In the first quarter of 2020 Iran imported nearly 700,000 tons of basmati rice from India, but in the same period this year shipments would be “very negligible,” Setia said.
Last year, Iran was the biggest buyer of India’s basmati rice and sugar. Iran fulfils more than one-third of its sugar and rice demand through imports, traders estimate.
Iran’s trade ministry and Central Bank of Iran declined to comment on the matter.
“We are in talks with Indian government and Indian traders to resolve these payment issues and I believe it will be resolved soon,” said a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“The delay in payments are due to US sanctions on Iran’s financial system that has made such payments very difficult,” he said.
As rupee reserves have depleted and dollar trade is not allowed, sugar exporters are exploring options to conduct trade in euros, Rahil Shaikh, managing director of MEIR Commodities India, said.
Sugar exporters are focusing on other destinations like Indonesia and Sri Lanka, as Iran is unlikely to buy significant quantities this year, said Shaikh.
India’s overall exports to Tehran fell 42% in 2020 from a year ago to $2.2 billion, the lowest in over a decade, said an official with India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
The fall is continuing in 2021 and in January this year exports more than halved from a year ago to $100.20 million, the official said.
India’s ministry of commerce and industry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trading houses and exporters were hoping new US President Joe Biden could reverse sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump on the oil-rich country.
“Exports would rebound even if Biden administration provides a few concessions to Iran like allowing oil trade in rupees,” said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm.
Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news
DUBAI: “Happy are the painters, for they are never alone.”
While many of us could mistake this famous quote for a comment by countless artists, you may be surprised to learn it was said by none other than Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose passion for painting recently made headlines around the world.
Earlier this week, a painting of Marrakesh by the famed World War Two politician, who died in 1965 at the age of 90, smashed expectations and sold for a staggering $11.5 million at auction in London.
“The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque,” which was owned by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, was painted by Churchill during a wartime visit in 1943.
And while securing the allies victory against Nazi Germany may have been all-consuming, Churchill found snippets of time to pursue his passion for art after realizing his love for painting at 40 years old.
He was first introduced to painting during a family holiday in 1915 after his sudden fall from grace over his role in the disastrous Dardanelles naval campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Churchill, who served as the First Lord of the Admiralty during the campaign, hoped that this new skill would distract him from the ongoing strife engulfing Europe.
For the artist-cum-politician, who completed an impressive 500 artworks, painting was a hobby; he did to unwind and gifted most of his works to friends.
And while Churchill painted a varied array of landscapes, from quaint English country scenes to the immense cliffs near Marseilles in France, his depictions of Morocco feature among his most exotic paintings.
His passion for the translucent light of Marrakesh, far from the political storms and drab skies of London, dates back to the 1930s when most of Morocco was a French protectorate.
Churchill’s first painting of Morocco was completed in 1935. Titled “Scene in Marrakesh,” it is set to be auctioned by Christie’s later this year.
The work was painted while on a stay at Mamounia, where he marveled at the “truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives,” in a letter to his wife Clementine.
He went on to make six visits to the North African country over the course of 23 years.
“Here in these spacious palm groves rising from the desert the traveler can be sure of perennial sunshine... and can contemplate with ceaseless satisfaction the stately and snow-clad panorama of the Atlas Mountains,” he wrote in 1936 in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.
He would set up his easel on the balconies of the grandiose La Mamounia hotel or the city’s Villa Taylor, beloved by the European jet setters of the 1970s.
It was from the villa, after a historic January 1943 conference in Casablanca with wartime leader US president Franklin Roosevelt and France’s Charles de Gaulle, that he painted what came to be regarded as his finest work, of the minaret behind the ramparts of the Old City, with mountains behind and tiny colorful figures in the forefront.
“You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakesh,” he is reputed to have told Roosevelt. “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.”
After the US delegation had left, Churchill stayed on an extra day and painted the view of the Koutoubia Mosque framed by mountains — he then sent it to Roosevelt for his birthday.
What makes “The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” so special is the fact that it was the only artwork he completed during World War II.
However, it should be noted that Morocco was not the only Arab country Churchill painted. In 1921, he painted the Pyramids at Giza when he visited Egypt as Secretary of State for the Colonies for the Cairo Conference.
What makes this week’s whopping sale even more interesting, however, is the star power lent by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who owned the piece before putting it up for auction.
Jolie’s former husband Brad Pitt is known to be an art collector and during their 2014-16 marriage the pair bought some notable works, including pieces by Banksy and Neo Rauch.
The artwork had several owners before Jolie and Pitt bought it in 2011.
The couple separated in 2016 and have spent years enmeshed in divorce proceedings, amid speculation about the division of their extensive art collection. They were declared divorced in 2019 after their lawyers asked for a bifurcated judgment, meaning that two married people can be declared single while other issues, including finances and child custody, remain.
While Churchill’s painting of Marrakesh may no longer adorn Jolie’s walls, the sun-drenched piece will no doubt be appreciated elsewhere — at $11.5 million, we certainly hope so.