Indonesia, Malaysia seeking ASEAN meeting on Myanmar

Indonesia, Malaysia seeking ASEAN meeting on Myanmar
Supporters holding portraits of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi march toward City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar in this Dec. 10, 2019. (AP)
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Updated 05 February 2021

Indonesia, Malaysia seeking ASEAN meeting on Myanmar

Indonesia, Malaysia seeking ASEAN meeting on Myanmar
  • The coup was ‘one step backward in the process of democracy in that country’

JAKARTA: The leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia on Friday said they were seeking a special meeting of foreign ministers of Southeast Asian nations to discuss the situation in Myanmar, where an elected government was overthrown in a coup earlier this week.

Throwing a wedge in Myanmar’s long and troubled transition to democracy, the military took power on Monday, citing alleged irregularities in a November election won in a landslide by the party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

After a meeting with visiting Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the two countries’ foreign ministers had been asked to talk to Brunei, the current chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to try to set up the special meeting on Myanmar.

Muhyiddin referred to the coup as being “one step backward in the process of democracy in that country.”

Such meetings are rare and arranging one could be a challenge, however, given ASEAN’s policy of non-interference in its members’ domestic issues and their contrasting responses to the army takeover.

In a statement issued earlier this week ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member, said it had been watching developments in the country closely.

The leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top producers of palm oil, also reiterated their commitment to eradicating “discrimination” against palm oil.

Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is known, said in his address that it was “optimal” for the two countries to work together to fight against palm oil discrimination, while Muhyiddin said the anti-palm oil campaign in Europe did misrepresent the industry.

Reuters reported last month that Indonesia and Malaysia are looking to hire an advocacy firm to counter criticism against the edible oil.

Jokowi and Muhyiddin also said they will discuss further an agreement to allow official and business travel between their countries amid the coronavirus pandemic, and said the issue of Rohingya Muslims had been discussed.


US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin

US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin
Updated 20 April 2021

US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin

US on alert as jury deliberates in trial of Derek Chauvin
  • Chauvin, a White Minneapolis police officer, is accused of killing African American George Floyd while restraining him
  • There are fears that Arab American businesses could be targeted if the verdict triggers violent protests

CHICAGO: Police in cities across America were on alert Monday night as a jury began its deliberations in the trial of White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of causing the death of African American George Floyd while he was restraining him.
Floyd, 46, died on May 25 last year after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes to hold him down. Floyd’s death sparked widespread protests across the US by members of the Black Lives Matter movement, some of which turned violent.
Chauvin is charged with second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The jury could convict him on a murder charge or they could find him innocent. Many believe a verdict of innocence could spark more violent demonstrations.
During the protests last year, which raged for more than two months, some people looted, damaged and even burnt down businesses, not only in Minneapolis but across the country. Several dozen people died in the violence and hundreds were injured.
Arab American stores in particular were targeted and looted because Floyd was arrested in front of one, called Cup Foods, owned by Mahmoud Abumayyaleh. An employee at the store had called police to report Floyd for trying, for a second time, to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
In Chicago, for example, more than a dozen stores owned by Arab Americans or Muslims were looted. Two of them were burnt down.
Hassan Nijem, president of the Arab American Chamber of Commerce of Chicagoland said he hopes that protesters will not resort to violence if the jury returns a not guilty verdict against Chauvin.
“Last summer more than a dozen Arab American businesses were among the hundreds of businesses in Chicagoland that were damaged and looted by some of the protesters,” he said.
“This happened across the country, with many Arab American businesses being targeted by rage and anger. The protesters have a right to protest, whatever the jury decision, but we urge them not to damage any businesses and not to target Arab or Muslim businesses.”
Tensions are running high and were further inflamed by California Congresswoman Maxine Waters on Saturday. During an appearance at a Black Lives Matter rally at the Brooklyn Center in Minnesota she told the crowd: “Well, we’ve got to stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Minneapolis Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the Chauvin trial, described public comments about the case by elected officials, such as the congresswoman’s, as “abhorrent” but refused to grant a motion for a mistrial, which had been requested by Chauvin’s lawyers.
However he said: “I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”
Fearing violence, police in many communities across the country are on high alert to protect business districts if the verdict does not meet the expectations of activists.
Minutes after Cahill directed the jury to begin their deliberations on Monday afternoon, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker announced he was activating the Illinois National Guard. He said this was a response to a request from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to supplement the police presence.
“At the request of the City of Chicago, Gov. J. B. Pritzker is activating 125 personnel from the Illinois National Guard to stand by to support the Chicago Police Department, with a verdict expected in the trial of Derek Chauvin,” according to an official statement. The deployment will begin on Tuesday morning. The guardsmen will engage in “a limited mission to help manage street closures and will not interfere with peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Pritzker has also directed Illinois State Police to support the Chicago Police Department by providing additional troopers “to keep the community safe.”
“It is critical that those who wish to peacefully protest against the systemic racism and injustice that holds back too many of our communities continue to be able to do so,” he said. “Members of the Guard and the Illinois State Police will support the City of Chicago’s efforts to protect the rights of peaceful protesters and keep our families safe.”
Lightfoot said the request for support was critical.
“Our greatest priority at all times is ensuring the safety and security of the public,” she added. “While there is no actionable intelligence at this time, we want to be fully prepared out of an abundance of caution. Our city has a long history of peacefully expressing its First Amendment rights and I encourage residents to exercise their rights to free speech this coming week thoughtfully, respectfully and peacefully.”


Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases

Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases
Updated 20 April 2021

Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases

Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Capital region and four surrounding provinces in lockdown

MANILA: The Philippines on Monday continued to record a spike in COVID-19 infections, with officials at a state-run hospital in Quezon City comparing the crisis to a “war zone” as health facilities across the country struggled to deal with an influx of patients.

The country registered 9,628 new infections on Monday, despite the government placing its capital Metro Manila region and four surrounding provinces under one of the strictest lockdown levels in March to tackle the surge.

“It’s like a war zone now,” healthcare worker John M. told Arab News on Monday, as he described scenes at his hospital of patients on a stretcher or a folding bed and lying in the hallway.

“This has never happened before. It’s because of an influx of COVID patients. Also, we do not refuse patients that are brought to the facility,” said John, who asked for his name to be changed as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Department of Health said that Monday’s infections brought the nationwide tally to 945,745. 

It reported 88 further coronavirus fatalities, raising the death toll to 16,048, with 788,322 recoveries and 141,375 active cases.

Since the March spike, several hospitals said they had been running at full capacity for COVID-19 patients, some of whom had to wait for several days to be admitted or drive from one hospital to another to seek treatment.

The state-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the largest COVID-19 referral facility in the country, had “a lot” of patients on the waiting list.

“They’re already full, and we have a lot of wait-listed patients,” Dr. Joel Santiaguel, a fellow at the PGH pulmonary department, told Arab News.

Santiaguel said that, compared to last year when a patient referred to the PGH could get easily admitted, patients now needed to wait for several days or be moved to the ER in case of an emergency. “But that too takes time.”

FASTFACT

Several hospitals said they had been running at full capacity for COVID-19 patients, some of whom had to wait for several days to be admitted or drive from one hospital to another to seek treatment.

He also cited how ambulances were working overtime to rush critical patients to hospitals, with a long queue of them parked outside PGH.

Santiaguel traced the crisis back to the second or third week of March, saying the PGH was never crowded with COVID-19 patients before then. He had also heard about some patients desperately searching for bed space to get admission into the ER.

“We used to see around 20 patients per day, but starting from March until now, we are attending to 70 patients per day. There are no beds available, so patients go to at least six to eight hospitals to find space in the ER or wait at the tent of the ER (for space to open up).”

Some patients died while waiting for their turn.

John said such stories were not limited to patients, with a nurse at his facility who tested positive for coronavirus also forced to wait on a “folding bed in the hallway of the hospital for a vacant room or bed.”

The hospital where he works has two five-story buildings for COVID-19 patients, with each floor able to accommodate 50 patients.

“All the rooms are currently occupied. Earlier, we would admit one person per room. Now we are forced to take two per room.”

According to the Department of Health, the utilization rate of COVID-19 beds remains high in the Metro Manila region, with beds in 700 of its intensive care units (ICU) reporting 84 percent occupancy, while 3,800 isolation beds were at a 63 percent occupancy rate, 2,200 ward beds at 70 percent, and ventilators at 61 percent.

Meanwhile, 66 percent of 1,900 ICU beds, 49 percent of 13,600 isolation beds, 56 percent of 6,000 ward beds, and 47 percent of 2,000 ventilators are currently in use nationwide.

In his televised address to the nation last week, President Rodrigo Duterte warned of more COVID-19 deaths due to the lack of vaccine supply.

“Until now, the word is unavailable. Unavailable because there’s no sufficient supply to inoculate the world. This will take long. I tell you, many more will die because of this. I just can’t say who.”

On Monday, however, Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said the number of COVID-19 cases in a few Metro Manila cities had started to go down in recent days, partly due to the intensified implementation of the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy.

He said that while there was only a slight decrease it was “still proof” that the PDTIR initiative was working. 

He added that the results of the lockdown in Manila and its surrounding provinces would be seen after three to four weeks.

In a press briefing at the weekend, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the department was stepping up its efforts to expand the health system.

“The most important thing for us now is, even though numbers will rise, to have enough healthcare capacity to accommodate patients, especially those who need hospital care or who need quarantine care. We are expanding (the number of) beds, talking with our local governments to intensify our response.” 

She also expressed hope that cases would decline in the coming days and that hospitals in Metro Manila would be decongested.


New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’

New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’
Updated 20 April 2021

New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’

New Delhi placed under lockdown as hospitals reach ‘breaking point’
  • New Delhi recorded 26,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, a record jump since April 1

NEW DELHI: India’s government on Monday announced a week-long lockdown in the national capital, New Delhi, after its health system reached “breaking point” due to a scarcity of hospital beds and oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients.

On Monday, India witnessed an unprecedented spike in coronavirus infections, with 273,810 cases reported in a single day.

At least 1,620 people were killed by the virus, creating another record on Monday and bringing the country’s death toll to 178,769.

New Delhi recorded 26,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, a record jump since April 1, when daily case numbers hovered around the 1,000 mark. The city also recorded 161 coronavirus-related deaths in the past 24 hours.

New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal described the situation as “pretty critical,” adding that imposing the lockdown was “the only option left to avoid a bigger disaster.”

He said in a televised address: “Delhi’s health system is at a breaking point. I will not say it has collapsed, but the situation is pretty critical.”

Kejriwal added that the decision to impose a lockdown was “not an easy one to take.”

He said: “I have always been against a lockdown, but it will reduce the transmission rate and give us time to boost our infrastructure. We will use this week-long lockdown to improve our healthcare.”

Kejriwal acknowledged that Delhi was facing an acute shortage of hospital beds and oxygen supply, highlighting the issue in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday while seeking help from the federal government to avert the crisis.

A majority of hospitals in Delhi reported chaotic scenes on Monday with patients desperately searching for bed space in coronavirus wards.

All of the 18,933 beds reserved for coronavirus patients were reportedly full on Monday, including 1,436 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and 2,881 ICU beds without ventilators.

However, residents are warning that existing facilities cannot accommodate the surge in infections, with several losing relatives due to a lack of oxygen supply and medical support.

“I lost my wife on Sunday because she could not get ventilator support on time,” Dr. Anwar Sadat, a Delhi resident, told Arab News.

“We never thought that such a tragedy would strike us and that our whole life would become disoriented within a matter of days. We desperately looked for beds in the hospital for her, but by the time she got ventilator support, my wife had collapsed,” Sadat said.

Besides New Delhi, the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) also posted a grim picture, with medical infrastructure in its capital city Bhopal “overstretched” amid reports of residents suffering due to a lack of medical attention.

MP has also imposed a lockdown until April 26 in several cities, including Bhopal. 

On Monday, it reported almost 12,500 coronavirus infections across the state.

However, media reports alleged that government figures do not reflect the reality on the ground in crematoriums and burial grounds.

“There was hardly any space to burn the dead bodies in the crematorium ground. We had to wait eight hours,” Santosh Mishra, who lost his uncle to coronavirus, told Arab News about the situation at the Bhadbhada crematorium in Bhopal.

Doctors, too, said they were struggling to cope with the massive influx of patients.

“The situation is grim,” Dr. Sarman Singh, director of Bhopal’s premium medical institution, the All India Institute of Medical Science, told Arab News.

“We are facing a scarcity of beds and oxygen like everywhere in the world, and the patient load is increasing,” he added.

Arab News on Sunday reported similar events in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and the western state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

Experts said they were unsure how long the spike in coronavirus infections would continue, but blamed ongoing regional election campaigns and an ongoing Hindu festival, the Kumbh Mela — where millions converge to sacred sites for a ritual dip in holy waters — for “adding to the existing trouble.”

Dorairaj Prabhakaran, general secretary of the Public Health Foundation of India, said: “It will take another two to three weeks before the cases peak in major cities.”

He said that imposing the lockdown was “one of the options to contain the virus,” adding: “Lockdown is an important option right now. At least a decentralized lockdown is a better option than a countrywide lockdown. This keeps the mobility going.”

However, Dr. Jayesh Lele, general secretary of the Indian Medical Association, blamed the “pathetic management” of the government for the crisis.

“Why is the government going ahead with the election campaigning and not stopping mass gatherings? It’s a pathetic management of affairs,” Lele told Arab News.

“The government should have done some preparation. Today, cities across India have collapsed. In rural areas, the situation is probably grimmer,” he added.


Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
Updated 20 April 2021

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons

Pakistan faces unpleasant options amid violent protests over Prophet cartoons
  • In TV address, PM Imran Khan said breaking ties with France in protest against the caricatures will hurt Pakistan more
  • Religious political party TLP has demanded the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan before April 20

ISLAMABAD AND KARACHI: Unrest has gripped Pakistan since April 12 when Saad Rizvi, leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience against the government unless it expelled the French ambassador over the re-publication last year in France of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

Violent protests have paralyzed major cities and highways all week, leading to the death of six police officers and injuries to more than 800, according to the government.

Photographs of police officers taken hostage by TLP supporters, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, have been posted on social media throughout the week.

On Sunday, the TLP said three of its members had been killed in clashes outside its headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore. The religious party also took several police and paramilitary troops hostage, releasing 11 officers in the early hours of Monday following negotiations with the government.

Saad Rizvi (center) leader of the recently outlawed Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), was arrested in Lahore for threatening a campaign of civil disobedience. (AFP/File)

The riots have prompted the French embassy to urge its citizens to temporarily leave the country.

Rizvi became leader of the TLP in November after the sudden death of his father, the firebrand cleric Khadim Hussein Rizvi. His party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 federal elections promising to defend the country’s blasphemy laws, which call for the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.

The party has a history of staging protests to pressure the government to accept its demands. In November 2017, Rizvi’s followers staged a 21-day sit-in after a reference to the sanctity of Prophet Muhammad was removed from the text of a government form.

Now the TLP is calling on the government to honor what it says was a commitment made in February to expel the French envoy before April 20 over the publication of the cartoons. Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, insists his government is only committed to debating the matter in parliament.

Traders in Islamabad shout anti-France slogans in a closed market during a nationwide strike to show their solidarity with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). (AFP)

On Monday, Khan said that meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU and lead to poverty, unemployment and inflation.

“The biggest effect (of breaking ties with France) will be that after great difficulty our economy is rising, the large-scale industry is getting up after a long time, people are getting jobs, wealth is increasing in our country, our exports are rising and after a long time, our rupee is strengthening,” Khan said in a televised address to the nation.

He added that breaking ties with France would be tantamount to severing relations with the entire EU.

“Half of our textile exports go to the EU and that will be stopped, resulting in unemployment, devaluation of the rupee, increase in inflation and poverty,” Khan said.

“We will be at loss but this won’t make any difference to France.”

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said meeting the TLP’s demands to break diplomatic ties with France would hit Pakistani exports to the EU. (AFP/File)

Rather than act unilaterally, Khan said the leaders of Muslim countries should collectively take up the issue of blasphemy with UN and EU.

“We should tell the Western countries that blasphemy to our prophet in the name of freedom of speech hurts us. And if they don’t stop it, we can then collectively do the trade boycott,” he said.

Khan said this was the only way to “achieve the objective” of creating an environment in which no one would dare to disrespect the prophet, and pledged to personally lead such a global campaign to ensure this.

Khan’s address came as the government went into a third round of negotiations with the TLP.

“We believe in negotiations and it’s our policy,” Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, the federal minister for religious affairs, said in a policy statement in the National Assembly on Monday.

“No political, democratic and elected government can afford such things and whatever happened in the past few days is regrettable to everyone.”

On Sunday evening, Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, the information minister, said the government was forced to launch an armed operation against protesters after they kidnapped law enforcement officials.

“The government believes in negotiations but can’t be blackmailed,” he said. “The operation was started after police and Rangers personnel were kidnapped ... Imran Khan has the strongest affection with the prophet and he has talked about this at every (national and global) forum.”

Earlier on Sunday, police spokesperson Arif Rana said the operation against the TLP had been halted as the attackers were armed with petrol bombs and a tanker with 50,000 liters of petrol.

By Sunday evening, the situation was “at a standstill,” he said, with protesters sitting on roadsides with sticks and petrol bombs in their hands and law enforcement standing guard.

Last week, the interior ministry said it was moving to have the TLP party banned for attacking police and paramilitary troops and disrupting public life during its protests. The interior ministry’s decision has been approved by the federal cabinet but needs to be ratified by the Supreme Court for the TLP to be officially dissolved.

In October 2020, protests broke out in several Muslim countries, including Pakistan, over France’s response to a deadly attack on a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons mocking Prophet Muhammad during a civics lesson. French President Emmanuel Macron has defended the caricatures as freedom of expression.

During last year’s protests in Pakistan, the government negotiated with the TLP and met a number of its demands, including an agreement to hold a parliamentary debate on whether or not to expel the French ambassador.

The agreed deadline to hold that debate expires on April 20.

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Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana
Updated 19 April 2021

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana

Albanian man with knife wounds 5 at mosque in Tirana
  • Police said Albanian man, 34, wound five people with knife attack in mosque in Tirana
  • Man was arrested by police that haven’t disclosed any motive for the attack

TIRANA: An Albanian man with a knife attacked five people Monday at a mosque in the capital of Tirana, according to police.
A police statement said Rudolf Nikolli, 34, entered the Dine Hoxha mosque in downtown Tirana about 2:30 p.m. and wounded five people with a knife.
Police reacted immediately and took him into custody.
The five wounded, all men aged from 22 to 35, were taken to a hospital and police said they are not in life-threatening situations.
Police have not disclosed any motive for the attack. They and prosecutors are investigating the case.
Ahmed Kalaja, imam of the mosque, said the armed man attacked worshipers and staff, and added he hoped it was “not a terrorist attack.”
The mosque at the time was filled with believers during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Albania’s 2.8 million people are predominantly Muslim with smaller Christian Catholic and Orthodox communities that have gotten along well with each other.
Police said Nikolli was from the northern town of Burrel and his religious background was not yet clear.