Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis
  • Most Mumbai vaccine centers closed, city mayor tells Arab News

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of complacency and missteps in the handling of the pandemic by the country’s main opposition party, after six states reported a shortage of coronavirus vaccines and more than 145,000 new infections were recorded on Saturday.

The Congress Party also blamed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for prioritizing “vaccine diplomacy” by exporting vaccine doses instead of reserving them for domestic use.

“The Modi government has mismanaged the situation – exported vaccines and allowed a shortage to be created in India,” Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi said during a special meeting on Saturday to address the COVID-19 crisis.

“We must focus on India’s vaccination drive first and foremost, then only export vaccines and gift them to other countries.”

She emphasized the need for “responsible behavior” and adhering to all laws and COVID-19 regulations “without exception.”

But the government insisted there were enough vaccines in stock, accusing the opposition of “playing politics” even as India grappled with a deadly second wave of infections.

“There is no shortage of vaccines,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News, adding that state governments were following the “procedure laid down by the center.”

Six opposition-ruled states said earlier this week that they were running out of vaccines and would be forced to discontinue the vaccination drive if the central government did not send supplies.

One of the worst affected states is western India’s Maharashtra, which recorded 58,993 new cases on Saturday out of the nationwide total of 145,384.

“There are 108 vaccines centers in Mumbai, but most of them have been closed due to a lack of vaccines,” Mumbai Mayor Kishori Kishore Pandekar told Arab News.

“The number of doses we have cannot last more than two days. If this is the situation in India’s financial capital Mumbai, imagine the case in remote areas of the state.”

Pune, one of Maharashtra’s biggest cities, has also run out of vaccines.

“We have not been vaccinating since Thursday in Pune, and we don’t know when the next lot of doses will arrive in the city,” Dr. Avinash V. Bhondwe, president of the Indian Medical Association’s Maharashtra wing, told Arab News.

The eastern state of Odisha has reported a shortage in doses, leading to the closure of 700 vaccination centers, according to media reports.

Verma said the current situation was due to the “desperate” measures taken by state governments.

“People above 45 years was the target group for the vaccination (drive). Some state governments are getting desperate, and they want to give vaccines to one and all. This is not possible for a (country with a) size like India. Vaccine production and export needs have been calibrated.”

But the BJP’s explanation did not satisfy Pankaj Vohra, from the New Delhi suburb of Noida, who went to hospital on Friday for his second jab but could not get vaccinated due to a shortage.

“A day before going to the hospital, I got a confirmation that I should come for the second dose,” he told Arab News. “But when I reached the hospital, I was told that the Covishield vaccine was available and not Covaxin. If the government cannot fulfil its domestic demand, why is it exporting vaccines?”

India has allowed permission for the emergency use of Covishield – the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India – and Covaxin, directed by Bharat Biotech in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.

It launched its vaccination drive on Jan. 16 and has inoculated 94 million people, far below the initial target of 300 million.

Only 12.5 percent of the 94 million have received the second dose, based on an advisory by the Health Ministry, which recommends a 28-day gap between the first and second dose.

“The government did plan the vaccination drive,” Dr. Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based public health expert, told Arab News. “Most of the developed countries made arrangements that they get enough doses of vaccines when they need them, but the Indian government did nothing about it.”

He wondered why just two companies in India were producing vaccines, and suggested the government use a compulsory licensing policy and allow other local companies to produce them.

“That way, you could have a large number of vaccines available,” he added.

There has been increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the past few weeks following a leap in cases, with Saturday’s daily infections rising by a record for the fifth time this week.

Last week experts told Arab News that India was on its way to becoming the “ground zero and global epicenter” for the coronavirus outbreak.

“The rising number of cases is due to the government’s failure to implement preventive measures,” Jesani said. “Political leadership is unhindered in their political campaigns addressing huge gatherings without following any COVID-19 protocol.”

Bhondwe urged the government to allow more companies to produce vaccines in India and to allow more foreign vaccines to come to India.

“People are in a state of panic, and they see some hope in vaccines. The government should not disappoint its people.”


Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
Updated 13 sec ago

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab

Father of MP’s suspected killer ‘despises terrorists’ after run-ins with Al-Shabaab
  • Ali Harbi Ali, 25, accused of stabbing David Amess to death on Friday
  • His father faced death threats from extremists while working for Somali government

LONDON: The father of the suspect accused of murdering British MP David Amess is said to “despise terrorists” after being targeted himself with death threats by Somali extremists.
Ali Harbi Ali, 25, from London, is being held by police over the suspected murder of Amess on Friday.
Ali is estranged from his parents, the Daily Mail reported, and his father Harbi Ali Kullane is said to “despise terrorists” after his time working alongside the Somali prime minister before coming to the UK in 1996.
A security source told the Daily Telegraph that Kullane was himself involved in countering extremist narratives while working with the Somali government.
The source said: “He was quite involved in countering Al-Shabaab’s message in his role as comms director, and he received death threats from them for doing so, which is common for anyone involved in a high-profile position in the government.”
Ali was referred to Britain’s counterterrorism program five years ago after his teachers noticed his views becoming increasingly radical.
Estranged from his family, the young man was enamored with hate preacher Anjem Choudary, who had himself been jailed on terrorism-related charges until recently.
Choudary’s videos, his former friends told The Sun, turned Ali from a “popular pupil into an extremist.”
Kullane has reportedly been in contact with British security services, who are analyzing Ali’s phone and looking for an explanation as to his movements and thought processes ahead of the sudden attack.
Officials are reportedly not yet clear on why the man chose Amess as the target, but a government insider told the Daily Telegraph: “He was unlucky. He was not targeted because of his political party. David Amess was not specifically targeted.”
Amess, 69, was stabbed 17 times during the attack, which took place during his surgery — weekly open meetings in which politicians meet their local constituents.
The attack has raised questions in Britain over the effectiveness of its de-radicalization program Prevent, which was already under review after a string of other terrorist incidents.
There have also been concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and its restrictions to daily life might have radicalized more individuals, as people are spending more time alone and online.
“Counter-terror police and MI5 have been concerned for some time that once we emerged out of lockdown there would be more people out on the streets and more targets for the terrorists,” a security source told the Daily Telegraph.


UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
Updated 18 October 2021

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise

UK govt urged to make good on Shariah-compliant loans promise
  • Survey: Thousands of Muslims miss out on university every year because they cannot access Shariah-compliant finance
  • Implementation of Islamic loan system a ‘question of political priority,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: MPs, campaigners and Islamic finance professionals will deliver a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday urging him to take action that would end the annual exclusion of thousands of British Muslims from higher education.

A survey by the Muslim Census, published on Monday, found that thousands of young British Muslims choose not to go to university every year because the loans they rely upon to fund their studies bear interest.

“There is a genuine and widespread need for ASF (alternative student financing), and its absence is leading to unequal access to university,” reads the letter signed by Lord Sharkey, MP David Timms, Islamic Finance Guru CEO Ibrahim Khan, Rizwan Yusoof of the National Zakat Foundation and Asha Hassan, a student finance campaigner.

It is religiously prohibited for Muslims to borrow or lend money upon which interest is paid. This means British-Muslim students are forced to pay up to £9,000 ($12,361) per year upfront for their education, as well as cover all their own living expenses.

Muslim Census found that of its survey’s 36,000 respondents, roughly 10 percent missed out on higher education entirely because of a lack of alternative financing options.

A further one in six self-financed their education, which “resulted in severe restrictions with regards to which course and university they decide to attend,” it said.

Extrapolated to the UK’s Muslim population as a whole, these results mean that more than 4,000 potential students are forgoing a university education every year, while close to 6,000 are forced to self-fund.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to deal with the inequity in access to education for Muslims, saying: “Never again should a Muslim in Britain feel unable to go to university because they cannot get a student loan simply because of their religion.”

But nearly 10 years since that promise was first made, Muslims are still being forced to choose whether to pursue an education or stick to the principles of their religion, Hassan told Arab News.

“This is really important to our community, but we’ve so far felt like we have no voice. This letter is hopefully a chance for the prime minister to see that this is a big issue,” she said.

“There are thousands and thousands of students who have the grades, the ambition, the aspiration, but because they don’t feel like they can compromise on their religious convictions, they’re left with no option,” she added.

“Four out of five Muslims who do take out loans feel conflicted by it, but they’re in a position where they feel like they can’t do anything else about it.”

Omar Shaikh, managing director of the UK Islamic Finance Council, told Arab News that the creation of a financing system for British Muslims is “workable” and that its creation is a matter of politics, not practicality.

“UKIFC was appointed by the Department of Education to put together a detailed product that’s efficiently implementable and works at parity with the existing student loans system,” he said. 

“Following various workshops and input from the Student Loans Co., Shariah scholars, the Department for Education and lawyers, we were successfully able to create a workable pragmatic structure. We know it can be done and isn’t onerous to do so,” he added.

“It’s now a question of political priority. We look forward to the government progressing matters, and commend the Department for Education for driving this inclusive policy.”


French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat
Updated 18 October 2021

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat

French ambassador ordered out of Belarus in diplomatic spat
  • France’s Foreign Minister said ambassador’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities
  • Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the emergency departure of the French ambassador is connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko

PARIS: France says that its ambassador to Belarus has been ordered out of the country.
In a communique Monday, France’s Foreign Minister said that Ambassador Nicolas de Lacosate’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities.
Local media say the move to kick the ambassador out is linked to a fallout over the non-recognition by France, and other European Union countries, of Lukashenko’s re-election in August 2020.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the emergency departure of the French ambassador from the country is connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko.
“The head of the French diplomatic mission did not express readiness to complete the procedure for assuming office as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Belarus, which is stipulated by international law and generally recognized practice,” said Anatoly Glaz, press secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
France’s Foreign Ministry explained that de Lacoste did not present his credentials to Lukashenko because it was “in line with the common European position of not recognizing the legitimacy of the outcome of the August 2020 presidential election.”
Lukashenko claimed victory in a sixth presidential term but the election was marred by claims of widespread voter fraud. More than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police for protesting against Lukashenko’s sixth term after an election in August 2020 that the opposition condemned as fraudulent and many Western countries refused to recognize as valid.
The French ambassador arrived in Minsk after the controversial presidential election. In December, he handed copies of his credentials to the Belarusian foreign minister, but did not want to meet with Lukashenko.
De Lacoste actively met with representatives of civil society and politicians in Belarus. Among the latest meetings were negotiations in Minsk with activists of the opposition “Tell the Truth” movement, which was closed by the authorities. And also a meeting on Oct. 16 with the ex-leader of Belarus Stanislav Shushkevich, who sharply criticizes the current government.
Belarusian opposition figure Pavel Latushko — a former Belarusian ambassador to France — called on the French ambassador to continue his mission from Lithuania.
“The French Ambassador may continue his mission in the interests of developing relations between France and Belarusian society from Vilnius,” Latushko said. “The regime is entering open conflict both with neighboring countries and with the leading states in world politics.”
Calling it an “unjustified decision,” France said it has taken proportionate measures regarding Belarusian diplomats in France. Belarusian Ambassador to France Igor Fisenko was recalled to Minsk for consultations, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.


Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
Updated 18 October 2021

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north

Gunmen kill dozens in Nigeria’s troubled north
  • Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorised northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages
  • "We're not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something," Sokoto's government spokesman Muhammad Bello said

ABUJA: Gunmen from a suspected criminal gang attacked a village market in northwest Nigeria’s Sokoto’s state killing dozens of people, the state government said Monday.
Heavily armed gangs known locally as bandits have terrorized northwest and central Nigeria for years, raiding and looting villages, but attacks have become even more violent in recent months.
“We’re not sure of the (death toll) figure. But it is 30 something,” Sokoto’s government spokesman Muhammad Bello said in a statement, adding that the attack occurred on Sunday evening in Goronyo district.
“It was a market day and there were many traders,” Bello told AFP by phone.
Police spokesman Sanusi Abubakar also confirmed that bandits attacked Goronyo late on Sunday.
“Our sercurity operatives are there to conduct investigations,” Abubakar added, without giving details.
Phone networks in the area have been suspended for weeks to disrupt the gangs’ operations, making information-gathering tricky.
A gang raided another village market on October 8, in Sabon Birni district near the border with Niger, killing 19 people.
Since last month, Nigerian troops have been conducting air and ground operations on bandit camps in neighboring Zamfara state.
Telecom services were also shut down in Zamfara, and parts of Kaduna and Katsina states.
Officials in Sokoto are worried that bandits are relocating to the state as a result of operations in Zamfara.
“We’re faced and bedevilled by many security challenges in our own area here, particularly banditry, kidnapping and other associated crimes,” wrote Bello, on behalf of the state governor.
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, he said, had requested “the presence of more forces in the state and the deployment of more resources.”
Last month 17 Nigerian security personnel were killed when gunmen attacked their base in Sabon Birni, an assault the military blamed on Islamic State-aligned jihadists.
Bandits have no known ideological agenda, but concerns have grown of jihadist inroads in the region.
Violence has spiralled in recent months across the northwest, forcing thousands of already vulnerable people to flee their homes in a situation that aid agencies fear risks becoming a humanitarian crisis.
Since January 2020, about 50,000 people fled from their homes in the northwest alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
And more than 80,000 additional people have fled to neighboring Niger over the past two years.
Increasingly, bandits have turned to mass kidnapping and have kidnapped hundreds of schoolchildren since December. Most have been freed or released after ransom but dozens are still being held.
The violence is just one challenge facing Nigeria’s security forces, who are also battling a 12-year jihadist insurgency in the northeast that has killed more than 40,000 people.


Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names
Updated 18 October 2021

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names

Muhammad again among UK’s most popular baby names
  • Muslim names including Ibrahim and Yusuf continue to gain popularity
  • Pop culture and royalty informing naming trends for new parents

LONDON: Muhammad was the fifth most popular name for male British babies in 2020, the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealed on Monday.

Mohammed and Mohammad were also among the 100 most popular baby boy names in the UK – ranking 32 and 74 – though neither came close to the Muhammad spelling.

Noah, an important figure in all three Abrahamic religions, was the fourth most popular name for male British babies.

Two other Muslim names — Ibrahim and Yusuf — made it into the top 100 for 2020. All three spellings of the prophet’s name, as well as Yusuf and Ibrahim, have been climbing in popularity consistently since 1996, ONS data shows.

Muslims from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds transliterate the name Muhammad differently into English, but all are named in reverence of Islam’s most loved figure.

Despite being spelled differently by different groups, the origins and intention behind the naming are likely shared by each culture and ethnicity employing it. 

It is likely that the name is even more popular than the ONS rankings suggest, but the methodology of dividing names based on their spellings makes it unclear exactly how it ranks against other top names.

Other popular names for male British babies included George, Oliver, and Arthur. The eldest child of Prince William and Kate Middleton is called George, while the middle name of their third child is Arthur.

Sian Bradford, a statistics officer at the ONS, said: “Popular culture continues to provide inspiration for baby names, whether it’s characters in our favorite show or trending celebrities. Maeve and Otis, characters from the program ‘Sex Education,’ have seen a surge in popularity in 2020. While the name Margot has been rapidly climbing since actress Margot Robbie appeared in the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’”

Archie leapt into the top 10 of baby names for boys — likely because Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle chose that name for their firstborn.