Thousands of Indonesian officers dedicate themselves to elderly Hajj pilgrims

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Indonesian Hajj officers assist wheelchair-using pilgrims in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, June 4, 2023. (ANTARA)
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An Indonesian Hajj officer checks hotel facilities for pilgrims in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, May 24, 2024. (ANTARA)
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Indonesian Hajj officers assist pilgrims upon arrival in their hotel in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, May 24, 2024. (ANTARA)
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A pharmacist prepares medicine at the Indonesian Hajj Pilgrim Clinic in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, May 28, 2024. (ANTARA)
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Updated 06 June 2024
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Thousands of Indonesian officers dedicate themselves to elderly Hajj pilgrims

Thousands of Indonesian officers dedicate themselves to elderly Hajj pilgrims
  • Some 241,000 Indonesians to perform Hajj this year
  • Elderly pilgrims make up about 30% of the group

JAKARTA: When Agus Sutisna decided to become a Hajj officer, he hoped his service would help Indonesian pilgrims perform their spiritual journey this year.

Sutisna, who is in charge of dozens of Indonesian groups in Makkah, prepared himself ahead of time for the role to make sure he and his team were also ready to assist the elderly, who comprise about 30 percent of Indonesia’s 241,000 pilgrims. 

“Aside from the physical preparations, we must also be ready to present ourselves with sincerity and love,” Sutisna told Arab News in a phone interview on Thursday. 

“Especially for officers who are taking care of the elderly, it’s clear how they must be sincere in their heart and be willing to dedicate themselves.” 

The 49-year-old is one of over 5,300 Indonesian officers posted in Saudi Arabia to take care of their country’s largest-ever Hajj contingent, a diverse group of people coming from 38 provinces spread across the archipelago nation.

Special Hajj flights from the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation commenced on May 12 and are expected to conclude on June 10. 

Although the Hajj should start on June 14 this year, many pilgrims depart early to make the most of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfil their religious duty. 

Sutisna said he is achieving his aspiration as a Hajj officer and finds himself touched by the devotion of Indonesian pilgrims, especially those who are elderly and require special assistance.

“Their desire for worship is so strong and it has left such an impression on me, I am extremely moved,” he said. 

“I hope that my sincerity and dedication for Hajj pilgrims can be accepted by the pilgrims themselves … All of us, not just me alone, from the Indonesian Hajj Organization Committee, will continue to serve them with all our heart, with all our love.”

As the committee’s main mission is to guide, serve and protect Indonesian pilgrims, their duties begin long before the pilgrims’ arrival in Saudi Arabia, with officers making logistical preparations to ensure a smooth Hajj journey for hundreds and thousands of people. 

While over 2,700 officers are attached to 554 groups of Indonesian pilgrims, about 2,600 more are assigned to other aspects of the pilgrimage, such as food, health and transportation, said Nasrullah Jasam, who heads the committee in Saudi Arabia. 

“The people we are serving are not just any guests, they are God’s guests,” Jasam told Arab News. 

“The Indonesian Hajj Organization Committee is motivated to perform its duties with dedication because the satisfaction that we earn isn’t a matter of honor, but about how they can be useful to the people who have been chosen in this noble land to perform their spiritual journey.” 

For many Indonesian pilgrims, their Hajj journey comprises many firsts, as it is often their first time abroad and their first experience of a climate so dramatically unlike Indonesia’s, which can be challenging for the elderly. 

“With the presence of officers among them, we want to make the pilgrims feel at home, comfortable and safe … We try to treat the pilgrims as if they are our family members, our parents … so that the pilgrims, in the middle of very hot weather and amid the sea of people, can feel protected,” Jasam said. 

Some Hajj officers have had to carry elderly pilgrims or feed them, and make sure that they are healthy throughout their time in Saudi Arabia. 

“Their spiritual worship here takes place as they serve the pilgrims … It’s amazing how spirited they are to serve our pilgrims, to simply show them the way and to help those who are sick or lost,” he added. 

“The nature and weather here in Saudi Arabia, for Indonesians, are pretty extreme … It is our hope as Hajj officers that the pilgrims’ journey will be smooth and they can perform their Hajj journey solemnly and to the fullest, so that they can go back to our homeland with their Hajj accepted and they can contribute to their community.” 


France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes

France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes
Updated 3 sec ago
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France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes

France seeks government as PM vows to ‘guard against’ extremes
Voters from different camps joined forces in the second round to shut the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power in a “republican front“
Macron has rejected LFI demands they should be tasked with forming the next government

PARIS: France’s political parties scrambled Friday to break a parliamentary deadlock brought on by an inconclusive snap election, as the outgoing prime minister vowed to prevent any government with far-right or hard-left members.
A runoff Sunday left the National Assembly without any overall majority, but a broad alliance of Socialists, Communists, Greens and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) won the most seats, with 193 in the 577-strong lower chamber.
Voters from different camps joined forces in the second round to shut the far-right National Rally (RN) out of power in a “republican front,” allowing President Emmanuel Macron’s followers to claim second place with 164 seats and leaving the far right in third at 143.
With each of the three blocs controlling roughly one-third of the chamber, political leaders are admitting it may be a long slog to find a government able to survive a no-confidence vote.
Macron has rejected LFI demands they should be tasked with forming the next government, appearing to rule out a role for either LFI — the largest player in the New Popular Front (NFP) left alliance — or the far-right RN in any new coalition.
Prime Minister Gabriel Attal echoed that stance Friday saying that he would seek “to guard against any government” that included RN or LFI ministers.
In a document outlining his bid to take the leadership of the Macron-allied “Renaissance” parliamentary group, Attal acknowledged it had “narrowly escaped extinction” in the vote.
As party group leader, Attal said he would “completely revise our methods and our organization.”
Attal, the only candidate to take over the Renaissance parliamentary leadership, said he hoped to “contribute to the emergence of a majority concerning projects and ideas” in the future parliament.
Renaissance deputies are to elect their new leader on Saturday. If voted in, Attal said he would rename the formation “Together for the Republic.”
The document, seen by AFP, made no mention of Macron, with reports suggesting that Attal is distancing himself from his former mentor, blaming Macron’s decision to dissolve parliament and call the election for the political quagmire.
Under the French constitution Macron, who has just under three years left of his second presidential term, will appoint the next prime minister.
The nominee must be able to garner enough support to negotiate the first hurdle, a confidence vote in the National Assembly.
There is, meanwhile, a good chance that the current government remains in place until after the Paris Olympic Games which open on July 26, according to political observers.
The leftist NFP, which had initially promised to suggest a candidate for prime minister to Macron by the end of the week, on Friday acknowledged that it probably wouldn’t be able to.
“I’d rather not set a deadline,” said LFI coordinator Manuel Bompard, telling the TF1 broadcaster that “more time may be needed for discussions.”
Green party boss Marine Tondelier said the problem was that “everybody claims that they are the biggest group” which she said showed that vote size was perhaps not “the most important criterion.”
A source within the Socialist party who declined to be named said the LFI had put forward four names, including that of firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon who is unacceptable to all other parties, and controversial even among LFI members.
The Socialists themselves are pushing for their party’s boss, Olivier Faure, who they say would be acceptable as prime minister to a broad range of deputies from the left to center-right.
“Faure or Melenchon? That’s the real question,” remarked a Socialist official who declined to be named.
The head of the RN, Marine Le Pen, has already threatened that her deputies would reject any government that included LFI or Green ministers.
The RN’s vice president Sebastien Chenu meanwhile said that he saw “no satisfactory solution” to the current standoff “except a kind of technocratic government without political affiliation.”

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid
Updated 8 min 47 sec ago
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Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid

Biden faces more pressure from Democrats to abandon re-election bid
  • It was unclear whether Biden’s performance would convince doubters in his party that he is their best bet to defeat Republican Donald Trump
  • At least 17 congressional Democrats so far have called for him to drop out

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden faced more calls from fellow Democrats to abandon his re-election bid on Friday, following a news conference in which he delivered nuanced responses but occasionally stumbled over his words.
It was unclear whether Biden’s performance would convince doubters in his party that he is their best bet to defeat Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 5 election and serve another four-year term in the White House.
At least 17 congressional Democrats so far have called for him to drop out and allow the party to pick another standard-bearer, including some who announced their positions after the news conference on Thursday night.
Democrats are worried that Biden’s low public approval ratings and growing concerns that he is too old for the job could cause them to lose seats in the House and Senate, leaving them with no grip on power in Washington should Trump win the White House.
But Biden made clear that he did not plan to step aside.
“If I show up at the convention and everybody says they want someone else, that’s the democratic process,” Biden said, before shifting to the stage whisper he often uses for emphasis to add, “It’s not gonna happen.”
Biden perhaps did not reassure those who were spooked by his poor presidential debate performance against Trump on June 27.
At one point, he referred to his vice president, Kamala Harris, as “Vice President Trump.” That came just hours after he introduced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as “President Putin” at the NATO summit, drawing gasps from those in the room.
Biden occasionally garbled his responses at the news conference, yet he also delivered detailed assessments of global issues, including Ukraine’s war with Russia and the Israel-Gaza conflict, that served as a reminder of his decades of experience on the world stage.
Some Democrats were not reassured.
“We must put forward the strongest candidate possible to confront the threat posed by Trump’s promised MAGA authoritarianism. I no longer believe that is Joe Biden,” said Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, who called on the president to end his campaign after the news conference.
But one influential party figure, Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, reiterated his support on Friday morning.
“I am all in. I’m riding with Biden no matter which direction he goes,” he said on NBC’s “Today” program.
A senior campaign official who spoke on condition of anonymity called the performance the “worst of all worlds. Not good. But not bad enough to make him change his mind ... It’ll give some enough cover to back him publicly, only to say he’s not up for it privately.”
Fundraiser Dmitri Melhorn said other donors told him they saw a strong performance from the president. “This is the person who can beat Trump. The mistakes are baked in and the upside is strong,” he told Reuters.
Biden will hold a rally on Friday in Detroit, where his campaign says he will focus on the “dangers” of Trump’s agenda.
The Michigan city is also headquarters of the United Auto Workers labor union, whose leaders endorsed Biden but now are assessing their options, three sources told Reuters.
With most US voters firmly divided into ideological camps, opinion polls show the race remains close.
An NBC/PBS poll released on Friday found Biden leading Trump 50 percent to 48 percent, a slight increase from his position before the debate. Biden fared slightly worse than Trump when third-party candidates were included in the questioning.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found Biden and Trump tied at 40 percent each. But some nonpartisan analysts have warned that Biden is losing ground in the handful of competitive states that will determine the outcome of the election.


Kyiv says it wants permission for strikes in Russia to destroy air bases

Kyiv says it wants permission for strikes in Russia to destroy air bases
Updated 15 min 55 sec ago
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Kyiv says it wants permission for strikes in Russia to destroy air bases

Kyiv says it wants permission for strikes in Russia to destroy air bases
  • Kyiv sought the destruction of air bases from which Russian aircraft fly

KYIV: Kyiv wants its allies to lift restrictions on long-range attacks inside Russia so that it can systematically destroy Russian air bases where aircraft used in attacks on Ukraine are stationed, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Friday.
Mykhailo Podolyak said on X that Kyiv sought the destruction of air bases from which Russian aircraft fly to carry out “deliberate massive strikes against the civilian population and civilian objects.”


Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats

Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats
Updated 12 July 2024
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Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats

Major victory for ex-PM Khan as Pakistan top court rules party eligible for reserved seats
  • Khan’s PTI was denied its share of 70 reserved seats that were allotted to parties part of PM Sharif-led ruling coalition
  • Supreme Court says the PTI was and is a political party and eligible for reserved seats for women and minorities

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday delivered a landmark verdict saying the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan was eligible for reserved seats in parliament, mounting pressure on the fragile ruling coalition of premier Shehbaz Sharif.

PTI candidates contested the Feb. 8 general elections as independents after the party was barred from the polls and though these independents won the most seats, 93, the election commission ruled they would not get their share of 70 seats reserved for women and minorities since they are meant for political parties only. The seats were then allotted to other parties, mostly from those in Sharif’s ruling coalition.

In Pakistan, parties are allocated 70 reserved seats — 60 for women, 10 for non-Muslims — in proportion to the number of seats won in general elections. This completes the National Assembly’s total 336 seats. A simple majority in Pakistan’s parliament is 169 out of 336 seats.

In March, both the ECP and Peshawar High Court in separate rulings said that the independents were not eligible for the reserved seats, dealing a blow to the embattled PTI’s governing prospects and proving to be a major setback for Khan, who has been in jail since last August. The verdicts were subsequently overruled by the Supreme Court, which has since last month been hearing a set of petitions on the issue.

On Friday, the Supreme Court set aside the Peshawar High Court verdict and said the ECP order declaring the PTI ineligible for reserved seats was “ultra vires of the constitution, without lawful authority and of no legal effect.”

“PTI shall be eligible for women and ministries reserved seats in parliament,” Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa said as he read the verdict in one of the petitions filed by the PTI-backed bloc, calling on the ECP to recalculate the number of reserved seats Khan’s party was entitled to.

PTI’s Syed Shibli Faraz, currently serving as the leader of the opposition in the Senate, said that this was a “historic” day in Pakistani politics.

“Heartiest congratulations firstly to the Pakistani public and their leader Imran Khan,” Faraz told reporters after the court ruling was announced.

Without the 70 reserved seats, the government stands to lose its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, without which it cannot push through constitutional amendments.

The verdict also bolsters the political position of Khan’s supporters, whose rallying cry has been that the election commission and a pro-military caretaker government that oversaw the polls indulged in electoral fraud to deprive it of a victory. The ECP denies this.

“PTI WAS AND IS A PARTY”

All candidates from Khan’s PTI party were forced to contest the February polls as independents after the party was stripped of its election symbol of the cricket bat by the ECP on the technical grounds that it did not hold intra-party elections, a prerequisite for any party to take part in polls.

After the election, the PTI-backed candidates were forced to join Sunni Ittehad Council, or SIC, party to claim a share of 70 reserved seats as independents are not eligible for the extra seats.

“It is declared that lack of denial of an election symbol does not in any way affect the right of a political party to participate in an election,” said the court order in one of the PTI petitions, which was supported by eight judges and opposed by five of the 13-member full court bench. “The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, PTI, was and is a party.”

The order said that elected members of the PTI could not be declared independents or candidates of the SIC and gave the PTI 15 days to submit its list of candidates entitled for reserved seats to the election commission.

Addressing a press conference, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the government would wait for the detailed judgment to decide on its course of action, but pointed out that the petitions had been filed by the SIC but “relief” had been given by the court to the PTI, which did not file the pleas.

“A lot of confusion and questions has been born from this judgment,” he told reporters. “A situation has been created in which there is little clarity.”

In a statement sent to media, the PTI said that 86 PTI-backed returned candidates in the National Assembly and 107 in the Punjab Assembly, 91 in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and 9 in the Sindh Assembly “are entitled to be counted for the purpose of election to the reserved seats on the basis of proportional representation.” It is expected that the PTI could get up to 23 reserved seats after Friday’s judgment.

PM Sharif formed a weak coalition with other parties after the Feb. 8 general elections produced a hung parliament.

Sharif’s PML-N party’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together made a simple majority in parliament to form a government at the center and also roped in smaller parties in the coalition.


WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 
Updated 12 July 2024
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WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 
  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounds warning on declining vaccine coverage
  • Advices that people in highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose

Geneva: Covid-19 is still killing around 1,700 people a week around the world, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as it urged at-risk populations to keep up with their vaccinations against the disease.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a warning on declining vaccine coverage.

Despite the continued death toll, “data show that vaccine coverage has declined among health workers and people over 60, which are two of the most at-risk groups,” the UN health agency’s chief told a press conference.

“WHO recommends that people in the highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose.”

More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher.

Covid-19 also shredded economies and crippled health systems.

Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023, more than three years on from when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

The WHO has urged governments to maintain virus surveillance and sequencing, and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines.