Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda
Malian soldiers are pictured during a patrol with soldiers from the new Takuba force near Niger border in Dansongo Circle, Mali. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda

Mali asks Islamic High Council to begin dialogue with Al-Qaeda
  • It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders

BAMAKO: Mali’s government has asked the country’s Islamic High Council to begin a dialogue with Al-Qaeda-linked groups in a new effort to address a nearly decade-long insecurity crisis.

It is not clear when the dialogue will begin, but the council will lead discussions with Malian militant leaders Iyad Ag Ghaly and Amadou Kouffa of the Al-Qaeda-linked group known as JNIM, the council said.

Mohamed Kibiri, spokesman for the council, said on Tuesday that he was asked by the government last week to launch discussions. He said they are working with their representatives in the country’s north.

“The only directive we have received is to negotiate only with the Malians,” he said. “The other jihadists we consider invaders.”

Mali’s Minister of Religious Affairs and Worship Mamadou Koné confirmed that the government asked the council to lead discussions with the two groups.

This is not the first time the Malian government has asked the council to open dialogue with jihadist groups. Earlier this year, the council reached a ceasefire agreement between an Al-Qaeda-linked group and local fighters in a village in the Niono circle in central Mali. The jihadists granted freedom of movement to the villagers, and peaceful cohabitation with the army and local armed groups, in exchange for compulsory veiling of women, collection of taxes and traditional justice.

Mali has been fighting growing insecurity since 2012, when Al-Qaeda-linked groups took over parts of the north. Despite a French-led military operation that forced many rebels from their northern strongholds in 2013, insurgents quickly regrouped and have been advancing year after year toward the south of the country, where the Malian capital is located.

Meanwhile, the French army said Tuesday its troops shot dead a woman while conducting an anti-terror reconnaissance operation with Malian soldiers in the west African country, prompting an investigation.

The woman died on Monday during a joint patrol “in an area where elements of an armed terrorist group has been detected east of Gossi” in the north, the French general staff said.

The soldiers saw two individuals riding a motorbike, but they left it behind to flee into the undergrowth when they spotted the French and Malian troops, said the statement.

“An abandoned assault rifle, ammunition and a military bag are discovered near the motorbike,” it added.

The soldiers “engage in the pursuit of one of the two individuals in the woods. Four warning shots are fired to stop him but the latter moves further away.”

“The individual turns sharply toward the soldiers who fire to neutralize” the target and then “discover that it is a woman,” suspected of being one of the people on the motorcycle.

“Residents of the nearest village are called to give the identity of this person” but “no one knows her,” said the general staff, adding that the body was buried at the site.

An investigation has been opened “to clarify the exact sequence of events and to shed full light on this combat action,” the statement concluded.

Deployed to Mali since 2013 because of deadly jihadist activity, a force of some 5,000 French troops is now being drawn down, potentially by as much as half by early next year.


WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs
Updated 15 sec ago

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs
  • The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible.

GENEVA: The WHO issued stern warnings Wednesday on the dangers of vaccination apathy and the European Union put mandatory jabs on the table, as the United States registered its first case of the fast-spreading omicron strain of the coronavirus.
The new variant, first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa a week ago, has quickly popped up across continents, darkening economic forecasts and deepening fears of another difficult winter in the northern hemisphere.
“Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage, and very low testing — a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reminding the world that the delta variant “accounts for almost all cases.”
“We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from omicron,” he said.
The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible, and whether it results in more severe disease — as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against the variant.
Its detection and spread, however, have highlighted that the now nearly two-year global fight against Covid-19 is far from over.
In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the bloc — although only individual member states can impose vaccine mandates.
Austria has already said it will make Covid jabs compulsory next February, Germany is considering a similar approach, and Greece said Tuesday it would mandate vaccines for over-60s.
The United States, officially the world’s hardest-hit country, announced it had detected its first omicron case, a fully vaccinated traveler from South Africa who is recovering from mild symptoms.
Top American infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci stressed that fully vaccinated adults should seek a booster when eligible to give themselves the best possible protection.
“Our experience with variants such as the delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn’t specifically targeted to the delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also recorded their first cases of omicron, making the Gulf the latest region to be affected.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control meanwhile recommended that children aged five to 11 who are at risk of severe Covid should be considered a “priority group” for vaccination.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned omicron threatens the world’s recovery and lowered growth estimates for 2021 from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent.
The Paris-based OECD said the recovery had “lost momentum and is becoming increasingly imbalanced” and would remain “precarious” until vaccines were deployed worldwide.
omicron has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, mostly targeting southern Africa. Japan has suspended new flight bookings into the country.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary Guterres Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism against such bans, calling them deeply unfair and punitive” as well as “ineffective.”
Rising infection rates have already seen some European governments reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospitalizations, but leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.
Portugal, which has Europe’s highest vaccination rate, reintroduced mask mandates in indoor settings, and aims to administer a third Covid jab to almost one-fifth of its population by the end of the year.
From Wednesday, every adult in Italy became eligible for a Covid booster shot, previously only open to those aged over 40.
Despite new restrictions recently introduced in Denmark, the country on Wednesday registered a record number of new Covid cases with 5,120 infections in the last 24 hours.
Even as governments acted unilaterally in imposing travel restrictions, WHO member states came together in Geneva to work on an international accord on handling the next pandemic.
An intergovernmental negotiating body will be established to reach an agreement on responding to future pandemics with a first meeting due before March 1, 2022.
While the European summer of fleeting Covid freedoms may be over, in the southern hemisphere, Pacific nation Fiji ended 615 days of international isolation on Wednesday and reopened to tourists.
Traditional dancers in grass skirts welcomed waving holidaymakers from Sydney, the first of an expected flood of desperately needed tourists in the coming weeks.


Russia-ASEAN naval drill gets underway in Indonesian waters

Russia-ASEAN naval drill gets underway in Indonesian waters
Updated 02 December 2021

Russia-ASEAN naval drill gets underway in Indonesian waters

Russia-ASEAN naval drill gets underway in Indonesian waters

JAKARTA: The first joint naval drill between Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations began in Indonesian waters on Wednesday, marking a new development in a region facing territorial disputes with China and US attempts to counter Beijing’s influence.
The three-day ARNEX exercise is held partly virtually at the Belawan base of the Indonesian Navy, and partly at sea off North Sumatra province. Officials said it aims to increase both the interoperability of ASEAN and Russian forces and the security of maritime economic activities and civil navigation in the region.
“This exercise fosters a friendly relationship between Indonesian navy, ASEAN member state navies and the Russian navy and will increase the navies’ personnel professionalism,” Indonesian Navy First Fleet Command Chief Rear Adm. Arsyad Abdullah said in a statement, as he launched the drill at the Belawan base.
Abdullah was accompanied by Russia’s ambassador to ASEAN, Alexander Ivanov, and the Russian ambassador to Indonesia, Lyudmila Vorobyeva.
“This exercise is about peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” Ivanov said, as quoted by the Russian mission to ASEAN in a Twitter post. “We are opening a new page in our strategic partnership.”
The drill features warships from seven of the 10 ASEAN member states — Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Brunei — and the Russian destroyer Admiral Panteleyev. The Philippines, Cambodia, and Laos — the only landlocked nation in Southeast Asia — are taking part in the drill online as observers.

HIGHLIGHT

• Joint exercise comes as China and US are trying to assert their influence in the region.  

• Philippines, Cambodia, and Laos are taking part in the drill online as observers.

The Russians have also brought their Kamov attack helicopter, while Indonesia deployed the KRI Gusti Ngurah Rai-332 frigate, CN-235 aircraft, AS-565 helicopter and 500 personnel. The ARNEX joint exercise with Russia was approved by the defense ministers of ASEAN states in December 2020.
Several Southeast Asian countries have territorial disputes with China, which has claims to most of the nearby South China Sea. Parts of the sea are claimed also by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. Indonesia says it does not have any territorial disputes with China, but has repeatedly questioned the presence of Chinese vessels that regularly enter the waters of its North Natuna Sea, which Beijing demarcates as part of the South China Sea.
To counter Beijing’s assertiveness, the US, UK and Australia announced in September a tripartite security pact in the Indo-Pacific region, which has been criticized by Russia.
“Regardless of the reasons to securing maritime trading routes, the joint exercise shows that Russia does not want to be left behind as a major player in the region amid United States and China’s dominance in the region,” Arie Afriansyah, international law lecturer at the University of Indonesia, said.
He said that both ASEAN and Russia had calculated the geopolitical risks before agreeing to the joint drill.
“ASEAN wants to show the world that it is not taking sides, and that it is consistent to be neutral in the geopolitical constellation among its dialogue partners.”


Septuagenarian Pakistani creates record for crushing apples by hand

Septuagenarian Pakistani creates record for crushing apples by hand
Updated 25 min 33 sec ago

Septuagenarian Pakistani creates record for crushing apples by hand

Septuagenarian Pakistani creates record for crushing apples by hand
  • Karachi welder sets a Guinness World Record by crushing 18 apples in a minute

KARACHI:Naseem Uddin, an iron-fisted 70-year-old Pakistani welder who has set a world record for the most apples crushed in the hand in one minute, says he now aims to break any record.
Naseem Uddin was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records earlier this month, replacing Donnie Baxter from England, who had crushed 13 apples.
“The most apples crushed in the hand in one minute is 18 and was achieved by Naseem Uddin (Pakistan), in Karachi, Sind, Pakistan, on 13 November 2021,” the entry reads.
The record was achieved at his son’s martial arts academy in Karachi in celebration of Guinness World Records Day 2021.
“It has been 70 years, (but) my heart is young, my hand has the power,” Naseem Uddin told Arab News at his welding shop in Karachi. Naseem Uddin became a welder after leaving his village near Punjab’s Faisalabad city in search for a better livelihood in Karachi some six decades ago.
“I have been doing hard work since the day I left my village,” he said. “I have been doing this (welding) from dawn till dusk, and till midnight.”
His journey to become a world record holder was inspired by his son and granddaughter, both of whom also hold Guinness records. It was his son, Mohammed Rashid, who showed Naseem Uddin a video of the previous record holder crushing apples and taught his father how to do the same.
“And then I crushed it, I broke it as he gave it to me,” Naseem Uddin said.
Rashid was sure his father could break the world record.
“This record was all about strength of hands and I have seen my father working a difficult job with hands, working with iron, molding it and I had belief that he would do it,” he told Arab News. “My father has set an example and told people that age is just a number. The man who has been my inspiration throughout my life has achieved something and I cannot express my happiness in words.”
Rashid, a martial arts school owner in Karachi, has himself won dozens of world records and the titles of “Bruce Lee of Pakistan” and “serial record breaker.” His achievements include most walnuts crushed by the hand in one minute, most watermelons crushed with the head in 30 seconds, most soda cans crushed with the elbow in one minute, and most spins of a fire staff in one minute.
As well as using his fists and elbows as smashing instruments, he also holds many records using nunchaku and a bō staff — both traditional mixed martial arts weapons, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
“His record-breaking journey began in 2013, when he broke the record for the most bottle caps removed with the head in one minute (40) at the Punjab Youth Sports Festival, in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan,” the records website says. “A year later, he went on Italian television show Lo Show Dei Record to break his own record, achieving 61.”
Seven years later, Rashid’s record-breaking appetite has only grown. He broke 14 records in 2020, including the fastest time to unscrew 10 bottle caps with a nunchaku, achieving a time of 17.82 seconds.
Rashid has also trained his daughter, Fatima Naseem, who broke the record for the most full contact elbow strikes in one minute using alternate elbows (female) with 242 blows in August 2020, dethroning Indian martial artist Kiran Uniyal.
Naseem Uddin beamed with pride as he spoke of his son and granddaughter’s success, saying he was glad he could join their ranks as a record holder himself.
“This is what we could do for Pakistan,” he said, pointing to his country’s flag on the wall of his workshop. “Now, I did it and it has evidently become my identity and I am much happier.”

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Moderna exec says company could have Omicron booster ready in March

Moderna exec says company could have Omicron booster ready in March
Updated 01 December 2021

Moderna exec says company could have Omicron booster ready in March

Moderna exec says company could have Omicron booster ready in March
NEW YORK: Moderna Inc. could have a COVID-19 booster shot targeting the Omicron variant tested and ready to file for US authorization as soon as March, the company’s president said on Wednesday.
Moderna President Stephen Hoge said he believes booster shots carrying genes specifically targeting mutations in the newly-discovered Omicron variant would be the quickest way to address any anticipated reductions in vaccine efficacy it may cause.
“We’ve already started that program,” he told Reuters.
The company is also working on a multi-valent vaccine that would include up to four different coronavirus variants including Omicron.
That could take several more months, he said.
The United States identified its first COVID-19 case caused by the Omicron variant in California, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is being studied to see if it is more contagious or causes more severe illness than other variants, and if it can evade current vaccines.
Given prior guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration, which has required mid-stage clinical testing, Hoge said the process could take three or four months.
“The Omicron-specific boosters, just realistically, are not before March and maybe more in the second quarter,” Hoge said, unless the FDA changes its guidance for what data would be needed for authorization.
Moderna would be able to manufacture the vaccine as it was conducting the testing, Hoge said, to have it ready to roll out as soon as possible.
He said the FDA is currently assessing the threat to vaccine protection posed by the Omicron variant. The agency could provide a faster timeline, akin to the way it approves vaccines for influenza, by approving changes in the flu strains, which would shorten the three- to four-month timeline.
In the United States, licensed flu vaccines can be updated each season by substituting in new strains of the virus that are believed to be most likely to cause illness in the upcoming flu season, without the need for large, randomized clinical trials.
Based on the pattern of mutations seen in the Omicron variant, which include mutations that have already been shown to reduce the efficacy of its vaccine in lab studies, Hoge said, “we expect there will be an impact.”
It is not clear yet how big of a drop in efficacy the Omicron variant will cause for current vaccines, but it could be significant, Hoge surmised.
“The mutations that had previously led to the biggest drops in efficacy were seen in Delta and Beta. And all of those mutations have shown up in Omicron,” Hoge said.
“And so the question here is, are we going to see a Delta-like performance? Are we going to see a Beta-like performance? Or are we going to see some cross multiple of the two? I think it’s that last scenario that has people most concerned,” he said.
Hoge said the company is testing to see whether fully vaccinated recipients of Moderna’s vaccine are protected against the variant, as well as those who received the 50-microgram and 100-microgram booster doses of the shot.
“I still believe that the existing vaccines will be able to at least slow down, if not completely stop, the Omicron variant,” he said.

Migrants land on Greece’s Lesbos before Pope Francis trip

Migrants land on Greece’s Lesbos before Pope Francis trip
Updated 01 December 2021

Migrants land on Greece’s Lesbos before Pope Francis trip

Migrants land on Greece’s Lesbos before Pope Francis trip
  • The Somalis, Syrians and Palestinians will be tested for Covid-19 and quarantine after landing near the camp that Pope Francis will visit on Sunday
  • Pope Francis visited Lesbos in 2016 and brought back aboard his plane three Syrian Muslim families whose houses had been bombed

MYTILENE, Greece: Twenty-nine asylum seekers landed Wednesday on the Greek island of Lesbos, four days before Pope Francis was to make a symbolic visit to the migration hotspot emblematic of Europe’s long-running refugee crisis.
The Somalis, Syrians and Palestinians will be tested for Covid-19 and quarantine after landing near the camp that Francis will visit on Sunday, said the camp’s deputy director Dimitris Vafeas.
Greece was at the center of Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis peak as its Aegean islands were the first destination for mainly Middle Eastern migrants entering the European Union from Turkey.
Lesbos once harbored the Moria refugee camp, which was Europe’s largest until it burned down last year.
Francis will visit the new Mavrovouni camp, which replaced the Moria camp.
A large security presence involving 900 police officers is being readied on the island.
The head of the Catholic Church, who has long defended migrants’ rights and denounced the “hostility” of European governments, visited Lesbos in 2016 and brought back aboard his plane three Syrian Muslim families whose houses had been bombed.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 3,653 people have arrived on Greece’s islands so far this year.
In November, only 196 migrants applied for asylum on the islands, a decrease the Greek government welcomed.
But NGOs, the UNHCR and journalistic investigations attribute the decrease to the Greek government illegally forcing migrants back to Turkish waters and preventing them from applying for asylum.
Athens denies the allegations.