Emperor Naruhito faces the media in build up to his 61st birthday

Emperor Naruhito faces the media in build up to his 61st birthday
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito answered several questions in anticipation of his birthday, including about Empress Masako and members of the Imperial family. (AFP)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Emperor Naruhito faces the media in build up to his 61st birthday

Emperor Naruhito faces the media in build up to his 61st birthday
  • The emperor will be unable to interact and talk with members of the public this year due to coronavirus restrictions

TOKYO: In anticipation of his 61st birthday on Feb. 23, Emperor Naruhito of Japan responded to questions from the media about the Imperial family, the pandemic and the situation in Japan.

When asked about the coronavirus pandemic, he said: “In the history of Japan, there have been many difficult times such as natural disasters and the spread of epidemics. Emperor Shomu, who created the Great Buddha of Nara with a desire to calm an unstable world, sought an end to the plague by looking back to past emperors. Beginning with Emperor Saga in the Heian period, successive emperors such as Emperor Go-Nara and Emperor Shomucho wanted to be close to the people. I think that spirit is still relevant today. I think that the basics of the Imperial family are to always wish for the happiness of the people and to share the pain of the people.

“In terms of thinking about the people and being close to them, it is very important to pay attention to and encourage those who have been affected by disaster, the disabled and the elderly, and those who have been doing their best for society and people. It is a natural feeling for (Empress) Masako and I, and I think it is an important duty for the imperial family. For the past year, we have been at the mercy of the coronavirus. I would like to express my deepest condolences to those who have lost family or friends.”

The emperor thanked medical staff for their efforts and said he was happy a vaccine was now available. He added that it was particularly painful when people died on their own or by their own hand, and expressed the hope that something could be done to prevent this. He himself said he was sad that he was unable to connect with the people due to the virus, but was happy to greet people via the internet.

“We were able to convey our feelings to the people by video message,” he added. “It is a great discovery to find new possibilities in online activities. Online may have some challenges, but I would like to continue to utilize it in a way that suits the situation.”

In response to questions about his family, the emperor commented on the condition of Empress Masako, who reportedly has been suffering from stress in recent years.

“Masako has some difficulties in getting in shape due to restrictions on activities as a result of the spread of the coronavirus,” the emperor said. “Masako is still in the process of recovery. Her physical condition is not stable and after a big event her tiredness tends to remain for a while. She wants to continue to steadily improve and do what she can without overdoing it. Masako is an important person who supports my daily activities, and she is a good counselor both publicly and privately.”

Referring to his daughter Princess Aiko, the emperor responded: “Aiko, who became a university student from April of last year, continues to take classes online due to the effects of the new coronavirus, but when she first went to university last fall, she said, ‘I gained new knowledge at university.’ There are quite a lot of tasks in the online class, and Aiko is working hard on each one, which seems to be difficult, but I think that the teachers who prepare the class take a lot of trouble. I hope that Aiko will lead a meaningful student life. Aiko usually does some exercise outdoors when she has time, but she spends a lot of time at home, so we, her family, value the time to have fun and get together.”

When asked about allowing females to be included in the line of succession to the imperial throne, the emperor was reminded of the customs of European royal families. However, he refused to be drawn into anything other than a diplomatic answer. Without a male heir, the next in line to the throne will be his brother, Crown Prince Akishino, and the Imperial line will then pass to his son, Prince Hisahito.

“I am well aware of the situation in European royal families,” the Emperor replied. “However, as I said last year, I would like to refrain from mentioning matters related to the system.”


Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar
Updated 27 February 2021

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

Saudi envoy to UN expresses OIC’s concern over repatriation of Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Abdullah bin Yahya Al-Muallami, expressed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) concern on continuing “tragic events” that may hinder the process of a safe return of the Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.
Muallami called on Myanmar to fulfill International commitments to Rohingya Muslims during a UN general assembly meeting to hear the briefing of the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Bergner.

Muallami stated that members of the OIC were “closely” following the current events and developments in Myanmar, and urged to accelerate the full implementation of all recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State to address the root causes of the crisis as well as implement other UN recommendations.
The international advisory commission – headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – was founded in 2016 to ensure the social and economic well-being of both the Buddhist and the Rohingya communities of Myanmar’s conflict-ravaged Rakhine State in the northern coastal region.
The envoy called on Myanmar to shoulder its responsibility towards the Rohingya Muslim minority and for an immediate end to all acts of violence and all violations of international law.
He calling for a full, transparent and independent investigation to report on the violations.
Muallami stressed the OIC’s position in supporting the Muslim Rohingya people, calling for ensuring their safety and security, and the recognition of their basic rights, including the right to full citizenship.
The ambassador welcomed the efforts of the international community, the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the government of Bangladesh to find a solution to the refugee crisis.


Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths
Updated 27 February 2021

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths

Russia reports 11,534 new COVID-19 cases, 439 deaths
  • The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday reported 11,534 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,825 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,234,720 since the pandemic began.
The government coronavirus taskforce also reported 439 deaths in the last 24 hours, pushing the official death toll to 85,743.

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations
Updated 27 February 2021

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UN urges warring parties to halt fighting for vaccinations

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas.
The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda, from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia.
It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.”
Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.”
“This is a first step,” she stressed, and it will require further international efforts.
But Woodward said the large number of cosponsors and unanimous council approval are “a strong testament to the international commitment to seeing this happen.”
“Obviously each of these situations will require further negotiations at country and even at field and local level,” she said. “and we’ve asked the secretary-general to report back where they encounter barriers in this.”
The resolution adopted Friday recognizes “that armed conflicts can exacerbate the COVID-19 pandemic, and that inversely the pandemic can exacerbate the adverse humanitarian impact of armed conflicts, as well as exacerbating inequalities.”
It also recognizes “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good for health in preventing, containing, and stopping transmission, of COVID-19 and its variant strains, in order to bring the pandemic to an end.”
The Security Council stressed that “equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines” authorized by the World Health Organization or regulatory authorities “is essential to end the pandemic.”
It also stressed “the need for solidarity, equity, and efficacy” in vaccinations.
And it called for donations of vaccines from richer developed nations to low- and middle-income countries and other countries in need, including through the COVAX Facility, the ambitious WHO program to buy and deliver coronavirus vaccines for the world’s poorest people.


Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
Updated 27 February 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country

Myanmar’s UN envoy dramatically opposes coup in his country
  • Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun urged all countries to pressure the Myanmar military regime to restore democracy
  • His surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting

UNITED NATIONS: Myanmar’s UN ambassador strongly opposed the military coup in his country and appealed for the “strongest possible action from the international community” to immediately restore democracy, in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly Friday that drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body.
Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun began his statement saying he represented Aung San Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” in November, and supported their fight for the end of military rule.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the Feb. 1 coup, and to refuse to recognize the military regime and ask its leaders to respect the free and fair elections in November won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. He also urged stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” Tun said, agreeing with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that military coup “is not acceptable in this modern world and the coup must cease.”
“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” he vowed.
Tun’s surprise statement not only drew applause but commendations from speaker after speaker at the assembly meeting including ambassadors representing the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the new US ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield. She joined others in describing the speech as “courageous,” “powerful” and “brave.”
In her first appearance at the assembly since presenting her credentials to Guterres in Thursday, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “stands in solidarity” with the people of Myanmar who are in the streets protesting the coup. And she reiterated President Joe Biden’s warning that “we will show the military that their actions have consequences” and demand to the military “to immediately relinquish power.”
In a tweet later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken referred to Myanmar by its former name Burma and said “the United States commends the courageous and clear statement” of Ambassador Tun, “and by those in Burma who are making their voices heard. We must all heed their call to restore democracy in Burma.”
The assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup and the military pushing democratic processes aside, violating the constitution, reversing reforms instituted by Suu Kyi, and arresting peaceful protesters, civil society representatives and members of the media.
She pointed to restrictions on the Internet and communication services and the detention of about 700 people according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, and she called “the use of lethal force and rising deaths unacceptable.”
The huge protests in the country are not about a fight between Suu Kyi’s party and the military, she said, “it is a fight without arms.”
Addressing diplomats in the General Assembly chamber by video link, Schraner Burgener urged “all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
The military takeover in Myanmar shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term that day, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her, President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
Myanmar’s military says it took power because November’s election was marked by widespread voting irregularities, an assertion that was refuted by the election commission, whose members have since been replaced by the ruling junta. The junta has said it will rule for a year under a state of emergency and then hold new polls.
Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly that democratically elected representatives were able to be sworn in according to the constitution on Feb. 4 and have formed the Committee Representing Pyidaungu Hluttaw (National Assembly), known as CRPH, and are seeking “to uphold their obligations to serve the people who voted for them.”
Tun began his remarks by reading a statement from CRPH stressing the legitimacy of the election results and declaring that the military overthrew the democratically elected government. He cited the massive opposition by the people, saying “now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar military.”
The CRPH, saying it represented some 80 parliamentarians, asked the UN, the Security Council and the international community “that aspires to build a peaceful and civilized global society to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people of Myanmar.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose neighboring country has invested billions of dollars in Myanmar and is its biggest trading partner, called on all parties to handle differences through dialogue “under the constitutional and legal framework,” avoid violence, “and continue to promote the domestic democratic transformation process in an orderly manner.”
Never mentioning the military or a coup and describing what happened in Myanmar as “in essence Myanmar’s internal affairs,” he said the international community should help the parties “bridge their differences and solve problems.”
Zhang backed efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which Myanmar belongs to, “in playing an active role in easing the current state of affairs.”
ASEAN countries are discussing holding an informal foreign ministers meeting and “we look forward to its early convening on the basis of consensus, thus providing a useful platform and opportunity for promoting problem solving,” he said.


UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
Updated 26 February 2021

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive

UK government plans night-time Ramadan vaccine drive
  • Campaigner tells Arab News he welcomes “proactive” approach to reaching Muslim communities
  • Report: British Asians have highest mortality rate during second wave of COVID-19

LONDON: A night-time vaccine drive is reportedly being planned by the UK government during Ramadan, following reports that the country’s Asian community had the highest mortality rate during the second wave of COVID-19.
The government hopes to mitigate a potential vaccine uptake drop-off by Muslims during the holy month, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Ramadan 2021 will begin on April 12, a critical time in the UK’s vaccine rollout and just three days before the government’s planned date to have offered all over 50s the jab.
Concerns over the impact of Ramadan on vaccine uptake are compounded by a government report that British Asians, many of whom are Muslim, are the demographic with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate per 100,000 people in the UK’s second wave.
“A large part of this continued disparity for South Asian populations can be explained from geographic, socioeconomic and health factors,” the report read.
Kawsar Zaman, founder of the Take the COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign, told Arab News that he welcomes the government’s “proactive” approach in reaching out to and inoculating the UK’s Muslim community.
“I think the plan is excellent. Anything that we can do to promote uptake, particularly within communities where we’ve found it difficult to encourage people to take the vaccine, is positive,” he said.
“Particularly during Ramadan, where nine times out of 10 people are awake late into the night and early morning, anything that makes receiving the jab more accessible is great news.”
Zaman also hailed the government’s outreach to, and consultation with, Britain’s Muslim communities throughout the country’s world-leading vaccine rollout.
“What’s quite unique about this vaccine drive is that they’re being proactive about it, as well as consulting with a very wide range of people in many communities, including the Muslim community — which isn’t always the case,” he said.
Zaman singled out for praise Nadhim Zahawi, who is in charge of the UK’s vaccine rollout, saying he has done “a lot of really good work” and has been “very open in meeting with communities.” Zaman added: “What’s great here is that they’re listening first, then acting.”