NEW DELHI: As she prepares to fly to Saudi Arabia, Gulzar Begum will soon see her dream of two decades come true: She will embark on the spiritual journey she has been saving for by teaching the Qur’an.
The 74-year-old from the Dakshinpuri area of South Delhi will be among thousands of Indian female pilgrims who next month will perform the Hajj on their own, without a mahram, or male guardian.
“I cannot express my feelings and joy,” Begum told Arab News. “For a long time, I have been saving money for the Hajj. I am not a rich woman. I don’t have a husband, and my two sons are not rich enough to go with me.”
She and other women pilgrims traveling to Saudi Arabia alone can do so now, after the Kingdom’s decision last year to lift a rule that required women to be accompanied by a mahram. Those who had no such companion could only travel in large groups of other women.
Following the new rule, India has tweaked its Hajj policy and over 4,300 pilgrims in the Ladies Without Mahram category will, according to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, mark the country’s “largest-ever contingent of women proceeding on Hajj alone without a male (family) member.”
Last year, the figure was 2,000. With over 200 million Indians professing Islam, Hindu-majority India has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Under the 2023 Hajj quota, 175,000 of them are traveling to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Special flights for pilgrims started earlier this week.
Munawari Begum, the vice president of the Haj Committee of India, just returned from the Kingdom after making all the necessary arrangements for female pilgrims.
“Hajj this year is special,” she told Arab News. “We have made special arrangements for the stay of women in Saudi Arabia…Their attendants will also be women.”
Many Muslim women have welcomed changes in India’s Hajj policy since its announcement in February. Kausar Jahan, chairwoman of the Delhi Haj Committee, told Arab News it was an “attempt to empower women.”
She said: “It is inducing not only economic independence of women but also self-reliance.
“There were many women who earlier wanted to go for Hajj alone, but the rule was strict, and they could not go. Now, women have their own independence.”
Robert Kennedy Jr. to run as independent, could complicate Trump, Biden 2024 contest
Kennedy has said he would challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination to run against the Republican nomineeee, expected to be Trump
However, a poll showed Republicans like Kennedy more than Democrats do by a wide margin, suggesting Trump’s campaign could be impacted as well
Updated 9 sec ago
US presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will announce he is running as an independent instead of pursuing his long-shot bid to oust President Joe Biden as the Democratic Party nominee, a shift that could complicate the 2024 election.
Anti-vaccine activist Kennedy, a member of a storied US political dynasty, posted a video on YouTube on Friday asking Americans to join him for a “major announcement” in Philadelphia on Oct. 9.
“I’ll be speaking about a sea change in American politics,” he said, decrying corruption in “both parties.”
“How are we going to win against the established Washington interests?” he asks. “It’s not through playing the game” by the current rules, he said.
Kennedy is nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, and the son of former US Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 during his own presidential bid.
Kennedy said in April he would challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination to run against the Republican nominee, expected to be former President Donald Trump.
Since then, Kennedy has complained that the Democratic Party has “essentially merged into one unit” with the Biden campaign, denying him a fair shot in the nominating contest. Several opinion polls put Biden way ahead of Kennedy in single digit percentages or low double digits.
Kennedy’s plan to run as an independent instead was first reported by Mediaite, a politics website.
Asked about the report, Kennedy’s campaign emailed Reuters a link to Kennedy’s video.
Democrats have expressed concern that any third-party bid could draw votes away from Biden, 80, who faces concerns about the economy and his age in an expected rematch against the Republican frontrunner and presumed nominee Trump, 77.
However, Republicans like Kennedy more than Democrats do by a wide margin, opinion polling compiled by FiveThirtyEight showed, suggesting Trump’s campaign could be impacted as well. Trump faces four criminal prosecutions, including charges he illegally tried to overturn Biden’s 2020 election victory, and his campaign is bleeding cash for legal expenses.
Trump animates California Republicans with calls to shoot people who rob stores
Trump taps into Californians' exhaustion with rising crime, which he blamed on the state's Democrats
In the past, Trump has proposed shooting migrants to prevent them from crossing the border
Updated 30 September 2023
ANAHEIM, California: In an occasionally dark and profane speech, Donald Trump on Friday sought to win over Republicans in California by complaining that rich people in Beverly Hills smell bad because they’re denied water, reiterating lies about widespread election fraud and calling on police to shoot people robbing stores.
While many of his remarks at the California Republican Party convention in Anaheim were familiar retreads of Trump’s attacks and grievances, his encouragement of violent retribution against criminals marked an escalation of his longstanding tough-on-crime message.
“We will immediately stop all of the pillaging and theft. Very simply: If you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store,” he said, drawing loud applause. “Shot!” he added for emphasis.
Trump was one of several Republican presidential contenders appearing at the event in this Democratic stronghold. While there’s little hope for any of them to defeat President Joe Biden here in a general election, California will play a critical role in the slate of states voting on March 5 in the so-called Super Tuesday primaries.
With 169 delegates at stake, a win in California would move a Republican presidential candidate much closer to the nomination. And a recent rule change could give Trump, who is so far dominating the primary, an advantage. If he wins more than 50 percent of the vote, he would be awarded each of the state’s delegates.
A Public Policy Institute of California voter survey released Wednesday, but conducted in late August and early September, found Trump with support from nearly half of the likely Republican primary voters. DeSantis was far back, at 14 percent, with the rest of the field lagging in single digits.
Trump’s comments on Friday underscored a central question surrounding Trump’s effort to return to the presidency. While his focus on red meat issues plays well with the GOP base, it’s unclear that it will hold much appeal with the broader set of voters needed to win a general election.
His remarks about crime, for instance, were especially pointed. In the past, Trump has proposed shooting migrants to prevent them from crossing the border. In his book and in interviews, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper alleged Trump inquired about shooting protesters during the George Floyd demonstrations. He has also proposed the death penalty for drug dealers, human traffickers and anyone convicted of killing a police officer.
During his first year in office, Trump advised police to be rougher in their handling of suspects being apprehended, telling recruits, “please don’t be too nice.”
“The word that they shoot you will get out within minutes and our nation, in one day, will be an entirely different place,” Trump said Friday. “There must be retribution for theft and destruction and the ruination of our country.”
Homicides and other violent crimes have risen in California, where residents have also been deluged with headlines from rampant car break-ins and drug use in San Francisco’s troubled Tenderloin district to street racing and illegal takeovers across a new $588-million bridge in Los Angeles.
Republicans see crime as a salient issue that can help them win back some of the suburban voters who have turned away from the party since Trump emerged as its leader and the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion. Several GOP presidential candidates and others in the party have pointed in particular to events this week in Philadelphia, where dozens of people face criminal charges after a night of social media-fueled mayhem in which groups of thieves, apparently working together, smashed their way into stores in several areas of the city.
Trump tapped into California Republicans’ exhaustion with their state’s Democratic leaders, who he said brought the state homelessness, open borders, high taxes, inequality, “woke tech tyrants” and rising crime.
California was once a symbol of American prosperity and creativity but is “becoming a symbol of our nation’s decline,” Trump said.
“We will reverse the decline of America and we will end the desecration of your once great state, California,” Trump said. “This is not a great state anymore. This is a dumping ground. You’re a dumping ground. The world is being dumped into California. Prisoners. Terrorists. Mental patients.”
Trump told his supporters “help is on the way,” falsely claimed his 30-point defeats here were the result of fraud and said, improbably, that he would win California in next year’s general election. He railed against using mail ballots on the same day the Republican National Committee launched its “Bank your Vote” initiative in New York, which urges Republicans to vote before Election Day. RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel brushed off Trump’s continued skepticism.
“I think we have to take those fights on, but also understand that once it gets to game day, the rules that are on the field are what we need to play by and President Trump is all in on that,” she said.
Trump was in California just two days after he bypassed the second GOP debate held at Ronald Reagan’s presidential library northwest of Los Angeles, signaling again that he sees no need to appear side-by-side with lesser-known contenders.
Crowds at state party conventions tend to be thick with conservative grassroots activists, an ideal setting for the former president, even as he faces felony charges in four criminal cases.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy were also scheduled to speak at the two-day convention being held at a hotel near Disneyland.
Waiting in line to enter the ballroom, Dan Cox, a real estate agent from Orange County and registered Republican, was sporting a “Keep America Great” cap and red tie, telegraphing his support for Trump. He lamented rising prices that have put homeownership out of the reach of many families in the state.
“I’m voting for someone who can get the job done,” he said, adding that he doesn’t trust Biden.
Not surprisingly, Democratic groups protested near the convention site.
“When the leading candidate of a major political party is under indictment for attempting to overthrow free and fair elections, every voter needs to stop and think about where our country is headed,” San Bernardino County Democratic Party Chair Kristin Washington said in a statement. “The last thing any American needs is to relive that madness.”
Kosovo welcomes a NATO decision to bolster its troops following weekend violence that left 4 dead
Serb insurgents want to turn the clock back by 30 years, but that is not going to happen, says PM Albin Kurti
Kosovo President Vlosa Osmani also hailed the NATO decision as necessary to defeat Serbian "aggression"
Updated 30 September 2023
PRISTINA, Kosovo: Kosovo’s prime minister on Friday welcomed a NATO decision to bolster its troops in the volatile Balkan region, saying last weekend’s shootout that left four people dead illustrates Serbia’s attempts to destabilize its former province with the help of ally Russia.
“These people want to turn back time,” Prime Minister Albin Kurti told The Associated Press. “They are in search of a time machine. They want to turn the clock back by 30 years. But that is not going to happen.”
Kosovo police on Friday raided several locations in a Serb-dominated area of the country’s north, where weekend violence left one Kosovo police officer and three Serb insurgents dead and further strained relations between Serbia and its former province.
Kosovo police said in a statement that they were conducting searches at five locations in three municipalities. The operation was connected to a Sunday shootout between Serb insurgents and police officers in the village of Banjska in northern Kosovo.
The confrontation was one of the worst since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, with Belgrade refusing to recognize the split. NATO, which leads the KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosovo, announced Friday that it would beef up its presence.
“We need NATO because the border with Serbia is very long and the Serbian army has been recently strengthening its capacities and they have a lot of military equipment form both the Russian Federation and China,” Kurti said.
In a separate interview with the AP, Kosovo President Vlosa Osmani also hailed the NATO decision. Both Osmani and Kurti described the weekend violence as an “act of aggression” against Kosovo and demanded that Serbia be punished.
“We do hope that the international community will respond to this act of aggression in the proper way, first of all by condemning it, but then also, after they complete their internal procedures of confirmation of information, undertake clear measures against Serbia,” Osmani said.
Osmani referred to Serbia President Aleksandar Vučić as a “proxy” of Russia counterpart Vladimir Putin: “And it is very clear now to everyone, even to those that had any doubt, that he is playing out Russia’s plan in the Western Balkans.”
On Sunday, about 30 masked men opened fire on a police patrol near Banjska before breaking down the gates of a Serbian Orthodox monastery and barricading themselves inside with the priests and visiting pilgrims. The 12-hour shootout that followed left one police officer and three gunmen dead.
“These people who were there with masks most likely ... have contacts and communications with Russia, with the Kremlin,” Kurti said. “Wagner-like wannabes were trying to harm our police,” he said referring to the Moscow-backed paramilitary group that has been fighting in Ukraine.
“This is in violation also of the NATO presence, of NATO taking care of security and the safety of our country,” Kurti said. “The history of NATO and the history of Kosovo are intertwined.”
In Belgrade, Vučić said he had spoken on the phone with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and they “agreed that deescalation is needed” along with a greater role for KFOR.
NATO’s decision to send in more troops is “good news,” Vučić said. He reiterated Serbia’s allegations that at least one of the three Serbs killed in the violence was “liquidated” after surrendering and promised that Serbia will “prosecute the cold-blooded killers.” The insurgents, he said, are ordinary people who rebelled to “protect their homes.”
“I will not call the Serbs terrorists,” Vučić said. “I don’t care what anyone in the world thinks.”
The violence further raised tensions in the Balkan region at a time when European Union and US officials have been pushing for a deal that would normalize ties between Serbia and Kosovo. A NATO bombing campaign on Serb positions in Kosovo and Serbia led to the end of their 1998-99 war. The war left around 10,000 people dead, mostly Kosovo Albanians.
Serbian media reported that Kosovo police raided a hospital and a restaurant in the Serb-dominated part of the town of Mitrovica on Friday, as well as locations in other towns. The local Kossev news agency said officers confiscated several vehicles.
Kosovo accuses Serbia of direct involvement in the clashes in Banjska, which the government in Belgrade denies. Kosovo police said they had found huge quantities of weapons and equipment that suggested the insurgents had planned a wider operation. Some of the vehicles used had KFOR insignia.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many more peacekeeping troops NATO has agreed to send to Kosovo. Around 700 troops were deployed from Turkiye in June after dozens of KFOR personnel were hurt in riots in northern Kosovo. Some of them sustained life-altering injuries.
“We will always continue to make sure that our commander has the resources and flexibility necessary for KFOR to fulfill its mandate,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. “We stand ready to make further adjustments to KFOR’s posture as required.”
KFOR currently consists of around 4,500 troops from 27 NATO and partner countries. Its role is to help maintain a safe environment and ensure free movement for all people and communities in Kosovo. It operates under a UN mandate.
Part of the mission’s work has been deterring hostility or threats against Kosovo by Serb forces. KFOR has said that it closely monitored the weekend’s developments. It would only intervene if its help is requested by Kosovo authorities.
On Thursday, Kosovo’s interior minister, Xhelal Sveçla, alleged in an interview with the AP that Serbia operates training camps for insurgents and said that Kosovo authorities were also investigating Russia’s involvement in the violence.
There are fears in the West that Russia, acting through Serbia, may want to destabilize the Balkans and shift at least some of the attention from Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia has voiced support for Serbia over the clashes, blaming the West for allegedly failing to protect Kosovo Serbs.
The EU, with the backing of the US, has been brokering negotiations between the two sides. In February, Kurti and Vučić gave their approval to a 10-point EU plan for normalizing relations, but the two leaders have since distanced themselves from the agreement.
He was to be replaced as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Air Force General Charles “CQ” Brown
Updated 29 September 2023
WASHINGTON: Gen. Mark Milley stepped down on Friday after a tumultuous term as the top US military officer that saw him face repeated crises abroad and on the home front, where he served through the chaotic final months of the Trump presidency.
The Pentagon put on an elaborate farewell ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, attended by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and President Joe Biden.
He was to be replaced as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Air Force General Charles “CQ” Brown — the second African American to hold the top military job.
A barrel-chested army veteran of countless foreign deployments and high-level command posts, Milley served in uniform for four decades.
But he faced his highest-stakes challenge when Donald Trump appointed him in 2019 to the career pinnacle as senior officer reporting directly to the White House.
During a four-year term — continuing under Biden from 2021 — Milley managed the harrowing exit of US troops from Afghanistan, special forces operations in Syria, and the enormous program to assist Ukraine’s desperate fight against Russian onslaught.
As chairman, “it was one crisis right after another,” said Milley last month.
Milley’s years at the top, however, also saw the military dragged into the center of increasingly raucous cultural battles on the domestic political front.
While the Biden administration has pressed for changes including renaming bases named after Confederate leaders in the Civil War, senior Republicans have repeatedly lashed out at what they claim are “woke” leftist policies in the ranks.
And that was nothing compared to the precarious situation Milley found himself in during the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2020 presidential election — in which Trump, in an unprecedented political nightmare for the United States, refused to accept defeat.
At the height of tensions after Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, Milley secretly called his Chinese counterpart to reassure Beijing that the United States remained “stable” and had no intention to attack China, according to the book “Peril,” by Bob Woodward.
That revelation has caused lasting fury for Trump, who just this month wrote on his social media network that “in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!” for Milley.
The barely veiled threat from Trump — the clear frontrunner to be the Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election -— prompted Milley to take “appropriate measures” for his safety, he told CBS News.
Biden lashed out on Thursday during a speech at Trump’s “heinous statements” and attacked the “deafening” silence from Trump’s fellow Republicans on the threat.
Milley’s replacement, chosen by Biden, will become the second Black top Joint Chiefs officer after Colin Powell. Austin, meanwhile, is the country’s first Black secretary of defense.
Brown — who officially takes the reins from Milley at midnight (0400 GMT) on Saturday — was commissioned as a US Air Force officer in 1984 and is an experienced pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, 130 of them in combat.
Brown, known to most as “CQ,” even once survived ejecting from an F-16 during training over Florida.
He has commanded a fighter squadron and two fighter wings, as well as US air forces under the Central Command and Indo-Pacific Command, and served as chief of staff of the Air Force.
Following the 2020 murder of Black man George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota, Brown recorded an emotional video about his personal experiences, including with discrimination in the American military.
He said he felt pressure to “perform error-free,” and worked “twice as hard” to prove wrong those who expected less of him because of his race.
Brown’s nomination was one of more than 300 stalled by a dispute over Pentagon policies that assist troops who must travel to receive reproductive health care that is unavailable where they are stationed.
A single Republican senator who opposes those efforts has been preventing lawmakers from quickly approving senior military nominees in groups, and Brown was only confirmed in time through an individual vote on his nomination.
6 women are rescued from a refrigerated truck in France after distress call to a BBC reporter
The women — four Vietnamese and two Iraqis — hid for hours in a truck loaded with boxes of bananas in northern France
One of them managed to reach a reporter with the BBC’s Vietnamese service in London who helped the women alert French police Wednesday
Updated 29 September 2023
LONDON: Six female migrants trapped inside a refrigerated food truck were rescued by French police after one of the women was able to make contact with a reporter, the BBC and French authorities said Thursday.
The women — four Vietnamese and two Iraqis — hid for hours in a truck loaded with boxes of bananas in northern France, believing the vehicle was on its way to the UK or Ireland.
When they realized that the truck was going in the wrong direction, they started to panic in the cold and cramped, dark space. One of them managed to reach a reporter with the BBC’s Vietnamese service in London who helped the women alert French police Wednesday.
French prosecutor Laetitia Francart said the truck driver, who was in fact heading for Italy, was not at fault. The women told investigators that the driver wasn’t involved, “saying that they climbed aboard the truck thinking they were going to England because of the Irish registration plates,” Francart said in a statement.
“After several hours on the road without a stop, they realized their mistake and alerted a journalist,” she added.
The BBC reporter said she didn’t know the migrants, but suggested she was contacted because of her reporting on Vietnamese migrants who suffocated in a truck four years earlier.
The broadcaster reported that the woman was able to send text messages, the truck’s GPS location and short videos showing the conditions inside the truck. The women were shown sitting in a tight space on the floor, surrounded by boxes of fruit, panicking and struggling to breathe, according to the BBC.
The truck was just 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit) inside, said Francart, Villefranche-sur-Saône’s prosecutor. The women were all wearing thick coats and had no health problems, she said.
French police soon tracked them down and intercepted the truck on a highway, the broadcaster said. Francart said the driver also called police after hearing noise coming from his trailer.
The six women were detained for being in France illegally before being released. Four were given 30 days to leave the country. The other two were permitted to stay to seek asylum. Francart provided no information on how the women arrived in France.
Thousands of migrants seeking a better life in the UK attempt to cross from northern France every year, either by hiding in trucks or onboard small, unseaworthy boats across the English Channel. Many of the migrants, who hail from countries including Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, are determined to make it across to the UK from mainland Europe because they can speak English, or because they already have relatives there.
Both routes can be perilous. In 2019, 39 migrants from Vietnam who paid large sums of money to human smugglers suffocated in a truck trailer in England.
In July, a Romanian man described by British prosecutors as part of an international human smuggling ring that made huge profits exploiting migrants was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for the deaths. Four other gang members were imprisoned in 2021 for terms ranging from 13 to 27 years for manslaughter. A further 18 people were convicted in Belgium, where the Vietnamese ringleader was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government has taken an increasingly punitive approach to people who arrive by such unauthorized means.
The government has passed a controversial law calling for migrants who arrive on small boats to be detained and then deported permanently to their home nation or third countries. The only third country that has agreed to take them is Rwanda, and no one has yet been sent there because that plan is being challenged in the UK courts.
In France, authorities have taken steps to try to prevent migrants entering the country from outside Europe by beefing up its patrols of its southern border with Italy. Pope Francis has challenged French President Emmanuel Macron and other European leaders to open their ports to people fleeing hardship and poverty.