India expels senior Canadian diplomat in growing row over alleged Indian role in Sikh’s killing

India expels senior Canadian diplomat in growing row over alleged Indian role in Sikh’s killing
An undated file photo showing a general view of High Commission of Canada in New Delhi, India. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 19 September 2023

India expels senior Canadian diplomat in growing row over alleged Indian role in Sikh’s killing

India expels senior Canadian diplomat in growing row over alleged Indian role in Sikh’s killing
  • Canada’s PM said on Monday ‘credible allegations’ linked India to murder of Sikh activist
  • Exiled Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down in British Columbia on June 18

NEW DELHI: India dismissed allegations that its government was linked to the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada as “absurd” Tuesday, expelling a senior Canadian diplomat and accusing Canada of interfering in India’s internal affairs.

It came a day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described what he called credible allegations that India was connected to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate of Sikh independence from India who was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, and Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau told Parliament Monday. “In the strongest possible terms I continue to urge the government of India to cooperate with Canada to get to the bottom of this matter.”

The dueling expulsions come as relations between Canada and India are tense. Trade talks have been derailed and Canada just canceled a trade mission to India that was planned for the fall.

In its statement announcing the expulsion, India’s Ministry of External Affairs wrote that “the decision reflects Government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”

Nijjar was organizing an unofficial referendum in India for an independent Sikh nation at the time of this death. Indian authorities announced a cash reward last year for information leading to Nijjar’s arrest, accusing him of involvement in an alleged attack on a Hindu priest in India.

India has repeatedly accused Canada of supporting the Sikh independence, or Khalistan, movement, which is banned in India but has support in countries like Canada and the UK with sizable Sikh diaspora populations.

In March, the Modi government summoned the Canadian High Commissioner in New Delhi to complain about Sikh independence protests in Canada. In 2020, India’s foreign ministry also summoned the top diplomat over comments made by Trudeau about an agricultural protest movement associated with the state of Punjab, where many Sikhs live.
Canada has a Sikh population of more than 770,000, or about 2 percent of its total population.

Trudeau told Parliament that he brought up Nijjar’s slaying with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 meeting in New Delhi last week. He said he told Modi that any Indian government involvement would be unacceptable and that he asked for cooperation in the investigation.

India’s foreign ministry dismissed the allegation as “absurd and motivated.”

“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it wrote in a statement issued earlier Tuesday.

At the G20 meeting, Modi expressed “strong concerns” over Canada’s handling of the Punjabi independence movement among the overseas Sikhs during a meeting with Trudeau at the G20, the statement added.

The statement called on Canada to work with India on what New Delhi said is a threat to the Canadian Indian diaspora, and described the Sikh movement as “promoting secessionism and inciting violence” against Indian diplomats. Earlier this year, supporters of the Khalistan movement vandalized Indian consulates in London and San Francisco.

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said Canada had expelled a top Indian diplomat, whom she identified as the head of Indian intelligence in Canada.
“If proven true this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other,” Joly said. “As a consequence we have expelled a top Indian diplomat.”

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Canada’s national security adviser and the head of Canada’s spy service have traveled to India to meet their counterparts and to confront the Indian intelligence agencies with the allegations.

He called it an active homicide investigation led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Joly said Trudeau also raised the matter with US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”

Joly also said she would raise the issue with her peers in the G7 on Monday evening in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly.

Canadian opposition New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who is himself Sikh, called it outrageous and shocking. Singh said he grew up hearing stories that challenging India’s record on human rights might prevent you from getting a visa to travel there.

“But to hear the prime minister of Canada corroborate a potential link between a murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil by a foreign government is something I could never have imagined,” Singh said.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada called Nijjar an outspoken supporter of Khalistan who “often led peaceful protests against the violation of human rights actively taking place in India and in support of Khalistan.”

“Nijjar had publicly spoken of the threat to his life for months and said that he was targeted by Indian intelligence agencies,” the statement said.

Nijjar’s New York-based lawyer, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, has said Nijjar was warned by Canadian intelligence officials about being targeted for assassination by “mercenaries” before he was gunned down.

India’s main opposition party issued a statement backing Modi’s position. The Congress Party wrote that “the country’s interests and concerns must be kept paramount at all times” and that the fight against terrorism has to be uncompromising, especially when it threatens the nation’s sovereignty.

Indian authorities have targeted Sikh separatism since the 1980s, when an armed insurgency for an independent Sikh state took off in Punjab state.

In 1984, Indian forces stormed the Golden Temple in the state’s Amritsar city to flush out Sikh separatists, who had taken refuge there. The controversial operation killed around 400, according to official figures, although Sikh groups estimate the toll to be higher.

The prime minister who ordered the raid, Indira Gandhi, was killed afterwards by two of her bodyguards, who were Sikh. Her death triggered a series of anti-Sikh riots, in which Hindu mobs went from house to house across northern India, pulling Sikhs from their homes, hacking many to death and burning others alive.

UK government increases security funding for Jewish community

UK government increases security funding for Jewish community
Updated 4 min 12 sec ago

UK government increases security funding for Jewish community

UK government increases security funding for Jewish community
  • The funding will be used to increase security at a range of Jewish buildings across the country, including schools and synagogues, the government says

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday announced 54 million pounds ($68 million) of new funding to protect Jewish communities against antisemitism over the next four years.
Earlier this month Jewish advisory body the Community Security Trust (CST) said Britain recorded thousands of antisemitic incidents after the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in October, making 2023 the worst year for UK antisemitism since its records began in 1984.
“It is shocking, and wrong, the prejudice, the racism we have seen in recent months,” Sunak said in a speech to the CST’s annual dinner, according to extracts released by his office.
“It is hatred, pure and simple. An assault on the Jewish people. We will fight this antisemitism with everything we’ve got.”
The government had already given the CST, which advises Britain’s estimated 280,000 Jews on security matters, 18 million pounds for 2024-25, taking the total funding up to 2028 to 70 million pounds.
The funding will be used to increase security at a range of Jewish buildings across the country, including schools and synagogues, the government said, providing measures such as security guards, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) and alarm systems.

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate
Updated 7 sec ago

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate
  • McConnell, the leader of Republicans in the Senate since 2015, was instrumental in bringing Donald Trump to power in January 2017 before falling out with Trump over the former president’s baseless claims to have won the 2020 election

WASHINGTON: Mitch McConnell, the powerful US political tactician who has advanced conservative causes for years and been a strong defender of aid to Ukraine, announced abruptly Wednesday that he would leave his post as leader of the Republicans in the Senate later this year.

His speech to the chamber came as a surprise and prompted lawmakers from both parties to give him a standing ovation, though he did not say if he was giving up his seat from the state of Kentucky, which he has held since 1985.
“I stand before you today, Mr. President and my colleagues to say this will be my last term as Republican leader,” McConnell, 82, said as he signaled the end of his tenure as the longest-serving Senate leader in American history.
McConnell has been the largely unchallenged leader of Republicans in the Senate since 2015 and was in the front line of the party’s battles against the policies of Barack Obama from 2009-2017.
He was instrumental in bringing Donald Trump to power in January 2017 as the party underwent dramatic changes, before falling out with Trump over the former president’s baseless claims to have won the 2020 election.
In the Senate, McConnell waged a fierce fight to enact a right-wing agenda, notably with the appointment of three Supreme Court justices who led the tribunal to end the federal right to abortion in 2022.
“No Member of Congress has played a greater role in reshaping the federal judiciary than Mitch,” Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a fellow Republican, said, predicting that “his legacy will endure for generations.”
For years McConnell relished his self-given monicker as the “Grim Reaper” — one who doomed the hopes of Democratic lawmakers.
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer acknowledged that rift Wednesday, saying he and McConnell “rarely saw eye to eye.”
“But I am very proud that we both came together in the last few years to lead the Senate forward at critical moments when our country needed us,” Schumer added, pointing to pandemic-era aid and the certification of Biden’s election only hours after the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol.

Tough political operator
A consummate backroom negotiator with a thick, rumbling southern drawl, McConnell also emerged as one of the most outspoken advocates of US military aid to Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
But he has had to grapple with a fractured, Trump-dominated party that came to shun cooperation and the traditional US leadership role on the international stage.
The isolationist shift was underlined in recent weeks as President Joe Biden’s request for $60 billion for Ukraine stalled in Congress as Republicans in the House demanded action first on an immigration crisis at the border with Mexico.
McConnell projected an image of quiet austerity that clashed with his reputation as a tough political operator and strategist.
Under the presidency of Biden, with whom he served in the Senate for years, McConnell also worked for the passage of bipartisan legislation on infrastructure and other issues backed by both parties.
Biden, 81, told reporters Wednesday he was “sorry” to hear his old Senate colleague was stepping down.
“He and I had trust, we had a great relationship, we fought like hell but he never never never misrepresented anything,” he said.
Last summer concerns arose about McConnell’s health, as several times he froze up while speaking in public and fell awkwardly silent.
In March he was hospitalized after he fell during a dinner and suffered a concussion and a broken rib, forcing him to leave his job for six weeks.
The incident reignited criticism that Congress is dominated by white men in their 70s and 80s who cannot bear to retire.
But McConnell had steadfastly refused to resign and rejected suggestions that he was no longer healthy enough to serve.

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists
Updated 39 min 48 sec ago

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists

Several Malian soldiers killed in large-scale attack by suspected jihadists
  • Official says more than 100 jihadis attacked an army position at Kwala, about 300 km north of the capital Bamako
  • Mali army said that it "destroyed a large number of “terrorists,” but made no mention of casualties in its ranks

BAMAKO: Several Malian soldiers died on Wednesday in a large-scale attack by suspected jihadists on a military outpost in the remote west of the landlocked West African nation.

“More than 100 jihadists attacked an army position at Kwala,” said an elected representative of the nearby town of Mourdiah, 300 kilometers (180 miles) north of the capital Bamako.
“Several soldiers were killed, the jihadists took over the place before leaving without a problem,” he said, asking to remain anonymous.
A local political official confirmed to AFP the same version of events, adding that the army “camp was first hit with a car bomb.”
A second elected official said there had been a lot of gunfire and government troops returned to the base after the jihadists left.
The army reported the assault in a statement, making no mention of casualties in its ranks and claiming to have “found and destroyed” a large number of “terrorists.”
AFP was unable to verify the claims from the various sources in the remote zone.
Mali’s military junta pushed out a French anti-jihadist force in 2022 amid deteriorating relations following military coups in 2020 and 2021.
Mali has since pivoted toward Russia, both politically and militarily.

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
Updated 28 February 2024

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden

Arab campaigners in Michigan declare ‘victory’ in primary election protest against Biden
  • More than 100,000 voters heed call to snub president by choosing ‘uncommitted’ option on ballot, amid anger about his unflinching support for Israel during war in Gaza
  • This could prove significant during the presidential election in November, in which Michigan is likely to be one of the most closely contested states

CHICAGO: Arab American leaders hailed as a “victory” the results of a Democratic presidential primary election in Michigan on Tuesday, in which more than 100,000 voters snubbed President Joe Biden’s nomination bid by choosing the “uncommitted” option on the ballot.

Campaigners had urged Arab voters to do this in protest against the Biden administration’s unwavering support for Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, despite the thousands of civilians who have been killed or injured as a result.

Primaries are elections held by the Democratic and Republican parties in every state to select their candidates for the presidential election. The “uncommitted” voting option is only offered by some states. Campaigners said the number of Arab Americans in Michigan who voted “uncommitted” represented a solid rejection of Biden’s candidacy.

He still comfortably won the primary. With more than 95 percent of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, he had received 618,441, representing 81.1 percent of the total. The number of “uncommitted” votes stood at 101,107, or 13.3 percent. Two other candidates, Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips, each received about 3 percent of the vote.

The “uncommitted” vote could nevertheless prove significant in the presidential election if it translates into loss of support for Biden or a switch of allegiance to his likely rival, Donald Trump. Biden claimed victory in Michigan at the 2020 presidential election by the relatively narrow margin of 154,188 votes out of more than 5.5 million cast. There are more than 500,000 Arab and Muslim voters in Michigan. In addition, turnout for a presidential election is usually significantly higher than for a primary; about 1.8 million people voted in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, for example, compared with the 5.5 million at the 2020 presidential election.

In Michigan’s Republican primary, Trump comfortably won with 68.2 percent of the vote. Closest rival Nikki Haley received just 26.6 percent, which 3 percent were uncommitted.

The Michigan primary was the first among several identified by Arab American campaign groups as taking place in key swing states where Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020 was particularly narrow.

Arab Americans have launched anti-Biden protest movements in several of those states, the most prominent of which has been #AbandonBiden. Its leaders cite as the main reason for Arab anger the president’s support for and defense of Israel during the war in Gaza, including: the allocation of more than $34 billion in aid and weapons; what they view as the pro-Israel bias of Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and the US decisions to veto three UN Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

The #AbandonBiden campaign launched on Nov. 1, shortly after Israel invaded Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7. It criticized Israel for the “brutality” of its military campaign, which has razed cities to the ground, destroying civilian buildings and infrastructure in the process, including mosques, hospitals, churches, schools, homes and businesses. Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in the past four months.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Michigan-based Arab American News, which describes itself as the largest Arab American publication in the US, told Arab News that “empty words” from the Biden administration seeking to placate Arab voters will not work.

“The message has been delivered to Biden loud and clear from Michigan’s Arab Americans: Defeat is waiting for you in November,” he said. “This is only a down payment.”

Imad Hamad, the executive director of the American Human Rights Council, told Arab News: “The community delivered and fulfilled its solid commitment not to commit to the reelection of President Biden.

“The uncommitted votes, as well as the votes of those who flipped the party affiliation from the Democratic Party to Republican speaks for itself, setting the record straight moving forward toward the general elections in November.”

The possibility that the #AbandonBiden campaign might help return Trump to the White House has caused alarm among many traditional Democrat supporters.

Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and a longtime political activist, said many movements have emerged in response to discontent over Biden’s policies on Israel and Gaza.

“We hoped to send a message that couldn’t be ignored by President Biden and we did just that,” he told Arab News.

“The turnout in the Arab community was great and with the support of our allies we topped over 100,000 votes. This is a huge win.”

Samir Khalil, founder of the Arab American Democratic Club in Illinois, where Biden could face another Arab voter backlash in that state’s primary on March 19, said that the president’s abandonment of Palestinians was “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

He told Arab News: “Four years of Donald Trump doesn’t even come close to comparing to four months of Israel’s killings in the Gaza Strip.

“Over 100,000 people voted for ‘uncommitted’ in the Michigan presidential primary yesterday. This record-breaking total for the uncommitted option sent a loud and clear message to the Democratic Party and the Biden campaign: It is time to take action to end the genocide in Gaza.

Abed Ayoub, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee echoed these comments and said: “Uncommitted voters represent diverse demographics, including young voters, progressive voters, and a significant number of voters from ally communities.”

In a message posted on social media platform X, Abdullah Hammoud, the mayor of the Michigan city of Dearborn wrote: “I am overwhelmed by the power of the people, demonstrated today by the number of Michiganders who voted ‘uncommitted’ … Every person who voted ‘uncommitted’ today was personally compelled to use their voice to speak out against President Biden’s support of (Israeli President) Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden has faced harsh criticism from other groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations; Our Revolution, founded by progressive Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders; and Listen to Michigan.

Hassan Abdel Salam, the national coordinator of #AbandonBiden, and the group’s Michigan coordinator, Khalid Turani, released a statement on Wednesday in which they said: “Abandon Biden leaders stand before the nation today, not just as victors in the Michigan primary, but as bearers of a profound and indignant message against President Joe Biden’s oversight of the ongoing US-Israeli genocide in Gaza. This isn’t just a political setback for Biden; it’s a damning indictment of his presidency’s moral bankruptcy.

“Our motivation is driven by the harrowing realities of Gaza, where the statistics of death and despair climb daily under the shadow of a genocide facilitated by Biden’s administration. At least 29,606 innocent men, women and children have been murdered, including more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women; and more than 69,737 wounded, including at least 8,663 children and 6,327 women.

“These aren’t just numbers; they’re a damning testament to the horror and suffering supported by Biden’s foreign policy.”

They added: “As we move from Michigan to the national stage, our message remains unequivocal: We will accept nothing less than justice, accountability and an end to US funding, arming and support of the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Biden faced no significant challengers in the Michigan primary, so voting “uncommitted” was the best and clearest way to express the outrage and anger of the Arab American community, campaigners said.

To become president, a candidate must win at least 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes up for grabs. Each of the 50 states receives a set number of Electoral College votes based on population size, and they are normally awarded to the candidate that wins the popular vote in the state.

In 2020, Biden won 306 Electoral College votes compared with Trump’s 232. If Arab Americans votes prevent Biden from winning 36 of these votes in three key swing states at the presidential election in November, he could lose, #AbandonBiden leaders said. Michigan has 16 Electoral College votes up for grabs.

Biden is particularly vulnerable in several swing states where his 2020 margins of victory over Trump were even closer than in Michigan. They include: Arizona, which has 11 Electoral College votes and in which he won the popular vote by a narrow margin of 10,457; Wisconsin (10 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 20,682); Georgia (16 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 11,779); and Nevada (6 College votes; 2020 victory margin: 33,596).

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
Updated 36 min 7 sec ago

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria

Ukraine warns against ‘destructive external interference’ in Transnistria
  • Fears that landlocked Transnistria could become a new flashpoint in Russia’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine
  • Russia’s foreign ministry: ‘Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities’

KYIV, Ukraine: Ukraine’s foreign ministry on Wednesday cautioned against any meddling from Russia in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, whose separatist leaders earlier appealed to Russia for “protection.”
The move from Transnistrian separatists raised fears that the landlocked territory could become a new flashpoint in Moscow’s conflict with neighboring Ukraine.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine... calls for a peaceful resolution of economic, social and humanitarian issues between Chisinau and Tiraspol without any destructive external interference,” the ministry said.
Transnistria is a primarily Russian-speaking region that has long depended on Moscow for support.

After the separatist lawmakers’ resolution was passed, Russia’s foreign ministry said it considered “all requests” for help.
“Protecting the interests of the residents of Transnistria, our compatriots, is one of our priorities,” the ministry told Russian news agencies.
Officials in Moldova and analysts have downplayed concerns.
But the move has fueled comparisons with February 2022, when Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine asked for protection against what they said was relentless attacks by Kyiv’s forces.
“Our country knows the horrors of war and the price of peace better than anyone else,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.
“We are making and will continue to make every effort... to prevent any attempts by Russia to destabilize Moldova or other countries in our region,” it added.