Saudi Arabia to build King Salman mosque at Islamic varsity campus in Islamabad

Saudi Arabia to build King Salman mosque at Islamic varsity campus in Islamabad
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The proposed design of the mosque that Saudi Arabia will build in Islamabad. (International Islamic University, Islamabad)
Saudi Arabia to build King Salman mosque at Islamic varsity campus in Islamabad
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The proposed design of the mosque that Saudi Arabia will build in Islamabad. (International Islamic University, Islamabad)
Saudi Arabia to build King Salman mosque at Islamic varsity campus in Islamabad
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The proposed design of the mosque that Saudi Arabia will build in Islamabad. (International Islamic University, Islamabad)
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Updated 02 May 2021

Saudi Arabia to build King Salman mosque at Islamic varsity campus in Islamabad

Saudi Arabia to build King Salman mosque at Islamic varsity campus in Islamabad
  • Once ready, it can accommodate 12,000 worshipers and will include a research and cultural center
  • Yasinzai said that the project was “another evidence” of solid ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia will start constructing a mosque named after King Salman bin Abdul Aziz at the new campus of the International Islamic University (IIU) in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, “very soon,” the institute’s rector told Arab News on Saturday.
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has decided to lay the foundation of the King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Mosque within this year, with a capacity of 12,000 worshippers at the new campus of the International Islamic University,” Dr. Masoom Yasinzai said.
“This is not just going to be a mosque but will have a huge complex with a research and cultural center for scholars and students,” he continued, adding that it will also house a library, a museum, and an auditorium named after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Yasinzai said that the project was “another evidence” of solid ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
“The research center will focus on the Arabic language, Islamic culture and heritage. The center will be equipped with digital technology to provide online Arabic courses from Islamabad to the whole world,” the IIU rector said.
He said that researchers from other Muslim countries would also be making intellectual contributions to the center.
“Initially, the construction of the mosque was going to cost Rs. 500 million ($3.3 million),” Yasinzai said. “But now the research and cultural center has also been included in the project, which will raise its cost.”
He added that the proposed model of the mosque was an exceptional representation of Islamic art and architecture.
In addition to that, the IIU official said Saudi Arabia would be sending 15 professors from some of the top universities in the Kingdom to teach Arabic, Shariah law and other Islamic subjects.
“They will come to Islamabad on deputation and will be financed by the Saudi government,” he said. “The Saudi authorities have also announced 250 fully funded scholarships for needy students in Pakistan.”
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s adviser on religious harmony, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, said that the people of Pakistan were thankful to the Saudi government for building the mosque.
“This grand mosque will have the capacity to accommodate 10,000 men and 2,000 women,” he told Arab News.
“It will be yet another monument of the Saudi-Pak friendship and lead to better progress in the bilateral relations of the two countries,” he said.


West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes
Updated 12 May 2021

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes

West and rights groups accuse China of massive Uyghur crimes
  • China’s U.N. Mission sent notes to many of the U.N.’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event”
  • Britain’s U.N. Ambassador called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time”

UNITED NATIONS: Human rights groups and Western nations led by the United States, Britain and Germany accused China of massive crimes against the Uyghur minority.
They also demanded unimpeded access for UN experts at a virtual meeting on Wednesday denounced by China as “politically motivated” and based on “lies.”
China’s UN Mission sent notes to many of the UN’s 193 member nations last week urging them not to participate in the “anti-China event.” And China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun sent text messages to the 15 Western co-sponsors of the meeting expressing shock at their support, urging them to “think twice” and withdraw it.
He warned that if they don’t, it will be “harmful to our relationship and cooperation.”
At the meeting, Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward called the situation in Xinjiang “one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”
“The evidence, from a growing number of credible sources — including satellite imagery, survivor testimony and publicly available Chinese Government documents — is of grave concern,” said Woodward, who previously was the UK ambassador in China. “The evidence points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups. Expressions of religion have been criminalized and Uyghur language and culture are discriminated against systematically and at scale.”
In recent years, an estimated 1 million people or more have been confined in camps in Xinjiang, according to foreign governments and researchers. Most are Uyghurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group. Authorities have been accused of imposing forced labor, systematic forced birth control and torture.
The Chinese government has flatly rejected the allegations. It has characterized the camps, which it says are now closed, as vocational training centers to teach Chinese language, job skills and the law in order to support economic development and combat extremism. China saw a wave of Xinjiang-related terrorist attacks through 2016.
Organizers said there were 152 participants in Wednesday’s event, including 51 countries, and speaker after speaker called on China to end its abuses against the Uyghurs.
Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen thanked “all the co-sponsors who came together despite some massive Chinese threats.”
He urged them to remain committed “until the Uyghurs can live again in freedom, until they are no longer detained, no longer victims of forced labor and other human rights abuses, until they can exercise freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”
Heusgen appealed to China to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “and tear down the detention camps.”
“If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you finally grant unimpeded access to the (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights?” he asked.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration “will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crime against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
“And we will keep working in concert with our allies and our partners until China’s government respects the universal human rights of all its people,” she said.
Uyghur human rights activist Jewher Ilhan spoke about her father Ilham Tohti, a noted economist who has called for autonomy for Xinjiang and is serving a life sentence on separatist-related charges. “We don’t even know if he’s alive,” she said.
“Hundreds of thousands, even millions of Uyghurs are still being targeted,” said Ilhan, who now lives in the United States. “The fate of my father and my community is in the world’s hands now. We all need to join together and take action to stop this humanitarian crisis from continuing.”
A Chinese diplomat countered, saying: “I make it clear that China is here to tell the truth, it doesn’t mean in any way we recognize this event.”
He then showed a short video and said: “The truth is, it‘s not about human rights in Xinjiang, it’s about using Xinjiang as a political tool to contain China. The US and some of its allies make a presumption of guilt, and then fabricate so-called evidence.”
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, whose organization recently concluded that China’s atrocities amount to the crime against humanity of persecution, said the challenge is what to do about it.
“Beijing clearly calculates that through censorship, propaganda, intimidation, and threats it can somehow avoid accountability,” he said, pointing many actions including its “extraordinary lengths of disinviting people” from Wednesday’s event, its “endless charade” that has prevented Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet from visiting Xinjiang, and UN inaction.
Roth expressed disappointment that Bachelet, who was invited to the event, turned down the invitation. “I’m sure she’s busy. We all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today. I certainly wasn’t deterred by the commute — all the way to my laptop,” he said.
“The good news is that the tide seems to be turning,” he said, pointing to more countries condemning China’s crimes. But he said more must be done.
Roth called for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Xinjiang, for moving discussions to the UN Security Council, for seeking avenues to justice including the use of universal jurisdiction, and for considering creation of an international investigative mechanism similar to those for Syria and Myanmar.
“The true test of the significance of today’s event will be the follow-up steps that we all take,” he said.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said the persecution of the Uyghurs is “a critical test” for the international human rights system to investigate allegations of “massive violations” by a government against its own people and hold those responsible accountable.
She called “the silence, fear and timidity” of Bachelet’s office and the UN Secretariat “frankly unacceptable and a breach of their mandate, as are the silence of many states.”
Callamard said supporting a multilateral response to what is happening in Xinjiang is not about “picking sides in a fight with China or supporting the US or anyone else, it is about fighting for human rights.”


Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom

Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom
Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom

Pakistan to train workers for KSA jobs boom
  • Ministry working with Saudi officials to meet demand from Vision 2030 overhaul

KARACHI: Pakistan is hoping to benefit from Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative — the ambitious economic reform program expected to create millions of jobs in the Kingdom — by building its workforce’s professional skills, a top Pakistani official told Arab News on Tuesday.
“I have already directed my ministry to identify the economic sectors at the heart of the Saudi initiative along with the skillsets required to capture the greatest number of emerging employment opportunities,” Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari, special adviser to the prime minister on overseas Pakistanis, told Arab News.
The Vision 2030 program was launched by the Kingdom to reduce its dependence on oil by diversifying the economy and turning the country into a global industrial hub.
Saudi authorities are investing $320 billion to develop the Kingdom’s non-oil sector, including a string of mega-projects and “smart cities” offering inhabitants further innovation in their respective fields.
Bukhari said that his ministry will coordinate with Pakistan’s National Vocational and Technical Training Commission and relevant Saudi organizations on “mutual skill recognition” to utilize future demand.
The ministry is working with Saudi officials to develop a standardized labor contract for Pakistani nationals, he added.
Saudi Arabia is home to over 2 million Pakistani migrants and is the single largest remittance source to the South Asian nation.
Pakistani expatriates in the Kingdom sent home $5.7 billion between July-March 2021, supporting the country’s balance of payments and ensuring stable foreign reserves.
In an interview with Pakistan’s state-owned news channel on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan praised the role of Pakistani expatriates in the development and progress of his country.
“We have a very ambitious plan, Vision 2030,” he said. “Under that plan, we expect to grow significantly the employment base in the Kingdom. That means, of course, that there will be significant opportunities for additional employment for Pakistani nationals.”
The Saudi foreign minister invited the Pakistani business community to benefit from the emerging investment opportunities in the Kingdom.
“We also hope that Pakistani businesses will continue to increase their investment in the Kingdom because there are some very successful entrepreneurs who I think will find excellent and exciting opportunities,” he said.
Prince Faisal also highlighted labor reforms to provide foreign workers with flexible job opportunities.
“We have recently undergone significant labor reforms which have improved the flexibility of third-country labor within the Saudi labor market. They are now free to transfer their work from one employer to another,” he said.
Pakistani experts say the country needs to train its workforce to meet market requirements in other countries.
“Apart from the construction sector, foreign countries are now demanding knowledge-based labor,” Haroon Sharif, member of the prime minister’s task force on economic diplomacy, told Arab News.
“It is imperative we provide new and specialized training to our workforce in view of the changing demand in international markets, and our universities can play a pivotal role in that,” he said.
“We can also achieve the desired objective by involving the countries for which we are training our labor force.”

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‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India

‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India
Updated 12 May 2021

‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India

‘A hell out here’: COVID-19 ravages rural India
  • The disease has rampaged through the countryside, leaving families to weep over the dead in rural hospitals or camp in wards to tend the sick
  • Indian state leaders clamoured for vaccines to stop the second wave and the devastation that it has wrought

NEW DELHI: India’s coronavirus death toll crossed 250,000 on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began.
The disease has rampaged through the countryside, leaving families to weep over the dead in rural hospitals or camp in wards to tend the sick.
Boosted by highly infectious variants, the second wave erupted in February to inundate hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoriums and mortuaries.
Experts still cannot say for sure when the figures will peak.
Indian state leaders clamoured for vaccines to stop the second wave and the devastation that it has wrought, urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help them procure urgent supplies from overseas.
Deaths grew by a record 4,205 while infections rose 348,421 in the 24 hours to Wednesday, taking the tally past 23 million, health ministry data showed. Experts believe the actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.
Funeral pyres have blazed in city parking lots, and bodies have washed up on the banks of the holy river Ganges, having been immersed by relatives whose villages were stripped bare of the wood needed for cremations.
Lacking beds, drugs and oxygen, many hospitals in the world’s second-most populous nation have been forced to turn away droves of sufferers, while tales of desperate relatives searching for someone to treat dying loved ones have become sickeningly commonplace.
Although the infection curve may be showing early signs of flattening, new cases are likely to fall off slowly, according to virologist Shahid Jameel.
“We seem to be plateauing around 400,000 cases a day,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted him as saying. “It is still too early to say whether we have reached the peak.”
Indians need vaccines “here and now,” the chief minister of West Bengal state, Mamata Banerjee, said in a letter to Modi. India has fully vaccinated barely 2.5 percent of the population.
Delhi had run out of its reserves of shots and had to close down several centers, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia told reporters.
India is using the AstraZeneca vaccine made at the Serum Institute in the western city of Pune and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech but production is well short of the millions of doses required.
The country accounts for half of COVID-19 cases and 30 percent of deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization said in its latest weekly report.
The full impact of the B.1.617 variant found in India, which the WHO has designated as being of global concern, is not yet clear, it added.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government was looking at all possible solutions to tackle a surge in cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in India, including in the northern English town of Bolton.
“It may be more transmissible ... maybe even considerably more transmissible,” he told parliament.
Daily infections are shooting up in the Indian countryside in comparison to big towns, where they have slowed after last month’s surge, experts say.
More than half the cases this week in the western state of Maharashtra were in rural areas, up from a third a month ago. That share is nearly two-thirds in the most populous, and mainly rural, state of Uttar Pradesh, government data showed.
Television showed images of people weeping over the bodies of loved ones in ramshackle rural hospitals while others camped in wards tending to the sick.
A pregnant woman was taking care of her husband who had breathing difficulties in a hospital in Bhagalpur in the eastern state of Bihar, which is seeing a case surge its health system could barely have handled at the best of times.
“There is no doctor here, she sleeps the whole night here, taking care of her husband,” the woman’s brother told India Today television.
In a corridor outside, two sons were wailing over the body of their father, saying repeatedly that he could have been saved if only he had been given a bed in an intensive care unit.
At the general hospital in Bijnor, a town in northern Uttar Pradesh, a woman lay in a cot next to a garbage can and medical waste.
“How can someone get treated if the situation is like this?” asked her son, Sudesh Tyagi. “It is a hell out here.”


Ocasio-Cortez slams fellow Democrat for supporting Israel airstrikes

Ocasio-Cortez slams fellow Democrat for supporting Israel airstrikes
Updated 12 May 2021

Ocasio-Cortez slams fellow Democrat for supporting Israel airstrikes

Ocasio-Cortez slams fellow Democrat for supporting Israel airstrikes
  • ‘Utterly shameful,’ says US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York mayoral candidate
  • Andrew Yang disinvited from Eid event following his comments

LONDON: US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday criticized New York mayoral candidate and Democratic colleague Andrew Yang for scheduling a campaign event around the celebration of Eid Al-Fitr after voicing his support for Israel amid its Gaza airstrikes.

Yang on Monday said: “I’m standing with the people of Israel who are coming under bombardment attacks, and condemn the Hamas terrorists.”

He added: “The people of NYC (New York City) will always stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel who face down terrorism and persevere.” His tweet has since attracted some 35,000 retweets, many of them highly critical.

Yang, who had organized to distribute groceries to Muslim families in the Astoria neighborhood, was disinvited from the event.

Ocasio-Cortez wrote: “Utterly shameful for Yang to try to show up to an Eid event after sending out a chest-thumping statement of support for a strike killing 9 children, especially after his silence as Al-Aqsa was attacked. But then to try that in Astoria? During Ramadan?! They will let you know.”

The hashtag #YangSupportsGenocide started trending on Twitter soon after Ocasio-Cortez’s comments.


Barnier calls for immigration ban as he weighs French presidential run

Barnier calls for immigration ban as he weighs French presidential run
Updated 12 May 2021

Barnier calls for immigration ban as he weighs French presidential run

Barnier calls for immigration ban as he weighs French presidential run
  • The EU’s Brexit negotiator also appears to back a ban on headscarves worn in public
  • His comments come at a time of heightened rhetoric around immigration and Islam in France

LONDON: Michel Barnier, the French lawyer who led the EU’s Brexit negotiations, has called for a five-year ban on immigration into Europe, referring to the bloc’s borders and internal Schengen passport-free zone as a “sieve.”

Barnier, 70, said he will wait until autumn to make a decision about whether to stand for the French presidency next year. His comments come at a time of heightened rhetoric around immigration and Islam in France.

Barnier said an immigration ban would help fight crime and terrorism domestically, and ease tensions that have led to a surge in support for far-right candidates.

“The problems of immigration are not trifling. As a politician, I know how to see the problems as they are and how the French people experience them, and how to find solutions,” he added.

“I think we have to take the time for three or five years to suspend immigration, but not all immigrants are potential terrorists, or criminals — notably those who cross the Mediterranean for a better life.”

Barnier expressed sympathy for hundreds of retired and serving French military personnel who signed letters in recent weeks referring to the dangers posed to France of “Islamist hordes.” 

He also appeared to back calls for a ban on headscarves worn in public, a policy that would disproportionately affect Muslim women. “We must clearly reaffirm that religious insignia cannot enter the public space,” he said.

A swing to harsher views on migration and Islam has become increasingly mainstream in France, with President Emmanuel Macron also having called for tighter controls on borders and a review of the Schengen Agreement.

Far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, Macron’s biggest rival for the presidency, has also called for a temporary end to immigration from outside the EU, to be replaced by a limit of just 10,000 people per year.