Myanmar military seizes power, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party post call for protests

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, shown in this photo taken in 2019, was reportedly placed under house arrest in a rumored military coup taking place in the troubled Southeast Asian nation. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)
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Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, shown in this photo taken in 2019, was reportedly placed under house arrest in a rumored military coup taking place in the troubled Southeast Asian nation. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo, File)
Myanmar military vehicles are seen inside City Hall in Yangon on February 1, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Myanmar military vehicles are seen inside City Hall in Yangon on February 1, 2021. (REUTERS)
Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi (R), shown with Lower House speaker Win Myint in this March 14, 2016 photo, has been detained by the military in an apparent coup. (AFP)
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Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi (R), shown with Lower House speaker Win Myint in this March 14, 2016 photo, has been detained by the military in an apparent coup. (AFP)
Myanmar military seizes power, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party post call for protests
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Soldiers blockaded roads to Myanmar's parliament in Naypyidaw on Feb. 1, 2021, after the military detained the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AFP)
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Updated 03 February 2021

Myanmar military seizes power, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party post call for protests

Myanmar military seizes power, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party post call for protests
  • US, Australia and others express concern reports and urge Myanmar’s military to respect the rule of law
  • The military had this week refused to rule out seizing power over its claims of voter fraud in November’s elections

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar: Myanmar’s military staged a coup Monday and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — a sharp reversal of the significant, if uneven, progress toward democracy the Southeast Asian nation has made following five decades of military rule.
An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. It said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections — in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.


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The takeover came the morning the country’s new parliamentary session was to begin and follows days of concern that a coup was coming. The military maintains its actions are legally justified — citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency — though Suu Kyi’s party spokesman as well as many international observers have said it amounts to a coup.
It was a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962. It was also a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her National League for Democracy won elections in 2015.

Myanmar military vehicles are seen inside City Hall in Yangon on February 1, 2021. (REUTERS)

While Suu Kyi had been a fierce antagonist of the army while under house arrest, since her release and return to politics, she has had to work with the country’s generals, who never fully gave up power. While the 75-year-old has remained wildly popular at home, Suu Kyi’s deference to the generals — going so far as to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that the United States and others have labeled genocide — has left her reputation internationally in tatters.
For some, Monday’s takeover was seen as confirmation that the military holds ultimate power despite the veneer of democracy. New York-based Human Rights Watch has previously described the clause in the constitution that the military invoked as a “coup mechanism in waiting.”
The embarrassingly poor showing of the military-backed party in the November vote may have been the spark.


ALSO READ: Governments around the world condemn Myanmar’s military coup


Larry Jagan, an independent analyst, said the takeover was just a “pretext for the military to reassert their full influence over the political infrastructure of the country and to determine the future, at least in the short term,” adding that the generals do not want Suu Kyi to be a part of that future.
The coup now presents a test for the international community, which had ostracized Myanmar while it was under military rule and then enthusiastically embraced Suu Kyi’s government as a sign the country was finally on the path to democracy. There will likely be calls for a reintroduction of at least some of the sanctions the country had long faced.
The first signs that the military was planning to seize power were reports that Suu Kyi and Win Myint, the country’s president, had been detained before dawn.
Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s party, told the online news service The Irrawaddy that in addition to Suu Kyi and the president, members of the party’s Central Executive Committee, many of its lawmakers and other senior leaders had also been taken into custody.

Myanmar's Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, shown in this December 2, 2015 photo shaking hands with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, seized power on Monday and detained the elected leaders. (REUTERS file photo)

Television signals were cut across the country, as was phone and Internet access in Naypyitaw, the capital, while passenger flights were grounded. Phone service in other parts of the country was also reported down, though people were still able to use the Internet in many areas.
As word of the military’s actions spread in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, there was a growing sense of unease among residents who earlier in the day had packed into tea shops for breakfast and went about their morning shopping.
By midday, people were removing the bright red flags of Suu Kyi’s party that once adorned their homes and businesses. Lines formed at ATMs as people waited to take out cash, efforts that were being complicated by Internet disruptions. Workers at some businesses decided to go home.
Suu Kyi’s party released a statement on one of its Facebook pages saying the military’s actions were unjustified and went against the constitution and the will of voters. The statement urged people to oppose Monday’s “coup” and any return to “military dictatorship.” It was not possible to confirm who posted the message as party members were not answering phone calls.
The military’s actions also received international condemnation and many countries called for the release of the detained leaders.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed “grave concern and alarm” over the reported detentions.
“We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections,” he wrote in a statement, using Myanmar’s former name.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the developments a “serious blow to democratic reforms,” according to his spokesman. The Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the military’s actions. Britain, which currently holds the council presidency, said it will probably take place Tuesday.
The UN high commissioner for human rights said in a statement that, in addition to politicians, the people detained included human rights defenders, journalists and activists.
In addition to announcing that the commander in chief would be charge, the military TV report said Vice President Myint Swe would be elevated to acting president. Myint Swe is a former general best known for leading a brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 2007. He is a close ally of Than Shwe, the junta leader who ruled Myanmar for nearly two decades.
In a later announcement, the military said an election would be held in a year and the military would hand power to the winner.
The military justified its move by citing a clause in the 2008 constitution, implemented during military rule, that says in cases of national emergency, the government’s executive, legislative and judicial powers can be handed to the military commander-in-chief.
It is just one of many parts of the charter that ensured the military could maintain ultimate control over the country. The military is allowed to appoint its members to 25 percent of seats in Parliament and it controls of several key ministries involved in security and defense.
In November polls, Suu Kyi’s party captured 396 out of 476 seats up for actual election in the lower and upper houses of Parliament.
The military has charged that there was massive fraud in the election — particularly with regard to voter lists — though it has not offered any convincing evidence. The state Union Election Commission last week rejected its allegations.
Concerns of a takeover grew last week when a military spokesman declined to rule out the possibility of a coup when asked by a reporter to do so at a news conference on Tuesday.
Then on Wednesday, the military chief told senior officers in a speech that the constitution could be revoked if the laws were not being properly enforced. An unusual deployment of armored vehicles in the streets of several large cities also stoked fears.
On Saturday and Sunday, however, the military denied it had threatened a coup, accusing unnamed organizations and media of misrepresenting its position.

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections
Updated 14 sec ago

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections

Arab Americans poised to win in November elections
  • Arab Americans increase political presence in Michigan, Virginia
  • Boston could elect the nation’s first-ever Tunisian American officeholder

CHICAGO: Arab Americans are among the thousands of candidates across the US who are seeking election to local municipal and regional offices on Nov. 2.

Key races include campaign battles for the mayoralty in Boston, Massachusetts and in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, Michigan. In Virginia, an Arab American woman is poised to become the state’s second most-powerful office holder.

Democrat Hala Ayala, who is part Lebanese, is leading in the Virginia race for lieutenant governor over Republican Winsome Sears.

The Virginia office is important because in addition to being next-in-line to become governor in the event of a vacancy, the post also serves as the president of the Virginia Senate who runs floor sessions, and casts a tie-breaking vote over controversial issues.

This will be the first time a woman will hold the state’s second-highest office.

Ayala, a member of the House of Delegates representing Prince William County, won the Democratic primary beating out fellow Virginian and House of Delegates member Sam Rasoul.

Rasoul, also a Democrat, is seeking to keep his legislative seat representing Southwest Virginia’s 11th District, which includes parts of Roanoke. First elected in 2014, Rasoul has raised an impressive $2.1 million in his campaign funds, with significant Arab American support. Rasoul’s Republican opponent Charlie Nave has raised only $40,000.

In Dearborn, a city with a large Arab American population, the election is expected to give the city its first Arab American mayor.

“We’ve long had people of Arab descent in local public office. What’s so important in 2021 is that these young Arab Americans are proudly wearing their ethnicity on their sleeves. And each of them has a record of public service,” said Jim Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

“The two I’m following most closely are the mayoral races in Boston and Dearborn. I’m following Boston because it is a major American city and Anissa is an amazing candidate who is running on a platform of service and realistic solutions to that community’s most pressing problems.”

Being a minority woman is also an issue in the Boston race. There, Annissa Essaibi George, who has a Tunisian father and Polish mother, is in a run-off with Michelle Wu to become Boston’s first woman mayor.

Boston has elected all males to the powerful city executive office since 1630, but this year saw a candidate surge of women and ethnic diversity in the special election. Former mayor, Marty Walsh, resigned last March after being appointed to serve as US Secretary of Labor by President Joe Biden, creating the Boston vacancy.

George and Wu beat out five other candidates to win the run-off spots in the Nov. 2 General Election. Polls shows George running behind Wu.

If George manages to win the race, however, she will set a new record as the first Tunisian American to hold an elected public office in any district in America.

Zogby said that the mayoral contest in Dearborn is also special, although Arabs have gained seats as members of the City Council.

“Thirty-six years ago, when the Arab American Institute was just starting, the candidate for mayor ran on a platform of ‘what to do about the Arab Problem’,” Zogby recalled.

“Today, after years of work, the majority of that community’s city council are Arab Americans, as is the police chief, its state representative, several judges, and soon, God willing, its mayor, Abdullah Hammoud.”

Pollster and political consultant Dennis Denno called the Dearborn contests “a critical test of Arab American voting power.”

He added: “If our community can elect an Arab American mayor in Dearborn, it will show both political parties that our community is organized and can unite behind a smart, energetic candidate.

“And if our community is divided or doesn’t bother to vote, it will show that the Arab American community is not to be taken seriously.”

Although in nearby Detroit, the leading candidate is not Arab, Denno noted incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan has been very responsive to Arab American concerns.

“The Detroit mayoral election, which will almost inevitably lead to a landslide victory for incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan, and will be a success for the Arab American community,” Denno said.

LMayor Duggan has been open to our community, has hired Arab-Americans, and doesn’t play the tired, big-city game of dividing one ethnic group against another.”

In neighboring Dearborn Heights, the mayor there, Daniel Paletko, passed away from the COVID-19 virus creating a vacancy. On Nov. 2, voters there will cast votes for two positions, someone to fill Paletko’s remaining term in office which ends Dec. 31, and to serve a full term beginning in January.

Lebanese immigrant and former US Marine Bill Bazzi, a Dearborn Heights City Council member since 2018, was elected by his colleagues as interim Mayor following Paletko’s death. He is facing off with City Council Chairwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell and candidate Anthony Camilleri.

In addition to Bazzi, three of the seven Dearborn Heights City Council members are Lebanese Americans and Muslim. Dearborn Heights is 32 percent Arab American, according to the Detroit News citing 2019 census data.

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO
Updated 23 October 2021

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

Turkish defense minister warns against alliances that harm NATO

ISTANBUL: NATO-member Turkey’s defense minister said the forming of alliances outside of NATO would harm the organization, according to comments released on Saturday, after Greece and France agreed a defense pact last month.
NATO allies Greece and France clinched a strategic military and defense cooperation pact in September, which includes an order for three French frigates worth about 3 billion euros.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said this month that the agreement will allow the two countries to come to each other’s aid in the event of an external threat.
“Given that we are inside NATO, everyone should know that the search for various alliances outside of it will both cause harm to NATO and our bilateral relations, and shake confidence,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters after a NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week.
The comments were released by the Turkish defense ministry.
Greece and Turkey are at odds over their continental shelves and their maritime boundaries. They re-launched exploratory contacts on their disputes earlier this year and Akar said he had a constructive meeting with his Greek counterpart.
“We had positive, constructive talks with the Greek defense minister. We expect to see positive results from these talks in the period ahead,” Akar said.
Separately, Akar said that “technical work has been launched” on obtaining Viper F16 jets from the United States as well as modernizing warplanes that Turkey already has.
The United States this week did not confirm President Tayyip Erdogan’s comment that Washington had made an offer to Ankara for the sale of F-16 fighter jets but added that it has not made Turkey a financing offer for the warplanes.
Erdogan said on Sunday that the United States had proposed the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in return for its investment in the F-35 program, from which Ankara was removed after buying missile defense systems from Russia.

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals
Updated 23 October 2021

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals

As the UN turns 76, students draw inspiration from its Sustainable Development Goals
  • In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted 17 global goals as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”
  • “A Blueprint for a Better Future” is also the theme established by the United Nations Association to celebrate UN Day on Oct. 24

NEW YORK CITY: When the Bobcat Fire, one of the largest outbreaks in Los Angeles county’s history, erupted in September 2020, scorching hundreds of thousands of acres, 12-year-old Audrey Ma was within 500 feet of the area where a mandatory evacuation order was issued.

Ma’s parents asked her to pack her belongings as flames approached the neighborhood, and for a moment the child contemplated the possibility of losing everything she had and abandoning the only life she had known so far.

The Bobcat, one of about 30 major wildfires burning in the US state of California, led to the deaths of 26 people and the destruction of an untold number of properties.

Although her house was spared from the flames, Ma’s fear of the infernal images of forests and structures burning to the ground prompted her to look into the causes of the California fires.

How do they start? How do they spread? Why are there so many fires in Southern California?


United Nations Day is an annual commemorative day, reflecting the official creation of the United Nations on Oct. 24, 1945

“I learned that, although climate change is not the (direct) cause of the fires, (drier climates due to rising temperatures) make fires easier to start and spread. So, I started to learn about sustainability,” Ma told Arab News.

A UN scientific study this year has shown that human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways.

The report warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, called it “a red code for humanity.”

But the world continues to fall short of its promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, transition into clean energy and rebuild sustainably.

However, the new generation, like Ma, is directly feeling the urgency and realizing the direct impact climate change is having on their daily lives.

Renee Larios is the student community engagement coordinator at Pasadena’s private Polytechnic School where Ma is a student. Larios works with students to “help them navigate the things they want to do in the world to make the world better.”

Larios happened upon the UN Sustainable Development Goals four years ago. Her mind was blown, she told Arab News.

In 2015, the UN General Assembly set forth the SDGs — 17 global goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDGs are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.

“We decided to bring the SDGs back to our school to create a framework for our community engagement programs, to help students see the drops in the bucket that their volunteering does to further the 17 goals,” Larios said. “We’re also trying to get teachers to connect their curriculum, when possible, to one or more of the goals.”

“The students must, for every community engagement or service work that they do, explain what the relationship is between what they did and how that furthers the intention of one of the SDGs.”

After learning how food thrown into landfills rots and creates methane gas responsible for trapping the heat in our planet and making it warmer, Ma began implementing a sorting program at her school to separate the food waste from the trash, and then composting the waste in bins around the school.

“Now our sorting program can absorb 25 percent of our food waste,” Ma said. “However, the other 75 percent goes to an off-site composter, and we’re still burning fossil fuel by transporting it from place to place, which is not sustainable.

“So, our short-term goal is to be able to compost 100 percent of our food waste on-site at Poly (Polytechnic School), which leads to our long-term goal, which is (to) take this program and make it a science and then export it to other schools and use it as a blueprint for other schools to do the same thing, so we can reach meaningful reduction of greenhouse gas.”

“A Blueprint for a Better Future” is the theme established by the United Nations Association to celebrate UN Day on Oct. 24, marking the 76th anniversary of the foundational UN Charter.

The values that have powered the charter — peace, development, human rights and opportunity for all — “have no expiry date,” in the words of Guterres.

“Seventy-six years ago, the United Nations was created as a vehicle of hope for a world emerging from the shadow of catastrophic conflict,” he added in his message marking UN Day.

“COVID-19, conflicts, hunger, poverty and the climate emergency remind us that our world is far from perfect, but they also make clear that solidarity is the only way forward.

“We need to come together to tackle great challenges and advance the Sustainable Development Goals. 

“Today, the women and men of the UN carry this hope forward around the globe.”

As the head of global Initiatives Program at the Polytechnic School, Ann Diederich mentors the leaders of the UNA-Polytechnic School Chapter, where a rich programming is in place geared toward creating youth leadership.

“Our theme is ‘Empathy into Action,’” Diederich said. “How do we get our kids to come up with solutions to really complex global challenges, look at the SGDs and come up with concrete action steps to design change?

“The SDGs are very helpful for giving kids a framework and a blueprint, so they can do it and do it in a healthy way.”

Diederich, who has been teaching for 25 years, said she is concerned about this generation, commonly known as Gen Z.

“They seem to be on edge, overloaded with all the issues that they’re confronted with,” she said. “They really want to do something. They really care about each other. They have been isolated throughout the pandemic, and (now) they are very eager to work for change.

“I have never seen a generation like this. They’re quick, they do not waste time, they see that change needs to be made fast, and they don’t really trust the older generation, the millennials, to do that. They also sometimes outdo themselves.”

Ma quotes British explorer Robert Swan Obe, the first man to walk to both the North and South Poles: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”

Ma said: “I know at the end of the day, everything that we do is a choice. And sometimes I am worried that people are making the easy choice.

“I know that we’re able to either choose to battle climate change or to do everything the way we always did and someone is gonna come along and figure out a way to save us.

“I chose to fight for my future and climate change and I hope that one day everybody will make that decision as well.”

Since its inception, the UN’s overarching aim was simple: Children should have a better and happier life than their parents.

The UN has spent more than seven decades attempting to save and improve lives, lives that today continue to hang in the balance as wars erupt in different parts of the world, driving millions into displacement, poverty and extreme food insecurity.

The pandemic has also widened the gap between rich and poor. The world’s inequalities have never been so clearly displayed for everyone to see, from vaccine inequality to the discrepancy in quality education.

SDG 4 is about quality education for all.

Ma said: “I know I myself am very privileged to be able to have this education but there is a lot of people out there who are not able to.

“I look up to people like Malala Yousafzai, who is fighting for quality education, especially for girls in Pakistan.

“I’ve watched a doc about her. I read her book. And I also listened to her UN speech. I am really inspired by her movement for gender equality and education for girls in Pakistan. I think that’s really important.”

Ma has a message for girls in Syria, Yemen and all the war-ravaged countries where people like her merely survive:

“My message to girls around the world: We all have different strengths and backgrounds and diverse stories. Even if you can’t get access to education, you can try to learn as much as you can, educate yourself about the world around you and if you can, maybe with your friends, your family. Fight for what you think is right in the world.”

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray
Updated 23 October 2021

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray
  • Friday’s strike hits university campus, say humanitarian sources

ADDIS ABABA: An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a UN flight carrying aid workers to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.
Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in Mekelle was hit by the strike.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. Tigrai TV, controlled by the TPLF-led regional administration that is not recognized by Addis Ababa, reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.
The UN suspended all flights to Mekelle after Friday’s incident. UN global aid chief Martin Griffiths said the UN had not received any prior warning of the attacks on Mekelle and had received the necessary clearances for the flight.
The incident raises serious concerns for the safety of aid workers trying to help civilians in need, Griffiths said in a statement, adding that all parties to the conflict should respect international humanitarian law including protecting humanitarian staff and assets from harm.
The 11 passengers on board Friday’s flight were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, another UN official told reporters in New York.
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda accused the government of putting the UN plane in harm’s way. “Our air defense units knew the UN plane was scheduled to land (and) it was due in large measure to their restraint it was not caught in a crossfire,” he said in a tweet.
Legesse, the government spokesperson, rejected the TPLF accusation. “I can assure you that there is no deliberate or intended act that put the efforts of UN humanitarian staff and their plan of delivering aid to the disadvantage (sic) group,” Legesse said in a text message to Reuters.
Ethiopian army spokesperson Col. Getnet Adene did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government.
The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighboring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.
Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to the capital Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region and that number is growing rapidly due to the latest fighting, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination center for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.
“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters that two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.

Pakistani capital partially closed as banned religious party marches on Islamabad

Pakistani capital partially closed as banned religious party marches on Islamabad
Updated 23 October 2021

Pakistani capital partially closed as banned religious party marches on Islamabad

Pakistani capital partially closed as banned religious party marches on Islamabad
  • Outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party wants its leader released from prison, French envoy expelled

ISLAMABD: Authorities blocked several thoroughfares in the Pakistani capital on Friday after the banned religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan began a march on the Pakistani capital to force the government to release its top leader and expel the French envoy to Islamabad.

TLP has been protesting about the incarceration of it chief, Saad Rizvi, and demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in France last year.

After Rizvi’s arrest in April, violent demonstrations by TLP supporters erupted in major Pakistani cities. Six policemen were killed and more than 800 people were injured, according to official figures, in protests that lasted a week.

Protesters are marching from Lahore, Punjab province, where the TLP leadership is based.

Authorities have partially shut down the country’s capital and other major cities by blocking major roads and arteries with shipping containers after the TLP leadership on Thursday threatened to march on Islamabad and stage a sit-in until their demands were met.

“Our march has started now from Lahore to Islamabad,” Saddam Bukhari, a TLP spokesperson, told Arab News on Friday afternoon. “Thousands of people are accompanying us, and we will reach Islamabad to register our protest.”

Islamabad and adjacent Rawalpindi have already deployed heavy contingents of police at and around the Faizabad Interchange — a junction between the twin cities.

“Everything is normal so far in Islamabad,” Zia-ul-Qamar, an Islamabad police spokesperson, told Arab News. “The riot police and other law enforcement personnel are deployed in the city to maintain law and order.”

The Lahore High Court recently declared Rizvi’s detention as illegal while approving a petition filed by his uncle against his continued incarceration.

The Punjab government, however, filed an appeal against the court’s verdict, saying the bench had not considered the intent and purpose of putting the TLP leader’s name on a list of proscribed individuals and entities to ensure the maintenance of public order.

The Punjab government also said it had intelligence reports that TLP activists were planning a major protest rally in November and were waiting for Rizvi’s release.

Founded in August 2015, the TLP has made the sanctity of the Prophet Muhammad central to its politics. The party has built a wide base of support in recent years, rallying around cases of blasphemy, which are punishable by death in Pakistan.

It was banned following April’s protests.

Rizvi became the leader of TLP in November last year after the death of his father, Khadim Hussein Rizvi.