Indonesia seeks Saudi help over suspension of entry for Umrah pilgrimage

Hundreds of Umrah pilgrims were stranded at the Juanda International Airport in Sidoarjo, East Java province, after Saudi Arabia placed a temporary ban early Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Indonesia seeks Saudi help over suspension of entry for Umrah pilgrimage

  • The government was trying to convince the Saudi authorities to allow the Indonesians already there to complete their pilgrimage
  • More than 1,100 pilgrims had left for Saudi Arabia on Thursday from Jakarta’s airport

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia to allow its citizens to continue their Umrah pilgrimage after hundreds were stranded at Jakarta airport when the kingdom suspended foreign entry for the Umrah over coronavirus concerns.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country and it often sends around 1 million people on the Umrah pilgrimage every year in the kingdom, which hosts the two holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina.
The Saudi ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement that the suspensions were temporary but provided no timeframe for their expiry. It was unclear if the Hajj pilgrimage, which is scheduled to begin in late July, would be impacted.
“The immediacy of this will impact our citizens because at the time of the announcement, there are Indonesian citizens or maybe citizens of other countries who have flown there,” Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, told reporters on Thursday.
The government was trying to convince the Saudi authorities to allow the Indonesians already there to complete their pilgrimage.

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More than 1,100 pilgrims had left for Saudi Arabia on Thursday from Jakarta’s airport, CNN Indonesia cited an official at Indonesia’s religious ministry as saying, while around 1,500 had been asked to postpone their trips.
TV footage showed hundreds of pilgrims, some dressed in uniforms provided by travel agents, stranded at Jakarta’s airport.
Joko Asmoro of the Association of Muslim Hajj and Umrah Organizers, told Reuters that 150,000 to 200,000 pilgrims could be impacted by the suspension over the next month.
Asmoro said organizers would reschedule flights for the pilgrims “until the Saudi government opens Umrah again.”
Saudi Arabia normally welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year, with a peak for the Hajj pilgrimage. It introduced a new tourism visa last October for 49 countries.
The country has had no cases of the coronavirus, but it has been spreading in some neighboring countries. Indonesia also has not recorded any cases.
President Joko Widodo said he respected the kingdom’s decision because “everything health-related is the Saudi government’s number one policy.”
But for many Indonesians preparing for the pilgrimage the news is potentially devastating.
Fitri Nur Arifenie, who is due to take part in the Umrah on March 23, said she was now worried her trip would be canceled.
“It’s heartbreaking because everything’s on schedule. I have long desired to go on the Umrah,” said Arifenie, who works for Korean trade promotion agency. “But what can you do? It’s for the good of others.”


Zimbabwe tightens coronavirus lockdown in capital Harare

Updated 02 June 2020

Zimbabwe tightens coronavirus lockdown in capital Harare

  • Opposition movement said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was trying to suppress protests over a worsening economy
  • Coronavirus infections have more than tripled to 203 in the last few days

HARARE: Zimbabwean troops and police on Tuesday tightened the coronavirus lockdown in the capital Harare, blocking many cars and buses from entering the central business district as cases of infections increased.
But the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was trying to suppress protests over a worsening economy and to stop MDC supporters from gathering at the courts where the lawyer for its leader was due to appear after being arrested on Monday.
Coronavirus infections have more than tripled to 203 in the last few days. Mnangagwa had eased the lockdown since it was first imposed at the end of March.
On Tuesday, however, police and soldiers turned away many commuters and cars, including those with work letters, at check points leading into town except critical staff like health workers as well as state employees, witnesses said.
“Please note that it is not everyone who should be in the CBD (central business district),” the police said in a statement.
A Reuters witness saw a group of soldiers and police in downtown Harare ordering people to leave the city center and shops to close.
By lunchtime businesses in downtown had shut, but in another part of town, where government offices are located, some businesses, including supermarkets and banks, were open.
The state-owned Herald newspaper, which reflects government thinking, published pictures on its website of people walking back home on foot.
There were no similar reports from other cities.
The MDC has accused the government of using curbs on movements to persecute its members and sees a political motive behind Monday intensifications of the lockdown.
“So if this is about Covid-19 why is it only happening in Harare? This appears to be more about politics than medicine or health,” MDC senator David Coltart wrote on Twitter.