Prominent Illinois Arab, Muslim groups reject Biden meeting request

Prominent Illinois Arab, Muslim groups reject Biden meeting request
The leaders of at least 29 Arab and Muslim organizations, and several individual activists, signed a letter rejecting the request to meet Joe Biden’s aides. (AP)
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Updated 15 March 2024
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Prominent Illinois Arab, Muslim groups reject Biden meeting request

Prominent Illinois Arab, Muslim groups reject Biden meeting request
  • Meeting with US president’s aides was scheduled for Thursday in Chicago
  • ‘A meeting of the minds is nowhere in sight’: Council on American Islamic Relations spokesman

CHICAGO: Arab- and Muslim-American community leaders and elected officials angry over US policies on Gaza rejected a meeting proposed by President Joe Biden that was scheduled for Thursday in Chicago.

The leaders of at least 29 Arab and Muslim organizations, and several individual activists, signed a letter rejecting the request to meet Biden’s aides, saying: “There is no point in more meetings.”Biden has come under intense criticism for supporting Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians.

Recent elections in several swing states with large numbers of Arab and Muslim voters, where Biden narrowly defeated former President Donald Trump, showed significant opposition and made the urgency of the meeting apparent. Illinois voters go to the polls on Tuesday to vote in presidential primary elections.

Community leaders interviewed by Arab News were adamant against meeting with Biden’s aides, citing his vetoes of ceasefire resolutions at the UN Security Council.

“Our stance is clear: Until President Biden and his team advocate for an immediate ceasefire and the unrestricted flow of aid into Gaza, any meeting would merely serve as a photo opportunity,” said Yousif Zegar, spokesman for Orland United for Civic Responsibility.

Orland United activists are protesting what they say are racist and xenophobic comments made by Keith Pekau, mayor of the Chicago suburb of Orland Park.

In response to a ceasefire request signed by more than 800 residents, Pekau told them to “go to another country” if they “want to fight.”

Although Biden met with Arab and Muslim activists in October 2023 to express concerns over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, he has provided more than $32 billion in funding and weapons to Israel.

And his UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has vetoed three UNSC resolutions calling for humanitarian ceasefires.

Tarek Khalil, a board member of the Chicago chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, said Biden’s actions over the past five months overshadow his expressions of compassion.

“His policy has been dismally disappointing,” Khalil said, adding that Biden “has been complicit” in Israel’s invasion “with 31,000 killed so far and approximately 13,000 being children. Seventy percent of the civilian infrastructure is destroyed. Only 14 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are partially functional. The remaining aren’t functional at all. Ninety-seven percent of the water is unfit for human consumption.”

He said: “This is all brought about by Israel’s genocide with our tax dollars, the diplomatic policies at the UN and US-made weapons. Biden’s policy has been abysmal.”

Khalil added that the Illinois community is in line with national groups in demanding “an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza, not a temporary one. You can’t grab an axe in one hand and band aids in the other and claim to be doing something good.

“So what’s the point of having a meeting? The discussion period has ended. The bare minimum is a complete and permanent ceasefire.”

Illinois is not a swing state in the presidential election in November. Biden defeated Trump easily in Illinois four years ago, taking 57.5 percent of the state’s vote.

The solidarity of Arabs and Muslims in Illinois to challenge Biden’s reelection reflects the growing influence of the #AbandonBiden coalition.

The group has undermined Biden’s performance in primary elections in several key swing states including Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington State.

“The White House already knows the position of the aforementioned groups and our allies across the nation. They know because we’ve made it abundantly clear, including in prior meetings with the White House, but also in press statements, letters to our elected leaders, media interviews, and enormous street action within earshot of the Oval Office,” said Ahmad Rehab, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Illinois.

“With a genocide that has flattened Gaza, forcibly displacing 85 percent of its residents and claiming the lives of 31,000 people, 13,000 of whom are children, the White House has not only refused to call for a ceasefire, but also enabled this blatant campaign of ethnic cleansing to take place by providing financial and military means, as well as diplomatic support at the UN. A meeting of the minds is nowhere in sight.”

Illinois State Representative Abdelnasser Rashid, who did not respond to an Arab News request for comment, told Politico recently that he met with Tom Perez, White House director of intergovernmental affairs, in October “and there have been many other meetings … There’s nothing new to be said. We need an immediate and permanent ceasefire. And we need the United States to stop supplying arms to Israel.”

Arab and Muslim leaders who were invited to attend the closed-door meeting said they understood it would include several senior White House aides.

Among those expected were Perez, White House director of public engagement Steve Benjamin, White House liaison to American-Muslim communities Mazen Basrawi, and National Security Council Chief of Staff Curtis Ried. None responded to Arab News requests for comment.

The White House did not issue a statement on the proposed meeting, so it is not known if it took place with some Arab or Muslim leaders from Illinois.

Upon his election, Biden appointed more than 20 Arab Americans to key White House and State Department positions, but all have reportedly been discouraged from making public statements on Arab-Israeli issues.

Arab News requests for comment from Biden’s meeting team and his campaign director for rapid response, Ammar Moussa, went unanswered.


French feminists march against far right with days before vote

French feminists march against far right with days before vote
Updated 27 sec ago
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French feminists march against far right with days before vote

French feminists march against far right with days before vote
  • Macron’s alliance would open up to “all who want to come, from the conservative right to the social-democratic left,” Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe told broadcaster France 3

PARIS: Thousands of people turned out in France on Sunday for feminist demonstrations against the far right, which is expected to come out on top in June 30 snap elections, as parties sought to shore up support with days to go.
With the far-right National Rally (RN) polling at around 35 percent, “we have to remind people that they’re the ones who talked about ‘comfort abortions’, who are always attacking family planning services,” said Morgane Legras, a nuclear engineer and feminist activist taking part in the Paris march.
There were between 13,000 (police estimate) and 75,000 (organizers’ estimate) people at Sunday’s demonstration.
Protesters, many wearing violet, marched from the Place de la Republique square in central Paris to Place de la Nation in the east, bearing signs with messages such as “Push back the far right, not our rights.”
Police sources said 53 rallies took place across the country, and said 33,800 people had taken part.
France’s two-round election system makes it difficult to predict which party could ultimately claim a majority in the lower house of parliament, handing them the prime minister’s post which is second in power only to President Emmanuel Macron.
Since Macron dissolved parliament after a European Parliament election battering, his centrists are badly lagging the RN as well as a reforged left-wing alliance called the New Popular Front (NFP) in surveys of voting intentions.
The RN has garnered unprecedented levels of support after a decades-long “de-demonization” push to distance its image from its roots, including a co-founder who was a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS paramilitary.
But the core of its message remains hostility to immigration, Islam and the European Union.
Senior RN lawmaker Sebastien Chenu gestured toward Muslim and Jewish voters Sunday by vowing not to ban the ritual slaughter of livestock to produce halal or kosher meat.
“Everyone will be able to keep eating kosher meat if they want,” Chenu told Jewish broadcaster Radio J.
He added that a historic far-right policy of barring the kippa in public spaces — in the footsteps of an existing law forbidding the full-body burka worn by some Muslim women — was not top of the RN’s agenda, saying its priority was to fight “the Islamist threat.”
In Macron’s camp, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal acknowledged that the European Parliament result — where they scored just 14 percent — was “a message to us that we have to do better with our methods, with our governance” of the country.
If his party defies the odds to come top in the legislative polls, he vowed “change,” including a turn to “seeking out coalitions with the French public, with civil society” in an interview with broadcaster RTL.
Macron’s alliance would open up to “all who want to come, from the conservative right to the social-democratic left,” Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe told broadcaster France 3.
Attal also hammered the centrists’ mantra about the threats from “extremes” on the left and right, saying both promised a “tax bludgeoning... a shredder for the middle classes.”
The RN especially is “not ready to govern... it’s a party of opposition, not a party of government,” Attal said.
In a sign of the disquiet abroad over Macron’s snap poll gamble, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday he was “concerned about the elections in France,” though “it’s up to the French people to decide.”
The left-wing NFP alliance continued to show strains Sunday, after parties hastily re-knitted ties sundered over differing responses to Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and the ongoing retaliation by Israeli forces in Gaza.
Divisions are particularly stark over whether their candidate for prime minister should be Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of France Unbowed (LFI) — the largest party in the grouping, some of whose members have been accused of anti-Semitism.
Melenchon should “shut up,” former Socialist president Francois Hollande said Sunday, as “people reject him more strongly” than the RN’s leaders Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella.
“Do we want the left to win, or do we want to be stoking conflict?” he said.
Melenchon said on Saturday that he aimed “to govern the country.”


Kenya’s president Ruto ready for ‘conversation’ with ‘peaceful’ young protesters

Kenya’s president Ruto ready for ‘conversation’ with ‘peaceful’ young protesters
Updated 20 min 14 sec ago
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Kenya’s president Ruto ready for ‘conversation’ with ‘peaceful’ young protesters

Kenya’s president Ruto ready for ‘conversation’ with ‘peaceful’ young protesters
  • Organized on social media and led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans, the protests have caught Ruto’s government off-guard as discontent mounts over his economic policies

NAIROBI: Kenya’s President William Ruto said Sunday that he was ready for “a conversation” with thousands of “peaceful” young protesters who held nationwide demonstrations this week to oppose proposed tax increases.

Organized on social media and led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans who have live-streamed the demonstrations, the protests have caught Ruto’s government off-guard as discontent mounts over his economic policies.

“I am very proud of our young people ... they have stepped forward peacefully and I want to tell them we are going to engage them,” Ruto said in his first public comments on the protests. “We are going to have a conversation so that together we can build a greater nation,” Ruto said during a church service in the Rift Valley town of Nyahururu.

His characterization of the protests as “peaceful” came after rights campaigners reported two deaths following Thursday’s demonstrations in Nairobi.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, who have called for a national strike on June 25. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but officers fired tear gas and water cannon throughout the day to disperse protesters near parliament.

According to a Kenya Human Rights Commission official, 21-year-old Evans Kiratu was “hit by a tear gas canister” during the protests and died in hospital.

On Friday, a police watchdog said it was investigating allegations that a 29-year-old man was shot by officers in Nairobi after the demonstrations. The Independent Policing Oversight Authority said it had “documented the death ... allegedly as a result of police shooting” on Thursday. Several organizations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said that at least 200 people were injured in the protests in Nairobi, as thousands of people took to the streets across the country.

Ruto’s administration has defended the proposed levies as necessary for filling its coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing. Following smaller-scale demonstrations on Tuesday, the cash-strapped government agreed to roll back several tax hikes laid out in a new bill.

However, Ruto’s administration still intends to increase some taxes, defending the proposed levies necessary to raise money.

Kenya has a debt mountain, and servicing costs have ballooned due to a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, leaving Ruto with few options.

The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with many already struggling as the cost of living surges and well-paid jobs remain out of reach for young people. “Tuesday 25th June: #OccupyParliament and Total Shutdown Kenya. A national strike,” read a poster shared widely online, adding that “Gen Z is granting all hard-working Kenyans a day off. Parents, keep your children at home in solidarity.”

After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership, and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a 200-billion-shilling ($1.5-billion) shortfall.

The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes — a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.


Gunmen kill police, a priest, in Russia’s Dagestan

A view shows emergency service vehicles on the street of Makhachkala in southern Russia, June 23, 2024, in this still image.
A view shows emergency service vehicles on the street of Makhachkala in southern Russia, June 23, 2024, in this still image.
Updated 26 min 6 sec ago
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Gunmen kill police, a priest, in Russia’s Dagestan

A view shows emergency service vehicles on the street of Makhachkala in southern Russia, June 23, 2024, in this still image.
  • The attacks took place in Dagestan’s largest city of Makhachkala and in the coastal city of Derbent, where gunfights were ongoing
  • Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened criminal probes over “acts of terror,” while the hunt for the gunmen was ongoing

MOSCOW: Gunmen on Sunday attacked synagogues and churches in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Dagestan, killing a priest, six police officers, and a member of the national guard, security officials said.
The attacks took place in Dagestan’s largest city of Makhachkala and in the coastal city of Derbent, where gunfights were ongoing.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said it had opened criminal probes over “acts of terror,” while the hunt for the gunmen was ongoing.
Witnesses could hear shooting near a church in Makhachkala while shootouts were continuing in Derbent, the TASS state news agency reported. Dagestan’s interior ministry said it had killed two of the gunmen in Makhachkala.
Sunday is a religious holiday in the Russian Orthodox Church called Pentecost Sunday. Dagestan is a largely Muslim region of Russia, neighboring Chechnya.
“This evening in the cities of Derbent and Makhachkala armed attacks were carried out on two Orthodox churches, a synagogue and a police check-point,” said the National Antiterrorism Committee in a statement to RIA Novosti news agency.
“As a result of the terrorist attacks, according to preliminary information, a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church and police officers were killed.”
In all, six police officers had been killed and another 12 wounded in the attacks, the spokeswoman for Dagestan’s interior ministry, Gayana Gariyeva, told RIA Novosti.
Russia’s National Guard said one of its officers had been killed in Derbent and several others wounded.
A 66-year-old priest was killed in Derbent, the press secretary of Dagestan’s interior ministry, Gariyeva told the agency.
Dagestan’s RGVK broadcaster named the priest as Nikolai Kotelnikov,saying he had served more than 40 years in Derbent.
“The synagogue in Derbent is on fire,” the chairman of the public council of Russia’s Federation of Jewish Communities, Boruch Gorin wrote on Telegram.
“It has not been possible to extinguish the fire. Two are killed: a policeman and a security guard.”
He added: “The synagogue in Makhachkala has also been set on fire and burnt down.”
Gorin wrote that in Derbent, firefighters had been told to leave the burning synagogue because of the risk that “terrorists remained inside.”
He added: “There is shooting in the streets around the synagogue.”
The leader of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, wrote on Telegram: “This evening in Derbent and Makhachkala unknown (attackers) made attempts to destabilize the situation in society.
“They were confronted by Dagestani police officers.”
Russia’s FSB security service in April said it had arrested four people in Dagestan on suspicion of plotting a deadly attack on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall concert venue in March, which was claimed by Daesh.
Militants from Dagestan are known to have traveled to join the Daesh group in Syria.
In 2015, the group declared it had established a “franchise” in the North Caucasus.
Dagestan lies east of Chechnya where Russian authorities battled separatists in two brutal wars, first in 1994-1996 and then in 1999-2000.
After the defeat of Chechen insurgents, Russian authorities have been locked in a simmering conflict with militants from across the North Caucasus that has killed scores of civilians and police.


UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated
Updated 23 June 2024
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UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated

UK election betting scandal widens as a fourth Conservative Party official reportedly investigated
  • The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds

LONDON: The chief data officer of Britain’s Conservative Party has taken a leave of absence, British media reported Sunday, following growing allegations that the governing party’s members used inside information to bet on the date of Britain’s July 4 national election before it was announced.
The Sunday Times and others reported that Nick Mason is the fourth Conservative official to be investigated by the UK’s Gambling Commission for allegedly betting on the timing of the election.
The Times alleged that dozens of bets had been placed with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.
The reports came after revelations in recent days that two Conservative election candidates, Laura Saunders and Craig Williams, are under investigation by the gambling watchdog. Saunders’ husband Tony Lee, the Conservative director of campaigning, has also taken a leave of absence following allegations he was also investigated over alleged betting.
Police said one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s police bodyguards was arrested Monday on suspicion of misconduct in public office. The arrest came after the gambling regulator confirmed it was investigating “the possibility of offenses concerning the date of the election.”
The growing scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to Sunak’s Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose to the opposition Labour Party after 14 years in power.
Sunak said this week that he was “incredibly angry” to learn of the allegations and said that anyone found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.
Sunak announced on May 22 that parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a closely guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because a vote had been expected in the fall.
Saunders, a candidate standing in Bristol, southwest England, has said she will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Williams was Sunak’s parliamentary private secretary as well as a member of Parliament running for reelection on July 4. He has acknowledged that he was being investigated by the Gambling Commission for placing a 100-pound ($128) bet on a July election before the date had been announced.
Senior Conservative minister Michael Gove condemned the alleged betting and likened it to ” Partygate,” the ethics scandal that contributed to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ouster in 2022.
That controversy saw public trust in the Conservatives plummet after revelations that politicians and officials held lockdown-flouting parties and gatherings in government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us,” Gove told the Sunday Times. “That’s the most potentially damaging thing.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “people are sick and tired of this sleaze” and that Sunak must intervene and order an official inquiry.
The Conservative Party said it cannot comment because investigations are ongoing.


Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement
Updated 23 June 2024
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Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement

Energy professor traverses India to spur climate movement
  • Chetan Singh Solanki wants to inspire energy independence across the world
  • He takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement

NEW DELHI: Four years ago, at the height of his restlessness over the growing threat of climate change on the planet, Chetan Singh Solanki decided to embark on a journey to spark a change for the environment.

Solanki launched the energy swaraj journey in 2020 to inspire energy independence across the world, campaigning with the motto “Energy by Locals for Locals.”

He told Arab News: “I want to restore the environmental balance that we are already losing, and I want to do it at a global level because it is not a problem of one state or one country — it is a problem of the entire world.”

A professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay’s department of energy science and engineering, Solanki takes inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s freedom movement who used nonviolent resistance as a tool for mass action.

Solanki believes in replicating a similar strategy to boost energy literacy among the people and inspire them to use cleaner energy as an alternative power source.

“It is the wrong energy that has created the problem (and) it is the right energy that will solve the problem. Clean energy and solar energy and to bring everybody on board is why I started this journey,” Solanki said. “My vision is aligned with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of gram swaraj (village self-rule). I emphasize responsible energy consumption and localized production.”

The campaign was designed to be impactful and adopted by the masses.

“This is designed to trigger the mind that we all can be part of the climate solution. It is not rocket science — rich and poor, young and old, everybody can be part of it,” he added.

Chetan Singh Solanki talks to students as part of his nationwide journey to spur climate movement in this photo shared on June 8, 2024. (Energy Swaraj)

Through his journey, Solanki has earned the nickname “Solar Gandhi,” having covered 56,000 km on his solar-powered bus, which is equipped with essential amenities including an air-conditioned bedroom, office space, refrigerator and a working kitchen.

The vehicle is an “innovative mobile abode” that symbolizes his aspiration “for a forthcoming world driven by sustainable energy sources,” he said, adding that he plans to continue the nationwide journey until December 2030.

To him, it was clear that world governments “have not done enough,” despite annual climate conferences that are purported to address critical environmental issues.

“The business-as-usual approaches are not working nationally and internationally, and therefore the solution lies in becoming sensitive to planet Earth and its capacity to generate or regenerate,” he said.

Since his journey started in late 2020, Solanki said the campaign has been well received.

“I think there are good things happening and response has been good,” he said. “Energy literacy is the first step towards climate correction.”