Sweden PM invites opposition to talks as far-right make election gains

Sweden PM invites opposition to talks as far-right make election gains
Supporters attend a campaign meeting of the party leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Akesson, in Stockholm, Sweden September 8, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 10 September 2018

Sweden PM invites opposition to talks as far-right make election gains

Sweden PM invites opposition to talks as far-right make election gains
  • The party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement has called the arrival of almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012 a threat to Swedish culture
  • Polling institutes have suggested support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) could tick in anywhere between 16 and 25 percent

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s anti-immigrant far-right made gains in legislative elections Sunday and vowed to exert “real influence” as kingmaker, after both the left-wing and center-right blocs failed to obtain a majority and the make-up of the next government remained up in the air.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven invited the center-right opposition Alliance to talks aimed at a “cross-bloc cooperation,” after his Social Democrats remained the biggest party with 28.4 percent of votes, its weakest election score in a century.
He said the election result marked “the death of bloc politics” in Sweden.
At the head of one of the few left-wing governments in Europe, Lofven’s bloc appeared to hold 144 of 349 seats in parliament, one seat more than the Alliance, with votes in 99.8 percent of districts counted.
That is well short of the 175 needed for a majority.
Just 30,000 votes separated the two blocs. But some 200,000 votes from Swedes who live abroad, which could tip the balance, were only to be counted Wednesday.
The four-party Alliance — made up of the conservative Moderates, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Center — rejected Lofven’s invite, urging him to resign as it reiterated its determination to form its own government.
In Sweden, the speaker of parliament typically consults all party leaders after an election before tasking the one most likely to succeed at forming a government.
Meanwhile, the far-right Sweden Democrats, who have capitalized on voters’ frustration over immigration after the country welcomed almost 400,000 asylum seekers since 2012, were seen making steady gains, rising from 12.9 percent in 2014 to 17.6 percent.

“We have strengthened our role as kingmaker... We are going to gain real influence over Swedish politics,” Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson told cheering supporters at an election night party.
The Sweden Democrats remain the third-biggest party — failing to overtake the Moderates — and were credited with 17.6 percent of the vote, below the 20 to 30 percent Akesson had hoped to win.
Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Rally — formerly known as the National Front — hailed the Swedish party’s rise, tweeting: “Yet another bad night ahead for the European Union. The democratic revolution in Europe is moving forward!“
Lofven had called the election a “referendum on the future of the welfare state,” but the far right presented it as a vote on immigrants and their integration.
The Sweden Democrats, with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, have said the large number of asylum-seekers presents a threat to Swedish culture and claim they put a strain on the country’s generous welfare state.
Around 18.5 percent of Sweden’s population of 10 million was born abroad, according to Statistics Sweden.
Lofven had urged Swedes not to vote for what he called a “racist party” as he cast his ballot Sunday.
“It’s... about decency, about a decent democracy. And the Social Democrats and a Social Democratic-led government is a guarantee for not letting the Sweden Democrats extremist party, racist party, get any influence.”
The Social Democrats have led a minority government with the Greens since 2014, with the informal support of the ex-communist Left Party to pass legislation.
Mattias, a Stockholm resident at an election night party in the city, said he was “extremely concerned” about the far right’s steady climb since it entered parliament in 2006 with 5.7 percent.
“The election is between potential democracy and potential facism,” he told AFP.

The composition of the next government may not be known for weeks.
Lengthy negotiations will be needed to build a majority, or at least a minority that won’t be toppled by the opposite side.
Speaking to supporters late Sunday Kristersson said he planned to build a government that would “unite our country and take responsibility.”
But in order to secure a center-right majority in parliament, Kristersson would have to put an end to the Sweden Democrats’ pariah status and open negotiations with them.
That could prove fatal for the Alliance, with the Liberal and Center parties repeatedly ruling out a deal with the far-right.
Akesson has said he would demand a curbing of immigration policy in exchange for his support, or key positions on parliamentary committees that draft legislation.
“When the same party time and again increases, and the other parties stand still, then you have to listen to that part of the population that is voting for this party.
“It’s time to take responsibility and talk to the Sweden Democrats,” Sweden Democrats parliamentary group leader Mattias Karlsson told public broadcaster SVT.
 


Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims
Updated 05 August 2021

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims

Murder case in Philippines fuels call for action to halt attacks by rogue cops on Muslims
  • Online retailer Nadia Casar was allegedly kidnapped, held to ransom and killed by a group of police officers and civilians. Her body was burned
  • Community leaders and politicians condemned the gruesome killing and call on police chief to end discrimination against the Islamic community

MANILA: The gruesome murder of a Muslim woman in the Philippines has caused anger and outrage among the Islamic community in the country. Businesswoman Nadia Casar was allegedly kidnapped, held to ransom and killed by a group of police officers and civilians. Her body was burned.

“The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) strongly condemns the brutal slaying and corpse desecration by burning of Muslim Filipino businesswoman Nadia Casar,” said Dimapuno Datu-Ramos, a spokesman for the commission. “She was allegedly killed by members of the police.”

At least five police officers are accused of involvement in the death of Casar. They are: Benedict Matias Reyes, a staff sergeant from the Santa Rosa municipal police station in Nueva Ecija; June Malillin, a staff sergeant from Palayan City police station; Julius Alcantara, a corporal from Nueva Ecija Provincial Police Drug Enforcement; Rowen Martin, a master sergeant from the Cabanatuan City police station; and Drextemir Esmundo, a staff sergeant from the Cabiao municipal police station.

Two civilian suspects have also been named: Franklin Macapagal and Dario Robarios.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG), 35-year-old online retailer Casar hired a ride-share driver on July 20 to take her from Cavite province in southern Luzon to Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija, in Central Luzon, for a business meeting with Macapagal. The driver was taking her back to Cavite after the meeting when, at about 1.45 p.m. they found the road blocked by a pick-up truck and two motorcycles. Five armed men are said to have got out of the vehicle and kidnapped them.

Police said the driver was robbed of his belongings, including 4,500 pesos ($90) in cash, and released at about 3.00 a.m. on July 21. Casar’s charred remains were discovered on Aug. 1 in a shallow grave in Sitio Pinagpala, Barangay Imelda Valley, Palayan City.

The suspects came to the attention of the AKG after the ride-share driver said he recognized one of them as an officer in a group photograph hanging on the wall of a police station in Santa Rosa police station. This led them to Reyes, who was arrested on July 29. Two days later, Alcantara voluntarily surrendered himself and was taken into custody. Malillin reportedly admitted his role in the crime, and Alcantara implicated Martin and Esmundo, who are still at large.

Robarios, the caretaker of a house where Casar was allegedly held captive, was arrested in a follow-up operation. He reportedly confessed and claimed that Malillin, Martin, and Esmundo had ordered him to bury Casar’s remains. Macapagal, who has also eluded arrest, was identified from a driver’s license found inside the house.

The ride-share driver reportedly told investigators he “heard one of the suspects order Casar to tell her family that they have to pay a ransom in exchange for her release.” Investigators suspect she was killed when her relatives were unable to pay.

“We call upon PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar to fulfill his commitment to cleanse his ranks of … criminals,” said NCMF spokesman Datu-Ramos. “The Muslim Filipino community has long been patient with the promises made by the PNP to protect all Filipinos, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation.

“This abhorrent crime is a violation of Philippine Law, a transgression of basic human rights, and a blatant disregard of the Islamic rituals in handling the dead. This must not be ignored.

“NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan also calls upon the country’s leaders … to create legislation that would ensure the safety of minorities who have been repeatedly targeted by corrupt men in uniform. A heavier sanction must be placed upon those who have sworn to protect all life, yet have been proven to abuse their power and authority.”

Mujiv Hataman, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives and the representative for Basilan, also condemned the killing, and called on Eleazar to ensure an “exhaustive investigation” of the case.

“It is reprehensible to think that those who are supposed to protect and serve the people are the same ones behind this savagery,” Hataman said. “Casar’s case was not an isolated case, since there have been reports in the past about Muslims, especially traders, becoming victims of abuse, being robbed and some of them even getting killed by rogue policemen.

“I urge the PNP to investigate the occurrences of crimes perpetrated by wayward members of the police against Muslims, to put an end to these kinds of incidents,” he added, and called on the PNP to take action to “stop discrimination against their Muslim brothers.”

He highlighted as an example the case of a Muslim couple from Lanao del Sur who died in a robbery and shooting incident in Pasay City that was committed by “policemen in uniform,” according to witnesses.

In another incident last year, Hataman said, members of the Manila police were involved in an eight-hour standoff with the family and neighbors of two Muslim jewelry traders in the capital’s San Andres Bukid district. Officers allegedly searched and arrested the victims without a warrant and without identifying themselves. Hataman and other politicians filed a resolution in June last year calling for an investigation into the incident.

Eleazar assured Casar’s family that “justice will be served” in the case and he had ordered the immediate dismissal of the five accused officers. He said he has also tasked the AKG and the Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group to launch search operations to find the remaining suspects.

“We strongly condemn this incident,” he said. “I will make sure that the policemen involved in the kidnapping and killing of Nadia Casar will be dismissed from the service and held accountable for their crime.”

He added that he has additionally ordered an investigation to determine whether other police officers have been involved in kidnap-for-ransom activities.


Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government
Updated 05 August 2021

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government

Taliban reject US envoy’s claims of seeking ‘lion’s share’ in future government
  • Group aims for accord that ‘observes Islamic aspirations’ of Afghans, spokesman says

KABUL: The Taliban on Wednesday refuted US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s assertions that it was seeking a “lion’s share of power” in a future government, terming it as a “personal view,” as fighting worsens across Afghanistan and foreign troops inch closer to completing a withdrawal mission by month-end.

“That is his personal view. We heard Khalilzad’s comments, but our stance is that we want an accord that can observe the Islamic aspirations of the people,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News, adding that the group was “not after a monopoly of power or eyeing a key share.”

“We do not want anything for ourselves; we have given lofty sacrifices for Islam. The nation is exhausted. There will definitely be a complete Islamic government, and all sides will have to accept this … All Afghans will be given a share in it,” he added.

The comments follow Khalilzad’s remarks during a virtual conference of the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday when he said: “At this point, (the Taliban) are demanding that they take the lion’s share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it.”

He added that the Taliban and the Kabul government “are far apart” in US-backed peace negotiations, which began in Doha, Qatar, nearly a year ago.

The intra-Afghan talks were the first formal step to politically settle a decades-old conflict that began after the Taliban were toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Khalilzad was the chief architect of the controversial, behind-the-door negotiations between the US and the Taliban, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his administration were excluded from.

They led to the signing of a conditional agreement on Feb. 29 in Qatar between former US President Donald Trump’s administration and Taliban representatives based on which US and NATO troops were to pull out of Afghanistan as part of a 14-month process that began on May 1 and is scheduled to complete on Aug. 31.

Since then, Khalilzad has played a crucial role in facilitating the talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government in Doha and, in March, proposed the formation of an inclusive interim government to replace Ghani, whose term ends in 2024.

Both groups have failed to make headway in the Doha talks, which was the subject of a phone call on Tuesday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ghani, who agreed on the need to accelerate the peace process.

This comes a day after Ghani, during a special parliamentary session, called for a nationwide war against the Taliban, who have made significant gains in several parts of Afghanistan and after an overnight attack in Kabul on the defense minister’s home.

“Eight non-combatants, including a woman, were killed in the attack on the home of Defense Minister Gen. Besmillah Khan in Kabul,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai told reporters on Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the strike.

“We were behind the strike,” Mujahid said. “The attack was in response to the airstrikes by the defense ministry.” 

Ghani blamed the country’s deteriorating security on Washington’s “abrupt” decision to withdraw its troops.

Presenting his security plan before parliament on Monday, Ghani said the situation in the war-torn nation would be “under control within six months,” adding that the US has pledged its full support.

The gap left by departing troops has emboldened the Taliban, who have intensified their insurgency since early May, targeting Afghan government forces and stepping up attacks on Herat in the west, Kandahar, and the adjacent Helmand province in the south — three major regions — since last week.

Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, has taken the brunt of the fighting.

Both Taliban and government officials said fighting was “intense” on Wednesday in various parts of Lashkar Gah, where the group has made significant inroads.

A lawmaker from Helmand, Mirwais Khadem, said the Taliban were “in control of all parts of the city,” except for a series of government buildings, such as the governor’s compound, police and intelligence headquarters and the central prison.

“I can say that there is street-to-street fighting in Lashkar Gah now. The Taliban have taken shelter in people’s homes. Afghan troops fire back on them, and there are bombardments both by the government and US forces,” Khadem told Arab News.

He chided the army’s move asking residents to “flee from their homes” in Taliban-held areas.

“This decision of the government is not appropriate. We urged the government to go instead to a desert where there are no residential homes. Both the Taliban and the government can fight there and decide who will be the winner and will be defeated,” he said.

“But the government did not accept it. Asking civilians in the middle of the war to leave their homes, without arrangements for shelter, food and other necessities in this hot weather is not fair,” Khadem added.

He explained that “there were casualties among civilians both from shelling and air raids in Lashkar Gah” but could not provide the exact fatality count.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders said casualties were “mounting” in Lashkar Gah.

“There has been relentless gunfire, airstrikes and mortars in densely populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe injuries,” Sarah Leahy, the aid group’s coordinator for Helmand, said in a statement.

The loss of Lashkar Gah to the Taliban would be a massive blow for Kabul, which has pledged to safeguard provincial capitals “at all costs” after losing much of the countryside to the insurgent group over the summer.

US-led troops have stepped up aerial attacks on suspected Taliban positions to support Afghan forces and block Taliban advances.

Experts say the measures are too little, too late.

“American forces do not want to see the fall of any major city to the Taliban before their exit. That is why they continue providing air support for national forces,” Torek Farhadi, an analyst and former adviser to former President Hamid Karzai, told Arab News.

“But these attacks cause civilian casualties, such as the ones we saw in Helmand. This is not good for the Kabul government,” he added.

Nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians have been killed or injured in May and June amid an uptick in violence between the Taliban and Afghan security forces, the highest number for those two months since records started in 2009, the UN’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said in a July report.

By then, it had documented 5,183 civilian casualties between January and June, of which 1,659 were deaths. The number was up 47 percent from the same period last year.


South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage
Updated 05 August 2021

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage

South London terrorist claimed he had changed days before knife rampage
  • Sri Lankan-born Sudesh Amman was offered support from two different mentors following his release from jail but before the attack
  • Mentors said there was no behavior of concern to report, but were ‘shocked’ when they saw details of the 2020 incident in Streatham

LONDON: A convicted terrorist told his mentor that he had changed, days before carrying out a knife rampage in south London which ended when he was shot dead by police, an inquest has heard.

Sudesh Amman, 20, told his allocated mentor that he had “now realized” that terrorists were “pushing people away” from Islam.

Amman made the comments on Jan. 30, 2020, seven days after his early release from prison and just three days before he suddenly stole a knife from a shop in Streatham and stabbed two unsuspecting members of the public. He was fatally shot by covert police officers who were tasked with keeping him under surveillance. Both of his victims survived.

An inquest into his death at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London heard yesterday that Amman pledged his allegiance to Daesh in prison and that he told prisoners he “wanted to kill the Queen.”

The inquest was told that the Sri Lankan-born terrorist was offered support from a theological mentor to deal with his extreme brand of Islam and a practical mentor to help him adapt to life beyond prison.

He had met both of them following his release from prison.

His mentors told the court that they were “shocked” and “gobsmacked” when they recognized Amman as the perpetrator of the shocking attack on Feb. 2, 2020.

One of his mentors had a testimony following a meeting with Amman read out in court: “He (Amman) said he now realized that people who hurt other people through things like acts of terror were pushing people away from the faith and causing hatred.”

The witness said Amman had been “the most relaxed that I have seen him” in the last of their four meetings in person, which took place in HMP Belmarsh and after his release.

The mentor, who was known as “Witness M” to retain their anonymity, said: “He was happy to talk, he had no moments where he held back from saying anything and he seemed happy and relieved at being released.

“I took him at his word. He seemed sincere the way he was saying it.”

The mentor said that he felt there was no behavior of concern to report, but was “shocked” when he saw details of the incident in Streatham unfolding.

Witness M said: “I saw when it said the incident was in Streatham, I knew I visited him, I hoped it was not (him). I kept watching the news and I had a little bit of disbelief, to be honest.”

The other mentor, referred to as “Witness T,” told the inquest that he discussed religious matters with Amman during their only meeting on Jan. 29.

Witness T said Amman showed that he was “ignorant” of Islam during their meeting. Amman told Witness T that he was keeping to himself in the week after his release at a Streatham probation hostel out of fear that people believed he was radicalizing others.

Witness T said he found out about the attack on Streatham high street on the same day it occurred.

“I was gobsmacked, I was shocked, I was surprised,” he said.


Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release
Updated 05 August 2021

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release

Taliban commander leading Lashkar Gah onslaught was part of US-brokered prisoner release
  • Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed last year by the Afghan government under pressure from Washington

LONDON: The Taliban assault on Lashkar Gah is being led by a commander released by the Afghan government last year as part of a US deal to boost peace talks.

Mawlavi Talib was among 5,000 militants freed under pressure from Washington as it attempted to reach an agreement to end the 20-year war, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province is one of several Afghan cities under a fierce onslaught from the Taliban as the insurgents seek further gains after sweeping through the country’s rural areas in recent months.

The report of Talib’s release is particularly embarrassing for US President Joe Biden, who faced fierce criticism for his decision to pull American troops out of the country. 

Many of the freed insurgents are now taking part in offensives that have brought huge pressure on the Afghan government.

A Taliban commander told The Times newspaper that Talib is “leading the fight and the Taliban are close to gaining control of Lashkar Gah.”

“Talib is an aggressive fighter, advancing well in the province,” he said. 

Talib previously commanded militants in Helmand before working as the Taliban’s “shadow” deputy governor for the province.

He was arrested last year by Afghan troops but was freed within months after the Afghan government reluctantly agreed to release the insurgents.

British and American troops spent years in fierce battles with the Taliban as the militants attempted to capture Helmand.

Much of Lashkar Gah was seized by the Taliban in recent weeks but US and Afghan airstrikes overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday attempted to dislodge the fighters.

The UN said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” about tens of thousands of people in the city who could be trapped by the fighting.


Disabled Indian teen achieves top scores despite writing exams with his feet

Disabled Indian teen achieves top scores despite writing exams with his feet
Updated 05 August 2021

Disabled Indian teen achieves top scores despite writing exams with his feet

Disabled Indian teen achieves top scores despite writing exams with his feet
  • ‘Disability is a state of mind, not the body,’ says Vishwakarma, who secured a 70 percent score on his Grade 12 tests

NEW DELHI: A 19-year-old student born with multiple congenital anomalies and limb defects has scored 70 percent on his Grade 12 exams by writing the tests with his feet.

Tushar Vishwakarma, who declined to hire a writer or ask for extra time to finish the exams, said that he realized early on in life that he wanted the disability, which prevents him from using his hands, “to be my strength and not my weakness.”

“I never thought of myself as disabled. It took me three years to master the art of writing with my toes,” Vishwakarma, who is from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News. “Disability is a state of mind and not the body,” he said.

Born into a lower-middle-class family with his father, Rajesh, working as a small-time trader in Lucknow, Vishwakarma lives in the city with his parents and three siblings.

Rajesh said that a few months after Vishwakarma was born he took him to hospitals “with limited resources” in Lucknow and elsewhere to identify the issue, but in vain.

“When Tushar was quite young, doctors in Lucknow told me that I should get him treated after he grows up. At the age of 3, I took him to hospital again but doctors only prescribed medicines,” Rajesh, 46, told Arab News.

He added that the PGI hospital in Lucknow diagnosed Vishwakarma with “multiple congenital anomalies” and said he was “missing a few veins from his hands.”

Next, the family tried to get Vishwakarma treated in Lucknow, in Chitrakoot, a city in Uttar Pradesh, and Udaipur, a city in the northern state of Rajasthan, but “none of the doctors could help him.”

Finally, in 2015, Rajesh was referred to a facility in Udaipur where doctors advised Vishwakarma to have plastic surgery on his hands.

“First, the doctors told me that they would perform the surgery but later decided against it as they were not sure whether that would cure my son or not,” Rajesh said.

“Doctors told me that the veins that control his hands were missing, and the issue could not be addressed through an operation. It’s the same response I got everywhere,” Rajesh said.

Dr. Ankur Bhardwaj from the PGI hospital in Lucknow, who was part of the team handling Vishwakarma’s case, was unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Wednesday.

However, Dr. J. Bhadani from Patna in the eastern state of Bihar, told Arab News that “multiple congenital anomalies are structural deformities of the body and such deformities are the cause of chronic illness and disability in children.”

Rajesh said that the family moved to Lucknow from the neighboring district of Unnao 20 years ago for “a better life” but were “always worried about Tushar, especially after we grow old.”

Vishwakarma’s high scores in the recent exams, however, have offered a renewed sense of “hope for his future.”

“I know now that he will not need our support in the future. Tushar has proven us wrong in life so far, and I am sure he will shine in life and make us prouder,” Rajesh said.

Vishwakarma credits his success to the Creative Convent College in Lucknow, which played a “great role in supporting” him.

“No one was willing to admit a disabled student when I was looking for admission in a higher secondary school, but the Creative Convent College helped me a lot,” he said.

School manager, Yogendra Sachan, told Arab News that it had “never charged” the family a fee for Vishwakarma’s education.

“We gave one full bench to Tushar so that he does not have any problem in writing,” Sachan said. “We made sure the school doesn’t charge any fee from the boy. He is bright and ambitious.”

Vishwakarma said that he aspires to be an engineer and is working toward realizing that dream.

“It’s not easy when your hands are not working, but I never allow negative thoughts to (take root) in my mind,” he said.