World heads for lockdown as virus chaos grows

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Police secure an area where Turkish citizens repatriated from the "umrah" pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia are to be placed in quarantine in university dormitories outside Ankara, on March 15, 2020, as part of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. (AFP / Adem Altan)
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Spanish soldiers talk with women at Atocha train station during partial lockdown as part of a 15-day state of emergency to combat the coronavirus spread in Madrid, Spain, on March 15, 2020. (REUTERS/Susana Vera)
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Updated 16 March 2020

World heads for lockdown as virus chaos grows

  • Global travel bans, Saudi Arabia closes malls, restaurants, public parks
  • Security forces were deployed on Lebanon’s corniche to disperse crowds

JEDDAH: The world was on the brink of global lockdown on Sunday as country after country imposed tough new travel restrictions, quarantined visitors or closed their borders completely in the face of the greatest threat to human health in more than a century.

Authorities in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas were forced to appeal for calm as the death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, reached more than 5,800, with at least 156,000 people infected worldwide.

New travel, flight and quarantine regulations were declared in Australia, Austria, Argentina, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Lebanon, Mexico the Netherlands, the Philippines, Spain and Turkey, added to the countries that have already tightened their borders and curbed freedom of movement.

They include Saudi Arabia, which has taken the most comprehensive steps among the Gulf states by halting international passenger flights, canceling Umrah pilgrimages and locking down the eastern Qatif region.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday ordered the closure of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks and gardens. Supermarkets, pharmacies and food delivery are exempt. 

There are 118 confirmed cases of the virus in Saudi Arabia. Three patients have made a full recovery and are in good health, with the third discharged on Sunday from Dammam Medical Complex.

In Lebanon, President Michel Aoun declared a medical state of emergency, and closed the border with Syria except for fruit and vegetable deliveries. “Each of us is called upon to continue his work, from home, in the way he sees appropriate,” Aoun said in a TV address. Banks are expected to close until March 29.

Security forces were deployed on Beirut’s corniche to disperse crowds. 

Elsewhere, Turkey quarantined 10,000 pilgrims who had returned from Saudi Arabia, Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem was closed indefinitely, and Palestinian officials said President Mahmoud Abbas, 85, who has age-related health issues, was no longer receiving guests.

Iran, where most Middle East virus cases originate and 724 people have died, admitted on Sunday that the pandemic could overwhelm its health care system. 

“If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity,” said Ali Reza Zali, the health official leading the campaign against the outbreak.



Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”