Imperial birthday celebrations from past to present

Imperial birthday celebrations from past to present
The emperor’s birthday is a national celebration across Japan. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Imperial birthday celebrations from past to present

Imperial birthday celebrations from past to present
  • This year, like many events, the celebration will not play out in the usual way

DUBAI: The Japanese emperor’s birthday has long been celebrated within Japan and beyond, but the festivities surrounding it have been redefined due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, like many events, the celebration will not play out in the usual way. Traditionally, members of the public would take part in the event by visiting the palace, where they would offer good wishes to the emperor and sign a guest book — a practice that dates back to 1948. 

Given the restrictions in place, members of the public will not be able to enter the palace gates this year, but in previous years it was common for the emperor and members of the imperial family to address visitors from the balcony of the palace. 

This caution will also extend to the Japanese Embassy in Saudi Arabia, which has opted to upload a special page on their website that will include the ambassador’s message.

Emperor Naruhito’s 60th birthday, celebrated on Feb. 23, was honored last year at the Japanese Embassy in Saudi Arabia at an event attended by diplomats, government officials, Deputy Governor of Riyadh Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdul Aziz and Japanese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Uemura Tsukasa.

Last year, Uemura’s opening speech was in Arabic, highlighting the growing relations between Japan and Saudi Arabia.

This bond was epitomized by the prince and Uemura jointly cutting the ceremonial cake featuring the flags of both countries.

Japanese cuisine including tempura, yakisoba, sushi and maki was served, and a traditional Japanese dance was performed.

Prior to Naruhito ascending to the throne on May 1, 2019 — becoming the 126th Japanese emperor — the birthday of his father, Emperor Akihito, was commemorated on Dec. 23.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia demonstrated its respect by hosting a reception for the emperor’s 82nd birthday at the residence of the consul general of Japan in Jeddah.

The consul-general’s spoke of a “deep friendship” between the two countries, founded on “mutual respect and appreciation between the Japanese imperial family and the Saudi royal family.” Children singing the anthems of both countries added to the occasion.

This national holiday, referred to as Tenno Tanjobi, traditionally features a congratulatory ceremony, a luncheon hosted by the emperor and empress, as well as a tea reception to receive birthday greetings from special invitees. Diet members, the prime minister, speaker and vice-speaker of the House of Representatives, president and vice president of the House of Councillors and ministers of state attend the luncheon, while the tea reception is held primarily to welcome diplomatic missions in Japan.

Historically, members of the imperial family would not appear before the people gathered outside but this shifted in 1950 when Emperor Showa and Empress Kojun made their first appearance.

The opportunity for palace visits during the holiday would attract an influx of people. In 2016 about 38,588 people attended Emperor Akihito’s birthday celebration, and this number rose to 82,850 in 2018.

Despite this year’s restricted circumstances, the sentiment behind the emperor’s birthday celebrations remains unchanged. It encapsulates Japan’s rich culture, history and dedication to tradition, while also reinforcing the bond between Japan and Saudi Arabia that remains strong despite the unpredictability of the global landscape.

Wheelchair athlete’s fight to fulfil a sporting dream

Wheelchair athlete’s fight to fulfil a sporting dream
Updated 25 February 2021

Wheelchair athlete’s fight to fulfil a sporting dream

Wheelchair athlete’s fight to fulfil a sporting dream
  • Diehard cricket fan Amjad Ali keeping alive dream of seeing home team Peshawar Zalmi play  
  • Amjad Ali is Pakistan’s No. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level competitor in wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball

KARACHI: Amjad Ali has been a fighter all his life. Despite losing the use of his legs after childhood polio, he was able to fulfil his dream of becoming a successful wheelchair athlete.

But one dream keeps eluding him. For the past six years, he has been unable to watch his favorite cricket team play in a stadium.

With “home” matches played abroad for years due to security risks and, more recently, limited numbers of spectators allowed in stadiums because of coronavirus restrictions, Ali is yet to see his beloved Peshawar Zalmi side compete in Pakistan’s hugely popular Super League cricket competition. 
Ali, a Karachi resident, is a diehard fan of Peshawar Zalmi, the home team that represents Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, his home province.

The inaugural national cricket league was launched in 2016 and has been a spectacular success, even though many of the matches in the first five editions had to be played in the UAE due to security risks, preventing fans such as Ali from attending.

Last year, however, all matches of the series were played in Pakistan for the first time, and an overjoyed Ali bought a ticket to see Peshawar play the Multan Sultans.

But the devoted cricket fan never made it to the stadium on March 13: The coronavirus pandemic broke out in February and lockdown restrictions were imposed, including a ban on spectators at stadiums.

This year, with only 50 percent spectator capacity allowed at stadiums due to the pandemic, Ali found that getting his hands on a ticket was no easy task.

“Last year, I had bought a ticket to watch my favorite Peshawar Zalmi, but unfortunately I couldn’t go due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Ali told Arab News. “This time around, the government has allowed limited crowds only, which has made obtaining tickets difficult.”

Ali was born in Shangla, a hilly district in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and now lives in a sprawling slum neighborhood in Karachi. He was only 12 months old when he contracted polio and has never walked.

But his disability did not dampen his dream of becoming an athlete: He is now Pakistan’s No. 4 in wheelchair tennis and a national-level competitor in wheelchair cricket, basketball and handball. He also works as an accountant at a school by day and teaches neighborhood children in the evenings.

“I have struggled a lot in my life and have become a sportsman despite my disability,” Ali said, adding that his favorite player was Daren Sammy, a Saint Lucian-Pakistani cricketer who played at international level for the West Indies. “I see a fighter in him.”

Ali hopes to one day meet Sammy as well as Pakistani players Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz and Haider Ali.

“Now coronavirus is a hurdle between me and Peshawar Zalmi,” Ali said. “But I believe, God willing, one day we will defeat coronavirus and I will be able to meet the Peshawar Zalmi players.”


Young activist released, but guilt by association fears grow among Indian youth

Young activist released, but guilt by association fears grow among Indian youth
Updated 25 February 2021

Young activist released, but guilt by association fears grow among Indian youth

Young activist released, but guilt by association fears grow among Indian youth
  • Disha Ravi was charged after sharing a protest manual with farmers demonstrating against India’s government
  • A court granted bail to the activist associated with Greta Thunberg on Tuesday citing ‘scanty and sketchy’ evidence against her

NEW DELHI: The recent release on bail of young Indian climate activist Disha Ravi has brought some relief, but fears are growing over an increase in guilt by association toward other young Indian activists, her lawyer and other rights advocates claim.
Ravi, an Indian associate of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, was arrested in the southern city of Bengaluru on Feb. 13 on sedition charges for distributing a document to help farmers who have been demonstrating against India’s new farm laws. Police said the manual contained action plans for organizing protest violence. 
The protests of tens of thousands of farmers, who say the new laws would leave them at the mercy of big corporations, have been one of the biggest challenges faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Ravi’s manual was shared on social media by Thunberg, who earlier this month faced a backlash from Indian authorities for expressing solidarity with the protesting farmers.
While a court in Delhi granted bail to Ravi on Tuesday citing “scanty and sketchy” evidence against her, other activists and the 22-year-old’s lawyer are pointing to the increasing danger of guilt by association.
“The constant gaze on who you are, what you do, there is guilt by association,” Ravi’s lawyer and family friend R. Prasanna told Arab News on Thursday.
“There is a widening gap that without any sense of discretion cases are being lodged and attempts to incarcerate people just because you don’t like somebody making the comments,” she said.
“The state and its machinery are not able to distinguish between the acts which may amount to disaffection and acts and activities which may be just advocacy,” Prasanna said, adding that taking an unpopular position against the government on a law does not render one “anti-national.”
She added: “One could have 101 differences with your elected government but still you could love your country.”
Women’s rights activist Poonam Kaushik said that with Ravi’s case “the government is creating a sense of fear among youth and their parents.”
Kaushik, secretary-general of the Progressive Women Organization, told Arab News: “The bail to Disha is a relief but the larger message that the government wants to send is that anyone who criticizes the government will be put behind the jail.”
She added: “In the last few years, we see many people associated with human rights, civil society, academics have been put behind the bars under the draconian laws for challenging the narrative of the government.”
Data released by Delhi-based news website Article 14 earlier this month shows that the number of sedition cases during Modi’s six years in power has nearly doubled.
“(Since 2010) 96 percent of sedition cases filed against 405 Indians for criticizing politicians and governments over the last decade were registered after 2014,” Article 14 reported.
Over a third of those who faced the charges made critical or derogatory remarks against Modi and other key leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party.
While the BJP says that criticizing the government is not sedition, cases such as Ravi are not about dissent.
“Opposing government or leaders is not sedition but becoming a part of a conspiracy to defame India and show her in poor light would not be considered dissent,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News.
“If you were helping anti-India forces to plan strikes or organize demonstrations to oppose the government, it would definitely be crossing the line,” he said.
For Bangalore-based political analyst Prof. Sandeep Shastri, there is a larger question following the ruling in Ravi’s case.
“When the judge says that the evidence is scanty and limited, it raises the question whether dissent is going to be looked at from the lenses of what authorities see right and what they see as wrong,” he said.
“In a democratic country like ours, the right to dissent is fundamental, the right to be critical of anyone in power is fundamental.”

Duterte wants public to decide fate of ‘risky’ US military pact

Duterte wants public to decide fate of ‘risky’ US military pact
Updated 25 February 2021

Duterte wants public to decide fate of ‘risky’ US military pact

Duterte wants public to decide fate of ‘risky’ US military pact
  • Presidential spokesman says lives of Filipinos ‘at risk’ in case of military conflict between the US and its enemies
  • Foreign affairs secretary cites complaints from Philippine officers over ‘shabby treatment’ from US counterparts

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte wants the public to decide the fate of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US, as, he believes, upholding it may put the lives of Filipinos at risk, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.

The VFA, signed in 1998, allows the deployment of US forces to the Philippines, a former US colony, for military exercises, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Duterte unilaterally canceled the deal last year in an angry response to a Filipino senator and political ally being denied a US visa. The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.

On Wednesday night, however, the president said in a televised address that he had not decided yet what to do with the pact and wanted “to hear the people,” as he advised Filipinos to express their views via a government hotline.

“What I heard him (Duterte) say yesterday was we will pay a very high price for the presence of American troops and equipment here in the Philippines, because if a shooting war erupts between America and its enemies, Filipinos will surely be the first to die,” Roque told reporters.

“Their lives would be at risk if the Americans remain in our territory,” he added.

While justifying Duterte’s move to seek public opinion, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet that the president “is a populist so it makes sense to get a sense of the public regarding VFA.”

He added, however, that Duterte should also consult the military, citing complaints from some officers who have allegedly experienced “shabby treatment” from their American counterparts during joint US-Philippines exercises.

The VFA is considered an important anchor for the US position in Southeast Asia.

Earlier this month, Duterte said Washington must pay if it wants to keep a two-decade-old troop deployment agreement with his country, especially as China's power and influence is growing in the region.

“It’s a shared responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free. Because after all, when the war breaks out, we all pay,” he said. “We are nearest to the garrison there, where there are a lot of arsenals of the Chinese armed forces.”

While the US has not responded to Duterte's demand, it vowed to continue to find ways to strengthen and advance security cooperation with the Philippines, its “oldest” ally in the region.

“We value our alliance with the Philippines, which is the oldest in the Asia-Pacific region,” the State Department said in an e-mail to Arab News.

“Open dialogue between allies is essential to maintaining the strength of an alliance which is vital to both of our countries’ security.”

Pakistani, Indian militaries agree to stop firing in Kashmir

Pakistani, Indian militaries agree to stop firing in Kashmir
Updated 25 February 2021

Pakistani, Indian militaries agree to stop firing in Kashmir

Pakistani, Indian militaries agree to stop firing in Kashmir
  • Pakistani authorities say Indian has made more than 13,000 violations of the cease-fire accord in the past 18 years
  • India also alleges large-scale cease-fire violations by the Pakistan army

ISLAMABAD: Rival neighbors Pakistan and India have pledged to stop firing weapons across the border in disputed Kashmir, promising to adhere to a 2003 accord that has been largely ignored, officials from both sides said on Thursday.
If indeed implemented, the move would be a major step in defusing tensions in the highly militarized Himalayan region, and open a possibility for broader detente between the two nuclear-armed powers.
Artillery, rockets and even small arms fire have been regularly exchanged between troops on opposite sides of the border, killing hundreds since the original cease-fire was signed.
This time the two militaries themselves are making vocal commitments, with senior generals reaching an understanding over a hotline on Wednesday, a joint statement said.
“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing” along the frontier which separates Kashmir between Pakistan and India, it said. “Existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilized to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding
The two South Asian neighbors have a long history of bitter relations and Pakistani authorities say Indian has made more than 13,000 violations of the cease-fire accord in the past 18 years. India also alleges large-scale cease-fire violations by the Pakistan army.
Since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, they have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir, which is divided between them and claimed by both in its entirety. Both sides often exchange fire in Kashmir and civilians are caught in the crossfire whenever such violence erupts. Dozens of people are killed every year in the violence.
But relations were further strained between them in 2019, when Pakistan shot down an Indian warplane in Kashmir and captured a pilot in response to an airstrike by Indian aircraft targeting militants inside Pakistan.
India at the time said the strikes targeted Pakistan-based militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.
Pakistan said there was no militant camp and the Indian planes dropped bombs in a forest.
Since then, a peace process between Islamabad and New Delhi has been on hold. But military experts from both countries were optimistic about the new agreement.
In India, Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda, who was head of the Indian military’s Northern Command from 2014 to 2016, welcomed the move, calling it “a significant, positive development given there has been steep escalation in the border skirmishes in last few years.”
In Pakistan, retired army general Talat Masood said he believed Washington and other world leaders had helped in reducing tension between Pakistan and India, adding that peace was in the best interest of both countries.
It was unclear what promoted two two militaries to initiate contact over the hotline, but Pakistan has been urging the international community to urge India for resuming dialogue with it to ensure peace in the region.
However, Pakistan wants India to reverse a 2019 move under which New Delhi divided the Indian-administered part of the Muslim-majority Kashmir into two federally governed territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — touching off anger on both sides of the frontier.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side. Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
Rebels in Indian-administered Kashmir have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the armed uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

UN says 41 Europe-bound migrants drown in Mediterranean

UN says 41 Europe-bound migrants drown in Mediterranean
Migrants and refugees from different African nationalities wait for assistance aboard an overcrowded wooden boat. (AP)
Updated 25 February 2021

UN says 41 Europe-bound migrants drown in Mediterranean

UN says 41 Europe-bound migrants drown in Mediterranean
  • At least 160 people have died attempting to cross from Libya to Europe since the start of 2021
  • The North African country has been a hotspot of migration since the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi

CAIRO: At least 41 people drowned over the weekend when their boat capsized in the Central Mediterranean, the UN said on Wednesday, the latest shipwreck involving migrants fleeing conflict-stricken Libya and seeking better life in Europe.
The UN migration and refugee agencies said in a joint statement that the dead were among at least 120 migrants on a dinghy that left Libya on Feb. 18. The shipwreck took place two days later, it said.
A commercial vessel rescued the survivors and took them to the Sicilian port town of Porto Empedocle in Italy, they added.
The tragedy started when the dinghy took on water about 15 hours after the migrants embarked on their perilous voyage, the UNHCR said, citing testimonies from survivors. Within hours, at least six people fell into the sea and perished, and two others drowned while attempting to swim to a boat spotted in the distance.
Later, the commercial vessel Vos Triton arrived, and attempted to rescue survivors in what the UNHCR described as a “difficult and delicate operation.” Many others died during the rescue operation, it said.
Only one body was recovered, and the missing included three children and four women, one of whom left behind a newborn baby who made it to Lampedusa., it said.
The shipwreck was the latest along the Central Mediterranean migration route, where about 160 Europe-bound migrants have died since the beginning of 2021, the UN agencies said.
In the years since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi, war-torn Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East.
Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Italy either on their own or after being rescued at sea.
Thousands have drowned along the way. Others were intercepted and returned to Libya to fall “victim to unspeakable brutality at the hands of traffickers and militias,” the UN refugee agency said.
Earlier this week, the UN migration agency said around 3,600 were returned to the North African country since the beginning of 2021.