Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions

Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions
Russian Patriarch Kirill celebrates a Christmas service at Christ the Savior cathedral in Moscow, Jan. 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2022

Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions

Patriarch Kirill, loyal Kremlin cleric facing sanctions
  • A key pillar of Putin’s ruling apparatus, the 75-year-old Kirill has championed conservative religious values and buttressed the Kremlin’s authoritarian tendencies
  • In recent weeks he has backed Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, calling on supporters to rally to fight Moscow’s ‘external and internal enemies’

MOSCOW: Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church now facing European sanctions over Ukraine, is a fervent supporter of President Vladimir Putin who once described his rule as a “miracle.”
A key pillar of Putin’s ruling apparatus, the 75-year-old Kirill has championed conservative religious values and buttressed the Kremlin’s authoritarian tendencies by denouncing opposition protests.
In recent weeks he has backed Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, calling on supporters to rally to fight Moscow’s “external and internal enemies.”
In February he spoke of a struggle against the “forces of evil” opposed to the historic “unity” between Russia and Ukraine.
His comments have drawn a rebuke from Pope Francis, who told Kirill in a video meeting in March that religious leaders “must not use the language of politics, but the language of Jesus.”
Francis later announced that a meeting of the two men set for Jerusalem in June had been scrapped.
The European Commission has now proposed putting Kirill on a new list of 58 individuals sanctioned over Russia’s military action in Ukraine, according to a document seen by AFP.
Kirill’s support for Putin has been unwavering since he ascended to the country’s holiest office in 2009.
In 2012 Kirill described Putin’s rule as a “miracle of God” that ended the economic turmoil of the 1990s following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
“You, Vladimir Vladimirovich, personally played a massive role in correcting this crooked twist of our history,” he said using the president’s patronymic.
Kirill, along with Putin and several other prominent figures in the ruling elite, hail from Russia’s former imperial capital Saint Petersburg.
Unlike his grandfather, a priest exiled for three decades to Stalinist labor camps, Kirill, born in 1946, quickly rose through the church ranks, becoming head of external relations and eventually gaining his own television show focusing on religious ideas.
The program had already made Kirill a household name when he took over as patriarch, a role in which he oversees the religious life of more than 110 million followers.
On television, he had proposed an ambitious plan for overhauling the image of the Church, which stagnated during the state-mandated atheism of the Soviet Union, and for expanding its presence in state institutions, such as schools and the army.
As patriarch, he made that vision a reality.
Kirill cemented Orthodox values in everyday life, culminating in a reference to God in a new constitution passed in 2020 — a set of laws that allowed Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036.
He has been a leading voice in support of Russia’s growing conservatism, denouncing the idea of same-sex marriage and declaring homosexuality a sin.
The Church under Kirill has also welcomed moves against religious minorities in Russia. When lawmakers banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, a Church spokesman described the group as a “totalitarian sect” that wanted to “destroy the psyche of people, destroy families.”
Kirill’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, decorated with ornate iconography and topped with massive golden onion domes, sits adjacent to the imposing red walls of the Kremlin, forming an axis of church and state power in the center of Moscow.
From here he regularly presides over lavish state functions attended by Putin and Russia’s political elite.
It was also the site, in 2012, of the definitive punk protest led by Pussy Riot, in which the all-female group chided Kirill saying the patriarch “believes” in Putin.
Kirill described the balaclava-clad women’s performance as “blasphemous” and Pussy Riot members have in the years since been repeatedly arrested and jailed.
The patriarch has long been surrounded by rumors of links to the Soviet-era KGB — where Putin also worked — and allegations of a lavish lifestyle.
In 2012 Russian bloggers spotted a photo in which a watch worth more than $30,000 appeared airbrushed off the holy leader’s wrist, but its reflection was visible on the table.


Sri Lanka says China survey ship can dock in its port

A container ship arrives at a port in Colombo on July 16, 2022. (AFP)
A container ship arrives at a port in Colombo on July 16, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 9 sec ago

Sri Lanka says China survey ship can dock in its port

A container ship arrives at a port in Colombo on July 16, 2022. (AFP)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka said on Saturday it has agreed that the Chinese survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 can dock at its southernmost port, the Chinese-run Hambantota on August 16, despite security concerns raised by neighboring India and the United States.
Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships, used to monitor satellite, rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
Both China and India have tried to expand their influence in Sri Lanka, which is facing its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history.
India has provided more help to Sri Lanka this year than any other nation. But it fears its bigger and more powerful rival China will use the Hambantota port near the main Asia-Europe shipping route as a military base.
Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities at the port to a Chinese company in 2017 on a 99-year lease after struggling to repay its debt.
The Pentagon says Yuan Wang ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army.
On Friday, India rejected claims that it has put pressure on Sri Lanka to turn the vessel away.
“We reject categorically the ‘insinuation’ and such statement about India. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions,” Arindam Bagchi, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.

 

 


Cost of color: In Bangladesh’s ‘dyeing villages,’ a neglected problem of hazards to health

Dye mill workers in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)
Dye mill workers in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)
Updated 13 August 2022

Cost of color: In Bangladesh’s ‘dyeing villages,’ a neglected problem of hazards to health

Dye mill workers in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)
  • Village factories unrecognized by authorities, avoid industry regulators
  • Textile sector is country’s number one industry, accounting for 80% of exports

DHAKA: When he starts work at 5 a.m., Mohammed Hasan will for the next 12 to 14 hours keep his hands immersed in water mixed with different dyes — from earthy to vivid hues, depending on the season’s latest fashion trends.

Sometimes Hasan’s skin will hurt, burnt by a cocktail of chemicals used to obtain a particular color. But he is used to it, like hundreds of others in Purinda, one of the villages in Narayanganj district which have gained fame — and notoriety — as Bangladesh’s “dyeing villages.”

Threads of all shades of the rainbow are hung to dry across Purinda, just 20 kilometers from the capital, Dhaka. Behind them, Hasan and his co-workers at dyeing mills are mixing and boiling salts, acids and emulsifiers to create these colors.

“To color the thread into red, we make a mixture of three to four colors. Then we rub the thread in that mixture. Later on, we soak the bundle of thread in another mixture of colors which makes the thread red,” Hasan told Arab News.

He earns about 22,000 Bangladeshi taka ($240) per month.

“This work is painful. But I need to do this to make ends meet. I have no other options in hand. Since I learned this work, I will have to do this,” he said.

“I couldn’t shape my life properly when I was young. So, now I don’t dream of making life colorful anymore.”

Dye mill workers coloring threads in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)

Mohammed Shafikul Islam, who began to work at a dye house in Purinda when he was a teenager more than 50 years ago, also admits that he has been experiencing skin lesions as his bare hands make contact with harsh chemicals every day.

“This work is very painful,” he said. “I might have been able to do other work. But I do this work because I learned this work.”

Skin problems are not the only hazards faced by workers.

Dr. ASM Mushiur Rahman, chief government health official of Narayanganj, told Arab News that dyeing factories in villages of Araihazar subdistrict do not follow any health protocols, do not have adequate protective clothing, and use chemicals that are not only harmful to the skin, but also to the lungs.

Dye mill worker in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)

“Starting from infections with the lungs it may end up with lung cancer,” he said.

“They suffer from bronchitis, cough, etc. We noticed that the number of tuberculosis patients is also high among the people who work in these industries.”

There is little awareness among workers and factory owners about the problem.

Mohammad Shahjalal Pradhan, who owns one of the dyeing plants in Purinda, admits that the business “has some limitations.”

He said: “The chemicals we use, they create bad smells. Some of our workers get affected with allergies.”

Dye mill worker coloring threads in Purinda Village, Narayanganj District, Bangladesh on July 27, 2022. (AN photo)

The textile sector, which includes dyeing factories, is the number one industry in Bangladesh, employing more than 4 million people, contributing to over 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and accounting for 80 percent of exports.

But there is a lack of comprehensive regulation, as dye houses are not officially recognized businesses, allowing owners to evade monitoring by industry regulators, even though the sites have existed for generations.

“These workers are treated as non-institutional laborers,” Selim Mahmud, president of the workers’ rights group Garments Sromik Front in Narayanganj, said.

“They don’t have any safety at their workplaces.”

Local authorities say that they are not even aware of the situation.

Rafiqul Islam, chief administrative officer of Araihazar subdistrict, told Arab News that the administration “didn’t know of these type of business entities earlier.”

He added: “Generally, we don’t inspect these sort of factories, but if we find any complaints against any business, we inspect it. So far, nobody told us anything about this.”

 


Pakistan, and the man who pioneered commercial manufacturing of its national flag, turn 75

Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala. (AN photo)
Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala. (AN photo)
Updated 13 August 2022

Pakistan, and the man who pioneered commercial manufacturing of its national flag, turn 75

Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala. (AN photo)
  • Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala made Guinness World Records for creating world’s largest flag in 2004.
  • Perchamwala also made the largest flag for Saudi Arabia, measuring 6,000 sq. f.t, in 2006.

KARACHI: It was in 1985 that Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala decided to go into the business of commercially producing Pakistan’s national flag, feeling personally offended that the patriotic symbol was being “desecrated” by manufacturers who paid little attention to government specifications about the flag’s correct size and color.

Perchamwala launched VIP Flags Pakistan with the aim of using modern machines that would get the colors and proportions of the national flag just right.

Today, the company has many accolades to its name, including a Guinness World Records award in 2004 for making the world’s largest flag, after which the company’s CEO formally added to his name the honorific Perchamwala, which translates as flag-maker.

And this August is particularly special for Perchamwala: As Pakistan celebrates 75 years of existence, so will he.

We were honored to make the Kingdom’s flag, though it was also quite difficult due to the inscription and the sword.

Sheikh Nisar Ahmed Perchamwala

“I will also turn 75 on August 30,” Perchamwala told Arab News at the company’s manufacturing unit in Karachi.

“August is not just the month of our freedom but also the month of my birth. It is the month of my Pakistan’s birth.”

Perchamwala was born in New Delhi on Aug. 30, 1947, two weeks after the end of British colonial rule and the creation of Pakistan.

His family had been in the clothing business for generations when in the early 1980s, Perchamwala became increasingly concerned about Pakistani flag manufacturers who did not care “about the proportion of the crescent and the star.”

“These flags also came in different shades (of green); it was almost like people didn’t know how to make the Pakistani flag,” he said.

The casual approach to such details made him wonder: “What kind of a nation are we?”

“Then I did some research and started manufacturing the flag along modern lines for the first time,” the businessman said. “Now, handmade flag manufacturing has stopped and only printed and standard flags are produced with the right proportions.”

Perchamwala said that he started off by making small flags, following government specifications, but went on to increase the size and finally made the world’s largest flag, at 173,400 sq. ft, in 2004, for which he was recognized by Guinness World Records.

“When my name appeared in the record book, I felt I had accomplished something significant and started writing ‘Perchamwala’ with my name,” he said.

Since then, Perchamwala has used the cloth from his record-breaking flag to make quilt covers for the victims of a devastating earthquake that hit Kashmir in October 2005.

He has also received orders for large flags from other countries, including Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

In 2006, Perchamwala made the biggest Saudi flag to date, measuring 6,000 sq. ft, which was also the tallest, installed on a 100-meter pole in Diriyah, near Riyadh.

“They (the Saudis) approached us after we made the (2004) record. We were honored to make the Kingdom’s flag, though it was also quite difficult due to the inscription and the sword,” he said.

In 2008, Perchamwala created another large flag, which measured 250,000 sq. ft, for Afghanistan.

He also receives regular orders for flags from embassies, consulates and hotels in Pakistan.

Now, during the diamond jubilee of Pakistan, Perchamwala’s business is managed by the family’s third generation, for whom he has an important message: “The new generation should not forget the importance of freedom, which was earned through struggle. They must take care of Pakistan’s pride and greatness.”

 

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The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal

The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal
Updated 14 August 2022

The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal

The Afghanistan disaster movie continues to roll, one year after US withdrawal
  • Aid-dependent economy remains in free fall since the Taliban takeover of the war-ravaged country
  • Prices of food and other essentials have soared as drought compounds financial collapse

KABUL: When the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, amid the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan, the group’s stunning return to power marked the end of two decades of warfare, which had killed tens of thousands of Afghans on their own soil. 

One year on, with the country pauperized and isolated on the world stage under its new leadership, life for ordinary Afghans has changed — largely for the worse.

During their first stint in power, from 1996 until late-2001, the Taliban declared an Islamic emirate, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law, enforced with brutal public punishments and executions. 

Opinion

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Women and girls were removed from public life, prevented from working or receiving an education, and even barred from leaving the house without the all-enveloping niqab and a male relative to chaperone them.

In Oct. 2001, US-led forces invaded Afghanistan and removed the Taliban from power, accusing the group of sheltering Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader deemed responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the US that killed almost 3,000 people.

Edi Maa holding her baby receiving treatment for malnutrition at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) nutrition centre in Herat. (AFP)

What followed were 20 blood-soaked years of fighting between the NATO-backed Afghan national forces and Taliban guerrilla fighters intent on retaking power.

While under the Western-backed administration, Afghanistan made progress with the emergence of independent media and a growing number of girls going to school and university. 

However, in many regions beyond the big cities, Afghans knew only war, depriving them of the many development projects implemented elsewhere by foreign donors.

Now that US-led forces have withdrawn and the Taliban has traded guerrilla warfare for the day-to-day running of the country, security has greatly improved.

During their first stint in power, from 1996 until late-2001, the Taliban declared an Islamic emirate, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law, enforced with brutal public punishments and executions. (AFP)

“We only saw war in the past several years. Every day, we lived in fear. Now it’s calm and we feel safe,” Mohammad Khalil, a 69-year-old farmer in northwest Balkh province, told Arab News. “We can finally breathe.”

But the uneasy peace has come at a cost.

Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has been in free fall since the Taliban returned to power. Billions of dollars in foreign assistance have been suspended and some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets parked overseas have been frozen.

Denied international recognition, with aid suspended and the financial system in paralysis, the UN says that Afghanistan faces humanitarian catastrophe. About 20 percent of the country’s 38 million population are already on the brink of famine.

Afghanistan: One year since the Taliban takeover

Aug. 15, 2021 - Taliban campaign culminates with the fall of Kabul.

Aug. 30 - The last US troops depart Kabul airport after evacuating more than 120,000 people over 17 days.

September - A new interim government is unveiled. The Taliban bring back the feared religious police.

October - More than 120 people are killed in two Daesh-claimed mosque blasts in Kandahar and Kunduz.

Jan. 2022 - Deprived of aid, Afghanistan is plunged into a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.

March - The Taliban block secondary school girls from returning to class. Government employees must grow beards.

May - Women and girls are ordered to wear the hijab and cover their faces when in public. Women are banned from making long-distance journeys alone.

June - More than 1,000 people killed and thousands left homeless in a massive earthquake.

August - The US announces the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in a drone strike on his Kabul hideout.

The price of essential commodities has soared as the value of the Afghan currency has plummeted. A continuing drought has further aggravated the situation in rural areas.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates about 70 percent of Afghan families are unable to meet their basic food needs.

“Most of the time we eat bread and drink tea or just water. We can’t get meat, fruit or even vegetables for the children. Only a few people have goats or cows to feed the children with milk,” Khalil said.

In the capital, Kabul, food is widely available, but few can afford a vaied and nutritious diet.

“There are plenty of food items in the market, but we don’t have the money to buy them,” Mohammad Barat, a 52-year-old daily wage earner, told Arab News.

The looming catastrophe is not only one of shocking levels of poverty, but also lost hope and opportunities.

Tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country over several chaotic days last August, when US forces and their coalition partners hastily airlifted Afghans from Kabul airport. Many others, including professionals, have since followed in their footsteps.

“Doctors are leaving, engineers are leaving, professors and experts are also leaving the country,” Abdul Hamid, a student at Kabul University, told Arab News. “There’s no hope for a better future.”

Those who worked for the deposed Western-backed administration have been removed from public life, particularly women, who are now forced to wear face coverings, banned from making long-distance journeys alone, and prevented from working in most sectors beyond health and education.

Women face a growing number of restrictions in their daily lives; right, Taliban fighters in Kandahar celebrate the US withdrawal. (AFP)

Education, too, has been strictly limited for women, even though allowing girls into schools and colleges has been one of the international community’s core demands since the Taliban retook control of the country.

In mid-March, after months of uncertainty, the Taliban said that they would allow girls to return to school. However, when they arrived at schools around the country to resume studies, those above the age of 13 were ordered to return home.

In a last-minute decision, the Taliban had announced that high schools would remain closed for girls until a plan was ready to receive them in accordance with Islamic law.

Almost half a year later, teenage girls fear they will not return to the classroom anytime soon.

“There’s no reason for banning girls from school,” Amal, an 11th grade student at Rabia Balkhi High School in Kabul, told Arab News. “They just don’t want us to get an education.”

Now that US-led forces have withdrawn and the Taliban has traded guerrilla warfare for the day-to-day running of the country, security has greatly improved. (AFP)

Despite repeated hints by the predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group that experience and the passage of time have softened its rough edges, the streets of Kabul increasingly resemble the Taliban-governed pre-2002 era.

Since the restoration of the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforces the group’s austere interpretation of Islam, traditional clothing, turbans and burqas have replaced suits and jeans, which only a year ago had been considered normal attire in the Afghan capital.

Key symbols of the nation’s identity are also changing, with the white and black banner of the Taliban now appearing on government buildings and in public spaces, gradually replacing Afghanistan’s tricolor, despite earlier pledges it would not be changed.  

For some, the replacement of the old national flag is more than symbolic, and is indicative of the Taliban’s hijacking of the country. 

“It doesn’t represent any government or regime. The Taliban could keep both,” Shah Rahim, a 43-year-old resident of Kabul, told Arab News. 

“The flag is a representation of our nation, our values and our history.”

 

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Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting
Updated 13 August 2022

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting

Lebanese antiques dealer who exposed smuggling network accused of artifact looting
  • Lofti sold and lent items to Metropolitan Museum of Art and kept other artifacts in an apartment located across the road

LONDON: An antiques dealer from Lebanon has been accused of smuggling looted artifacts worth millions of dollars into the US.

Georges Lofti, 81, who previously assisted the Antiquities Trafficking Unit in exposing an Egyptian golden coffin on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as having been looted during unrest in Egypt in 2011, is also accused by law enforcement agents of using the agency to give stolen items a “sheen of legitimacy,” The Times reported.

Lofti sold and lent items to the museum and kept other artifacts in an apartment located across the road, the report added.

He often invited ATU agents to his storage space, believing that they would not suspect the antiquities kept inside were stolen, according to a report by The New York Times.

The ATU were granted an arrest warrant for Lotfi this week on suspicion of stealing 24 items and tricking investigators into giving the artifacts a stamp of approval.

According to legal documents attached to the warrant, ATU security agent Robert Mancene confirmed that Lotfi tipped them off regarding the gold Coffin of Nedjemankh, which the museum bought for $4 million in 2017 and put on display. Following Lofti's tipoff, the coffin was returned in 2019.

“Over the years (Lotfi) has provided me with detailed information about looting practices globally,” Mancene said. The dealer, described by Mancene as “a valuable source of information,” also passed on details about global looters and traffickers, according to the report.

One of the stolen items Lofti is accused of smuggling into the US is the “Palmyra Stone” — a limestone sculpture from Syria depicting a couple with three children worth an estimated $750,000 — which investigators said Lofti did not purchase from a dealer in 1982 as he had claimed, but instead obtained from a smuggler in 2010 or 2011.

Several mosaics, one valued at $2.5 million and another at $500,000, were also among the items Lofti is alleged to have looted.

Lofti, who said that he was shocked by the allegations and denies any wrongdoing, told The New York Times: “I was fighting with them for 10 years to stop illicit trading and they turned against me.”