Pakistan says Iran forced 5,000 of its nationals over border despite request to wait

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. (AP/File)
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Updated 12 May 2020

Pakistan says Iran forced 5,000 of its nationals over border despite request to wait

  • Opposition criticizes government for lack of testing and failure to quarantine people returning from Iran
  • Parliament sat on Monday for first time in two months, to discuss latest coronavirus developments

ISLAMABAD: Iran forced about 5,000 Pakistani nationals over the border into Balochistan, despite a plea by Islamabad to wait until quarantine facilities were ready to accommodate them, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Monday.

“I spoke with the Iranian foreign minister and requested time to make arrangements (for the pilgrims) but they couldn’t do it due to economic sanctions,” Qureshi said during a National Assembly session, the first convened in two months. He added that Pakistan had been left with no option but to admit its nationals.

Iran, a popular destination for Shiite pilgrims, is one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Islamabad has blamed Iranian authorities for accelerating the spread of the virus by sending Pakistani pilgrims home without screening them for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

In late March, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on public health, Dr. Zafar Mirza, said: “Eighty percent of the COVID-19-confirmed patients in Pakistan originated from Iran, which lacked the capacity to deal with an international public-health emergency.”

During Monday’s parliamentary session, which was convened to discuss the latest coronavirus developments, opposition parties argued that the blame for the spread of the virus rests with Pakistan’s own government.

“You failed to test them, you could not quarantine them,” said Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. He condemning the government’s inability to ensure proper arrangements were in place at the main border crossing in Taftan, and accused the prime minister of lacking a strategy to limit the spread of the virus.

Senior Pakistani Muslim League (N) politician Khawaja Muhammad Asif criticized the government for a lack of testing capacity, and the prime minister’s “confused policy” on the lockdown.

“We are tired of it,” he said. “He isn’t providing leadership, he is providing confusion.”

Khan did not attend the session. The government began to ease precautionary lockdown measures across the country on Saturday, and Qureshi defended this decision by stating that had it not done so, about 71 million people would have been forced into poverty. He added that the testing capacity has risen to 20,000 a day.

“I admit that this capacity is still low but we will improve it gradually,” he said. Infections in the country have yet to peak but, he noted, the national mortality rate of 2 percent is lower than the global average of 6.8 percent.

There were nearly 31,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan as of Monday, and 667 deaths linked to COVID-19. The country, which has a population of 210 million, has conducted about 295,000 tests, including about 11,400 in the past 24 hours.

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

Updated 31 May 2020

“We were all outraged,” says Arab owner of store at center of US protest firestorm

  • Troops can go in ’very quickly,’ Trump says

CHICAGO: The firestorm of protest, arson and looting that has consumed the US for five days began at the counter of an Arab American grocery store.

Staff working for Mahmoud Abumayyaleh, the owner of Cup Foods, called Minneapolis police after George Floyd, 46, twice tried to use a counterfeit $20 bill to make a purchase.

Officers who arrested Floyd held him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he could not breathe. He lost consciousness and died later in hospital. One officer has been charged with third-degree murder and further charges are expected.

“What took place outside … was not in our hands,” Abumayyaleh told US TV. “The murder and execution was something done by the police, and it was an abuse of power. The police brutality needs to stop.”

Abumayyaleh said he knew Floyd as a customer, and as someone who was always pleasant. He did not find out until the following morning that the man had died. “We were all outraged,” he said, and Floyd “may not have even known that the bill was counterfeit.”

The store owner and his sons, Samir, Adam and Mahmoud, have gone into hiding in the face of a wave of threats against them on social media. They took down their store’s Facebook page and its landline phone has been disconnected.

Minneapolis has more than 50 Arab- and Muslim-owned stores mostly north of where the incident occurred, all operating under statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Arab store owners said they feared speaking out publicly about the incident.

An unidentified man who answered the phone at one Arab-owned store told Arab News that both the killing of Floyd and vandalism against businesses “is wrong.”

Since Floyd died last Tuesday, protesters have vandalized, looted and burned down more than 200 stores in Minneapolis. On Friday and Saturday, the violence spread to New York, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte North Carolina.

In Minnesota, protesters maintained a daily vigil in front of the Cup Foods store at 3759 Chicago Avenue, painting walls and the street with murals and graffiti in memory of Floyd. After four nights of confrontations in the city, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz activated the state’s national guard on Saturday for the first time since the Second World War.

US President Donald Trump said troops could be deployed if local authorities requested their help. “We could have our military there very quickly,” he said.