Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 

Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 
Sajid Javid said he was blocked from standing in safe Tory seat because constituents would not vote for Muslim. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2021

Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 

Senior UK Conservative urges party to get tough on Islamophobia 
  • Sajid Javid said he was blocked from standing in safe Tory seat because constituents would not vote for Muslim
  • Ex-chancellor: Party must act ‘without delay’ and ‘set example’ for others to follow

Former British Chancellor Sajid Javid has urged the governing Conservative Party to act tough on Islamophobia, as he revealed that he was blocked from standing in a safe Tory seat on the basis that its constituents would not vote for a Muslim MP.

Writing in The Times, he urged the party to implement the recommendations of an independent report that investigated internal incidents of Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination. Javid said the party must act “without delay” and “set an example” for others to follow.

The inquiry, led by Prof. Swaran Singh, a former commissioner of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” in the party.

Javid, who called for the inquiry while running for the party leadership in the summer of 2019, said anti-Muslim sentiment is “unquestionably a problem,” and welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to fully adopt the report’s recommendations.

The review called for the party to produce a mandatory code of conduct within a year. Amanda Milling, the party’s co-chair, said all the recommendations would be enacted, and committed to publishing an action plan within the next six weeks.

While the inquiry found that there was widespread Islamophobic sentiment, it said there was no evidence of systematic or institutional bigotry because the party did not treat complaints about Islamophobia differently from other forms of discrimination.

The inquiry found that two-thirds of complaints sent to the party were Islamophobia-related, and that there was “anti-Muslim sentiment” at local levels and among the party grassroots.

“While the party leadership claims a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to all forms of discrimination, our findings show that discriminatory behaviours occur, especially in relation to people of Islamic faith,” the report concluded.

Lord Sheikh, founder and president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, welcomed the report. But former Cabinet Minister and Conservative Party Chairwoman Baroness Warsi — who has vocally campaigned against Islamophobia within the party — said there is an “obvious” racism issue among the Conservatives, and called for the EHRC to investigate. The EHRC said it will respond after evaluating the report’s conclusions.


Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan
Updated 12 sec ago

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan
  • Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban
  • Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away
KABUL: Women activists in Kabul held up signs that read “why is the world watching us die in silence?” on Tuesday, protesting the international community’s inaction on the crisis in Afghanistan.
Around a dozen women risked the wrath of the Taliban, who have banned demonstrations and shut them down using violence since taking power in August, holding banners affirming their “right to education” and “right to work,” before the Islamists stopped the press from approaching the march.
“We are asking the UN secretary-general to support our rights, to education, to work. We are deprived of everything today,” Wahida Amiri, one of the organizers for the Spontaneous Movement of Women Activists in Afghanistan, told AFP.
Their demonstration, addressing the “political, social and economic situation” in Afghanistan was initially planned to take place near the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
But it was moved at the last minute to the entrance of the former “Green Zone,” where the buildings of several Western embassies are located, although most of their missions left the country as the Taliban took control.
Taliban gunmen at the entrance to the ultra-secure area initially asked the demonstrators and the press to move away.
An AFP reporter then saw a reinforcement of a dozen Taliban guards — most of them armed — push back journalists and confiscate the mobile phone of one local reporter who was filming the protest.
“We have nothing against the Taliban, we just want to demonstrate peacefully,” Amiri said.
Symbolic demonstrations by women have become a regular occurrence in Kabul in recent weeks as the Taliban have still not allowed them to return to work or permitted most girls to go to school.
Last Thursday about 20 women were allowed to march for more than 90 minutes, but several foreign and local journalists covering the rally were beaten by Taliban fighters.

Pakistan, China urge world to send humanitarian aid to Kabul

Pakistan, China urge world to send humanitarian aid to Kabul
Updated 32 min 26 sec ago

Pakistan, China urge world to send humanitarian aid to Kabul

Pakistan, China urge world to send humanitarian aid to Kabul
  • A government statement said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Afghanistan by phone
  • The latest development came a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar

ISLAMABAD: In a rare joint appeal, the leaders of Pakistan and China on Tuesday urged the international community to swiftly send humanitarian and economic aid to Afghanistan, where people are facing food and medicine shortages in the shadow of winter.
A government statement said Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed Afghanistan by phone, saying afterward that people there need international help “to alleviate their suffering, prevent instability” and rebuild after the United States withdrew and the Taliban seized power in August.
The latest development came a day after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with the Taliban representatives in Qatar to discuss a range of issues.
Pakistan and China are a longtime allies and along with other countries, they’ve sent humanitarian aid to Kabul over the past two months.
Pakistan wants the world community to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets to enable Kabul use its own money to avert the deepening crisis.
Currently, the Taliban government does not have access to the Afghanistan central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve.

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Myanmar skips ASEAN summit after its military ruler shut out

Myanmar skips ASEAN summit after its military ruler shut out
Updated 26 October 2021

Myanmar skips ASEAN summit after its military ruler shut out

Myanmar skips ASEAN summit after its military ruler shut out
  • Myanmar skipped the summit in protest after the regional bloc shut out its top general from its meetings

KUALA LUMPUR: Southeast Asian leaders on Tuesday began their annual summit without Myanmar, amid a diplomatic standoff over the military-ruled nation’s exclusion from the group’s meetings.
Myanmar skipped the summit in protest after the regional bloc — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN — shut out its top general from its meetings.
The group’s refusal to allow Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to represent Myanmar at the summit was its harshest rebuke yet of the country’s military rulers since the generals ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
Brunei, who is this year’s chair of the 10-member bloc, invited Myanmar’s highest-ranking veteran diplomat, Chan Aye, as a “non-political” representative but she didn’t attend the meeting, two diplomats said. The diplomats requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry vowed late Monday to challenge ASEAN’s unprecedented move to downgrade its participation in the three-day virtual summit, which is being held by video due to coronavirus concerns. The ministry said it will only accept representation by the country’s top general, who heads its government and ruling military council, or a ministerial-level representative.
The talks will be joined by other world leaders including US President Joe Biden and the leaders of China and Russia, and are expected to spotlight Myanmar’s worsening crisis, as well as regional security and economic issues.
Biden’s participation will be the first time since 2017 that a US leader has attended the ASEAN summit.
The military takeover in Myanmar triggered widespread protests and led to a violent crackdown by authorities. Almost 1,200 civilians are estimated to have been killed by security forces, though the government has claimed a lower death toll.
ASEAN’s sanctioning of Myanmar marked a shift from the bloc’s bedrock principles of non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs and decision by consensus. Myanmar cited the violation of those principles — enshrined in the group’s charter — when it rejected ASEAN’s ban on its military leader from the summit.
Myanmar’s absence at the summit followed the refusal of its military leaders to allow the bloc’s envoy, Brunei Second Foreign Minister Erywan Yusof, to meet with Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders detained since the military takeover.
ASEAN leaders called for an immediate end to violence in Myanmar in an emergency meeting in April and outlined a plan for dialogue between both civilian and military figures to be mediated by the bloc’s envoy. Myanmar’s Min Aung Hlaing attended the meeting.
ASEAN leaders are due to hold talks with their counterparts from China, South Korea and the US later Tuesday.
Ahead of the talks, a senior US official held a virtual meeting with two representatives of Myanmar’s political opposition National Unity Government, which views itself as a shadow government and had earlier sought to attend the ASEAN summit.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan “underscored US continued support for the pro-democracy movement” in Myanmar during Monday’s meeting.
Sullivan expressed concern over the military’s brutal violence and said Washington will continue to seek the release of all those “unjustly detained,” including prominent pro-democracy activist Ko Jimmy, who was the latest to be held during a raid Saturday.


US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements

US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements
Updated 26 October 2021

US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements

US details new international COVID-19 travel requirements
  • New policy comes as the Biden administration moves away from restrictions that ban non-essential travel from several dozen countries

WASHINGTON: Children under 18 and people from dozens of countries with a shortage of vaccines will be exempt from new rules that will require most travelers to the United States be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration announced.
The government said Monday it will require airlines to collect contact information on passengers regardless of whether they have been vaccinated to help with contact tracing, if that becomes necessary.
Beginning Nov. 8, foreign, non-immigrant adults traveling to the United States will need to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions, and all travelers will need to be tested for the virus before boarding a plane to the US There will be tightened restrictions for American and foreign citizens who are not fully vaccinated.
The new policy comes as the Biden administration moves away from restrictions that ban non-essential travel from several dozen countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and instead focuses on classifying individuals by the risk they pose to others.
It also reflects the White House’s embrace of vaccination requirements as a tool to push more Americans to get the shots by making it inconvenient to remain unvaccinated.
Under the policy, those who are vaccinated will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of travel, while the unvaccinated must present a test taken within one day of travel.
Children under 18 will not be required to be fully vaccinated because of delays in making them eligible for vaccines in many places. They will still need to take a COVID-19 test unless they are 2 or younger.
Others who will be exempt from the vaccination requirement include people who participated in COVID-19 clinical trials, who had severe allergic reactions to the vaccines, or are from a country where shots are not widely available.
That latter category will cover people from countries with vaccination rates below 10 percent of adults. They may be admitted to the US with a government letter authorizing travel for a compelling reason and not just for tourism, a senior administration official said. The official estimated that there are about 50 such countries.
The US will accept any vaccine approved for regular or emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. That includes Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. Mixing-and-matching of approved shots will be permitted.
The Biden administration has been working with airlines, who will be required to enforce the new procedures. Airlines will be required to verify vaccine records and match them against identity information.
Quarantine officers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will spot-check passengers who arrive in the US for compliance, according to an administration official. Airlines that don’t enforce the requirements could be subject to penalties of up to nearly $35,000 per violation.
The new rules will replace restrictions that began in January 2020, when President Donald Trump banned most non-US citizens coming from China. The Trump administration expanded that to cover Brazil, Iran, the United Kingdom, Ireland and most of continental Europe. President Joe Biden left those bans in place and expanded them to South Africa and India.
Biden came under pressure from European allies to drop the restrictions, particularly after many European countries eased limits on American visitors.
“The United States is open for business with all the promise and potential America has to offer,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said after Monday’s announcement.
The main trade group for the US airline industry praised the administration’s decision.
“We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks, and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer,” Airlines for America said in a statement.
The pandemic and resulting travel restrictions have caused international travel to plunge. US and foreign airlines plan to operate about 14,000 flights across the Atlantic this month, just over half the 29,000 flights they operated during October 2019, according to data from aviation-research firm Cirium.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst in San Francisco, said the lifting of country-specific restrictions will help, but it will be tempered by the vaccination and testing requirements.
“Anyone hoping for an explosion of international inbound visitors will be disappointed,” he said. “Nov. 8 will be the start of the international travel recovery in the US, but I don’t believe we see full recovery until 2023 at the earliest.”
The Biden administration has not proposed a vaccination requirement for domestic travel, which the airlines oppose fiercely, saying it would be impractical because of the large number of passengers who fly within the US every day.


Japan’s princess Mako gives up title as she weds her college sweetheart

Japan’s princess Mako gives up title as she weds her college sweetheart
Updated 26 October 2021

Japan’s princess Mako gives up title as she weds her college sweetheart

Japan’s princess Mako gives up title as she weds her college sweetheart
  • The two, 30, were married in the morning after an official from the Imperial Household Agency
  • Japan initially cheered the couple’s engagement announcement four years ago

TOKYO: Japan’s Princess Mako, the niece of the emperor, married college sweetheart Kei Komuro on Tuesday, giving up her royal title and saying she was determined to build a happy life with her “irreplaceable” husband after a tumultuous engagement.
In an unusually frank joint news conference with her new husband, Mako said “incorrect” news reports about Komuro had caused her great sadness, stress and fear.
She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) earlier this year after a four year engagement plagued by money scandals and intense media scrutiny.
“I’m aware that there are various views on our marriage. I feel very sorry for those (for) whom we have caused trouble ...,” said Mako, who will from now be known as Mako Komuro, having had to give up her royal title after marrying a commoner, in line with Japanese law.
“For us, marriage is a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts“
The two, 30, were married in the morning after an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitted paperwork to a local office registering their marriage.
The couple broke with tradition by foregoing the rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception, while Mako also refused the one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who leave the imperial family after marriage.
Japan initially cheered the couple’s engagement announcement four years ago, but things turned sour soon after, when the tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him and the marriage to be postponed. Komuro left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.
During the press conference, Komuro said he loved Mako and pledged to support and protect her, unusually open language for anyone connected to Japanese royalty.
“I want to spend the only life I have with the one I love,” he said.
Television footage earlier showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.
Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.
Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including a ponytail which was cut before the marriage, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.