Philippine rebels kill 6 policemen, wound 8 others in attack

Philippine rebels kill 6 policemen, wound 8 others in attack
Updated 16 February 2016

Philippine rebels kill 6 policemen, wound 8 others in attack

Philippine rebels kill 6 policemen, wound 8 others in attack

MANILA, Philippines: Suspected communist guerrillas killed six policemen and wounded eight others in an ambush in the northern Philippines on Tuesday in the latest flare-up of the decades-old Marxist insurgency, the military said.
Army Maj. Gen. Lysander Suerte said about 40 New People’s Army rebels detonated a bomb then opened fire on a truckload of policemen in the coastal town of Baggao in Cagayan province Tuesday, sparking an hourlong gunbattle.
Two assault helicopters were deployed and soldiers and policemen were pursuing the attackers, who burned construction equipment in a nearby farm irrigation project late Monday, Suerte said.
The Marxist insurgency has flared on and off for more than four decades and is one of the longest-running rebellions in Asia. The military says the insurgency has been considerably weakened in many regions.
Peace negotiations brokered by Norway between the rebels and the government have stalled under President Benigno Aquino III, whose six-year term ends in June.


Refugees arriving in US unlikely to exceed cap set by Trump

Refugees arriving in US unlikely to exceed cap set by Trump
Updated 5 min 51 sec ago

Refugees arriving in US unlikely to exceed cap set by Trump

Refugees arriving in US unlikely to exceed cap set by Trump
  • Biden first proposed raising the cap to 62,500 in February in a plan submitted to Congress

DIEGO: President Joe Biden, under political pressure, agreed to admit four times as many refugees this budget year as his predecessor did, but resettlement agencies concede the number actually allowed into the US will be closer to the record-low cap of 15,000 set by former President Donald Trump.

Refugee advocates say they are grateful for the increase because it’s symbolically important to show the world the US is back as a humanitarian leader at a time when the number of refugees worldwide is the highest since World War II. But they’re frustrated, too, because more refugees could have been admitted if Biden hadn’t dragged his feet.

“About 10,000 to 15,000 is what we’re expecting,” said Jenny Yang of World Relief, adding that Biden’s inaction for months after taking office in January was “definitely problematic.”

“That delay meant not being able to process refugee applications for four months. We weren’t able to rebuild for four months, so it really was unfortunate,” Yang said.

Biden first proposed raising the cap to 62,500 in February in a plan submitted to Congress, but then refused to sign off on it for two months before coming back April 16 and suggesting he was sticking with Trump’s target.

Democratic allies and refugee advocates lambasted him, saying he was reneging on his campaign promise in the face of bipartisan criticism over his handling of an increase in unaccompanied migrant children at the US-Mexico border.

“To be clear: The asylum process at the southern border and the refugee process are completely separate immigration systems. Conflating the two constitutes caving to the politics of fear,” said Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Weeks later, on May 3, Biden raised the cap.

So far this year only about 2,500 refugees have arrived, with less than five months left before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

More than 35,000 refugees have been vetted and approved to come to the US, but thousands were disqualified under the narrow eligibility criteria Trump established in October when he set the low cap.

By the time Biden expanded the eligibility, many health screenings and documents were no longer valid, according to resettlement agencies. And if someone had a baby during that time, then the entire family could be stalled.

Even under the best circumstances, it can take two months for each case to be updated.

Before the Trump administration’s drastic cuts, the US had admitted more refugees each year than all other countries combined under a program now 41 years old.

With a family history that includes two step-parents who fled Europe during and after WWII, Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed to restore that leadership by significantly boosting the cap in the early days of the administration. The State Department recommended to the White House the ceiling be set at 62,500, officials said.

But a senior official familiar with Blinken’s thinking said it quickly became clear that the State Department offices responsible for refugee resettlement had been so gutted that they wouldn’t be able to process and absorb that number of refugees.

The official described the situation as “aspiration meeting reality” and said Blinken reluctantly concluded that 62,500 wouldn’t be possible in the short term.

“It turned out there was even more damage done than we knew,” Blinken told reporters this month.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement also has been taxed by the jump in unaccompanied migrant children coming to the US border, according to the administration. Some $85 million was diverted from refugee resettlement money to help care for the children, government documents published by The New York Times show.

Biden did not want to promise something he wasn’t sure was possible, Blinken said.

“So we needed to take some time to make sure that the resources were in place, the people were in place, the programs were in place to actually receive refugees coming in,” he said.

The Trump administration had cut US staff overseas who interview refugees by 117 officers. As a result, the number of interviews that were conducted fell by one-third in 2019 compared with those done in 2016 under the Obama administration. That number fell off almost entirely in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to travel restrictions in and out of refugee processing sites worldwide, the US suspended refugee arrivals from March 19 to July 29 of last year except for emergency cases. Only 11,800 refugees were admitted in the 2020 fiscal year, the lowest number in the history of the program.

The administration is working on rehiring that staff and addressing the backlog, including by making it possible to conduct interviews by video teleconferencing instead of doing them in person, deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.

But it can take months to train new officers.


Shock, anger after Kashmiri police detain 20 pro-Palestinian protesters

Shock, anger after Kashmiri police detain 20 pro-Palestinian protesters
Updated 29 min 11 sec ago

Shock, anger after Kashmiri police detain 20 pro-Palestinian protesters

Shock, anger after Kashmiri police detain 20 pro-Palestinian protesters
  • The Palestinian struggle has been romanticized by Kashmiris in murals, graffiti, posters and videos

NEW DELHI: A day after Jammu and Kashmir police arrested 20 people, including a renowned artist, for organizing a peaceful protest over events in Israel and Gaza, locals expressed resentment at the detentions.

Among those arrested in the capital Srinagar was popular graffiti artist Mudasir Gul, who participated in the protest by drawing a mural of a weeping woman, her head draped in a Palestinian flag, with the words “We Are Palestine” emblazoned across it.

“What is my brother’s crime?” Gul’s younger brother, Badrul Islam, said to Arab News. 

“When has painting become a crime in Kashmir? Those boys who took part in the protest would have never thought that they would be detained. It was a normal peaceful protest, an expression of anger. Can’t we protest peacefully also?”

Islam said the entire family now fears for Gul’s future.

“We want the police to let us know what they are going to do with my brother. We are worried that he might be implicated in the Public Safety Act (PSA); if that happens, then it will ruin his career and future,” Islam said.

The PSA is a detention law that does not include any provision for bail. Those booked under it often remain behind bars for years.

Islam’s relative and neighbor, Janbaaz Mustafa, was also worried for his 25-year-old brother Dilwaz, who was among those arrested on Saturday.

“He made flags for the protest. Police arrested him because they said that we cannot protest against Israel,” Mustafa told Arab News, adding: “This is how Kashmir is; where no one is allowed to speak, and police can do anything.”

On Friday, police in south Kashmir’s Shopian district also detained a popular religious preacher, Sarjan Barkati, for promoting the Palestinian cause.

Former chief minister of Kashmir and leader of the pro-India People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti, called the “crackdowns on Kashmiri protesters” paranoia.

“Kashmir has become an open-air prison where even thoughts are being monitored. Anything that might act as a trigger for the anger and resentment that has been brewing among Kashmiris for the past two years is perceived as a threat and thus nipped in the bud,” Mufti told Arab News.

“This explains the paranoia and subsequent crackdown on pro-Palestine peaceful protests in Kashmir,” she added.

When contacted by Arab News on Sunday, Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar refused to comment.

However, in a statement on Saturday, he justified the crackdown, reasoning that “some elements might try to leverage the situation” in Kashmir.

“There are elements who are attempting to leverage the unfortunate situation in Palestine to disturb peace and order in the Kashmir valley,” Kumar said, adding that he “wouldn’t allow … public anger to trigger violence, lawlessness and disorder” on Kashmir’s streets.

“Expressing opinions is a freedom but engineering and inciting violence on streets is unlawful,” the statement said.

Kashmir continues to reel under a landmark law introduced by New Delhi in August 2019 when the central government abrogated the limited constitutional autonomy that the Muslim majority state had since 1948.

The entire region was placed under a lockdown for more than six months, with democratic rights curtailed and political activists and leaders placed under house arrest for months, while the Internet remained suspended for over a year.

On Sunday, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) justified the crackdown and detention of the 20 Kashmiri men, calling it a “pre-emptive” arrest.

“We want peace between Israel and Palestine. We want all countries to support peace,” Manzoor Bhat, BJP spokesperson in Kashmir, told Arab News.

“There is peace now in Kashmir; there is no news of killings. No one can stop you if you are protesting for Palestinians, this is a democracy,” he continued.

However, he added: “Some elements which are inimical to the peace in Kashmir take advantage of such protests ... to create disturbances where someone is killed, and the atmosphere gets vitiated.

“Police have taken a pre-emptive step, and the arrest is an attempt to preempt the situation from going out of control,” Bhat added.

Experts, however, refused to take the bait, with Srinagar-based political analyst Gowhar Geelani saying that Kashmiris expressing solidarity with Palestinians was nothing new.

“Kashmir has a very long and rich tradition of expressing solidarity with the Palestinians,” he said.

“The Palestinian struggle has been romanticized by Kashmiris in murals, graffiti, posters and videos. In 1967, when the Zionist state annexed East Jerusalem, Srinagar witnessed one of the biggest anti-Israel demonstrations,” Geelani told Arab News.

He added that New Delhi was “scared,” and did not want Kashmiris to express solidarity with Palestinians.

“Perhaps New Delhi believes that for the past two years, it has been successful in normalizing silence and curbing dissent through draconian measures. It believes that the Palestinian plight could be a trigger for large-scale protests in Kashmir, which could eventually turn into pro-independence or pro-Pakistan slogan and sentiment,” he added.

Siddiq Wahid, a Srinagar-based professor, said there was a “nice symmetry between the Indian state and Israel in Kashmir.”

He told Arab News: “There is a nice symmetry in this that is quite unintended: One of how the people of Palestine and Kashmir and the Israeli and Indian states are aligned with each other.”

Meanwhile, the New-Delhi based India and Palestinian friendship forum condemned the arrest of the Kashmiris.

“Arresting someone for expressing solidarity with the Palestinians is highly condemnable,” Nadim Khan, president of the forum, told Arab News.

“We are a democracy, and all citizens have a right to express their support to the oppressed people anywhere in the world. The world knows that India is a long-time supporter and friend of Palestine. Supporting Palestine has never been a crime in India. In fact, it’s always encouraged,” he added.


Arab Parliament criticizes European counterpart over silence against Israeli crimes in Palestine

Arab Parliament criticizes European counterpart over silence against Israeli crimes in Palestine
Updated 40 min 8 sec ago

Arab Parliament criticizes European counterpart over silence against Israeli crimes in Palestine

Arab Parliament criticizes European counterpart over silence against Israeli crimes in Palestine
  • It slammed European Parliament for its failure to address Israeli human rights violations in occupied territories

LONDON: The Arab Parliament said it denounces the silence of the European Parliament over the flagrant crimes and violations that are taking place in Palestine by Israel.
In a statement, the Arab parliament criticized its European counterpart’s decision to remain silent “at a time when Arab and European countries and organizations are taking action and expressing their categorical rejection of Israeli violations, which are a blatant defiance to international and humanitarian laws.”
The Arab Parliament said that the European Parliament’s silence and failure to address Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories reflects its policy of double standards and unbalanced approach.
The Arab legislative body said it was surprised by the unfound stances taken by the European Parliament over the human rights situation in Arab countries, accusing it of acting to serve political purposes under the pretext of human rights.
The Arab Parliament renewed its strong condemnation of Israel’s brutal attacks against the Palestinians, and called on the UN Security Council to immediately act to put an end to all Israeli violations.


In Gwadar, every Eid brings nostalgia for Arab cannon

In Gwadar, every Eid brings nostalgia for Arab cannon
Updated 20 min 5 sec ago

In Gwadar, every Eid brings nostalgia for Arab cannon

In Gwadar, every Eid brings nostalgia for Arab cannon
  • Thousands of residents have dual Pakistani and Omani nationality

KARACHI: Every year in Pakistan, while televisions boom with the news of Eid moon-sighting, one southern fishing town still feels nostalgia for the old Arab cannon going off to announce the holy festival.

The city of Gwadar, a natural hammerhead-shaped headland, was relinquished by the Sultanate of Oman in 1958 when Pakistan purchased it for Rs 5.5 billion ($36 million).

The city is central to the multi-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is situated on a tapered and sandy 12-km-long strip that links the Pakistani coast to rocky outcroppings in the Arabian Sea.

Before Pakistan took the reign of the fishing town, rituals in the area were a mix of local and Arab traditions, locals say.

“As children, we would stand at a distance and watch the scene,” Hasan Ali Sohail, an author and local historian, told Arab News.

First, nitrous would be placed inside the cannon and then sacks pressed inside to strengthen it, he said.

“All those sacks would fly skyward, and when they would fall down, we would run, pick them up and head home, shouting,” Sohail laughed. 

“This was an expression of happiness in those days. The scene is still fresh in my mind despite the passage of over seven decades.”

A cannon would be placed right in front of the residence of the Wali-e-Gwadar (administrator of the city), and when the moon of Ramadan or Eid would be sighted, the people would be informed through the firing.

“When the Arab soldier would get news of the moon-sighting, a rod on fire would be inserted inside the cannon, and when the iron branding reached the sacks, he would run back and stand at a distance,” Sohail said.

Mohammed Akbar, 80, a young fisherman then, has similar memories of the Eid cannon.

“I still remember when on one Eid, while I accompanied my father for deep-sea fishing, we heard the sound of the cannon, and we turned back and anchored our fishing boat and hurried home,” Akber said.

Despite the time that has passed, not all the old rituals have faded; some links with the former state have stayed strong.  

“We still break our fasts like Arabs,” Akbar told Arab News.

Unlike the rest of the country, the people of Gwadar consume a substantial quantity of dates and lassi (a yogurt-based drink) during Ramadan and have their dinner after taraweeh prayers. Sukoun, an Arabian dish, is also made and shared by the people of the town.

Noor Mohsin, a local journalist, told Arab News that thousands of Gwadar locals possess dual Pakistani and Omani nationality and live and work between the two countries.

“There is a strong bond the people of Gwadar feel with Arabs, which will always remain intact,” Mohsin added.


Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise
Updated 16 May 2021

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise

Singapore to shut schools as coronavirus cases rise
  • All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday

SINGAPORE: Singapore will shut most schools from Wednesday after the city-state reported the highest number of local COVID-19 infections in months, including several that were unlinked, according to authorities on Sunday.
All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.
“Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
On Sunday, Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, of which 18 are currently unlinked.
Singapore has reported more than 61,000 virus cases, with the bulk linked to outbreaks last year in foreign worker dormitories, and 31 deaths. Sunday’s new cases were the highest number of local infections outside of the dormitories in a year.
“The sharp rise in the number of community cases today requires us to significantly reduce our movements and interactions in the coming days,” Chan added.
The Asian trade and financial hub of 5.7 million people had until recently been reporting almost zero or single-digit daily infections locally for months.
Though Singapore’s daily cases are still only a fraction of the numbers being reported among its Southeast Asian neighbors, infections have been increasing in recent weeks. From Sunday, the government implemented its strictest curbs on gatherings and public activities since a lockdown last year.
Over a fifth of the country’s population has completed the two-dose vaccination regimen with vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Authorities will invite people under 45 years of age to receive shots from the second half of May.
The speed of Singapore’s inoculation program is being limited by the pace of vaccine supply arrivals. Experts are studying whether to give one dose of the vaccine and extend the interval between shots, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
The government is also working on plans to vaccinate children below 16 years once regulatory approval is granted.