Anti-Shiite protest rattles Pakistan’s Karachi

Anti-Shiite protest rattles Pakistan’s Karachi
Shiite Muslims march for an Ashura procession during the month of Muharram in Karachi on August 30, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2020

Anti-Shiite protest rattles Pakistan’s Karachi

Anti-Shiite protest rattles Pakistan’s Karachi
  • The rally follows a raft of blasphemy accusations against major Shiite leaders in Pakistan
  • Pockets of demonstrators held banners of the extremist anti-Shiite group Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has been linked to the killing of hundreds of Shiites over the years

KARACHI: Thousands of anti-Shiite protesters including demonstrators linked to Sunni extremists rallied in Pakistan’s Karachi Friday, sparking fears that rising tensions between the religious groups may unleash a new round of sectarian violence.
The rally follows a raft of blasphemy accusations against major Shiite leaders in Pakistan after a televised broadcast of an Ashura procession last month showed clerics and participants allegedly making disparaging remarks about historic Islamic figures.
Ashura commemorates the killing of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD — the defining moment of the religion’s schism and the birth of Shiite Islam.
Friday’s demonstration saw thousands of protesters rally near the tomb of the country’s founder — Muhammad Ali Jinnah — where participants chanted “infidels” and “God is the greatest.”
“We will not tolerate any more defamation,” said Qari Usman from the Islamist Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam political party during a speech.
Pockets of demonstrators held banners of the extremist anti-Shiite group Sipah-e-Sahaba, which has been linked to the killing of hundreds of Shiites over the years.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Pakistan where laws can carry the death penalty for anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or Islamic figures.
Even unproven allegations have led to mob lynchings and vigilante murders.
Sectarian violence has erupted in fits and bursts for decades in Pakistan, with homegrown anti-Shiite militant groups bombing shrines and targeting Ashura processions.
Thousands were killed in the previous decade sparking a fierce crackdown by security forces in 2015 which resulted in a dramatic drop in sectarian violence.
The crackdown culiminated in July 2015 when Malik Ishaq — the chief of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — was killed in a firefight with police along with 13 fellow militants.
The shootout wiped out much of the top leadership of LeJ, a driving force in the violence targeting Shiites, who make up around 20 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million population.
Karachi — Pakistan’s largest city which is also a major business and industrial hub — was once rife with political, sectarian, and ethnic militancy with thousands killed.
However a years-long operation by security forces starting in 2013 has brought a considerable lull in the violence — but scattered attacks still take place.


Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries

Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries
Updated 15 January 2021

Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries

Blow to global vaccine drive as Pfizer delays deliveries
  • Pfizer said the modifications at the Puurs factory were necessary in order to ramp up its production capacity from mid-February of the vaccine
  • There will be “a significant increase” in deliveries in late February and March, the US group promised

BERLIN: A global coronavirus vaccine rollout suffered a major blow Friday as Pfizer said it would delay shipments of the jabs in the next three to four weeks due to works at its key plant in Belgium.
Pfizer said the modifications at the Puurs factory were necessary in order to ramp up its production capacity from mid-February of the vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech.
There will be “a significant increase” in deliveries in late February and March, the US group promised. The European Commission also confirmed that promised doses for the first quarter will arrive within the period.
But European Union nations, which are desperately waiting for more doses to immunize their populations against the virus that has already claimed almost two million lives worldwide, expressed frustration.
Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, voiced regret over the “last minute and unexpected” delay.
It urged the European Commission — which undertook joint procurement for the bloc — to “seek clarity and certainty” for upcoming shipments.
Six northern EU nations also warned in a letter to the Commission that the “unacceptable” situation “decreases the credibility of the vaccination process.”
The letter signed by ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden further asked the Commission to “demand a public explanation of the situation” from the pharmaceutical companies.
Across the Atlantic, Canada also said it was impacted by the delays, calling it “unfortunate.”
“However, such delays and issues are to be expected when global supply chains are stretched well beyond their limits,” said Canada’s Procurement Minister Anita Anand.
Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, which was developed at record-breaking speed, became the first to be approved for general use by a Western country on December 2 when Britain gave it the go ahead.
After Britain rolled out its immunization drive, the EU followed from December 27.
The latest shipment delay will likely add fuel to anger over the bloc’s vaccination campaign, which has already been criticized for being too slow compared to the United States or former EU member Britain.
The European Commission has also been accused of not securing enough doses early enough.
Just last week, the EU struck a deal to double its supply of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine to 600 million doses.
The urgency of immunizing the population has grown over fears of virus variants first seen in South Africa and Britain, which officials warn are more infectious.
But vaccine makers had repeatedly warned that production capacity was limited.
While Pfizer is augmenting capacity at Puurs, its partner BioNTech on Friday secured authorization to begin production at Germany’s Marburg.
The challenges of getting millions of vaccines around the world are also huge as the BioNTech/Pfizer jabs must be stored at ultra-low temperatures of about minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit) before being shipped to distribution centers in specially-designed cool boxes filled with dry ice.
Once out of ultra-cold storage, the vaccine must be kept at two Celsius to eight Celsius to remain effective for up to five days.