Hundreds of thousands gather for mass prayer in Baghdad

Update Hundreds of thousands gather for mass prayer in Baghdad
Residents of the impoverished Baghdad suburb of Sadr City pledge support to Al-Sadr, an influential cleric who called on thousands of his followers to storm Iraq's parliament. (AP)
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Updated 06 August 2022

Hundreds of thousands gather for mass prayer in Baghdad

Hundreds of thousands gather for mass prayer in Baghdad
  • Powerful cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadr, had called on followers from across Iraq to pray inside Baghdad’s Green Zone
  • The mass-prayer call follows Al-Sadr’s demand for early elections

BAGHDAD: Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis heeded the call of an influential Shiite cleric to gather in a show of strength for a mass prayer in the heart of Baghdad’s heavily fortified government zone on Friday. The gathering took place amid an escalating political crisis that has put the country’s capital on edge.
The powerful cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadr, had called on his followers from across Iraq to come to pray inside Baghdad’s Green Zone — a heavily fortified area in the heart of the city that houses government buildings and foreign embassies. They arrived and stood outside in the scorching summer-time heat, with temperatures reaching 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).
Friday’s mass prayer was the latest display of strength by the cleric, whose political power derives from his strong grassroots support base.
Al-Sadr has used his large grassroots following as a pressure tactic against his rivals, after his party was not able to form a government despite having won the largest number of seats in federal elections held last October. He exited the political process to form the next government in June.
His followers gathered facing the Victory Arch, a monument erected during Saddam Hussein’s regime to commemorate the Iran-Iraq war. It was built for the purpose of holding military parades.
Farid Jaafar, 16, arrived from Babylon province to show his support for Al-Sadr. His transport was paid by Al-Sadr’s party he said. “I love Muqtada,” he said.
Holding the prayer within the highly restrictive zone that is closed off to most Iraqis points to the cleric’s power and influence.
Last Saturday, thousands of his followers stormed parliament in a bid to derail attempts by Al-Sadr’s Shiite rivals to form a government. Around 125 people were injured in the violence, most of them protesters and 25 members of the security forces.
Al-Sadr’s followers camped out inside the parliament until he ordered them, after four days to withdraw from the assembly building, but maintain a sit-in outside. He’s calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections.
His Shiite rivals in the Iran-backed Coordination Framework have said they would consider holding early elections in the event of a national consensus.


Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 
Updated 3 min 2 sec ago

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 

Potential Omani bishop’s palace uncovered near Christian monastery on UAE’s Siniyah Island 
  • Archeologists uncover possible Omani bishop’s palace near Umm Al-Quwain’s recently discovered Christian monastery

DUBAI: Fresh findings by archeologists suggest the existence of a possible bishop’s palace — potentially Omani — near a recently discovered Christian monastery on the UAE’s Siniyah Island, off the coast of the state of Umm Al-Quwain.

A series of walls and rooms were uncovered last year that intrigued archeologists and historians involved in the excavation process on Siniyah Island, according to Tim Power, an archeology professor at UAE University.  

“This year, we came back to expand the trenches to try to understand what’s going on there,” said Power. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

“It seems that we really have an interesting building that might be interpreted as an abbot’s house or perhaps even a bishop’s palace,” he continued.  

The archeology professor explained that similar buildings had been found in the Arabian Gulf over the years, which has helped historians and archeologists create parallels.  

Power added that recently what is thought to be a bishop’s palace was uncovered in Bahrain that had similar characteristics to the structure discovered on Siniyah Island.  

The newly discovered structure on Siniyah Island believed to be a bishop's palace. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

“Historical sources, in particular the acts of the synods of the Nestorian church, mention a bishop of Oman between the fifth and seventh centuries,” said Power.  

Oman during that period included the region that later became the northern emirates of the UAE, so it is possible this was the actual palace of a bishop, he added.  

This year, the focus has shifted to excavating a different part of the island, with extensive work carried out on settlements and other structures surrounding the monastery.  

Findings on the island suggest the presence of both Christian and Muslim communities, who are believed to have coexisted during a period of time.  

They also shed light on the transition from late antiquity to early Islam, just before the Arab conquest.  

Power, who was invited by the Tourism and Archeology Department of Umm Al-Quwain to put together a “dream team of leading experts,” chose individuals who can contribute to the project.  

“The goal of this season will be to outline the context of the monastery so it’s not just an isolated structure in the middle of this sand pit,” said Michele Degli Esposti, a researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.  

(AN Photo/Maria Botros)

Esposti, who sat categorizing artifacts and materials found during the dig, explained why the site of the alleged bishop’s palace was different than other structures.  

“This area, contrary to what happens in the settlement, is quite poor in material remains,” he said.  

“One reason is that the core complex, which had a very nice plaster floor, was constantly kept swept and clean, so we found very little materials left behind.”  

A possible warehouse was found in the vicinity of the structure thought to be the bishop’s palace, containing further clues for archeologists to draw conclusions.  

“The bulk of the materials are made of pottery, quite remarkable quantities of glass as seen in the settlements, and a few stone vessels, which are quite interesting,” said Esposti. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

Radiocarbon dating used to assess the pottery excavated suggests that the community believed to have occupied the island was there between the seventh and eighth centuries.  

Esposti said similar methodologies will be used to determine the age of the objects recently found to further narrow down the window of the predicted time period.  

Findings will allow archeologists and researchers to better understand the pattern of occupation in the new site discovered on the island in order to draw relevant conclusions. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

The excavation process, which has a more multidisciplinary approach, involves experts and materials from around the world to aid archeologists on site. 

It is also the first time that TAD UAQ is hosting students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi to participate in the excavation process.  

Hoor Al-Mazrouei, an Emirati biology student at NYUAD, participated in the excavations taking place in the settlements where she helped find a pot potentially used for cooking.   

“While we were digging, we found that it doesn’t have a base, and that’s probably why it’s not used for storage but used for baking bread or used as a cooking base,” said Al-Mazrouei. (AN Photo/Maria Botros)

NYUAD students were involved in the process from Jan. 4-20, alongside archeologists from TAD UAQ such as Ammar Al-Banna.  

Al-Banna, who predicts that the island will welcome visitors in the foreseeable future, said the first step is to uncover all findings to proceed.  

“By uncovering them, we hope to understand why they are here and what the relationship between all the structures and the sites next to them is,” he said. “Of course, with the finds, some will be studied, some will be exhibited.”  

Excavation work on the island will continue until March and will end before the Ramadan fast begins.  

Siniyah Island’s monastery is the second to be found in the UAE, with the first discovered in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island in the 1990s.


Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran
Updated 27 January 2023

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran

Saudi Arabia condemns the attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran
  • On Friday morning a man armed with a Kalashnikov-style rifle stormed the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia on Friday condemned an armed attack on Azerbaijan embassy in Teheran that killed one security personnel and injured others.
In a statement the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom’s complete rejection of all forms of violence and voiced solidarity with the Republic of Azerbaijan and its people, calling for the respect of diplomatic missions and punishing the perpetrators, reported state agency SPA.  
On Friday morning a man armed with a rifle stormed the Azerbaijan Embassy in Iran’s capital, killing the head of security at the diplomatic post and wounding two guards, authorities said.


Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
Updated 27 January 2023

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza

Russia bans largest independent news website Meduza
  • The ruling prohibits anyone from sharing links to Meduza's website

LONDON: Russia on Thursday declared Meduza, its most prominent independent news website, an “undesirable organization,” banning the outlet’s operation on Russian territory under the threat of felony prosecution.

Russia’s prosecutor-general said in an official statement that Meduza, which was founded by Russian journalists in Latvia, “threatens the foundations of constitutional order and the security of the Russian Federation.”

The ruling prohibits the outlet’s activities in Russia as well as any reference to it, even by posting a hyperlink on social media. Anyone who fails to cooperate may face a prison sentence of up to six years, according to The Guardian.

Russian officials previously labeled Meduza a “foreign agent,” hindering the news website’s ability to raise funds through advertising and forcing it to shift to a crowdfunding model.

“We believe in what we do. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in a democratic Russia. The bigger the pressure, the harder we will stand up to it,” Meduza said in a statement.

With the onset of the Ukraine war in February 2022, the Russian government banned several outlets, including Echo of Moscow and TV Rain, the country’s only independent news channel.

Russian lawmakers introduced a bill in May 2022 outlawing “discrediting the armed forces,” with a prison sentence of up to 15 years for criticizing the Russian military.

Russia has been cracking down on “undesirable organizations” since 2015, according to Meduza, granting the prosecutor-general the power to label as such any organization that purportedly imperils the country’s “constitutional-order foundations” or national security.


Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers
Updated 27 January 2023

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers

Jaguar TCS chief: Formula E is a ‘startup' with unrivaled line-up of teams and manufacturers
  • Team Principal James Barclay talks exclusively to Arab News about the early stages of Season 9, strength of the championship and ‘formidable’ Diriyah track

For a “startup,” Formula E is not doing badly at all.

Friday and Saturday will see the second and third rounds of Season 9 at the Diriyah E-Prix night-time double-header, and James Barclay, team principal of Jaguar TCS Racing, believes few other sports can match the pace, metaphorical and literal, the sport has set since its inception.

“I think the first thing to say is Formula E is only 8 years old,” he said. “That’s the amazing thing. It’s still a startup by definition, which is exciting to think about. We’ve come a long way in eight years. It’s one of the fastest forms of motorsport in terms of growth in the world, which is incredibly exciting to see. We have an incredible lineup of teams and manufacturers, which in single-seater racing is unrivaled.”

The first race of the season in Mexico City saw the launch of Formula E’s Gen3 car — the all-electric series’ fastest and most efficient vehicle yet.

“I think the first race has been something we’ve been anticipating for a while, so it’s nice to have done it,” Barclays said.

“It’s fine when you’re developing and testing, but there’s nothing like competition to really start to see where things are at. We’ve had mixed fortunes but also a lot of positives to take out of it. Other than one other manufacturer, Porsche, we had more cars in the top 10,” he added, attributing the achievement to Jaguar’s efficiency.

This season, the Jaguar line-up is made up of Mitch Evans from New Zealand and Sam Bird of Britain. The team performed solidly in Mexico City and are now sixth in the standing with four points.

Barclay says that whether it’s getting to grips with new tires or other emerging factors, teams will need some time to adjust in the coming weeks.

“I think what we’ll see in the first four or five races this year is potentially a real swing of performance and form,” he said. “There are some very competitive teams and drivers, which are out of position, us included. Those teams who got it right last week, do they know the reasons why they got it right? And will they get it right this week?

“We need to let that play out over the first four or five races.”

Teams, including Barclay’s own Jaguar, are keeping their cards close to their chests in the early rounds of the season.

“Because it’s a brand-new car, people are still getting used to overtaking with it,” he said. “You didn’t want to take too many risks in the first race of the season because you want to get a full race under your belt; you want to get the mileage. So, you saw people being a little bit cautious and maybe not having the big moves that we’ve seen in Formula E in the past. That will come.”

Friday night will see the first of the two Diriyah races taking place under the floodlights, and the Jaguar boss is happy to be back in Riyadh.

“It’s fantastic to be back here,” Barclay said. “What we love about this race is, firstly, the location in the historic part of Diriyah. It’s a really challenging circuit. It’s a formidable track. The drivers enjoy it, which is always a positive sign.

“Sector one and sector two are incredibly technical and fast. You have to be very accurate. A small mistake has a big penalty. It’s like threading the eye of the needle, basically. There’s no room for error. And it’s been a roller coaster down that first section.

“Add to that the fact that this is the night race, our only night race to Canada. And I think that adds something really special to it.”

Barclay says the relevance of Formula E continues to rise as the world shifts toward electrical mobility.

“Regulation is driving that,” he said. “If you look at the majority of car manufacturers, they make clear statements, so for us, we made a statement that from 2025, Jaguar would become an all-electric model luxury car company.”

Daimler and Volkswagen have also made similar announcements.

“In summary, most manufacturers here made a clear statement toward becoming all-electric car companies at different points in time. In our case, this will happen very soon, but all within the next 10 years, which is incredibly exciting,” Barclay said.

Barclay calls Formula One “the pinnacle” of internal combustion engine racing and says Formula E plays a similar role in electric racing.

“What starts to happen in the future, beyond 2030, when in many markets, you can’t sell ICE engines, no one knows,” he said. “But the reality is, I think Formula E is incredibly well placed if you look at the main automotive market, and the shift toward electric mobility, or the uptake of electric cars. So we see Formula E being a positive space going forward in terms of what’s at the core of a championship.”

Beyond the environmental aspects, Formula E currently has a structure that other motorsports cannot match.

“We don’t have any driver that brings budget to racing Formula E. Everyone has a full professional employed by the team,” Barclay said. “I can’t think of any other category where that happens. It doesn’t happen in Formula One. It doesn’t happen in IndyCar. It doesn’t happen in NASCAR. Basically, I think it’s the most perfect professional driver lineup in the world and one that has so much strength in depth.”

Add to that an expanding calendar that last year saw a new race in Jakarta and this year has added Sao Paolo, Cape Town and Hyderabad, and the popularity of Formula E could be about to rise even further.

“I come back to that point: We’re a startup sport,” said Barclay. “I think what is incredible is if you look at the short space of time, we just came back from Mexico City where we had just under 60,000 people. The stadium was absolutely full, sold out, all tickets in the grandstand, in hospitality sold. In Jakarta, we had 60,000 people last year.

“So genuinely, wherever we are, we’re sold out.”


Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack
Updated 27 January 2023

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack

Watchdog blames Syria’s air force for deadly chlorine attack
  • A report published Friday by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons offered the latest confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons

THE HAGUE: An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog established there are “reasonable grounds to believe” Syria’s air force dropped two cylinders containing chlorine gas on the city of Douma in April 2018, killing 43 people.
A report published Friday by a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons offered the latest confirmation that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons during his country’s grinding civil war.
“The use of chemical weapons in Douma – and anywhere – is unacceptable and a breach of international law,” OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias said.
The organization said that “reasonable grounds to believe” is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
Syria, which joined the OPCW in 2013 under pressure from the international community after being blamed for another deadly chemical weapon attack, does not recognize the investigation team’s authority and has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.
Despite the latest findings, bringing perpetrators in Syria to justice remains a long way off. Syria’s ally Russia has, in the past, blocked efforts by the UN Security Council to order an International Criminal Court investigation in Syria.
“The world now knows the facts – it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond,” Arias, a veteran Spanish diplomat, said.
The report said there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that during a government military offensive to recapture Douma, at least one Syrian air force Mi8/17 helicopter dropped two yellow cylinders on the city.
One of the cylinders hit the roof of a three-story residential building and ruptured, “rapidly released toxic gas, chlorine, in very high concentrations, which rapidly dispersed within the building killing 43 named individuals and affecting dozens more,” according to the report.
A second cylinder burst through the roof of another building into an apartment below and only partially ruptured, “mildly affecting those who first arrived at the scene,” the report added.
Syrian authorities refused the investigation team access to the sites of the chlorine attacks. The country had its OPCW voting rights suspended in 2021 as punishment for the repeated use of toxic gas, the first such sanction imposed on a member nation.
The painstaking investigation by the organization’s team, was set up to identify perpetrators of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, built on earlier findings by an OPCW fact-finding mission that chlorine was used as a weapon in Douma.
The investigators also interviewed dozens of witnesses and studied the blood and urine of survivors as well as samples of soil and building materials, according to the watchdog agency.
The investigators also carefully assessed and rejected alternative theories for what happened, including Syria’s claim that the attack was staged and that bodies of people killed elsewhere in Syria were taken to Douma to look like victims of a gas attack.
The report found that the two cylinders carrying chlorine were modified and filled at the Dumayr air base and the helicopter or helicopters that dropped them were under control of the Syrian military’s elite Tiger Force.
The OPCW team “considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: that the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack,” the organization said in a statement.
The ongoing conflict that started in Syria more than a decade ago has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.