Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt

Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt
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Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed during an interview on the sidelines of the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) summit on Dec. 14, 2018 in Katowice, Poland. (File/AFP)
Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt
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Soldiers secure a site after a bomb blast injured former Maldives president and current parliament speaker Mohamed Nasheed in Male on May 6, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 07 May 2021

Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt

Maldives ex-president ‘critical’ after assassination attempt
  • Nasheed is the Maldives’ first democratically elected president
  • He has undergone 16 hours of life-saving operations in the capital Male for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs after the explosion

MALÉ, Maldives: Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed was in a “critical” condition on Friday following an assassination attempt, doctors said.
Nasheed, 53, the Maldives’ first democratically elected president and still an important figure in the island nation’s murky politics, was rushed to hospital after an explosion late Thursday.
Since then he has undergone 16 hours of life-saving operations in the capital Male for injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs.
The private ADK hospital said Friday evening that Nasheed was “in a critical condition in intensive care.”
In a televised address to the nation, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced that a team from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) would arrive Saturday to help with the investigation into the blast.
Solih described the attack as an assault on the fledgling democracy, promising the perpetrators “would face the full force of the law.”
Police said officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have also been asked to assist in the investigation.
Maldivian police said they were treating Thursday’s bomb attack as a “deliberate act of terror” and urged the public to provide any information that could identify the perpetrators.
Police said a device attached to a motorcycle was detonated as Nasheed got into a car in the capital.
The hospital said earlier that shrapnel had been removed from one of his lungs and from his liver but that another piece was still in the same organ.
“We are hopeful of a full recovery,” said a family member who did not want to be named, adding that Nasheed was responsive and spoke with doctors when he was admitted.
One of his bodyguards as well as a British national were also wounded and taken to hospital.
The Indian Ocean nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims is best known for its luxury holiday resorts popular with honeymooners, but it suffers from regular political turmoil.
There was no claim of responsibility for Thursday’s bomb attack, but officials close to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said they suspected vested political interests opposed to his anti-corruption drive.
Nasheed had vowed to investigate a $90-million theft from the state’s tourism promotion authority during the tenure of former president Abdulla Yameen.
“There are some dormant Islamists who could have collaborated with political elements threatened by Nasheed’s anti-corruption drive,” an MDP source told AFP.
The government has cracked down on extremism and foreign preachers are banned.
Violent attacks have been rare, though a dozen foreign tourists were wounded by a bomb blast in Male in 2007.
The Islamic State claimed a boat arson attack last year, but there is little evidence the group has a presence in the archipelago.
Nasheed, a liberal, is maybe best known internationally for holding a 2009 underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the threat of global warming, signing documents as officials wore scuba gear against a backdrop of coral reefs.
He was toppled in a military-backed coup in February 2012, convicted on a charge of terrorism and jailed for 13 years.
He left the country on prison leave for medical treatment and sought refuge in Britain.
He returned after his nominee Solih won the presidency in 2018, winning parliamentary elections the next year to become speaker.
Messages of support for Nasheed poured in on Friday from neighboring India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka as well as Western nations, which have strongly backed his pro-democracy and environmental activism.


Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India
Updated 16 June 2021

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India

Uncertainty looms over successor as head of ‘world’s largest family’ dies in India
  • Chana, aged 76, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, 36 grandchildren

NEW DELHI: A question mark was on Tuesday hanging over who would become the new head of reportedly the world’s largest family, two days after the death of 76-year-old Ziona Chana.

Chana, patriarch of a Christian religious sect of 2,000 people that practiced polygamy, died in Aizawl, capital of India’s Mizoram state, on Sunday, without naming a successor.

The cult leader, who was believed to have suffered from diabetes and hypertension, is survived by 38 wives, 89 children, and 36 grandchildren.

His eldest son, 60-year-old Para Nunparliana, told Arab News: “The successor will be decided by the church. First, the burial will take place, and then the church will decide.” He has two wives and 11 children and is widely tipped to be the next in line to head the 163-member family.

Meanwhile, Chana’s daughter Thartei Chhuanthar, 50, told Arab News: “A special burial chamber is being prepared for our father, and he will be laid to rest in the next two to three days.”

Mother-of-four Chhuanthar is Chana’s fifth child but does not know how many siblings she has. “It’s difficult to say,” she said.

She grew up in the remote village of Baktawng, more than 50 kilometers from her present home in Aizawl and spent a major part of her life with the extended family.

“My father was shy and a man of few words. He did not speak much, but he did love everyone equally. There was no favoritism. He was gifted, and he wrote songs for the children to learn on every Sunday school,” she added.

The Chana family lives in a four-storey building with 100 rooms in Baktawng, and a separate school and playground has been allotted to it in the village.

The family runs the Chana Pawl sect with most of its followers residing around Chana’s house in Baktawng.

Chhuanthar said that while the family was Christian, its members did “not follow normal practices of the church. Chhuanthar kohhran means church of the new generation. They believe that they are the selected ones, going through the great road toward heaven. And will reach their destination in the flesh.”

Claims that Chana headed the world’s largest family have been disputed, with media reports suggesting that Winston Blackmore, leader of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives, making a total family membership of 178 people.

However, in a condolence message to the Chana family, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga described it as “the world’s largest family,” and it has featured twice on TV show “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”

During the 1990s, Baktawng village became something of a global tourist attraction on the back of the family’s notoriety.

Founded by Pu Khuangtuaha in 1942, the polygamous sect was taken over by his brother, Pu Chana, after Khuangtuaha’s death and later by his son, Ziona Chana.

“I expect that after our father’s death, my elder brother Para will take over too,” Chhuanthar said.

Chana first married at the age of 17, with his last wedding taking place in his 50s. During a 2007 interview with Arab News, Chana said: “I want to expand the family as much as possible.”


Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
Updated 16 June 2021

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation

Afghan translators of departing foreign forces face a mortal danger: Taliban retaliation
  • Planned withdrawal by US and NATO troops will leave thousands of interpreters and other assistants exposed
  • Process of resettlement in Western countries complicated by need for recommendation letters and other documents

KABUL: Back in the spring of 2013, Tajik Mohammed was enjoying his leave in the small garden of his family home in the lush village of Kapisa when he learnt that the Taliban had put him on a blacklist. His crime? He was working as a translator for the US military.

Under cover of night, the high-school graduate was forced to flee 110 kilometers south to Kabul, the Afghan capital, where he has remained ever since. His family followed after the Taliban “threw a hand grenade one day” at their house, thinking he was there.

Mohammed, 32, worked for American troops in restive Ghazni province, which lies on the main highway leading to the Taliban’s bastion of support in the south.

He subsequently lost his job for failing to return to duty on time because he could not travel by air from Kapisa to Ghazni. He pointed out that if he had taken the trip by road, the Taliban would have killed him.

He and thousands like him are living in fear. In April, US President Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the estimated 3,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan by September, 20 years after the Al-Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Officials at the US embassy said they could not provide data on the percentage of applicants who had been turned down for special immigration visas or the number of former translators and employees who had been killed over the years. (AFP)

The withdrawals started on May 1. Departing with the American forces are their NATO allies and thousands of foreign military contractors. They leave behind those Afghans who have worked as translators, cooks, cleaners, and guards. Many are fearful that the militants will seek retaliation.

US-led efforts to reconcile the Taliban with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul have not borne fruit since talks began in Qatar last year.

Last week the Taliban, a grouping of mainly Pashtun militants who harbored Osama bin Laden and ruled Afghanistan for five years until 2001, said that they no longer considered the former employees of foreign forces as “foes.” But the militants noted that the workers needed to show “remorse” and should not use “danger” as an excuse to bolster their push for a “fake asylum case.”

In the past, the Taliban openly preached that Afghan translators should be killed. “You are a legitimate target for the Taliban even if you have served for one day for the foreign forces. I have no faith in the Taliban’s promise,” Mohammed told Arab News.

“Who killed so many journalists and civil society activists? Of course, (it was) the Taliban. But they did not take responsibility for them. We risked our lives while working for the foreign forces and now that they are leaving, there is no guarantee at all for our future and we face risk again,” he said.

Mohammed is a member of the Afghans Left Behind Association (ALBA), a union of 2,000 former translators and workers. The group was recently formed with the purpose of highlighting the voices and concerns of those who say they will be targeted once NATO forces leave.

Last week, ALBA held its first large-scale gathering under tight security in Kabul. A number of the former translators wore masks to protect their identities. No One Left Behind, an American non-profit organization that advocates for the relocation of Afghan interpreters to the US, said that according to US media reports more than 300 translators or their relatives had been killed since 2014.

Omid Mahmoodi, an ALBA press officer, said the Taliban killed at least one member of the union, named as Sohail Pardis, as he was driving in Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

In April, US President Joe Biden announced that he would be withdrawing the estimated 3,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan by September. (AFP)

Another translator said he had moved to Kabul from his native Nangarhar province after receiving a threatening telephone call, naming him as an “apostate” who “deserved to be killed.”

Thousands have submitted applications for special immigration visas (SIVs) which allow them to emigrate to the US. Successful applicants need to prove that they served with US forces for at least two years and demonstrate that they provided “faithful and valuable service.”

This is usually attested by US military officers in the form of a letter of recommendation. Successful applicants typically also need to show that they have received evidence that they had been threatened. Those who are unsuccessful often lack documentation or are the subject of “derogatory information.”

The translators have been the eyes and ears for American troops and accompanied them during military campaigns against the Taliban and other militants. They have helped with the arrests of insurgents as well as the controversial searching of homes.

They have also acted as cultural advisers in what is a highly conservative society, helping foreign troops understand tribal, ethnic, and religious sensitivities, while in addition coordinating with Afghan forces.

Mohammed has recently applied for an SIV at the American embassy in Kabul. Thousands of translators from Afghanistan and Iraq have relocated to America using this mechanism as a reward for helping the US troops. “The answer I got through an embassy email asked me why I was terminated, where my recommendation letters were, etc,” he said.

“But the people we worked with in the US military have gone home, changed their addresses and even their profession, so it is tough for us to get hold of them, get the answers and pass them to the embassy here.”

Officials at the US embassy said they could not provide data on the percentage of applicants who had been turned down for an SIV or the number of former translators and employees who had been killed over the years.

Feraidoon, a 28-year-old former translator in Ghazni, told Arab News that he had had his SIV rejected in 2015 but had recently applied again. “The embassy says I do not have sufficient recommendation letters. We have no trust in the Taliban and see no commitment in them because they consider us as traitors, sell-outs and spies,” he said.

Mohammed Basir, 46, who worked for five years with French troops in Kapisa until 2013, said he had appeared in press conferences while translating on TV and had become a “known face” and feared reprisal. “The Taliban will spare no time to behead us if they capture people like me,” he added.

The Taliban said those who worked with foreign forces needed to show “remorse” and should not use “danger” as an excuse to bolster their push for a “fake asylum case.” (AN photo/Sayed Salahuddin)

A number of former translators whose cases were denied in the past have fled Afghanistan, according to ALBA. Akhtar Mohammed Shirzai escaped to India in 2013 with his family. He has been living there since in the hope that he will be able settle in a coalition country because he served with NATO’s media branch.

He applied for an SIV from India in 2016 but was rejected because he did not have a letter of recommendation from his superiors in Kabul. He applied again in May and is now waiting anxiously.

On the Taliban’s offer of an amnesty, Shrizai said: “I heard about it, but I personally do not believe in that because the Taliban are not monolithic. There are different groups with different ideologies and thinking among them.”

In Kabul, Ayazuddin Hilal, who worked for American forces in a number of regions, said the former translators “could not attend wedding ceremonies or funerals back in their villages and even in secure areas where they live. Residents of the area do not treat them well because of their service for the foreign forces.”

He noted that a friend and colleague had also wanted to move to Kabul because of security threats in Nangarhar but was killed by a bomb blast. “I hope the politicians in the US and other capitals take a wise decision on our fate,” he added.

Twitter: @sayedsalahuddin


Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours

Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours
Updated 15 June 2021

Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours

Italian island in plea for help after 600 migrants arrive in 24 hours
  • Eight boats carrying 634 people, including a five-month-old baby, have arrived at Lampedusa, south of Sicily, since early Tuesday
  • Lampedusa’s mayor, Salvatore Martello, said that almost 1,370 people are now staying at the Imbriacola migrant reception center, a facility designed for 250 occupants

ROME: The Italian island of Lampedusa is struggling to cope after more than 600 migrants landed on its shores in less than 24 hours.

Eight boats carrying 634 people, including a five-month-old baby, from North Africa have arrived at the Mediterranean island, south of Sicily, since early Tuesday, overwhelming migrant facilities and leaving services on the brink of collapse.

More than 380 migrants of various nationalities were crowded onto one fishing boat alone.

“We intercepted a boat at dawn with 85 people on board. A small boat carrying 13 Tunisians landed later, followed by another with 12 men from Morocco and Sudan,” Admiral Roberto Isidori, commander of the Sicilian Coast Guard, told Arab News.

“All those on board were in very bad condition.”

Four other boats carrying at least 100 people reached the island — viewed as a gateway to Europe by migrants — in quick succession.

These groups were in addition to the 442 people who landed on Monday.

Mayor of Lampedusa Salvatore Martello. (AFP)

Lampedusa’s mayor, Salvatore Martello, told Arab News that almost 1,370 people are now staying at the Imbriacola migrant reception center, a facility designed for 250 occupants.

“The conditions facing migrants are very hard as we are experiencing a heatwave,” he added.

Agrigento authorities have arranged for 100 migrants who have been identified and tested negative for COVID-19 to be transferred by ferry to Porto Empedocle, an industrial port in the south of Sicily.

“From there we will try to send them to other reception centers, although all the facilities in Sicily and Calabria are already full beyond capacity,” Isidori said.

Other migrants could also be transferred on quarantine ships and patrol boats.

“In Lampedusa, the situation is unsustainable, both for the migrants and the local population, which is showing generosity to those people who endured a long, dangerous trip reach the island,” Urania Papatheu, a Forza Italia senator, told Arab News.

“What is happening is intolerable and unacceptable. It’s time for the EU to take action and hear to the calls for help from the Italian government. Enough with words from the EU. The time has come for facts and solidarity — Italy cannot be left alone.”

About 40 migrants from Algeria who landed on the southern coast of Sardinia also have been transferred to the migrant reception center in Monastir where they will be kept in quarantine.


Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus

Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus
Updated 15 June 2021

Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus

Ryanair CEO says diverted flight had to land in Belarus
  • Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary appeared before a British Parliament committee to give evidence on the May 23 diversion
  • The pilot was put under “considerable pressure” to land in Belarus

LONDON: The pilot of a Ryanair flight that was diverted to Belarus last month, leading to the arrest of a dissident Belarusian journalist, had no alternative but to land in Minsk, the airline’s head said Tuesday.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary appeared before a British Parliament committee to give evidence on the May 23 diversion. The scheduled flight from Greece to Lithuania changed course and landed in Belarus’ capital.
Opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich, who had been a passenger on the plane, was arrested.
O’Leary told British lawmakers that Minsk air traffic control warned the flight crew of a “credible threat” that if the plane entered Lithuanian airspace, “a bomb on board would be detonated.”
The captain repeatedly asked to communicate with Ryanair’s operations control center, but Minsk air traffic officials told him — falsely — that “Ryanair weren’t answering the phone,” O’Leary said.
“This was clearly a premeditated breach of all the international aviation rules, regulations, safety,” he said.
O’Leary said the pilot was put under “considerable pressure” to land in Belarus instead of the more standard options of Poland or other Baltic countries.
“He wasn’t instructed to do so, but he wasn’t left with any great alternatives,” he told members of the Parliament committee.
After the plane was on the ground, several “unidentified persons” boarded the aircraft with video cameras, according to O’Leary.
They “repeatedly attempted to get the crew to confirm on video that they had voluntarily diverted to Minsk,” the Ryanair executive said. The crew refused to provide such confirmation, he said.
Western countries have called the forced diversion a brazen “hijacking” by Belarus. Outraged European Union leaders swiftly slapped sanctions on the country, including banning Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc and telling European airlines to skirt Belarus. UK authorities took similar actions.
O’Leary said he did not support continuing such flight bans in the long term.
“We cannot have a situation whereby airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens run the risk of being hijacked and diverted under false pretenses,” he said. “But equally, far more UK citizens will be disrupted as a result of long-haul flights between the UK and Asia, for example, now having to fly around Belarus or avoiding Belarusian airspace.”


Vaccines key in preventing hospitalization for COVID-19 Delta variant: Study 

Vaccines key in preventing hospitalization for COVID-19 Delta variant: Study 
Updated 15 June 2021

Vaccines key in preventing hospitalization for COVID-19 Delta variant: Study 

Vaccines key in preventing hospitalization for COVID-19 Delta variant: Study 
  • Single Pfizer dose offers 94% protection against hospitalization
  • England’s chief medical officer hails study as ‘very encouraging indeed’

LONDON: Coronavirus vaccines are about as effective at preventing hospitalization in cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 as they are for the earlier Alpha strain, a UK study has found.

The Public Health England (PHE) report found that a single dose of Pfizer’s vaccine results in 94 percent protection against people being admitted to hospital after becoming infected with the Delta variant.

It compares with the 85 percent protection that the same jab offers against the Alpha variant — results that bode well for worldwide vaccination efforts aimed at ending the pandemic. 

Other vaccines delivered similar results. A single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provides 71 percent protection against the Delta variant, compared to 76 percent against the Alpha strain, according to the 14,000-case analysis conducted by PHE. 

Following the delivery of a second dose, protection against the Delta variant offered by the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs climbs to 96 percent and 92 percent, respectively.

PHE concluded in its report that vaccination efforts could result in a sharp drop in hospitalization rates, including both Alpha and Delta variant cases.

Prof. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, hailed the study as “very encouraging indeed.”

An earlier Scottish study found that people who had caught the Delta variant, which is thought to be about 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha strain, were about 85 percent more likely to be admitted to hospital than those who become infected with the earlier variant.