Anti-Muslim sentiment still problem for UK’s Conservatives: probe

Anti-Muslim sentiment still problem for UK’s Conservatives: probe
Wearing a mask, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves at the media as he leaves 10 Downing Street in London. An independent report Tuesday said Johnson helped create an impression that his Conservative Party is insensitive to Muslims. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2021

Anti-Muslim sentiment still problem for UK’s Conservatives: probe

Anti-Muslim sentiment still problem for UK’s Conservatives: probe
  • Independent probe said since 2015 the "bulk" of discrimination complaints had been made over anti-Muslim allegations
  • Of 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination, more than two-thirds of the incidents, 496 cases, related to Islam

LONDON: Anti-Muslim feeling within Britain’s governing Conservative Party continues to be a problem at both an individual and local association level, an independent investigation concluded on Tuesday.
The center-right party has been dogged for years by accusations of Islamophobia that have been levelled against figures including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“Anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party. This is damaging to the party, and alienates a significant section of society,” the investigation led by Swaran Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found.
The independent probe said since 2015 the “bulk” of discrimination complaints had been made over anti-Muslim allegations.
Of 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination, more than two-thirds of the incidents — 496 cases — related to Islam.
While the report found “there were examples of anti-Muslim discrimination by individuals and groups at local association level,” it said those problems fell short of claims of “institutional racism.”
The report also found there was no evidence that complaints related to Islam are treated differently from those related to other forms of discrimination.
Incidents including a column written by Johnson before he became prime minister about Muslim women had suggested to respondents “a party and leadership that is insensitive to Muslim communities.”
In the 2018 article written in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson described Muslim women who wear the burqa as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers.” He was cleared of breaking the party’s code of conduct by a separate independent panel.
Johnson told Singh’s probe he was “sorry for any offense taken” and added he would not use “some of the offending language from my past writings” now that he was prime minister.
The report also considered accusations made by the campaign of 2016 Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith claiming his Muslim Labour rival Sadiq Khan associated with extremists.
Goldsmith told the investigation the accusations showed “poor judgment in the way his campaign was conducted” and he denied “harboring anti-Muslim sentiments or using such sentiments for political advantage.”
Singh said he believed the report was “going to be very uncomfortable for the party,” adding he hoped it would “spur them into action.”
He recommended a single code of conduct in keeping with the 2010 Equality Act be established across party membership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


WHO says no omicron deaths yet, as variant spreads worldwide

Rebecca Gonzales embraces her mother Nimia before saying goodbye at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on December 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)
Rebecca Gonzales embraces her mother Nimia before saying goodbye at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on December 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 20 min 7 sec ago

WHO says no omicron deaths yet, as variant spreads worldwide

Rebecca Gonzales embraces her mother Nimia before saying goodbye at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on December 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)
  • The emergence of Omicron was the “ultimate evidence” of the danger of unequal global vaccination rates, Red Cross head Francesca Rocca said

GENEVA: The omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries but no deaths have yet been reported, the WHO said on Friday, as authorities worldwide rushed to stem the heavily mutated Covid-19 strain’s spread amid warnings that it could damage the global economic recovery.
The United States and Australia became the latest countries to confirm locally transmitted cases of the variant, as omicron infections pushed South Africa’s total cases past three million.
The World Health Organization has warned it could take weeks to determine how infectious the variant is, whether it causes more severe illness and how effective treatments and vaccines are against it.
“We’re going to get the answers that everybody out there needs,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said.
The WHO said on Friday it had still not seen any reports of deaths related to omicron, but the new variant’s spread has led to warnings that it could cause more than half of Europe’s Covid cases in the next few months.
The new variant could also slow global economic recovery, just as the Delta strain did, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday.
“Even before the arrival of this new variant, we were concerned that the recovery, while it continues, is losing somewhat momentum,” she said.
“A new variant that may spread very rapidly can dent confidence.”
A preliminary study by researchers in South Africa, where the variant was first reported on November 24, suggests it is three times more likely to cause reinfections compared to the Delta or Beta strains.
The emergence of omicron was the “ultimate evidence” of the danger of unequal global vaccination rates, Red Cross head Francesca Rocca said.
South African doctors said there had been a spike in children under five admitted to hospital since omicron emerged, but stressed it was too early to know if young children were particularly susceptible.
“The incidence in those under-fives is now second-highest, and second only to the incidence in those over 60,” said Wassila Jassat from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
In the US, two cases involved residents with no recent international travel history — showing omicron is already circulating inside the country.
“This is a case of community spread,” the Hawaii Health Department said.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled his plans to battle Covid-19 during the winter, with new testing requirements for travelers and a surge in vaccination efforts.

All incoming travelers will need to test negative within a day of their flights, and rapid tests that cost $25 will be covered by insurance and distributed free to the uninsured.
Australia on Friday reported three students in Sydney had tested positive for the variant, despite a ban on non-citizens entering the country and restrictions on flights from southern Africa, with multiple countries rushing to limit travel from the region in the past week.
“It’s quite a kick in the nuts,” said Sabine Stam, who runs a South African tour company and whose customers are demanding refunds. “Everyone is too scared to set a new travel date,” she said.
In Norway, officials said at least 13 people who contracted Covid-19 after an office Christmas party in Oslo last week had the omicron variant — though so far they have only had mild symptoms, city health official Tine Ravlo told AFP.
But the government ushered in restrictions in greater Oslo after fears of the cluster surfaced.
On Friday, Malaysia also reported a first omicron infection in a foreign student arriving from South Africa on November 19. Sri Lanka also announced its first case, a citizen returning from South Africa.
Russia’s federal statistics agency Rosstat, meanwhile, said that nearly 75,000 people died of coronavirus in the country in October, making it the deadliest month of the pandemic.

The new variant poses a major challenge to ending the pandemic.
Rising Delta cases had already forced European governments to reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, curfews or lockdowns, leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.
Belgian authorities said on Friday that primary schools would close a week early for the Christmas holidays.
Germany’s regional leaders agreed new measures including a ban on fireworks at new year parties to discourage large gatherings.
Ireland said it will close nightclubs and reintroduce social distancing in some settings over Christmas and the New Year.
In the UK, ministers have been expressing divergent opinions, not only on the idea of hosting parties, but also on the kind of conduct deemed acceptable.


US intelligence finds Russia planning Ukraine offensive

US intelligence finds Russia planning Ukraine offensive
Updated 24 sec ago

US intelligence finds Russia planning Ukraine offensive

US intelligence finds Russia planning Ukraine offensive

WASHINGTON: US intelligence officials have determined that Russian planning is underway for a possible military offensive against Ukraine that could begin as soon as early 2022 and would include an estimated 175,000 personnel, according to an administration official.
The new intelligence finding estimates that half of the Russian personel are already deployed along various points near Ukraine’s border, according to a Biden administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the finding.
It comes as Russia has picked up its demands on Biden to guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the NATO alliance.
The official added that the plans call for the movement of 100 battalion tactical groups along with armor, artillery, and equipment.
Intelligence officials also have seen an uptick in Russian information operations’ use of proxies and media outlets to denigrate Ukraine and NATO ahead of a potential invasion, the official said.
The intelligence findings were first reported by The Washington Post.
Earlier Friday, President Joe Biden pledged to make it “very, very difficult” for Russia’s Vladimir Putin to take military action in Ukraine and said new initiatives coming from his administration are intended to deter Russian aggression.
The president offered the measured warning to Putin in response to growing concern about a Russian buildup of troops on the Ukrainian border and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the Kremlin.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden told reporters.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine during the call with Biden, while the Ukrainian defense minister warned that Russia could invade his country next month
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, warning that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
There are signs that the White House and Kremlin are close to arranging a conversation next week between Biden and Putin. Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters Friday that arrangements have been made for a Putin-Biden call in the coming days, adding that the date will be announced after Moscow and Washington finalize details. The Russians say a date has been agreed upon, but declined to say when.
Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have also tentatively agreed to have a call next week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian president who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said administration officials have “engaged in the possibility” of a Biden-Putin call. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the expected Zelenskyy call.
“It certainly would be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric, about the military buildup that we’re seeing on the border of Ukraine,” Psaki said of a potential Biden-Putin call.
Biden did not detail what actions he was weighing. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met Thursday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Sweden, said the US has threatened new sanctions. He did not detail the potential sanctions but suggested the effort would not be effective.
“If the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will respond,” Lavrov said. “We can’t fail to respond.”
Psaki said the administration would look to coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She noted that bitter memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954, are front of mind as the White House considers the way forward.
“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”
Deep differences were on display during the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, with the Russia official charging the West was “playing with fire” by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union. Zelenskyy has pushed for Ukraine to join the alliance, which holds out the promise of membership but hasn’t set a a timeline.
Blinken this week said the US has “made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.”
He did not detail what sanctions were being weighed, but one potentially could be to cut off Russia from the SWIFT system of international payments. The European Union’s Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution in April to cut off Russia from SWIFT if its troops entered Ukraine.
Such a move would go far toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system. Western allies reportedly considered such a step in 2014 and 2015, during earlier Russian-led escalations of tensions over Ukraine.
Then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would be tantamount to “a declaration of war.”
US-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.
In addition to the Ukraine issue, the Biden administration has levied sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin on Kremlin interference in US elections, malign cyberactivity against US businesses, and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and then later imprisoned.
Putin and Biden met face to face in Geneva in June, with the US president warning if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating.”


Mob kills Sri Lankan over alleged blasphemy: Pakistan police

A damaged vehicle is seen near the premises of a factory in Sialkot on December 3, 2021 after a Sri Lankan man was killed for blasphemy. (AFP)
A damaged vehicle is seen near the premises of a factory in Sialkot on December 3, 2021 after a Sri Lankan man was killed for blasphemy. (AFP)
Updated 56 min 22 sec ago

Mob kills Sri Lankan over alleged blasphemy: Pakistan police

A damaged vehicle is seen near the premises of a factory in Sialkot on December 3, 2021 after a Sri Lankan man was killed for blasphemy. (AFP)
  • Charges of blasphemy carry the death penalty under Pakistani law
  • Amnesty International said in a statement it was “deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot

LAHORE, Pakistan: A Muslim mob descended on a sports equipment factory in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province on Friday, killing a Sri Lankan man and burning his body publicly over allegations of blasphemy, police said.
Armagan Gondal, a police chief in the district of Sialkot, where the killing occurred, said factory workers had accused the victim of desecrating posters bearing the name of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
Police said initial information shows the Sri Lankan, later identified as Priyantha Kumara, a manager at the facility, was lynched inside the factory. Videos circulating on social media showed the mob dragging his heavily bruised body outside, where they burned it, surrounded by hundreds of others who cheered on the killers.
Senior police officer Omar Saeed Malik said police were still trying to determine what exactly prompted the mob to attack Kumara, whose body was sent to hospital for an autopsy. A thorough investigation was underway, he said.
In Colombo, Foreign Ministry spokesman Sugeeswara Gunaratne said their embassy in Islamabad was verifying details of the incident with Pakistani authorities.
“Sri Lanka expects that the Pakistan authorities will take required action to investigate and ensure justice,” he said.
Hours after the attack, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter that the “horrific vigilante attack on factory & the burning alive of Sri Lankan manager is a day of shame for Pakistan.” He promised a thorough investigation and said those responsible will be severely punished according to the law.
In a statement, Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa denounced the killing, saying the “cold-blooded murder” by a mob in Sialkot was “extremely condemnable and shameful.”
“Such extra-judicial vigilantism cannot be condoned at any cost,” Bajwa added.
According to police, more than 100 suspects were arrested over involvement in the attack, widely condemned by many Pakistanis. They included at least two suspects who according to police openly said they took part in the attack to kill the Sri Lankan.
Amnesty International said in a statement it was “deeply alarmed by the disturbing lynching and killing of a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot, allegedly due to a blasphemy accusation.” The watchdog also demanded an investigation and punishment for the attackers.
In the videos, some in the mob are heard chanting a popular slogan of a radical Islamist party, Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan, which last month held a violent rally over the publications of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in France. The party gained prominence in Pakistan’s 2018 elections, campaigning on the single issue of defending the blasphemy law.
Mob attacks on people accused of blasphemy are common in this Islamic nation, although such attacks on foreign nationals are rare. Charges of blasphemy carry the death penalty under Pakistani law. International and Pakistani rights groups say accusations of blasphemy have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.
Punjab’s chief minister Usman Buzdar tweeted that he ordered a probe into the attack. Khan’s special adviser on religious affairs, Tahir Ashrafi, condemned the killing and promised stern punishment for those involved.
Friday’s attack comes less than a week after a Muslim mob burned a police station and four police posts in northwestern Pakistan, after officers refused to hand over a mentally unstable man accused of desecrating Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an. No officers were hurt in the attacks in Charsadda, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Pakistan’s government has long been under pressure to change the country’s blasphemy laws, something the Islamists strongly resist.
A Punjab governor was shot and killed by his own guard in 2011, after he defended a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who was accused of blasphemy. She was acquitted after spending eight years on death row and, following threats, left Pakistan for Canada to join her family.

 

Related


White House says it isn’t trying to weaken bill on China’s Uyghurs

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021. (REUTERS)
Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 04 December 2021

White House says it isn’t trying to weaken bill on China’s Uyghurs

Police officers patrol the square in front of Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, May 3, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the US government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden’s administration is not lobbying against a US bill that would ban some Chinese imports over concern about forced labor among Uyghurs, which Republicans have accused Democrats of stalling, the White House said on Friday.
The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region, is set to be considered by the House of Representatives as soon as next week, the bill’s sponsor, congressman Jim McGovern, told reporters on Thursday.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to a Washington Post report https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/02/congress-needs-act-xi-jinpings-genocide-now that suggested the Biden administration was telling lawmakers to slow the bill down while the White House pursues a more targeted approach, rather than a blanket ban on goods from the region, and support from other countries.
The Post article said Biden administration sources had confirmed that in an October call between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, a co-sponsor of the bill, Sherman made it clear the administration preferred such an approach.
It said she told Merkley that getting buy-in of allies was critical and more effective than unilateral action.
Sherman was asked at a Brookings Institution event with the chief of the European Union’s diplomatic service on Friday whether the administration supported a bill banning goods from Xinjiang on the assumption they were tainted by forced labor.
“Secretary Blinken, very early on, and I have as well, have called what has occurred in Xinjiang genocide,” she replied, referring to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We are quite concerned, and remain concerned, about the horrific human rights abuses that have taken place. And the particular amendment that you’re discussing, the administration does not oppose this amendment,” she said.
“We need to stand in solidarity with the Uyghurs, with religious minorities all over the world, to make sure that they can live in security and dignity.”
Merkley’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Washington Post report and Sherman’s remarks.
Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of stalling the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda, which requires Chinese cooperation. The Democrats deny this.
If the Uyghur measure becomes law, the sponsors have said it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslims, were made with forced labor.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the US government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.


Kosovo man charged in terror trial

 Members of the Kosovo police special unit secure in the town of Mitrovica. (AFP file photo)
Members of the Kosovo police special unit secure in the town of Mitrovica. (AFP file photo)
Updated 04 December 2021

Kosovo man charged in terror trial

 Members of the Kosovo police special unit secure in the town of Mitrovica. (AFP file photo)
  • Kosovo repatriated 110 of its citizens, mostly women and children, from Syria two years ago

PRISTINA: Prosecutors brought terror charges on Friday against an ethnic Albanian man from Kosovo who allegedly joined an extremist group in Syria and brought his family there.
A statement from the prosecutor’s office in Kosovo said the suspect, identified only as N. L., joined the Jabhat Al-Nusra group along his son.
Authorities allege he trained as a fighter and participated in attacks in Syria.
The statement said the man returned to Kosovo in April 2013 to bring to his wife, two daughters and a daughter-in-law to Syria.
He allegedly rejoined his son and the Al-Nusra group and was eventually handed over to Syrian forces and repatriated to Kosovo, according to the statement, which did not give the whereabouts of his relatives.
If convicted, the man faces up to 10 years in prison. Authorities say that fewer than 90 Kosovo citizens remain in Syria, most of them the widows of former fighters.
Kosovo repatriated 110 of its citizens, mostly women and children, from Syria two years ago.
Many of the adults have been charged with terrorism-related offensives and are serving prison sentences.
More than 400 people from Kosovo are thought to have joined extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.