Pakistan expels Indian envoy and suspends trade over Kashmir

Security personnel stand guard at a roadblock in Jammu on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 07 August 2019

Pakistan expels Indian envoy and suspends trade over Kashmir

  • India's removal of Kashmir's special status stirs outcry
  • Young protesters throws stones at police in Kashmir

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Wednesday it would expel India's ambassador and suspend bilateral trade with its arch-rival after New Delhi stripped its portion of the contested Kashmir region of special status.
Neighbours China and Pakistan, which both claim parts of Kashmir, have voiced fierce opposition to India's removal of a constitutional provision that had allowed the country's only Muslim-majority state to make its own laws.
Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have twice waged war over Kashmir and in February engaged in an aerial clash. India, which has been battling insurgents there for 30 years, said the special status had hindered Kashmir's development and it wanted to fully integrate the region with the rest of the country.
Moin-ul-Haq, Pakistan's newly appointed ambassador to India, has yet to take up his post but will now not move to New Delhi, while Indian Ambassador Ajay Bisaria will be expelled, Islamabad said in a statement on Wednesday.
"It is very obvious that our ambassador wouldn't be in Delhi, and obviously the man who is here will also leave," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in a telephone interview with Pakistani TV channel ARY News.
A spokesman for India's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Pakistan's move.

PROTESTS SMOULDER
Thousands of Indian security forces kept a lid on protests in Kashmir on Wednesday, helped by the continued suspension of telephone and internet services after the Himalayan region's special status was scrapped this week.
Streets in the main Kashmiri city of Srinagar were deserted for a third day, with almost all shops shut, barring some pharmacies. Armed federal police manned mobile checkpoints across the city, limiting people's movement.
Knots of young protesters threw stones at soldiers, police and a witness said, amid anger over the telecoms clampdown that began on Sunday.
"These (protests) are mostly localised because of the heavy troop deployment," said a police officer who sought anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media, adding that police used tear gas and pepper spray to scatter the protesters.
A witness described an episode of hours of stone-throwing on Tuesday in the Old Barzullah area near the city centre, saying, "I saw around 100 boys, in small groups, pelting stones."
He added, "The police fired tear gas to beat them back."
The Huffington Post reported that 13 people had been admitted with pellet injuries to their eyes to Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital in Srinagar, citing a hospital official.
It also quoted a resident of the old quarter of Srinagar, Owais Ahmad, as saying he was walking near his house when paramilitary forces fired pellets at him.
The Home Ministry in India's capital Delhi said it had no information about the incident.
The Huffington Post also reported that a 17-year old boy jumped off a bridge into the Jhelum river when he and his friends saw a group of paramilitary police on both sides of the bridge. The Home Ministry had no comment to offer and Reuters was not in a position to verify the report.
India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamist militants fighting its rule in Kashmir. Islamabad denies the allegation and says it only gives moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
India ordered security to be increased at its airports, saying "civil aviation has emerged as a soft target." Security officials have warned of a backlash against the move to withdraw Kashmir's special status.

MEDICAL SERVICES DISRUPTED
All telephone, television, and internet connections remained severed in Kashmir. At night, police vans have patrolled the streets with loudspeakers warning residents to stay indoors.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik asked officials to ensure people had enough supplies and assured them of their security, Reuters partner ANI said in a report.
Local authorities have not declared a curfew, but instead clamped down on non-essential travel and gatherings of four or more people, effectively keeping restive people in their homes.
South Kashmir, the epicentre of the insurgency in recent years, was completely locked down, said a state government official who visited the area. "The highway was deserted, except for some trucks and buses carrying labourers out of the valley," added the official, who asked not to be named.
Officials with emergency services such as hospitals and the fire department said their staff were also frequently stopped at checkpoints, with access sometimes blocked.
The principal of Srinagar's Government Medical College, which runs Kashmir's largest hospital network, comprising about 3,500 beds, had to personally visit district officials to coordinate services or seek approvals, a hospital official said.
"The principal doesn’t have any means of communication," added the official, who asked not to be identified. "Police stations have been given satellite phones but not him. That shows their (government’s) priority."
About 200 police and local administration officials have received satellite phones, with several hundred more using a restricted military network, a police official said.
Srinagar’s fire officials also fear people might not be able to reach them in emergencies. "Communication is a lifeline," said one fire official who requested anonymity. "Only if someone contacts us can we do something."
A radio communications network links Srinigar's 21 fire stations, but with telephone lines down and no satellite phones, firemen can only be alerted by a call from police or an individual who visits a fire station.


South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

Updated 29 February 2020

South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

  • Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus
  • Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16

SEOUL: With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in South Korea in the past week, a local fringe Christian sect has been blamed for the growing outbreak.
As of Wednesday, a total of 1,261 people had tested positive with 12 deaths reported. Just a week ago, the number of infected persons stood at 50. However, South Korea has seen by far the highest number of the Covid-19 cases outside China.
Health authorities believe the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is at the heart of the alarming spread of the pandemic, as more than half of the confirmed cases have been found to be linked to the religious sect, which is widely regarded as a cult.
“The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service and had frequent contacts around that time,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Center for Disease Control (KCDC), told reporters on Wednesday.
Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16. Thousands of worshippers are believed to have attended, authorities said.
The other cluster of infections is a hospital in Cheongdo, a neighboring county of Daegu. Shincheonji members are also known to have visited the hospital, according to the KCDC officials.
Officially called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the group was founded in 1984 and claims to have around 240,000 followers worldwide.
Shincheonji followers are taught to believe that Lee Man-hee, the founder of the organization, is the second coming or the returned Christ. The church claims the Bible is written in metaphors which only its founder can correctly interpret.
Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus.
“They hold services sitting packed together on the floor and kneel very close to one another,” Shin Hyun-uk, director of the Guri Cult Counseling Center, said.
Shin was a member of the cult for 20 years until 2006 and has been leading a campaign to extract members from the church ever since he realized that “the group was not a normal religion.”
Shin said the Shincheonji churchgoers shout out “amen” at the top of their lungs “after every sentence the pastor utters.”
“While holding services, worshippers send respiratory droplets flying everywhere, causing the virus to be transmitted easily,” he said.
Most members of the church hide their membership, which means the virus goes undetected, Sin warned.
“Few families of the Shincheonji members know their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents were taken in the cult religion. I guess only 20 to 30 percent of the family members of the Shincheonji worshippers would recognize it,” he said. “That’s the key reason health officials have difficulty in tracking and curbing the virus being transmitted from worshippers to others.”
A 61-year-old female member of the sect tested positive for the virus last week, but initially refused to be transferred to a hospital so as not to reveal the fact that she had attended Shincheonji gatherings.
A Daegu health official responsible for quarantine also revealed he is a Shincheonji member after being tested positive.
Critics say uncovering the identities of Shincheonji members will be difficult since the group conceals the names of politicians, public officials and other celebrities.
Amid growing public anger at the sect, the group said at the weekend that it will fully cooperate with government investigations.
On Tuesday, officials broke into the group’s headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to discover a full list of members for quarantine measures.
The government said it has secured a list of 212,000 Shincheonji worshippers and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms.
Over 800,000 people have signed an online petition since Saturday after it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
Authorities are looking into how the disease was first transmitted to the group. More than 9,000 Shincheonji worshippers have been put under quarantine.
The Seoul government has been scrambling to contain growing expressions of public anger.
As of Wednesday morning, over 400,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to be impeached.
Petitioners say Moon failed to halt entry to visitors from all parts of China, only prohibiting the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, is located.
Meanwhile, the US Forces Korea (USFK) reported on Tuesday that it had detected the first infection in one of its troops. The 23-year-old soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, near Daegu, but has been quarantined at his home off base, according to the command. The development came a day after a widow of a retired US soldier living in Daegu contracted the virus.
“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.
“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” it said.
More countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, have started to impose bans on South Korean travelers because of the virus outbreak.