NEW DELHI: Indian authorities arrested separatist leader Amritpal Singh on Sunday, bringing an end to a massive manhunt for the preacher who revived talks for an independent Sikh homeland in the northern state of Punjab, which has a history of violent insurgency.
The 30-year-old self-styled preacher has been on the run since mid-March after evading arrest. He captured national attention in February when he and his supporters broke into a police station in Punjab with swords and guns, injuring six police officials, to demand the release of one of his aides.
Police in Punjab said Singh was detained early Sunday morning, as authorities appealed to the public to maintain peace and harmony.
“Amritpal Singh was arrested by the Punjab Police around 6:45 a.m. today morning in Rode village (in the Moga district of Punjab),” Sukhchain Singh Gill, inspector general of the Punjab Police told reporters.
The fugitive was arrested under the National Security Act, which allows those deemed a threat to national security to be detained without charge for up to a year, he added.
“The NSA warning was issued against Amritpal Singh … Further law will take its own course in this case.”
Singh will be moved to Dibrugarh, in the state of Assam, where some of his associates are already detained.
He is the leader of Waris Punjab De, or Heirs of Punjab, and has publicly supported the Khalistan movement for a separate homeland for Sikhs, a minority community comprising about 1.7 percent of India’s 1.4 billion population.
India’s only Sikh-majority state of Punjab was rocked by violence triggered by the Khalistan movement in the 1980s and early ’90s, which saw the killing of thousands of people.
Singh rose to prominence after the incident in February, stirring fears of violence linked to the separatist insurgency that led to a crackdown by the police last month and saw more than 100 of his supporters arrested.
But many in India say the separatist movement has lost a lot of support in the past few decades.
“The people who are saying that a situation like the 1980s might emerge in Punjab, when there was a strong violent movement for Khalistan, are ignorant about the situation in the 1980s,” Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, told Arab News.
“They are deliberately trying to create a false bogey of a threat for their partisan political ends.”
Singh’s supporters have reportedly compared him to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant leader of the Khalistan movement who was eventually killed in a military operation in 1984.
Although police have accused Singh and his supporters of attempted murder, obstruction of law enforcement and creating disharmony, Sahni said he should not have been arrested under the NSA.
“By invoking the NSA you are putting out a message that someone like Amritpal Singh constitutes a threat to national security, which I consider laughable,” he said.
“Acts like NSA are intended for extreme threats like terrorism or organized crime against the state. These people should be tried under the normal law. This is not the way a strong state responds to a fairly minor threat.”
About 400 people were taken to hospitals after the accident, which happened in eastern India
Nearly 500 police officers and rescue workers with 75 ambulances and buses responded to the accident
Updated 45 min 58 sec ago
NEW DELHI: At least 120 people were killed, more than 850 more were injured and many others are feared trapped after a grisly three-train collision late Friday in eastern India’s Odisha state, local officials said.
Images broadcast on local stations showed smashed train compartments torn open with blood-stained holes of twisted metal, and scores of passengers lying beside the tracks near Balasore, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the state capital Bhubaneswar.
“We have more than 120 deaths per the last count and the number is increasing as there are a lot of serious injuries, head injuries,” Sudhanshu Sarangi, director general of Odisha Fire Services, told AFP from the accident site.
“A very sad incident and the prognosis is not good.”
Odisha state’s chief secretary Pradeep Jena confirmed that “about 850 injured people have been sent to hospitals,” with rescue work ongoing.
“Our top priority now is rescuing (the passengers) and providing health support to the injured,” he said.
Amitabh Sharma, executive director with the Indian Railways, told AFP that two passenger trains “had an active involvement in the accident” while “the third train, a goods train, which was parked at the site, also got (involved) in the accident.”
With rescuers at the crash site pulling the wounded out of the wreckage, fears mounted that the toll could still rise.
“The casualty figures from the ground or clarity on the number of injured is very difficult to assess for us at this moment,” Sharma said, amid reports that many passengers were still trapped under mangled rail cars.
Anil Kumar Mohanty, a medical officer in Balasore, told AFP that “we have rushed doctors and medical staff to the accident site.”
One survivor told local TV news reporters that he had sleeping when the accident happened, and woke to find himself trapped under around a dozen fellow passengers, before somehow crawling out of the carriage with only injuries to his neck and arm.
Another TV station showed graphic images of a train car toppled to one side of the track, as residents tried to pull victims to safety.
SK Panda, a spokesperson in Jena’s office in Odisha state, called it “a heavy accident.”
“We expect that the rescue work will continue till at least tomorrow morning,” Panda said. “On our part, we have prepared all big government and private hospitals from the accident site to the state capital to cater to the injured.”
The spokesperson added that authorities had already rushed “75 ambulances to the site and had also deployed many buses” to transport both the injured passengers and survivors from the site.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “distressed by the train accident.”
“In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” Modi said on Twitter, adding that he had spoken to railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw to take “stock of the situation.”
Vaishnaw said that he was rushing to the accident site.
“Rescue teams mobilized from Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, National Disaster Response Force, state government teams and air force also mobilized. Will take all hands required for the rescue ops,” he said on Twitter.
India is no stranger to railway accidents and has seen several such incidents in the past, but railway safety — thanks to massive new investments and upgrades in technology — has improved significantly in recent years.
‘Swimming in plastic’: Greek fishermen fight pollution
Active in 42 ports throughout Greece, Enaleia provides fishermen with large bags for marine waste that they can deposit in dumpsters once back at port
Updated 8 sec ago
KERATSINI, Greece: The fish market of Keratsini, west of Athens, is abuzz in the early morning, with trawlers disgorging crates of sardines and anchovies as trucks await nearby to be loaded.
But on his family’s fishing boat, Lefteris Arapakis sorts out a different sort of haul — bottles, boots, plastic pipes and fishing nets, all dragged from the bed of the Aegean Sea.
“We are swimming in plastic,” said Arapakis, whose family has fished for five generations.
By 2050 “there will be more plastic than fish” in the sea, he warned, quoting recent reports.
That morning’s plastic catch “weighs about 100 kilos,” said the 29-year-old economist and co-founder of Enaleia, an NGO that encourages fishermen to collect marine litter caught in their nets.
Since its creation in 2018, it has worked with more than 1,200 fishermen in Greece to raise awareness over the degradation of the maritime environment.
The seabed litter does not come only from Greece but from all over the Mediterranean, moving with the sea currents.
Active in 42 ports throughout Greece, Enaleia provides fishermen with large bags for marine waste that they can deposit in dumpsters once back at port.
For every kilo of plastic they deliver, they receive a small “symbolic” sum. The money is enough for a drink, said Arapakis, who was in Paris this week for global talks on limiting plastic pollution.
Representatives of 175 nations are meeting at the UNESCO headquarters with the aim of making progress toward reaching an agreement by next year covering the entire plastics life cycle.
Since October, fishing crews affiliated with Enaleia have dragged out 20 tons of plastic and old fishing equipment each month. Nearly 600 tons have been collected over the last five years, the NGO said.
The collected plastic is transported to a recycling plant in the industrial area of Megara near Keratsini, to be turned into pellets to make new products such as socks, swimwear or furniture.
A sixth is fishing nets, according to Emalia. Next in line are high and low-density plastics (12.5 percent and 8 percent respectively). But nearly half of the total, 44 percent, is non-recyclable plastic.
Recycling marine waste is a “challenge” because the plastic is degraded by its exposure underwater, said Hana Pertot, sales manager of the Skyplast recycling plant in Megara.
Enaleia began as a fishing school created by Arapakis after he lost his job in 2016 during the Greek financial crisis.
It was originally created to help his father recruit personnel for his trawler.
The organization is now also active in Italy, and this year began partnerships in Spain, Egypt and Kenya.
Arapakis said he embarked on the Mediterranean Cleanup project after a trip to Greece’s Cyclades islands, where he saw fishermen throwing the waste gathered by their nets back into the sea.
In 2020, the UN Environment Programme awarded Arapakis its “Young Champion of the Year in Europe” prize. He is convinced that there has been a “mentality change” among Greece’s fishermen.
Previously “we caught large quantities of plastic but we only kept the fish. All waste was thrown into the sea,” said Mokhtar Mokharam, the team leader on Arapakis’ family’s boat, the Panagiota II.
There are also practical benefits for fishing boats.
“In the past, the anchor often snagged on waste of all kinds, especially nets, and the engine would go out,” said Nikolaos Mentis, who works out of the island of Salamina opposite Keratsini, and has been an Enaleia contributor for the past five years.
“Fishermen are mobilizing, (it’s) a kind of democracy. Climate change mainly affects people on low incomes,” he said.
“Fishermen were part of the problem before. Now they are part of the solution — which means that any citizen or politician can contribute.”
BRICS sees strength in numbers as it envisions a multipolar world order
Summit of foreign ministers in Cape Town sets the stage for a more ambitious role for BRICS in a multipolar world
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi minister of foreign affairs, attended ministerial meeting of the “Friends of BRICS” in Cape Town
Updated 33 min 41 sec ago
Alex Whiteman Robert Edwards
LONDON: Foreign ministers from BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have expressed their willingness to admit new members, including Saudi Arabia, as the bloc seeks a larger voice in the international arena.
At a two-day conference in Cape Town on Thursday and Friday, attended by Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs, the group presented itself as a force for a “rebalancing” of the global order away from Western-dominated institutions.
Prince Faisal held bilateral talks with several of his counterparts and attended a ministerial meeting of the “Friends of BRICS” under the theme “Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.”
He also held talks with Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, to examine steps “to implement the agreement between the two countries signed in Beijing, including intensifying bilateral work to ensure international peace and security,” according to a statement from the Saudi delegation.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, Cuba, DRC, Comoros, Gabon, and Kazakhstan all sent representatives to Cape Town for the talks, while Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia participated virtually.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “more than a dozen” countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS. Meanwhile, Ma Zhaoxu, China’s vice foreign minister, told a press conference: “We expect more countries to join our big family.”
According to reports, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, and Iran have all formally asked to join the BRICS, as have several other nations who appear intent upon recalibrating international ties in line with an increasingly multipolar world order.
According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia is also in talks with the New Development Bank, the Shanghai-based lender better known as the “BRICS bank,” to admit the Kingdom as its ninth member.
A heads of state summit is scheduled to take place in Johannesburg in August.
The BRICS economic bloc is positioning itself as an alternative to Western-dominated centers of power. However, experts seem uncertain about its potential, pointing to innate divisions between the central BRICS powers and a lack of clarity on what membership might entail.
Nevertheless, for several countries seeking financial assistance, the stringent demands often attached to bailouts by Western-dominated institutions like the IMF and World Bank have proved increasingly unpalatable, leading many nations to look elsewhere for partnerships.
One such example is Tunisia.
Battered by diminishing output, high debt and rampant inflation, with food and fuel prices spiking, many saw the IMF’s offer of a $1.9 billion loan as Tunisia’s only way out of an escalating economic and political crisis.
President Kais Saied disagreed with this perspective, however, making his views on the deal very clear at the start of April, rejecting demands to cut energy and food subsidies and reduce the public wage bill, which the loan had been made contingent upon.
“I will not hear diktats,” Saied said, noting the deadly riots that ensued in 1983 after bread prices were raised, telling Tunisians they instead had to “count on themselves.”
Others close to Saied seem to think that he has different plans to stop the country’s economic rot.
Echoing Saied, Mahmoud bin Mabrouk, a spokesperson for the pro-presidential July 25 Movement, told Arab News that Tunisia would “not accept diktats or interference” and would now look to the BRICS as “a political, economic and financial alternative that will enable Tunisia to open up to the new world.”
Should bin Mabrouk’s claim hold weight, Tunisia would become the latest North African country to gravitate toward the bloc after Algeria applied to join late last year.
Such a move would suggest that the BRICS bloc is an expanding entity offering an alternative to the IMF and World Bank for states seeking bailouts.
However, Jim O’Neill, the economist who coined the BRICS acronym, questions “what” Tunisia would actually be signing up for, describing the bloc as more of a “political club” than any defined economic grouping, and one that seems to have had negative effects financially.
“As I’ve argued before, since the politic club came around, ironically, its economic strength has weakened,” O’Neill told Arab News. He further questions what criteria the bloc would seek in new members, suggesting that in the case of Algeria and Tunisia “it all just seems (like) symbolism.”
Symbolism or not, Algeria and Tunisia are not alone in their pivot toward the nascent bloc, with Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkiye all considering tethering their futures to it.
Sarah Yerkes, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Middle East Program, believes that Tunisia’s move should be taken seriously as it represents “an intentional geopolitical shift on its behalf,” noting the increased criticism of Tunisia from both Europe and the US.
“Tunisia is desperate for financial assistance and since the West is focused on conditioning aid to Tunisia on democratic reforms, it makes sense that Saied would seek assistance from countries that are less concerned with human rights and freedom,” Yerkes told Arab News.
However, like O’Neill, she questions whether the BRICS can offer an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, pointing to the bloc’s weak record when it comes to “assisting other countries and helping them achieve real, sustained economic prosperity.”
Internally, the BRICS group, at least, seems confident that it can rival the West. And, with the group set to meet in Johannesburg this August, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor has reportedly suggested the launch of the economic bloc’s own currency, intended as a rival to dollar hegemony, would be firmly on the discussion table.
Even so, few commentators offer a defense of BRICS as a new economic bloc, with Elie Abouaoun, director of MENA at the US Institute of Peace, seeing Tunisia’s addition as a weight around the neck of a limited pool of “GDP contributors.”
“At this stage, the main contributors to global GDP among the BRICS countries are China and India, and most of the countries listed as potential candidates to become members are loan consumers rather than solid contributors to the global GDP,” Abouaoun told Arab News.
“With seven or eight new consumer countries integrating into the alliance, I see challenges for the largest BRICS member states and less, if any, financial benefit to the new ones. The alliance will certainly be weaker with more members so desperate to receive economic aid.”
Similarly, Liam Campling, professor of international business and development at Queen Mary University’s School of Business and Management, London, said that agreement by the BRICS cohort to admit Tunisia would be “slightly puzzling, given that it is a mid-level power.”
“When you look at the existing members, they are all sub-regional powers, each dominant in their part of the world, but when you look at Tunisia it is not dominant in North Africa in the same way Egypt is,” Campling told Arab News.
“So, from the BRICS perspective, it is not an obvious ally, but from the Tunisia side, it could obviously be an effort to garner wider macroeconomic support. Although what I think is happening is it is playing both sides, which is part of the play for any mid-ranking country.”
Campling’s skepticism stems from his assertion that while Tunisia may have fallen foul of the US, with increased political acrimony between the two, it is still very much economically “in bed” with the Europeans, adding “it’s not going to jeopardize its EU connections for this.”
And like the others, Campling has wider reservations about the BRICS project, pointing to what he terms the “central tension at the heart of it,” namely the long-running border disputes between China and India.
This, he suggests, renders the bloc more of an ad-hoc alliance than a cohesive unit that can direct global trade, policy and finance in a manner akin to that of the IMF or World Bank, and thus he questions the assertion that BRICS could become an alternative economic bloc.
“Essentially, I do not see it being able to offer a sustained alternative until that central tension between India and China is resolved, and I do not see that being resolved, which means there is nothing really holding it together, leaving little space for a more sustained role,” he said.
Abouaoun says what is really missing is a “normative model” that other countries can buy into beyond the BRICS bloc’s defense of “multipolarity.” Scratch beneath the surface and there seems to be an absence of substance — an opinion shared by Yerkes.
“At this point it doesn’t seem much more than a potential counterweight to Europe and the US, and without a foundational ideology, particularly with members with vastly different economic philosophies, it doesn’t seem likely that it would be a strong competitor,” she said.
Consensus on BRICS’ prospects notwithstanding, O’Neill is at odds with the others when it comes to the question of whether the world needs another economic bloc, believing focus should instead be on strengthening every economy, rather than acting in collectives.
Yerkes, Campling and Abouaoun seem less opposed to the notion of a new bloc, recognizing that US unipolarity seems to be on the way out. Nevertheless, they stress that the bloc’s value would be dependent on its make-up and its intentions.
Indeed, with the likes of Saudi Arabia potentially among its ranks, the BRICS could attain new levels of financial and diplomatic clout, transforming the international arena.
“Historically, the dominance of the West, and its various international bodies and institutions, has been extremely self-serving, producing contradictory outcomes leading to a world that is more volatile and more uneven and increasingly depending on indebtedness,” Campling said.
“This has all been pushed in the interest of Europeans and the US. Maybe we should look to the 1970s and the Non-Aligned Movement — made up of many of those purportedly looking to join BRICS — for inspiration.”
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will start operating direct Hajj flights to Makkah from Monday, the country’s religious affairs ministry has announced.
The Pakistani government began transporting pilgrims to Saudi Arabia under the official Hajj scheme on May 21.
However, the flights have only been going to Madinah. Many Pakistani worshippers in the Kingdom are now making their way to Makkah by bus as the annual Islamic pilgrimage, due to begin on June 26, draws near.
In a statement, the ministry said: “The first direct flights from Pakistan to Jeddah airport are scheduled to begin on June 5.”
The flights to Makkah will be operated from 10 cities in Pakistan, including Rahim Yar Khan, and Sukkur, state-owned news agency the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Pilgrims traveling direct to Makkah, will have an eight-day stay in Madinah after completing Hajj.
Pakistan will launch a post-Hajj return flight operation on July 4.
In January, Saudi Arabia restored Pakistan’s pre-coronavirus pandemic Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims and removed the upper age limit of 65.
The country plans to send 80,000 people to perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme this year, while the rest will use private tour operators.
Nine people were killed on Thursday after popular opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, was sentenced to two years in jail
The EU and Senegal's former colonial power France also expressed concern over the violence
Updated 02 June 2023
DAKAR: The United Nations and African Union called for calm in Senegal Friday after an outbreak of deadly violence that prompted authorities to deploy the army.
Nine people were killed on Thursday after popular opposition politician, Ousmane Sonko, was sentenced to two years in jail, which may take him out of the running in 2024 presidential elections.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the violence and “urged all those involved to (...) exercise restraint,” a spokesman said.
The African Union said its commission president, Moussa Faki Mahamat, strongly condemned the violence and urged leaders to avoid acts which “tarnish the face of Senegalese democracy, of which Africa has always been proud.”
The Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on all parties to “defend the country’s laudable reputation as a bastion of peace and stability.”
The EU and Senegal’s former colonial power France also expressed concern over the violence.
Sonko was convicted for “corrupting” a young woman, in a case which has deeply divided Senegal, usually a bastion of stability in West Africa.
After some of the worst political violence in years on Thursday, tensions remained high on Friday, with sporadic clashes reported in the capital and soldiers deployed on the streets.
Sonko, who was tried in absentia, has yet to be taken into custody for his jail term, which is likely to cause further tensions.
The streets of the capital were largely deserted, AFP journalists observed.
The government acknowledged that it had restricted access to social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter in order to stop “the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages.”
There was extensive destruction on the main university campus, where prolonged clashes took place on Thursday.
Students with suitcases lined the streets outside the university, struggling to find transportation after being told to leave campus.
“We didn’t expect this, political affairs shouldn’t concern us,” said Babacar Ndiaye, a 26-year-old student.
“But there is injustice,” he added, referring to Sonko’s conviction.
Since 2021, when Sonko was initially arrested, around 30 civilians have been killed in unrest largely linked to his legal affairs.
The government and the opposition blame each other for the violence.
Sonko was initially charged with rape and issuing death threats against an employee of a beauty salon where he said he received massages.
However, the court acquitted him on these charges and convicted him for “debauching” a person under the age of 21, without clarifying the immoral acts he is alleged to have committed.
Under the electoral code, the verdict would appear to render him ineligible for next year’s election.
Sonko has maintained his innocence and claims the president is trying to frame him to keep him out of next year’s election — a charge the government denies.
The head of the PASTEF-Patriots party could be arrested “at any time,” Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall told journalists after the ruling on Thursday.
Dakar residents interviewed by AFP said they feared the possible consequences of an arrest.
“If they arrest him, we have to fear the worst,” says Yankouba Sane, a university employee.
“If there’s one person who will never go to prison in Senegal, it’s Ousmane Sonko,” said Alioune Diop, a 46-year-old shopkeeper. “If they put him on trial, they’re going to make the situation worse.”
Sonko is presumed to remain in his Dakar home, where he has been blocked in by security forces since the weekend. He alleges he is being “illegally held.”
International football star Sadio Mane, who is Senegalese, and the Khalifa General of Medina Baye, Serigne Mahi Ibrahim Niass — an eminent religious dignitary — have also called for peace.
Amnesty International urged authorities to stop “arbitrary arrests” and lift restrictions on access to social networks.
The NGO Reporters Without Borders also called on authorities to fully restore Internet access.
“Socio-political violence must not be used as a pretext to restrict the right to inform,” it said.