Colorful kites fill Dhaka sky as Bangladeshis celebrate Shakrain

A man performs fire breathing on their rooftop during Shakrain Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 14, 2022. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
A man performs fire breathing on their rooftop during Shakrain Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 14, 2022. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Colorful kites fill Dhaka sky as Bangladeshis celebrate Shakrain

Colorful kites fill Dhaka sky as Bangladeshis celebrate Shakrain
  • Festival held at end of Poush, ninth month of the Bengali calendar, to mark start of harvest 
  • Events held privately this year amid COVID-19 surge

DHAKA: Residents of Dhaka on Friday celebrated Shakrain, a centuries-old boisterous festival of kite-flying, despite the cancelation of official events due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Kite-flying has long been a passion in South Asia and Shakrain transforms Dhaka’s skies into a glittery kaleidoscope of hundreds of thousands of kites.

The festival observes the end of Poush, the ninth month of the Bengali calendar, to mark the beginning of the harvest season.

The annual event, which in the evening also features fireworks and fire-breathing performances, usually involves numerous events organized by city authorities. But this year, as the city endures a rapid omicron variant-fueled COVID-19 surge, all celebrations have been held in private.

Akand Mohammad Faisal Uddin, chief social welfare officer at Dhaka South City Corporation, told Arab News that the official events have been canceled “considering the people’s health and safety.”

But Dhaka residents, especially young people, say that they could not imagine a year passing without seeing the colors of Shakrain — a source of happiness and pride.

Sharmin Rahman Dipti, a 12th-grade student who lives in the old part of southern Dhaka, where colorful kites are flown high from the rooftops and kite-flyers indulge in duels, said that she “always looks forward” to the festival.

“I love to watch the people flying kites and competing with others over control of their kites. Everyone in our society loves this kite-flying,” Dipti added. “Not many cities in the world have this type of tradition and I am proud of being a part of this festival.”

Arafat Rahman, a university student and also a Dhaka native, has taken part in Shakrain kite duels for as long as he can remember.
 




A man performs fire breathing on their rooftop during Shakrain Festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 14, 2022. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)

“I have been participating in the kite festival from my childhood. Every year, we have kite-flying competitions among friends,” he told Arab News. “I spent about $10 to prepare colorful kites and apparatus this year.”

During fights, kites are flown with thick strings or sharp wires, sometimes reinforced with chemicals so that they can better attack opponents’ kites, slice their strings and release them into the air.

The festival is not only about color, performance and competition, Muntasir Mamoon, a history professor, said. “It also plays an important social role in the Bangladeshi capital.” 

He added: “In the early 20th century, it became very popular among the people of Dhaka, and they adopted it as a part of culture.

“People, irrespective of class, caste and religion participate in this festival, which increases communal fraternity.”

Renowned cultural activist Nasiruddin Yousuf told Arab News that Shakrain used to be held by kings and royals to entertain the community during the harvest season. Kites were added much later, but are now the central feature of the festival.

“People exchange the joy of life through Shakrain,” Yousuf said. “It has become a part of our tradition and we need to nurture it.

“This type of event helps in creating a unique identity.”  


Pakistan bans Imran Khan’s rally, cracks down on supporters

Pakistan bans Imran Khan’s rally, cracks down on supporters
Updated 9 sec ago

Pakistan bans Imran Khan’s rally, cracks down on supporters

Pakistan bans Imran Khan’s rally, cracks down on supporters
  • Imran Khan urges supporters to converge on Islamabad on Wednesday for a massive rally
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday banned ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan from holding a massive, planned rally in the capital of Islamabad and cracked down on his supporters in overnight raids across the country, arresting hundreds.
The ban came hours after a policeman was killed during one of the raids, when a supporter of the former premier opened fire after officers entered his home in the city of Lahore.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah warned Khan that he would “not be allowed to disrupt peace in Islamabad” and would be arrested if needed, should the rally go ahead. Sanaullah earlier in the day accused Khan of seeking to create a civil war-like situation.
The former cricket star turned Islamist politician, Khan served as prime minister for over three and half years until he was ousted by a no-confidence vote in parliament in April.
Khan has remained defiant, demanding early elections and claiming his removal was the result of a US-organized plot in collusion with his successor, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Washington denies any role in Pakistan’s internal politics.
Earlier this week, Khan urged supporters to converge on Islamabad on Wednesday for a massive rally to pressure Sharif’s government. The demonstration, he said, would continue until a date for snap elections was announced.
Sanaullah, the interior minister, said the decision to ban the rally was taken after Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party failed to assure the administration in writing that the rally would be peaceful.
Earlier Tuesday, authorities stepped up security in Islamabad, deploying additional officers and paramilitary Rangers. Large shipping containers were placed on a key road leading to the parliament building, to prevent Khan’s supporters from getting close and possibly staging a sit-in there.
According to Fawad Chaudhry, a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, police raids against their supporters started shortly after midnight Monday. Homes were still being raided on Tuesday morning and at least 400 supporters of the party were arrested across the country, Chaudhry said. Khan condemned the arrests on Twitter.
Authorities confirmed the raids but refused to share details about any arrests.
At a news conference in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday, Khan vowed to carry on with the rally in the Pakistani capital as planned.
“I tell my supporters to reach Islamabad and I will also be there,” he said, insisting he was not afraid of death and urging his followers to “get ready for sacrifices” for the sake of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Several other prominent figures from Khan’s party warned police they could face violent resistance if raids on their homes continued.

Militants kill 11 in northern Burkina Faso

Militants kill 11 in northern Burkina Faso
Updated 2 min 47 sec ago

Militants kill 11 in northern Burkina Faso

Militants kill 11 in northern Burkina Faso
  • Villages of Tiekaledji and Demniol, in Seno province ‘came under terrorist attack’ on Sunday

OUAGADOUGOU: Suspected militants have killed 11 people, including three volunteer army auxiliaries, in attacks on two villages in northern Burkina Faso, the Sahel regional governor said Tuesday.
The villages of Tiekaledji and Demniol, in Seno province “came under terrorist attack” on Sunday said Lt. Col. Rodolphe Sorgho in a statement.
“The provisional toll from the attacks unfortunately lists 11 civilians killed, including three from the Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP),” he added.
The security forces backed by VDP auxiliaries were combing the area, the statement added.
The army lost five soldiers during clashes on Saturday that it said also left 30 suspected militants dead after a raid on a military base in the north.
And last Thursday, 11 soldiers and 15 gunmen died in another attack, this time in the east of the nation, the army said.
Burkina Faso has been battered by militant raids since 2015, with movements linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group.
More than 2,000 people have been killed and 1.8 million displaced.
Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba overthrew elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore in January, accusing him of being ineffective in the face of militant violence.
The new leader says he has made the security crisis his priority, but after a relative lull in violence, a surge in attacks has claimed more than 200 lives.


Iraqi migrants shot amid people-smuggling gang fight in France

Iraqi migrants shot amid people-smuggling gang fight in France
Updated 26 min 53 sec ago

Iraqi migrants shot amid people-smuggling gang fight in France

Iraqi migrants shot amid people-smuggling gang fight in France
  • 2 hospitalized after gunfire erupts between rival groups in Dunkirk

LONDON: Two Iraqi migrants have been hospitalized in serious conditions after rival people-smuggling gangs fired on each other in northern France.

Fighting erupted at the Grande Synthe camp in Dunkirk after gangs quarreled over territory for launching their small boats into the English Channel.

The camp, the largest in France, is reportedly controlled by Kurdish gangs, who organize territory and allocate migrants spaces on small boats. Up to 500 people are expected to live there, though this can fluctuate rapidly according to trips on the Channel.

The Times newspaper was told by a migrant that he saw men with rifles and pistols during the fighting on Sunday, with gunshots also heard on Friday. Bullet casings were found on the scene after the authorities came in.

The Dunkirk public prosecutor’s office has started investigating the incidents, but few expect any witnesses to come forward and provide evidence. The rapidly changing population also adds problems for the police, with many witnesses at risk of fleeing for Britain at any moment. The two men in hospital are so critically injured that they cannot give statements.

The witness said: “I saw men with guns, one a pistol, another with a rifle. It was many, many shots fired. Previously we’ve had fights but it was very small. This time there were a lot of gunshots. The volunteers ran away.”

Another witness told Le Parisien that they “heard gunshots,” which sounded like “bursts of Kalashnikovs.” They added: “Everyone got down on the ground.”

Volunteer worker association Utopia 56 announced that “at least three people” were rushed to hospital after the violence. A helicopter was destroyed in the clashes, as police and ambulances rushed to the scene.

The violent gangs in northern France have long been a concern for British authorities receiving migrants.

UK Border Force officials told The Times that migrants were regularly facing threats of violence, often at gun or knifepoint, if they questioned the seafaring quality of the small boats.

Richard Lederle, from the crime and financial investigations unit in the Home Office, said: “It often isn’t an option of choosing to get into the boats. It will affect their profit margins and business models as gangs are competing with each other.”

Christopher Tilley, chief of staff at the unit dealing with Channel crossings, said: “A lot of their business relies on word of mouth — they don’t want people saying, ‘Don’t go with that gang because it’s unsafe’ so they force them to board even when the boats are unsafe. They are pushing people across to maximise the profits. It’s ruthless and cut-throat.”


Europe needs migration pact to deal with staggering flow of refugees: WEF panel

Europe needs migration pact to deal with staggering flow of refugees: WEF panel
The WEF— running from May 22 to 26 — will see global business, technology and political leaders come together. (Supplied)
Updated 24 May 2022

Europe needs migration pact to deal with staggering flow of refugees: WEF panel

Europe needs migration pact to deal with staggering flow of refugees: WEF panel
  • Europe needs a holistic migration pact to deal with the growing number of Ukrainian refugees, Vice President for Promoting the European Way of Life in the European Commission says
  • The war has displaced 8 million within Ukraine and forced more than 6 million others to flee elsewhere

DAVOS: Europe must enact a stable and holistic migration pact to deal with the growing number of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, Vice President for Promoting the European Way of Life in the European Commission Margaritis Schinas said.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum session entitled “Responding to New Migration Flows in Europe,” Schinas said: “Europe will always remain an asylum destination for those who are fleeing war and persecution. This is the model of society we stand for. We have welcomed more than 5 million Ukrainian refugees, but we do not yet have a migration pact. This forces us to very often function like firefighters rather than architects.”

A future EU migration policy would need a holistic approach that includes strong relations with origin and transit countries, a collective and uniform border system and procedures within EU countries, and solidarity across all levels of society to deal with the burdens of global crises, the vice president said.

Moldova is one example of how joint border controls and communication on all levels can help facilitate the movement of refugees, according to Prime Minister of Moldova Natalia Gavrilița.

About half a million people have crossed the border from Ukraine into Moldova, the prime minister said, adding that contingency plans in place allowed thousands of migrants who had fled in a hurry to enter the country without sufficient documents. 

Hundreds of Moldovans also scurried to provide aid and volunteer their services to help facilitate the influx of Ukrainians coming into the country, she said. 

The WEF session came after the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, announced Monday that the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution around the world had crossed the bleak milestone of 100 million for the first time. 

The war in Ukraine alone has displaced 8 million within the country and forced more than 6 million others to flee elsewhere, according to the new data from UNHCR. 

By the end of 2021, about 90 million people were forcibly displaced around the world as a result of conflicts and new waves of violence in countries that include Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Burkina Faso. 

The WEF— running from May 22 to 26 — will see global business, technology and political leaders come together for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss climate, technology and geopolitical issues, including the consequences of the outbreak and the Ukraine crisis.


UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
Updated 24 May 2022

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan
  • The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans

LONDON: Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “disaster and betrayal” hampered by a lack of leadership from senior politicians and civil servants, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said in a report released Tuesday.
The committee criticized the Foreign Office for the “total absence” of a plan for evacuating Afghans who supported the UK mission despite knowing for 18 months that such an evacuation might be necessary.
This was compounded by the fact that there seemed to be no clear lines of leadership among political leaders, with decisions made on the basis of “untraceable and unaccountable political interventions,” the committee said in its report.
“The fact that the Foreign Office’s senior leaders were on holiday when Kabul fell marks a fundamental lack of seriousness, grip or leadership at a time of national emergency,” the committee said.
The report was based on an eight-month inquiry during which the committee heard testimony from 20 witnesses and reviewed written evidence from 36 organizations.