Macron to host Arab foreign ministers for Gaza talks

Macron to host Arab foreign ministers for Gaza talks
Macron will on Friday host the foreign ministers of four key Arab states for talks on the war in Gaza. (AP)
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Updated 25 May 2024

Macron to host Arab foreign ministers for Gaza talks

Macron to host Arab foreign ministers for Gaza talks

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will on Friday host the foreign ministers of four key Arab states for talks on the war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, his office said.
Joined by his own top diplomat Stephane Sejourne, Macron will discuss the situation with Qatar’s Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Egypt’s Sameh Shoukry, Ayman Safadi of Jordan and Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, the Elysee said.

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate
Updated 3 min 24 sec ago

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate

Government allies and opposition criticize federal budget, propose improvements during parliamentary debate
  • PPP’s Aseefa Bhutto says Pakistani people deserve a better budget, urges the government to provide relief to poor
  • Information minister says opposition has not prepared shadow budget, is criticizing government without justification

ISLAMABAD: The coalition partners of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration and the opposition parties on Sunday criticized the budget for the next fiscal year (FY25) while offering suggestions to improve it to provide relief to the public.
The National Assembly of Pakistan kicked off debate on the federal budget on Thursday, as the government hopes for its passage this week.
During the discussions, both the opposition lawmakers and members of the government’s allied parties slammed the budget while asking the Sharif administration to review the taxes imposed on the salaried class, food items and other sectors.
Islamabad has set an ambitious tax revenue generation target of about Rs13 trillion ($46.55 billion) in the budget, which was presented on June 12 by Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Muhammad Aurangzeb.
“Do you think this is the budget the people of Pakistan deserve,” Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari, Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker and daughter of the slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, said while participating in the debate. “The people of Pakistan deserve better.”
She urged the government to provide relief to the public.
“Together we have to find way to give relief to the people who are suffering 15 hours a day without electricity in this sweltering heat,” she added.
The PPP leader also asked the government to support farmers battered by storms, floods and recent controversial decisions related to wheat import.
“We must find ways to help the blue-collar workers who have no job security,” she said. “We must find ways to develop our human capital. We must find ways to provide relief directly to the poorest of the poor of this country.”
Another senior PPP lawmaker Khurshid Shah termed the budget “difficult” that would increase burden on the public.
He suggested the government to work on population control to save resources and provide education, health, clean drinking water and other facilities to people.
“The government should offer incentives to the public to bring down the population number,” he added.
Opposition lawmaker from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Shahida Begum said no relief was provided to the public in the budget, criticizing the government’ spending and lack of transparency related to the utilization of public funds.
“The government should reduce income tax and try to broaden the tax base to collect more revenue,” she said.
Sunni Ittehad Council’s Ali Muhammad Khan emphasized the idea of abolishing interest to strengthen the national economy.
“If we abolish interest, then all budgets would be for the prosperity and progress of the country and the nation,” he said.
Responding to all the criticism, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Attaullah Tarar said the opposition had not bothered to prepare even a shadow budget and was only criticizing the government without justification.
He pointed out the government had increased the salaries of public servants along with the minimum wage level and reduced tariff for industrial electricity.
“Everyone is resorting to criticism, but no one talks about the budget,” he said.
“Pakistan’s friendly countries want to invest here which is in their [opposition’s] interest and ours as well,” he continued. “We have to make Pakistan a peaceful country for trade and investments.”

Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard
Updated 9 min 32 sec ago

Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard

Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai featured on iconic Times Square billboard
  • Times Square in New York is recognized as one of the world’s most heavily trafficked places
  • Dhai, who hails from Pakistan’s Sindh province, has a string of hits to her name such as “Kaid Ao Ni”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani classical singer Mai Dhai was recently featured on the iconic Times Square billboard in New York city, making her the latest celebrity from the country to be advertised at the prestigious location. 

Times Square, situated at the heart of New York City, is renowned for its iconic digital billboards and advertisements which showcase images of celebrities and a wide array of prominent brands. It is recognized as one of the most heavily trafficked places in the world. 

Dhai, a septuagenarian singer who hails from Pakistan’s southern Tharparkar district famous for its desert landscape and cultural diversity, belongs to the Manganhar Muslim community. The Manganhars are a famous community of singers that reside in the Tharparkar district in Pakistan and Rajasthan state in India, both areas connected via the shared border between the two countries. 

“A voice like that of the cuckoo reaches Times Square directly,” Spotify Pakistan posted on Instagram on Saturday, sharing a picture of Dhai at a vertical billboard on Times Square. “Listen to Mai Dhai on the #EQUALPAKISTAN playlist.”

The Equal Pakistan initiative by Spotify aims to promote both established and aspiring female artists, recognizing their talent and contributions to the music industry in the country. 

Dhai garnered critical acclaim after performing in a string of popular Pakistani musical festivals. However, she shot to fame across Pakistan in 2016 after debuting in Coke Studio’s season 8 with her two songs, “Aankhaṛli Phaṛookai” and “Kadi Ao Ni with artists Karam Abbas Khan and Atif Aslam garnering critical acclaim. 

In October 2023, Pakistani musician-singer Talal Qureshi was also featured on a Spotify billboard at Times Square, when the music platform and streaming app promoted Qureshi’s 2023 album “Turbo” on the billboard. 

Qureshi, celebrated for his seamless fusion of traditional Pakistani music with modern electronic sounds, is known for popular hits such as “Peechay Hut,” “Hico,” “Faltu Pyar” and “Paisa.”

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel
Updated 24 June 2024

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel
  • Almost daily exchanges of fire along Lebanon’s frontier with Israel threaten to escalate conflict
  • Last large-scale conflict between Israel, Hezbollah in 2006 killed 1,200 in Lebanon and 140 in Israel

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join with the militant Hezbollah group in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-blown war, officials with Iran-backed factions and analysts say.
Almost daily exchanges of fire have occurred along Lebanon’s frontier with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off a war in Gaza.
The situation to the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border.
Over the past decade, Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they could also join together again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form is using only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to the specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at that possibility in a speech in 2017 in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” of such a war.
Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from around the region will join in if war erupts on the the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily slip through the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the Israel-Hamas war started Oct. 7. The groups from the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using a “unity of arenas strategy” and they will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas.
“We will be (fighting) shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, one official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He refused to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon.
An official with a Lebanese Iran-backed group, also insisting on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan Zeinabiyoun and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as Houthis could come to Lebanon to take part in a war.

Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq on June 8, 2019. (AP/File photo)

Qassim Qassir, an expert on Hezbollah, agreed the current fighting is mostly based on high technology such as firing missiles and does not need a large number of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long period, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“Hinting to this matter could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of a “multi-front war.”
He said there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said in a televised statement this past week that since Hezbollah started its attacks on Israel on Oct. 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue fighting against Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they don’t want an all-out war with Israel but if it happens they are ready.

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP/File photo)

“We have taken a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited it is, will be faced with an expansion that deters such a move and inflicts heavy Israeli losses,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said in a speech this past week.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest run of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said that if foreign fighters did join in, it would help them that they fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the forces of axis of resistance and this is very important in fighting a joint battle,” he said.=

Jordan stars against US as England qualify for World Cup semifinals 

Jordan stars against US as England qualify for World Cup semifinals 
Updated 24 June 2024

Jordan stars against US as England qualify for World Cup semifinals 

Jordan stars against US as England qualify for World Cup semifinals 
  • England bowler Chris Jordan takes four wickets in one over against United States 
  • England finish Super Eights with two massive wins, healthy run rate of 1.992 

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: Fast bowler Chris Jordan got a hat trick and the American cricket team lost five wickets in six balls as England secured its spot in the semifinals of the Twenty20 World Cup on Sunday.

Defending champion England crushed the United States by 10 wickets with 62 balls remaining in their last Super Eight game.

Jordan, who replaced pacer Mark Wood, grabbed four wickets off five balls in his last over to dismantle the US for 115 runs in 18.5 overs and become the first Englishman to claim a hat trick in T20 internationals. He finished with 4-10 in 2.5 overs on the Caribbean island of Barbados where he was born.

“Very nice to do this at a special place like this,” Jordan said.

Captain Jos Buttler then smashed 83 not out off 38 balls, including five sixes in one over against left-arm spinner Harmeet Singh, as England raced to 117-0 in 9.4 overs.

“I thought if we could bring our intensity, we’d be too good,” Buttler said. England started its innings knowing that it needed to surpass South Africa’s net run-rate by chasing the target in 18.4 overs but finished the chase in less than 10 overs.

“We’ve got great options. We wanted to bring Chris Jordan back, adds a bit of depth with his batting capabilities as well,” Buttler said.

England, which also beat West Indies, finished the Super Eights with two big wins and a healthy net run-rate of 1.992. Its massive win over the US means South Africa, which is unbeaten in six games but has a net run-rate of 0.625, must avoid defeat against tournament co-host West Indies in Sunday’s other game to qualify with England for the semifinals.

England squeezed the Americans in the middle overs through impeccable leg spin from man-of-the-match Adil Rashid (2-13 in four overs) as Liam Livingstone (1-24) also bowled well after Buttler won the toss and elected to field.

Rashid, who didn’t concede a boundary, bowled two perfect googlies that baffled captain Aaron Jones (10) and top-scorer Nitish Kumar (30).

The sensational collapse began at the end of the 18th over when Jordan caught Harmeet Singh at long-off — off Sam Curran’s full toss — and then bowled a pulsating 19th over.

Corey Anderson (29) holed out a pacey full toss from Jordan at the start of the over. Jordan’s third ball sent Ali Khan’s off stump cartwheeling. Jordan then had Nosthush Kenjige pinned leg before wicket off a sharp incoming delivery and got his hat trick by uprooting Saurabh Netravalkar’s middle stump to end the match.

Jordan is the second bowler at this World Cup after Pat Cummins to record a hat trick. The Australian fast bowler took back-to-back hat tricks against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Buttler smashed seven sixes and six boundaries. Phil Salt (25 not out) happily gave the strike to his skipper.

The Americans’ fairy-tale World Cup debut, which included a historic victory against heavyweight Pakistan earlier in the tournament, ended with three straight Super Eight losses.
Jones said his team ran out of steam against South Africa, West Indies and England in the Super Eight stage after his sensational power-hitting earned the US two back-to-back wins over Canada and Pakistan in the first two games during the group stage.

“We’ve not had a good last two games,” Jones said, but added “we’ve really enjoyed this tournament.”

Jones said his team had defied expectations.

“This is our first World Cup and I don’t think people would have thought we’d be playing here against the big boys,” Jones said. “Hopefully this will open the eyes of the American public.”

It was meant to be a Christian utopia. Now this Nigerian community is helpless against rising seas

It was meant to be a Christian utopia. Now this Nigerian community is helpless against rising seas
Updated 24 June 2024

It was meant to be a Christian utopia. Now this Nigerian community is helpless against rising seas

It was meant to be a Christian utopia. Now this Nigerian community is helpless against rising seas

AYETORO, Nigeria: The coastal Nigerian community of Ayetoro was founded decades ago and nicknamed “Happy City,” meant to be a Christian utopia that would be sinless and classless. But now its remaining residents can do little against the rising sea.
Buildings have sunk into the Atlantic Ocean, an increasingly common image along the vulnerable West African coast. Old timber pokes from the waves like rotten teeth. Shattered foundations line the shore. Waves break against abandoned electrical poles.
For years, low-lying nations have warned the world about the existential threat of rising seas. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, struggles to respond. Some plans to address shoreline protection, even for Ayetoro, have come to nothing in a nation where corruption and mismanagement is widespread.
Prayers against the rising sea are “on the lips of everybody” in the church every Sunday, according to youth leader Thompson Akingboye. But they know the solution will require far more.
Even the church has been relocated away from the sea, twice. “The present location is now also threatened, with the sea just 30 meters (98 feet) away,” Akingboye said.

Thousands of people have left. Of those who remain, Stephen Tunlese can only gaze from a distance at the remnants of his clothing shop.
Tunlese said he lost an investment of eight million naira, or the equivalent of $5,500, to the sea. Now he adapts to a watery future. He repairs canoes.
“I will stay in Ayetoro because this is my father’s land, this is heritage land,” he said.
The Mahin mud coast where the community is slipping away has lost more than 10 square kilometers, or nearly 60 percent of its land, to the ocean in the past three decades.
Researchers studying satellite imagery of Nigeria’s coast say a number of things are contributing to Ayetoro’s disappearance.
Underwater oil drilling is one reason, according to marine geologist Olusegun Dada, a professor at the Federal University of Technology in Akure who has studied years of satellite imagery. As resources are extracted, the ground can sink.
But he and colleagues note other reasons, including the deforestation of mangroves that help anchor the earth and the erosion caused by ocean waves.

A damage house is seen due to coastal erosion in Ayetoro, a coastal community more than 200 km southeast of Nigeria's business capital Lagos. (AP)

“When we started coming to this community, then we used to have fresh water,” Dada said. Today, the freshwater ecosystem is transforming into a salty, marine one.
The transformation is enormously costly in Nigeria. The World Bank in a 2020 report estimated the cost of coastal degradation in three other coastal Nigerian states — nearby Lagos, Delta and Cross River — at $9.7 billion, or more than 2 percent of the country’s GDP. It looked at erosion, flooding, mangrove loss and pollution, and noted the high rate of urbanization.
And yet dramatic images of coastal communities slipping away only capture Nigeria’s attention from time to time, as when the annual flooding occurs — another effect of climate change.
But Ayetoro residents can’t turn away.
“Ayetoro was like a paradise, a city where everyone lived joyfully, happily,” said Arowolo Mofeoluwa, a retired civil servant.
She estimated that two-thirds of the community has been slowly swept under the waves, along with some residents’ multiple attempts to rebuild.
“This is the third house we are living in, and there are some living in the fourth house now, and we do not have enough space for ourselves again. Four or five people living in a small room, you can just imagine how painful it is,” Mofeoluwa said.
“If you look where the sea is now, that is the end of the former Ayetoro.”

A man rides a boat on the waters of Ayetoro, a Nigerian coastal community that has been experiencing coastal erosion for many years. (AP)

For the community’s traditional leader and head of the local church, Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi, the pain is not only in the loss of land but also “what we are losing in our socio-cultural and religious identity.”
Some residents say even burial grounds have been washed away.
Early this year, the Ondo state government announced a commitment to finding “lasting solutions” to the threat to Ayetoro. But residents said that’s been vowed in the past.
It might be too late for efforts to be effective, Dada said. For years, he has hoped for an environmental survey to be carried out to better understand what’s causing the community’s disappearance. But that’s been in vain.
The Niger Delta Development Commission, a government body meant in part to address environmental and other issues caused by oil exploration, didn’t respond to questions from The Associated Press about efforts to protect the community’s shoreline.
The commission’s website lists a shoreline protection project in Ayetoro. A photo shows a sign marking the feat with the motto, “Determined to make a difference!”
The project was awarded two decades ago. Project status: “Ongoing.”
Residents say nothing ever started.
“Help will come one day, we believe,” youth leader Akingboye said.