After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  

Special After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
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The five-month battle for the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, Mindanao, beginning May 2017, caused widespread destruction and loss of life. (AN Photo)
Special After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
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The five-month battle for the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, Mindanao, beginning May 2017, caused widespread destruction and loss of life. (AN Photo)
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Updated 23 May 2022

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  

After 2017 Marawi battle, displaced Filipinos hope to return home  
  • Fighting forced more than 300k people from their homes and left over 1,100 dead
  • More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced, govt data shows

DAVAO CITY: Five years after pro-Daesh militants took control of Marawi in the Philippines, hundreds of displaced residents on Monday staged protests around the city in renewed calls to be allowed to return home.

The five-month battle in the predominantly Muslim city on the island of Mindanao began on May 23, 2017, leaving more than 1,100 people dead and forcing more than 300,000 from their homes. The Philippines army was able to reclaim the city on Oct. 23 that year, making it the country’s longest urban battle in modern history.

After widespread destruction in the once picturesque lakeside town, the government has in the years since led rebuilding efforts, including the reconstructions of dozens of mosques and other public infrastructure.

But some Marawi residents, locally known as Maranaos, are still unable to return home.

“Although public facilities for the people were rebuilt, the immediate concerns of the internally displaced people of returning to their homes remain unresolved,” Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group that led Monday’s protests, told Arab News, adding that Maranaos had to endure more hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced as of April this year, according to government data. Most of the public is still unable to access the city’s 40-hectare area that used to be its commercial district, while thousands are still living in temporary shelters mushroomed on the outskirts of the city.

“We reiterate our demand for the Philippines government to accelerate its efforts on rebuilding the city by prioritizing the immediate, safe and dignified return of the displaced families back to their places of origin.”

The government’s inter-agency task force in charge of the city’s reconstruction, Bangon Marawi, said that there is nothing preventing Maranaos from returning to their homes.

“We have a process. They should apply for a permit and show us proof they own the lot to avoid future land conflict issues,” Felix Castro, who heads the task force, told Arab News.

“It’s unfair to claim we have prevented them. These people complaining — it seems they ignore our process. Those who managed to provide the necessary documents were already given permits and they have started their home construction.”

Yet many who left in the middle of the battle five years ago also left behind most of their belongings.

“We can’t provide proof of ownership since when we left our homes we left everything, including the important documents,” Amenodin “Ding” Cali, 56, a protester, told Arab News.

“Besides, we don’t have money to use in securing those documents they wanted from us,” Cali added, alluding to the fees associated with acquiring the government permits.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte last month signed the Marawi Compensation Act, which paves the way for the creation of a nine-member board that would process the claims of Maranaos.

Aside from resolving the issues of displacement, the government should remain alert for threats in Mindanao, said Rommel Banlaoi, a counterterrorism analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“There are still personalities opposing the government and they want full separation of Mindanao. These active militants are remnants but there are new emerging leaders still aligned with Daesh,” Banlaoi said.


Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts
Updated 51 min 19 sec ago

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts
  • Last week’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed around 770 people
  • Even before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan’s economy had been deeply reliant on foreign aid

ISLAMABAD: Afghan finance and central bank officials from the Taliban-led government departed for Qatar on Wednesday to meet with a US Treasury department official, after last week’s deadly earthquake highlighted how critical relief efforts have stumbled under the weight of the country’s spiraling economic woes.
Last week’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed around 770 people, according to UN figures, though the Taliban put the death toll at closer to 1,150, with thousands injured. The UN says 155 children are among those killed in what was the deadliest earthquake to hit the impoverished country in two decades.
The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces.
News of a meeting between Taliban government officials and US officials was confirmed by Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Hafiz Zia Ahmad, who said the Afghan delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi. He said the officials will meet in Doha, Qatar with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and officials from the US Treasury Department to discuss Afghanistan’s economic and banking sectors.
The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that senior Biden administration officials are working with Taliban leadership on a mechanism to allow Afghanistan’s government to use its central bank reserves to deal with the country’s severe hunger and poverty crises while erecting safeguards to ensure the funds are not misused.
The Biden administration froze some $9 billion in foreign Afghan central reserves after the Taliban seized power last August, prompting a chaotic and deadly withdrawal of US and NATO allied forces, as well as more than 100,00 Afghans and others.
The international sanctions that followed choked off bank transfers for months into the country, even for many aid groups still operating there. Afghans have since struggled to withdraw money from local banks and tens of thousands of public sector employees continue to see their salaries delayed as the Taliban leadership seeks ways to collect taxes and other fees to keep the government running.
No government has yet recognized the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan. The former insurgents have resisted international pressure to maintain the previous rights gained by Afghan women, instead imposing restrictions on women’s dress and limiting access to schools for teenage girls.
Even before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan’s economy had been deeply reliant on foreign aid. The UN and an array of overstretched aid agencies in the country have tried to keep Afghanistan from the brink of collapse, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which is paying the salaries of health care staff and the operational costs of more than 30 hospitals across the country.
Overstretched aid agencies said the earthquake underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital foreign reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine.
Authorities and charities are struggling to access the far-flung region where the quake struck, and appear overwhelmed by the scale of the damage and the daunting task of debris removal, let alone reconstruction.
Survivors have had to dig through debris with their bare hands to search for missing loved ones as the ground continues to rumble with more aftershocks.


Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe
Updated 29 June 2022

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe

Joe Biden announces US military air, sea, land reinforcements in Europe
  • NATO will be ‘strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea’

MADRID: President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced US reinforcements of NATO forces in Europe, saying the alliance is needed more today “than it ever has been.”
NATO will be “strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea,” he said at a summit of the transatlantic alliance being held in Madrid.


Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills
Updated 29 June 2022

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills
  • Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features

TAIPEI: Taiwan on Wednesday rebuffed a complaint from the Philippines about live fire drills around a Taiwan-controlled island deep in the South China Sea, saying it had the right to do so and always gives issues a warning of its exercises.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, in a message on Twitter late on Tuesday, lodged a “strong objection over the unlawful live fire drills” to be carried out by Taiwan this week around the island, known internationally as Itu Aba.
Taiwan calls the island Taiping and the Philippines calls it Ligaw Island.
The department said the island belonged to the Philippines.
“This illegal activity raises tensions and complicates the situation in the South China Sea,” it said.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement the island was part of the territory of the Republic of China — Taiwan’s formal name — and that it enjoyed all relevant rights accorded by international law.
“Our country has the right to conduct routine exercises on Taiping Island and related maritime areas. In order to ensure the safety of maritime traffic and fishing boats operating in adjacent maritime areas, we notify the relevant regional countries in advance before each live-fire drill,” it said.
Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features also claimed, entirely or in part, by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Philippines normally complains most vociferously about China’s activities in the South China Sea, including what Manila says is illegal fishing.
The Philippines, like most counties, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but there are close cultural and economic links and Taiwan is home to about 160,000 Filipinos, most of them migrant workers.
The maps China bases its South China Sea claims on date to when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China government ruled China before it fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Taiwan also controls the Pratas Islands at the very northern end of the South China Sea.


Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India
Updated 29 June 2022

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India

Hindu man killed as religious tensions boil in India
  • The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop
  • The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims

NEW DELHI: Tensions were high in India’s western Udaipur city Wednesday, a day after police arrested two Muslim men accused of slitting a Hindu tailor’s throat in a brutal attack that highlights a dramatic escalation of communal violence in a country riven by deep religious polarization.
The Hindu man, Kanhaiya Lal, was stabbed multiple times Tuesday inside his tailoring shop by two cleaver-wielding men who also filmed the attack and posted it online, police said, warning that the incident could inflame religious tensions and lead to violence. The video showed the tailor taking measurements of one assailant before he attacks Lal from behind and stabs at his throat with a cleaver.
TV reports aired video of Lal lying on the ground with his throat slit. The two men later claimed responsibility for the killing in another video and accused Lal of blasphemy. They also threatened to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the same manner, brandishing the blood-stained weapons they used to attack Lal.
Local media reported the victim had purportedly shared a social media post supporting a suspended spokesperson for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party who made controversial remarks on the Prophet Muhammad last month.
The killing comes after months of rising tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as a spate of attacks by Hindu nationalists on minority groups — especially Muslims — who have been targeted for everything from their food and clothing style to interfaith marriages. More recently, Muslim homes have also been demolished using bulldozers in some Indian states, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” against the minority group.
These tensions escalated in May when two spokespeople from Modi’s party made speculative remarks that were seen as insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha. Both were later suspended by Modi’s party after it led to severe diplomatic backlash for India from many Muslim-dominated countries. The controversy also led to protests in India that turned violent in some places after demonstrators pelted stones at police. At least two people were killed.
Experts worry that the latest incident could worsen India’s religious fault lines that critics say have deepened since Modi came to power in 2014.
“This gruesome incident could lead to escalated religious tensions across India, especially with the ruling party espousing a very strident Hindu majoritarian cause,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, a public policy think tank.
“It is unlikely that this government or leadership would go out of its way to tell supporters to not get provoked, to urge for calm and peace,” he said.
Attacks on people accused of alleged blasphemy are common in neighboring Muslim majority countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. But in India, where religious tensions often boil over into sporadic riots and deadly protests, incidents of brutal killings of this nature are rare.
In May, a Hindu man in the southern city of Hyderabad was stabbed to death in public by his Muslim wife’s relatives. Last year, a Muslim man was beheaded by members of a vigilante group on orders of his girlfriend’s Hindu family because they didn’t approve of their interfaith marriage. In Rajasthan state in 2017, a Hindu man brutally killed a Muslim laborer and shared a video of the victim being hacked to death and then set on fire.
Police said both accused were arrested within hours of Lal’s death, but in a bid to calm frayed nerves in parts of the city, authorities suspended Internet services in Rajasthan state and banned large gatherings. Authorities also rushed additional police into the city to counter any religious unrest.
India’s home ministry has dispatched a team of its anti-terror agency to Rajasthan to investigate whether the killing had any links to terrorist groups. So far, the state police have not charged the two arrested men with terrorism.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot ensured a speedy investigation into Lal’s killing. He said the criminals will be punished and urged people not to share the video on social media because of its highly inflammatory content.
“I again appeal to all to maintain peace,” Gehlot said Tuesday in a tweet.


Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes
Updated 29 June 2022

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes

Widespread relief for Shanghai’s restaurant sector as dine-in resumes
  • Many restaurants in Shanghai were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases began rising

SHANGHAI: Restaurants and eateries in China’s largest city Shanghai begun reopening their doors to diners on Wednesday, bringing widespread relief to an industry that was badly hit by the city’s two month COVID-19 lockdown.
Large chains such as hot pot brand Haidilao, fine dining establishments and family owned eateries had started scrubbing tableware and getting uniforms laundered since Saturday when authorities announced the curbs were lifting, a month after the city’s lockdown eased on June 1.
“It’s a very good feeling,” said Oli Liu, co-owner of tapas restaurant chain Brownstone as he prepared to open his five outlets for indoor dining on Wednesday.
“With indoor dining we can make money...Until now we could do takeaway and delivery but the commissions we have to pay (to delivery platforms) means we can’t make money from that.”
Many restaurants in the city of 25 million were forced to suspend dine-in services as early as mid-March when the number of COVID-19 cases in Shanghai began rising. While some were able to resume food deliveries in the midst of the lockdown, others remained shut throughout.
The reopening, however, is far from straightforward. Some owners said they had not yet received the green light from their districts and are required to cap customer numbers at 50 percent as well as a limit each session to 90 minutes.
All restaurant staff will also be required to undergo daily COVID-19 testing, while diners have to show proof of a PCR test taken within three days to enter.
Local media reports have also suggested dining parties should nominate a “leader” who will be responsible for their table, though it’s unclear what might happen if guests later test positive.
Complying with such onerous rules will not be easy, and many eateries already have or are expected to call it quits, said Stefan Stiller, chef-owner of fine dining restaurant Taian Table, who added that he expects restrictions to be in place in some form for the rest of the year.
For his three-star Michelin restaurant that only seats 30 at capacity and specializes in 10 to 12 course tasting menus that typically take several hours to complete, meeting the criteria is “not so easy ... but we will manage somehow,” he said.
But many diners are eager to get back into restaurants after months of mostly eating at home.
One of the first customers through the door at Brownstone’s Lujiazui location at lunchtime on Wednesday was a Shanghai resident surnamed He.
“Normally at home I don’t cook... I have especially missed eating out,” he said. “For so long I missed eating many things — crayfish, barbecue, drinking beer.”