Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities
Afghanistan's Taliban Minister for Higher Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani (C) arrives to address a press conference in Kabul on August 16, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 16 August 2022

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities

Taliban add more compulsory religion classes to Afghan universities
  • Minister for higher education said they are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight
  • Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban are skeptical of modern education

KABUL: Afghan university students will have to attend more compulsory Islamic studies classes, education officials said Tuesday while giving little sign that secondary schools for girls would reopen.
Many conservative Afghan clerics in the hard-line Islamist Taliban, which swept back into power a year ago, are skeptical of modern education.
“We are adding five more religious subjects to the existing eight,” said Abdul Baqi Haqqani, minister for higher education, including Islamic history, politics and governance.
The number of compulsory religious classes will increase from one to three a week in government universities.
He told a news conference that the Taliban would not order any subjects to be dropped from the current curriculum.
However, some universities have altered studies on music and sculpture — highly sensitive issues under the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of sharia law — while an exodus of Afghanistan’s educated elite, including professors, has seen many subjects discontinued.
Officials have for months insisted that schools will reopen for girls, swaying between technical and financial issues as reasons for the continued closures.
Abdulkhaliq Sadiq, a senior official at the education ministry, on Tuesday said families in rural areas were still not convinced of the need to send girls to secondary school.
Under the Taliban’s last regime between 1996 and 2001, both primary and secondary schools for girls never reopened.
“We are trying to come up with a sound policy in coordination with our leaders... so that those in rural areas are also convinced,” he said.
Since seizing power on August 15 last year the Taliban have imposed harsh restrictions on girls and women to comply with their austere vision of Islam — effectively squeezing them out of public life.
Although young women are still permitted to attend university, many have dropped out because of the cost or because their families are afraid for them to be out in public in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, without a secondary school certificate, teenage girls will not be able to sit future university entrance exams.
The international community has made the right to education a key condition for formally recognizing the Taliban government.
Despite being in power for a year, no country has so far recognized the government.


King Charles III won’t attend COP27, Buckingham Palace confirms

King Charles III won’t attend COP27, Buckingham Palace confirms
Updated 9 sec ago

King Charles III won’t attend COP27, Buckingham Palace confirms

King Charles III won’t attend COP27, Buckingham Palace confirms
  • Had been talks over whether Charles could play a role in the climate conference in a different way

LONDON: King Charles III will not travel to next month’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt, Buckingham Palace has confirmed.

A report released late on Saturday said the decision came after UK Prime Minister Liz Truss “objected” to the avid environmentalist monarch attending.

Britain’s new monarch, who took the throne after his mother Queen Elizabeth II died last month, had intended to deliver a speech at the November 6-18 gathering, the Sunday Times reported.

But the plan was reportedly axed after Truss opposed it during a personal audience with Charles at Buckingham Palace last month and on the advice of Number 10 advisers.

However, Sky News reported that palace sources said any suggestion of disagreement between the new monarch and prime minister was “categorically untrue” and that the decision was “agreed in consultation.”

A Number 10 source told Sky News: “The idea the prime minister gives orders to the King is ridiculous.”

And according to the Sky report, there have been talks over whether Charles could play a role in the climate conference in a different way.

The decision comes amid speculation Britain’s new leader, already under fire over her economic plans which have sparked market turmoil, could controversially scale back the country’s climate change commitments.

Her newly assembled cabinet contains a number of ministers who have expressed skepticism about the so-called 2050 net zero goals, while Truss herself is seen as less enthusiastic about the policy than predecessor Boris Johnson.

The Sunday Times said she is unlikely to attend COP27 — the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Britain hosted the last summit in the Scottish city Glasgow, when Charles, the late queen and his son William all addressed the event.

The newspaper said the episode was “likely to fuel tensions” between Charles and Truss, but cited a government source who claimed the audience had been “cordial” and there had “not been a row.”

Meanwhile, a royal source told the paper: “It is no mystery that the king was invited to go there.

“He had to think very carefully about what steps to take for his first overseas tour, and he is not going to be attending COP(27).”

Both Downing Street and Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the Times report.

Under convention in Britain, all overseas official visits by members of the royal family are undertaken in accordance with advice from the government.

However, despite not attending in person, reports said the king still hopes to be able to contribute in some form to the conference.

Charles III is a committed environmentalist with a long history of campaigning for better conservation, organic farming and tackling climate change.

* With AFP


Stampede at Indonesian football match leaves nearly 200 dead

Stampede at Indonesian football match leaves nearly 200 dead
Updated 02 October 2022

Stampede at Indonesian football match leaves nearly 200 dead

Stampede at Indonesian football match leaves nearly 200 dead
  • Rights groups call for investigation as Indonesia set to host FIFA U-20 World Cup
  • Stampede occurred after police used tear gas to control crowd

JAKARTA: Nearly 200 people were killed when violence broke out after a local league football match in East Java, authorities said on Sunday, in what appears to be the worst stadium disaster in half a century.

Frustrated supporters of Arema football club rushed onto the field at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang city after their team lost 2-3 to visiting Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday night.

The death toll has been rapidly rising since early Sunday when police recorded 129 deaths.

“This number increased to 174 people who have died, according to 10:30 a.m. data gathered by the regional disaster management agency in East Java,” East Java Deputy Gov. Emil Dardak told local media.

The real figure is likely to be higher. Volunteers from the local community have launched a campaign to identify the victims, checking households for missing persons as many teenage fans had no identification documents.

Soccer fans carry an injured man following clashes during a soccer match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo) 

The stampede occurred as fans rushed into an exit gate as police tried to control the crowd with tear gas.

“We used tear gas. It had gotten anarchic. They started attacking officers, they damaged cars,” East Java police chief Nico Afinta told reporters.

Footage circulated on social media showed scuffling between football fans and officers in riot gear, while others scaled a fence when they tried to flee the clouds of tear gas.

Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said the stadium had been filled beyond its capacity, with 42,000 tickets sold for an arena that could accommodate only 38,000 people.

“Most of the victims had died because it was crowded, there was jostling, and some were trampled and had suffocated,” he said in an Instagram post.

Officers examine a damaged police vehicle following a clash between supporters of two Indonesian soccer teams at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP)

President Joko Widodo ordered a thorough investigation into the incident and ordered the Football Association of Indonesia to suspend all games in the Indonesian top league BRI Liga 1, until the probe has been completed.

“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” he said in a televised speech. “I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”

The Indonesian stadium disaster was one of the worst in the history of football and the deadliest in more than five decades. In 1964, violence that broke out at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru, left 328 people dead.

The incident and police response to it may deal a blow to Indonesia’s plans to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup next year, and its bid to stage the Asian Cup, also in 2023, after China pulled out as host.

Rights groups are blaming the high death toll from Saturday’s match on the use of tear gas by police.

“It’s clear that the use of tear gas is prohibited by FIFA. FIFA in article 19 of its stadium safety and security regulations stressed that the use of tear gas or firearms are prohibited for crowd control in stadiums,” the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.

“We suspect that the use of excessive force with the use of tear gas and unprocedural crowd control have caused the massive death toll.”

Amnesty International Indonesia has called for accountability, saying the “loss of life cannot go unanswered.”

“People must be warned that tear gas will be used and allowed to disperse,” the group’s executive director Usman Hamid said. “Tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when widespread violence has occurred and when other methods have failed.”


Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey
Updated 02 October 2022

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey
  • Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament was convening, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the zone on Thursday

STOCKHOLM: Sweden has reauthorized exports of war materials to Turkey in an apparently significant concession to Ankara, which is threatening to block the Nordic country’s NATO membership.

Ankara requested the lifting of the restrictions — which were introduced in 2019 following a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria — after Sweden applied to join NATO in mid-May.

“The government has made the assessment that a Swedish membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s security,” the Inspectorate of Strategic Products said in a statement.

The government had already announced in June that Swedish membership of the military alliance could affect policy around military exports.

“Sweden’s application for NATO membership to a large degree strengthens the defense and security policy arguments for approving exports of war materials to other member states, including Turkey,” the authority said.

The ISP said it had approved exports relating to “electronic equipment,” “software” and “technical assistance” to Turkey in the third quarter of 2022.

To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain. New members to the alliance require unanimous approval.

Turkey’s parliament is due to resume work on Saturday after the summer break. But the country is heading for parliamentary elections in June 2023 and this could make it cautious about voting on membership for the Nordic countries.

As of Friday, Ankara had not reacted to the Swedish announcement.


UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso
Updated 02 October 2022

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso
  • The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso and called on all parties to refrain from using violence in the restive West African country.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the unfolding developments in Burkina Faso. He strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen.

The new putschists were quick to introduce an overnight curfew.

The army officers who have seized power in Burkina Faso said in televised comments that toppled junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, who overthrew Damiba on Friday, the French Embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

The embassy also denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military.”

According to the coup plotters, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

He had installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.


Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts
Updated 01 October 2022

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts
  • The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities

MEXICO CITY: Cultural ministers and representatives from 150 countries committed to expanding efforts to return historical artifacts to their countries of origin, according to a declaration released on Friday, following a UNESCO conference in Mexico City.

Major museums, auction houses and private collectors have faced growing pressure in recent years to repatriate priceless works of art and other antiquities from Latin American and African nations, among others, which argue the goods were often taken unethically or illegally.

The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities.

The declaration deems culture a “global public good” that should be included in the UN development goals.

Restitution of cultural artifacts is often politically sensitive and raises questions over the transport and care of often delicate antiquities.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has renewed calls in India for the return of one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds from Britain’s crown jewels, while Chile has for years demanded the return of a Moai statue from the British Museum.

Mexico’s government has previously called for the return of a 500-year-old Aztec crest known as Montezuma’s headdress from a Vienna museum, but experts have deemed its centuries-old iridescent quetzal feathers, dotted with golden pendants, too fragile for transport.

During the conference, ministers also discussed how to protect heritage from wars and climate change.

Ernesto Ottone, a senior UNESCO official, expressed hope that old attitudes are shifting in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“In the last three years there has been a change, a turning point, on how restitution can be made,” he said, pointing to recent bilateral deals that have led to the return of artifacts. “Today, doors are opening for us.”