Official denies evicting Muslims from temple area in northern Indian state

Official denies evicting Muslims from temple area in northern Indian state
The district administration of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh has denied forcibly evicting Muslim families from their homes as part of a security initiative. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Official denies evicting Muslims from temple area in northern Indian state

Official denies evicting Muslims from temple area in northern Indian state
  • Uttar Pradesh’s district administration says no families “forced to leave” the vicinity as part of security initiative
  • Muslim families say district administration “forced them to sign a consent form to shift from their ancestral place”

NEW DELHI: The district administration of Gorakhpur in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh has denied forcibly evicting Muslim families from their ancestral homes as part of an initiative to ramp up “security measures” near a century-old temple.
“We are not forcing anyone (to leave),” K. Vijyendra, Gorakhpur’s district magistrate (DM), told Arab News on Sunday.
“There is no pressure. The agreement letter means that they can walk away from the land. It’s my land, and no one can take my land without my consent,” he explained about the notification issued to 11 Muslim families at the end of May.
The DM explained that the land was being acquired “out of security concerns.”
The move by the state government in Utter Pradesh — which shares its border with national capital New Delhi and is home to more people than Brazil — is being spearheaded by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a controversial leader of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), known for his polarizing politics.
Adityanath is the chief priest of the Gorakhnath temple in the district, an expansive religious site spread across more than 50 acres and considered sacred by most Hindus living in the state.
According to district officials, more than 80 Muslims were issued a letter on May 27, seeking their consent to vacate their homes for the security initiative.
However, the families allege that the district administration “forced them to sign a consent form to shift from their ancestral place” where they have been living for more than a century.
“We were not made aware of the complete picture before the signatures were taken,” Mushir Ahmad, 70, who signed the consent letter, told Arab News.
“The officials only talked about security (measures in the area), and we had the impression that they want to set up some system on our terrace and signed the paper,” he explained. “Now we realize what the form was. It scares us to think about leaving this place which has been our home for over 130 years.”
Officials, however, denied the claims, adding that the Muslim residents were “free to walk away.”
“In the beginning, everyone agreed. We showed them the level of compensation, asked them what they want, we offered them lots of things, and they agreed and signed the paper saying that they don’t have any problem,” Vijyendra told Arab News.
“After a regular assessment . . . it was found that the temple security is not up to the mark and extra land is needed to beef up security, and for that the temple is giving some land and acquiring other lands,” he said.
A majority of the district’s Muslim residents are handloom workers who became redundant after a decline in demand for products that require a particular skillset passed down the generations.
Today, they rely on earnings from small, standalone stores in the neighborhood to survive. With limited sources available to make a living, a rent-free ancestral home is a boon for many.
“It’s not easy to think of vacating your ancestral house. We will not leave it so easily,” Ahmed, a father of four, who lives with his extended families in a two-story house near the Gorakhpur temple, told Arab News.
His neighbor, 52-year-old Jamshed Alam, shared a similar grievance.
He talked about a time when their children played with Hindu neighbors in the area, frequented each other’s shops and celebrated festivals together.
“We have been part of the temple’s ecosystem and never thought that we were a security issue for the temple,” Alam, a handloom worker, told Arab News.
“We would not like to vacate our ancestral area. We are under a lot of pressure and tension,” he said.
Alam’s relative, Intezaar Hussain, agreed: “The consent was taken by keeping the poor and illiterate people in the dark.”
“They did not realize what they were signing on, the gravity of the situation struck them later on, now they are tense and don’t know what to do now,” Hussain told Arab News.
Muslims have reportedly been on the receiving end of a conflict caused by the deepening divide in Uttar Pradesh since the BJP came to power in 2014.
Containing nearly 20 percent of the state’s population of 220 million Muslims, the region has been a hub of religious tensions, exacerbated by Adityanath, a hard-line priest and senior BJP official.
Last month, the local administration in the Barabanki district of the state demolished a century-old mosque claiming that it never existed.
Political analysts say that these divide-and-rule tactics are part of a “wider game plan” ahead of the state elections next year, with the BJP facing a tough challenge over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The BJP has failed badly on the developmental issue and now wants to fight the elections on the issue of religious communalization and polarization,” Asad Rizvi, a political analyst based in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News.

When the second wave of the coronavirus hit India, most deaths were reported in Uttar Pradesh, with more than 21,000 people losing their lives since March.
The state’s fragile health care system went into overdrive to reduce the fatality count. However, a shortage of oxygen and hospital beds led to a spike in the death rate, with several reports of bodies being thrown into the river Ganges due to a lack of crematoriums.
“The state failed to take care of the people at the time of the (COVID-19) crisis. The government lost face. The issue of eviction in Gorakhpur is part of the polarization plan to divert the attention from the failure of governance,” Rizvi said.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
Updated 14 June 2021

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
  • SMG Europe, Showsec both criticized in terror attack report, set to be published Thursday
  • Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police also set for severe criticism in report

LONDON: The owners of Manchester Arena are set to be hit with a series of multimillion-pound lawsuits by victims of the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert at the venue in 2017, with an inquiry report on the attack set to be released this week.

Twenty-two people, mainly young women and girls, were killed when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb in the arena’s foyer, injuring hundreds of others.

His brother Hashem was later jailed for a minimum of 55 years for his role in organizing the attack.

SMG Europe, the owner of the arena, is set to be heavily criticized in the report, due to be published on Thursday, along with the British Transport Police, Greater Manchester Police and Showsec, the company that provided security for the concert.

Showsec is also likely to face lawsuits from survivors and families of the victims for substantial damages.

Sources told the Daily Telegraph that the companies and police forces had all received letters detailing criticisms of them from Sir John Saunders, the inquiry’s chairman, ahead of publication to allow them to respond.

Letters have also been sent to two men — Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha — both of whom worked for Showsec at the arena on the night and were alerted to Abedi’s presence by members of the public. 

Another source said: “The actions will be levelled against SMG primarily because ultimately they were the ones legally responsible for protecting the audience.”

The lawsuits against SMG and Showsec could run to tens of millions of pounds, with many survivors of the attack experiencing physical injury as well as long-term mental health issues.

Showsec, the inquiry heard, employed a large and predominantly casual labor force who were poorly trained and on minimum wage.

The company said blame for not stopping the attack predominantly lay with the police and SMG, with whom there had been a “breakdown in communication” over checking the area of the venue, a mezzanine level and CCTV blindspot in which Abedi hid for almost an hour. Both SMG Europe and Showsec declined to comment.

Thursday’s report, focusing on security arrangements at the venue, is the first of three set to be released following the inquiry.

The second will examine the emergency response to the attack, and the third will assess whether it was preventable.

The UK Home Office, meanwhile, is considering proposals for a new law — named after one of the victims, Martyn Hett — to require large hospitality and public venues to put in place protection and protocols to prevent terrorist attacks in future.


Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
Updated 14 June 2021

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
  • Good weather encouraging more crossings to Europe, says mayor of Lampedusa
  • More than 500 have died trying to reach Italy, Malta this year, according to UN

ROME: Nearly 1,300 migrants landed during the weekend on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Most of them were rescued by Italian fishermen from the dinghies they used to make the trip from North Africa.

“The good summer weather is encouraging migrants to attempt the perilous trip to Lampedusa and Europe. One boat is landing here nearly every hour, and the situation is getting worse,” Salvatore Martello, the mayor of Lampedusa, told Arab News.

He said that the identification center on the island is overcrowded, with sanitary measures at risk of being compromised as a result.

“The situation may turn explosive there, so the Coast Guard is moving some of the center’s guests to one of the quarantine ships moored in the waters of Lampedusa,” Martello added.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, 42 migrants, including four minors and 11 women, landed in Lampedusa.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard in Palermo told Arab News that 60 more people, who were rescued offshore by Italian fishermen, are now on their way to the Island.

Once they arrive, they will have to be dispatched elsewhere, probably to Calabria, as the local center for migrants is full.

“We spotted the boat in the sea while we were fishing. It was a very old one, and it was not stable at all. We decided to stop our work and reach them. You cannot leave people at sea, especially on board those rickety crafts they use to make the trip. A strong wave would be enough to capsize them,” Giovanni Curatolo, captain of the Italian sailing ship Ettore III, told Arab news. 

Another 410 migrants were rescued from seven different boats during the weekend in the Channel of Sicily by the Geo Barents vessel, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Geo Barents is the only NGO ship still operating off the Libyan coast. In recent days, four more ships — Sea Watch 3, Sea Watch 4, Open Arms and Sea Eye — were subject by the Italian Coast Guard to administrative detention related to bureaucratic issues.

The massive presence of children, most of them unaccompanied, worries the NGOs.

“Their parents entrust them to other migrants in the hope that they will be able to escape persecution and misery. This is the most dramatic aspect of this infinite emergency that has now become ordinary,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, told Arab News.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that the Mediterranean had become the “biggest cemetery in Europe,” as he remembered the migrants who died trying to reach the continent.

More than 500 people have died crossing the sea to Italy and Malta between January and mid-May this year, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.


Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
Updated 14 June 2021

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
  • Poll: Support has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership
  • His stance on Kashmir cited as one of the reasons for decline in popularity

LONDON: The UK’s main opposition Labour Party is losing support among British Muslims, a new poll has revealed, amid party fears that it will lose a crucial by-election in northern England next month.

The poll found that support from Muslims has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership.

With the Batley & Spen by-election looming on the horizon, alarm bells are ringing for Labour strategists, with Starmer’s popularity dropping far behind that of his party among Muslim voters following his stances on Kashmir, Palestine, and a report on internal Islamophobia, The Times reported on Monday.

He was criticized heavily soon after taking the leadership in 2020 when he suggested that Jammu and Kashmir was a constitutional issue to be resolved by India and Pakistan. This was a reversal of Labour’s stance that the region had a right to self-determination.

Starmer is enduring a favorability rating of minus 7 percent among Muslim voters, compared to a 42 percent rating for the party.

His decline in popularity matches a fall in support from Muslims for Labour, which fell by 11 percent between 2019 and 2021. 

The findings of the poll, carried out among 504 voters by Survation for the Labour Muslim Network, will stoke fears among Labour activists that the party faces losing Batley & Spen, where the population is estimated to be 20 percent Muslim.

The party’s fears have been worsened by the presence on the Batley & Spen poll of former Labour MP George Galloway, who has been campaigning heavily in the constituency.