French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading
People look at flowers, outside Bois d’Aulne secondary school, placed in honor of slain history teacher Samuel Paty, October 19, 2020, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris. (AFP)
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Updated 19 October 2020

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading

French police target extremist networks after teacher’s beheading
  • President Emmanuel Macron: Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country
  • French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom

PARIS: French police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks three days after the beheading of a history teacher who had shown his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The operation came a day after tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide to honor history teacher Samuel Paty and defend freedom of expression.

Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin said “dozens” of individuals were being probed for suspected radicalization.

While they were “not necessarily linked” to Paty’s killing, the government aimed to send a message that there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic,” he added.

Darmanin said the government would also tighten the noose on NGOs with suspected links to extremist networks.

“Fear is about to change sides,” President Emmanuel Macron told a meeting of key ministers Sunday to discuss a response to the attack.

“Extremists should not be allowed sleep soundly in our country,” he said.

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Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Paris.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, an 18-year-old Chechen man Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

The grisly killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Paty had shown his civics class one of the controversial cartoons.

According to his school, Paty had given Muslim children the option to leave the classroom before he showed the cartoon in a lesson on free speech, saying he did not want their feelings hurt.

The lesson sparked a furor nonetheless and Paty and his school received threats.

Eleven people are being held over his murder, including a known radical and the father of one of Paty’s pupils, who had launched an online campaign against the teacher.

Darmanin accused the two men of having issued a “fatwa” against Paty, using the term for an edict that was famously used to describe the 1989 death sentence handed down against writer Salman Rushdie by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

Anzorov’s family arrived in France from the predominantly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya when he was six.

Locals in the Normandy town of Evreux where he lived described him as a loner who had become increasingly religious in recent years.

Police are trying to establish whether he acted alone.

Four members of his family are being held for questioning.

In scenes reminiscent of the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when over a million people marched through Paris to defend press freedom, people again gathered at the central Place de la Republique on Sunday to express their horror over Paty’s death.

Some in the crowd chanted “I am Samuel,” echoing the 2015 “I am Charlie” rallying call for free speech.

French teachers have long complained of tensions around religion and identity spilling over into the classroom.

The government has vowed to step up security at schools when pupils return after half-term.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who laid a wreath outside Paty’s school on Monday, called for “wartime legislation” to combat the terror threat.

Le Pen, who has announced she will make a third bid for the French presidency in 2022, called for an “immediate” moratorium on immigration and for all foreigners on terror watchlists to be deported.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial, and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside the publication’s old office.


Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
Updated 27 September 2021

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University

Academic accused of Islamophobia invited to Cambridge University
  • Jordan Peterson was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019

LONDON: Jordan Peterson, a controversial academic who has been accused of Islamophobia, has said he will attend a series of seminars at the University of Cambridge in November, The Times reported on Monday.

The Canadian psychology professor was banned by the university following accusations of Islamophobia in 2019.

His proposed visiting fellowship offer was canceled by administrators after he was photographed with a man wearing an Islamophobic T-shirt.

When the photographs went viral, Prof. Stephen Toope, the university’s vice chancellor, said Peterson’s “casual endorsement” through association was “antithetical” to the efforts of the divinity faculty.

Peterson has faced opposition for his writing and talks on gender, politics, religion in general and Islam in particular.

His latest invitation to Cambridge was sent out by Dr. James Orr, also from the divinity faculty, who said Peterson will be spending between 10 days and two weeks at the university, where he will attend seminars, talks and other engagements.


South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
Updated 27 September 2021

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly

South Korea to vaccinate 12 to 17 year-olds, give boosters to elderly
  • South Korea scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose

SEOUL: South Korea said on Monday it would begin inoculations next month for children aged 12 to 17 and offer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to those 75 years and above as the country starts to transition to normalcy by the end of October.
South Korea, which has been battling a fourth wave of infections since early July, scrambled over the weekend to contain a surge in cases. Infections topped 3,000 for the first time fueled by last week’s public holidays.
The vaccination advisory committee of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has ruled that the benefits outweigh the risks in vaccinating children. However, parents who have healthy children, such as those who do not have underlying conditions, are advised to weigh the relative benefits in making their decision, KDCA Director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a news conference on Monday.
While approving vaccinations for 12 to 17 year-olds, who will be given Pfizer shots, the panel and the government had not mandated that all children should take the shot.
The United States had by August vaccinated 50 percent of 12-17 year-olds and some European and Asian countries, including Germany and the Philippines have also been recommending vaccines for the age group.
Jeong said the initial booster doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna will go to those with weakened immune systems or deemed to be at high risk — the elderly, nursing home patients and staff.
The country aims to boost vaccination and fully immunize 90 percent of those aged 60 and older, and 80 percent of 18 to 59 years-old by the end of October.
Over 91 percent of the people aged 60 and above have so far received at least one dose, and vaccinations are under way for those 18 and above, 86.3 percent of whom have already had the first shot.
South Korea has reported 2,383 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, bringing total infections to 303,553, with 2,456 deaths.
Despite the high daily case numbers, the country has kept its mortality rate and severe COVID-19 cases relatively low and steady at 0.81 percent and 319, respectively, as of Sunday.
Some 74.2 percent of its 52 million population have had at least one dose of a vaccine through Sunday, and more than 45 percent are fully vaccinated.


India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike
Updated 27 September 2021

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike

India’s farmers renew protests, call for nationwide strike
  • The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indian farmers blocked traffic on major roads and railway tracks outside of the nation’s capital on Monday, marking one year of demonstrations against government-backed laws that they say will shatter their livelihoods.
The farmers have renewed their protests with calls for a nationwide strike on the anniversary of the legislation’s passage. The drawn-out demonstrations have posed one of the biggest political challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept the polls for the second time in 2019.
Waving colorful flags and distributing free food, hundreds of farmers gathered at one of the protest sites on the edges of the capital, New Delhi. The mood on Monday was charged with determination to keep the protests going — some even brought mattresses with them, camping out as the day went on.
Along New Delhi’s southwest and eastern fringes, protesting farmers crowded highways, choking traffic and cutting off access from the capital to neighboring states. Police were deployed to three main protest sites on the outskirts of the city to maintain law and order.
A coalition of farmers’ unions — known as the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front — has called on shops, offices, factories and other institutions to shut their doors in solidarity for the 10-hour strike. All emergency services, including hospitals, pharmacies and relief work, will continue, they said.
The government has defended the legislation, saying it is necessary to modernize agriculture and that the laws will boost production through private investment. But the farmers say the new legislation will devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and force them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.
In neighboring Punjab and Haryana states — which are the country’s the two biggest agricultural producers — thousands of demonstrators also blocked highways, bringing traffic to a halt in some areas.
In the eastern state of Bihar, trains were halted as farmers squatted on railway tracks. Protesters also took to the streets, raising slogans against the Modi government, burning tires and blocking roads across the region. Police said some 500 protesters had been taken into custody, but added that the shutdown remained peaceful.
In the southern city of Bengaluru on Monday, hundreds of people marched in support of the protest against the government. In the southern state of Kerala, the ruling Left Democratic Front called for a total shutdown, reported local media.
Opposition parties in India, including the Congress Party, have supported the farmers. Senior leader Rahul Gandhi called the government “exploitative” and said he stood with farmers on Monday.
A number of talks between the government and farmers have failed to resolve the issue.
In November, the farmers escalated their movement by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped out for nearly a year, pushing through a harsh winter as well as a coronavirus surge that devastated India earlier this year.
While the farmers’ protest movement has been largely peaceful, demonstrators in January broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in the capital’s center. Clashes with police left one protester dead and hundreds injured.


Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her
Updated 27 September 2021

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her

Afghan saffron boss says Taliban will not silence her
  • The hard-liners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August
  • More than 1,000 women pick the brightly colored crocuses across the company’s 25 hectares of land

HERAT, Afghanistan: An Afghan business leader who employs hundreds of women on her saffron fields has vowed to speak up for the rights of her workers, and “not remain silent” under Taliban rule.
The hard-liners have increasingly excluded women from public life since sweeping to power in mid-August, pushing many female entrepreneurs to flee the country or go into hiding.
Many fear a return to their brutally oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001 when women were effectively banned from going to school or work, and only allowed to leave the house with a male relative.
“We will raise our voice so that it reaches their ears,” said Shafiqeh Attai, who started her saffron company in the western city of Herat in 2007.
“No matter what happens we won’t just sit at home, because we have worked very hard.”
Attai’s business, the Pashton Zarghon Saffron Women’s Company, produces, processes, packages and exports the world’s most expensive spice with an almost exclusively female workforce.
More than 1,000 women pick the brightly colored crocuses across the company’s 25 hectares (60 acres) of land in the Pashton Zarghon district of Herat Province, which borders Iran.
Another 55 hectares are independently owned and operate under the collective that Attai set up for women saffron pickers, who are represented by union leaders.
Employing women allows them to be breadwinners for their families, Attai said, enabling them to send their children to school, and to buy them clothing and other essentials.
“I worked hard to establish my business,” the 40-year-old said. “We don’t want to sit quietly and be ignored. Even if they ignore us, we will not remain silent.”
The ousted, Western-backed government encouraged farmers to grow the spice — used in dishes from biryani to paella — in a bid to wean them away from Afghanistan’s huge and problematic poppy industry.
Still, the country remains by far the world’s biggest producer of opium and heroin, supplying between 80 and 90 percent of global output.
During their previous stint in power, the Taliban — who used the sale of opium to fund their insurgency — destroyed much of the crop ostensibly to eradicate it, though critics said it was to drive up the value of their huge stockpiles.
The cultivation of poppies has again surged in recent years, as poverty and instability increased. Afghanistan’s production area is now roughly four times larger now than in 2002, according to the United Nations.
Herat Province produces the vast majority of Afghanistan’s saffron.
At more than $5,000 per kilogram, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and Attai’s company produces between 200 and 500 kilos each year.
The pistil of the flower has for centuries been used around the world in cooking, perfumes, medicines, tea and even as an aphrodisiac — and because of its high price has been dubbed “red gold” by those who rely on its cultivation.
Best grown in the baking hot sun, the bright purple saffron flowers are harvested in October and November by armies of workers, many of them women in their fifties and sixties, who start picking at dawn before the plants wilt later in the day.
Laborers then prise apart the delicate lilac leaves, vivid red stigmas and pale yellow stamens — painstaking work that demands concentration and skill.
Attai is concerned not just about the future of her business, but also for women across Afghanistan who are living in limbo, uncertain about jobs, education and representation in government.
“Now that the government of the Islamic Emirate is here we are very worried that they will block our work,” she said.
“They haven’t given girls the permission to go back to school and university, and they haven’t given any women posts in the government — I am worried about what will happen,” she added.
“I’m not just thinking about myself, I’m thinking about all those that this business supports to run their homes,” she said, noting that some of her employees are the sole breadwinners in their families.
“I am worried that 20 years of hard work by these women will go to waste.”
In the 20 years between the US-led ouster of the Taliban in 2001 and the Islamists’ return, many women became business leaders, particularly in cities like Herat.
Long a key commercial hub near Iran and Turkmenistan’s borders, the city has in recent months suffered from the flight of many businesswomen.
Younes Qazizadeh, head of the city’s chamber of commerce, said that he hoped the Taliban would make an official announcement to indicate that “women could come back and do business under this government as well.”
For now, the fate of businesses like Attai’s hangs on a thread.
“It is our hope to start women’s businesses again in our country,” Qazizadeh added.
Attai said that for now, she is staying in her homeland because she has “some hope” that her business can survive.
Ahead of the US pullout, a mammoth airlift saw 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul airport.
“I could have left as well. But I didn’t leave because all the hard work and effort that we put in should not be ignored,” Attai said.
“I don’t think they will block our work,” she added, referring to the Taliban.
“We are a company which is completely run by women and employs women — not a single man is brave enough to stop that. A woman who has shoveled her fields day and night cannot be ignored.”


New Zealand to allow home isolation to travelers

New Zealand to allow home isolation to travelers
Updated 27 September 2021

New Zealand to allow home isolation to travelers

New Zealand to allow home isolation to travelers
  • Currently New Zealanders have to quarantine in hotels for two weeks when they return home from abroad
  • New Zealand has taken an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus

WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s prime minister says the government will start a pilot program of home-isolation for overseas travelers, ahead of what she expects to be increasing vaccination levels.
Currently New Zealanders have to quarantine in hotels for two weeks when they return home from abroad.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday a pilot program that will allow New Zealanders to quarantine at home will include 150 business travelers who arrive between Oct. 30 and Dec. 8. The program will involve monitoring and testing.
“The only reason that we are running this self-isolation pilot now is in preparation for a highly vaccinated population,” Ardern said.
“The intention is that in the first quarter of 2022 when more New Zealanders are vaccinated, it will be safer to run self-isolation at home,” she added.
Of the eligible population in New Zealand aged 12 and older, 43 percent had been fully vaccinated, Ardern said.
In Auckland, the nation’s most populous city which has been locked down since Aug. 17 after the highly-contagious delta variant leaked from hotel quarantine, 82 percent of the eligible population had at least a single dose of the double-shot Pfizer vaccine, she said.
New Zealand has taken an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus and has been trying to completely eliminate the Delta variant.