Crunch vote in troubled southern Philippines could bring peace, say residents

Crunch vote in troubled southern Philippines could bring peace, say residents
Security forces check identification at a checkpoint in Cotabato on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao on January 20, 2019, a day before a vote on giving the nation's Muslim minority greater control over the region. (AFP / Noel Celis)
Updated 21 January 2019

Crunch vote in troubled southern Philippines could bring peace, say residents

Crunch vote in troubled southern Philippines could bring peace, say residents
  • Decades of insurgency could end on Mindanao island
  • People urged to forget ‘bitterness of the past’

COTABATO, Philippiness: Residents on a troubled island in the southern Philippines have told Arab News that peace is within reach, as they prepare for a crucial vote taking place on Monday.

They said they hoped the poll would end decades of conflict on Mindanao and usher in development and progress.

More than 120,000 people have been killed on the island and 2 million have been displaced, as armed groups battle government forces to win independence for the Muslim minority living there.

Nearly 3 million people in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) are expected to vote on ratifying a law that will create a bigger region called Bangsamoro, which will have its own domestic legislation, more funding and get to keep a greater share of locally generated taxes.

A second round of voting will be held on Feb. 6.

Jim Lan lives in Sulu province, a known stronghold of the Daesh-inspired Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).

He used to be in a group that was fighting for an autonomous Muslim state, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
 
“I will vote yes to the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL),” Lan told Arab News. "This law, it’s like being semi-independent. It will bring peace and order and generate projects for the people of Mindanao which is what the Tausugs (an ethnic group of the Philippines) have been praying for. Once development will set in, it will help eliminate the ASG and other such groups. Because that's what they also want for their family, so their children can go to school.”

Last month Congress backed President Rodrigo Duterte’s bid to extend martial law on Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2019, after he said terrorism was still a problem on the island. He first imposed martial law there in May 2017, after Daesh-inspired fighters seized the city of Marawi.

Duterte flew to Cotabato City on Friday, where he joined thousands of people to make a final pitch for the ratification of the BOL.

“The fact we have reached this point after so many years of negotiations and interruptions, we are here,” the president said, referring to the decades-long peace process between the government and the Moro Independence Liberation Front), which wants an autonomous region for the Moro people.

“Let us forget the bitterness of the past and look forward to the future, which means ladies and gentlemen... vote yes,” he said, adding: “Your approval of this law will not only serve as an expression of your desire to end more than half a century of armed struggle in the region, it will also serve as a testament to your determination to bring peace.”

Yusop Jikiri, chair of the MNLF, said the BOL would have a significant impact on current and future generations.

“Our president is seriously concerned for the ratification of the new autonomy law for Bangsamoro because it is the legacy of his administration to put an end to the historical injustices committed against the Bangsamoro people,” Jikiri told Arab News, adding that while the law was not perfect it was “the only available solution to the aspirations of our people.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana led a delegation of high-ranking government and military officials to Sulu to stress the importance of ratifying the BOL.

“This is our chance to make our present situation better. We shall pass on a more prosperous Mindanao to the next generation,” he told more than 10,000 people who had assembled at the gymnasium of Mindanao State University. “What is happening right now is history in the making.”

Mindanao resident Hussein Dalindin was optimistic about the future, saying there would be greater respect for Islam and recognition of people’s demands for independence because of the BOL.

He also used to be part of a group fighting for independence.

When asked what would happen if the BOL was not implemented, he told Arab News: “I am willing to go back (to war) and continue our struggle.”


UK aid cuts will leave tens of thousands of kids at risk of starvation: Charity

Charities have criticized the UK government for its plan to cut spending on helping feed children in impoverished countries by 80 percent. (Reuters/File Photo)
Charities have criticized the UK government for its plan to cut spending on helping feed children in impoverished countries by 80 percent. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 08 May 2021

UK aid cuts will leave tens of thousands of kids at risk of starvation: Charity

Charities have criticized the UK government for its plan to cut spending on helping feed children in impoverished countries by 80 percent. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Britain set to drop food funding by 80% as malnutrition reaches 5-year high
  • Save the Children warns of ‘near-collapse of UK help’ in countries such as Yemen, Sudan, Somalia

LONDON: The UK’s plan to cut spending on helping feed children in impoverished countries by 80 percent compared with pre-pandemic levels will “leave tens of thousands of children hungry and at risk of starvation,” Save the Children has warned.

“We are looking at the near-collapse of UK help for hungry children in some of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries, including Yemen, Somalia and Sudan,” said Kirsty McNeill, executive director of Save the Children UK.

“Ending preventable child deaths will never be achieved when we ignore the role prolonged malnutrition plays in the development of a child and their future quality of life.”

The charity said the government will spend less than £26 million ($36,333) this year on vital nutrition services in developing and crisis-hit countries.

It comes as UN agencies call for “urgent action” to avoid serious famines in 20 countries, most notably Yemen. Malnutrition is partly responsible for almost half of child deaths around the world.

The Global Report on Food Crisis, published this week by the G7, revealed that the number of people requiring urgent nutrition support worldwide is at its highest in the report’s five-year history, and that 155 million people are in urgent need.

Simon Bishop, CEO of The Power of Nutrition, an anti-poverty group, said it “simply isn’t credible” for the UK to claim global leadership in tackling hunger while cutting aid.

“People see right through it,” he added. “What makes this so sad and self-defeating is that the UK has been a genuine global leader in this area for the last decade, saving lives and getting huge soft power from doing it. That’s all now rapidly disappearing down the drain.”

This week, the International Rescue Committee said the UK government had also cut 75 percent of its funding to Syria, where more than 12 million people have been displaced by the country’s conflict.

The organization said the spending cut will result in the immediate end of projects that support more than 10,000 vulnerable people, including women and children in northern Syrian camps.


Taliban say Afghans can decide future as US warns to abandon political transition process  

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal with the Taliban, warned of abandoning the US push for a transitional setup to replace President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. (US Embassy via Reuters/File Photo)
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal with the Taliban, warned of abandoning the US push for a transitional setup to replace President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. (US Embassy via Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 08 May 2021

Taliban say Afghans can decide future as US warns to abandon political transition process  

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal with the Taliban, warned of abandoning the US push for a transitional setup to replace President Ashraf Ghani’s administration. (US Embassy via Reuters/File Photo)
  • Khalilzad’s remarks draw grim picture of Afghanistan’s future, says adviser to former government 

KABUL: The Taliban are not seeking a monopoly of power in Afghanistan, and US-led troops — having failed on the battlefield — should stop interfering in the country’s matters, a Taliban spokesman said on Saturday, as ties between the Taliban and Washington continue to sour.

A new chapter of mistrust has opened between the Taliban and Washington since President Joe Biden last month unilaterally announced that US-led troops would not be withdrawn by May 1 on the basis of an accord the previous administration had signed with the Taliban, but on Sept. 11.

Biden’s decision angered the Taliban, who accused the US of violating the landmark deal, and prompted the movement to boycott its participation in any meeting on Afghan peace until all foreign troops leave.

While the Taliban have not conducted any attack on US-led troops since — a key part of the accord inked over a year ago in Doha, Qatar — the group has been engaged in bloody skirmishes with Afghan forces in more than half of the country.

“We think that, since the US has lost the war, it wants to reach its goals here through political means, but this is impossible. Afghans have the will and independence to decide their own fate,” the Taliban spokesman told Arab News.

Both Kabul and the Taliban blame each other for the surge in violence amid concern in some Western capitals that the Taliban are aiming to regain power through force, as they did in the 1990s after the remaining foreign soldiers left.

The concern was highlighted in a meeting of envoys from the EU, NATO, the UK and the US in Germany on Friday.

Later on Friday, US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal with the Taliban, warned of abandoning the US push for a transitional setup to replace President Ashraf Ghani’s administration as part of the US effort to hold intra-Afghan talks.

“If the Taliban do not choose peace, a future based on consensus and compromise, then we will stand with Afghans who strive to keep the Republic intact. Republic political unity is a must,” Khalilzad wrote in a tweet on Friday.

Reacting to Khalilzad’s statement, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, dismissed the concern, saying that “no other country has the right to express views about the type of system” that should govern Afghanistan and “who should be in power and who should not.”

“Some countries, particularly the US, say they will stand by the Republic. They were on the side of the Republic for the past 20 years; they created the Republic. This Republic is not acceptable. It should definitely be replaced,” Mujahid told Arab News by phone.

Mujahid added that the Taliban were eager to settle the Afghan crisis through talks and accused Kabul and Washington of “hindering the peace process” by breaching the Doha agreement on the exit of troops, the release of a further 7,000 Taliban inmates from government jails and the removal of their leaders from the blacklist.

“We want to unite all Afghans and create a system together. All Afghans have the right to be present in a strong, unified Islamic system,” Mujahid said.

Torek Farhadi, an adviser for the former Afghan government, said Khalilzad’s remarks on Friday were clearly a warning to the Taliban and drew a grim picture of Afghanistan’s future.

He explained that Khalilzad’s comments, in siding with a possible future government with Ghani, implied that Washington would be giving up the push to replace him through the creation of a coalition administration.

“This, in reality, is a warning to the Taliban,” he told Arab News, predicting a future scenario similar to that of the civil war in the 1990s, when only the UN and few governments kept their missions as fighting escalated across the country, including in Kabul.


Blasts targeting Afghan school in Kabul kill 40, injures dozens

An injured woman is transported to a hospital after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 8, 2021. (Reuters)
An injured woman is transported to a hospital after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 8, 2021. (Reuters)
Updated 08 May 2021

Blasts targeting Afghan school in Kabul kill 40, injures dozens

An injured woman is transported to a hospital after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 8, 2021. (Reuters)
  • Kabul is on high alert since Washington announced plans last month to pull out all US troops by Sept. 11

KABUL: Multiple blasts targeted a school in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more, mostly students, a senior interior ministry official said.

The official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that most of the casualties were students coming out of the Sayed ul Shuhada school.

A spokesman for the interior ministry, Tariq Arian, put the death toll at least 25 and did not specify the cause or the target.

Ghulam Dastagir Nazari, spokesman for the health ministry, said 46 people had been taken to hospitals so far.

Kabul is on high alert since Washington announced plans last month to pull out all US troops by Sept. 11, with Afghan officials saying the Taliban have stepped up attacks across the country.

No group has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied the insurgent group's involvement and condemned the incident.

The explosions took place in the western part of Kabul, a heavily Shiite Muslim neighbourhood that has frequently been attacked by Islamic State militants over the years.

The school is a joint high school for girls and boys, who study in three shifts, the second of which is for female students, Najiba Arian, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, told Reuters.

The wounded are mostly female students, she said.

"The horrendous attack in Dasht-i Barchi area in Kabul, is an despicable act of terrorism," the European Union's mission in Afghanistan said on Twitter.

"Targeting primarily students in a girls’ school, makes this an attack on the future of Afghanistan."


British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge

British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge
Updated 08 May 2021

British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge

British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge
  • “I am just an ordinary individual and for me to be blessed with such an opportunity is humbling,” Rahman said
  • Last year, he performed the adhan in Canary Wharf, the heart of London’s financial district

LONDON: A British-Muslim entrepreneur serenaded London’s Tower Bridge with the adhan as the sun set over the British landmark on the last Friday of Ramadan 2021. 
Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, 35, delivered the adhan in the style of the Grand Mosque’s head muezzin, Sheikh Ali Ahmad Mulla, wearing a white thobe and Saudi ghutra on Friday as part of an interfaith virtual iftar.
It is a style that he has perfected since childhood and has fueled the British-Bangladeshi’s passion for performing the adhan in public. 
Mulla has been a muezzin at the Grand Mosque since 1975 and his voice is recognized by Muslims worldwide regardless of whether they have visited Makkah.
The adhan at Tower Bridge marked the end of an iftar hosted by Tower Hamlets Homes, the East London Mosque & London Muslim Center and Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum.
Rahman spoke of the huge satisfaction he gets from delivering the adhan in public and how grateful he felt for being given the opportunity to deliver one from Tower Bridge.

 

“I am just an ordinary individual and for me to be blessed with such an opportunity is humbling,” he said.
Although Rahman has been performing the adhan in mosques and at events for more than two decades, this is the second time he had delivered it at an iconic London location.
Last year, he performed the adhan in the heart of London’s financial district, Canary Wharf, and the video of his performance was watched millions of times.
Rahman added he hopes to deliver the adhan at “other global iconic locations such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
“After delivering the adhan in Canary Wharf last year, I realized that the call to prayer is such a strong message and that I was sending it out across the world via social media,” Rahman said.  
“It had such a huge reach even on LinkedIn, and many non-Muslims said how mesmerizing they found the adhan, and were asking about what it actually was,” he added.


Rahman said he was initially shocked at the amount of traction the video of last year’s adhan received. “But then I realized that this is the word of God and the call to prayer and therefore it’s bound to reach that many people,” he said. 
“The impact of last year’s adhan was just unbelievable. The video reached millions of viewers.”
Ahead of performing the adhan at Tower Bridge, Rahman told Arab News he was nervous as he wanted to live up to last year’s performance. 
“I don’t want it to go wrong and I want to live up to expectations. However, I am also reminding myself to do this for the sake of God only. With social media, it’s easy to get sidetracked and think about the traction that this delivery of the adhan will get. But that shouldn’t be my intention. I keep reminding myself that I am doing it for the sake of God and for Him alone.”
London-based Rahman said he thanks God for giving him this opportunity and a melodious voice.  
“I am just an ordinary person but I feel like God has favored me with such a voice and such an opportunity, both of which I am grateful for. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that the adhan I am delivering is being appreciated all around the world. It makes me praise God even more.”


Maldives arrests two over attack on ex-president

Maldives arrests two over attack on ex-president
Updated 08 May 2021

Maldives arrests two over attack on ex-president

Maldives arrests two over attack on ex-president
  • Police said two people had been arrested but did not give details
  • Nasheed is now the Maldives second most powerful leader as speaker of parliament

MALÉ, Maldives: Maldives police have arrested two people over an assassination attempt on former president Mohamed Nasheed who has been taken off life support, officials and relatives said Saturday.
The Indian Ocean island has called in international help to investigate Thursday’s bomb attack that left the democracy pioneer and climate activist needing 16 hours of surgery to remove shrapnel from his lungs, liver, chest, abdomen and limbs.
Police said two people had been arrested but did not give details.
They were looking for four suspects seen in the vicinity of the attack on Thursday night just as Nasheed was about to get in his car.
Australian Federal Police officers and two experts from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime were expected to join the investigation on Saturday.
The 53-year-old, who is now the Maldives second most powerful leader as speaker of parliament, spoke with his family to say he was feeling “much better,” his sister Nashida Sattar said.
“The doctors are very happy with recovery progress,” added his brother Ibrahim Nasheed.
“He is out of life support and breathing on his own. I managed to exchange a few words. He promised to come back stronger and I believe him.”
In its first report on the attempted assassination, the Maldivian National Defense Force (MNDF) said a homemade bomb was used.
“The improvised explosive device was triggered using a remote control,” an MNDF official told reporters in the capital Male.
The bomb was rigged on a motorcycle parked near Nasheed’s car.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih thanked Nasheed’s medical team and said he prayed for his “quick recovery and return — stronger and steadier than ever.”
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but officials from Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) alleged political interests may have been involved.
Nasheed had been vocal on the need to bring to justice 72 suspects in a $90 million theft case dating from the tenure of former strongman president Abdulla Yameen.
Nasheed ended decades of one-party rule in the archipelago and became its first democratically elected president in 2008. He was toppled in a military backed coup in 2012.
He is also known internationally as a champion for battling climate change and rising sea levels that he says threaten to submerge the nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands.
Nasheed was barred from contesting a 2018 presidential election because of a terrorism conviction after he was forced out of office.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared the conviction politically motivated.
He returned from exile in Britain, however, and his party won legislative elections in 2019 and he is now parliament speaker.