Bangladesh to deploy army in lockdown to curb COVID-19 surge

Bangladesh to deploy army in lockdown to curb COVID-19 surge
Fewer vehicles are seen on the street as the government imposed restrictions on public movement after the number of COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases increased in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (File/REUTERS)
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Updated 30 June 2021

Bangladesh to deploy army in lockdown to curb COVID-19 surge

Bangladesh to deploy army in lockdown to curb COVID-19 surge
  • A record spike in cases of highly contagious Delta variant prompted the government to order a week of tight controls
  • There have been 904,436 infections and 14,388 deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began

DHAKA: Bangladesh is deploying army troops from Thursday to enforce a strict lockdown amid a record spike in coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant first detected in India, the government said on Wednesday.

Most restrictions imposed as part of a strict lockdown introduced in April have since been lifted, but a record spike in cases this week of the highly contagious Delta variant has prompted the government to order a week of tight controls.

“No one will be allowed go out except in case of an emergency during this period,” the government said in a statement, adding army troops alongside law-enforcement agencies would be deployed to enforce the lockdown.

All offices and transportation will be shut during this period while factories, including the country’s prime garment export sector, will be allowed to remain open if they follow health protocols, it said.

Bangladesh sealed its border with India in April as a precaution against infection, although trade continues.

Bangladesh has seen a record surge in cases this week, with 7,666 new cases reported on Tuesday as well as 112 fatalities.

There have been 904,436 infections and 14,388 deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.

Bangladesh’s vaccination drive suffered a blow after India stopped exports of the AstraZeneca shot in response to a record surge in domestic infections, with only three percent of its population of 170 million getting two doses.

Police have vowed to arrest if anyone comes out of their home without a valid reason.

“The stricter we are, the safer you will be,” Dhaka city police chief Shafiqul Islam said.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers left the capital, Dhaka, over the weekend amid a looming strict lockdown.


Under Taliban, thriving Afghan music scene heads to silence

Under Taliban, thriving Afghan music scene heads to silence
Updated 6 sec ago

Under Taliban, thriving Afghan music scene heads to silence

Under Taliban, thriving Afghan music scene heads to silence
KABUL, Afghanistan: A month after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, the music is going quiet.
The last time the militant group ruled the country, in the late 1990s, it outright banned music. So far this time, the government set up by the Taliban hasn’t taken that step officially. But already, musicians are afraid a ban will come, and some Taliban fighters on the ground have started enforcing rules on their own, harassing musicians and music venues.
Many wedding halls are limiting music at their gatherings. Musicians are afraid to perform. At least one reported that Taliban fighters at one of the many checkpoints around the capital smashed his instrument. Drivers silence their radios whenever they see a Taliban checkpoint.
In the alleys of Kharabat, a neighborhood in Kabul’s Old City, families where music is a profession passed through generations are looking for ways to leave the country. The profession was already hit hard by Afghanistan’s foundering economy, along with the coronavirus pandemic, and some families now too fearful to work are selling off furniture to get by.
“The current situation is oppressive,” said Muzafar Bakhsh, a 21-year-old who played in a wedding band. His family had just sold off part of its belongings at Kabul’s new flea market, Chaman-e-Hozari. “We keep selling them … so we don’t die of starvation,” said Bakhsh, whose late grandfather was Ustad Rahim Bakhsh, a famous ustad — or maestro — of Afghan classical music.
Afghanistan has a strong musical tradition, influenced by Iranian and Indian classical music. It also has a thriving pop music scene, adding electronic instruments and dance beats to more traditional rhythms. Both have flourished in the past 20 years.
Asked whether the Taliban government will ban music again, spokesman Bilal Karimi told The Associated Press, “Right now, it is under review and when a final decision is made, the Islamic Emirate will announce it.”
But music venues are already feeling the pressure since the Taliban swept into Kabul on Aug. 15.
Wedding halls are usually scene to large gatherings with music and dancing, most often segregated between men’s and women’s sections. At three halls visited by the AP, staff said the same thing. Taliban fighters often show up, and although so far they haven’t objected to music, their presence is intimidating. Musicians refuse to show up. In the male sections of weddings, the halls no longer have live music or DJs. In the women’s section — where the Taliban fighters have less access — female DJs sometimes still play.
Some karaoke parlors have closed. Others still open face harassment. One parlor visited by the AP stopped karaoke but stayed open, serving waterpipes and playing recorded music. Last week, Taliban fighters showed up, broke an accordion and tore down signs and stickers referring to music or karaoke. A few days later, they returned and told the customers to leave immediately.
Many musicians are applying for visas abroad.
In the family home of another ustad in Kharabat, everyone’s go-bag is packed, ready to leave when they can. In one room, a group of musicians was gathered on a recent day, drinking tea and discussing the situation. They shared photos and videos from their performances around the world — Moscow, Baku, New Delhi, Dubai, New York.
“Musicians do not belong here anymore. We must leave. The love and affection of the last years are gone,” said a drum player, whose career has spanned 35 years and who is the master of a leading music education center in Kabul. Like many other musicians, he spoke on condition he not be named, fearing reprisals from the Taliban.
Another musician in the room said the Taliban broke a keyboard worth $3,000 when they saw it in his car as he crossed through a checkpoint. Others said they were shipping their most valuable instruments outside the country or hiding them. One had dismantled his tabla — a type of drum — and hidden the parts in different locations. Another buried his rebab, a stringed instrument, in his courtyard. Some said they hid instruments behind false walls.
One who managed to leave already is Aryana Sayeed, a top female pop star who was also a judge on the TV talent show, “The Voice of Afghanistan.” Already used to death threats by Islamic hard-liners, Sayeed decided to escape the day the Taliban took over Kabul.
“I had to survive and be the voice for other women in Afghanistan,” said Sayeed, now in Istanbul. She said she was asking Turkish authorities to help other musicians get out of her homeland. “The Taliban are not friends of Afghanistan, they are our enemies. Only enemies would want to destroy your history and your music,” she said.
At the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, most of the classrooms are empty. None of the teachers nor the 350 students have come back since the takeover. The institute was once famous for its inclusiveness and emerged as the face of a new Afghanistan. Now, it is guarded by fighters from the Haqqani network, an ally of the Taliban considered a terrorist group by the United States.
Inside the institute, pictures of boys and girls playing hang from the walls, dusty pianos rest inside locked rooms, and some instruments have been stacked in a container on the school’s patio. The fighters guarding the site said they were waiting for orders from the leadership on what to do with them.
“We’re not interested in listening to these things,” one fighter said, standing next to a set of dhambouras, a traditional string instrument. “I don’t even know what these items are. Personally, I’ve never listened to them and I’m not interested.”
In a classroom at the end of the corridor, a Taliban fighter rested on a mattress listening to a male voice chanting on his cell phone, apparently one of the instrument-less religious anthems common among the group.
Back in Kharabat, Mohammed Ibrahim Afzali once ran the family business repairing musical instruments. In mid-August, he put away his tools, broke the instruments left in the workshop and closed down. Now the 61-year-old sells chips and snacks to help feed his family of 13.
“I made this tiny shop. God is merciful, and we will find a piece of bread,” he said.

New Zealand’s PM hopes to avoid future coronavirus lockdowns

New Zealand’s PM hopes to avoid future coronavirus lockdowns
Updated 31 min 22 sec ago

New Zealand’s PM hopes to avoid future coronavirus lockdowns

New Zealand’s PM hopes to avoid future coronavirus lockdowns
  • New Zealand has taken an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she doesn’t want to use lockdowns in the future and sees vaccinations as the “golden ticket” to navigating the pandemic.
Her remarks came as Auckland remained in a sixth week of lockdown following an outbreak of the coronavirus’ delta variant.
New Zealand has taken an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the virus and is trying to completely eliminate the outbreak in its largest city through drastic measures, at least until vaccination rates improve. Fifteen more local transmissions were reported Thursday.
Ardern says she sees a hopeful path in using vaccinations coupled with public health measures to prevent widespread hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. About 62 percent of New Zealanders have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.


US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
Updated 23 September 2021

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call

US-French spat seems to simmer down after Biden-Macron call
  • Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners”

PARIS: The most significant rift in decades between the United States and France seemed on the mend Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden got on the phone to smooth things over.
In a half-hour call that the White House described as “friendly,” the two leaders agreed to meet next month to discuss the way forward after the French fiercely objected when the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week that cost the French a submarine contract worth billions.
The White House made a point of releasing a photograph of Biden smiling during his call with Macron.
In a carefully crafted joint statement, the two governments said Biden and Macron “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence.”
So did Biden apologize?
White House press secretary Jen Psaki sidestepped the question repeatedly, allowing that Biden did acknowledge “there could have been greater consultation.”
“The president is hopeful this is a step in returning to normal in a long, important, abiding relationship that the United States has with France,” she said.
The call suggested a cooling of tempers after days of outrage from Paris directed at the Biden administration.
In an unprecedented move, France last week recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia to protest what the French said amounted to a stab in the back by allies. As part of the defense pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
It was clear there is still repair work to be done.
The joint statement said the French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” upon his return to the United States.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” the statement said.
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during a visit to Washington, didn’t mince words in suggesting it was time for France to move past its anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
Psaki declined to weigh in on whether Johnson’s comments were constructive at a moment when the US was trying to mend relations with France.
The European Union last week unveiled its own new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
No decision has been made about the French ambassador to Australia, the Elysee said, adding that no phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was scheduled.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office had said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described last week’s US-UK-Australia announcement as creating a “crisis of trust,” with Macron being formally notified only a few hours beforehand. The move had prompted fury in Paris, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back.”
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
Following the Macron-Biden call, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in New York with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell as the administration worked to repair the damage done to broader EU-US relations by the deal.
Blinken spoke of the need for trans-Atlantic cooperation on any number issues “quite literally around the world, to include of course Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific and Europe and beyond.”
Borrell, taking note of the phone call, said he hoped to be able to “build a stronger confidence among us following the conversation that had been taking place this morning between President Biden and President Macron. I’m sure we’ll be working together.”
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
Psaki echoed Johnson’s point that the creation of the new security alliance — which has been dubbed AUKUS — wasn’t meant to freeze out other allies on Indo-Pacific strategy.
“During the conversation, the president reaffirmed the strategic importance of France — French and European nations I should say — in the Indo-Pacific region,” Psaki said.
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
Updated 22 September 2021

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
  • Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the UN General Assembly
  • In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision

UNITED NATIONS: The new rulers of Afghanistan have an uphill battle in their efforts to be recognized in time to address other world leaders at the United Nations this year.
The Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, according to a letter sent to the United Nations.
The decision now rests with a UN committee that generally meets in November and will issue a ruling “in due course,” the General Assembly’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
UN officials are confronting this dilemma just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power by taking over territory with surprising speed as US forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.
In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Letters from Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, who represents the former government, and from Taliban Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi, are before the committee, assembly spokeswoman Monica Grayley said.
“Only the committee can decide when to meet,” Grayley said.
The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
Afghanistan is listed as the final speaker of the ministerial meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, and if there no decision by then, Isaczai, Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, will give the address.
When the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001, the UN refused to recognize their government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. It was Rabbani’s government that brought Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
The Taliban have said they want international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country. But the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the United Nations. Several of the interim ministers — including Muttaqi — are on the UN’s so-called blacklist of international terrorists and funders of terrorism.
Credentials committee members could also use Taliban recognition as leverage to press for a more inclusive government that guarantees human rights, especially for girls who were barred from going to school during their previous rule, and women who weren’t able to work.
The Taliban said they were nominating a new UN permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the UN spokesman said. He has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.


Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
Updated 22 September 2021

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
  • Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, spent two months perfecting the South Asian-style performance as their ‘gift’ to the Kingdom

ISLAMABAD: Two young Pakistani musicians who have gone viral in recent years for their tabla skills and are popularly known as the “Czar Brothers” have paid tribute to the founder of Saudi Arabia by singing the Kingdom’s national anthem to the beat of the classical Indian drum.

A video of the performance is to be released on Saudi Arabia’s National Day, which falls on Sept. 23 each year and marks the 1932 renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the royal decree of King Abdulaziz.

Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, were encouraged by their father, Dr. Shehrezad Zaar, to start learning the words of the anthem and to practice playing it on the tabla at the beginning of this year. Zaar is of Russian ancestry on his father’s side and prefers to spell his sons’ surname as Czar.

“We were a bit shocked when our music instructor asked us to sing the anthem in Arabic,” Riyan told Arab News in an interview this week.

“It was midnight when I wrote down the verses of the Saudi anthem and started memorizing them. It took me a few weeks to commit them to my memory, though the accent required more practice.”

Riyan said that it took the duo two months to get the rhythm and pace of the anthem in sync on the tabla and perfect their vocals. “When the two things synchronized, we felt that we were soaking up Saudi culture,” he said.

The boys’ father, a Lahore-based medical professional, said the performance was “a gift from the people of Pakistan to the people of Saudi Arabia.”

“We decided to dedicate it to King Abdulaziz, the father of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News in an interview, adding that he wanted his children to perform the anthem since the Kingdom occupied a special place in the hearts of Muslims across the world. 

Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki is presenting a souvenir in Islamabad on September 21, 2021, to Pakistani brothers Riyan and Isaac Czar who sang the Saudi national anthem on local instruments and dedicated it to King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Shehrezad Zaar)

The performance was conceived as part of a broader project that Zaar has been working on. He explained that the project, known as the “Imran Khan Leadership Institute of the Founding Fathers of the World,” will see his sons perform the national anthems of various countries with the aim of highlighting the leadership qualities of their respective founding fathers.

The institute has already compiled a booklet on the lives of 93 historical personalities from different countries.

For the musical composition of the Saudi anthem, Zaar consulted with Rustam Fateh Ali Khan, a scion of the famous Patiala Gharana, a school of Indian classical music. Khan is also the music teacher for Zaar and his sons.

Speaking to Arab News, Khan said it was his idea to render the anthem on the tabla, saying the entire team had worked on the project with “love and dedication.”

“It is the first time the Saudi anthem has been sung in a traditional South Asian style,” he said. “No one has ever done it before.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East and interfaith harmony, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, said the project reflected the love of the Pakistani people for the Kingdom and its leadership.

“This is a beautiful gift from the Pakistani people on the occasion of the Saudi National Day,” he said. “It shows the love and affection of our people for the Kingdom.”

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