Friday prayers resume in Iran after 20-month hiatus due to COVID-19

Friday prayers resume in Iran after 20-month hiatus due to COVID-19
Mask-clad Iranians chant political slogans as they gather in a mosque in Tehran to perform the Friday prayers after authorities eased some coronavirus restrictions. (AFP)
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Updated 23 October 2021

Friday prayers resume in Iran after 20-month hiatus due to COVID-19

Friday prayers resume in Iran after 20-month hiatus due to COVID-19
  • The government says more than 28.2 million people have so far received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

TEHRAN: Mass Friday prayers resumed in Tehran after a 20-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state TV reported.

The prayers at Tehran University, a gathering of religious and political significance, came as authorities warned of a sixth wave of the coronavirus, which has so far claimed 124,928 lives in Iran and afflicted more than 5.8 million.

On Saturday, schools with fewer than 300 students are also due to reopen. Also starting on Saturday, government employees, except those in the armed forces, will be barred from work if they are not vaccinated at least with a first dose, according to a government circular released earlier this week.

The government says more than 28.2 million people have so far received a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Today is a very sweet day for us. We thank the Almighty for giving us back the Friday prayers after a period of restrictions and deprivation,” said Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari, Tehran’s interim Friday prayer imam who led the sermons.

Worshippers had to heed social distancing and use face masks during the gathering, a forum where officials present a unified front in the weekly sermon, a duty that rotates around senior members of Iran’s conservative clerical establishment.

Most worshippers brought their own prayer rugs and clay tablets used during prostration, said the broadcast.

It added Friday prayers were also performed in several other Iranian cities.

Health Minister Bahram Einollah said earlier this week that it was a “certainty” that Iran would face a sixth wave next week. The warning came even as the country has accelerated its vaccination drive.

Einollahi added that his country was well-prepared for the new surge.

Schools with more than 300 students will re-open on Nov. 6, Alireza Kamarei, spokesman for Iran’s Education Ministry, said earlier this week, adding that it was not essential for students and teachers to be vaccinated. He said 85 percent of the country’s teachers and 68 percent of students had so far been inoculated and that classrooms were well ventilated.

Required social distancing will remain at least one and a half meters.


Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed

Updated 1 min 23 sec ago

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed

Militant jailbreak in Iraq foiled, one prisoner killed
BAGHDAD: Iraqi security forces said they shot dead a convicted militant on Saturday as he tried to escape from a prison with two accomplices.
The three prisoners, all members of the Daesh group, were serving life sentences at the Taji penitentiary north of Baghdad, the security services said in a statement.
They were spotted as they tried to break out of jail by climbing over an external wall, the statement said.
Guards opened fire “when they refused to heed warnings,” it said, adding one prisoner was killed while the two others “surrendered.”
“The three terrorists had been sentenced to life in jail,” the statement said without identifying them.
The Daesh group swept across swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria in 2014 where they set up so-called caliphate.
Iraq officially declared victory over IS in 2017, and two years later they were defeated in Syria.
But sleeper cells continue to be active in both countries where they frequently carry out attacks.
After the demise of Daesh in Iraq, courts in the country have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated by the militants.
Only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be against capital punishment.

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 
Updated 27 November 2021

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 

Iraqi-Kurdish woman first named victim of Channel tragedy 
  • Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin was messaging UK-based fiance when dinghy began to sink
  • 27 people died while attempting perilous journey from French coast to UK

LONDON: A Kurdish woman from northern Iraq has been named as the first identified victim of this week’s mass drowning in the English Channel.

Maryam Nuri Mohamed Amin, 24, was messaging her UK-based fiance when the dinghy she was traveling on began to sink on Wednesday. 

She was one of 27 people who died while attempting the perilous journey from the French coast to Britain, which has claimed dozens of lives this year.

Her fiance told the BBC that she tried to reassure him that they would be rescued while they were sinking, but she perished along with 26 others. Just two passengers survived. 

There were 17 male casualties, six women — one of whom was pregnant — and three children. 

The two survivors, a Somali and an Iraqi, have been discharged from a French hospital and are expected to be questioned about the incident.

Amin had attempted the journey with a female relative, both hoping to join family in Britain.

She was messaging her fiance on social media app Snapchat moments before the dinghy began to capsize. 

She hailed from Souran, a town in northeast Iraqi Kurdistan. Her family are awaiting the return of her body for a funeral.

A relative said: “Her story is the same as everyone else — she was looking for a better life. One of her uncles was one of the people closest to me. He cared for us when my father was a political prisoner. But the family have had such a tragic life.”


President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
Updated 27 November 2021

President faces another test as Algerians vote

President faces another test as Algerians vote
  • Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika

ALGIERS: Algerians vote on Saturday in local elections seen as key in President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s push to turn the page on the two-decade rule of late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
But despite official campaigns urging Algerians to “make their mark,” the vote for municipal and provincial councils has sparked little public interest.
Observers are predicting a low turnout, as with a string of poorly attended votes since the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that drove Bouteflika from power in April 2019.
The North African country’s rulers are trying to “impose their will despite the embarrassing results of previous elections,” said analyst Mohamed Hennad.
But he said voters saw the exercise as producing “an electoral mandate stripped of any political content.”
Saturday’s poll will be the third vote in the country under Tebboune, who has vowed to reform state institutions inherited from Bouteflika, who died in September at the age of 84.
Algeria’s local assemblies elect two-thirds of members of the national parliament’s upper house, with the president appointing the remainder.
But while the national electoral board ANIE says more than 15,000 candidates are in the running, campaigning has been muted.
Redouane Boudjemaa, a journalism professor at the University of Algiers, said the vote was simply “an attempt to clean up the facade of local councils by changing their members, to benefit the ruling class.”
“Politics at the moment is limited to slogans proclaiming that the country has entered a new era, while all indicators point to the contrary,” he said.
Tebboune was elected in a contentious, widely boycotted 2019 ballot months after Bouteflika stepped down under pressure from the army and Hirak rallies.
He has vowed to “build the institutions of the state on a solid foundation” and break with Bouteflika-era local and regional elections marred by widespread claims of fraud.


Tebboune’s rule has seen a crackdown on journalists and Hirak activists, even as he has packaged major policy moves as responses to the “blessed Hirak” and its calls for reform.
He has also faced a diplomatic crisis with Algeria’s colonial ruler France.
But on Friday Tebboune said in a televised interview that “these relations must return to normal provided the other party (France) conceives them on an equal basis, without provocation.”
The analyst Hennad said the elite in power since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, was using slogans around change to impose its agenda, without truly engaging other political forces.
The president pushed through an amended constitution in November 2020, approved by less than 24 percent of the electorate, and oversaw a parliamentary election that saw just 23 percent of voters take part.
But Tebboune, a former prime minister under Bouteflika, has downplayed the significance of turnout and said the key question is whether representatives have legitimacy.
Despite a declared boycott by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), party activists are standing on independent lists, setting up a showdown with the rival Front of Socialist Forces (FFS) in the Kabylie region that often sees significant abstentions.
Electoral board head Mohamed Charfi has stressed the body’s efforts to boost turnout.
But Boudjemaa said the main issue at stake was the “huge economic and social challenges of the coming year,” warning that Algerian’s purchasing power could “collapse.”
“Several indicators show that the pouvoir (ruling elite) has neither the vision nor the strategy to respond to the crisis,” he said.


Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant
Updated 27 November 2021

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

Oman, UAE and Egypt ban travelers from 7 southern African states over COVID variant

DUBAI: Oman, UAE and Egypt joined a series of countries worldwide who banned direct flights from seven African countries temporarily in response to the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

Starting from Nov. 28, directs flights from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, and Eswatini would be blocked and a range of measures would be introduced for any travellers arriving from such countries via indirect flights, whether for transit or otherwise. 


Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike
Updated 27 November 2021

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike

Sudanese politicians released after beginning hunger strike
  • Several high profile politicians remain in custody

CAIRO: Sudan’s former minister of cabinet affairs Khalid Omer Yousif was released from detention along with others less than a day after beginning a hunger strike, the country’s information ministry said in a statement early on Saturday.
An army takeover on Oct. 25 halted a power sharing deal between the military and civilians from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance, and a number of ministers and top civilian officials were detained.
Also released on Saturday were former Khartoum State governor Ayman Nimir and anti-corruption taskforce member Maher Abouljokh.
Several high profile politicians remain in custody.
Yousif and others had began the hunger strike, according to the Sudanese Congress Party, to protest their continued detention despite the signing of a deal between military leaders and civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok which provided for the release of all civilian detainees.
Several other prominent civilian politicians and activists had been released on Monday and Friday.
Protests calling for the military to exit politics and be held to account for the deaths of civilian protesters have continued https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/hundreds-sudanese-protest-against-deal-between-pm-hamdok-military-2021-11-25 since the announcement of the deal between military leaders and Hamdok.
A call has been issued for more mass rallies on Sunday.
The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said late on Friday that 63 people had been injured during the dispersal of protests on Thursday, including one by gunshot wound in the city of Bahri.