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.


Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them
Updated 16 August 2022

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

WASHINGTON: Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sued the US Central Intelligence Agency and its former director Mike Pompeo on Monday, alleging it recorded their conversations and copied data from their phones and computers.
The attorneys, along with two journalists joining the suit, are Americans and allege that the CIA violated their US constitutional protections for confidential discussions with Assange, who is Australian.
They said the CIA worked with a security firm contracted by the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange was living at the time, to spy on the WikiLeaks founder, his lawyers, journalists and others he met with.
Assange is facing extradition from Britain to the US, where he is charged with violating the US Espionage Act by publishing US military and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Robert Boyle, a New York attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the alleged spying on Assange’s attorneys means the WikiLeaks founder’s right to a fair trial has “now been tainted, if not destroyed.”
“The recording of meetings with friends, with lawyers and the copying of his attorneys’ and friends’ digital information taints the criminal prosecution because now the government knows the contents of those communications,” Boyle told reporters.
“There should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges, or withdrawal of an extradition request in response to these blatantly unconstitutional activities,” he said.
The suit was filed by attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, and journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz.
They all visited Assange while he was living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London under political asylum, since withdrawn.
The suit named the CIA, former CIA director and former US secretary of state Pompeo, and the security firm Undercover Global and its chief executive David Morales Guillen.
It said Undercover Global, which had a security contract with the embassy, swept information on their electronic devices, including communications with Assange, and provided it to the CIA.
In addition it placed microphones around the embassy and sent recordings, as well as footage from security cameras, to the CIA, the suit alleges.
This, the attorneys said, violated privacy protections for US citizens.
Assange is awaiting a ruling on his appeal of the British extradition order to the United States.
The charges he faces could bring a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
The suit said that Spain-based Undercover Global was recruited to work with the CIA in 2017 by officials from the Las Vegas Sands casino group.
Las Vegas Sands was at the time controlled by the late tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a powerful conservative backer of the Republican Party who, the suit said, “had cooperated with the CIA on similar matters in the past.”
The suit said that while Undercover Global controlled security at the embassy, each visitor had to leave their electronic devices with a guard before seeing Assange.
“The information contained on the plaintiff’s devices was copied and, ultimately, given to the CIA,” they said.
“Defendant Pompeo was aware of and approved the copying of information contained on plaintiffs’ mobile electronic devices and the surreptitious audio monitoring of their meetings with Assange,” the suit alleged.
It said the defendants became aware of the spying only when the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in September 2019 that Morales and Undercover Global were under criminal investigation in Spain.
El Pais revealed information on the London operations that had previously been sealed in the case.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
Updated 15 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
  • Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

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PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
Updated 15 August 2022

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
  • Premier says India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance to reach its goal
  • Corruption, nepotism are barriers to growth, Modi warns in independence day address

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, and vowed to fight against corruption and nepotism, as the nation celebrated its independence day.  

India gained independence on Aug. 15, 1947 after more than 200 years of British rule, when the subcontinent was divided into the states of India and Pakistan.

Wearing a turban printed with small stripes that matched the Indian flag, Modi addressed the nation from the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi to mark 75 years of independence.

“For the next 25 years, we need to focus on the ‘Panch Pran’ (five pledges). The first is making India a developed country,” he said.

“It is a big pledge and we should work toward this goal with all our might.”

Other pledges include removing any trace of the colonial mindset, strengthening unity, taking pride in India’s legacy, and for everyone to fulfill their duties as citizens.

India is categorized as a lower middle-income economy by the World Bank, a distinction meant for countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,086 and $4,255. High-income countries, such as the US, have a per capita income of $13,025 or more.

Modi said that India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance, as well as the spirit of international partnership, in order to achieve its development goals. He also identified corruption and nepotism as barriers to growth.

“Corruption is hollowing the country like termites. I want to fight it and seek your support,” he said.

But the premier’s ambitions for a developed India failed to take into account the country’s regression when it comes to minorities, writer Bhagwandas Morwal told Arab News.

“Modi’s speech is without vision, and India cannot become a developed nation by going astray from the path of secularism and pluralism,” Morwal said.

The South Asian nation has witnessed increasing violence targeting its Muslim minority, which makes up about 13 percent of the 1.35 billion population. Many attacks have been carried out by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s silence about such incidents since taking office in 2014.

“India has slid in its standing among a comity of nations, and in the last eight years of Modi rule it has gone astray from its constitutional commitment to minorities.”

Historian Aditya Mukherjee told Arab News that he is “extremely worried” about the nation’s trajectory.

“We are moving in the opposite direction that the country was set by our freedom fighters,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-author of “India’s Struggle for Independence,” said that “fundamental ideas,” such as democracy, secularism, sovereignty and pro-poor orientation, “are being completely abandoned.”

“The question is not whether we can become a developed nation after 25 years,” he said. “The question is, will we remain as a nation (considering) the manner in which the divisive agenda is promoted?”

 


UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
Updated 15 August 2022

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.