Pope urges peace, not politics in call to Russian patriarch

Pope urges peace, not politics in call to Russian patriarch
A photo taken on Wednesday by The Vatican Media shows Pope Francis talking with Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during a virtual audience via videolink in The Vatican. (AFP)
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Updated 16 March 2022

Pope urges peace, not politics in call to Russian patriarch

Pope urges peace, not politics in call to Russian patriarch
  • The call was all the more remarkable because Francis and Kirill have only met once
  • A Vatican statement said both men agreed that the church "must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus”

ROME: Pope Francis rejected the concept of a “just war” and stressed the need for peace in a video call Wednesday with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.
This is the first known communication between the two Christian leaders since the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The call was all the more remarkable because Francis and Kirill have only met once — at the Havana airport in 2016 — in what was then the first encounter between a pope and Russian patriarch in over 1,000 years.
A Vatican statement said both men agreed that the church “must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus” and stressed the importance of negotiations to reach a cease-fire.
“Those who pay the price for the war are the people, it is the Russian soldiers and the people who are bombed and die,” the Vatican quoted Francis as saying.
Wednesday’s call came just hours after Francis evoked the specter of a “final catastrophe” of an atomic war that would extinguish humanity. While Francis didn’t reference Ukraine explicitly in that part of his speech during his weekly audience, he did elsewhere call for prayers for Ukraine and for God to protect its children and forgive those who make war.
Francis’ long-term goal to improve relations with Kirill and avoid antagonizing the Russian Orthodox Church had explained his initially tepid responses to the Feb. 24 start of the Russian invasion. He has since stepped up his denunciations, demanding “an end to this massacre,” and labeling the invasion an “unacceptable armed aggression.”
But he has not condemned Russia by name for the onslaught or publicly urged Kirill to use his influence with Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand an end to the war, as other Catholic bishops and Orthodox leaders have done. The Vatican has a tradition of quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy and tends to not call out aggressors.
In fact, Francis’ comment about Russian soldiers paying the price for the war marked the first time he had publicly referenced Russia.
Kirill has said he appreciated the Holy See’s moderate tone.
Kirill, though, has sent signals justifying the war by describing it as part of a struggle against sin and pressure from liberal foreigners to hold “gay parades” as the price of admission to their ranks. He has blamed the West and a fellow Orthodox patriarch for fomenting enmity between Ukraine and Russia.
According to the website of Kirill’s church, he and Francis — flanked by top officials of both churches — spoke about the situation in Ukraine, particularly the humanitarian aspects, and efforts by both churches to overcome the problems.
“The parties stressed the exceptional importance of the ongoing negotiation process, expressing their hope for the soonest achievement of a just peace,” the Russian church said.
The Vatican, in its readout of the conversation, did not reference a “just peace,” and in fact quoted Francis as saying the traditional Christian concept of a “just war” was no longer possible.
“Once upon a time there was also talk in our churches of a ‘holy war’ or ‘just war,’” the Vatican quoted Francis as saying. “Today we cannot speak like this. Christian awareness of the importance of peace has developed.”
Francis has previously said it was permissible to use force to stop an “unjust aggression,” referring in 2014 to the US military action to stop extremists from attacking religious minorities in Iraq. But he stressed then that such action could not become a pretext to launch an actual war, merely to stop an “unjust aggression.”
“Wars are always unjust. Because those who pay are the people of God,” Francis told Kirill on Wednesday. “Our hearts cannot help but cry in front of the children, the women killed, all the victims of war. War is never the way. The Spirit who unites us asks us as shepherds to help the peoples who suffer from war.”
The phone call came hours before Francis’ deputy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrated a Mass for peace in Ukraine for ambassadors accredited to the Holy See. The Ukrainian and Russian ambassadors attended, and prayers were read out in Russian and Ukrainian, including by a woman wearing a blue and yellow ribbon on her lapel, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
And on Friday, Francis is to celebrate a Mass during which he will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Virgin Mary in a ritual that holds deep significance for the Catholic faithful. According to tradition, one of the so-called secrets of Fatima concerns the consecration of Russia to “the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” prophesizing that peace will follow if the consecration is done.
St. John Paul II performed the consecration on March 25, 1984, though he didn’t specify Russia by name, and Francis will repeat the gesture 38 years later. On the same day, Francis’ chief alms-giver, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, who recently returned from a humanitarian mission to Ukraine, will celebrate a consecration Mass in Fatima, Portugal, the site of the early 20th century Marian apparitions that formed the basis of the “secrets of Fatima.”
Kirill’s ties to the Russian government and justification for the war have posed a diplomatic and ecumenical problem for the Vatican, which had offered itself up as a potential mediator. Francis visited the Russian ambassador soon after the initial invasion and spoke by phone with the Ukrainian president.
Kirill, for his part, has rebuffed calls for him to act as a mediator. In a March 10 letter to an official of the World Council of Churches — who had urged Kirill to mediate with Russian authorities to stop the war – Kirill faulted the West for the eastern expansion of NATO.
He also faulted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople – considered first among equals of Eastern Orthodox prelates, though lacking the universal authority of a pope – for recognizing the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.


‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief
Updated 07 December 2022

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief

‘Humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,’ warns UN chief
  • “As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives,” said Trudeau in response

MONTREAL: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday slammed multinational corporations for turning the world’s ecosystems into “playthings of profit” and warned failure to correct course would lead to catastrophic results.
“With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction,” he said, in a speech ahead of biodiversity talks in Montreal.
Since taking office in 2017, Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, has made climate change his signature issue.
His fiery denunciations at the ceremonial opening of the conference, known as COP15, revealed the plight of the planet’s endangered plants and animals — an interconnected crisis — are equally close to his heart.
Before he took the dais, a group of around half a dozen Indigenous protesters interrupted a speech by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is co-hosting the event with China.
They waved a banner that read “Indigenous genocide = Ecocide” and “To save biodiversity stop invading our land,” and chanted for a few minutes before they were escorted out, to a smattering of applause.
“As you can also see Canada is a place of free expression, where individuals and communities are free to express themselves openly and strongly, and we thank them for sharing their perspectives,” said Trudeau in response.
The meeting is not to be confused with another set of UN talks earlier this month, which were on climate and called COP27.

Nearly 200 countries have gathered for the December 7-19 meeting in an effort to hammer out a “Paris moment” for nature.
The challenges are daunting: one million species are at risk of extinction; one-third of all land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost; while pollution and climate change are accelerating degradation of the oceans.
Chemicals, plastics and air pollution are choking land, water and air, while planetary heating brought about by burning fossil fuels are causing climate chaos — from heatwaves and forest fires to droughts and floods.
“We are treating nature like a toilet,” Guterres said bluntly.
“And ultimately, we are committing suicide by proxy” he added — with the impacts felt on jobs, hunger, disease and death.
Economic losses from ecosystem degradation, meanwhile, are estimated to stand at $3 trillion annually from 2030.
Ahead of the talks, AFP spoke to Elizabeth Mrema, the head of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), who said failure was not an option.
“For the Paris agreement to succeed, biodiversity also has to succeed. For climate to succeed, nature has to succeed, and that’s why we have to deal with them together,” she said.
Draft targets for the 10-year framework include a cornerstone pledge to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and seas by 2030, eliminating harmful fishing and agriculture subsidies, tackling invasive species and reducing pesticides.
The new goal will rely heavily on the involvement of Indigenous peoples, who steward land that is home to around 80 percent of Earth’s remaining biodiversity.
Divisions have already emerged on the key issue of financing, with wealthy countries under pressure to funnel more money to developing nations for conservation.
Hopes have already been tempered by the absence of world leaders: Canada’s Trudeau will be the only in attendance.
COP15 is currently chaired by China, but it is not hosting the meeting because of the Covid pandemic.

 


Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York
Updated 07 December 2022

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York

Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud in New York
  • Trump and his three eldest children face a trial late next year in a civil lawsuit by New York’s attorney general that accuses them of misstating the value of properties to enrich themselves

NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s family business was found guilty of tax fraud by a New York jury Tuesday, dealing a blow to the ex-president as he eyes the White House again.
The Trump Organization and separate entity the Trump Payroll Corp. were found guilty on all counts, marking the first time the companies had ever been convicted of crimes.
“This was a case about greed and cheating,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who prosecuted the case.
Trump himself was not charged but the fact the sprawling real-estate, hotel and golf business that bears his name is now a convicted felon is likely to inflict damage to his reputation as he seeks the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2024.
The two entities were convicted of running a 13-year-scheme to defraud and evade taxes by falsifying business records. In all, they were found guilty on 17 counts.
Jurors agreed with prosecutors that the Trump Organization — currently run by Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric Trump — hid compensation it paid to top executives between 2005 and 2021.
Longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg, had already pleaded guilty to 15 counts of tax fraud, and testified against his former company as part of a plea bargain. He did not implicate Trump during the trial.
A close friend of the Trump family, the 75-year-old Weisselberg admitted he schemed with the company to receive undeclared benefits such as a rent-free apartment in a posh Manhattan neighborhood, luxury cars for him and his wife and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
According to his plea deal, Weisselberg agreed to pay nearly $2 million in fines and penalties and complete a five-month prison sentence in exchange for testimony during the trial, which started in October.
Trump, posting on his social media platform, said the Trump Organization bore no responsibility for “Weisselberg committing tax fraud on his personal tax returns.”
Under the headline “Manhattan Witch Hunt!” Trump said no benefit accrued to the company from Weisselberg’s actions, and that neither he nor any employees were “allowed to legally view” the CFO’s returns.
Trump said he was “disappointed with the verdict” and will appeal.

Trump’s company faces a fine of around $1.5 million, a paltry sum to the billionaire real estate developer.
It’s symbolic though as he battles a host of legal and congressional probes that will likely complicate his run for a second presidential term, announced in Florida last month.
Trump and his three eldest children face a trial late next year in a civil lawsuit by New York’s attorney general that accuses them of misstating the value of properties to enrich themselves.
Prosecutor Letitia James has requested that Trump pay at least $250 million in penalties — a sum she says he made from the fraud — and that his family be banned from running businesses in the state.
James, a Democrat, hailed Tuesday’s verdict.
“We can have no tolerance for individuals or organizations that violate our laws to line their pockets,” she said.
Trump has been ordered to testify in April 2023 as part of a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he raped her in the 1990s.
He is also facing legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 election and over the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
 

 


India, Central Asian countries discuss concerns over ‘terrorist acts’ in Afghanistan

Ajit Doval. (AFP)
Ajit Doval. (AFP)
Updated 06 December 2022

India, Central Asian countries discuss concerns over ‘terrorist acts’ in Afghanistan

Ajit Doval. (AFP)
  • Security chiefs say ‘collective response’ essential
  • Afghanistan an ‘important issue,’ India’s national security adviser says

NEW DELHI: India and four Central Asian nations said on Tuesday that Afghanistan should not be used for “any terrorist acts," following an inaugural security meeting focused on countering terrorism and maintaining stability in the region.

India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval hosted his counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in New Delhi, which followed an India-Central Asia leadership summit led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January.

Afghanistan was top of the agenda on Tuesday — similar to the summit focus earlier this year — as officials raised concerns about the developing situation in the crisis-torn nation.

“Afghanistan is an important issue concerning us all,” Doval said. “We meet at a time when great churns in international relations and uncertainty about the future.”

India has no diplomatic ties with Afghanistan and closed its embassy in Kabul in August last year after US-led forces left the country and the Taliban took over.

New Delhi had spent billions of dollars on infrastructure and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan after the previous Taliban regime was toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001.

A joint declaration issued after Tuesday’s talks “emphasized that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing any terrorist acts.”

India and the Central Asian countries, which in this meeting had not included Turkmenistan, also pointed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and called for action to provide humanitarian assistance for its people.

Their security chiefs also discussed connectivity to enhance trade and improve closer interaction. In addition, a “collective and coordinated response” to address the issue of “terrorist propaganda, recruitment and fundraising efforts” was essential, the statement reads.

The United Nations said last month that organized crime and terrorist organizations “are thriving once again” in Afghanistan. There have been several high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months claimed by the regional branch of Daesh, including a suicide blast outside the Russian embassy in September and an attack on the Pakistan embassy last week.

The regional meeting was an opportunity for India to “work together and engage” with the Central Asian nations to ensure that “sources of financing groups are curtailed and that “the Taliban government in Kabul is under pressure to perform on this issue,” Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Arab News.

“What is happening in Afghanistan and the persistence of terrorism, terror groups there pose a long-term challenge to the region and India therefore is trying to work out modus vivendi for Central Asian countries to see if a common policy response can be initiated.”

 

 


Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson

Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson
Updated 06 December 2022

Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson

Regime in Tehran ‘terrified’ of opposition figures inside Iran, abroad: PMOI spokesperson
  • Regime in Tehran “from Ali Khamenei down, top to bottom” wants to “scare and silence” PMOI operatives behind ongoing protests rocking the country

LONDON: A fire at the London office of an Iranian opposition group is proof the regime in Iran is “terrified” of its opponents both inside and outside the country, according to a spokesperson for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran Organization.

The blaze started in a shed next to the PMOI offices in Cricklewood, northwest London, during the early hours of Monday morning, police confirmed.

The London Fire Brigade also said it sent three engines after being called to a fire at 2:15 a.m. with firefighters finding the ground-floor bin room destroyed. The service said that no injuries were reported.

Metropolitan Police Detective Superintendent Tony Bellis ruled out the fire being a targeted attack or caused by terror-related motives, but did say the incident was being investigated with the help of the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command “due to the location of the incident and the organization based at the adjacent premises.”

However, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, of which the PMOI is a member, issued a statement accusing the Iranian regime of being behind the attack.

Hossein Abedini, the deputy director of the UK office of the Parliament in exile of the NCRI, said: “State terrorism is in the DNA of the clerical regime.”

He added: “With the rise and continuation of the nationwide uprising of the Iranian people to overthrow the mullahs, which has continued for 80 days despite brutal repression, the clerical regime has resorted to more terrorism and threats against the Iranian opposition to compensate for its critical situation and to boost the morale to its demoralized forces.”

Aware that the PMOI is the most organized and efficient opposition force within Iran and runs highly effective campaigns abroad, the regime in Tehran “from Ali Khamenei down, top to bottom” wants to “scare and silence” PMOI operatives behind ongoing protests rocking the country, spokeswoman Laila Jazaeri told Arab News.

“They are definitely terrified, because Khamenei has no solutions (to the unrest) inside Iran,” she said. “They are using live ammunition, (we’ve seen) 700 deaths, 30,000 arrests, only in the past five days 13 people were executed including a woman.”

She added that the regime also fears a new generation of Iranian protesters active in this year’s unrest who have “no fear” and are “not going to go back home until the regime is gone.”

The fire comes shortly after the head of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, recently said security services had foiled more than a dozen planned attacks by Tehran on people who are considered “enemies of the regime” based in the UK.

“The (Iranian) regime hasn’t been able to suppress the protests inside the country, and now it is exporting its terrorism and suppression outside Iranian borders,” Jazaeri said, adding that she had been warned by police about threats to her own safety.

The NCRI’s Abedini said it was time that governments and authorities pushed for Iranian embassies to be shut down.

“The time has come for a decisive response. It is time for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to be proscribed as a terrorist entity in its entirety and the embassies of the clerical regime, which are the centers of terror and espionage, be closed immediately,” he added.

Jazaeri, echoing Abedini’s statement, told Arab News that the PMOI in the UK had been pushing for the closure of Tehran’s embassy in London.

“We’ve been putting pressure on (authorities) for the shutting down of the Iranian Embassy, trying to tell them that it is merely an espionage house, where they recruit terrorists and carry out money-laundering. It should be closed down,” she said.

The London-based Persian-language TV channel Iran International is also under increased police protection after receiving threats, which it blames on Tehran, for its coverage of the protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

* With AFP


Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns
Updated 06 December 2022

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns

Indonesia’s new criminal code raises concerns
  • New criminal code was approved unanimously by Indonesian lawmakers
  • It replaces a framework that stretches back to the Dutch colonial era

JAKARTA: Indonesian lawmakers passed on Tuesday a long-awaited revision of the country’s criminal code, a sweeping overhaul that critics say is a huge setback to human rights and freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian nation. 

The new rules were approved unanimously by Indonesia’s House of Representatives, three years after a similar draft law was shelved by President Joko Widodo following large-scale protests involving tens of thousands of young people, who had argued that the law threatened their civil liberties. 

The new penal code, which also applies to foreigners in the country, restores a ban on insulting the president, state institutions or Indonesia’s national ideology known as Pancasila. 

“We have tried our best to accommodate the important issues and different opinions which were debated,” Yasonna Laoly, the minister of law and human rights, told parliament. “However, it is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind.”

A revision to the criminal code, which stretches back to the Dutch colonial area, had languished for decades as lawmakers in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation struggled to adapt its native culture and norms to the penal code. 

The new criminal code must be signed by the president after ratification and will not apply immediately to allow for the drafting of implementing regulations, with a transition period set for a maximum of three years. It can also be challenged in the Constitutional Court. 

The new laws, critics say, will curb free speech, including mandatory police permit for public protests, without which protesters can be punished for up to six months in jail. 

“This criminal code is still thick with colonial aroma, and there are many articles threatening civil liberties and limiting democratic spaces,” Tunggal Pawestri, gender rights activist and executive director of Hivos Foundation, told Arab News. 

Pawestri acknowledged that there has been some progress since the nationwide protests in 2019, when opponents of the bill said the law-making process had lacked transparency and contained articles that discriminated against minorities. 

“Even though they said they were open and tried to include input from the larger civil society, we think this was not their best attempt,” Pawestri added. “We have been shouting and giving our input, but it’s almost as if they didn’t listen to us.” 

Editorials in national newspapers decried the new laws, including daily newspaper Koran Tempo, saying the code has “authoritarian” tones and could be a “disaster” in the future. 

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said the new legal provisions were “oppressive,” as they open doors to “invasions of privacy and selective enforcement that will enable police to extort bribes and officials to harass and jail political opponents. 

“In one fell swoop, Indonesia’s human rights situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse,” Robertson told Arab News. 

“Make no mistake, passage of this criminal code is the beginning of an unmitigated disaster for human rights in Indonesia. Lawmakers and the government should immediately reconsider this move, repeal this law and send it back to the drawing board.”