Italian-Muslim leader extends Easter greetings

Italian-Muslim leader extends Easter greetings
Yassine Lafram speaks at the Festival of Religions, San Giovanni in Persiceto, Bologna, Italy. (Screengrab YouTube)
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Updated 02 April 2021

Italian-Muslim leader extends Easter greetings

Italian-Muslim leader extends Easter greetings
  • President of Union of Islamic Communities of Italy met with archbishop of Bologna
  • Yassine Lafram: Lent, Ramadan ‘unite us in invocation, reflection, love of the one God’

ROME: The president of the Union of Islamic Communities of Italy (UCOII) has expressed his “warmest wishes” to the country’s Catholics “for a serene and peaceful Easter.”

Yassine Lafram, who on Friday visited the Archbishop of Bologna Matteo Zuppi, told the most prominent figure of the Catholic Church in northern Italy that Christians and Muslims in the country “live with a common spirit” in undertaking a “path of asceticism to ask for the salvation of humanity from all the evils that are afflicting it.”

During the meeting, Lafram recalled the high toll paid by both Christians and Muslims during the coronavirus pandemic.

Zuppi stressed the “great and fruitful relationship” between the Catholic Church and Islamic communities in Italy.

He recalled examples of solidarity between both communities nationwide during the pandemic, “so that nobody is left behind in such a hard time, which will hopefully end soon.” 

Lafram said Christian Lent and the holy Muslim month of Ramadan “unite us in the invocation, reflection and love of the one God.”

He added: “Those festivities fall once again this year during difficult days experienced by humanity worldwide. They show us that the only way to salvation is the return to God, to His infinite love for us all.”


Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
Updated 11 sec ago

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters

Macron asks ‘forgiveness’ for French treatment of Algerian Harki fighters
  • Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war from 1954 to 1962
PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday asked for “forgiveness” on behalf of his country for abandoning Algerians who fought alongside France in their country’s war of independence.
Tens of thousands of Algerians fought with the French army in the war that pitted Algerian independence fighters against their French colonial masters from 1954 to 1962.
At the end of the war, the loyalist fighters known as “harkis” were left to fend for themselves, despite earlier promises that France would look after them.

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’
Updated 56 min 26 sec ago

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’

Eight killed in Russian university shooting, gunman ‘liquidated’
  • The gunman was identified as a student at the university
  • Gunman’s social media account posting indicated his actions had nothing to do with politics or religion but were motivated by hatred

MOSCOW: A student opened fire at a university in the Russian city of Perm on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding several, law enforcement said.

The gunman was himself killed after the shootings at Perm State University, around 1,300km east of Moscow, Natalia Pechishcheva, a university spokesperson, said.

“He was liquidated,” she said. Footage from the scene showed his prone body on the ground outside.

Earlier media footage from the scene showed students jumping from first-floor windows to escape the building, landing heavily on the ground before running to safety.

Students built barricades out of chairs to stop the shooter from entering their classrooms, they said.

The gunman was identified as a student at the university, the Investigative Committee, that handles probes into major crimes, said.

“There were about 60 people in the classroom. We closed the door and barricaded it with chairs,” student Semyon Karyakin said.

Local media identified the gunman as an 18-year-old student who had earlier posted a social media photo of himself posing with a rifle, helmet and ammunition.

“I’ve thought about this for a long time, it’s been years and I realized the time had come to do what I dreamt of,” he said on a social media account attributed to him that was later taken down.

He indicated his actions had nothing to do with politics or religion but were motivated by hatred.

Russia has strict restrictions on civilian firearm ownership, but some categories of guns are available for purchase for hunting, self-defense or sport, once would-be owners have passed tests and met other requirements.

The shootings were the latest in a series.

Earlier this year a lone teenage gunman opened fire at a school in the city of Kazan in May, killing nine people and wounding many more.

That was Russia’s deadliest school shooting since 2018 when a student at a college in Russian-annexed Crimea killed 20 people before turning his gun on himself.

Russia raised the legal age for buying firearms from 18 to 21 after the Kazan shooting, but the new law has yet to come into force.


Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
Updated 20 September 2021

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes

Philippines to reopen 120 schools for in-person classes
  • Up to a hundred public schools in areas considered ‘minimal risk’ for coronavirus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial

MANILA: The Philippines will reopen up to 120 schools for limited in-person classes for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in a pilot approved by President Rodrigo Duterte, officials said Monday.
While nearly every country in the world has already partially or fully reopened schools for face-to-face lessons, the Philippines has kept them closed since March 2020.
“We have to pilot face-to-face (classes) because this is not just an issue for education, it’s an issue for the children’s mental health,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
“It’s also an issue for the economy because we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”
Under guidelines approved by Duterte Monday, up to a hundred public schools in areas considered “minimal risk” for virus transmission will be allowed to take part in the two-month trial.
Twenty private schools can also participate.
Classrooms will be open to children in kindergarten to grade three, and senior high school, but the number of students and hours spent in face-to-face lessons limited.
Schools wanting to take part will be assessed for their preparedness and need approval from local governments to reopen. Written consent from parents will be required.
“If the pilot class is safe, if it is effective, then we will gradually increase it,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Duterte rejected previous proposals for a pilot reopening of schools for fear children could catch Covid-19 and infect elderly relatives.
But there have been growing calls from the UN’s children fund and many teachers for a return to in-person learning amid concerns the prolonged closure was exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
It is not clear when the pilot will begin or which schools will be included.
A “blended learning” program, which involves online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will continue.
France Castro of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the decision was “long overdue.”
Fifteen-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Most students attend public schools where large class sizes, outdated teaching methods, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets, and poverty have been blamed for youngsters lagging behind.


‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial
Updated 20 September 2021

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial

‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero to learn verdict in terror trial
  • Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Paul Rusesabagina
  • The trial of 67-year-old former hotelier and 20 other defendants began in February

KIGALI: A court is set to deliver its verdict Monday against Paul Rusesabagina, the “Hotel Rwanda” hero turned government critic who is charged with terrorism in a trial supporters say is politically motivated.
Rwandan prosecutors have sought a life sentence for Rusesabagina, the 67-year-old former hotelier credited with saving hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, and whose actions inspired the Hollywood film.
Rusesabagina, who used his subsequent fame to denounce Rwandan leader Paul Kagame as a dictator, was arrested in August 2020 when a plane he believed was bound for Burundi landed instead in the Rwandan capital Kigali.
He is accused of supporting a rebel group blamed for deadly gun, grenade and arson attacks in Rwanda in 2018 and 2019.
His family say Rusesabagina was kidnapped and dismiss the nine charges against him, including terrorism, as payback by a vengeful government for his outspoken views.
Kagame has in turn rejected criticism of the case, saying Rusesabagina was in the dock not because of his fame but over the lives lost “because of his actions.”
“He is here being tried for that. Nothing to do with the film. Nothing to do with celebrity status,” Kagame said in television interview earlier this month, declaring that he would be “fairly tried.”
The trial of Rusesabagina and 20 other defendants began in February.
But the Belgian citizen and US green card holder has boycotted it since March, accusing the court of “unfairness and a lack of independence.”
The United States — which awarded Rusesabagina its Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 — along with the European Parliament and Belgium have raised concerns about his transfer to Rwanda and the fairness of his trial.
US rights group the Lantos Foundation this month urged Britain to reject the credentials of Kigali’s new ambassador to London, Johnston Busingye, saying that when he was justice minister he played a “key role in the extraordinary rendition and kidnapping” of Rusesabagina.
Presiding judge Antoine Muhima has defended the proceedings, saying none of the accused has been denied the right to speak.
The verdict was initially due in August but was put back until Monday.
Rusesabagina was the former manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he sheltered hundreds of guests during the genocide that left 800,000 people dead, mostly ethnic Tutsis.
A decade later the American actor Don Cheadle played Rusesabagina, a moderate Hutu, in the Oscar-nominated blockbuster that brought his story to an international audience.
Rusesabagina soon became disillusioned with the new Tutsi-dominated government led by Kagame, the rebel leader-turned president whose forces ended the mass killings.
He accused Kagame of authoritarian tendencies and left Rwanda in 1996, living in Belgium and then the United States.
Abroad, he used his global platform to crusade for political change in Kigali, and developed close ties with opposition groups in exile.
Kagame’s government accuses Rusesabagina of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rebel group which is blamed for the attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in the attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing.
Prosecutors in June said Rusesabagina “encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts.”
But his co-defendants gave conflicting testimony about the level of Rusesabagina’s involvement with the FLN and its fighters.
His family, who have campaigned globally for his release, say Rusesabagina is a political prisoner and accuse the Rwandan authorities of torturing him in custody.
According to the Hotel Rwanda Foundation, which supports him, they regard the trial as a “farce from start to finish... put in place by the Rwandan government to silence critics” and discourage “future dissent.”
In July, a media investigation claimed that Rusesabagina’s daughter, Carine Kanimba, was spied on using Pegasus malware developed by Israeli company NSO.
Investigators confirmed that a cell phone belonging to Kanimba, a US-Belgian dual national, had been compromised multiple times.
For opposition official Victoire Ingabire, who spent six years in prison for terrorism, the verdict is not in doubt.
“In a country where freedom is limited, all power is in the hands of the executive,” she said.
“How could a judge dare to take a decision incompatible with the wishes of the president?”


Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
Updated 20 September 2021

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots

Sydney COVID-19 cases fall as curbs ease in coronavirus hotspots
  • Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne

SYDNEY: Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Monday reported its lowest rise in daily COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks as some lockdown restrictions were eased in Sydney, the state capital, amid higher vaccination levels.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 935 new cases had been detected in the state, the lowest daily tally since Aug. 27, and down from 1,083 on Sunday. The state reported four more deaths.
“We’re feeling more positive than we have in a couple of weeks ... but I don’t want any of us to sit back and think the worst is behind us,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, warning of more deaths in the days ahead.
“Because we have seen the accumulation of so many cases, we know that October is going to be very challenging for our hospital system.”
Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, forcing officials there to abandon a COVID-zero target and shift to rapid vaccinations to ease curbs.
As the vaccine rollout gathers speed, with 53 percent of NSW’s adult population fully vaccinated, some restrictions were relaxed on Monday in 12 of the worst-hit suburbs in Sydney’s west. Time limits for outdoor exercise were lifted, while fully vaccinated people can gather outside in groups of five.
Neighboring Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, logged one new death and 567 new infections, its biggest daily rise this year, a day after revealing its roadmap back to freedom when vaccinations reach 70 percent, expected around Oct. 26.
So far, 44 percent of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 47 percent.
Meanwhile, several workers protested outside a union office in Melbourne against Victoria’s mandatory vaccination rule in the construction sector, local media reported.
The New Zealand Breakers basketball team, which play in Australia’s National Basketball League, released guard Tai Webster on Monday after he decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Australia has largely lived in COVID-zero for much of the pandemic, recording 1,167 deaths and some 87,000 cases. About 56,000 cases have been registered since mid-June when the first Delta infection was detected in Sydney.
While NSW and Victoria bear the brunt of the Delta outbreak, most other states with little or no community transmission fear opening up too soon could overwhelm their hospital systems.