Illinois speaker backs legislation recognizing Arabs as minority contractors

Illinois speaker backs legislation recognizing Arabs as minority contractors
The speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Emanuel “Chris” Welch. (File/@RepChrisWelch)
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Updated 22 May 2022

Illinois speaker backs legislation recognizing Arabs as minority contractors

Illinois speaker backs legislation recognizing Arabs as minority contractors
  • If passed, it would allow Arabs to compete for a share of state contracts reserved for businesses that are majority-owned by designated ethnic minorities

CHICAGO: Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, announced on Friday during a visit to a mosque that he supports the adoption of a law that would grant Arab and Muslim contractors special “minority” status when they bid for a share of more than $46 billion in annual state contracts.

The state’s Minority Business Enterprises and Women’s Business Enterprises policies set aside up to 30 percent of state contracts for businesses that are majority-owned by individuals from designated ethnic minorities — Asian-Indian, Asian-Pacific, Black, Hispanic or Native American — and 5 percent for those majority-owned by women.

Welch said he supports legislation, introduced by Illinois State Representative Cyril Nichols, that would include Arabs as a “recognized minority group” so that they can receive “their fair share” of these state contracts.

“I know that there are some issues that are particularly important to your community and that Representative Nichols has been a leader on those issues,” said Welch, who is the first African American to serve as the Illinois speaker.

“Nichols filed a bill a couple weeks ago that will specifically address the issue of minority status. My office is going to lend him support to make sure we have the necessary hearings on that bill here over the summer.”

Speaking during a meeting at the Orland Park Mosque in suburban Chicago, arranged by American Arab Chamber of Commerce President Hassan Nijem, Welch pledged to push for the bill during the November veto session, when bills are normally reviewed and considered for adoption.

“I think the MBE program is enormously significant because we have been traditionally left out, as minorities, not just in the state of Illinois but in this country,” he said.

“Unfortunately that has been the history of our country and it has taken people like Dr. Martin Luther King and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and all those who came before us, to fight for civil rights and inclusion. That fight continues today. That’s what the MBE program is all about.”

Welch said that the state legislature last month passed a budget worth $46.5 billion and that the “MBE makes sure that money gets into the pockets of people who look like the people of Illinois.”

He added: “Diversity is the strength of the state and everything we do should reflect that diversity, and how we spend that money is very much a part of that.

“Long before I was the speaker, people will tell you, I have fought for diversity on corporate boards, diversity in how we spend our money, diversity in our suppliers.

“And now that I am actually here at the head of the table, trust me, when I am done this community is going to see a big difference.”

Welch urged leaders of the Arab and Muslim communities to “inform and educate” other legislators in the state to help build support for the adoption of the minority classification.

“When Representative Nichols proposes hearings, you need to make sure that the community shows up (and) testifies,” he said. “People that can’t be there, submit written testimony. Let us know why this is such an important issue. How does this help the state? Advocacy really does matter.”

Nichols, who was also at the mosque meeting, said that he realized the real importance of his proposed law in April when he appeared on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show,” which is hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News.

“The speaker is right, you have to call your legislators because I have to get a whole bunch of people to agree with this,” Nichols added. “They need to hear from you. …  We always say that if it is righteous, the Most High will make sure that we are covered. We can get a lot done together.”

Welch said: “Power comes from building coalitions and building allies. There is now a Black caucus, a Hispanic caucus and an Asian caucus.”

He added that he anticipates a day when there will be an “Arab Caucus” to help ensure that Arabs and Muslims actively engage at all levels of Illinois government.

“The only way to govern is through inclusive leadership,” Welch said. “I think it is extremely important that your community be a part of this coalition we are building. Nobody is getting left out. Everybody in, nobody left out.

“And that is what this is all about. We are being intentional, we are here for a reason, and we are figuring out ways to make that inclusion happen — and I want to be a part of that … with you.”

Nichols said that Muslims and Arabs in Detroit had raised the issue of minority status, and that he felt the same thing was needed in Illinois, particularly in the Chicago area which is home to more than 450,000 Christian and Muslim Arabs.

Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, the Imam of the Orland Park Mosque, said that the Arab community will communicate and work with legislators to help them understand why the bill is so important to their community.

“With … the potential to be part of future contracts and future business, being declared as a minority is one of the main objectives,” he said. “If it happens, our own community members will have a share of all these contracts, up to 20 or 25 percent … and this means our community will grow and will contribute back to the well-being of the state itself.

“We are happy that the speaker of the house is here, and the representative also, to talk about this issue and what it means and where he can help and support that perspective.”


Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
Updated 28 November 2022

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians

Amnesty International criticizes UK MPs for calls to deport trafficked Albanians
  • Group of 50 Conservatives demands prime minister removes ‘loopholes’ in asylum law
  • Organization says returning trafficked people is likely to ‘deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again’

LONDON: A row is brewing in the UK after Amnesty International condemned a group of Conservative MPs who called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to return Albanian asylum-seekers to their home country — including those claiming to be victims of human trafficking.

The UK has witnessed a marked increase in the number of Albanians coming to the country in the past 12 months, with many who cross the English Channel in small boats claiming they have been trafficked, and are victims of modern slavery.

The group of more than 50 politicians said moves to expedite the process of deporting Albanians was necessary to dissuade migrants from making the journey from what, they said, was a safe country, and reduce significant backlogs in the UK’s asylum process.

In a letter to Sunak, the MPs said: “If they (asylum-seekers) have really been taken (to the UK) against their will, then they could not reasonably object to being returned to their own homes.

“The quirks in our modern slavery laws that prevent this are clearly in defiance of the aims of that law and should be removed.”

David Davis MP, one of the signatories, told Sky News: “The Home Office itself has not been interpreting the asylum laws correctly. The point is to turn the turnaround time for an Albanian landing on our shores from years to days or weeks.

“That’s the aim and we think it’s possible. If we don’t do it, the Home Office is never going to be able to cope with the number of applications. It’s already 420 days to get a decision. It’d be longer and longer.”

He added that fear of persecution by smugglers and criminal gangs should not enable people to claim asylum.

“I’m not scapegoating the individual Albanians. What I want to do is to close those loopholes,” he said.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International’s UK refugee and migrant rights program director, criticized Davis, telling The Guardian: “There does seem to be quite a lot of nonsense here.

“The starting point is whether your government is unwilling or unable to provide protection from persecution. It doesn’t set out who your persecutors have to be.

“It could be organized crime, or a blood feud. It can also be women who are persecuted by their own families. The question is whether the state is both able and willing to provide the protections that it is expected under international law to provide.”

He added: “Not every survivor of human trafficking is necessarily unsafe to be returned, but returning someone to where they were trafficked from is likely to deliver them into cruel exploitation all over again, unless there is some significant improvement to their circumstances in that place.”


WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
Updated 28 November 2022

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox

WHO: Monkeypox to be renamed mpox
  • Bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name
  • Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year

GENEVA: Monkeypox is to be renamed mpox in English, the World Health Organization announced Monday, in a bid to avoid stigmatization stemming from the existing name.
Monkeypox received its name because the virus was originally identified in monkeys kept for research in Denmark in 1958, but the disease is found in a number of animals, and most frequently in rodents.
“Following a series of consultations with global experts, WHO will begin using a new preferred term ‘mpox’ as a synonym for monkeypox. Both names will be used simultaneously for one year while ‘monkeypox’ is phased out,” the UN health agency said in a statement.
“WHO will adopt the term mpox in its communications, and encourages others to follow these recommendations, to minimize any ongoing negative impact of the current name and from adoption of the new name.”
The disease was first discovered in humans in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the spread among humans since then mainly limited to certain West and Central African countries where it is endemic.
But in May, cases of the disease, which causes fever, muscular aches and large boil-like skin lesions, began spreading rapidly around the world, mainly among men who have sex with men.
Some 81,107 cases and 55 deaths have been reported to the WHO this year, from 110 countries.


Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
Updated 28 November 2022

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant remains under Russian control – Moscow-installed authorities
  • Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex
  • UN nuclear watchdog wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station

KYIV: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine remains under Russian control, authorities installed by Moscow in the nearby city of Enerhodar said on Monday, after a Ukrainian official suggested Russian forces were preparing to leave.
“The media are actively spreading fake news that Russia is allegedly planning to withdraw from Enerhodar and leave the (plant). This information is not true,” the Russia-installed administration wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
The head of Ukraine’s state-run nuclear energy company said on Sunday there were signs that Russian forces might be preparing to vacate the vast Zaporizhzhia plant which they seized in March, soon after invading Ukraine.
Ukraine, which suffered the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chornobyl in 1986, and Russia have accused each other of shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia reactor complex.
Both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency), wants to create a protection zone around the nuclear power station, which is Europe’s largest.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said late on Sunday that he had no doubt that Russian forces would leave the plant, where Ukrainian staff are still operating. Many of these workers live in Enerhodar.
“The defense line is starting to retreat to the borders of the Russian Federation,” Podolyak told Ukrainian television, adding that Ukraine would “take it (the plant) back.”
Ukraine’s military said on Monday its forces late last week destroyed six units of Russian military equipment and that about 30 Russian servicemen were wounded in fighting near Enerhodar.
Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin moved in September to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine where his forces say they have partial control. Kyiv and its Western allies condemned the move as illegal.


US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
Updated 28 November 2022

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA

US and Russia discuss release of Griner and Whelan — RIA
  • Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see the basketball star in exchange for convicted weapons trafficker Viktor Bout

MOSCOW: The United States and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.
Elizabeth Rood, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Russia, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a “serious response” back from Russia.
Russia and the United States have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.
No deal has materialized amid heightened tensions between the two countries.


More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters
Updated 28 November 2022

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters

More than 80 injured as Indian police clash with Adani port protesters
  • The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company
  • Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes

KOCHI, India: More than 80 people were wounded in southern India as villagers halting the construction of a $900 million port clashed with police, the latest escalation of a months-old protest waged by a mostly Christian fishing community against Asia’s richest man.

The protests are a major headache for Gautam Adani’s $23 billion ports-and-logistics company which has been forced to stop work on the Vizhinjam seaport that is seen winning business from rivals in Dubai, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Construction, however, has been halted for more than three months after villagers blocked the entrance of the site, blaming the port of causing coastal erosion and depriving them of their livelihoods.

Over the weekend, police arrested several protesters after they blocked Adani’s construction vehicles from entering the port, despite a court order for work to resume.

The arrests prompted hundreds of protesters, led by Roman Catholic priests, to march on the police station, clash with personnel and damage vehicles there, according to police documents and footage on local television.

Senior local police official M R Ajith Kumar said 36 officers were wounded in the clashes. Joseph Johnson, one of the protest leaders, said at least 46 protesters were also hurt.

Located on the southern tip of India, the port seeks to plug into lucrative East-West trade routes, adding to the global reach of the business led by billionaire Adani, estimated by Forbes to be the world’s third richest man.

Asked about the latest protest, the Adani Group did not immediately comment. The company has said that the port complies with all laws and cited studies that show it is not linked to shoreline erosion. The state government has also said that any erosion was due to natural causes.

The protests have continued despite repeated orders by the Kerala state’s top court to allow construction to start. Police have largely been unwilling to take any action, fearful that doing so will set off social and religious tensions.

In the latest clashes, police documents said the protesters “came with lethal weapons and barged into the station and held the police hostage, threatening that if people in custody were not released they would set the station on fire.” Eugine H. Pereira, the vicar general of the archdiocese and a protest leader, said the police pelted the protesters with stones.

The port protests recall the backlash Adani faced in Australia over his Carmichael coal mine. There, activists concerned about carbon emissions and damage to the Great Barrier Reef forced Adani to downsize production targets and delayed the mine’s first coal shipment by six years.