Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says
Ties between the two countries have plunged to their lowest point in years since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination. (Reuters)
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Updated 22 September 2023
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Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

Surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada led to allegations around Sikh killing, official says

TORONTO: The allegation of India’s involvement in the killing of a Sikh Canadian is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada, including intelligence provided by a major ally, a Canadian official familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The official said the communications involved Indian officials and Indian diplomats in Canada and that some of the intelligence was provided by a member of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Canada.
The official did not say which ally provided intelligence or give specific details of what was contained in the communications or how they were obtained. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported the intelligence.
Earlier Thursday, India stopped issuing visas to Canadian citizens and told Canada to reduce its diplomatic staff as the rift widened between the once-close allies over Ottawa’s allegation that New Delhi may have been involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh separatist, in a Vancouver suburb in June.
Ties between the two countries have plunged to their lowest point in years since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the assassination.
Nijjar, a plumber who was born in India and became a Canadian citizen in 2007, had been wanted by India for years before he was gunned down outside the temple he led in the city of Surrey.
Speaking Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Trudeau acknowledged the complicated diplomatic situation he faces.
“The decision to share these allegations on the floor of the House of Commons was not done lightly,” he said. “There is no question that India is a country of growing importance and a country that we need to continue to work with.”
“We are not looking to provoke or cause problems but we are unequivocal around the importance of the rule of law and unequivocal about the importance of protecting Canadians.”
The bombshell allegation set off an international tit-for-tat, with each country expelling a diplomat. India called the allegations “absurd.”
Canada has yet to provide public evidence to back Trudeau’s allegations, and Canada’s UN ambassador, Bob Rae, indicated that might not come soon.
“This is very early days,” Rae told reporters Thursday, insisting that while facts will emerge, they must “come out in the course of the pursuit of justice.”
“That’s what we call the rule of law in Canada,” he said.
On Thursday, the company that processes Indian visas in Canada announced that visa services had been suspended until further notice.
The suspension means Canadians who don’t already have visas cannot travel to India. Canadians are among the top travelers to India: In 2021, 80,000 Canadian tourists visited the country, according to India’s Bureau of Immigration.
Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi blamed the visa suspension, which includes visas issued in third countries, on safety issues.
“Security threats being faced by our High Commission and consulates in Canada have disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly, they are temporarily unable to process visa applications,” Bagchi told reporters. He gave no details on the alleged threats.
The announcement quickly rippled across Canada, especially among people with ties to India.
Sukhwinder Dhillon, a 56-year-old grocery store owner in Montreal, said he had a trip planned to India to see family and sort out his deceased father’s estate. Dhillon, who came to Canada in 1998, said he makes the trip every two or three years and has lost two immediate family members since he was last home.
“My father passed, and my brother passed,” Dhillon said. “I want to go now. ... Now I don’t know when we’ll go.”
Bagchi, the Indian foreign ministry spokesman, also called for a reduction in Canadian diplomats in India, saying they outnumbered Indian diplomats in Canada.
The Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said Thursday that its consulates in India are open and continue to serve clients. It said some of its diplomats had received threats on social media, adding that Canada expects India to provide security for its diplomats and consular officers working there.
On Wednesday, India warned its citizens to be careful when traveling to Canada because of “growing anti-India activities and politically condoned hate-crimes.”
India’s security and intelligence branches have long been active in South Asia and are suspected in a number of killings in Pakistan. But arranging the killing of a Canadian citizen in Canada, home to nearly 2 million people of Indian descent, would be unprecedented.
India has criticized Canada for years over giving free rein to Sikh separatists, including Nijjar. New Delhi had accused him of links to terrorism, which he denied.
Nijjar was a local leader in what remains of a once-strong movement to create an independent Sikh homeland, known as Khalistan. A bloody Sikh insurgency shook north India in the 1970s and 1980s until it was crushed in a government crackdown in which thousands of people were killed, including prominent Sikh leaders.
While the active insurgency ended decades ago, the Indian government has warned that Sikh separatists are trying to stage a comeback and pressed countries like Canada, where Sikhs comprise over 2 percent of the population, to do more to stop them.
At the time of his killing, Nijjar was working to organize an unofficial Sikh diaspora referendum on independence from India.
New Delhi’s anxieties about Sikh separatist groups in Canada have long been a strain on the relationship, but the two have maintained strong defense and trade ties and share strategic interests over China’s global ambitions.
In March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government summoned the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi, its top diplomat in the country, to complain about Sikh independence protests in Canada.
Signs of a broader diplomatic rift emerged at the summit of the Group of 20 leading world economies hosted by India earlier this month. Trudeau had frosty encounters with Modi, and a few days later Canada canceled a trade mission to India planned for the fall. A trade deal between the two is now on pause.
On Wednesday, India’s National Investigation Agency said it has intensified its crackdown on Sikh insurgents operating in India.
It announced rewards of up to 1 million rupees ($12,000) for information leading to the arrest of five insurgents, one of whom is believed to be based in neighboring Pakistan. It accused them of extorting money from businesses for a banned Sikh organization, the Babbar Khalsa International, and of targeted killings in India.


Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai
Updated 29 February 2024
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Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai

Indonesian artists seek to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics at Art Dubai
  • 17th edition of Art Dubai runs from March 1-3 in Madinat Jumeirah
  • Over 65% of the fair’s presentations are from the Global South

Jakarta: Indonesian artists are hoping to amplify Southeast Asian aesthetics in the Middle East with their showcase at Art Dubai this week, where they will join a diverse group of Global South artists from 40 countries.

The 17th edition of Art Dubai, which runs from March 1 to 3 in Madinat Jumeirah, will showcase leading artists and galleries from developing countries, as it seeks to provide a platform for art from typically underrepresented regions and communities. This year, over 65 percent of its presentations are drawn from the Global South.

Indonesia’s artists, represented by various galleries such as Gajah Gallery and Yeo Workshop, are among a group of Southeast Asian creatives presenting works focused on the region’s heritage.

Erizal As, a painter from Indonesia’s West Sumatra province, is hoping that Dubai will help boost the global visibility of his, and other Southeast Asian artists’ work.

“I am indeed hopeful to garner greater recognition in the Middle East, a region experiencing rapid growth and burgeoning appreciation for the arts. I am confident that the universal themes and expressive depth of my work will resonate with the discerning Gulf audience, fostering a meaningful dialogue transcending cultural boundaries,” Erizal told Arab News on Thursday.

“I also think that the inclusion of more Indonesian and Southeast Asian artists may bring a fresh perspective to the local art scene … Maybe the different visual language that we bring actually has the same soul or essence as what Dubai has been feeling and communicating through their arts. The two visual languages can communicate with each other.”

After spending the COVID-19 years painting outdoors in the West Sumatra mountains, Erizal returned to his studio to transform his experiences into a series of abstract paintings, presenting various forms through texture and strokes, to capture the essence of nature. Some of those works are being showcased in Dubai this week.

“With my recent creations, my foremost aspiration is to evoke contemplation on the intrinsic essence of nature, spirituality, and the profound energy that permeates our existence,” Erizal said.

Yunizar, who is also from West Sumatra and is known for his childlike creations seeking to capture the psyche of ordinary individuals, will present his paintings and bronze sculptures at Art Dubai.

“My work depicts my observations of life around me. I mix visualizations of objects with things that are fantastical in nature,” Yunizar told Arab News.

Indonesian artist Yunizar working on his “Detail of Bonsai,” 2021. (Gajah Gallery)

He believes in the “common relatability towards art between humankind everywhere” and hopes to amplify the reach of his work at the international art fair.

“Dubai, in my opinion, has a burgeoning art scene with a rich cultural background that can support the development of new visual trajectories. Showcasing my work on such a global scale, I can only strive and attempt to deliver my best work,” he said.

“I believe that my work transcends cultural boundaries and reverberate with viewers from diverse backgrounds. In terms of quality, my work is not less than that of artists from other regions, such as those from Europe. And with its rich visual language and unmistakable Southeast Asian essence, in my opinion, my art will find resonance among the Gulf audience, fostering meaningful dialogue and appreciation for art across borders.”


Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped

Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped
Updated 29 February 2024
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Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped

Amnesty welcomes news NGO ship crew charges could be dropped
  • Crew of Iuventa charged with ‘facilitating irregular immigration to Italy from Libya’
  • Prosecution said this week a lack of evidence means case should be dismissed

London: Amnesty International has welcomed news that charges against the crew of NGO ship the Iuventa, which worked to rescue thousands of people from the Mediterranean, could be dropped.

An investigation was opened by Italian authorities in 2017 into the activities of the Iuventa. Four crew members were eventually charged with “facilitating irregular immigration to Italy from Libya,” amid suggestions that they had collaborated with people traffickers, with possible sentences of up to 20 years in jail.

A court in the Italian city of Trapani is set to rule on whether the crew, alongside members of Medecins Sans Frontieres and Save the Children, will be indicted on Saturday, but on Wednesday prosecutors said a lack of evidence meant the charges should be dropped.

“The Iuventa crew has endured six and a half years of court proceedings with unfaltering grace and resilience, and we are glad that there is new hope that the court case will finally be thrown out,” said Elisa De Pieri, regional researcher at Amnesty International.

“The Iuventa ship has saved more than 14,000 lives, including children, and its crew has done so upholding the law of the sea.

“We urge the authorities to stop misusing criminal proceedings and charges of facilitation of irregular migration to obstruct life-saving activities.

“Humanity must come first as we recognize the fearlessness of the Iuventa crew and others who work to battle the horrors that take place in the treacherous waters across the Mediterranean.

“Their acts of solidarity with refugees and migrants should be championed and never be punished. Without them, the already horrific death toll in the central Mediterranean would only get worse.”


Russia’s Putin warns West of risk of nuclear war, says Moscow can strike Western targets

Russia’s Putin warns West of risk of nuclear war, says Moscow can strike Western targets
Updated 29 February 2024
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Russia’s Putin warns West of risk of nuclear war, says Moscow can strike Western targets

Russia’s Putin warns West of risk of nuclear war, says Moscow can strike Western targets
  • War in Ukraine has triggered the worst crisis in Moscow’s relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin told Western countries on Thursday they risked provoking a nuclear war if they sent troops to fight in Ukraine, warning that Moscow had the weapons to strike targets in the West.
The war in Ukraine has triggered the worst crisis in Moscow’s relations with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Putin has previously spoken of the dangers of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia, but his nuclear warning on Thursday was one of his most explicit.
Addressing lawmakers and other members of the country’s elite, Putin, 71, repeated his accusation that the West was bent on weakening Russia, and he suggested Western leaders did not understand how dangerous their meddling could be in what he cast as Russia’s own internal affairs.
He prefaced his nuclear warning with a specific reference to an idea, floated by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, of European NATO members sending ground troops to Ukraine — a suggestion that was quickly rejected by the United States, Germany, Britain and others.
“(Western nations) must realize that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory. All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Don’t they get that?!” said Putin.
Speaking ahead of a March 15-17 presidential election when he is certain to be re-elected for another six-year term, he lauded what he said was Russia’s vastly modernized nuclear arsenal, the largest in the world.
“Strategic nuclear forces are in a state of full readiness,” he said, noting that new-generation hypersonic nuclear weapons he first spoke about in 2018 had either been deployed or were at a stage where development and testing were being completed.
Visibly angry, Putin suggested Western politicians recall the fate of those like Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler and France’s Napoleon Bonaparte who had unsuccessfully invaded Russia in the past.
“But now the consequences will be far more tragic,” said Putin. “They think it (war) is a cartoon,” he said, accusing Western politicians of forgetting what real war meant because they had not faced the same security challenges as Russians had in the last three decades.
MORE TROOPS FOR WESTERN BORDER
Russian forces now have the initiative on the battlefield in Ukraine and are advancing in several places, Putin said. Russia must also boost the troops it has deployed along its western borders with the European Union after Finland and Sweden decided to join the NATO military alliance, he added.
The veteran Kremlin leader dismissed Western suggestions that Russian forces might go beyond Ukraine and attack European countries as “nonsense.” He also said Moscow would not repeat the mistake of the Soviet Union and allow the West to “drag” it into an arms race that would eat up too much of its budget.
“Therefore, our task is to develop the defense-industrial complex in such a way as to increase the scientific, technological and industrial potential of the country,” he said.
Putin said Moscow was open to discussions on nuclear strategic stability with the United States but suggested that Washington had no genuine interest in such talks and was more focused on making false claims about Moscow’s alleged aims.
“Recently there have been more and more unsubstantiated accusations against Russia, for example that we are allegedly going to deploy nuclear weapons in space. Such innuendo... is a ploy to draw us into negotiations on their terms, which are favorable only to the United States,” he said.
“...On the eve of the US presidential election, they simply want to show their citizens and everyone else that they still rule the world.”


South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms

South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms
Updated 29 February 2024
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South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms

South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms
  • Nearly 10,000 junior doctors – about 80 percent of the trainee workforce – handed in their notice and walked off the job last week

SEOUL: South Korea said Thursday it was seeking its first talks with striking junior doctors, warning them to return to hospitals ahead of a looming deadline or risk legal action over work stoppages that have plunged hospitals into chaos.
Nearly 10,000 junior doctors — about 80 percent of the trainee workforce — handed in their notice and walked off the job last week to protest government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions to cope with shortages and an aging society.
Doctors say the plan would hurt the quality of service, and the Korean Medical Association (KMA) has slammed the government’s “intimidation tactics.”
Under South Korean law, doctors are prohibited from striking, and the government has threatened to arrest and suspend the medical licenses of medics who do not return to work by Thursday.
Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said he had contacted doctors involved in the strike seeking talks and hoped to meet them later Thursday, adding he was unsure “how many people will attend.”
Doctors had begun trickling back to work in hospitals, Park said. “We have confirmed a downgrade in the walkouts for two days in a row,” he told a press briefing.
But Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong told local media on Thursday that “a full-scale return has not yet materialized.”
“As today is the last day (to) return, I implore them to do so for the patients,” he said, adding medics who returned to work before the deadline expired would not be punished.
Cho said the government was committed to its reform plan, which would increase medical school admissions by 65 percent, citing shortages of health professionals and a looming demographic crisis.
The KMA has not commented on possible talks, but a social media account run by young doctors shared a screenshot of a text message from the government and said: “You must be joking.”
Analysts say the government’s hard-line stance may play well for them ahead of legislative elections set for April 10.
“If the government were to back down now, they would perceive it as a major setback ahead of the upcoming general elections,” Kim Jae-heon, the secretary general of an NGO advocating free medical care, said.
But doctors “believe that stepping back at this point would result in their own disadvantage. It seems the current standoff will continue for a while.”
Proponents of the reform say doctors are mainly concerned the changes could erode their salaries and social status. The government says South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios among developed countries.
Polling shows up to 75 percent of the public support the reforms, and President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a hard line on the striking doctors, has seen his approval ratings tick up.
Kim Sung-ju, head of the Korean Cancer Patients Rights Council, said that patients’ lives were being held “hostage.”
“If the entire system comes to a halt simply because (junior doctors) have left, it truly highlights the shortage of doctors,” he said.
“It is astonishing that they are... using patients’ lives as leverage to further their own interests.”
The mass work stoppage has resulted in cancelations and postponements of surgeries for cancer patients and C-sections for pregnant women, with the government raising its public health alert to the highest level.
Kim Tae-hyeon, the head of the Korean ALS Association, said the striking doctors were “worse than organized criminals.”
“In hospice wards and intensive care units, (patients) are struggling to stay alive,” he added.


The imam and rabbi confounding stereotypes in Austria

The imam and rabbi confounding stereotypes in Austria
Updated 29 February 2024
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The imam and rabbi confounding stereotypes in Austria

The imam and rabbi confounding stereotypes in Austria
  • Unlikely Muslim-Jewish pair are in high demand as speakers among students seeking to understand the two great religions

VIENNA: More than 150 students crowded into a room at an Austrian high school to hear an unlikely duo speak — imam Ramazan Demir and rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister.

The two men’s talks, educating students about their religions, have taken on additional pertinence since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent relentless bombing of Gaza.
Since then Austria has seen a rise in both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, as elsewhere in Europe.
“We must separate religion from politics,” rabbi Hofmeister, 48, told the students, while imam Demir, 38, nodded in support.
“This is not a religious war, it is a political conflict, a terrible conflict that must not impact our communities here in Europe,” Hofmeister added.
The two volunteers are in high demand because “just our friendship alone defies stereotypes,” according to Demir.
Their diaries are packed until June, with the pair visiting some 30 Austrian schools.
During last week’s two-hour discussion at a high school in a working-class suburb of the capital, questions came thick and fast from the students aged 16 to 18.
A livestream allowed those unable to get a seat in the large hall to hear them explain how Jews and Muslims pray to the differences between kosher and halal.

The two bearded men — one wearing a kufi cap, the other a wide-brimmed fedora hat — met 10 years ago during an inter-religious project and have since worked together, traveling to Turkiye, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The Gaza war has not affected their friendship, they say.
“We want there to be peace, without any ifs and whens,” Demir said, while Hofmeister added that he was “glad they started to cooperate so early on to be able to address the current crisis.”
The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll from Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
The Vienna school where the pair were speaking has 1,200 students of 63 different nationalities, although none identify as Jewish.
At each break, numerous students crowd around the duo, who use humor to lighten the atmosphere.
“It’s interesting to see how similar religions are,” 17-year-old Estella Dolas told AFP.
Austria is a majority Catholic country, with Muslims making up around 8 percent of the population. Only 0.1 percent — just 5,400 people — declared themselves as Jewish in the 2021 census.
School director Inge Joebstl, 55, said the rapport and respect between the two men, who spoke “on an equal footing,” made the students more receptive.
Especially since many of them will otherwise look for answers on social networks where “self-proclaimed experts converted two years ago explain to them what Islam is,” warned Demir.
“After we leave, the students may not remember everything we told them,” admitted Hofmeister.
“But they will remember that an imam and a rabbi came to their school and that they got along well.”