New York increasing halal meal distribution during Ramadan

New York increasing halal meal distribution during Ramadan
New York City is ready to serve over 500,000 meals to fasting Muslims during Ramadan through partnerships with voluntary organizations. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 April 2020

New York increasing halal meal distribution during Ramadan

New York increasing halal meal distribution during Ramadan
  • City mayor laments restrictions of religious traditions due to pandemic

CHICAGO: New York City is increasing the supply and distribution of halal meals during Ramadan, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Muslims in the US may face difficulties securing halal food amid the coronavirus outbreak, with restaurants and stores experiencing operating restrictions due to shutdowns.
De Blasio told reporters it was painful to see challenges curtail religious services for Passover and Easter for Christians and Jews, and he expressed the same concern for Muslims observing Ramadan.
“And now we find ourselves once again about to celebrate a profoundly important holiday of one of our major faiths,” De Blasio said. “So, tonight marks the start of Ramadan and there’s hundreds of thousands of Muslim New Yorkers who for this moment, this is the most important time of the year. And I want to say to all of our Muslim brothers and sisters, you’ve been going through so much as we all have and not able to worship and not able to do the things that you’re used to doing as part of your faith, but you have shown strength as all New Yorkers have and you’ve joined with everyone else and fighting back this disease.”
De Blasio and New York City COVID-19 Food Czar Kathryn Garcia said the city would “significantly increase the city’s supply and distribution of halal meals during Ramadan” and was prepared to serve over 500,000 meals during Ramadan through partnerships with community-based organizations.
As part of this effort, De Blasio added, the city would increase the supply of halal meals at 32 sites across all five boroughs with large Muslim populations by 25 percent.
He said that included 400,000 meals in addition to the 32 receiving this increase, around 400 sites that offered halal food would continue to do so and an additional 150,000 meals would be served through nine community-based organizations that served Muslim New Yorkers.

For millions around the globe, this holy month is an opportunity to renew and strengthen their faith through rigorous fasting, devout prayer, reflective meditation, reading the Qur’an, and charitable deeds.

Donald Trump US president

The organizations include ICNA Relief, Apna/ICNA Relief, Al-Madinah Incorporated, Muslims Giving Back, Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development, American Council of Minority Women, Arab American Association of New York, Council of People’s Organization and the Yemeni American Merchants Association. The full list of school sites with increased halal meals are listed at schools.nyc.gov/ramadanmeals.
The city has distributed nearly 7 million meals across multiple programs, De Blasio said.
US President Donald Trump has also issued Ramadan greetings to Muslims, adding that the power of prayer could help the world get through the pandemic.
“I wish all Muslims, both in the United States and across the world, a blessed and peaceful Ramadan,” Trump said in a special message released on Thursday. “For millions around the globe, this holy month is an opportunity to renew and strengthen their faith through rigorous fasting, devout prayer, reflective meditation, reading the Qur’an, and charitable deeds. These acts are closely aligned with the universal values that the Islamic faith promotes — peace, kindness, and love and respect for others.”
He prayed that those observing Ramadan found “comfort and reassurance” in their faith.

 


Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment
Updated 15 April 2021

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment
  • PM Scott Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in line with the US decision to end its military operations there
  • Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison choked back tears as he read the names Thursday of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan to mark the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year war.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in September in line with the US decision to end its military operations there.
Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.
Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan “a significant milestone in Australia’s military history” that marked the end of a costly chapter for the country’s defense force.
He then read out the names of the 41 Australian soldiers killed in the conflict, halting several times as he choked back sobs, especially when mentioning Brett Till, a 31-year-old sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense,” he said.
“These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom.”
While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.
Veterans groups have pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among Afghan veterans and other ex-servicemen and women.
The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.


US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats
Updated 15 April 2021

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats
  • The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners"
  • In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States”

WASHINGTON: The United States announced economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.
President Joe Biden ordered a widening of restrictions on US banks trading in Russian government debt, expelled 10 diplomats who include alleged spies, and sanctioned 32 individuals alleged to have tried to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, the White House said.
Biden's executive order "sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international action," the White House said in a statement.
The statement listed in first place Moscow's "efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners."
This referred to allegations that Russian intelligence agencies mounted persistent disinformation and dirty tricks campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, in part to help Donald Trump's candidacy.
The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners," referring to the massive so-called SolarWinds hack of US government computer systems last year.
The statement also called out Russia's extraterritorial "targeting" of dissidents and journalists and undermining of security in countries important to US national security.
In addition, the Department of Treasury, together with the European Union, Australia, Britain and Canada, sanctioned eight individuals and entities associated with Russia's occupation of Crimea in Ukraine.
In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilizing activities."


India faces grim battle as daily virus cases top 200,000

India faces grim battle as daily virus cases top 200,000
Updated 22 min 50 sec ago

India faces grim battle as daily virus cases top 200,000

India faces grim battle as daily virus cases top 200,000
  • New Delhi imposes lockdown after caseload soars from 1,000 to 17,000 in two weeks
  • Hospitals run out of beds, oxygen amid surging infection rates around the country

NEW DELHI: Indian health officials admitted on Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak had taken an unexpected turn with new infections doubling since last week, surging to a daily record of more than 200,000 and overwhelming medical facilities.

Official reports showed 200,739 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday with 1,038 coronavirus-related deaths. Over 14.1 million Indians have contracted the virus since the beginning of the outbreak last year and 173,123 have died as a result.

“We can’t predict what’s going to happen and how the situation will unfold,” Dr. Rajni Kant, of the Indian Council of Medical Research, the government’s apex medical body, told Arab News.

“We don’t know what is the peak and when is the peak,” Kant said, adding that crowding has played a “significant role in spreading the virus.”

A surge in COVID-19 cases in New Delhi from 1,000 in early April to over 17,000 has prompted authorities to impose a weekend lockdown in the capital, with only essential services allowed.

“These restrictions are for your sake. It will be inconvenient, but it is necessary to break the chain of transmission,” New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told a press conference on Thursday.

As medical facilities are overwhelmed by the rapid rise in infections, the capital city’s administration has converted 23 hotels and banquet halls into temporary hospitals.

Crematoriums in the city are also struggling with a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths.

“We are now receiving more COVID-19-affected bodies than before and in the last week the sudden surge has burdened us,” Ram Pal Mishra, of Dayanand Muktidham Cremation Ground and Electric Crematorium in New Delhi, told Arab News.

The situation in neighboring Uttar Pradesh is also grim, with India’s largest state on Thursday becoming the second worst performer in the country with over 20,000 cases, after the state of Maharashtra, which makes up a quarter of India’s coronavirus tally.

The Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday announced an 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. night curfew.

“The situation in the state is critical, but we are trying to manage,” Communicable Disease Department Director Dr. Ashok Kumar Paliwal said.

“We are trying to boost the infrastructure and boost medical facilities,” he told Arab News. “People need to cooperate in containing the virus.”

Business communities in the state capital of Lucknow decided on Thursday to voluntarily shut down the city’s markets for three days.

“We have already lost more than 50 businessmen since February in the absence of proper medical and testing facilities. We can’t afford to lose more,” Amarnath Mishra, of the Lucknow Business Association, told Arab News.

“It’s a very grim situation and we cannot continue like this,” he said.

The western Indian state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, is also in badly affected.

Hospitals in Ahmedabad, the main city, are running out of beds and patients have to wait hours in ambulances outside medical facilities to be admitted.

“In Gujarat the situation is bad, especially in Ahmedabad,” Ahmedabad Medical Association President Dr. Mona Desai said. “Infections are spreading very fast, hardly any beds are available, there is waiting in ICUs and a shortage of oxygen.”

She added: “We are in a hopeless state. The situation is getting worse.”

Leading Indian epidemiologist Dr. T. Jacob John blames the Hindu festival of Kumbh Mela for the surge in coronavirus cases.

Several million Hindus have gathered to take a ritual dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar city in the northern state of Uttarakhand since April 1, as officials struggle to impose safety measures.

The month-long festival takes place every 12 years and its venue is chosen among four cities: Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain.

According to social activist Anoop Nautiyal, of the Development for Communities Foundation, most of the COVID-19 cases in the state are emerging near the Kumbh Mela venue in Haridwar.

“Ground reports and pictures show widespread violation of COVID-19 protocols, raising speculation that it might become a super spreader,” he said.


Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal
Updated 15 April 2021

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal
  • NATO says its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan are also departing within a few months

KABUL: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America’s longest-running war.
Blinken was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, and civic figures, a day after Biden announced that the remaining 2,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan would be coming home by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the US invasion.
His trip also came after NATO immediately followed suit, saying its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few months, ending the foreign military presence that had been a fact of life for a generation of Afghans already reeling from more than 40 years of conflict.
Blinken sought to reassure the Afghan leadership that the withdrawal did not mean an end to the US-Afghan relationship.
“I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing to commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” Blinken told Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring.”
“We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani told Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops.
Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the move and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance would also be leaving.
Biden, Blinken, Austin and Stoltenberg have all sought to put a brave face on the pullout, maintaining that the US- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network that launched the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.
However, that argument has faced pushback from some U.S, lawmakers and human rights advocates who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
Later, in a meeting with Abdullah, Blinken repeated his message, saying that “we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together.”
“We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration,” Abdullah said.
Despite billions of US dollars in aid, Afghanistan 20 years on has a poverty rate of 52 percent according to World Bank figures. That means more than half of Afghanistan’s 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.
For many Afghans the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth and loyal militias who are well armed. Many Afghans fear worsening chaos even more once America leaves.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul.
Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, the US was to have completed its military withdrawal by May 1. Although Biden is blowing through that deadline, angering the Taliban leadership, his plan calls for the pull-out to begin on May 1. The NATO withdrawal will commence the same day.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said in his announcement in Washington on Tuesday, but he added that the US will “not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.”
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, vowed that the US would remain committed to Afghanistan’s people and development.
“Bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan or our support for the country,” Blinken said. “Our support, our engagement and our determination remain.”
Austin also said that the US military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, will keep counterterrorism “capabilities” in the region to keep pressure on extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. Asked for details, he declined to elaborate on where those US forces would be positioned or in what numbers.


China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say
Updated 15 April 2021

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say
  • China aims to become "carbon neutral" by 2060
  • China’s state council approved five nuclear projects, which will be developed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC)

BEIJING/SINGAPORE: China approved the construction of five nuclear power units, with total installed capacity of 4.9 GW, roughly 10% of the country’s total, two sources said, as Beijing strives for alternatives to fossil fuel to meet its climate goals.

China needs to speed up its nuclear development to achieve its pledge to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak before 2030 and become “carbon neutral” by 2060.

The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter has lagged behind its previous target of operating 58 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2020, partly as the Fukushima nuclear accident slowed down approvals of new projects.

China’s state council approved five nuclear projects, which will be developed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), at a meeting on Wednesday, one of the two sources familiar with the matter said.

Officials, including those from the National Energy Administration and National Nuclear Safety Bureau, attended the meeting at which the development of the nuclear industry in the country was discussed, four sources said. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

“Nuclear power is a ‘have to do’ choice if China aims to achieve the targets of bringing carbon emission by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060,” an official from the Nuclear Safety Bureau said.

The five reactors approved include four regular nuclear units — number 7 and number 8 at Tianwan nuclear power plant in eastern Jiangsu province, and number 3 and number 4 in Xudapu in northeastern Liaoning province.

All four will use Russian-made VVER-1200 technology and have individual capacity of 1.2 gigawatts (GW), two of the sources said.

The government also approved a small, 125-MW module reactor (SMR) demonstration project at Changjiang nuclear power plant in Hainan province.

In one of the country’s first experiments of small reactors aimed at better economics, CNNC will use its home-grown ACP100 technology.

Construction of three of the five units, the SMR and one each from Tianwan and Xudapu, is expected to start later this year and is scheduled for completion in 2026, one official said.

“They are moving ahead as earlier scheduled,” the official said, adding that means China has re-established its normal pace in advancing new projects.

The State Council and CNNC did not immediately respond to Reuters requests seeking comment.

China is also accelerating the development of an upgraded model of its home-grown third generation nuclear technology, Hualong Two.

China’s Nuclear Energy Association expects the country to have installed or have under construction a total of 200 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2035.