US appoints devout Muslim as its global religious envoy

US appoints devout Muslim as its global religious envoy
US Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain. (Getty Images)
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Updated 22 December 2021

US appoints devout Muslim as its global religious envoy

US appoints devout Muslim as its global religious envoy
  • Rashad Hussain has memorized the entirety of the Qur’an
  • His appointment was welcomed by civil society groups and former postholders

LONDON: The US Senate has confirmed a Muslim as the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom for the first time.

Rashad Hussain, 42, was confirmed by the US Senate last Thursday by an overwhelming majority of 85 to five.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom hailed Hussain’s appointment, and highlighted his previous role as director for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council.

He also previously served as the Obama administration’s special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza said in a statement: “With his years of knowledge and experience, Ambassador Hussain is well placed to advance the US government’s promotion of international religious freedom.”

Hussain is a devout Muslim and hafiz, meaning he has memorized the entirety of the Qur’an.

An Arabic and Urdu speaker, Hussain’s previous work has included fighting antisemitism in the US, and defending religious minorities in countries with Muslim majorities. 

“As a Muslim American, I have seen the impact of bigotry and guilt-by-association tactics used against minority communities, including the message it sends and dangers it poses to young people,” Hussain said in prepared remarks during the October confirmation hearing.

His appointment was welcomed by the US Muslim Public Affairs Council.

MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati said: “Rashad has served our community and country at the highest level of integrity and intelligence. Above all, he has served as a mentor and role model to Americans of all backgrounds, sharing with them the importance of public service and serving our country.”

Former religious freedom ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein joined Princeton University professor Robert P. George in supporting Hussain at the time of his confirmation hearing.

They wrote: “Hussain has enormous credibility across a broad range of faith groups, built on years of leadership in efforts for religious freedom.

“His nomination has brought enthusiastic praise from groups ranging from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the Baptist World Alliance to the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as widespread commendations from the Muslim community.”


Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2022

Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
  • Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since the invasion, most to neighboring Poland
  • Russia has intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days

KYIV/POKROVSK, Ukraine: Russian forces fully occupied the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday, both sides said, confirming Kyiv’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month following weeks of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting.
Ukraine called its retreat from the city a “tactical withdrawal” to fight from higher ground in Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. Pro-Russian separatists said Moscow’s forces were now attacking Lysychansk.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk — once home to more than 100,000 people but now a wasteland — was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield in the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.

Ukrainian police officers help Elena from Lysychansk to board a train to Dnipro and Lviv during an evacuation of civilians from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, amid Russia's invasion of the country, in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 25, 2022. (REUTERS)

Russia will now seek to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of the small city will leave Russia’s forces vulnerable to counterattack.
President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in a video address that Ukraine would win back the cities it lost, including Sievierodonetsk. But acknowledging the war’s emotional toll, he said: “We don’t have a sense of how long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Capture of Sievierodonetsk big gain for Russia

• Ukraine says it carries out 'tactical withdrawal'

• Dozens of missiles hit Ukrainian military bases

“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television. “They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some kind of commandant.”
Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out “a tactical regrouping” by pulling its forces out of Sievierodonetsk.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

“Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the conditions, holding the defense in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defense operations.”
Russia’s defense ministry said “as a result of successful offensive operations” Russian forces had established full control over Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.
Not long after that, however, Ukrainian shelling from outside Sievierodonetsk forced Russian troops to suspend evacuation of people from a chemical plant there, Russia’s Tass news agency quoted local police working with Russian separatist authorities as saying.
Oleksiy Arestovych, senior adviser to Zelensky, said some Ukrainian special forces were still in Sievierodonetsk directing artillery fire against the Russians. But he made no mention of those forces putting up any direct resistance.

Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine June 12, 2022. (REUTERS)

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and were fighting in urban areas there.
Russia also launched missile strikes across Ukraine on Saturday. At least three people were killed and others may have been buried in rubble in the town of Sarny, some 185 miles (300 km) west of Kyiv, after rockets hit a carwash and a car repair facility, said the head of the local regional military administration.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.
Seeking to further tighten the screws on Russia, US President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders attending a summit in Germany starting on Sunday will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
’IT WAS HORROR’
In the Ukrainian-held Donbas town of Pokrovsk, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.
“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more,” she said. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house.”

This picture shows destroyed shopping pavilions at a bus station in the town of Chuhuiv, Kharkiv region, on June 24, 2022, as Russia has intensified its offensive in the area in the past few days. (AFP)

As Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War Two entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on Feb. 24, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also stoked an energy and food crisis which is shaking the global economy.
Since Russia’s forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, it has shifted focus to the Donbas, an eastern territory made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk.
The Russians crossed the river in force in recent days and have been advancing toward Lysychansk, threatening to encircle Ukrainians in the area.
The capture of Sievierodonetsk is likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.
Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has backed uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. It demands Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.
Ukrainian officials had never held out much hope of holding Sievierodonetsk but have sought to exact a high enough price to exhaust the Russian army.
Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app that newly arrived, US-supplied advanced HIMARS rocket systems were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Asked about a potential counterattack in the south, Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine should begin to see results “from August.”
Russian missiles also struck elsewhere overnight. “48 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic.”
The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine said six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at a base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target but two were destroyed.
The war has had a huge impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the European Union to reduce reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.


G7 summit kicks off under shadow of Ukraine war, stagflation risk

 US President Joe Biden, center right, after his arrival at Franz-Josef-Strauss Airport near Munich, Germany, on Saturday.
US President Joe Biden, center right, after his arrival at Franz-Josef-Strauss Airport near Munich, Germany, on Saturday.
Updated 26 June 2022

G7 summit kicks off under shadow of Ukraine war, stagflation risk

 US President Joe Biden, center right, after his arrival at Franz-Josef-Strauss Airport near Munich, Germany, on Saturday.
  • The G7 partners are set to agree to ban imports of gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters
  • The G7 leaders are also expected to discuss options for tackling rising energy prices and replacing Russian oil and gas imports

SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes leaders of the Group of Seven rich democracies on Sunday to a three-day summit in the Bavarian Alps overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and its far-reaching consequences, from energy shortages to a food crisis.
The summit takes place against a darker backdrop than last year when the British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Japanese and US leaders met for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic and vowed to build back better.
Soaring global energy and food prices are hitting economic growth in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The United Nations warned on Friday of an “unprecedented global hunger crisis.”
Climate change, an increasingly assertive China and the rise of authoritarianism are also set to be on the agenda.
The G7 leaders are expected to seek to show a united front on supporting Ukraine for as long as necessary and cranking up pressure on the Kremlin — although they will want to avoid sanctions that could stoke inflation and exacerbate the cost-of-living crisis affecting their own people.
“The main message from the G7 will be unity and coordination of action... That’s the main message, that even through difficult times... we stick to our alliance,” an EU official said.
The G7 partners are set to agree to ban imports of gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. A German government source later said that leaders were having “really constructive” conversations on a possible price cap on Russian oil imports.
The G7 leaders are also expected to discuss options for tackling rising energy prices and replacing Russian oil and gas imports.
The summit takes place at the castle resort of Schloss Elmau at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze — the same venue as when the country last hosted the G7 annual meet-up in 2015. Then too, Russian aggression against Ukraine dominated the agenda a year after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea.
The summit is also a chance for Scholz to capitalize on being the host by displaying more assertive leadership on the Ukraine crisis.
The chancellor vowed a revolution in German foreign and defense policy after Russia’s invasion in February, promising to bolster the military with a 100 billion euro fund and send weapons to Ukraine.
But critics have since charged him with foot-dragging and sending mixed messages by warning that Russia might perceive NATO as a war party and highlighting the risk of nuclear war.
The G7 was founded in 1975 as a forum for the richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo.
It became the G8 after Russia was admitted six years after the fall of the Soviet Union. But Moscow was suspended in 2014 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

GLOBAL PARTNERS
This year, Scholz has invited as partner countries Senegal, currently chairing the African Union, Argentina, currently heading the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, as well as Indonesia and India, the current and next hosts of the G20 group of large industrial nations, as well as South Africa.
“The summit must send not only the message that NATO and the G7 are more united than ever, but also that the democracies of the world stand together against Putin’s imperialism just as they do in the fight against hunger and poverty,” Scholz told the German parliament this week.
Many countries of the global south are concerned about the collateral damage from western sanctions.
An EU official said G7 countries would impress upon the partner countries that food price spikes hitting them were the result of Russia’s actions and that there were no sanctions targeting food. It was also a mistake to think of the Ukraine war as a local matter.
“It’s more than this. It’s questioning the order, the post Second World War order,” the official said.


WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency

A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Updated 26 June 2022

WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency

A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
  • “The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting

GENEVA: The World Health Organization’s chief said Saturday that the monkeypox outbreak was a deeply concerning evolving threat but did not currently constitute a global health emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a committee of experts on Thursday to advise him whether to sound the UN health agency’s strongest alarm over the outbreak.
A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since early May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from more than 50 countries this year.
“The emergency committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak,” noting many unknowns about the spread and gaps in the data, Tedros said.
“They advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue, but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox.”
Tedros said the outbreak was “clearly an evolving health threat” that needed immediate action to stop further spread, using surveillance, contact-tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines and treatments are available to at-risk populations.

“The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting.
While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise Tedros that at this stage, the outbreak was not a PHEIC.
“However, the committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense response efforts.”
They are on standby to reconvene in the coming days and weeks depending on how the outbreak evolves.
The committee recommended that countries improve diagnostics and risk communication.
It noted that many aspects of the outbreak were unusual, while some members suggested there was a risk of sustained transmission due to the low level of population immunity against pox virus infection.

The committee that considered the matter is made up of 16 scientists and public health experts and is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, a former director of the WHO’s Vaccines and Immunization Department.
Thursday’s five-hour private meeting was held in person at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters and via video conference.
The committee discussed current observations of plateauing or potential downward trends in case numbers in some countries; difficulties in contact tracing due to anonymous contacts, and “potential links to international gatherings and LGBTQI+ Pride events conducive for increased opportunities for exposure through intimate sexual encounters.”
They were also concerned that the potential stigmatization of affected groups could impede response efforts.
There are knowledge gaps on transmission modes, the infectious period, as well as over access to vaccines and antivirals and their efficacy, they said.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.
Initial outbreak cases had no epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported monkeypox, suggesting that undetected transmission might have been going on for some time.
Few people have been hospitalized to date, while 10 cases have have been reported among health care workers.
The WHO’s current plan to contain the spread focuses on raising awareness among affected population groups and encouraging safe behaviors and protective measures.
There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for Covid-19 in 2020 — though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still rankles at the WHO HQ.
A PHEIC was declared after a third emergency committee meeting on January 30. But it was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly worsening situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.


Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge
Updated 25 June 2022

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge
  • Government hopes the 6.15 km-long bridge will boost economy
  • Padma Bridge may increase GDP by more than one percent, economist says

DHAKA: Bangladesh unveiled the largest infrastructure project in its history on Saturday.

The 6.15-kilometer Padma Bridge — which spans the river after which it was named — connects Dhaka to the country’s southern regions, slashing the distance between the capital and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometers. Journeys that would previously have taken two to three days from the south of the country can now be completed in a few hours, according to Ahsan H. Monsur, executive director of the Dhaka-based Policy Research Institute.

The bridge cost an estimated $3.6 billion to build, all paid for with domestic funding. It will open to the public on Sunday, after an inauguration attended by thousands.  

“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It showcases our passion, our creativity, our courage, our endurance, and our perseverance,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the ceremony in Mawa, about 34 kilometers southwest of Dhaka. 

“This bridge is built with the latest technology … The whole construction process has been completed while maintaining the highest standards,” Hasina added. 

More than 14,000 workers — including some foreign engineers — took part in the project, which is expected to spur economic growth in the country, as the government plans to build special economic and industrial zones in Bangladesh’s less-developed southern and southwestern region. 

“Now that the Padma Bridge has been established, we will have more special economic zones, industrial zones, factories and employment. We will be able to process crops and fish for export. It will put an end to our sorrows and change our fortunes,” Hasina said. 

Construction of the bridge began in November 2014. The construction faced several setbacks, including the World Bank pulling funding from the project over concerns about corruption.

That decision prompted other lending agencies, including the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, to distance themselves from the project, leaving Bangladesh to build the bridge with its own funds. 

Monsur told Arab News that the bridge is an “iconic investment” for Bangladesh and that it would likely contribute to economic growth.

“People from the southern region are now easily connected with the capital and other regions. The return of this investment can’t be measured considering only financial indexes, it’s something beyond,” he said. 

“The country’s gross domestic product may see a growth of more than 1 percent due to the project’s launch,” Monsur continued. 

“Bangladesh built the bridge with self-financing and it has a high signaling value. We hope it will bring more foreign investment into the country.”


Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war
Updated 25 June 2022

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war
  • Investigation into the anti-drug campaign was suspended in November
  • Government said deadly crackdown was a ‘lawful operation’

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said on Saturday that the president was “exasperated” by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and his plan to reopen a probe into the outgoing leader’s controversial anti-drug campaign.

Duterte, whose six-year rule ends June 30, initiated a controversial crackdown on drug suspects that international rights groups said involved systematic extrajudicial killings. According to official data, more than 6,200 Filipinos were killed in the campaign, but the ICC estimated that the death toll could be as high as 30,000. 

In September 2021, ICC judges authorized prosecutor Karim Khan to investigate allegations of crimes carried out by authorities waging Duterte’s drug war, but Khan’s probe was suspended at Manila’s request two months later. 

Khan said on Friday that he has asked judges to authorize a resumption of his investigation, saying in a statement that the deferral requested by the Philippine government “is not warranted” and that the probe should restart “as quickly as possible.” 

In a statement issued on Saturday, the outgoing administration described Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign as “hugely successful,” claiming that it resulted in a massive reduction in drug-related crimes. 

“For the nth time, we express exasperation at the latest request of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan,” presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar said. 

Andanar added that the Duterte administration has launched investigations into “all deaths that have arisen from lawful drug enforcement operations,” adding that the ICC should let those investigations run their course. 

Khan’s request to reopen his investigation has been welcomed by human rights activists in the Philippines.

“The ICC prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippine government’s ‘drug war’ is a booster shot for accountability,” Maria Elena Vignoli, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said. 

The ICC has said that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign appeared to be “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” that could qualify as a crime against humanity. 

Amnesty International has urged the new government — led by president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who will be sworn into office next week — to cooperate with the investigation and “ensure the safety of families of victims and witnesses.” 

Amnesty International Philippines director, Butch Olano, said: “Six years on from the start of the ‘war on drugs,’ families of victims are another step closer to some form of justice.”