Sahel allies have ‘shifted the dynamic’ in fight with extremists: Macron

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Chad’s President Idriss Deby, Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, June 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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French President Emmanuel Macron listens as Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani speaks during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, June 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Kabore, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, French President Emmanuel Macron, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, Chad’s President Idriss Deby and Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, June 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives at the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, June 30, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Sahel allies have ‘shifted the dynamic’ in fight with extremists: Macron

  • Macron: We are convinced that victory is possible in the Sahel, and that it is decisive for stability in Africa and Europe
  • Macron: We now have to consolidate this dynamic and strengthen it... The ground that we have recovered will not be given back

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania: Sahel countries and their ally France have “shifted the dynamic” in the fight against an eight-year-old extremist insurgency in the region, French President Emmanuel Macron said after a summit to review a six-month-old strategy.
Speaking at an end-of-meeting press conference, Macron said the change in tactics had yielded “spectacular results.”
“We are convinced that victory is possible in the Sahel, and that it is decisive for stability in Africa and Europe,” he said.
“We are in the process of finding the right path thanks to the efforts that have been made over this last six months.”
The one-day summit in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, gathered the presidents of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, as well as France.
It was called to take stock of a more aggressive strategy in the Sahel, decided in January after a string of setbacks crowned by the loss of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash.
Under the change, France deployed an extra 500 troops to its Barkhane anti-extremist force in the Sahel, bringing its complement to 5,100.
Since then, the extremists have continued to carry out attacks almost daily, but they also lost a key leader to a French raid and are fighting internally, according to security sources.
Coalition forces have focussed on extremists in the “three-border region,” a hotspot of extremism where the frontiers of Burkina, Niger and Mali converge.
“Areas have been taken back from the terrorist groups (and) the armies have redeployed,” said Macron, adding that the tactics “have shifted the dynamic.”
“We now have to consolidate this dynamic and strengthen it... The ground that we have recovered will not be given back,” he warned.


Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 26 min 43 sec ago

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.