Sri Lanka lifts ban on Muslim burial of coronavirus victims

Sri Lanka lifts ban on Muslim burial of coronavirus victims
New guidelines permit burial under supervision of health authorities at designated cemeteries  (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 February 2021

Sri Lanka lifts ban on Muslim burial of coronavirus victims

Sri Lanka lifts ban on Muslim burial of coronavirus victims
  • Mandatory cremation of all deceased, regardless of faith, was introduced in April
  • New guidelines permit burial under supervision of health authorities at designated cemeteries 

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government on Friday lifted a controversial order to cremate the bodies of people who died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), after months of protests by Muslim groups and international pleas.

Mandatory cremation of all COVID-19-related deceased, regardless of their faith, was introduced in April as a safe option to prevent further spread. It sparked an outcry among members of the country’s Muslim minority as it barred them from burying their dead according to Islamic rites.

Muslims make up nearly 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. Many say the forced cremation policy was discriminatory,  and international groups, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, EU, Amnesty International and the UN had sent repeated requests to Colombo to reconsider its decision.

On Friday, the government released a notification permitting burial at designated cemeteries under the supervision of health authorities and “in accordance with the directions issued by the director general of health services.”

Sri Lankan Muslims welcomed the decision. Justice Minister Ali Sabry said he was grateful to the government’s special committee which, after having studied the issue, recommended allowing burial.

“Eventually, sanity has prevailed,” he told Arab News.

Sheikh M. S. Mohammed Thassim, acting secretary of All-Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), a top body of Islamic scholars, said this was the best news a Sri Lankan Muslim could hear.

“This is the end of our mental agony and we will be able to fulfil our last rites to our dear after their deaths,” he said.

Rights activist Shreen Saroor, co-founder of the Women’s Action Network, who in December petitioned with the Supreme Court for the amendment of the cremation policy, said she wanted to thank the families of those whose remains had been forcibly cremated for their resistance.

“There were two tipping points in our advocacy on getting the burial rights for COVID-19 victims. First, 20-day-old baby Shaykh’s cremation and (her) father Faheem’s plea to the world, and his tireless efforts giving interviews to the media on the tragedy. It is not easy to repeatedly share these painful stories of this nature,” she said, referring to a Muslim baby whose forced cremation in December intensified the public debate.

She also mentioned an incident from September, when a families of Muslims who died of COVID-19 decided to leave their bodies at hospitals, refusing to pay for coffins and cremation.

“These courageous acts caught the world’s attention and ultimately resulted in the rescinding of the gazette that made cremation mandatory, which has now possibly made every Sri Lankan Muslims’ nightmares go away,” Saroor told Arab News.

According to lawmaker Mujibur Rahman, who has advocated against forced cremation, the government reversed its guidelines due to mounting international pressure.

“The government could not face the international and local pressure against its cremation policy; finally, they gave in,” he said.


Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador
Updated 40 min 35 sec ago

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador

Suicide bomb kills five at Pakistan hotel hosting Chinese ambassador
  • Pakistani Taliban group claims responsibility for assault against high officials
  • China condemns attack; Balochistan home minister refuses to confirm envoy was target 

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: A blast that killed five people and injured 11 at a luxury hotel in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta, in Balochistan, on Wednesday night was a suicide attack, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said on Thursday.

The Serena Hotel Quetta, located next to the Iranian consulate in the city and the provincial parliament building, had been hosting China’s ambassador to the country, Nong Rong, whilst on a visit to Balochistan.

“It was a suicide attack. The bomber detonated his vest from inside (his) car,” Ahmed said, adding that the attacker had yet to be identified. “Around 60 to 80 kilograms of explosive was used in the attack.”

The Chinese ambassador was not at the hotel during the attack, Ahmed continued. “He was staying somewhere else and he is safe.”

Zia Ullah Langau, home minister Balochistan, declined to confirm if the Chinese ambassador was the target of the assault, saying investigations were ongoing. Quetta’s police deputy inspector general, Azhar Akram, added: “Our security was on high alert, and we are assessing all aspects.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it “strongly condemns” the bombing.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a militant group fighting to overthrow the government, claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was carried out “on high officials, including police officers.”

Designated a terrorist group by the US, the TTP has been in disarray in recent years, especially after several of its top leaders were killed by US drone strikes in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mineral rich Balochistan, bordering Iran and Afghanistan, has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency by local nationalists who want a larger share of the region’s resources.

The province, Pakistan’s largest but also its most impoverished, is home to the recently-expanded Gwadar deep water port, a flagship part of China’s $65 billion investment in the Pakistani section of its Belt and Road Initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project.


Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif
Updated 22 April 2021

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif

Pakistan court grants bail to opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif
  • Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly
  • His Pakistan Muslim League party quickly hailed the ruling by the court in the eastern city of Lahore

LAHORE: A Pakistani court granted bail on Thursday to the country’s opposition leader, about seven months after he was arrested by an anti-graft body over alleged involvement in money laundering.
Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. His Pakistan Muslim League party quickly hailed the ruling by the court in the eastern city of Lahore. It described the case against him as “fake.”
Shahbaz Sharif is the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who served three times as Pakistan’s prime minister. He has been living in exile in London since 2019, after he was released on bail to seek medical treatment abroad.
Nawaz Sharif hasn’t returned home since, and the government is seeking his extradition.

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Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’

Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’
Updated 22 April 2021

Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’

Unequal commemoration of British Empire troops due to ‘pervasive racism’
  • Investigation: Up to 350,000 Middle Eastern, African casualties may not be commemorated by name or at all
  • Commission: “This was not right then and must not be allowed to remain unaddressed now”

LONDON: Hundreds of thousands of predominantly Asian and black soldiers who died fighting for the British Empire have not been formally commemorated in the same way as their white comrades because of decisions underpinned by “pervasive racism,” according to an investigation.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) discovered that at least 116,000 — but potentially as many as 350,000 — Middle Eastern and African casualties may not be commemorated by name or at all.
The CWGC is expected to issue a formal apology for the unequal treatment of those unnamed soldiers, as well as up to 54,000 African and Asian soldiers who were commemorated “unequally” compared to their white comrades.
The Imperial War Graves Commission, later renamed the CWGC, was founded in 1917 to commemorate men and women of the British Empire who lost their lives in World War I, and was defined by the principle of equality of treatment in death.
Everyone who dies in military service is supposed to be commemorated identically, with their names engraved on a headstone or memorial.
The commission’s findings, seen by The Guardian, quote racist statements — such as a 1920s governor saying “the average native … would not understand or appreciate a headstone” — as evidence that soldiers were treated differently if they came from Commonwealth countries.
“The report highlights that, in certain circumstances, those principles so rigidly adhered to for all who fell in Europe were applied inconsistently or abandoned in the more distant corners of the globe when applied to the non-European war dead of the British Empire, in the immediate aftermath of World War One,” the commission said.
“The commissioners acknowledge that this was not right then and must not be allowed to remain unaddressed now. Those identified in the special committee’s report deserve to be remembered as much today as they did 100 years ago.”
The special committee noted that many of the decisions surrounding burial and commemoration were influenced by a lack of information, opinions of colonial administrators, or other errors.
“Underpinning all these decisions, however, were the entrenched prejudices, preconceptions and pervasive racism of contemporary imperial attitudes,” it said. 
Claire Horton, director general of the CWGC, said: “The events of a century ago were wrong then and are wrong now. We recognize the wrongs of the past and are deeply sorry and will be acting immediately to correct them.”
Troops recruited from Britain’s vast empire played important roles in various battles throughout World War I.
Units such as the Egyptian Expeditionary Force suffered thousands of casualties in the British campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, and ultimately contributed to the allied powers’ victory.


EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources

EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources
Updated 22 April 2021

EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources

EU preparing legal case against AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls — sources
  • The drugmaker cut COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union
  • Under the contract, the company had committed to making its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver to the EU 180 million vaccine doses in the second quarter

BRUSSELS: The European Commission is working on legal proceedings against AstraZeneca after the drugmaker cut COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union, sources familiar with the matter said.

The move would mark a further step in an EU plan to sever ties with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker after the company repeatedly cut supplies to the bloc, contributing to major delays in Europe’s vaccine rollout.

The news about the legal case was first reported on Thursday by Politico. An EU official involved in talks with drugmakers confirmed the EU was preparing to sue the company.

“EU states have to decide if they (will) participate. It is about fulfillment of deliveries by the end of the second quarter,” the official said.

The matter was discussed on Wednesday at a meeting with EU diplomats, the official and a diplomat said. Politico, citing five unnamed European diplomats, reported that a majority of EU countries at the meeting said they would support suing the company.

“What matters is that we ensure the delivery of a sufficient number of doses in line with the company’s earlier commitments,” a spokesman for the EU Commission said. “Together with the member States, we are looking at all options to make this happen.”

There was no immediate response from AstraZeneca on Thursday to a request for comment.

Brussels in March sent a legal letter to the company in the first step of a potential legal procedure.

When the deadline for a reply expired this month, a spokesman for the Commission said the matter was discussed in a meeting with AstraZeneca but the EU was still seeking further clarification from the company on “a number of outstanding points.”

The spokesman did not elaborate, but details of the letter published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera show the EU was seeking clarification on what it deemed a delayed application to the EU regulator for approval of the vaccine.

Brussels also questioned how AstraZeneca spent over 224 million euros ($270 million) granted by the EU in September to buy vaccine ingredients and for which the company had not provided sufficient documents confirming the purchases.

Under the contract, the company had committed to making its “best reasonable efforts” to deliver to the EU 180 million vaccine doses in the second quarter, for a total of 300 million in the period from December to June.

But the company said in a statement on March 12 it would aim to deliver only one third of that. The EU letter was sent a week after that statement.

Under the contract, the parties agreed that Belgian courts would be responsible to settle unresolved disputes.

The EU has already decided not to take up an option to buy 100 million extra doses of AstraZeneca under the contract, an EU official said, after supply delays and safety concerns about very rare cases of blood clots linked to the vaccine.


Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out

Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out
Updated 22 April 2021

Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out

Indonesia in race against time to find missing submarine before air supply runs out
  • KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, 53 aboard, went missing from last dive position on Wednesday
  • Submarines from Singapore, Malaysia on their way to Bali to assist in search and rescue

JAKARTA: The Indonesian navy is racing against time to rescue personnel trapped inside a missing submarine, which had oxygen supplies for only three days, the country’s naval chief said on Thursday.

The KRI Nanggala-402 submarine, with 53 people aboard, went missing from its last dive position on Wednesday morning, about 96 kilometers north of the island of Bali.

“The submarine had 72 hours of oxygen supply and it is estimated to last only until 3 a.m. on Saturday,” the Indonesian navy’s chief of staff, Adm. Yudo Margono told reporters during a press conference.

He added that there was some hope as the search party had detected a strong magnetic field at about 50–100 meters depth, but the object emitting it has not yet been identified.

The vessel went missing during a torpedo-firing drill, featuring all 21 of the navy’s ships, its two submarines, and five aircraft, which are now also deployed in the search for the missing KRI Nanggala-402.

The military said the submarine was seaworthy and its personnel were in good condition during the drill that was conducted in accordance with procedures.

As an oil slick was spotted where the vessel dived, the navy initially said it could be from a leak in the submarine’s fuel tank, which may have fractured if it submerged 500–700 meters during a blackout.

“Or it could be that when it was diving at 50–100 meters deep, the crew deliberately discharged the oil in an attempt to reduce the submarine’s load to make it lighter and stay afloat,” Margono said.

The submarine requested clearance at 3 a.m. local time to dive to periscope-level depth, or about 15 meters deep, to prepare for firing. Thirty minutes later, it was still visible to a sea rider inspection vessel.

“From 3:46 to 4:46 a.m., we tried to maintain contact with the submarine to give them the authorization to fire the torpedo, but there was no response, and its periscope was no longer visible,” Margono said, adding that in accordance with drill procedures, if contact was lost the submarine should have emerged at 5:15 a.m.

The navy dispatched the search party 90 minutes later.

Margono added that submarines from neighboring Singapore and Malaysia are on their way to help find the vessel, which has been in Indonesia’s service since 1981.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, addressing the same press conference, said that South Korea, where the German-built Cakra class submarine was retrofitted a number of times, had also offered assistance.

He added that the incident underscored the urgency to modernize the country’s defense systems and equipment.