JAKARTA: More than 99 percent of Indonesia’s population has developed antibodies against COVID-19, the health minister said on Monday, as tens of millions of people are expected to stream out of cities at the end of Ramadan.
Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, has allowed the annual exodus tradition locally known as “mudik” for the first time since it was banned for two years during the pandemic.
More than 85 million Indonesians are planning to travel at the end of the Muslim holy month this year, according to a survey from the Transportation Ministry, after the government eased COVID-19 testing requirements for domestic travel and dropped quarantine rules for vaccinated foreign arrivals.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said a seroprevalence survey conducted ahead of Eid Al-Fitr showed 99.2 percent of Indonesians have developed antibodies against COVID-19.
“We also measured the level of antibodies. In December when we conducted the (first) sero survey, the antibodies were in the hundreds. But by March it (was) in the thousands, around 7,000 (to) 8,000,” Sadikin said during a press briefing in Jakarta, adding that higher levels of antibodies mean better resistance against the coronavirus and less risks of hospitalization and death.
“This has resulted in the government hoping that this Ramadan, this mudik, can occur smoothly without bringing any negative impact to our people.”
Millions had flouted the poorly enforced bans in the last two years, while previous public holidays in the southeast Asian country had resulted in spikes of coronavirus cases. But the public health situation has since improved, and daily cases at the national level are currently in the hundreds, compared to nearly 65,000 daily cases during the peak of the omicron wave in mid-February.
Chief Economic Minister Airlangga Hartarto, who heads Indonesia’s COVID-19 handling committee, urged Indonesians not to travel abroad during the long holiday.
“With this upcoming long holiday, citizens are advised not to travel abroad because we know the situation in other countries is not the same (as) in Indonesia so there’s potential for transmissions from abroad,” Hartarto said.
Bracing for the return of mass travel and notorious road congestion, President Joko Widodo said Indonesians should start hitting the roads early.
“I am calling on the public to go on mudik earlier … don’t forget to obey health protocols, especially to use masks, wash hands, and keep social distance,” Widodo said.
As the country enjoyed a gradual return to normalcy in the last month, more than 162 million Indonesians, over half of the country’s 270-million population, have now been fully vaccinated.
Umi Mubarotun, who lives and works in the outskirts of the capital Jakarta, said she’s planning to return to her hometown in West Java for Eid Al-Fitr next month after skipping mudik last year.
“The government is already allowing mudik this year,” Mubarotun told Arab News.
US abortion ruling sparks global debate, polarizes activists
WHO chief, French president and Canadian prime minister among those who have expressed outrage
“This is being done in America, which should be an example when it comes to the women’s rights movement,” says Kenyan activist for abortion rights.
Updated 13 sec ago
NAIROBI, Kenya: The end of constitutional protections for abortions in the United States on Friday emboldened abortion opponents around the world, while advocates for abortion rights worried it could threaten recent moves toward legalization in their countries.
The US Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision “shows that these types of rights are always at risk of being steamrolled,” said Ruth Zurbriggen, an Argentinian activist and member of the Companion Network of Latin America and the Caribbean, a group favoring abortion rights.
But in El Salvador, anti-abortion campaigner Sara Larín expressed hope the ruling will bolster campaigns against the procedure around the globe.
“I trust that with this ruling it will be possible to abolish abortion in the United States and throughout the world,” said Larín, president of Fundación Vida SV.
In Kenya, Phonsina Archane watched news of Friday’s ruling and said she froze for a while in a state of panic.
“This is being done in America, which should be an example when it comes to the women’s rights movement,” said Archane, an activist for abortion rights. “If this is happening in America, what about me here in Africa? It’s a very, very sad day.”
She worried the ruling will embolden abortion opponents across Africa who have charged into reproductive health clinics or threatened attacks. “There is no safe place on the continent,” she said.
Abortion in sub-Saharan Africa is already more unsafe than in any other region of the world, and the overwhelming majority of women of child-bearing age live in countries where abortion laws are highly or moderately restricted, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research organization that supports abortion rights.
Archane said civil society groups in Africa will have to come together to work out strategies on how to keep themselves and women safe. Just months ago, many saw hope when the World Health Organization released guidelines on quality abortion care, she said. “We had a step ahead, and now we have to go five steps back again.”
The decision, which leaves it up to lawmakers in individual US state to decide whether to allow or ban abortions, lit up social media across Argentina, where a law that legalized elective abortion up to the 14th week of gestation took effect in January 2021 after years of debate.
Anti-abortion activists cheered the ruling, with legislator Amalia Granata tweeting: “There is justice again in the world. We are going to achieve this in Argentina too!!”
In more conservative countries like El Salvador, where abortions are illegal no matter the circumstance and where some 180 women with obstetric emergencies have been criminally prosecuted in the last two decades, Larín warned that the ruling could inspire yet more efforts to loosen abortion restrictions outside the US
“Campaigns promoting abortion may intensify in our countries because funding and abortion clinics in the United States are going to close as they have been doing in recent years,” she said.
At the Vatican, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, joined US bishops in saying it is a time for reflection, healing wounds and civil dialogue.
“The fact that a large country with a long democratic tradition has changed its position on this issue also challenges the whole world.” the academy said.
In Mexico, lawyer and activist Verónica Cruz said the ruling could give a boost to anti-abortion groups, but added it likely won’t have any impact in Mexico where 10 of the country’s 32 states have legalized abortion up to 12 weeks gestation in recent years.
She noted the ruling could lead to an increase in calls for help from US women seeking to have abortions in Mexico or to buy pills to interrupt pregnancies at Mexican pharmacies.
So far this year, local activists have accompanied some 1,500 US women who traveled to Mexico for those purposes, Cruz said.
Ricardo Cano, with the anti-abortion group National Front for Life, also doubts the ruling would have any impact in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America, given the advance of leftist ideologies in the region.
Colombia, which became in February the latest Latin American country to expand access to abortion, also will not be affected by the ruling, said Catalina Martínez Coral, director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip overseas, the heads of at least two Group of Seven members called the decision “horrific.”
“No government, politician or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, adding that he “can’t imagine the fear and anger” women in the US must be experiencing in the wake of the ruling.
The French Foreign Ministry urged US federal authorities “to do everything possible” to ensure American women have continued access to abortions, calling it a “health and survival issue.” France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, added in a tweet that “abortion is a fundamental right of all women.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organiztion, said on Twitter that he was “concerned and disappointed” by the ruling. saying it reduces both ”women’s rights and access to health care.”
The UN agency dealing with sexual and reproductive health said that whether or not abortion is legal “it happens all too often” and global data shows that restricting access makes abortion more deadly.
The United Nations Population Fund issued a statement following the Supreme Court’s decision noting that its 2022 report said that nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended and over 60 percent of those pregnancies may end in abortion.
“A staggering 45 percent of all abortions around the world are unsafe, making this a leading cause of maternal death,” the agency said.
It said almost all unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, and it fears that “more unsafe abortions will occur around the world if access to abortion becomes more restricted.”
In the only part of Latin America directly affected by the ruling, Puerto Rico, the island’s Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks or when a doctor determines a fetus is viable, with the sole exception being if a woman’s life is in danger. The bill is now before the island’s House of Representatives.
Dr. Migna Rivera García, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Psychologists, said the US Supreme Court’s ruling has prompted abortion rights activists to reformulate their strategy.
“It causes a lot of uncertainty given the environment right now in Puerto Rico,” she said. “This bill harms poor women and black women the most. ... They don’t have access to services like other social groups.”
Bangladesh floods leave 3.5 million children needing clean water: UNICEF
The floods have also disrupted health facilities, shut schools and disrupted malnutrition treatment for hundreds of children, Yett told a briefing in Geneva
Updated 28 min 23 sec ago
LONDON: Fifteen children have drowned in flash floods that swept through Bangladesh with another 3.5 million urgently needing clean drinking water as the risk of waterborne diseases grows, UNICEF’s country representative said on Friday.
“That’s a staggering number of children and an increase over the last couple of days. Huge areas are fully underwater and are disconnected from safe drinking water and food supplies. Children need help right now,” Sheldon Yett said.
Government and aid agencies have rushed to provide relief including water and other supplies after flash flooding across a quarter of the South Asian nation.
The floods have also disrupted health facilities, shut schools and disrupted malnutrition treatment for hundreds of children, Yett told a briefing in Geneva.
Cases of diarrhea have risen to 2,700 as of the middle of this week, he added.
Authorities in Bangladesh and neighboring India have warned of a risk of a disease epidemic. In total, more than 4.5 million people have been stranded and dozens killed in Bangladesh, many in the worst flooding in the Sylhet region in the northeast for more than 100 years.
In the eastern Indian state of Assam, Indian air force helicopters have been deployed to drop food and other supplies to cut-off communities.
WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court on Friday struck down the right to abortion in a seismic ruling that shredded five decades of constitutional protections and prompted several right-leaning states to impose immediate bans on the procedure.
The conservative-dominated court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision enshrining a woman’s right to an abortion, saying individual states can restrict or ban the procedure themselves.
“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,” the court said in a 6-3 ruling on one of America’s most bitterly divisive issues. “The authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
A somber President Joe Biden called the ruling a “tragic error” stemming from “extreme ideology” and said it was a “sad day for the court and the country.”
“The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” Biden said, warning that other rights could be threatened next, such as same-sex marriage and contraception.
The Democratic president urged Congress to restore abortion protections as federal law and said Roe will be “on the ballot” in November’s midterm elections.
Hundreds of people — some weeping for joy and others with grief — gathered outside the fenced-off Supreme Court as the ruling came down.
“It’s hard to imagine living in a country that does not respect women as human beings and their right to control their bodies,” said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, 49, a mother of two daughters who was choking back tears.
“You have failed us,” read a sign held up by one protester. “Shame,” said another.
But Gwen Charles, a 21-year-old opponent of abortion, was jubilant.
“This is the day that we have been waiting for,” Charles told AFP. “We get to usher in a new culture of life in the United States.”
Just hours after the ruling, Missouri banned abortion — making no exception for rape or incest — and so did South Dakota, except where the life of the mother is at risk.
Abortion providers in Wisconsin said the procedure was now banned there.
“This is a monumental day for the sanctity of life,” Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt said.
About two dozen states are expected to severely restrict or outright ban and criminalize abortions, forcing women to travel long distances to states that still permit the procedure.
In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong.”
“Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views,” he said. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion.”
The court tossed out the legal argument in Roe v. Wade that women had the right to abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy with regard to their own bodies.
While the ruling represents a victory in the struggle against abortion by the religious right, leaders of the largely Christian conservative movement said it does not go far enough and they will push for a nationwide ban.
“While it’s a major step in the right direction, overturning Roe does not end abortion,” said the group March for Life.
“God made the decision,” said former Republican president Donald Trump in praising the court’s ruling.
The ruling was made possible by Trump’s nomination of three conservative justices — Neil Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Alito’s opinion largely mirrors his draft opinion that was the subject of an extraordinary leak in early May, sparking nationwide demonstrations, with an armed man arrested this month near the home of conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, called the ruling “outrageous and heart-wrenching,” while leading abortion provider Planned Parenthood vowed to “never stop fighting.”
The three liberal justices on the court dissented from the ruling — which came a day after the court ushered in a major expansion of US gun rights.
“One result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens,” they said.
Abortion providers could now face criminal penalties and “some States will not stop there,” they warned.
“Perhaps, in the wake of today’s decision, a state law will criminalize the woman’s conduct too, incarcerating or fining her for daring to seek or obtain an abortion,” they said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 13 states have adopted so-called “trigger laws” that will ban abortion virtually immediately.
Ten others have pre-1973 laws that could go into force or legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.
Women in states with strict anti-abortion laws will either have to continue with their pregnancy, undergo a clandestine abortion, obtain abortion pills, or travel to another state where it remains legal.
Several Democratic-ruled states, anticipating an influx, have taken steps to facilitate abortion and three of them — California, Oregon and Washington — issued a joint pledge to defend access in the wake of the court’s decision.
The ruling goes against an international trend of easing abortion laws, including in such countries as Ireland, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia where the Catholic Church continues to wield considerable influence.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called it a “huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described it as “horrific” while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was a “big step backwards.”
Can crisis-stricken Afghanistan be prevented from becoming an extremists’ sanctuary again?
Concerns growing about the future of bankrupt, unstable and internationally isolated country
IS-K exploiting disunity among Taliban over whether to embrace pragmatism or ideological purity
Updated 25 June 2022
LONDON: Nearly a year into the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan following the US military withdrawal, there is mounting concern that the bankrupt, unstable and internationally isolated country could once again become a sanctuary for extremist groups and even a launchpad for global terrorism.
The US beat a rushed retreat from Afghanistan in August 2021 after reaching a shaky peace deal with the Taliban, whose leaders pledged to never again offer sanctuary to extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, which had plotted the 9/11 attacks from Afghan soil.
The hope was that Afghanistan would not become a hotbed of international terrorism as it had been in 2001, and that a plot for an attack of 9/11’s magnitude would never again emanate from the country.
But in common with millions of Afghans, not many South Asian observers were convinced of the Taliban’s sincerity, believing instead that the country was being hijacked yet again by a violent and insular fundamentalist group.
“I do think that Afghanistan has already become a hive of terrorism,” Ahmad Wali Massoud, a former ambassador of Afghanistan to the UK, told Arab News.
“Already we can see many strands of terrorism, from Al-Qaeda to Daesh. They are already staying inside Afghanistan, they are being protected by the Taliban, they are protected by the government of Taliban inside Afghanistan.”
Massoud is the younger brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajik guerrilla commander who until the Taliban’s return to power last year was feted as Afghanistan’s national hero.
“The US departure from Afghanistan was very unrealistic, very irresponsible, it was not coordinated well, and ignored the people of Afghanistan,” Ahmad Wali Massoud told Arab News.
“The US left their allies, the people of Afghanistan, the security forces of Afghanistan, which they helped for almost 20 years. They completely ignored them. They left them alone to the mercy of terrorism, of the Taliban, of extremism.”
Today, Ahmad Wali Massoud’s nephew, Ahmad Massoud, heads the National Resistance Front against the Taliban in his native Panjshir, north of Kabul, where his father had famously resisted the Soviets and the Taliban decades earlier.
Recent fighting in Panjshir does not still represent a challenge to the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan, but it is the most significant and sustained armed opposition the group has faced since returning to power.
For Massoud and others, the idea that, once in power, the Taliban would act less like an insurgent movement and more like a government for all Afghans, was not quite grounded in reality.
With political violence now rife across the country, freedom of speech curtailed, and the rights of women and girls eroding steadily, war-weary Afghans’ mood is one of deepening pessimism.
Responding to the developments since last August, the US and global financial institutions have frozen Afghanistan’s assets, withheld aid and loans, and sought to isolate the Taliban regime.
As a result, the Afghan government is perpetually on the brink of economic collapse and, in some parts of the country, the specter of famine looms. Almost half the population — 20 million people — is experiencing acute hunger, according to a UN-backed report issued in May.
On Wednesday, the country faced a new humanitarian crisis when a magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck the country’s east, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring another 1,500. Most of the deaths occurred in the provinces of Paktika, Khost and Nangarhar,
Additionally, the Taliban finds itself battling a violent insurgency led by Daesh’s local franchise, the Islamic State in Khorasan, or IS-K, which in recent months has repeatedly targeted members of minority communities including Shiites, Sikhs and Sufis.
A recently released UN report says IS-K has between 1,500 and 4,000 fighters, “concentrated in remote areas” of Kunar, Nangarhar and possibly Nuristan provinces. According to the study, smaller, covert cells are located in northern and northeastern provinces, including Badakhshan, Takhar, Jowzjan, Kunduz and Faryab.
While the Taliban is satisfied with setting up an Islamic polity within Afghanistan, the goal of IS-K is to create a single state for the entire Muslim world, according to scholars of political Islam.
IS-K is seeking to exploit dissension within the Taliban ranks over whether the group should embrace pragmatism or ideological purity. The tensions are intensified by the hodge-podge of entities in Afghanistan, including Daesh, the Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
* 20m Afghans experiencing acute hunger.
* 1,000+ Death toll of June 22 earthquake.
* 1,500+ UN estimate of IS-K fighters in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s dilemma as it tries to govern a country that has experienced 20 years of Western-led modernization was predicted by Kamran Bokhari in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 27, 2021.
“The Afghan Taliban have to change but can’t — not without causing an internal rupture,” he wrote. “Such changes ... require a long and tortuous process, and even then, transformation remains elusive.
“The risk of fracture is especially acute when a movement has to change behavior abruptly for geopolitical reasons.”
On the one hand, the number of bombings across Afghanistan has dropped since last August and Taliban 2.0 cannot be accused of directly sponsoring terrorism. On the other hand, the ensuing collapse of state authority in some rural areas and the loss of Western air support for counterinsurgency operations have been a blessing to extremist groups.
“The Taliban takeover has benefited militant groups in multiple ways,” Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center, told Arab News.
“It has galvanized and energized an Islamist extremist network for which the expulsion of US troops from Muslim soil and the elimination of US-aligned governments are core goals. The takeover has also brought into power a group with close ideological and operational links to a wide range of militant groups.
“This means at the very least that the Taliban won’t try to expel these groups from Afghan territory, and in the case of the one group that it is targeting, IS-K, it lacks the discipline and capacity to undertake careful and effective counterterrorism tactics.
“On a related note, the Taliban lack the capacity to operate air power, which had been the main means used by NATO forces and the Afghan military to manage the IS-K threat. Furthermore, the Taliban has no ability to ease an acute economic crisis, and the widespread privation fosters an environment ripe for radicalization. This benefits the IS-K.”
Since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the international community’s patience has flagged and attention has shifted toward the war in Ukraine and the alarming prospect of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO states.
Kugelman believes the terror threats emanating from Afghanistan fell off the radar long before Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
“I would argue that the world was letting the terrorism threat in Afghanistan fester well before the Ukraine war, mainly because the US had struggled to build out the capacity to monitor and target terrorist threats in Afghanistan from outside the country,” he told Arab News.
“This isn’t a big problem now, given that the threat is not what it used to be. But if this neglect allows the global terrorism threat in Afghanistan to gradually grow back and the US and its partners still don’t have a plan, then all bets are off and there could be big problems.”
To be sure, the situation in Afghanistan is still very different from that of pre-2001, when the entire Al-Qaeda leadership was based in the country as guests of Mullah Omar, the founder and then-leader of the Taliban.
Al-Qaeda and its then-leader Osama bin Laden had initially been welcomed to Afghanistan by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a Mujahideen leader, after bin Laden’s 1996 expulsion from Sudan.
In Afghanistan’s political and geographic isolation inherited by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda was able to freely plot its attacks against the US.
In April 2001, just a few months before 9/11 and his own assassination at the hands of Al-Qaeda operatives, Ahmad Shah Massoud had addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, warning the West would pay a heavy price if it continued to allow extremism to fester in Afghanistan.
Does that fateful speech have any relevance to the current situation?
“While one should never be complacent, it’s safe to say the global terrorism threat emanating from Afghanistan isn’t as serious today as it was when Massoud issued his warning in 2001,” said Kugelman.
“Al-Qaeda has become much weaker and the only other group in Afghanistan with globally focused goals is a Daesh chapter that currently can’t project a threat beyond the immediate region.
“That said, let’s be clear: With NATO forces out of Afghanistan and an Al-Qaeda-allied regime now in power, the ground is fertile in the medium term for international terror groups to reconstitute themselves — and especially if we see new influxes of foreign fighters into Afghanistan that can bring shock troops, arms, money, and tactical expertise to these groups.”
In exile in Europe, Ahmad Wali Massoud is convinced that the Trump and Biden administrations made a grave error in deciding to negotiate with the Taliban and in withdrawing from Afghanistan.
Allowing the group to return to power, he believes, will inevitably transform Afghanistan into a terror heartland — a development he is convinced, just as his brother warned, will come back to haunt the West.
“I think, by now, they must have realized, after almost a year, that they have made a mistake, because they know now that the Taliban is out of control,” Massoud told Arab News.
“I do think that if the situation remains like this, they will pay a very high price. Of course, Afghanistan has already paid a very high price. But I’m pretty sure the US will also pay a very high price.”
NEW DELHI: Draupadi Murmu, the presidential candidate for India’s ruling party, filed her nomination in parliament on Friday and looks set to become the first tribal politician and only the second woman to hold the position.
The 64-year-old veteran politician from the eastern state of Orissa is a strong favorite as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party holds a majority in parliament. If successful, she would take over from President Ram Nath Kovind, whose term expires next month.
The Indian presidency is a largely ceremonial post, as executive authority is held by the prime minister. The president is elected indirectly by both houses of parliament and the legislative assemblies of each of India’s states and territories. Voting will be held on July 18.
“I thank all and seek cooperation from everyone for the presidential election,” Murmu said a day before filing her nomination. “I will meet all voters and seek their support.”
The primary duty of the president is to preserve the constitution and appoint the attorney general. The president is also the supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces, and as such can declare war or conclude peace.
“The president of India reigns but does not rule,” Sanjay Hegde, a constitutional lawyer from the Supreme Court, told Arab News. “In India’s parliamentary system, he or she occupies a place as the constitutional head of state, who is almost invariably bound by cabinet advice.”
But the president does have some influence.
“In the event of a fractured mandate after a general election, the president has the choice of appointment among potential prime ministers,” Hedge said. “He or she can choose the person best placed to command the confidence of the lower house.”
Murmu will compete for the post with opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha, who was a senior BJP leader before he left the party in 2018 following a divergence with Modi on economic issues.
Sinha, 84, served as finance minister under a BJP government from 1998 to 2002 and as foreign minister between 2002 and 2004.
Political analyst Satish Kumar Singh told Arab News Murmu’s appointment was “a clever choice by the BJP,” as the ruling party was trying to expand its outreach among the marginalized tribal community which constitutes about 10 percent of India’s population.
“Droupadi Murmu comes from Orissa, where the BJP has been trying to make inroads for years. By nominating a local tribal leader, Modi is trying to improve his party’s position among the crucial tribal population,” he said.
It will be very difficult for tribal members of parliament who sit in the opposition ranks to vote against a tribal woman.
“Murmu’s candidacy also created a rift in the opposition camp with some opposition-run states like Orissa and Jharkhand deciding to back the tribal presidential candidate,” Singh added.
“This might be a presidential election but the whole calculation has been done keeping in mind the future electoral process.”