Pakistani PM’s visit to Sri Lanka will ‘open new chapter’ in bilateral relations

Pakistani PM’s visit to Sri Lanka will ‘open new chapter’ in bilateral relations
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), addresses his supporters ahead of the general election, Karachi, Pakistan, July 4, 2018. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 February 2021

Pakistani PM’s visit to Sri Lanka will ‘open new chapter’ in bilateral relations

Pakistani PM’s visit to Sri Lanka will ‘open new chapter’ in bilateral relations
  • Imran Khan will meet key leaders, including Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and FM Dinesh Gunawardena
  • Sri Lanka’s Muslim leaders said they hoped Khan would address the issue of forced cremations during his talks with key leaders

COLOMBO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Sri Lanka will open a new chapter in bilateral relations, officials told Arab News on Monday.

Khan is due to arrive at Bandaranaike International Airport at 4 p.m on Tuesday, and will be given a special guard-of-honor ceremony.

He will meet key leaders, including Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and will attend an investors’ forum on Wednesday.

“Premier Imran Khan is making his maiden visit as prime minister to our country,” Rohan Welliwita, Rajapaksa’s media secretary, said. “This is a landmark visit which will open a new chapter in the Lanka-Pak relations.” 

Seven agreements are going to be signed during Khan’s two-day trip, but Welliwita did not give details about them.

A Foreign Ministry official, requesting anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to the media, said the agreements would promote “tourism, technology, parliamentary relations, culture, sports, trade and investments.”

The Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Forum, organized by the Ministry of Commerce of Pakistan and its diplomatic mission in Colombo, will be at the Shangri-La Hotel, where Khan is expected to woo the island's business magnates into investing in Pakistan.

Khan’s original itinerary, which included an address to Sri Lanka’s parliament on Wednesday, was abruptly cancelled last week due to his “tight schedule” amid claims that the visit was ill-timed due to a spike in coronavirus cases across the country.

"The address has been canceled because of the visiting premier’s demanding schedule," Shan Wijetunge, the parliament’s head of communications, told Arab News.

Khan will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the prime minister’s commerce adviser Abdul Razak Dawood, Foreign Affairs Secretary Sohail Mehmood and a delegation of senior officials and business leaders.

Rajapaksa tweeted: “Look forward to welcoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and his delegation in Sri Lanka. This visit will further reinforce our bilateral relationship and pave the way for joint ventures that mutually benefit both our nations.”

Khan replied: “Thank you for your invitation Prime Minister Rajapaksa. Looking forward to my visit to further strengthen the friendship and cooperation between our two countries.”

Pakistani media reports, quoting the Commerce Ministry, said that Sri Lanka had agreed to reactivate a joint working group to resolve pending technical issues between the two trading partners.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim leaders said they hoped Khan would address the issue of forced cremations during his talks with key leaders.

The mandatory cremation policy for COVID-19 victims was enforced last April, angering Muslim and Christian communities, who said it violated their rights.

Earlier this month on Feb. 9, in response to a lawmaker's question, Rajapaksa said the government would soon begin to allow burials for those who had died from COVID-19.

The following day, however, the Health Ministry said the statement was not effective since it had yet to be ratified by an official notification.

Sri Lanka continues to face pressure over the policy, with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation lodging three requests for the country to reconsider its decision on cremations.

The issue has gained more momentum after a video of a 13-year-old boy asking Khan to help the Muslim community complete the last rites for COVID-19 victims went viral on Monday.

"I hope he will take up the cremation matter on behalf of Lankan Muslims with the high officials of Sri Lanka," Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen told Arab News.

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Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world
Updated 12 May 2021

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world

Large protests held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world
  • The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region

LONDON: Large protests were held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in London, as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson against an Israeli court ruling to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday that could have forced dozens of Palestinians from their homes, citing the “circumstances.”

The recent round of violence began when Israel blocked off a popular spot where Muslims traditionally gather each night during Ramadan at the end of their daylong fast. Israel later removed the restrictions, but clashes quickly resumed amid tensions over the planned eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah.
The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region. 
In Jordan, protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy, burning Israeli flags and chanting “Shame, shame the embassy is still there” and “Death to Israel!“

Pro-Palestinian protesters march past parliament as they participate in a demonstration against Israeli attacks on Palestinians after at least 28 people were killed following clashes over the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, in central London on May 11, 2021. (AFP)

Palestinians scuffled again with Israeli officers in riot gear on Tuesday evening, although less intensely than on previous nights.
Palestinian man Siraj, 24, said he had suffered a spleen injury from a rubber bullet fired by the police.
“They shot everyone, young and old people,” he said.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of using “abusive and wanton force against largely peaceful Palestinian protesters.”
(With AFP and AP)

 


Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout
Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout

Pakistan refuses air bases for US after Afghan pullout
  • Islamabad’s role is to be ‘a partner in peace,’ says foreign minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said on Tuesday it will not provide air bases to the US after the troop withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan, vowing to protect the nation’s interests and support the Afghan peace process.

“No. We don’t intend to allow boots on the ground here, and Pakistan isn’t transferring any base (to the US),” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in the capital Islamabad.

Last month, US President Joe Biden said that the remaining 2,500 foreign troops will leave Afghanistan by Sept. 11, more than four months after the initial deadline of May 1 set by the Taliban and Washington as part of a historic accord signed in Doha more than a year ago.

He warned the Taliban that the US could defend itself and its partners from attacks as it draws down its forces, and that Washington would “reorganize its counterterrorism capabilities and assets in the region” to prevent the emergence of another terrorist threat.

The removal of the remaining US troops coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, which spurred America’s entry into lengthy wars in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Qureshi said that his government had formulated an “explicit policy” regarding partnership with the US for peace in Afghanistan.

“We will be partners in peace, and this will be our role — the role of a facilitator,” he said.

In his congressional testimony last month, Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said that Washington is engaged in “a significant” diplomatic effort to determine where it will base a counterterrorism force in the region to deter terrorist groups after all American troops leave the country.”

He added: “No such understanding, however, currently exists with any of Afghanistan’s neighbors for housing the proposed anti-terrorism forces.”

Qureshi denied there had been pressure on Pakistan from the US to provide air bases, saying: “There is no pressure. Pakistan will protect its interests.”

He said that Islamabad hoped to see peace and stability in Afghanistan.

“It’s our need, and we want it to happen this way,” he said, vowing to continue support for the US-led Afghan peace process.

Afghans will have to take ownership of the peace process to make it a success, he said.

“The basic responsibility for peace lies with the Afghans, and we are praying for their success.” 

Qureshi also welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day cease-fire during the Eid holidays in Afghanistan on Monday.

“This is a positive development. The reduction in violence will help provide a conducive environment for negotiations,” he said.

Pakistan’s military bases and land routes played a crucial role in facilitating and sustaining the US-led military invasion of landlocked Afghanistan.

Islamabad has long retaken control of its bases from the US forces, and defense analysts said it would not be in the country’s interest to hand these over to Washington once again.

“The US wants to maintain its surveillance of Afghanistan after the troops’ withdrawal, and that is why it is looking for options in the region to house aircraft, drones and maintenance systems,” Lt. Gen. (retd) Amjad Shoaib, a defense analyst, told Arab News.

He added that Washington “may maintain its presence in India” with which it has already signed a logistics support agreement, but “even then they would need Pakistan’s permission to use the air corridor for any drone or jet flight to Afghanistan.”

“We have already suffered a lot due to America’s war in Afghanistan and cannot sustain it further by providing military bases,” he added.

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Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river
Updated 12 May 2021

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river

Horror as 71 bodies of suspected COVID-19 victims found along Ganges river
  • Discovery of half-burnt, decomposed bodies sends shock waves among locals in the Buxar district of Bihar

NEW DELHI: Local authorities in the Buxar district of India’s eastern state of Bihar on Tuesday confirmed the discovery of 71 dead bodies, suspected to be of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, after they washed ashore along the banks of the river Ganges. 

The discovery sent shock waves and panic among locals in the Chausa town of the Buxar district on Monday after they found the half-burnt, decomposed bodies along the river, confirming media reports that the pandemic had spread to rural areas of India, the global epicenter of the pandemic. 

“We have conducted the postmortem of 71 bodies on Monday and preserved their DNA for future investigation,” Kanhaiya Kumar, the district’s public relations officer, told Arab News. 

He added that the “bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition and had floated in from the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh.”

Bihar’s Buxar district shares its border with the Ghazipur area of the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. The River Ganges, which starts from the Himalayas, crisscrosses through Uttar Pradesh before entering Bihar, flowing into Bengal and eventually merging with the Bay of Bengal. 

Locals, however, dispute the district administration’s claims that the bodies came from the neighboring state. 

“The fact remains that the water in the river Ganges is shallow these days, and at many places between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the river is dry. How  can the bodies come from the other state?” Kapindra Kishore, a Buxar-based journalist, told Arab News. 

“The villagers are claiming over 100 bodies were floating, and they say that many deaths are taking place in the rural areas that are not being reported,” he added. 

On Tuesday, India registered more than 330,000 cases and 3,700 deaths, slightly lower than Monday. 

Out of the total tally, Bihar reported over 10,000 cases and 75 deaths. 

Some, however, allege that the data is being underreported. 

“There is a community transfer of the virus this time, and many are dying in villages without adequate medical supply. You will never get the actual data because people are dying at home without going to the hospital,” Ajit Kumar Singh, a local legislator from the Dumraon area of the Buxar district, told Arab News. 

“If earlier 15 to 20 bodies were being cremated per day in the district crematorium, now at least 100 are being burnt every day,” he explained, adding that many locals cannot afford the expensive wood necessary for the funeral pyres. 

“Just like COVID-19 medicines are being sold in the black market these days, so too the wood for cremation is being supplied at a higher rate,” he said. 

“Poor people who can’t afford wood at higher rates throw the dead bodies into the river in a half-burnt state. This is the reality today,” he added. 

According to official data, the Buxar district has registered 78 deaths so far in the second wave of COVID-19. 

Doctors say the number is much higher than reported. 

“The situation is really grim in Buxar and adjoining areas, and the discovery of the bodies at Chausa shows how bad we are placed,” Dr. Mahendra Prasad, a Buxar-based doctor and district president of the Indian Medical Association, told Arab News. 

“Not even cities are prepared to handle the crisis, much less villages. People are dying in rural areas in large numbers, which are not reflected in the official data,” he added. 

There are about 100 beds in hospitals across Buxar, which has a population of more than 1.7 million. 

“The administration was not ready to handle the situation. Now they are working on it, but whether it will be adequate is difficult to say. We are dependent on God’s mercy,” Prasad said. 

One of the worst-affected villages in the district is Dharahara, which reported 15 deaths in the past week. 

“In every village, there are more than 20 people who are COVID-19-positive, and in my village itself, in just over one week, some 15 people have lost their lives,” Rama Shankar, a Dharhara-based student activist, told Arab News. 

“The government has failed us completely. People are dying due to a shortage of oxygen, a lack of beds in hospitals and the complete negligence of the health sector,” Shankar said, adding that “essential medicine like Remdesivir, which should normally be available for no more than $50, costs $500 in the black market.” 

He said that “the virus has spread into the community, but the government is not doing mass testing to break the chain of infection. We are suffering because the government has failed us.”


India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt
Updated 11 May 2021

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt

India buys 300,000 doses of Remdesivir from Egypt
  • The shipments came as part of Egypt’s support and solidarity with friendly countries

CAIRO: India has bought 300,000 doses of the Remdesivir drug from Egypt’s Eva Pharma company as it grapples with a coronavirus crisis.

The Indian Embassy in Cairo on Monday signed an agreement to procure 300,000 doses of the drug that is used to treat coronavirus infections.

The signing ceremony was attended by Indian envoy Ajit Gupte and Riad Armanious, CEO of Eva Pharma.

It was held at the embassy of India in Cairo, with the embassy acting on behalf of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Gupte thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly for directing relevant Egyptian authorities to cooperate with India in the medical emergency.

He expressed confidence in Remdesivir to effectively heal of tens of thousands of coronavirus patients.

Gupte praised the keenness of the Egyptian state and Egyptian national institutions to support India.

He said that the sale of the drug will play a “crucial” role in India’s fight against coronavirus. The country is expected to receive doses quickly over the next few days, according to the Middle East News Agency.

Armanious affirmed his confidence in Remdesivir speeding up the recovery of Indian coronavirus patients.

He said that the drug prevents the virus from reproducing inside the cells of the human body and stops its spread, which will reduce death rates in India.

Armanious added that the drug has achieved “great success” across several continents after it was exported to a large number of countries.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population sent three military aircraft to India loaded with large quantities of medical aid.

The shipments came as part of Egypt’s support and solidarity with friendly countries, and implements the directives of El-Sisi, an official statement said.

India is experiencing a second wave of COVID-19, with high rates of infections and deaths amid an acute shortage of medicine, medical supplies, and prevention and protection tools.


Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid
Updated 11 May 2021

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid

Spanish rally outside Israeli Embassy in Madrid
  • Most of the crowd on Tuesday in Madrid waved Palestinian flags and shouted “Israel, assassin of the Palestinian people”
  • Protestors wore face masks as stipulated by Spanish health laws to fight pandemic

MADRID: A few dozen people have gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in the Spanish capital to protest Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians.
Most of the crowd on Tuesday in Madrid waved Palestinian flags. They shouted “Israel, assassin of the Palestinian people” and “it’s Palestine, not Israel” in Spanish.
Some held up photos of Palestinians being arrested by Israeli forces. All wore face masks as stipulated by Spanish health laws to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The escalation in the conflict was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.