Kenyan opposition leader says he’ll challenge his close election loss

Kenyan opposition leader says he’ll challenge his close election loss
Odinga is renowned as a fighter, detained for years in the 1980s over his push for multiparty democracy, and a supporter of Kenya’s groundbreaking 2010 constitution. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 August 2022

Kenyan opposition leader says he’ll challenge his close election loss

Kenyan opposition leader says he’ll challenge his close election loss
  • Religious and other leaders have pleaded for calm in a country with a history of deadly post-election violence

NAIROBI: Kenyan opposition figure Raila Odinga said Tuesday he’ll challenge the results of the close presidential election with “all constitutional and legal options” after Deputy President William Ruto was declared the winner, bringing new uncertainty to a country where the vote was widely considered to be its most peaceful.

Now East Africa’s most stable democracy faces weeks of disputes and the possibility that the Supreme Court will order a fresh election. Religious and other leaders have pleaded for calm in a country with a history of deadly post-election violence.

“Let no one take the law into their own hands,” Odinga said to his often passionate supporters. In Kisumu, a city in his western Kenya stronghold, some residents said they were tired of going into the street and being tear-gassed.

This was Odinga’s first appearance since Kenya’s electoral commission chairman on Monday declared Ruto the winner with almost 50.5 percent of the votes. Four of the seven commissioners abruptly announced they couldn’t support the results, and Odinga supporters scuffled with the remaining commissioners at the declaration venue.

Shortly before Odinga spoke, the four commissioners asserted to journalists that the chairman’s final math added up to 100.01 percent and the excess votes would have made a “significant difference.” They also said he didn’t give them a chance to discuss the results before his declaration.

“What we saw yesterday was a travesty and blatant disregard of the constitution,” Odinga said, calling the election results “null and void.”

The 77-year-old Odinga has pursued the presidency for a quarter-century. His campaign has seven days after Monday’s declaration to file a petition with the Supreme Court, which would then have 14 days to make a ruling.

Odinga is renowned as a fighter, detained for years in the 1980s over his push for multiparty democracy, and a supporter of Kenya’s groundbreaking 2010 constitution. His claim that the deeply troubled 2007 election was stolen from him led to violence that left more than 1,000 dead. Though he boycotted the fresh 2017 vote, his court challenge led to election reforms.

The electoral commission had been widely seen as improving its transparency in this election, practically inviting Kenyans to do the tallying themselves by posting online the more than 46,000 results forms from around the country.

On Tuesday, the local Elections Observation Group announced that its highly regarded parallel voting tally “corroborates the official results” in an important check on the process.

But Odinga asserted that only the electoral commission chairman could see the final results before the declaration. “The law does not vest in the chairperson the powers of a dictator,” he said, and insisted that decisions by the commission must be taken by consensus.

There was no immediate statement from the electoral commission or its chairman. A screen at its tallying center that had been showing cumulative presidential election results stopped being updated Saturday and was later turned off. The official form showing final results could not be accessed on the commission’s website Tuesday.

Odinga’s campaign had expected victory after outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in a political twist backed his former rival Odinga instead of his own deputy president, with whom he fell out years ago. Some Kenyans have noted that Kenyatta appointed the four dissenting commissioners last year.

The 55-year-old president-elect, Ruto, appealed to Kenyans by making the election about economic differences and not the ethnic ones that have long marked the country’s politics with sometimes deadly results. He portrayed himself as an outsider from humble beginnings defying the political dynasties of Kenyatta and Odinga, whose fathers were Kenya’s first president and vice president.


Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness

Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness
Updated 18 sec ago

Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness

Russia’s call-up splits EU; Ukraine says it shows weakness
  • Putin's partial mobilization order is also triggering protests in Russia, with new anti-war demonstrations on Sunday

KYIV, Ukraine: Russia’s rush to mobilize hundreds of thousands of recruits to staunch stinging losses in Ukraine is a tacit acknowledgement that its “army is not able to fight,” Ukraine’s president said Sunday, as splits sharpened in Europe over whether to welcome or turn away Russians fleeing the call-up.
Speaking to US broadcaster CBS, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said he’s bracing for more Russian strikes on Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure, as the Kremlin seeks to ramp up the pressure on Ukraine and its Western backers as the weather gets colder. Zelensky warned that this winter “will be very difficult.”
“They will shoot missiles, and they will target our electric grid. This is a challenge, but we are not afraid of that.” he said on “Face the Nation.”
He portrayed the Russian mobilization — its first such call-up since World War II — as a signal of weakness, not strength, saying: “They admitted that their army is not able to fight with Ukraine anymore.”
Zelensky also said Ukraine has received NASAMS air defense systems from the US NASAMS uses surface-to-air missiles to track and shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft. Zelensky did not say how many Ukraine received.
Although the European Union is now largely off limits to most Russians, with direct flights stopped and its land borders increasingly closed to them, an exodus of Russian men fleeing military service is creating divisions among European officials over whether they should be granted safe haven.
The partial mobilization is also triggering protests in Russia, with new anti-war demonstrations on Sunday.
In Dagestan, one of Russia’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus, police fired warning shots to try to disperse more than 100 people who blocked a highway while protesting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military call-up, Russian media reported.
Dozens of women chanted “No to war!” in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala on Sunday. Videos of the protests showed women in head scarves chasing police away from the rally and standing in front of police cars carrying detained protesters, demanding their release.
Women also protested in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, chanting “No to genocide!” and marching in a circle around police, who later dragged some away or forced them into police vans, according to videos shared by Russian media.
At least 2,000 people have been arrested in recent days for similar demonstrations around Russia. Many of those taken away have immediately received a call-up summons.
Unconfirmed Russian media reports that the Kremlin might soon close Russian borders to men of fighting age are fueling panic and prompting more to flee.
German officials have voiced a desire to help Russian men deserting military service and have called for a European-wide solution. Germany has held out the possibility of granting asylum to deserters and those refusing the draft.
In France, senators are arguing that Europe has a duty to help and warned that not granting refuge to fleeing Russians could play into Putin’s hands, feeding his narrative of Western hostility to Russia.
“Closing our frontiers would fit neither with our values nor our interests,” a group of more than 40 French senators said.
Yet other EU countries are adamant that asylum shouldn’t be offered to Russian men fleeing now — when the war has moved into its eighth month. They include Lithuania, which borders Kaliningrad, a Russian Baltic Sea exclave. Its foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, tweeted: “Russians should stay and fight. Against Putin.”
His counterpart in Latvia, also an EU member bordering Russia, said the exodus poses “considerable security risks” for the 27-nation bloc and that those fleeing now can’t be considered conscientious objectors since they did not act when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Many “were fine with killing Ukrainians, they did not protest then,” the Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, tweeted. He added that they still have “plenty of countries outside EU to go.”
Finland also said it intends to “significantly restrict” entry to Russians entering the EU through its border with Russia. A Finnish opposition leader, Petteri Orpo, said fleeing Russian military reservists were an “obvious” security risk and “we must put our national security first.”
Russia is pressing on with its call-up of hundreds of thousands of men, seeking to reverse recent losses. Without control of the skies over Ukraine, Russia is also making increasing use of suicide drones from Iran, with more strikes reported Sunday in the Black Sea port city of Odesa.
For Ukrainian and Russian military planners, the clock is ticking, with the approach of winter expected to make fighting much more complicated. Already, rainy weather is bringing muddy conditions that are starting to limit the mobility of tanks and other heavy weapons, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said Sunday.
But the think-tank said Ukrainian forces are still gaining ground in their counteroffensive, launched in late August, that has rolled back the Russian occupation across large areas of the northeast and which also prompted Putin’s new drive for reinforcements.
The Kremlin said its initial aim is to add about 300,000 troops to its invasion force, which is struggling with equipment losses, mounting casualties and weakening morale. The mobilization marks a sharp shift from Putin’s previous efforts to portray the war as a limited military operation that wouldn’t interfere with most Russians’ lives.
The mobilization is running hand-in-hand with Kremlin-orchestrated votes in four occupied regions of Ukraine that could pave the way for their imminent annexation by Russia.
Ukraine and its Western allies say the referendums in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south and the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions have no legal validity, not least because many tens of thousands of their people have fled. They also call them a “sham.” Some footage has shown armed Russian troops going door-to-door to pressure Ukrainians into voting.
The voting ends Tuesday and there’s little doubt it will be declared a success by the Russian occupiers. The main questions then will be how soon Putin’s regime will annex the four regions and how that will complicate the war.
 


Bangladesh ferry accident kills 25, several missing

Bangladesh ferry accident kills 25, several missing
Updated 41 sec ago

Bangladesh ferry accident kills 25, several missing

Bangladesh ferry accident kills 25, several missing
  • Police said nearly 20 people were still missing while some of the passengers managed to swim ashore or were rescued
  • Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents in Bangladesh, a low-lying country that has extensive inland waterways

DHAKA: At least 25 people were killed and dozens were missing after a boat packed with Hindu devotees sank on Sunday in Bangladesh, a local official said, in the worst waterways disaster to hit the country in more than a year.
The bodies recovered so far included 12 women and eight children, said Jahurul Islam, district administrator of northern Panchagarh, where the accident occurred.
“The rescue operation for those missing is ongoing,” he said, adding the ferry was taking mostly devotees to a Hindu temple on the occasion of Mahalaya.
Islam said he did not know the exact number of people missing, but passengers said more than 70 people had been on the boat, which sank in the Karatoya river.
A committee has been formed to investigate the incident, he said.
Police said nearly 20 people were still missing while some of the passengers managed to swim ashore or were rescued.
Hundreds of people die each year in ferry accidents in Bangladesh, a low-lying country that has extensive inland waterways.
At least 34 people died in April last year after an overcrowded ferry collided with a cargo vessel and sank on the Shitalakhsya River outside the capital Dhaka.


Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso

Militant attack kills four in Burkina Faso
Updated 42 min 30 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.”

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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.