As omicron fuels surge, US students stage walkouts to protest in-person classes

Chicago Public Schools students protest outside the Chicago Public Schools headquarters during a district-wide walkout, Jan. 14, 2022, in Chicago. (AP)
Chicago Public Schools students protest outside the Chicago Public Schools headquarters during a district-wide walkout, Jan. 14, 2022, in Chicago. (AP)
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Updated 15 January 2022

As omicron fuels surge, US students stage walkouts to protest in-person classes

Chicago Public Schools students protest outside the Chicago Public Schools headquarters during a district-wide walkout, Jan. 14, 2022, in Chicago. (AP)
  • About 600 young people from 11 Boston schools participated in student walkouts there, according to the school district, which serves nearly 52,000 pupils

BOSTON/CHICAGO: Hundreds of students in Boston and Chicago walked out of classes on Friday in protests demanding a switch to remote learning as a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant disrupted efforts at returning to in-person education around the United States.
In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, the walkout came two days after in-classroom instruction resumed for 340,000 students who were idled during a five-day work stoppage by unionized teachers pressing for tougher COVID-19 safeguards.
Protesting students said they were dissatisfied with the additional health protocols the teachers union agreed to earlier this week, ending its standoff with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“I think CPS is listening, but I’m not sure they’ll make a change,” said Jaden Horten, a junior at Jones College Prep High School, during a rally at district headquarters that drew around a thousand students.
The demonstration followed student walkouts at various schools around the city.
About 600 young people from 11 Boston schools participated in student walkouts there, according to the school district, which serves nearly 52,000 pupils. Many protesting students returned to classrooms later, while others went home after taking part in peaceful demonstrations.
An online petition started by a Boston high school senior branding schools a “COVID-19 breeding ground” and calling for a remote learning option had collected more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday morning.
The Boston Student Advisory Council, which organized the walkout, posted a series of demands on Twitter, including two weeks of online instruction and more stringent COVID-19 testing for teachers and students.
The latest wave of infections has renewed the debate over whether to keep schools open, as officials seek to balance fears about the highly contagious omicron variant with concerns that children could fall further behind academically after two years of stop-and-start instruction. The result has been a patchwork of COVID-19 policies around the country that has left parents feeling exhausted and bewildered https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exhausted-parents-navigate-patchwork-us....
Ash O’Brien, a 10th-grade student at Boston Latin School who left the building with about a dozen others on Friday, said he didn’t feel safe staying in school.
“I live with two grandparents who are immune-compromised,” he said. “So I don’t want to go to school, risk getting sick and come home to them.”
In a statement, Boston Public Schools said it supports students advocating for their beliefs and vowed to listen to their concerns.
Earlier this week, students at several New York City schools staged a walkout to protest what they said were inadequate safety measures. Mayor Eric Adams said on Thursday his administration was considering a temporary remote learning option for a significant number of students who were staying home.
Nearly 5,000 public schools across the country have closed for at least one day this week due to the pandemic, according to Burbio, a website that tracks school disruptions.
The omicron surge appears to be slowing in areas of the country that were hit first. In the last week, the average daily tally of new cases has risen only 5 percent in Northeastern and Southern states compared with the prior seven-day period, according to a Reuters analysis. In Western states, by contrast, the average number of infections documented every day has climbed 89 percent in the past week compared with the previous week.
Overall, the United States is still tallying nearly 800,000 new infections a day amid record numbers of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.


Burkina Faso forces fire tear gas at anti-govt protests

Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
Updated 8 sec ago

Burkina Faso forces fire tear gas at anti-govt protests

Protestors take to the streets of Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. (AP file photo)
  • Nearly 12,000 people were displaced within two weeks in December, according to the UN

OUAGADOUGOU: Security forces fired tear gas at protesters barricading the streets and throwing rocks in Burkina Faso’s capital on Saturday, as anger grows at the government’s inability to stop terrorist attacks spreading across the country.
Several hundred people marched through downtown Ouagadougou chanting for President Roch Marc Christian Kabore to resign.
The extremists “are hitting (the country), people are dying, others are fleeing their homes … We want Roch and his government to resign because their handling of the country is not good. We will never support them,” said protester Amidou Tiemtore.
Some people were also protesting in solidarity with neighboring Mali, whose citizens are angry at the West African economic regional bloc, ECOWAS, which imposed sanctions on the country after the ruling junta delayed this year’s elections.
Burkina Faso’s protest comes amid an escalation in terror attacks linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh that has killed thousands and displaced 1.5 million people.
The violence shows no signs of abating.
Nearly 12,000 people were displaced within two weeks in December, according to the UN.
Four French soldiers were also wounded during a joint operation with Burkina Faso’s military, the first time French soldiers have been injured in the country since two were killed in 2019 during a hostage release operation, said Pascal Ianni spokesman for the chief of defense for the French armed forces.
France has some 5,000 troops in the region but until now has had minimal involvement in Burkina Faso compared with Niger or Mali.
This is the second government crackdown on protests since November and comes after the government shut down access to Facebook last week, citing security reasons, and after arresting 15 people for allegedly plotting a coup.
As tensions mount, the government is struggling to stem the violence.
Last month the president fired his prime minister and replaced most of the Cabinet.
The government’s national security arm is also said to be preparing to reopen negotiations with the extremists, according to a military official and a former soldier.
The last time the government negotiated secret cease-fire talks with the extremists was around the 2020 presidential elections when fighting subsided for several months.
But locals say it’s too late for talks and that the country is being overrun by radicals who control swaths of land, and plant their flag.
”They just come and are squeezing people (out of their homes) and there is no (government) strategy,” said Ousmane Amirou Dicko, the ruler of Liptako.
For the first time since the conflict he said he no longer feels comfortable driving from the capital to his home in the Sahel.
Conflict analysts say the protests are playing right into the extremists hands and that the country needs to remain unified if it wants to succeed.
“The protests are a consequence of the pressure from the jihadists and it’s exactly what they want,” said Mahamoudou Savadogo, founder of Granada Consulting, a local conflict analysis and research company.
“The concern is that when the government is pressured it makes big political and strategic mistakes, and the country needs to remain united.”


Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
Updated 23 January 2022

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race

Berlusconi pulls out of Italian presidential race
  • The 85-year-old media mogul insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted
  • Berlusconi said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility” to avoid further controversy

ROME: Billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi withdrew from the race for Italy's presidency on Saturday, two days before voting starts, but repeated his opposition to Prime Minister Mario Draghi taking the job.
The 85-year-old media mogul, who is still embroiled in legal proceedings over his infamous "Bunga Bunga" sex parties, insisted he had the support in parliament to win -- something analysts doubted.
But in a statement issued to the media, he said he was withdrawing in the spirit of "national responsibility", to avoid further controversy.
Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief who has led Italy's coalition government for the past year, remains the favourite to be elected head of state next week.
The governing parties, which range from left to right, including Berlusconi's Forza Italia, have however yet to reach a deal -- and with voting secret, the result is notoriously hard to predict.
More than 1,000 MPs, senators and regional representatives will begin voting Monday, with several rounds -- each taking a day -- expected before a result.
Indicating he hopes to play the kingmaker, Berlusconi said he would work with his right-wing allies to agree a candidate that can summon a "broad consensus" -- but made clear it should not be Draghi.
He said the premier should stay to help implement structural reforms promised in return for almost 200 billion euros in European Union funds, on which Italy is relying for its post-virus recovery.
"I consider it necessary for the Draghi government to complete its work until the end of the legislature," in 2023, when the next general election is due, Berlusconi said.
Many analysts also worry Draghi's departure would spark a crisis in the government and that debt-laden Italy would slip behind on a tight schedule to implement reforms to the tax and justice systems and public administration.
However, others say Draghi would be better placed as president to ensure political stability and good relations with Brussels -- particularly should the far-right win the next general election.
While a largely ceremonial role, the president wields considerable power in times of political crises, from dissolving parliament to picking new prime ministers and denying mandates to fragile coalitions.
Berlusconi announced his decision at a virtual meeting with Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigration League party and Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy.
He noted the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying: "Today, Italy needs unity.... I will continue to serve my country in other ways."
Salvini praised his "generous" decision which he said enabled them to propose candidates "without any more vetoes from the left".
Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the withdrawal had exposed a split in the right over Berlusconi's candidacy, adding: "Now we need a high-level agreement over a shared name and a legislative pact."
In the first three rounds, the winning candidate must secure two-thirds of the vote. From the fourth round, they only need an absolute majority.


Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
Updated 22 January 2022

Families mourn Indian victims of Houthi strike on UAE

The collage of photos shows Indian nationals Hardeep Singh, left, and Hardev Singh who were killed in the Houthi attack on Jan. 17. (Photo courtesy: Sukhdev Singh and Rajbir Singh)
  • Two Indian nationals were among three people killed in the attack near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday
  • Remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34 were repatriated to India on Friday

NEW DELHI: Mourners in India’s northern state of Punjab on Saturday attended the funerals of two compatriots killed in a recent attack by Houthi rebels on the UAE.

Two Indians and a Pakistani were killed when the drone and missile strikes hit fuel trucks near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday, causing multiple explosions. Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed the attacks.

The remains of Hardeep Singh, 22, and Hardev Singh, 34, were repatriated to India on Friday.

Hardeep, who came from Baba Bakala village in Amritsar district, is survived by his wife and mother.

“We are still not able to fathom the tragedy that took place in the family,” his cousin Rajbir Singh told Arab News. “The wife came back from Canada yesterday, after she learnt about the incident. She is a student there and Hardeep had plans to shift to Canada.”

Hardeep was working in the UAE as a truck driver. He married last year and was his family's sole breadwinner. The other victim, Hardev, came from Bagha Purana village in Moga district. He spent 18 years in the UAE, working on construction sites in the oil and gas industry.

Hardev's brother Sukhdev, who also works in the UAE, said he could not believe his brother was gone until he saw the body.

“It's difficult to foresee an existence without him,” Sukhdev told Arab News. “He was a great support to me and because of Hardev I could go to UAE. He was the main earner and support to the elderly parents.”

Sukhdev thanked the UAE government for the support it had provided to the family so far. Indian authorities have condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Tuesday expressed “strong solidarity with UAE in face of such unacceptable acts” during a call with his Emirati counterpart.

T.S. Tirumurti, India's permanent representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that “such an attack on innocent civilians and civilian infrastructure is completely unacceptable.”

He said: “It is a blatant violation of international law. It is also against all civilized norms. It is important that the council stands united in sending a clear signal against such heinous acts of terror.”


Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 22 January 2022

Saudi diplomat murder: Pakistan seeks Tehran assistance to arrest suspects from Iran

A police officer examines a bullet hole on the car of the Saudi consulate employee who was shot dead in Karachi on May 16, 2011. (AP/File Photo)
  • Hassan Al-Qahtani was killed by gunmen in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi in 2011
  • In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder

KARACHI: Pakistani police have asked for assistance from authorities in Tehran in apprehending the suspected killers of a Saudi diplomat who are believed to be hiding in Iran, a counterterrorism official has said.

Hassan Al-Qahtani, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Pakistan’s southern metropolis of Karachi, was killed in 2011 when gunmen opened fire on his car in the city’s Defence Housing Authority neighborhood.

In November last year, Pakistani authorities established a special team to investigate the murder after previous probes yielded no result. Counter Terrorism Department Deputy Inspector-General Omar Shahid Hamid told Arab News at the time that the team was working on “fruitful leads” from the country’s intelligence.

Investigation materials seen by Arab News include a November request to Iranian authorities for assistance in the case against three suspects in Al-Qahtani’s murder — Ali Mustehsan, Raza Imam, and Syed Waqar Ahmed — over their “involvement in target killing and terrorism activities in Pakistan.”

A policeman is reflected in a window of the Saudi consulate employee's car in Karachi shattered by bullets on May 16, 2011. (Reuters/File Photo)

“We have written for mutual legal assistance from Iran,” a Counter Terrorism Department official told Arab News on Friday evening on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We believe that all three accused are absconding in Iran, and we cannot arrest them without the assistance of their law enforcement.”

He said red notices for Mustehsan and Ahmed have already been issued, while police have called for the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate the process of issuing one for Imam as well.

Imam, alias Manzar, has a 1-million-rupee ($13,400) bounty on his head and has already been sentenced to death in two different cases, according to the Sindh police wanted list.

He is a member of the banned Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan militant organization.

Mustehsan, alias Syed Waseem Ahsan Naqvi, belongs to the same organization.


Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
Updated 22 January 2022

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass

Thousands protest in Sweden against vaccine pass
  • Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm
  • Around 9,000 people marched through streets of Stockholm chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom"

STOCKHOLM: Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Sweden's two biggest cities on Saturday against the use of vaccine passes, in marches that unfolded calmly after police had warned of possible clashes.
Security police Sapo had expressed concern that neo-Nazi groups and opponents could face off at the demonstration in Stockholm.
Around 9,000 people marched through the streets of the capital Stockholm to the Sergels Torg square chanting "No to Vaccine Passes, Yes to Freedom", in a protest organised by a group calling itself the Freedom Movement.
One of the marchers, 30-year-old Julia Johansson, said vaccine passes "discriminate against a lot of people".
"We have to be able to decide ourselves what we want to do with our own bodies," she told AFP.
Aida Begovic, 35, agreed, saying they "force people to get medical procedures they don't want."
"No matter how much you say (vaccination) isn't a requirement, it is if you lose rights in society over it."
The Scandinavian country introduced vaccine passes on December 1.
They have been mandatory since January 12 for indoor events of more than 50 people, as the country battles an unprecedented surge of infections with around 40,000 cases reported per day in the past week.
More than 83 percent of Swedes over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated.
Some of the demonstrators wore the markings of violent extremist groups such as the neo-Nazi group NMR, and covered their faces to prevent identification.
Some also set off red flares that lit the sky a smoky red, but police said no clashes were reported.
A number of vaccination centres in the city had closed early on Saturday as a precaution.
In Sweden's second-biggest city Gothenburg, another demonstration gathered around 1,500 people.
Sweden made headlines in the early days of the pandemic when it, unlike most other countries, did not introduce any form of lockdown or school closures.
Instead, it adopted a softer approach, recommending social distancing, homeworking and only limited use of facemasks.
It did however ban visits to elderly care homes, limit public gatherings and restrict opening hours at bars and restaurants.
Sweden's death toll -- around 15,600 of the 10.3 million population -- is around the European average, but is significantly higher than in neighbouring Norway, Finland and Denmark.