Indonesian Muslims mark grim Eid amid devastating virus wave

Coronavirus prevention protocols appear to be forgotten as worshippers attend prayers at the Islamic Centre Mosque to mark Eid al-Adha in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, on July 20, 2021. (AFP)k
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Coronavirus prevention protocols appear to be forgotten as worshippers attend prayers at the Islamic Centre Mosque to mark Eid al-Adha in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, on July 20, 2021. (AFP)k
 Worshippers appear to dispense with social distancing measures as they attend prayers at the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on July 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Worshippers appear to dispense with social distancing measures as they attend prayers at the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, on July 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2021

Indonesian Muslims mark grim Eid amid devastating virus wave

Indonesian Muslims mark grim Eid amid devastating virus wave
  • Most of Indonesia’s cases are on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live

JAKARTA: Muslims across Indonesia marked a grim Eid Al-Adha festival for a second year Tuesday as the country struggles to cope with a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases and the government has banned large gatherings and toughened travel restrictions.
Indonesia is now Asia’s COVID-19 hot spot with the most confirmed daily cases, as infections and deaths have surged over the past three weeks and India’s massive outbreak has waned.
Most of Indonesia’s cases are on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live. Authorities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation have banned many of the crowd-attracting activities that are usually part of Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that marks the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah.
Authorities allowed prayers at local mosques in low-risk areas, but elsewhere houses of worship had no congregations, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.
Officials also banned the huge crowds that usually fill the yards of mosques to participate in ritual animal slaughter for the festival. Religious leaders urged the faithful to pray inside their homes and children were told to not go out to meet friends.
Indonesia’s health ministry reported 34,257 new coronavirus cases and 1,338 deaths on Monday, making it the country’s deadliest day since the start of the pandemic.
COVID-19 infections in Indonesia are at their peak last week with the highest daily average reported at more than 50,000 new infections each day. Until mid-June, daily cases had been running at about 8,000.
Overall, Indonesia has reported more than 2.9 million cases and 74,920 fatalities. Those figures are widely believed to be a vast undercount due to low testing and poor tracing measures.
The government put emergency restrictions in place on July 3 across Java island and the tourist island of Bali, limiting all nonessential travel and gatherings and shutting malls, places of worship and entertainment centers. They were set to end on Tuesday in time for the country to celebrate Eid Al-Adha.
But with the wave of infections still expanding, the government’s COVID-19task force issued a special directive for the holiday week that bans all public travel, communal prayers, family visits and gatherings across Java and Bali, and expanded the lockdown measures to 15 cities and districts outside the two islands that have recorded sharp increases in COVID-19 cases.
President Joko Widodo appealed to Muslims to perform Eid prayers and recitation of God is great at home with their families.
“In the midst of the current pandemic, we need to be willing to sacrifice even more,” Widodo told televised remarks on the eve of Eid. “Sacrificing personal interests and putting the interests of the community and others first,” he said.
Police set up highway checkpoints and blocked main roads for non-essential vehicles. Domestic flights and other modes of transportation were suspended, blocking people from making traditional family visits.
“This is unfair ... but we should follow for the sake of people’s safety,” said Eka Cahya Pratama, a civil servant in the capital, Jakarta. He said he has lost many relatives because of COVID-19, including his aunt and two uncles.
“I feel really sad, I really miss them on the day of Eid,” he said.
Indonesia’s current wave was fueled by travel during the Eid Al-Fitr festival in May and by the rapid spread of the more contagious delta variant that emerged in India. Hospitals are swamped and oxygen supplies are running out, with growing numbers of the ill dying in isolation at home or while waiting to receive emergency care.
With the health care system struggling to cope, even patients fortunate enough to get a hospital bed are not guaranteed oxygen.
Other Asian countries are also struggling to contain rapidly rising infections amid sluggish vaccination campaigns and the spread of the delta variant. Among them are Muslim-majority places like Malaysia, Bangladesh and the southernmost four provinces of Thailand.
Unlike Indonesia’s restrictions, Bangladesh controversially paused its coronavirus lockdown for eight days to mark Eid Al-Adha, and its millions of people are shopping and traveling this week, raising fears the holiday will cause a virus surge that will collapse its already-struggling health care system.
Malaysia also has struggled to control its outbreak, which has worsened despite being under a lockdown since June 1. Total cases have soared by 62 percent since June 1 to above 927,000. Hospitals, especially in the state of Selangor, have been overwhelmed, with some patients reportedly being treated on the floor due to a lack of beds, and corpses piling up in mortuaries. Vaccinations, however, have picked up, with nearly 15 percent of the population now fully inoculated.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin urged Muslims to stay home and celebrate the holiday modestly. “I appeal to you all to be patient and abide by the rules because your sacrifice is a great jihad in Allah’s sight and in our effort to save lives,” he said in a televised speech on the eve of the festival.
Indonesia began vaccinating aggressively earlier than many countries in Southeast Asia. About 14 percent of its population have had at least one dose, primarily China’s Sinovac. But that may leave them susceptible, since Sinovac may be less effective against the delta variant. Both Indonesia and Thailand are planning booster shots of other vaccines for their Sinovac-immunized health workers.
In Indonesia, land continues to be cleared for the dead as daily burials at dedicated graveyards for COVID-19 victims have increased 10-fold since May in Jakarta alone, according to government data.
Families wait turns to bury their loved ones as gravediggers work late shifts. Last year, Indonesia’s highest Islamic clerical body issued a decree that mass graves — normally forbidden in Islam — would be permitted during the pandemic.
 


Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers
Updated 26 September 2021

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers

Dhaka airport opens COVID-19 test labs for UAE-bound foreign workers
  • The privately run PCR labs at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport are aimed at outbound travelers who require proof that they are virus-free on arrival at their destinations

DHAKA: Bangladesh on Saturday opened six COVID-19 testing facilities at its largest airport in the capital Dhaka to facilitate international travel, mainly for its UAE-bound migrant workers impacted by flight restrictions in the wake of the pandemic, a government official said.

The privately run PCR labs at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport are aimed at outbound travelers who require proof that they are virus-free on arrival at their destinations.

They are the first at an airport in Bangladesh, one of three international hubs in the country, with a capacity to carry out more than 5,000 tests a day.

“We have set up all necessary facilities and equipment. We will conduct a test-run tonight and hand over the facilities to the civil aviation authorities,” Dr. Shariar Sazzad, the health officer in charge at the airport, told Arab News.

The tests are not covered by insurance, with each international traveler required to pay for COVID-19 screening.

“Each of the tests will cost around $20 at all six facilities at the airport,” Sazzad said.

Instalment of the testing facilities comes after the UAE in August lifted flight curbs for travelers from a list of previously suspended countries, including Bangladesh, provided they were fully vaccinated with a jab approved by the World Health Organization and tested negative for COVID-19 six hours before departure.

Since then, thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers had been rallying for authorities to install PCR labs at the airport. On Sept. 6, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed authorities to establish PCR testing facilities at all three international airports in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.

With nearly 1,250 cases a day, Bangladesh has struggled to combat a surge in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. As of this week, only 9.3 percent of its population of 170 million people had received both doses of the COVID-19 jabs.

The South Asian nation’s economy has taken a beating from a lack of foreign remittances after thousands of migrant workers were unable to return to work due to travel curbs imposed by host nations.

The UAE is the second-largest destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Gulf and the Middle East, with more than 1 million employed in the country.

However, tens of thousands of workers were impacted by flight curbs imposed by the Gulf state, with several left stranded in Bangladesh after returning home for a break.

Mohammad Abul Bashar, a 38-year-old construction worker in Dubai, is one example. He traveled to Bangladesh six months ago and is “desperately waiting” to return to the UAE.

“I was supposed to resume duty in the first week of September but couldn’t take the flight since there were no COVID-19 testing facilities at the airport,” he told Arab News.

“Now I am waiting to renew my visa and hope to travel within the next two weeks,” Bashar said, adding he was “so relieved” that PCR labs had finally been launched at the airport.

Salahuddin Chowdhury, another migrant worker, said that the delay in setting up the PCR labs had “caused huge losses for many.”

“I have been working as a salesperson at a shop in the UAE for six years and was supposed to return by mid-August. The delay has cost me around $300, which is a month’s salary,” Chowdhury, 27, told Arab News.

“I’m hoping to fly by the end of this week,” he added.

While workforce recruiting agencies welcomed the move to set up PCR labs at Dhaka airport, they urged authorities to launch more flights “to help as many workers as possible.”

“Every day, around 1,000-1,500 migrant workers would travel to the UAE (before the outbreak). Since more than 35,000 workers are now waiting to return to their workplaces, I think aviation authorities should introduce extra flights from Dhaka for the next few weeks,” Tipu Sultan, president of the Recruiting Agencies Unity Forum, told Arab News.

He also urged authorities to shoulder the costs of the tests.

“A majority of these migrant workers are extremely poor and spend a lot of money to secure a job in the overseas market, incurring huge debts for the visa and tickets. The $20 COVID-19 tests will be an extra burden on them,” he said.

Instead, Sultan suggests that the government either subsidise the cost or pay for it through “the expatriates’ welfare fund, which is also funded by the migrant workers.”

Shariful Hasan, migration program head for BRAC, a Bangladeshi-origin international NGO, agrees and said it was imperative for government ministries to make a “coordinated effort” and ease travel for migrant workers.

“Our migrant workers are desperate to return to work at any cost. Authorities should remain vigilant and ensure the smooth functioning of PCR labs installed at the airport,” Hasan told Arab News.

“These facilities will serve the migrant workers a lot, especially if other host countries also introduce the same travel rules as the UAE.”


Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference
Updated 26 September 2021

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference
  • Russian foreign minister criticizes Turkey over Crimea, Syria
  • Lavrov praises ‘wise’ Saudi approach to resolving Israel-Palestine conflict

NEW YORK: Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday accused Turkey of a “lack of diplomatic professionalism,” and announced that his government currently has no intention of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

At a press conference held at the UN and attended by Arab News, Sergei Lavrov also reiterated Russia’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and praised the Saudi-led approach to immediate Arab-Israeli reconciliation upon the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Earlier this week, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said elections held by Russia in Crimea — which Moscow annexed in 2014 — have “no legal validity” in Ankara’s eyes.

Lavrov said the Turkish position exhibited “a lack of diplomatic professionalism, a lack of professionalism in foreign policy, because professionals understand full well that the Crimean issue has been put to rest once and for all.”

He also defended Russia’s recent assault on rebel-held territory in Syria’s Idlib province, saying there needs to be an “uncompromising assault on terrorism on Syrian soil.”

He added: “There was a special agreement on Idlib between the presidents of Russia and Turkey, and our Turkish colleagues took upon themselves the obligation to separate normal opposition forces from terrorists. This was to have been done a long time ago now, but it has not happened to date.”

Lavrov also said Russian recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan is “not currently on the table.”

He added: “The reality that is currently unfolding (in Afghanistan) is based on statements by the Taliban, who have proclaimed their intent to combat extremism, to combat terrorism, including the Islamic State (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda, (and) not to project instability on neighbors. What’s most important, probably, is for these promises to be honored.”

For Moscow, he added, the top priority is that the Taliban fight terrorism. “They (the Taliban) announced that they’re determined to fight ISIL (Daesh) and other terrorist groups, and we’ll do everything possible to support them to ensure that this be made a reality,” he said.

Lavrov reiterated Russia’s longstanding position that a two-state solution is the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and supported US overtures in this regard.

“It’s very important that the Biden administration has reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution,” said Lavrov, adding that the conflict remains of paramount importance to regional stability. 

He endorsed the Saudi-led approach of the early 2000s toward resolving the conflict and its resulting regional tensions.

“At the initiative of the king of Saudi Arabia, an Arab Peace Initiative was adopted which stipulated that as soon as a viable Palestinian state is established, which meets all the criteria set out at the UN, then immediately the Arab states would normalize relations with Israel. I think this was a very wise approach,” said Lavrov.


Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan
Updated 26 September 2021

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan

Gwadar attack on Chinese nationals was planned in Iran, claims Pakistan
  • Chinese mission warns citizens to be vigilant amid ‘severe’ security situation

KARACHI: A suicide bomber who targeted Chinese nationals in the Pakistani port city of Gwadar last month came from Iran, counterterrorism police in the southwestern Balochistan province said on Friday, adding that the mastermind behind the attack was a resident of Chahbahar in the neighboring country.

Earlier in August, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had said that the Gwadar attack was carried out by a young suicide bomber who ran toward a vehicle carrying Chinese citizens as it neared a fishermen’s colony before detonating himself.

The Chinese diplomatic mission in Islamabad also issued a statement soon after the incident, seeking “practical and effective measures” to ensure the safety of its workers in Pakistan.

On Friday, the counterterrorism department of the Balochistan police said it had arrested three members of the Balochistan Liberation Army, a proscribed separatist outfit that claimed responsibility for the Gwadar attack after one suspect shared details of the incident during the investigation.

“He … disclosed that Rasool Bux, resident of the Sheeran Chahbahar area of Iran, is the mastermind of the attack,” the department said in a statement.

It added: “Arif s/o (son of) Dur Muhammad alias Dura disclosed that his brother Ahmed transported the suicide bomber from the Ramin area of Iran. He (Arif) received the suicide bomber on his arrival on (the) night (of) 10/11 August and provided a place for him to stay near (the) customs warehouse.”

A counterterrorism department spokesperson said its officials “along with a sensitive law enforcement agency” conducted an intelligence-based operation in Balochistan’s Turbat city and arrested three militants suspected of facilitating the attack.

“On 21 September 2021, Counterterrorism Department Balochistan had got credible source information that one terrorist of … The Baloch Liberation Army was present at Turbat Bazar,” the statement said.

“He intended to carry out terrorist activity on the General Public, LEAs (law enforcement agencies) and Govt Installations. On this information, (a) raid was conducted, and one Terrorist namely Shoaib s/o Izzat Ali R/o (resident of) Gwadar was arrested. Another raid was conducted on his pointation, and two more arrests were made with the recovery of explosive material.”

The department’s officials said the arrested individuals also told interrogators that Rasool Bux, the alleged mastermind of the Gwadar attack, had transported four other militants who had targeted Gwadar’s Pearl Continental Hotel in 2019.

A spokesperson said more raids were being planned to arrest remaining members of the network.

According to Pakistani officials, two local children were killed and a Chinese national injured in last month’s Gwadar attack, which came a few weeks after another strike that killed nine Chinese workers at a hydroelectricity dam in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The Chinese diplomatic mission in Pakistan condemned the incident in Gwadar and offered its condolences to the victims’ families.

It also described the security situation in Pakistan as “severe” in a statement, asking its citizens “to be vigilant (and) strengthen safety precautions.”

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When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York

When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York
Updated 25 September 2021

When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York

When Harry — and Meghan — met the UN chief in New York
  • The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are in New York to attend the Global Citizen Live concert in Central Park
  • On Thursday, the 37-year-old prince and Meghan, 40, visited the city's memorial for the Sept. 11

UNITED NATIONS: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited the United Nations in New York on Saturday to meet with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during the 193-member world body’s annual gathering of leaders.
“It was a lovely meeting,” Markle told reporters as the couple left UN headquarters.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are in New York to attend the Global Citizen Live concert in Central Park later on Saturday, which aims to push for greater action to combat climate change and urge rich countries to share one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines with nations most in need.
On Thursday, the 37-year-old prince and Meghan, 40, visited the city’s memorial for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. They were accompanied by New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The couple quit their royal duties last year to build an independent life and moved from Britain to California, where they live with their two children — two-year-old Archie and Lilibet, who was born in June.
They have launched their Archewell Foundation as well as cutting lucrative deals for producing TV shows and a podcast. Last week the couple graced the cover of Time magazine’s annual 100 most influential people in the world issue.
World leaders returned to the United Nations over the past week with a focus on boosting efforts to fight both climate change and COVID-19. Last year leaders sent video statements for the annual high-level UN General Assembly instead of traveling to New York amid the pandemic.
Guterres also met with Queen Maxima of the Netherlands on Thursday. She is Guterres’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.


India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name
Updated 25 September 2021

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name

India’s Modi targets neighbors at UN, but not by name
  • Modi called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan
  • He made no mention of India’s death toll but reaffirmed announcement that it would restart exporting vaccines

NEW YORK: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t directly mention Pakistan or China in his Saturday speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but the targets of his address were clear.
He called upon the international community to help the women, children and minorities of Afghanistan and said that it was imperative the country not be used as a base from which to spread terror.
“We also need to be alert and ensure that no country tries to take advantage of the delicate situation there, and use it as a tool for its own selfish interests,” he said in an apparent reference to Pakistan, wedged in between Afghanistan and India.
Modi also highlighted what he called the need to protect oceans from “the race for expansion and exclusion.” India and China have long competed for influence in the Indian Ocean.
On the heels of waves of coronavirus surges that have ravaged India, Modi made no mention of his own country’s death toll. But he reaffirmed last week’s announcement that India would restart exporting vaccines next month.
“Deeply conscious of its responsibility toward mankind, India has resumed the process of providing vaccines to those who need it in the world,” Modi said, also inviting vaccine manufacturers to come to India.
Modi said it was incumbent on the United Nations itself to strengthen its own effectiveness and boost its credibility.
“Today, all kinds of questions have been raised about the UN,” he said. “We have seen such questions being raised related to the climate crisis. And we also saw that during COVID, the proxy war going on in many parts of the world, terrorism, and the recent Afghan crisis have further highlighted the seriousness of these questions.”