Manila coordinating with Riyadh to repatriate bodies of OFWs

Manila coordinating with Riyadh to repatriate bodies of OFWs
Arrangements are being made to fly home the bodies of more than 200 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Saudi Arabia, which employs more than 900,000 Filipinos. (AN file photo)
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Updated 23 June 2020

Manila coordinating with Riyadh to repatriate bodies of OFWs

Manila coordinating with Riyadh to repatriate bodies of OFWs
  • Officials say flight ban during COVID-19 lockdown led to ‘backlog’ in bringing home deceased

MANILA: The Philippine government was on Monday preparing to repatriate the bodies of more than 200 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from Saudi Arabia, revealed Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

It was hoped that the deceased OFWs could be flown home this week. The Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Adnan Alonto, also on Monday said that a total of 353 OFWs’ bodies were “now up for disposition” in the Kingdom.

“Of the 353 dead Filipino nationals, 107 were due to (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19, while 246 died of natural causes and various crime-related incidents,” the envoy added.

Alonto said that under normal circumstances burials must take place within 24 hours in Saudi Arabia, as per Islamic funeral customs.

“But for non-Muslims, they also respect the custom on the disposition of (human) remains. The authorities issued guidance that if the death is COVID-related, the body should be disposed within 72 hours ... from the time the embassy is informed,” he told a televised news briefing.

The process, however, will be different for COVID-19 deaths.

“We have made a request, if possible, to give us an exemption but I understand that the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) already made a pronouncement that COVID-19 cases will have to be buried here (Saudi Arabia),” added Alonto.

He said the authorities were closely coordinating with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for the repatriation of the other bodies.

In a separate TV interview, Locsin said the Philippine government was arranging chartered cargo flights to bring home the bodies of OFWs from Saudi Arabia.

He added that he had met with Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Dr. Abdullah Al-Bussairy, who had said that the Kingdom was ready to help with the repatriation process.

“How fast will we do that? We need a flight to get there. We’re getting a cargo flight even as we speak,” he said, adding that they were hoping to repatriate more than 200 bodies this week.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Filipino Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that his office had received communication from King Salman giving the Philippines 72 hours to return home the dead OFWs.

“Cremation is not allowed (in Saudi), that’s why the directive of King Salman is for us to bring them home. But the decision of the IATF is to bury there those who died from COVID-19, while the remaining 200 plus we will bring them home (in batches),” he added.

Alonto added that the delay in repatriation was due to a lack of flights. “During the almost three-month lockdown, there were no flights, so there was a backlog. That was largely the cause.”

Saudi Arabia remains the top destination for OFWs, with government records showing that more than 900,000 Filipinos were currently employed in the Kingdom.


Female doctor killed in eastern Afghanistan after murder of media workers

Female doctor killed in eastern Afghanistan after murder of media workers
Updated 7 min 15 sec ago

Female doctor killed in eastern Afghanistan after murder of media workers

Female doctor killed in eastern Afghanistan after murder of media workers
  • Journalists, religious scholars, activists and judges have all been victims of a recent wave of political assassinations across Afghanistan
  • In the latest incident, the doctor was killed after a magnetic bomb was attached to the vehicle she was traveling in

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: A female doctor was killed in a bomb blast in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad in what appeared to be another targeted hit, officials said Thursday, just days after three women media workers were gunned down in the area.
Journalists, religious scholars, activists and judges have all been victims of a recent wave of political assassinations across Afghanistan, forcing many into hiding — with some fleeing the country.
In the latest incident, the doctor was killed after a magnetic bomb was attached to the vehicle she was traveling in, according to a spokesman from the provincial governor’s office. A child was also injured by the explosion.
“She was commuting in a rickshaw when the bomb went off,” the spokesman told AFP.
Another spokesman from a provincial hospital also confirmed the incident and toll.
The blast was later claimed by the local affiliate of Daesh, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, with the extremist group saying the victim was “working as an apostate Afghan intelligence element.”
The attack comes two days after three female media workers were gunned down in Jalalabad in separate attacks that were just minutes apart.
That attack was also claimed by Daesh.
Afghan and US officials have blamed the Taliban for the wave of violence in the past, but the group has repeatedly denied the charges.
The assassinations have been acutely felt by women, whose rights were crushed under the Taliban’s five-year rule, including being banned from working.
Intelligence officials have previously linked the renewed threat against female professionals to demands at the peace talks for their rights to be protected.
The attacks come as speculation is rife over America’s future in Afghanistan after the administration of President Joe Biden announced plans to review the withdrawal agreement signed with the Taliban last year that paved the way for foreign troops to leave the country by May.


New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques
Updated 04 March 2021

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques

New Zealand man charged over threats to Christchurch mosques
  • Police on Thursday arrested the 27-year-old man and charged him with threatening to kill
  • The arrest comes as Muslims prepare to mark the second anniversary of a white supremacist gunman’s attack at the mosques

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: A New Zealand man is facing criminal charges after allegedly posting online threats against two Christchurch mosques that were the sites of a terrorist attack that left 51 people dead.
Police on Thursday arrested the 27-year-old man and charged him with threatening to kill. If found guilty, he faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
Police Superintendent John Price told reporters the threats were made earlier this week on the website 4chan, which has been used as a forum in the past by white supremacists.
The arrest comes as Muslims prepare to mark the second anniversary of a white supremacist gunman’s attack at the mosques.
Price said there would be an enhanced police presence at the mosques during the commemoration of the March 15, 2019, attacks. He said that had been planned before the threats came to light.
Price declined to give details of the alleged threats or name the man ahead of his first scheduled court appearance on Friday.
“Any threat made on our community and our people is a threat on our society, and will not be tolerated,” Price said. “Any messages of hate or people wanting to cause harm in our community, they will be held to account.”
Police initially arrested two men and executed search warrants at two Christchurch addresses. One of the men was later released without being charged.
In the 2019 attack, gunman Brenton Tarrant slaughtered worshippers at the mosques during Friday prayers. Last year he pleaded guilty to 92 counts of murder, attempted murder and terrorism. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.


20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti
Updated 04 March 2021

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti

20 migrants dead after thrown into sea off Djibouti
  • At least 200 migrants, including children, were aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen
  • About thirty minutes into the voyage across the Gulf of Aden the smugglers panicked, survivors said, throwing around 80 people overboard

NAIROBI: At least 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a crossing between Djibouti and Yemen, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Thursday.
“Survivors believe at least 20 people have been killed. There are still some unaccounted for. Five bodies washed up onshore,” said Yvonne Ndege, IOM regional spokesperson for the East and Horn of Africa, told AFP.
At least 200 migrants, including children, were aboard the vessel when it left Oulebi in Djibouti in the early hours of Wednesday for Yemen, survivors told the IOM.
About thirty minutes into the voyage across the Gulf of Aden the smugglers panicked, survivors said, throwing around 80 people overboard before turning the vessel back toward Djibouti.
“Of the 80 people who were forced off, only 60 made it back to shore,” Ndege said.
Five bodies were recovered Wednesday and there are fears the death toll could still rise.
The survivors are receiving medical treatment in the Djibouti port town of Obock and testimonies are still being collected.
Two similar incidents in the Gulf of Aden in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants, the IOM said.


Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
Updated 04 March 2021

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan

Sweden attacker identified as 22-year-old Afghan
  • The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack
  • Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan

STOCKHOLM: The suspect in the stabbing that left seven injured in Sweden is a 22-year-old Afghan, who arrived in the Nordic country in 2018, media reported Thursday.
Swedish police are investigating a possible terror incident after a man stabbed and injured at least seven people in the city of Vetlanda on Wednesday.
A police statement early Thursday revised the number of injured in the attack to seven from eight but did not give further details.
The suspect, who is in his twenties, was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police following the mid-afternoon attack in the southern city of 13,000 inhabitants.
Speaking to AFP, police said the man had used a “sharp weapon,” while local media reported that he had brandished a knife.
Police initially treated the incident as “attempted murder” but later changed it in a statement to include a “suspected terrorist crime,” without giving further details.
Police did not specify the man’s nationality, but according to several media reports, he was originally from Afghanistan and had arrived in Sweden in 2018.
Three of those attacked were said to have suffered life-threatening injuries, while two others were in serious condition, according to the local health authority in Jonkoping where they were being treated in hospital.
Regional police chief Malena Grann later clarified that a preliminary investigation was still under the designation “attempted murder,” but details had emerged that meant they were also looking into “potential terror motives.”
“There are details in the investigation that have led us to investigate whether there was a terror motive,” Grann said, without giving details.
He added that the police were working closely with the Swedish intelligence service Sapo.
The suspect was a resident of the area and previously known to police, but in the past had only been accused of “petty crimes,” including small-scale cannabis use, according to local press.
The extent of his injuries were also unknown but police said they believed they would be able question him.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven condemned the “horrific violence” in a statement published on his Facebook page.
“We face these despicable actions with the combined force of the community,” Lofven said.
“We are reminded of how frail our safe existence is,” Lofven added.
Swedish intelligence services said the terrorist threat was high.
The Scandinavian country has been targeted twice by attacks in recent years.
In December 2010, a man carried out a suicide bomb attack in the center of Stockholm. He died after only slightly injuring passers-by.
In April 2017, a radicalized Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians in Stockholm with a stolen truck, killing five people. He was sentenced to life in prison.


Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
Updated 04 March 2021

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists

Hong Kong court denies bail to 32 democracy activists
  • The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday

HONG KONG: A Hong Kong court on Thursday denied bail to 32 out of 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law, ending a four-day marathon court hearing.
The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong’s government.
The mass charges against the activists were the most sweeping action taken against the city’s pro-democracy camp since the national security law was implemented last June.
With the 32 activists remanded in custody until the next court hearing on May 31, it means that a majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy figures will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Bail proceedings for the activists began on Monday, often taking a full day and at times continuing into the early hours of the morning.
The bail proceedings ongoing since Monday have lasted often a full day and at times into the morning, and several defendants have fallen ill.
Under Hong Kong’s common law system, defendants are usually granted bail for non-violent crimes. But the national security law removed the presumption of bail, with a clause saying it will not be granted unless the judge has sufficient grounds to believe defendants “will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
The 47 are part of a broader group of 55 activists who were arrested in January for their role in the primary elections. Eight of them were not charged on Sunday.
The primary was aimed at determining the strongest candidates to field for a legislative council election that would give the pro-democracy camp the best chance to gain a legislative majority. The government later postponed the legislative elections, citing public health risks from the coronavirus.
If the pro-democracy camp had won a majority, at least some members of the camp had plans to vote down major bills that would eventually force Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to resign. Authorities said the activists’ participation in the primary was part of a plan to paralyze the city’s legislature and subvert state power.
The national security law criminalizes secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces to intervene in the city’s affairs as well as terrorism. Serious offenders could face life imprisonment.
Prominent pro-democracy advocate Joshua Wong, who is currently serving a 13 1/2-month jail sentence on protest-related charges, as well as Benny Tai, the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, are among the activists charged this week.