Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest
Police officers in riot gears stand guard to stop the supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party after they broke in to the Red Zone, during a protest march called by ousted PM Imran Khan, in Islamabad on Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 May 2022

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest

Normalcy returns to Pakistani capital as ex-PM Khan calls off protest
  • Khan addresses rally after clashes between demonstrators and police, hundreds of arrests
  • Ex-PM had urged supporters to march on Islamabad, stay there until government dissolved

ISLAMABAD: Normalcy resumed in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Thursday after Imran Khan, the ousted former prime minister, called off a protest march, giving the government six days to dissolve assemblies and announce fresh elections.
On Thursday morning, thousands of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party who had gathered at D-Chowk in front of Parliament from different parts of the country, especially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces, dispersed peacefully following Khan’s address.
This followed a long day of political drama that included clashes between demonstrators and police, and the arrests of hundreds of Khan supporters nationwide.
“We are leaving for our homes now, but will come back again on Khan’s call to topple the government,” Hassan Shirazi, a demonstrator from Pakpattan city, told Arab News.
Shortly after the protest ended, the Islamabad’s district administration started removing shipping containers to unblock all roads in the federal capital and adjoining Rawalpindi. Police and other law enforcement personnel requisitioned from other provinces were also seen packing up and boarding buses to return to their stations.
The administration also reopened Jinnah Avenue, the main protest venue, and all other roads in Islamabad, including Srinagar Highway and Islamabad Expressway. The main Murree Road in Rawalpindi has also been reopened for both sides of traffic, according to the Islamabad Traffic Police.
Entry into the Red Zone, which houses important buildings like Parliament and the Supreme Court, is still restricted.
Meanwhile, the federal government filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking contempt of court proceedings against Khan for what it says was a violation of the court’s directions.
The Supreme Court had on Wednesday ordered the government and the PTI to constitute negotiating committees and meet at 10 p.m. to finalize modalities for the peaceful and safe conduct of Khan’s long march to the capital. Negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other’s representatives did not show up.
The court had also ordered the government to designate a spot where the protesters could rally. However, protesters converged at D-Chowk instead and Khan held his rally on Jinnah Avenue.
Police fired teargas, baton-charged and detained supporters of Khan on Wednesday to stop them from reaching the capital to demand fresh elections. Clashes were also reported in multiple other cities, including the southern port city of Karachi and the eastern city of Lahore, and the government called in the army to maintain law and order in the capital.
Khan, ousted in a no-confidence vote last month, had urged supporters to march on Islamabad and alleges he was pushed from power in a foreign conspiracy orchestrated by the US, refusing to accept the new government.
“I am giving you (the government) six days; if you don’t announce elections I will come back to Islamabad again with all Pakistanis,” he said as he addressed supporters before ending his protest.
“(The) government has tried every method to crush our Azadi (freedom) March; they used teargas on peaceful protest, our homes were raided and privacy of the homes were violated,” Khan said.
“However, I have seen the nation free itself of fear of slavery.”
Khan started his anti-government march from Peshawar on Wednesday morning while the government blocked all roads leading to the capital and rounded up supporters.
Videos shot by an Arab News reporter on Wednesday evening showed thousands of Khan supporters walking down the capital’s Blue Area business zone toward D-Chowk while police fired tear gas at them, before charging them with batons.
Supporters had lit fires all the way down the road to D-Chowk in an apparent bid to neutralize the effects of the tear gas, but police said on Twitter they had set fire to trees and vehicles.
“Police called the fire brigade. Some places were set on fire while the protesters again set the trees on the Express Chowk,” the police said. “Security in the Red Zone has been beefed up.”
Other video clips on social media platforms also showed a burning metro station in the city surrounded by hundreds of PTI supporters, while a mob torched a prison van in Karachi after clashing with police.
Local TV footage showed police fighting with Khan’s supporters in Lahore, beating them and, in some places, breaking vehicle windscreens and bundling people into police vans.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police had carried out a total of 4,417 raids on Khan supporters’ homes, offices and rallies, and had arrested nearly 1,700 people. Of those, 250 were later freed.
“We haven’t stopped anyone from exercising their constitutional and legal right to hold a rally or take part in democratic politics,” Sanaullah said, “but we can’t allow anyone to sow violence and chaos.”

Daesh ‘Beatle’ tells victim’s daughter her father asked executioners to make his death ‘quick’

Daesh ‘Beatle’ tells victim’s daughter her father asked executioners to make his death ‘quick’
Updated 15 sec ago

Daesh ‘Beatle’ tells victim’s daughter her father asked executioners to make his death ‘quick’

Daesh ‘Beatle’ tells victim’s daughter her father asked executioners to make his death ‘quick’
  • Alexanda Kotey made revelations during meeting with Bethany Haines, whose father the group murdered in 2014
  • Another so-called ‘Beatle,’ Aine Davis, set to return to UK after release from Turkish jail

LONDON: A British aid worker murdered by Daesh asked his executioners to “make it quick” before they killed him in 2014.

Alexanda Kotey, 37, one of the terror group’s so-called “Beatles” cell, told Bethany Haines, daughter of David Haines — a former Royal Air Force worker from Scotland — that her father had made the request before he was beheaded by fellow terrorist Mohammed Emwazi in 2014.

The revelation came during a meeting between Bethany Haines and Kotey in the US, where the British-born militant is serving a life sentence for his activities with the group.

“He told me that Jihadi John (Emwazi) had been away to execute my father and my father knew what was coming, closed his eyes, and said, ‘Can you make it quick?’ I can picture him saying that, in his orange jumpsuit, with his eyes closed,” Haines said. “I can picture him saying, ‘Please make it quick.’”

Kotey also told her that he had followed David for several days before abducting him in 2013, and that the murder had been delayed so that Daesh could film it from multiple angles to use for propaganda purposed, she added.

“I asked for an apology,” Haines said. “I pressed on with it and eventually he did say, ‘I am sorry for’ — he just used my words for it — ‘abducting and hurting your dad.’ Did he mean it? No.”

Kotey was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Virginia in April, having pleaded guilty to charges of kidnap, torture and executing hostages. Presiding Judge TS Ellis described Kotey as “egregious, violent and inhuman.” 

During his trial, Haines confronted him in the dock, saying he should “rot in hell.”

Co-defendant and fellow “Beatle” El Shafee Elsheikh will be sentenced in August. The duo were stripped of their UK citizenship when they were captured in Syria in 2018, and extradited to the US.

Emwazi, meanwhile, was killed in a drone strike in 2015. The fourth “Beatle,” Aine Davis, was recently freed from a prison in Turkey after serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence, and is set to be deported to the UK on July 9.

Between them, the four are thought to have taken part in the torture and murder of 27 people.

Reg Henning, brother of David Henning, another British aid worker murdered by Daesh, said the UK should deny Davis entry over fears that he may be released on arrival. 

Davis was subject to an Interpol red notice at the behest of British police after his wife, Amal El-Wahabi, was jailed in the UK for 28 months for trying to send him €20,000 ($20,868), which could see him charged with preparing acts of terrorism abroad.

“He’s British when it suits him,” said Henning. “He left to join Islamic State, but is thinking, ‘I’ll go back to Britain because they’re nice and soft.’”

Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of counter-terrorism think tank the Henry Jackson Society, told the Daily Mail: “A dangerous jihadist is heading back to the UK after a career of extreme violence and we can do nothing about it except spend vast sums to monitor him. 

“We need urgent reform of legislation to ensure national security threats like this are dealt with far from these shores.”

Despite having his citizenship removed, Kotey may also be returned to the UK to stand trial for the deaths of Daesh hostages including David Haines.

UN rights chief urges Taliban to respect women’s rights

UN rights chief urges Taliban to respect women’s rights
Updated 01 July 2022

UN rights chief urges Taliban to respect women’s rights

UN rights chief urges Taliban to respect women’s rights
  • Women face hunger, domestic violence, unemployment, curbs on movement and dress, and lack of access to education
  • “Their future will be even darker, unless something changes, quickly," said the UN human rights chief

ZURICH: The United Nations human rights chief urged the Taliban authorities on Friday to respect the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, which she said were facing the biggest erosion in decades.
Women face hunger, domestic violence, unemployment, curbs on movement and dress, and lack of access to education in a country where secondary schooling for 1.2 million girls has stopped, Michelle Bachelet told a UN Human Rights Council debate in Geneva.
“While some of these concerns pre-date the Taliban take-over in August 2021, reforms at that time were moving in the right direction, there were improvements and hope,” she said.
“However, since the Taliban took power, women and girls are experiencing the most significant and rapid roll-back in enjoyment of their rights across the board in decades. Their future will be even darker, unless something changes, quickly.”
The Taliban seized power for a second time in Afghanistan last August as international forces who had backed a pro-Western government pulled out. Their taking of the capital Kabul marked the end of a 20-year war stemming from a US invasion that toppled a previous Taliban government.
Bachelet said authorities she met during a visit to Kabul in March said they would honor their human rights obligations as far as they were consistent with Islamic sharia law. She decried the progressive exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere.
She urged the Taliban to set a firm date to reopen schools for girls and remove restrictions on women’s movement and attire.
Governors in some regions were applying policies in ways that provide options for women and girls, she said, offering a window to expand women’s role in society and economic life.
Richard Bennett, special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, criticized forced and child marriage and curbs on attire, movement and employment.
“Despite public assurances from the Taliban that they would respect women’s and girls’ rights, they are reinstituting step by step the discrimination against women and girls’ characteristic of their previous term and which is unparalleled globally in its misogyny and oppression,” he told the debate.
When Bennett visited Afghanistan in May, the Taliban deputy spokesman denied human rights concerns.

Lawyer for Paris attacker questions life term with no parole, hints at retrial

Lawyer for Paris attacker questions life term with no parole, hints at retrial
Updated 01 July 2022

Lawyer for Paris attacker questions life term with no parole, hints at retrial

Lawyer for Paris attacker questions life term with no parole, hints at retrial
  • Daesh attacks on Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and France’s national stadium killed 130 people
  • Abdeslam was found guilty Wednesday of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise

PARIS: The lawyer for the only surviving attacker from the November 2015 terrorist massacre in Paris criticized her client's murder conviction and life prison sentence without the possibility of parole, saying Thursday the verdict “raises serious questions.”
Olivia Ronen did not say if Salah Abdeslam would appeal the verdict and sentence. He has 10 days in which to do so.
Abdeslam was found guilty Wednesday of murder and attempted murder in relation with a terrorist enterprise, among other charges, over his involvement in the Daesh attacks on the Bataclan theater, Paris cafes and France’s national stadium that killed 130 people.
Ronen argued throughout the marathon trial of Abdeslam and 19 other men that her client had not detonated his explosives-packed vest and hadn’t killed anyone the night of the deadliest peacetime attacks in French history.
Nevertheless, Abdeslam, a 32-year-old Belgian, was given the most severe sentence possible in France for murder and that “raises serious questions," Ronen said in an interview with public radio station France Inter.
During his trial testimony, Abdeslam told a special terrorist court in Paris that he was a last-minute addition to the nine-member attacking squad that spread out across the French capital on Nov. 13, 2015, to launch the coordinated attacks at multiple sites.
Abdeslam said he walked into a bar with explosives strapped to his body but changed his mind and disabled the detonator. He said he could not kill people “singing and dancing.”
The court found, however, that Abdeslam's explosives vest malfunctioned, dismissing his claim that he decided not to follow through with his part of the attack because of a change of heart.
The other eight attackers, including Abdeslam's brother, either blew themselves up or were killed by police. Abdeslam drove three of them to the locations of the attacks that night.
The worst carnage was in the Bataclan. Three gunmen burst into the venue, firing indiscriminately. Ninety people died within minutes. Hundreds were held hostage — some gravely injured — for hours before then-President Francois Hollande ordered the theater stormed.
Abdeslam was nowhere near the Bataclan at any time that night, defense lawyer Ronen said, suggesting he therefore did not deserve France’s most severe murder sentence possible.
“We have condemned a person we know was not at the Bataclan as if he was there,” Ronen said. “That raises serious questions.”
The chief prosecutor at the special terrorism court Jean-Francois Ricard said the trial of the 20 extremists, the court's verdicts and sentences, including the harshest one for Abdeslam, were a “triumph for the rule of law” in France.
“Abdeslam dropped off three human bombs and killed by proxy,” Ricard said on Thursday in an interview with another public broadcaster, France Info. “His punishment is just.”
The sentence of life without parole had only previously been given four times in France, for crimes related to rape and murder of minors.
The special terrorism court also convicted 19 other men involved in the attacks. Eighteen were given various terrorism-related convictions, and one was convicted on a lesser fraud charge. Some were given life sentences; others walked free after being sentenced to time served.
Abdeslam apologized to the victims at his final court appearance Monday, saying that listening to their accounts of “so much suffering” changed him.
Georges Salines, who lost his daughter Lola in the Bataclan, felt Abdeslam’s remorse was insincere. “I don’t think it’s possible to forgive him,” he said.
But for Salines, life without parole is going too far.
“I don’t like the idea of in advance deciding that there is no hope,” he said. “I think it is important to keep hope for any man.”

‘Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance

‘Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance
Updated 01 July 2022

‘Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance

‘Stop interfering in Afghanistan’, says Taliban leader in rare appearance
  • Akhundzada was addressing a major gathering of religious scholars in Kabul

KABUL: Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada called Friday for the world to stop telling them how to run Afghanistan, insisting sharia law was the only model for a successful Islamic state.
Akhundzada, who has not been filmed or photographed in public since the Taliban returned to power in August, was addressing a major gathering of religious scholars in the Afghan capital called to rubber-stamp the hard-line Islamist group’s rule.
Over 3,000 clerics have gathered in Kabul since Thursday for the three-day men-only meeting, and Akhundzada’s appearance had been rumored for days — although media are barred from covering the event.
“Why is the world interfering in our affairs?” he asked in an hour-long speech broadcast by state radio.
“They say ‘why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?’ Why does the world interfere in our work?“
Akhundzada rarely leaves Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heartland, and apart from one undated photograph and several audio recordings of speeches, has almost no digital footprint.
But analysts say the former Sharia court judge has an iron grip on the movement and he bears the title “Commander of the Faithful.”
His arrival at the meeting hall was greeted with cheers and chants, including “Long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s name for the country.
Akhundzada’s appearance comes a week after a powerful earthquake struck the east of the country, killing over 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
No women are attending the clerics’ meeting, but a Taliban source told AFP this week that thorny issues such as girls’ education — which has divided opinion in the movement — would be discussed.
Akhundzada did not mention the subject in his speech, which was confined largely to telling the faithful to strictly observe Islamic principles in life and governance.
Since the Taliban’s return, secondary school girls have been barred from education and women dismissed from government jobs, forbidden from traveling alone, and ordered to dress in clothing that covers everything but their faces.
They have also outlawed playing non-religious music, banned the portrayal of human figures in advertising, ordered TV channels to stop showing movies and soap operas featuring uncovered women, and told men they should dress in traditional garb and grow their beards.
Akhundzada said the Taliban had won victory for Afghanistan, but it was up to the “ulema” — the religious scholars — to advise the new rulers on how to properly implement sharia law.
“The sharia system comes under two parts — scholars and rulers,” he said.
“If scholars do not advise authorities to do good, or the rulers close the doors against the scholars, then we will have not an Islamic system.”
Believed to be in his 70s, Akhundzada spoke in strong measured tones, occasionally coughing or clearing his throat.
He warned that non-Muslim nations would always be opposed to a pure Islamic state, so the faithful had to endure hardships to get what they wanted.
“You have to compete, you have to endure hardships... the present world will not easily accept you implementing the Islamic system,” he said.
Women’s rights activists have slammed their lack of participation.
“Women should be part of the decisions about their fate,” Razia Barakzai told AFP Thursday.
“Life has been taken away from Afghan women.”
The Taliban have thrown a dense security blanket over the capital for the meeting, but on Thursday two gunmen were shot dead near the venue.

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again
Updated 01 July 2022

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again

Tear gas fired as Sudan anti-coup protests flare again
  • Sudan’s police meanwhile accused protesters of wounding 96 police and 129 military officers
  • The “violence needs to end,” demanded UN special representative Volker Perthes

KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces fired tear gas Friday at hundreds of protesters who rallied for a second day in a row in the capital against last year’s military coup, witnesses said.
Demonstrators massed again near the presidential palace in Khartoum a day after at least nine people were killed during mass rallies against the military takeover led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan last October.
“The people want to bring down Burhan,” activists chanted while others, carrying photos of people killed in protest-related violence, yelled: “We call for retribution!“
The death toll from protest-related violence has reached 113 since the coup, with the latest fatality reported Friday after a protester died from wounds sustained at a June 24 protest, according to pro-democracy medics.
Sudan’s police meanwhile accused protesters of wounding 96 police and 129 military officers, “some critically,” on Thursday, as well as damaging vehicles and setting fires.
Thursday’s crackdown defied calls by the international community urging Sudanese authorities to refrain from violence.
The “violence needs to end,” demanded UN special representative Volker Perthes.
US senior diplomat Lucy Tamlyn said she was “deeply concerned” by the reported protester deaths and the “use of live fire by authorities and aggression against medical professionals.”
Last year’s coup plunged Sudan into deepening turmoil which has seen rising consumer prices and life-threatening food shortages and sparked near-weekly protests as well as ethnic clashes.
The United Nations, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have tried to facilitate talks between the generals and civilians, but they have been boycotted by the main civilian factions.
On Friday, the three bodies jointly condemned the violence and “the use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
The protests Thursday came on the anniversary of a 1989 coup that toppled Sudan’s last elected civilian government and ushered in three decades of iron-fisted rule by Islamist-backed General Omar Al-Bashir.
It was also the anniversary of 2019 protests demanding that the generals who had ousted Bashir in a palace coup earlier that year cede power to civilians.
Those protests led to the formation of the civilian-military transitional government that was toppled in last year’s coup.