At Philippines’ maximum-security prison, longing for family reunion fills Ramadan prayers

At Philippines’ maximum-security prison, longing for family reunion fills Ramadan prayers
Muslim inmates congregate at a mosque in the New Bilibid Prison in Metro Manila, the Philippines’ largest penitentiary, on March 26, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 28 March 2024
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At Philippines’ maximum-security prison, longing for family reunion fills Ramadan prayers

At Philippines’ maximum-security prison, longing for family reunion fills Ramadan prayers
  • New Bilibid Prison in Metro Manila has one of the largest prison populations in the world
  • It grants Muslim inmates exceptions to help them observe religious duties during the fasting month

MANILA: At 2 a.m. lights are usually still off at the largest Philippine prison, but the rules are less strict during the month of Ramadan, when Muslim inmates need to wake up earlier to perform their religious duties.

They prepare for early morning prayers and sahoor, the meal they consume before starting their daily fast.

“This is what we have been doing since the start of the month of Ramadan. Alhamdullilah we can continue,” said Yacob, an imam at the prison’s maximum-security compound mosque.

“Ramadan for us is when we can relax ourselves, our hearts, and be at peace. And we are very grateful to our government because here in the Philippines there is respect for religious freedom. We can practice our faith.”

The New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, has one of the largest prison populations in the world, housing more than 27,000 people. More than half of them, including 700 Muslim inmates, are in the maximum-security compound.

Yacob told Arab News that Muslim inmates have been observing the same way they have always done it.

At 4 p.m., they get together at the prison kitchen to prepare for iftar.

“We made a request to use the kitchen, which was also granted,” he said, adding they faced no difficulties in religious observance.

“Our only major challenge is that during Ramadan everyone needs to be with their loved ones, their children, because that is the spirit of Ramadan.”

Convicted of a deadly bomb attack in 2002, Yacob is a native of Zamboanga Sibugay in Mindanao, the southern island that is home to most Filipinos who profess Islam in the predominantly Catholic country.

Many other Muslim inmates also come from the same region, which until 2014 was at the heart of a four-decades-long separatist struggle.

Zainal, a 48-year-old from Marawi, was imprisoned 20 years ago on murder charges.

He prays that one day he and other inmates will be given the chance to observe Ramadan again at home.

“That’s our top priority, to be with our family specially during this time,” he said.

“I hope we will be forgiven.”

The prison is maintained by the Bureau of Corrections under the Philippine Department of Justice.

The bureau’s director, Gregorio Catapang Jr., told Arab News it was part of its adherence to religious freedom to grant Muslim inmates exemptions during the fasting month. It means they are allowed to receive more food items from relatives, observe different schedules to consume meals, and more freedom of movement.

“The maximum compound is divided into four quadrants or sectors. And they are not allowed to move between sectors or quadrants for security sectors. But during Ramadan they are free to do so,” he said.

“I always tell them: Before anything else you have to find your God ... Their religion will help them in their reformation.”

During Ramadan, access to the mosque is also granted outside the regular hours.

Datucan, who has been imprisoned on drugs-related charges, has been trying to keep himself focused on intense prayer and good deeds.

“We also avoid thinking or talking bad,” he said. “Ramadan is really the most sacred time for us.”

He remembers God and keeps thinking about all those who are dear to him.

“I want my family to be safe and far from harm,” he said.

“For all those who are imprisoned we have the same hope: to get out of this situation, to be free. I hope we will have a second chance, too. We will wait. It will come at the right time.”


More than 500 arrested in Bangladesh capital over violence: police

More than 500 arrested in Bangladesh capital over violence: police
Updated 4 sec ago
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More than 500 arrested in Bangladesh capital over violence: police

More than 500 arrested in Bangladesh capital over violence: police
  • Detainees include the opposition Bangladesh National Party’s third-most senior leader Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury
DHAKA: More than 500 people, including some opposition leaders, have been arrested over days of clashes in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka sparked by protests against job quotas, police said Monday.
“At least 532 people have been arrested over the violence,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruk Hossain said.
“They include some BNP leaders,” he added, referring to the opposition Bangladesh National Party.
The detainees included the BNP’s third-most senior leader Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury and its spokesman Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, he said.
A former national football captain turned senior BNP figure, Aminul Huq, was also held, he added.
Mia Golam Parwar, the general secretary of the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, was also arrested, Hossain said.
He said at least three policemen had been killed during the unrest in the capital and about 1,000 injured, at least 60 of them critically.
BNP spokesman A.K.M Wahiduzzaman said that nationwide, “several hundred BNP leaders and activists were arrested in the past few days.”

Diplomats confront Bangladesh FM over violence

Diplomats confront Bangladesh FM over violence
Updated 1 min 5 sec ago
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Diplomats confront Bangladesh FM over violence

Diplomats confront Bangladesh FM over violence
  • At least 163 people have been killed in what began as movement against politicized quota for government jobs 
  • US ambassador accuses Bangladesh foreign minister of presenting “one-sided” version of events, says diplomatic source 

DHAKA: Diplomats in Dhaka questioned Bangladeshi authorities’ deadly response to widespread student protests following a presentation by the foreign minister that laid the blame for recent violence at demonstrators’ feet, diplomatic officials said Monday.

What began as a movement against politicized admission quotas for sought-after government jobs has snowballed into some of the worst unrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure, with at least 163 people killed in clashes so far, according to an AFP count of victims reported by police and hospitals.

Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud summoned ambassadors for a briefing Sunday and showed them a 15-minute video that sources said focused on damage caused by protesters.

But a senior diplomatic official in Dhaka, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP on Monday that US ambassador Peter Haas said Mahmud was presenting a one-sided version of events.

“I am surprised you did not show the footage of police firing at unarmed protesters,” the source quoted Haas as telling the minister.

The source added that Mahmud also did not respond to a question from a United Nations representative about the alleged use of UN-marked armored personnel carriers and helicopters — which the country has in its military inventories — to suppress the protests.

The meeting came after Bangladesh’s top court pared back the hiring quotas for highly desirable government jobs that have been at the center of the protests.

The decision curtailed the number of reserved jobs from 56 percent of all positions to seven percent, most of which will still be set aside for the children and grandchildren of “freedom fighters” from Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.

While the decision represented a substantial reduction to the contentious “freedom fighter” category, it fell short of protesters’ demands to scrap it altogether.

Critics say the quota has been used to stack public jobs with loyalists to Hasina’s ruling Awami League.

A spokesman for Students Against Discrimination, the main group organizing the demonstrations, told AFP: “We won’t call off our protests until the government issues an order reflecting our demands.”

Hasina, 76, has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.

Since the crackdown on protests began, some demonstrators have said they will not be satisfied until Hasina’s government steps down.


Russia downs 75 Ukraine drones, some near Tuapse oil refinery

Russia downs 75 Ukraine drones, some near Tuapse oil refinery
Updated 43 min 59 sec ago
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Russia downs 75 Ukraine drones, some near Tuapse oil refinery

Russia downs 75 Ukraine drones, some near Tuapse oil refinery
  • Russian defense ministry did not say whether its defense systems destroyed the drones, or whether the attack had caused any damage
  • Russian officials rarely disclose the full extent of damage inflicted by Ukrainian attacks

Russia’s air defense systems destroyed 75 drones launched by Ukraine overnight, including eight near the town of Tuapse on the Black Sea where Russia’s oil major Rosneft has a refinery, the Russian defense ministry said on Monday.
Forty-seven drones were downed over the Rostov region in Russia’s southwest, 17 over the waters of the Black and Azov seas, eight over the Krasnodar region, where Tuapse is located, and single drones over the Belgorod, Voronezh and Smolensk region, the ministry said on the Telegram messaging app.
The ministry did not say whether its defense systems destroyed the drones, or whether the attack had caused any damage.
Sergei Boiko, head of the Tuapse district in the Krasnodar region, said on Telegram infrastructure and residential buildings had not been damaged.
Russian officials rarely disclose the full extent of damage inflicted by Ukrainian attacks. The Tuapse refinery has been a target of several Ukrainian air attacks since the start of the war that Russia launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022.
Russia’s SHOT and Mash Telegram news channels reported that a series of blasts were heard near the refinery early Monday.
Reuters could not independently verify the Russian reports. There was no immediate comment from Ukraine. Kyiv has often said that the attacks on Russia’s military, energy and transport infrastructure are in response to Russia’s continuous attacks on Ukraine’s territory.


Fire-hit tanker enters Malaysia terminal area after being detained by coast guard

Fire-hit tanker enters Malaysia terminal area after being detained by coast guard
Updated 22 July 2024
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Fire-hit tanker enters Malaysia terminal area after being detained by coast guard

Fire-hit tanker enters Malaysia terminal area after being detained by coast guard
  • The supertanker Ceres I left the scene of a fiery collision with another tanker
  • Singapore is Asia’s biggest oil-trading hub and the world’s largest bunkering port

SINGAPORE: A tanker that was involved in a collision near Singapore last week entered the area of Malaysia’s Bertam floating oil terminal on Monday morning after it was intercepted by local authorities on Sunday, shipping data from LSEG and Kpler showed.
The Sao Tome and Principe-flagged supertanker Ceres I left the scene of a fiery collision with another tanker, the Singapore-flagged Hafnia Nile, on Friday.
The Ceres I was found in Malaysian waters with two tugboats towing it, the coast guard said in a statement on Sunday.
The Ceres I and the two tugboats have been detained by the coast guard for further investigation, it said.
The Bertam floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) terminal is located in the South China Sea off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
The Ceres I is a very large crude carrier (VLCC) supertanker capable of carrying around 2 million barrels of oil. AIS data on LSEG showed that Ceres I is empty.
Ceres I has loaded crude and fuel oil from Iran and Venezuela through ship-to-ship transfers between 2019 and March 2024, Kpler data showed.
Shanghai Prosperity Ship Management is the manager of the Ceres I, according to LSEG data. The company could not be immediately reached for comment.
Separately, Hafnia, the manager of Hafnia Nile, said over the weekend it was in discussions with Malaysian authorities to safely move the vessel.
The Hafnia Nile, a 74,000-deadweight-tons capacity Panamax tanker, was carrying about 300,000 barrels naphtha for Japan, according to ship-tracking data from Kpler and LSEG. Naphtha is a raw material for making petrochemicals.
Singapore is Asia’s biggest oil-trading hub and the world’s largest bunkering port. Its surrounding waters are among the busiest global sea lanes.
Malaysia’s coast guard said on Sunday that aerial surveys conducted by the coast guard found minor traces of an oil spill at the location of the collision between the Ceres I and the Hafnia Nile, which occurred in the waters about 55 km (35 miles) northeast of the Singaporean island of Pedra Branca.
“The environment department has been informed and will conduct further monitoring,” it said.


Trump campaign switches gears to confront a Harris challenge

Trump campaign switches gears to confront a Harris challenge
Updated 22 July 2024
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Trump campaign switches gears to confront a Harris challenge

Trump campaign switches gears to confront a Harris challenge
  • Trump campaign to cast Harris as ‘co-pilot’ of administration polices it says are sources of voter discontent
  • Donald Trump: ‘Harris will be easier to beat than Joe Biden would have been’

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will try to show swing voters that his likely new rival, Vice President Kamala Harris, has her fingerprints all over two issues he is counting on for victory in November: immigration and the cost of living.
Sources within the Trump campaign said it will cast Harris, the likely Democratic candidate after President Joe Biden quit the race on Sunday, as the “co-pilot” of administration polices it says are behind both sources of voter discontent.
Biden’s sudden exit and endorsement of Harris has upended the race, just eight days after Trump survived an assassination attempt at a campaign rally.
Sources told Reuters that Trump’s campaign had for weeks been preparing for Harris should Biden drop out and she win her party’s nomination.
“Harris will be easier to beat than Joe Biden would have been,” Trump told CNN shortly after Biden’s announcement on Sunday.
Trump’s campaign has signaled it will tie her as tightly as possible to Biden’s immigration policy, which Republicans say is to blame for a sharp increase in the numbers of people crossing the southern border with Mexico illegally.
The second line of attack will revolve around the economy. Public opinion polls consistently show Americans are unhappy with high food and fuel costs as well as interest rates that have made buying a home less affordable.
“She’s the co-pilot of the Biden vision,” said one Trump adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity during last week’s Republican National Convention, where a unified party anointed Trump as its nominee in the White House race.
“If they want to switch to Biden 2.0 and have ‘Cackling’ Kamala at the top of the ticket, we’re good either way,” the adviser said, repeating an insult the campaign has been trying out for weeks focused on how the vice president laughs.
Make America Great Again Inc, a super PAC backing Trump, said on Sunday it was pulling anti-Biden television ads that had been set to run in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania and replacing them with an ad attacking Harris.
The 30-second ad accuses Harris of hiding Biden’s infirmity from the public, and it seeks to pin the administration’s record solely on her. “Kamala knew Joe couldn’t do the job, so she did it. Look what she got done: a border invasion, runaway inflation, the American Dream dead,” the narrator says.
Trump, known for using insulting and sometimes offensive language to attack his opponents, gave supporters at a rally in Michigan on Saturday a taste of the insults he is likely to fling at Harris in the coming days.
“I call her laughing Kamala. You ever watch a laugh? She’s crazy. You can tell a lot by a laugh. She’s crazy. She’s nuts,” he said.
ALTERED RACE
The Democratic Party has yet to determine how to move forward, and there is as yet no guarantee that Harris will emerge as the party’s nominee despite Biden’s endorsement.
Harris as the Democratic nominee would alter the race in perhaps unforeseen ways, political strategists said.
A 59-year-old woman who is Black and Asian-American would fashion an entirely new dynamic with Trump, 78, offering a vivid generational and cultural split-screen. The United States has yet to elect a woman president in its 248-year history.
Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and longtime congressional aide, said Harris would be able to mount “a more energetic campaign with excitement from younger voters and people of color” after Biden struggled to energize these important Democratic Party voting blocs.
A former prosecutor and California attorney general as well as a former US senator, Harris would be able to use “her years of litigation experience to effectively prosecute Trump in the court of public opinion,” Mollineau said.
Chip Felkel, a Republican strategist, cautioned that it would be a mistake for the Trump campaign to assume Harris could serve as a simple stand-in for Biden, because of her potential appeal to different parts of the electorate.
Recent polls have shown Harris to be competitive with Trump. In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, Harris and Trump were tied with 44 percent support each in a July 15-16 Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Before Sunday, the Trump campaign had already begun discussions about how they would redeploy campaign resources should Biden drop out of the race, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
Jeanette Hoffman, a Republican political consultant, said despite the contrasts Harris would bring to the ticket, her close ties to Biden would be a drag on her candidacy.
Harris “doesn’t represent the change America is looking for,” Hoffman said.
MAGA Inc. CEO Taylor Budowich said his group has commissioned opposition research on several possible Democratic candidates. “MAGA Inc. is prepared for all outcomes of a Democrat Party who has only brought chaos and failure,” he said.