North Korea says it is nearing end of COVID-19 crisis as Asian neighbors fight resurgence

North Korea says it is nearing end of COVID-19 crisis as Asian neighbors fight resurgence
Above, a safety staff disinfects a shop in Pyongyang to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 on July 2, 2022. (KCNA via KNS/AFP)
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Updated 18 July 2022

North Korea says it is nearing end of COVID-19 crisis as Asian neighbors fight resurgence

North Korea says it is nearing end of COVID-19 crisis as Asian neighbors fight resurgence
  • Pyongyang says 99.98 percent of its 4.77 million fever patients since late April have fully recovere

SEOUL: North Korea is on the path to “finally defuse” a crisis stemming from its first acknowledged outbreak of COVID-19, the state news agency said on Monday, while Asian neighbors battle a fresh wave of infections driven by omicron subvariants.
The North says 99.98 percent of its 4.77 million fever patients since late April have fully recovered, but due to an apparent lack of testing, it has not released any figures of those that proved positive.
“The anti-epidemic campaign is improved to finally defuse the crisis completely,” KCNA said. It added that the North had reported 310 more people with fever symptoms.
The World Health Organization has cast doubts on North Korea’s claims, saying last month it believed the situation was getting worse, not better, amid an absence of independent data.
The North’s declaration could be a prelude to restoring trade long hampered by the pandemic, one analyst said.
“Under the current trend, North Korea could announce in less than a month that its COVID-19 crisis is over and that could be a prelude to resuming cross-border trade,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Sejong Institute’s North Korea studies center in South Korea.
Analysts say the authoritarian North has used the pandemic to tighten already strict social controls. Pyongyang blamed its outbreak on “alien things” near its border with the South, urging its people to avoid anything that comes from outside.
Daily new cases of fever in North Korea reported by KCNA have been declining since the reclusive country first acknowledged in mid-May that it was battling an outbreak of COVID-19.
Lacking a public vaccination effort, the North said it was running intensive medical checks nationwide, with daily PCR tests on water collected in borderline areas among the measures.
The North also said it has been developing new methods to better detect the virus and its variants, as well as other infectious diseases, such as monkeypox.
North Korea’s claim of “anti-epidemic stability” comes as other Asian countries grapple with a new wave of infections. China reported 691 new cases for Saturday with locally transmitted infections at a peak since May 23.
In the neighboring South, daily COVID-19 infections jumped on Tuesday above 40,000 for the first time in two months, with authorities and experts predicting hundreds of thousands of new cases in coming weeks.
Japan also warned that a new wave of infections appeared to be spreading rapidly, as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called for special care ahead of school summer vacations.
Tokyo’s 16,878 new cases on Wednesday were the highest since February, while the nationwide tally rose above 90,000, in a recent surge of infections to levels unseen since early this year.

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso
Updated 14 sec ago

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU: At least two soldiers and two civilian auxiliaries died in a “terrorist” attack on a patrol in eastern Burkina Faso, the army said Sunday.

A military unit and VDP volunteer auxiliaries were ambushed on Saturday between Sakoani and Sampieri in Tapoa province, bordering Niger and Benin, an army statement said.

“The fighting unfortunately cost the lives of two soldiers and two VDP,” it added.

However, a security source said the death toll was four soldiers and two volunteers.

A VDP official confirmed two dead from the volunteer ranks with “some still missing.”

Another security source said the militants also suffered losses, without giving a figure for the dead.

Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a January coup, ousting Burkina’s elected leader and promising to rein in the militants.

But the violence has raged on in neighboring countries stoked by insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda and Daesh. Thousands have died and some two million been displaced by the fighting in landlocked Burkina since 2015.

Separately, Damiba defended his military takeover, though he acknowledged it was “perhaps reprehensible” and inconsistent with the UN’s values.

Damiba said the overthrow of the democratically elected president was “necessary and indispensable.”

“It was, above all, an issue of survival for our nation,” he said. That’s even if it was “perhaps reprehensible in terms of the principles held dear by the United Nations and the international community as a whole.”

Burkina Faso’s coup came in the wake of similar takeovers in Mali and in Guinea, heightening fears of a rollback of democracy in West Africa. None of the juntas has committed to a date for new elections.

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
Updated 25 September 2022

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
  • Viral clip showed Muslim students practicing Hindu hymn for Mahatma Gandhi birthday celebrations
  • Hymn is not controversial, BJP leader says

NEW DELHI: Kashmiri communities are raising concerns over alleged attempts to “undermine the Muslim identity” in the valley after a clip showing Muslim students in public schools reciting a Hindu hymn sparked controversy among religious and political leaders in the region.

New Delhi revoked the constitutional semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, its portion of the region contested by India and Pakistan, into two federally governed territories in 2019.

The abrogation of its autonomy, which was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, the detention of hundreds of local political leaders and the deployment of thousands of additional troops, has since compounded fears that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to alter the Muslim-majority region.

When Muslim students earlier this month were instructed to recite a Hindu hymn as part of preparations to celebrate the birth of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct. 2, a clip of the activity triggered new concerns among communities in the valley, such as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema Jammu and Kashmir, a collective of 30 religious and educational bodies in the region.

“MMU appeals to the government and concerned authorities to immediately withdraw its orders and stop these practices in schools and educational institutions, which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims and cause them grief,” they said in a statement.

The collective issued the statement after a meeting was held over the weekend “in the wake of unfortunate attempts being made to undermine the Muslim identity of Kashmir.”

Mohd Ashraf Rather, chief education officer of the region’s Kulgam district, told Arab News on Sunday that the hymn was practiced in school “because it is an all-faith prayer” and had been part of a “one-day activity” ahead of Gandhi’s birthday celebrations.

“This is the same hymn that Mahatma Gandhi used to sing and the prayer invokes both Ishwar (Hindu address to God) and Allah,” Rather said.

The Hindu hymn controversy appears to be part of a “deliberate” plan, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who has been held under house arrest since August 2019.

“It is becoming clear that there seems to be a deliberate plan to push our young generation through state-run educational institutions towards apostasy, to wean them away from Islamic beliefs and identity, to speed their so-called ‘integration’ with the Hindu majoritarian idea of India,” Farooq told Arab News.

Though recitations of Hindu hymns are not something new in Kashmir, the questions raised in the valley were triggered by concerns over the intention of the ruling BJP party, the region’s political leader Ghulam Mir of the Apni Party, told Arab News.

“Prayers can be performed in any language but the important thing is to look at the intention. If the intention is an ulterior motive, then anyone can raise an objection,” Mir said.

“Earlier also people used to recite Hindu hymns, but that time (the) intention was different, but the majoritarian politics of the BJP looks like (being) against Muslims — their profile is anti-Muslim so whatever they do, Muslims feel it’s against them.”

Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson of Kashmir’s oldest political party, National Conference, urged the government to provide an explanation.

“The government needs to come out with clarification. What is the intent behind it?” Dar told Arab News.

“There is a serious attempt to hurt the sentiments of the majority community of Kashmir. There is an attempt to provoke the people,” he added.

Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a senior leader and convenor of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a political alliance between several regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir campaigning to restore its special autonomous status — stressed the importance of secular education in Kashmir.

“Any encroachment compromising the secular spirit of the constitution is dangerous,” Tarigami said. “Whatever is happening in Kashmir is part of the program to ‘Hindunize’ education and this will provoke and promote other varieties of extremism.”

Dr. Hina Bhat, a local leader and spokesperson for the BJP based in Srinagar, told Arab News the hymn is not controversial.

“What is controversial about the hymns?” Bhat asked. “They should stop politicizing the issue where kids are not allowed to grow in an open space.”

Kapil Kak, former Indian air marshal and member of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, said “there should be no changes” in the patterns of prayers and school songs in Kashmir.

“The issue can turn into a potential trouble spot. Kashmiris have been very patient; they have gone through multiple types of assaults on their identity for the last three years but they have borne it.”


Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
Updated 25 September 2022

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
  • Despite warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing celebrated in the streets of Uman
  • Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman in which he promised he would ‘save (worshippers) from hell’ if they came to visit his tomb

UMAN, Ukraine: Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered in the Ukrainian city of Uman for their annual pilgrimage, officials said Sunday, despite authorities asking them to skip the trip because of the war.
Every year, Hasidic Jewish pilgrims come to Uman from across the world to visit the tomb of one of the main figures of Hasidic judaism for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The central Ukrainian city of Uman is relatively far from the frontline, but Ukrainian and Israeli authorities urged worshippers to skip the celebrations taking place between September 25 and 27 this year.
But despite the warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing gathered in Uman, celebrating in the streets.
“This is the most important day of the year to be able to connect with God. And this a great place to do it,” one pilgrim, Aaron Allen, told AFP.
Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman, the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement who died in the city in 1810, in which he promised he would “save (worshippers) from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashana.
“There were sirens, but coming from Israel we are used to sirens, we know what to do. We feel pretty safe,” said Allen, a 48-year-old doctor from Yad Binyamin.
Police set up a wide perimeter to access the area around the grave, checking IDs and only letting through residents and Hasidim.
It was forbidden to sell not only alcohol, fireworks and firecrackers, but even toy guns during the festivities in Uman, regional police spokeswoman Zoya Vovk told AFP.
A curfew between 11 p.m. (20 GMT) and 5 am is also in place.
Despite the restrictions, the shrine housing the tomb was buzzing with celebrations on Sunday.
Pilgrims — only men and boys — were praying, pressed against the white walls and columns of the burial place.
Outside the temple, a simultaneous prayer from hundreds of pilgrims resonated.
Police will not release the exact number of pilgrims until the end of the festivities for fear of attacks from Russia.
“We understand that there is a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and that the enemy is monitoring information,” Zoya Vovk told AFP.
“The only thing I can say is tens of thousands (of pilgrims have already arrived),” she added, however.
The United Jewish Community of Ukraine NGO said that more than 23,000 pilgrims had arrived in Uman.
Uman in central Ukraine has been hit several times by Russian strikes since the invasion began on February 24.

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia
Updated 25 September 2022

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
Mohamud also has to grapple with a looming famine caused by the Horn of Africa nation’s worst drought in 40 years.
Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
Updated 25 September 2022

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
  • The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone

KYIV: Ukraine said Sunday that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“The enemy hit the administrative building in the city center three times,” it said in a Facebook message.
“One drone was shot down by (Ukrainian) air defense forces. No casualties (were) recorded,” it said.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later told AFP.
The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa Friday in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
A foreign ministry official told AFP that the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, said on Friday.