Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member

Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member
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Indian Kashmiri Hindus light candles during the annual Hindu festival at the Khirbhawani temple in Tullamulla village, some 30km east of Srinagar in this June 9, 2011 photo. (AFP file photo)
Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member
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A woman rows a boat in the interiors of the Dal Lake in Srinagar on May 19, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2022

Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member

Minority Hindus in Kashmir demand relocation after killing of community member
  • Kashmiri Pandits pointed to lack of security in the region as they call for relocation
  • Protests mark the first time the community organized simultaneous demonstrations in Kashmir

NEW DELHI: Hindus in Indian-administered Kashmir took to the streets for the tenth day in a row on Sunday, demanding relocation from the region and saying the government had failed to provide them security following the killing of a community member.

Scores of minority Hindus in India’s only Muslim-majority region, locally known as Pandits, have been staging protests after militants allegedly killed Rahul Bhat, a Hindu government employee, inside an office complex in Chadoora on May 12. 

Police said two militants had entered Bhat’s office and fired at him. He was then taken to hospital, where he later died. 

The protests began a day after the fatal incident, and mark the first time Pandits have organized simultaneous demonstrations in the disputed region. Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, with both countries claiming the territory in full and ruling it in part.

“Our main demand is that the government should relocate us outside Kashmir,” Sanjay Tickoo, head of the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, told Arab News. 

Around 6,000 Kashmiri Pandits employed by the government need to be relocated, Tickoo added. 

“The government has failed to secure the lives of the people in Kashmir. All these big talks by the Indian government have failed to bring any positive change in the valley.” 

Hundreds of thousands of Pandits were forced out of Kashmir when a revolt erupted against Indian rule in 1989. Many lost homes and livelihoods, and later lived in camps across India. 

Officials have worked on resettling Kashmiri Pandits, and thousands returned in 2010 under a government resettlement plan that provided jobs and housing.

In 2019, the government under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the region of its semi-autonomy and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. As push for resettlement continues, some say the government is not doing enough. 

“Be it Muslims or Hindus, no one is secure in the valley,” Satish Mahaldar, chairman of Reconciliation, Return and Rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, told Arab News. 

Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and leader of Peoples Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, said the Kashmiri Pandits “have all the reasons” to protest. 

“The BJP had claimed that with the abrogation of special status the situation will become normal and Pandits could return safely. But the opposite has happened,” Mufti told Arab News, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

She said the government must “initiate steps for reconciliation” to improve the situation in Kashmir. 

Srinagar-based Sandeep Koul, whose family lived for generations in Kashmir and stayed throughout the 1990s violence, said the feeling of insecurity has only deepened in his community. 

“We feel more insecure in the valley now than in the 1990s,” Koul told Arab News. “This new Kashmir is not secure for us, it is not secure for anybody.”

Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, a Kashmiri-based BJP leader and a member of the Kashmiri Pandit community, told Arab News: “It is not possible to provide security to each person and every hour.” 

But he said he is “with the Kashmiri Pandits at this time of distress.

“Many things have changed in Kashmir valley, but the situation of Kashmiri Pandits has not changed much.”


UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws
Updated 20 min 48 sec ago

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws

UK targets migrant boat pilots with tough new laws
  • People traffickers crossing the English Channel face life sentences

LONDON: People smugglers or migrants who pilot boats across the English Channel could get life sentences under new laws introduced on Tuesday as part of a crackdown on attempts to enter Britain illegally.

The updated law, part of the Nationality and Borders Act, will raise the top punishment for people smuggling from 14 years in prison to life and apply the same legal threat to migrants who pilot the boats.

The prison sentence for illegal entry to the UK will also rise from six months to four years, with the announcement coming after the arrival of more than 12,000 people in Britain so far this year, double the rate for the same period in 2021.

Britain also recently announced plans to deport people attempting to cross the Channel without asylum to Rwanda for processing before their claims can be heard in the UK, another policy designed to deter arrivals. 

The new act will create a new asylum system in Britain whereby those who apply and arrive via legal routes receive more rights than those who cross the Channel illegally.


Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan
Updated 28 June 2022

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan

Taliban organize first loya jirga since last year’s takeover of Afghanistan
  • 3,000 participants from around country expected to arrive for meeting
  • Assembly being held after former administration officials returned to Kabul following months of exile

KABUL: The Afghan government was preparing to host a loya jirga, a grand assembly of scholars and leaders from around the country, authorities said on Tuesday, for what would be the first such meeting since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last year.

The loya jirga is a centuries-old institution, a forum to discuss and reach a consensus on important political issues. It will be held as the Taliban — unacknowledged by foreign governments since they took control of the country — have been under mounting pressure to form an inclusive government to win international recognition.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is holding a large gathering of scholars based on the hopes and demands of scholars from across the country,” Bilal Karimi, deputy spokesperson of the Taliban government, told Arab News, adding that the Taliban government was “committed to solving the current issues in light of its facilities and limitations.”

Karimi did not confirm the exact dates of the meeting, but it was likely to begin as soon as Wednesday, according to last week’s announcement by the acting prime minister of Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund.

Preparations for loya jirga were underway in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, and the Kabul Polytechnic University, where the gathering will be held, has called off classes until July 2. Loya jirga meetings usually take several days.

The assembly will be held as a number of former administration officials have returned to Kabul following months of exile abroad and declared readiness to serve the country after security assurances from its new authorities.

Most high-ranking officials left the country after its Western-backed government collapsed when the Taliban seized power in August, following the withdrawal of US-led forces after two decades of war.

Afghanistan’s former chief executive and lead peace negotiator between the previous government and the Taliban, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, also returned to the country last week, after being in India since May.

Karimi declined to comment on whether the former officials would take part in the meeting, but said, “there will be influential figures from all provinces.”

Local media reported that around 3,000 participants were expected to arrive for the meeting, as representatives from provinces have already started to depart for Kabul.

From southern Kandahar province, they started their more than 10-hour-long journey on Monday.

Javed Ahmad Tanveer, a Kandahar-based journalist, told Arab News: “One-hundred-and-seven scholars and tribal elders from Kandahar city and districts traveled to Kabul for the planned gathering.”

The meeting will be the first such gathering since the Taliban takeover, but Torek Farhadi, analyst and adviser to the former government, told Arab News that its significance would be symbolic, with no impact on solving the country’s current challenges.

He said: “Afghanistan is facing three problems right now: Monopoly of power, restrictions on women’s rights, and concerns about unequal treatment of minorities.

“An allegiance from 3,000 selected guests by the Taliban in a meeting will not fix any of these problems, nor will it confer any internal or external legitimacy to the Taliban government.”


NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world

NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world
Updated 28 June 2022

NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world

NATO summit to open as leader warns of ‘dangerous’ world
  • ‘To be able to defend in a more dangerous world we have to invest more in our defense’
  • Top of the agenda for leaders in meetings is strengthening defenses against Russia and supporting Ukraine

MADRID: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a “fundamental shift” in NATO’s approach to defense, and member states will have to boost their military spending in an increasingly unstable world, the leader of the alliance said Tuesday.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke as US President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders began to arrive in Madrid for a summit that will set the course of the alliance for the coming years. He said the meeting would chart a blueprint for the alliance “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world.”
“To be able to defend in a more dangerous world we have to invest more in our defense,” Stoltenberg said. Just nine of NATO’s 30 members meet the organization’s target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Top of the agenda for leaders in meetings Wednesday and Thursday is strengthening defenses against Russia and supporting Ukraine.
Moscow’s invasion on Feb. 24 shattered European security and brought shelling of cities and bloody ground battles back to the continent. NATO, which had begun to turn its focus to terrorism and other non-state threats, has had to confront an adversarial Russia once again.
“Ukraine now faces a brutality which we haven’t seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Stoltenberg said.
Russia’s invasion has also prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held nonaligned status and apply to join NATO. But they are being blocked by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has insisted that he will only allow the Nordic pair to enter if they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.
Stoltenberg said “we hope to make progress” on the issue in Madrid.
Diplomats and leaders from the three countries have held a flurry of talks in an attempt to break the impasse. The three countries’ leaders are due to meet in Madrid alongside Stoltenberg on Tuesday.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that negotiations with Turkey had “progressed” and that “something positive” might happen in Madrid, but “it can also take longer.”
The Turkish leader showed no sign of backing down.
“We don’t want empty words. We want results,” Erdogan said Tuesday before leaving Ankara for Spain.
Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who is an associate at the Chatham House think tank, said the Madrid meeting, with national leaders present in the media glare, “is the moment of maximum pressure” for compromise.
“It’s either at Madrid or it’s likely to go on for a long while,” he said.
Ending the deadlock over Sweden and Finland would allow NATO leaders to focus on their key issue: an increasingly unpredictable and aggressive Russia.
A Russian missile strike Monday on a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was a grim reminder of the war’s horrors. Some saw the timing, as Group of Seven leaders met in Germany and just ahead of NATO, as a message from Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is due to address NATO leaders by video on Wednesday, called the strike on the mall a “terrorist” act.
Stoltenberg said Monday that NATO allies will agree at the summit to increase the strength of the alliance’s rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. The troops will be based in their home nations, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.
Beneath the surface, there are tensions within NATO over how the war will end and what, if any, concessions Ukraine should make to end the fighting.
There are also differences on how hard a line to take on China in NATO’s new Strategic Concept — its once-a-decade set of priorities and goals. The last document, published in 2010, didn’t mention China at all.
The new concept is expected to set out NATO’s approach to the growing economic and military reach of China, and the rising importance and power of the Indo-Pacific region. For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests.
Some European members are wary of the tough US line on Beijing and don’t want China cast as an opponent alongside Russia.
Stoltenberg said last week that “we don’t regard China as an adversary,” but added that it “poses some challenges to our values, to our interests, to our security.”


Armed robbers raid top international art fair in Netherlands

Armed robbers raid top international art fair in Netherlands
Updated 28 June 2022

Armed robbers raid top international art fair in Netherlands

Armed robbers raid top international art fair in Netherlands
  • Dramatic images on social media showed four smartly dressed suspects carrying out the raid
  • Police are investigating a possible armed robbery of the TEFAF in Maastricht

THE HAGUE: Armed robbers raided one of the world’s leading art fairs in the Dutch city of Maastricht on Tuesday, police said, with video showing them smashing a display case using a sledgehammer.
Dramatic images on social media showed four smartly dressed suspects carrying out the raid and threatening people with what appeared to be handguns at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in the southwestern city.
Police said they had arrested two people and were searching for the others.
“Police are investigating a possible armed robbery of the TEFAF in Maastricht. Four suspects are believed to be involved. They are now searched for by multiple units,” Limburg province police said on Twitter.
The police said they had closed a number of nearby roads and a major road tunnel as they hunted the suspects.
Dutch media said the display case targeted by the robbers contained items from a London jeweller.
TEFAF is one of the biggest art fairs in Europe and regularly draws tens of thousands of visitors.
It has been running for more than 30 years and was returning this year after a break during the Covid pandemic.
Videos showed the four men wearing an apparent disguise of flat caps and glasses smashing their way into a jewelry case.
Two of the men brandished what appeared to be weapons at a bystander, who tried to intervene using a large glass vase full of flowers.
Pictures on social media showed a shattered glass case at the exhibition.
One visitor, Jos Stassen, told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that he had gone to the exhibition on Tuesday to look at the art in peace.
“Normally it is very quiet... serene, but now I suddenly heard a lot of noise and I turn around and suddenly saw those men,” NOS quoted him as saying.
“One started beating and the others kept people away, scared everyone. I also saw a weapon. It went very fast and it lasted a very short time, but I’m still shaking a little bit.”
The phrase “Peaky Blinders” began trending on social media in the Netherlands following the raid because the caps worn by the suspects resemble those in a British historical crime drama of the same name.
It is not the first time the TEFAF fair has been targeted by criminals.
A ring and a diamond necklace worth 860,000 euros ($1.2 million at the time) belonging to a London jeweller were stolen at the exhibition in 2011.


Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds

Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds
Updated 28 June 2022

Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds

Greek police using migrants in roundup operations, investigation finds
  • Asylum seekers promised shelter for taking part in violent deportations, The Guardian reports

LONDON: Greek police are coercing asylum seekers into violently pushing back fellow migrants under the promise of temporary shelter, The Guardian reported.
In a joint investigation by the newspaper, together with Le Monde, Der Spiegel, ARD Report Munchen and Lighthouse Reports, evidence was obtained of operations launched by Greek police to transport migrants back to Turkey using threats and violence.
A group of six migrants hailing from Syria and Morocco said that they were recruited by a Syrian national living in a Greek police station. In return for taking part in anti-migrant operations and moving fellow migrants back to Turkey, they were promised police permission to stay for a month in Greece.
Local residents in Greek border villages confirmed that some migrants in the area work for the police, while two Greek officers confirmed the use of migrants in pushback operations.
One of the migrants used by police as part of the larger operation, Bassel, said that he spent three months in a cell before police used his English language skills to blackmail him.
Police threatened him with human smuggling charges and prison time unless he helped them push back other migrants crossing into Greece from Turkey.
“This work is very dangerous, also because of the enmity between the Greeks and the Turks,” he said.
Bassel has since been released and has left the country.
He described his traumatic ordeal as the “stage of slavery.”
Three other Syrians who were detained at a Greek border town said that they had paid $5,300 to be smuggled into the country from Turkey.
Upon arrival, however, they were threatened by a Syrian national into aiding police with violent roundup operations.
One of the Syrians was warned that he would  “vanish” if he returned to Istanbul.