Pakistan returns 200-year-old temple to Sikhs in southwest

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People of the Sikh community take part in worship at the Gurudawara Sri Guru Singh Sabha temple in Quetta, Pakistan, Thursday, July 23, 2020. (AP)
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Members of the Sikh community arrive for worship at the Gurudawara Sri Guru Singh Sabha temple in Quetta, Pakistan, Thursday, July 23, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 23 July 2020

Pakistan returns 200-year-old temple to Sikhs in southwest

  • The temple stood empty for a year or two when most Sikhs left Pakistan for neighboring India in 1947
  • A school was later set up in the temple building which remained functional until recently

QUETTA: A 200-year-old Sikh temple that served as a school for Muslim girls for seven decades was returned to the Sikh community in Quetta, enabling them to worship there for the first time in 73 years, officials said Thursday.
The temple stood empty for a year or two when most Sikhs left Pakistan for neighboring India after the British partitioned the subcontinent into separate nations in 1947, following two centuries of colonial rule.
Under the government’s guardianship, a school was later set up in the temple building, which remained functional until recently, when Sikhs won a legal battle to have the property returned, temple custodian Govind Singh said.
He said Sikhs living in Quetta were delighted to get back to their temple.
“This is the best gift for us. We are grateful to Pakistan and the judiciary for giving it back to us,” local Sikh leader Jasbir Singh said. “For us, it is like a dream come true.”
Singh spoke as jubilant members of the Sikh community, adhering to social distancing rules to avoid the spread of the coronavirus, gathered at the temple to worship.
The temple could not be returned to the Sikhs earlier because of a lingering legal battle between local Sikhs and the provincial government, Singh said. Abdullah Khilji, an official at the education department in Baluchistan, said hundreds of schoolgirls who were studying at the temple building were relocated to a nearby school where they have since adjusted.
The development comes at a time when Pakistan’s tiny Hindu minority is facing resistance from Muslim activists for attempting to build a temple in the capital. Initially, the government approved its construction, but then reversed the decision after Muslims objected.
A council of clerics is currently deliberating whether the temple’s construction should be allowed.
However, there has been no other resistance to the construction or renovation of Sikh temples in Pakistan, where the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has supported the construction of one of the largest Sikh shrines to Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, which is known as Gurdwara Darbar Sahib.
It’s the second-holiest place in the Sikh faith and is located on the Ravi River just 4.5 kilometers (3 miles) from Pakistan’s border with India.
The shrine is visible from the Indian side of the border.
Currently, no Indian Sikhs are visiting shrines in Pakistan because of a travel ban imposed by their government to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has also caused 5,709 deaths and 269,191 infections across Pakistan.
Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations and have fought two of their wars since gaining independence from Britain.


Duterte to skip Philippine trial of Russia virus vaccine

Updated 13 August 2020

Duterte to skip Philippine trial of Russia virus vaccine

  • Duterte had offered himself up as a guinea pig for the very first jab, expressing “huge trust” in the vaccine
  • The Philippines has logged the highest number of confirmed infections in Southeast Asia

MANILA: The Philippines will begin large-scale human testing of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine in October, but President Rodrigo Duterte will not receive the inoculation until regulators guarantee its safety, his spokesman said Thursday.
Duterte had offered himself up as a guinea pig for the very first jab, expressing “huge trust” in the vaccine, despite growing skepticism about its effectiveness.
But his spokesman Harry Roque said the president was scheduled to receive the vaccine no earlier than May 1 — weeks after the Russian-funded Phase 3 clinical trial in the archipelago is due to end in March.
The country’s Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the vaccine — developed by the Gamaleya research institute and the Russian defense ministry — in April.
“May 1 is when the PSG (presidential security group) may allow him, once all requisite tests have been finished,” Roque told reporters.
Moscow says it has developed the world’s first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus and is in the final stage of tests involving 2,000 people.
Roque said Philippine experts will review next month the results of Russia’s Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials before the Southeast Asian country starts its Phase 3 testing.
“We will do it simultaneously with Russia,” Roque said.
Philippine officials from the science and technology department met with Gamaleya on Wednesday to discuss the protocols for the trial of the vaccine, which is dubbed “Sputnik V” after the pioneering Soviet satellite of the 1950s.
The Philippines, which is struggling to contain the virus, has accepted Russia’s offer to participate in production of the vaccine.
Anna Lisa Ong-Lim, an infectious disease professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, said the government’s timeline to have a vaccine available by May was “very optimistic.”
The country is also set to start on August 17 clinical trials for the Japanese antiviral drug Avigan to treat coronavirus patients.
The Philippines has logged the highest number of confirmed infections in Southeast Asia with more than 147,500 cases and over 2,400 deaths.