Malaysia cancels Hajj for this year amid pandemic

Malaysia cancels Hajj for  this year amid pandemic
Malaysian Hajj pilgrims gather in training days before their departure for Saudi Arabia in this June 30, 2018 file photo. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 12 June 2020

Malaysia cancels Hajj for this year amid pandemic

Malaysia cancels Hajj for  this year amid pandemic
  • Hajj was postponed on account of the safety, health and well-being of Malaysians

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is not sending Hajj pilgrims to Makkah this year in light of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Hajj starts around July  28 and the country was due to send about 31,600 pilgrims.

The decision to cancel was based on consultations with the Health Ministry of Malaysia and the Malaysian Hajj Pilgrims’ Fund Board (Tabung Haji), as well as with members of a special meeting of the Committee of the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Malaysia that took place on June 9.

“The pilgrimage for all Malaysians for the Hajj season of Hijrah 1441 is postponed to next year,” Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, a minister in the prime minister’s office, said on Thursday at a press conference.

Al-Bakri said that the Hajj postponement to 2021 was made after taking into consideration the safety, health and well-being of Malaysians. Those with a furada visa —  a Hajj visa obtained directly from Saudi Arabia’s embassy — were also not allowed to go for Hajj this year.

BACKGROUND

The pandemic has caused a serious global health crisis. Coronavirus has infected 7.4 million people worldwide and resulted in more than 418,000 deaths. Malaysia has taken strict measures in curbing the spread of coronavirus, including enacting the Movement Control Order since March 16 and conducting mass testings for COVID-19 among migrant workers and refugees.

The pandemic has caused a serious global health crisis. Coronavirus has infected 7.4 million people worldwide and resulted in more than 418,000 deaths.

“Yesterday I invited and met with the Saudi Ambassador to Malaysia and handed the official letter of Hajj postponement for Malaysia to be presented to Dr. Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten, minister of Hajj and Umrah for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Malaysia has followed its Southeast Asia neighbors Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Brunei in canceling the Hajj pilgrimage for this year.

Malaysia has taken strict measures in curbing the spread of coronavirus, including enacting the Movement Control Order since March 16 and conducting mass testings for COVID-19 among migrant workers and refugees.

As a result Malaysia has managed to reduce new cases. It currently has a total of 8,369 cases, of which 7,065 have recovered.

Malaysia has gradually allowed most businesses and places of worship, including mosques, to open with strict observations of social distancing measures and guidelines.


We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says
Updated 7 min 45 sec ago

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says

We need to get the travel industry moving again, UK PM Johnson says
  • "We need to get people, get the travel industry moving again," Johnson told reporters
  • Johnson's travel regulations have angered some of Britain's European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that he wanted to get the travel industry moving again with a simple user-friendly system to allow for trips abroad without importing new variants of the coronavirus.
“We need to get people, get the travel industry moving again,” Johnson told reporters. “We want an approach that is as simple as we can possibly make it.”
Britain has double vaccinated a higher proportion of its population against COVID-19 than most other countries, but the government has prevented travel to many destinations by imposing rules that the travel industry says are hobbling the economy.
Johnson’s travel regulations have angered some of Britain’s European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons and brought warnings from airports, airlines and tour companies.
In a letter to Johnson that was leaked to media, finance minister Rishi Sunak called for an urgent easing of travel restrictions.
The Times newspaper reported that Britain planned to warn holidaymakers against visiting popular tourist destinations such as Spain because of concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a step could trigger an exodus of about a million British tourists already abroad, cause further damage to the travel sector and deal a new blow to southern Europe’s summer tourist season.
A spokesperson for Britain’s transport ministry declined to comment on The Times report, published on the day when rules were eased for double-vaccinated travelers from the United States and most of Europe.
Under rules to be reviewed on Thursday, double-vaccinated travelers can return without quarantining from countries rated “amber” on a “traffic-light” list assessing the COVID-19 risk.
Those returning from red-list countries — the most severe risk — must pay 1,750 pounds ($2,436) to spend 10 days in a hotel.
An amber watchlist was due to be signed off on Thursday but a split in the government could delay a decision, The Times said.
Citing the threat posed by the Beta coronavirus variant, England has maintained quarantine rules for double-vaccinated travelers from France, while scrapping the requirement for travelers from other medium-risk “amber” countries.
France has complained, saying the bulk of its Beta variant cases come from the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.


Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 25 min 45 sec ago

Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead after stabbing 2 people
  • Family say he could have been arrested before attack

LONDON: The family of a terrorist who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London are expected to question whether his life could have been saved by being arrested earlier.

It will be the first time relatives of an Islamist terrorist in Britain will ask in court if the killing of their relative was necessary.

The inquest into the death of Sudesh Amman, 20, who stabbed two random members of the public on Feb. 2, 2020, is due to open on Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Amman was being closely observed by undercover reconnaissance officers when he was seen purchasing items for a fake suicide vest, which he put together in his probation hostel.

The next day, while being followed by officers, he quickly grabbed a knife from a shop and stabbed two passers-by in south London.

Both of his victims survived, but Amman was shot and killed by the armed team that was tracking him a minute after his rampage commenced.

His prison release on Jan. 23 meant that he had spent just 10 days in a probation hostel before he was killed.

At a pre-inquest hearing in July, Amman’s relatives queried if the police and MI5 could have arrested him before he was able to conduct the attack.

MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, has applied for intelligence about Amman to be given public interest immunity, which would limit its use in court or any inquiry.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing the Amman family, argued that immunity should not be given if the material “goes to the state of mind of any relevant police officer or security service agent, as to what Sudesh Amman was planning or contemplating.”

The lawyer said his clients have objected to a statement by a police officer known as HA6, who was the senior investigating officer on the “priority” operation against Amman.

The officer said police “could not effect an arrest,” but Menon argued that they “knew the day before that Amman had bought items that could be used to make a fake suicide vest.”

At the hearing at the High Court, he added: “We will be making the point that the police knew more than enough to effect an arrest and should have done so.”

At the time, investigators and surveillance officers feared an attack by Amman was imminent, keeping him under constant observation.

Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said: “This is not a case of signs being missed. It is difficult to imagine a higher grade response, short of arrest and you will be aware of what HA6 says about why that was not feasible.”

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is writing a supplementary report to cover the operation against Amman from January 2020.

The IOPC said on June 17 that during the investigation, “it is not anticipated that any concerns will arise as to the conduct of any police officers.”


In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources
Updated 49 min 56 sec ago

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources
  • Temperatures reached 45 C in inland areas of Greece and nearby countries
  • Italy and Croatia were experiencing storms as well as wildfires in different regions

ATHENS: A heat wave baking southeast Europe has fueled deadly wildfires in Turkey and threatened the national grid in Greece as governments scrambled Monday to secure the resources needed to cope with the emergency.
Temperatures reached 45 C (113 F) in inland areas of Greece and nearby countries and are expected to remain high for most of the week.
Battling deadly wildfires along its coastline for a sixth day, Turkey broadened an appeal for international assistance and was promised water-dropping planes from the European Union. The fires have been blamed for the deaths of eight people in recent days.
In Greece, workers with health conditions were allowed to take time off work, while coal-fired power stations slated for retirement were brought back into service to shore up the national grid, under pressure due to widespread use of air conditioning.
Dann Mitchell, a professor of climate science at the University of Bristol, said that the heatwave in southeast Europe “is not at all unexpected, and very likely enhanced due to human-induced climate change.”
"The number of extreme heat events around the world is increasing year on year, with the top 10 hottest years on record all occurring since 2005,” Mitchell told The Associated Press.
“This year, we have seen a number of significant events, including a particularly dramatic heatwave in western Canada and the U.S., that was extreme even for current levels of climate change," Mitchell said. "These black swan events have always happened, but now they sit on the background of a hotter climate, so are even more deadly.”
As hot weather edged southward, Italy and Croatia were experiencing storms as well as wildfires in different regions of the country.
A small tornado in Istria, on Croatia’s northern Adriatic coast, toppled trees that destroyed several cars, hours before a large fire erupted outside the nearby resort of Trogir, threatening homes and the local power supply.
Some 30 people were treated for light smoke inhalation in Italy’s coastal city of Pescara, after flames tore through a nearby pine forest.
“That zone of pine forest is a nature reserve, and it’s completely destroyed. It brings tears to see it. The environmental damage is incalculable. This is the heart of the city, its green lung and today it is destroyed,” Pescara Mayor Carlo Masi said.
Cyprus, recovering from a major wildfire last month, kept water-dropping planes on patrol to respond to fires as they broke out.
“If you don’t react right away with a massive response to any outbreak, things can turn difficult quickly,” forestry service chief Charalambos Alexandrou, told state-run media.
“The conditions are war-like.”


Petraeus: US has abandoned Afghanistan to civil war

An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Petraeus: US has abandoned Afghanistan to civil war

An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
  • Kandahar, Lashkar Gar on brink of Taliban capture while American forces prepare to depart
  • Ex-US military chief in Afghanistan warns hard-won rights, freedoms will likely be lost if onslaught continues

LONDON: America has deserted its responsibility to protect rights and freedoms in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, the former US commander in the country, has told The Times.

With the Taliban rapidly sweeping up territories that were until recently defended by US-led coalition troops, Petraeus warned that a “medieval Islamist regime” and the return of terror-training safe havens are a realistic possibility.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have already started fleeing their homes as the Taliban start to take ground around Kandahar, the country’s second city.

“The rest of the world will see that we are not supporting democracy or maintaining the values that we promote around the world — human rights, particularly women’s rights, the right to education and freedom of speech and press — all very imperfect in Afghanistan, to be sure, but vastly better than if the Taliban reinstates a medieval Islamist regime,” Petraeus said.

“The worst-case scenario is we could see a bloody, brutal civil war similar to that of the 1990s when the Taliban prevailed,” he added.

“If that were to happen we would likely see the return of an Al-Qaeda sanctuary, although I don’t think Al-Qaeda would be able to threaten the homeland and Europe in the near-term. And certainly, our intelligence services and military will be watching for that.

“But it would be easier for Al-Qaeda if the Taliban seize control. We would see millions of refugees flooding into Pakistan and other neighboring countries. If the Taliban do take control we will see dramatic reductions in freedoms for Afghan citizens, particularly women. I don’t think this is what the world wants to see.”

Petraeus said he is shocked by how Washington is closing down its military operations in Afghanistan.

“If we had shown the determination and will to stay, we would have been in a much stronger negotiating position with the Taliban. But if we tell the enemy we are going to leave, why would they give up anything?

“I am a little bit unclear why we didn’t think we could maintain 3,500 troops to stop the Taliban from bringing back an ultraconservative Islamist theocracy, which is not in anyone’s interest.”

Petraeus added: “The war will go on and will get much worse. Ryan Crocker (Washington’s envoy to Kabul between 2011 and 2012) once said you can get tired of a movie and leave the theater but the movie continues to roll on. We forced the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, and got little or nothing for it. But if we had 3,500 troops there to maintain situational awareness and help our Afghan partners, we would have been in a position to prevent the Taliban from bringing civil war to the country.”

Petraeus contrasted the Afghanistan policy with the US approach to Iraq, where Washington has retained a small deployment of some 2,500 troops in an advisory role.

“But they can at least help the Iraqi security forces keep an eye on the insurgent and terrorist cell remnants of the Islamic State (Daesh),” he said.

The continued presence of US forces in Iraq is undergoing examination by military planners in Washington. 

The US has been launching airstrikes via fast jets and unmanned Reaper drones in support of Afghan forces. The drones take eight hours to travel to their targets from their airstrip in the Gulf.

Fighter jets launching sorties originate from Qatar, the UAE, and an aircraft carrier off the coast of Pakistan.

“The US may try to continue providing air support. But, to do that, it would have been wiser to keep Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Now, we have to fly from the Gulf, we can’t fly over Iran, so we have to go over southwest Pakistan. We’re not going to get a base in Pakistan,” Petraeus said.

“What will happen next depends most importantly on what the US will do to enable the Afghan air force to continue flying. The Afghan air force requires highly trained mechanics and supply chains and logistical support or they will not be operationally capable.”


UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more
Updated 02 August 2021

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more
  • Travelers are required to take expensive PCR tests to prove they are virus-free

LONDON: Britain opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from the US and European Union on Monday as travel industry leaders urged the government to further ease restrictions and allow people to enjoy the benefits of a successful COVID-19 inoculation program.
The new rules came into effect amid reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may add a new category to Britain’s traffic light system of travel restrictions, a move industry officials say would make many people decide to stay home.
As of Monday, fully vaccinated travelers from destinations on Britain’s “amber list” are allowed to enter the country without self-isolating for up to 10 days. The government is considering creating an amber watchlist to warn people about destinations that may be downgraded because of rising infection rates or the emergence of new variants.
“An amber watchlist will be viewed as a massive red flag, which is likely to cause bookings to those countries on that watchlist to collapse,’’ Huw Merriman, chairman of the House of Commons’ Transport Committee, told the BBC. “In my view, we don’t need any more uncertainty, complexity or anxiety for passengers or this beleaguered sector. It just needs clarity.”
British airlines and holiday companies are hoping for a late summer travel boom after the pandemic halted most international travel, slashing profits and threatening thousands of jobs. The number of passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport, the UK’s busiest airport, fell 75 percent in the first half of this year.
Travelers are required to take expensive PCR tests to prove they are virus-free and countries including the US still bar foreign travelers from crossing their borders.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said the British government should allow most travelers to use cheaper lateral flow tests and work with countries like the US to ease remaining travel restrictions. This is warranted by the UK’s successful vaccination program, he said.
Almost 89 percent of adults in Britain have received at least one dose of vaccine and 73 percent have been fully vaccinated.
“This is a good start, we are showing that the vaccine is our passport to freedom,’’ Holland-Kaye said. “Let’s be confident in the vaccines. Tests show they work against delta and beta variants. So let’s start to show the vaccination will get us back to our lives as they used to be.”