Pope Francis’s future sparks debate, resignation seems unlikely

Pope Francis’s future sparks debate, resignation seems unlikely
Pope Francis postponed a July trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan last week. (Vatican Media via Reuters)
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Updated 20 June 2022

Pope Francis’s future sparks debate, resignation seems unlikely

Pope Francis’s future sparks debate, resignation seems unlikely
  • Pontiff hobbled by pain in his knee and forced to use a wheelchair in recent weeks
  • Rumors of a resignation also flared last year after Francis underwent colon surgery

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has fueled the rumor mill with a postponed Africa trip and the curious timing of an upcoming meeting of cardinals — but experts caution against assuming a resignation is nigh.
Hobbled by pain in his knee and forced to use a wheelchair in recent weeks, the 85-year-old pontiff postponed a July trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan last week.
That move, along with an unusual decision to hold a consistory to name new cardinals during the vacation month of August, triggered intense speculation about his plans for the future, including the most radical — that he was planning to step down.
Not so fast, many say.
“In the pope’s entourage, the majority of people don’t really believe in the possibility of a resignation,” a Vatican source said.
Rumors within the insular Roman Curia — the Catholic Church’s powerful governing body — are nothing new, and often fueled by those with an interest, said Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi.
“These rumors are encouraged by the pope’s opponents who are only eager to see Francis leave,” he said.
The resignation of a pope was once almost unthinkable. But when Benedict XVI stood down in 2013, citing his declining physical and mental health, he set a precedent.
In 2014, a year after being elected to replace Benedict, Francis himself told reporters that were his health to impede his functions as pope, he would consider stepping down too.
“He (Benedict) opened a door, the door to retired popes,” the pontiff said then.
More recently in May, as reported by various Italian media, Francis joked about his knee during a closed-door meeting with bishops: “Rather than operate, I’ll resign.”
However, a trip to Canada at the end of July is still on the pontiff’s schedule, and the pope continues to receive injections in his knee and physical therapy, according to the Vatican.
As a child, Francis had one of his lungs partially removed. Today, besides his knee issue, he suffers recurring sciatic nerve pain.
Rumors of a resignation also flared last year after Francis underwent colon surgery, prompting him to tell a Spanish radio station that the idea “hadn’t even crossed my mind.”
But beyond his health, a series of calendared events in upcoming months have some Vatican watchers questioning whether Francis is laying the groundwork for retirement, while ensuring that his reforms stay intact.
First was his decision to call an extraordinary consistory for August 27, a slow summer month at the Vatican, to create 21 new cardinals — 16 of whom will be under the age of 80, thereby eligible to elect his successor in a future conclave.
Since becoming pope in 2013, the Argentine pontiff has created 83 cardinals in a move to shape the future of the Catholic Church, in part to counter Europe’s historically dominant influence, and to reflect his values.
On August 28, Francis will pay a visit to L’Aquila and the tomb of Celestine V — the first pope to have resigned from the papacy, in the 13th century.
He then joins the world’s cardinals — many of them meeting their peers for the first time — in two days of discussions over the reform of the Roman Curia, which Francis announced in March with the unveiling of a new constitution.
Francis’ shake-up of the Roman Curia attempts to shift the Church back toward its pastoral roots, allows lay Catholics to head Vatican departments and creates a dicastery specifically for charity works among other reforms.
Could the August calendar be taken as a hint, as some in the media have suggested?
“At this stage, it is a question of being realistic and not alarmist,” Politi cautioned.
He said it was “hard to imagine” Francis would resign while the Synod of Bishops — an initiative meaningful to Francis that is intended to study how the Church moves forward in a more inclusive way — is ongoing, due to complete in 2023.
Alberto Melloni, a professor of Christianity and secretary of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Sciences in Bologna, said “preposterous” conjectures had been made about the pope’s health and his intentions.
“These are things in which there is a desire to understand, to speculate, but there is little to say,” he said.


Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
Updated 3 min 31 sec ago

Russians ‘fully occupy’ Severodonetsk, focus shifts to Lysychansk

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside the town of Lysychansk, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (AFP)
  • Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since the invasion, most to neighboring Poland
  • Russia has intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days

KYIV/POKROVSK, Ukraine: Russian forces fully occupied the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk on Saturday, both sides said, confirming Kyiv’s biggest battlefield setback for more than a month following weeks of some of the war’s bloodiest fighting.
Ukraine called its retreat from the city a “tactical withdrawal” to fight from higher ground in Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets river. Pro-Russian separatists said Moscow’s forces were now attacking Lysychansk.
The fall of Sievierodonetsk — once home to more than 100,000 people but now a wasteland — was Russia’s biggest victory since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. It transforms the battlefield in the east after weeks in which Moscow’s huge advantage in firepower had yielded only slow gains.

Ukrainian police officers help Elena from Lysychansk to board a train to Dnipro and Lviv during an evacuation of civilians from war-affected areas of eastern Ukraine, amid Russia's invasion of the country, in Pokrovsk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 25, 2022. (REUTERS)

Russia will now seek to press on and seize more ground on the opposite bank, while Ukraine will hope that the price Moscow paid to capture the ruins of the small city will leave Russia’s forces vulnerable to counterattack.
President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed in a video address that Ukraine would win back the cities it lost, including Sievierodonetsk. But acknowledging the war’s emotional toll, he said: “We don’t have a sense of how long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Capture of Sievierodonetsk big gain for Russia

• Ukraine says it carries out 'tactical withdrawal'

• Dozens of missiles hit Ukrainian military bases

“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia,” Sievierodonetsk Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said on national television. “They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some kind of commandant.”
Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine was carrying out “a tactical regrouping” by pulling its forces out of Sievierodonetsk.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks through the rubbles of a building of the Polytechnic Sports Complex of the Kharkiv National Technical University after it was hit by Russian missile in Kharkiv on June 24, 2022, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)

“Russia is using the tactic ... it used in Mariupol: wiping the city from the face of the earth,” he said. “Given the conditions, holding the defense in the ruins and open fields is no longer possible. So the Ukrainian forces are leaving for higher ground to continue the defense operations.”
Russia’s defense ministry said “as a result of successful offensive operations” Russian forces had established full control over Sievierodonetsk and the nearby town of Borivske.
Not long after that, however, Ukrainian shelling from outside Sievierodonetsk forced Russian troops to suspend evacuation of people from a chemical plant there, Russia’s Tass news agency quoted local police working with Russian separatist authorities as saying.
Oleksiy Arestovych, senior adviser to Zelensky, said some Ukrainian special forces were still in Sievierodonetsk directing artillery fire against the Russians. But he made no mention of those forces putting up any direct resistance.

Ukrainian service members fire a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system, near the town of Lysychansk, Luhansk region, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine June 12, 2022. (REUTERS)

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist fighters saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and were fighting in urban areas there.
Russia also launched missile strikes across Ukraine on Saturday. At least three people were killed and others may have been buried in rubble in the town of Sarny, some 185 miles (300 km) west of Kyiv, after rockets hit a carwash and a car repair facility, said the head of the local regional military administration.
Russia denies targeting civilians. Kyiv and the West say Russian forces have committed war crimes against civilians.
Seeking to further tighten the screws on Russia, US President Joe Biden and other Group of Seven leaders attending a summit in Germany starting on Sunday will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
’IT WAS HORROR’
In the Ukrainian-held Donbas town of Pokrovsk, Elena, an elderly woman in a wheelchair from Lysychansk, was among dozens of evacuees who arrived by bus from frontline areas.
“Lysychansk, it was a horror, the last week. Yesterday we could not take it any more,” she said. “I already told my husband if I die, please bury me behind the house.”

This picture shows destroyed shopping pavilions at a bus station in the town of Chuhuiv, Kharkiv region, on June 24, 2022, as Russia has intensified its offensive in the area in the past few days. (AFP)

As Europe’s biggest land conflict since World War Two entered its fifth month, Russian missiles also rained down on western, northern and southern parts of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border on Feb. 24, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands and uprooted millions. It has also stoked an energy and food crisis which is shaking the global economy.
Since Russia’s forces were defeated in an assault on the capital Kyiv in March, it has shifted focus to the Donbas, an eastern territory made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk.
The Russians crossed the river in force in recent days and have been advancing toward Lysychansk, threatening to encircle Ukrainians in the area.
The capture of Sievierodonetsk is likely to seen by Russia as vindication for its switch from its early, failed attempt at “lightning warfare” to a relentless, grinding offensive using massive artillery in the east.
Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has backed uprisings since 2014, are independent countries. It demands Ukraine cede the entire territory of the two provinces to separatist administrations.
Ukrainian officials had never held out much hope of holding Sievierodonetsk but have sought to exact a high enough price to exhaust the Russian army.
Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app that newly arrived, US-supplied advanced HIMARS rocket systems were now deployed and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
Asked about a potential counterattack in the south, Budanov, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief, told Reuters that Ukraine should begin to see results “from August.”
Russian missiles also struck elsewhere overnight. “48 cruise missiles. At night. Throughout whole Ukraine,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. “Russia is still trying to intimidate Ukraine, cause panic.”
The governor of Lviv region in western Ukraine said six missiles were fired from the Black Sea at a base near the border with Poland. Four hit the target but two were destroyed.
The war has had a huge impact on the global economy and European security, driving up gas, oil and food prices, pushing the European Union to reduce reliance on Russian energy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.


WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency

A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Updated 10 sec ago

WHO says monkeypox not currently a global health emergency

A man is vaccinated at a monkeypox vaccination clinic run by CIUSSS public health authorities in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

GENEVA: The World Health Organization’s chief said Saturday that the monkeypox outbreak was a deeply concerning evolving threat but did not currently constitute a global health emergency.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a committee of experts on Thursday to advise him whether to sound the UN health agency’s strongest alarm over the outbreak.
A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since early May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.
More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from more than 50 countries this year.
“The emergency committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak,” noting many unknowns about the spread and gaps in the data, Tedros said.
“They advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue, but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox.”
Tedros said the outbreak was “clearly an evolving health threat” that needed immediate action to stop further spread, using surveillance, contact-tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines and treatments are available to at-risk populations.

“The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting.
While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise Tedros that at this stage, the outbreak was not a PHEIC.
“However, the committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense response efforts.”
They are on standby to reconvene in the coming days and weeks depending on how the outbreak evolves.
The committee recommended that countries improve diagnostics and risk communication.
It noted that many aspects of the outbreak were unusual, while some members suggested there was a risk of sustained transmission due to the low level of population immunity against pox virus infection.

The committee that considered the matter is made up of 16 scientists and public health experts and is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, a former director of the WHO’s Vaccines and Immunization Department.
Thursday’s five-hour private meeting was held in person at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters and via video conference.
The committee discussed current observations of plateauing or potential downward trends in case numbers in some countries; difficulties in contact tracing due to anonymous contacts, and “potential links to international gatherings and LGBTQI+ Pride events conducive for increased opportunities for exposure through intimate sexual encounters.”
They were also concerned that the potential stigmatization of affected groups could impede response efforts.
There are knowledge gaps on transmission modes, the infectious period, as well as over access to vaccines and antivirals and their efficacy, they said.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.
Initial outbreak cases had no epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported monkeypox, suggesting that undetected transmission might have been going on for some time.
Few people have been hospitalized to date, while 10 cases have have been reported among health care workers.
The WHO’s current plan to contain the spread focuses on raising awareness among affected population groups and encouraging safe behaviors and protective measures.
There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for Covid-19 in 2020 — though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still rankles at the WHO HQ.
A PHEIC was declared after a third emergency committee meeting on January 30. But it was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly worsening situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.


Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge
Updated 25 June 2022

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge

Bangladesh inaugurates $3.6 billion Padma Bridge
  • Government hopes the 6.15 km-long bridge will boost economy
  • Padma Bridge may increase GDP by more than one percent, economist says

DHAKA: Bangladesh unveiled the largest infrastructure project in its history on Saturday.

The 6.15-kilometer Padma Bridge — which spans the river after which it was named — connects Dhaka to the country’s southern regions, slashing the distance between the capital and Bangladesh’s second-largest seaport, Mongla, by 100 kilometers. Journeys that would previously have taken two to three days from the south of the country can now be completed in a few hours, according to Ahsan H. Monsur, executive director of the Dhaka-based Policy Research Institute.

The bridge cost an estimated $3.6 billion to build, all paid for with domestic funding. It will open to the public on Sunday, after an inauguration attended by thousands.  

“The bridge belongs to the people of Bangladesh. It showcases our passion, our creativity, our courage, our endurance, and our perseverance,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at the ceremony in Mawa, about 34 kilometers southwest of Dhaka. 

“This bridge is built with the latest technology … The whole construction process has been completed while maintaining the highest standards,” Hasina added. 

More than 14,000 workers — including some foreign engineers — took part in the project, which is expected to spur economic growth in the country, as the government plans to build special economic and industrial zones in Bangladesh’s less-developed southern and southwestern region. 

“Now that the Padma Bridge has been established, we will have more special economic zones, industrial zones, factories and employment. We will be able to process crops and fish for export. It will put an end to our sorrows and change our fortunes,” Hasina said. 

Construction of the bridge began in November 2014. The construction faced several setbacks, including the World Bank pulling funding from the project over concerns about corruption.

That decision prompted other lending agencies, including the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank, to distance themselves from the project, leaving Bangladesh to build the bridge with its own funds. 

Monsur told Arab News that the bridge is an “iconic investment” for Bangladesh and that it would likely contribute to economic growth.

“People from the southern region are now easily connected with the capital and other regions. The return of this investment can’t be measured considering only financial indexes, it’s something beyond,” he said. 

“The country’s gross domestic product may see a growth of more than 1 percent due to the project’s launch,” Monsur continued. 

“Bangladesh built the bridge with self-financing and it has a high signaling value. We hope it will bring more foreign investment into the country.”


Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war
Updated 25 June 2022

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war

Duterte slams ICC prosecutor’s plan to resume probe into Philippines’ drug war
  • Investigation into the anti-drug campaign was suspended in November
  • Government said deadly crackdown was a ‘lawful operation’

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman said on Saturday that the president was “exasperated” by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and his plan to reopen a probe into the outgoing leader’s controversial anti-drug campaign.

Duterte, whose six-year rule ends June 30, initiated a controversial crackdown on drug suspects that international rights groups said involved systematic extrajudicial killings. According to official data, more than 6,200 Filipinos were killed in the campaign, but the ICC estimated that the death toll could be as high as 30,000. 

In September 2021, ICC judges authorized prosecutor Karim Khan to investigate allegations of crimes carried out by authorities waging Duterte’s drug war, but Khan’s probe was suspended at Manila’s request two months later. 

Khan said on Friday that he has asked judges to authorize a resumption of his investigation, saying in a statement that the deferral requested by the Philippine government “is not warranted” and that the probe should restart “as quickly as possible.” 

In a statement issued on Saturday, the outgoing administration described Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign as “hugely successful,” claiming that it resulted in a massive reduction in drug-related crimes. 

“For the nth time, we express exasperation at the latest request of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan,” presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar said. 

Andanar added that the Duterte administration has launched investigations into “all deaths that have arisen from lawful drug enforcement operations,” adding that the ICC should let those investigations run their course. 

Khan’s request to reopen his investigation has been welcomed by human rights activists in the Philippines.

“The ICC prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippine government’s ‘drug war’ is a booster shot for accountability,” Maria Elena Vignoli, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch, said. 

The ICC has said that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign appeared to be “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” that could qualify as a crime against humanity. 

Amnesty International has urged the new government — led by president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who will be sworn into office next week — to cooperate with the investigation and “ensure the safety of families of victims and witnesses.” 

Amnesty International Philippines director, Butch Olano, said: “Six years on from the start of the ‘war on drugs,’ families of victims are another step closer to some form of justice.”


Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks
Updated 25 June 2022

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks
  • Sajid Mir believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba
  • Militants killed more than 170 people in the attacks

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities confirmed on Saturday that the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was in their custody and sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of terrorism financing.

Sajid Mir has been on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head. He has been sought by the US and India for over a decade in connection to the Mumbai attacks in late November 2008, when militants killed more than 170 people, including six US nationals.

Mir is believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group accused of carrying out the attacks. According to the FBI's most-wanted list, he allegedly served as the “chief planner of the attacks, directing preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the attacks.”

He was sentenced by a court in Lahore earlier this month to 15-and-a-half years in prison and is serving his sentence at Kot Lakhpat jail.

“The sentencing in a TF (terrorism financing) case is confirmed,” Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, spokesperson for the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News.

Mir was indicted by an Illinois court in April 2011 and his arrest warrant was issued the same month. The court charged him with “conspiracy to injure property of foreign government; providing material support to terrorists; killing a citizen outside of the U.S. and aiding and abetting; and bombing of places of public use.”

In Pakistan, his sentencing is seen as being connected to government efforts to get off the Financial Action Task Force’s grey list.

In June 2018, the global watchdog downgraded Pakistan to its increased monitoring list for lacking measures to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.

During its plenary meeting last week, the FATF kept Pakistan on its grey list but said an onsite inspection — expected in October — could verify the country’s progress in fulfilling the watchdog’s action plan and lead to the removal of the designation.

“This issue rather became a major sticking point in FATF’s assessment of Pakistan’s progress on the action plan late last year. This was where things finally started moving in Mir’s case,” Pakistani daily newspaper Dawn reported on Saturday. “His conviction and sentencing were, therefore, major achievements that Pakistani officials showcased in their progress report given to FATF on its action plan during the latest plenary.”

Being on the FATF grey list severely restricts a country’s international borrowing capabilities. Exiting it is likely to increase foreign inflows, specifically direct investment, into Pakistan, which desperately needs funds amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

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