Pakistani leading rights activist, Asma Jehangir, dead at 66

In this June 14, 2017 file photo, Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jehangir speaks to The Associated Press in Lahore, Pakistan. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2018

Pakistani leading rights activist, Asma Jehangir, dead at 66

LAHORE: Asma Jehangir, one of Pakistan’s most prominent right activists and lawyers, died on Sunday of a heart attack in the eastern city of Lahore at the age of 66, her daughter said.
News of Jehangir’s sudden death shook political, social and media circles in Pakistan, as well as government ranks. President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and others offered condolences.
Jehangir suffered a heart attack late on Saturday night and was rushed to hospital where she died early on Sunday, her daughter Munizae said.
Born on Jan. 27 in 1952, Jehangir had a prominent career both as a lawyer and rights activist.
She has served as chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and was widely respected for her outspoken criticism of the country’s militant and extreme Islamist groups and unparalleled record as rights activist.
Jehangir also served as president of the Supreme Court’s Bar Association and was a UN rapporteur on human right and extrajudicial killings.
She was on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential women.
“We have lost a human rights giant. She was a tireless advocate for inalienable rights of all people and for equality — whether in her capacity as a Pakistani lawyer in the domestic justice system, as a global civil society activist, or as a Special Rapporteur,” the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement.
“Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind,” he said. “Asma will not be forgotten.”
A fierce defender of democracy, she often criticized Pakistan’s military and intelligence. She defended minority Christians charged with blasphemy, an offense that under Pakistan’s controversial law carries the death penalty.
She was repeatedly threatened by the country’s militant religious right whom she criticized loudly and often.
A champion of human rights, Jehangir was unafraid to speak loudly against those attacking minority religions and women. She won scores of international awards. Several years ago, she briefly sent her family out of the country following threats from militant groups.
Friends, relatives, activists and journalists thronged to her residence in Lahore to express their grief. Local TV stations broadcast footage showing public figures and Jehangir’s friends sobbing and consoling each other outside her residence as her body was brought home from hospital.
Zohra Yousuf, a former chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she lost a “great friend and great warrior of human rights.”
“No one can replace Asma, ... She was unmatched and unparalleled, we suffered a great loss today,” Yousuf said.
Activist Marvi Sarmad tweeted: “Today it’s not only Pakistan who will cry. The entire South Asia shall mourn Asma Jehangir.”
“’Speaking truth to power,’ a phrase we often use, Asma Jehangir lived, practiced till her last breath,” said another activist, Raza Ahmed Rumi.
Jehangir is survived by her businessman husband, Tahir Jehangir, a son and two daughters. Her other daughter, Sulema, lives in London. The funeral would take place after Sulema’s return to Pakistan, the family announced.


SpaceX, NASA give ‘go’ for astronaut launch, 3rd for Dragon

Updated 16 April 2021

SpaceX, NASA give ‘go’ for astronaut launch, 3rd for Dragon

  • SpaceX has been shipping cargo to the space station since 2012, using the same kind of rocket and similar capsules, and recycling those parts as well

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: SpaceX is gearing up for its third astronaut launch in under a year, after getting the green light from NASA a week ahead of next Thursday’s planned flight.
Managers from NASA and Elon Musk’s space company Thursday cleared the Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule for a dawn liftoff with a crew of four to the International Space Station. They will spend six months at the orbiting lab, replacing another SpaceX crew that’s close to coming home.
This will be the first crew flight using a recycled Falcon and Dragon. Both were designed for reuse.
The rocket was used to launch the current station crew last November from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The capsule, dubbed Endeavour, also will be making a repeat performance; it carried two test pilots to the space station on SpaceX’s first crew flight last spring.
SpaceX refurbished both and added safety upgrades. Most of the capsule is already “flight proven,” company officials noted, except for some new valves, thermal protection covers and parachutes.
Kathy Lueders, head of NASA’s human exploration office, said it was “moving” to be on the verge of flying three SpaceX crew flights in 11 months.
“Looking back, it’s really, really amazing what both the SpaceX and NASA teams have accomplished,” she said.
SpaceX said it must resolve one issue before conducting a test firing at the launch pad this weekend. It appears the company has been loading more liquid oxygen into its first-stage boosters than anticipated, and engineers want to make “extra certain” that poses no safety risks, said Bill Gerstenmaier, a new SpaceX vice president who used to work for NASA.
Three of the astronauts are back for their second space station mission: NASA’s Shane Kimbrough, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide. NASA astronaut Megan McArthur was part of the final Hubble Space Telescope repair team in 2009.
For nearly a decade, the only route to the space station for astronauts was on Russian rockets. NASA turned to private companies for taxi service after the space shuttles retired in 2011. SpaceX has been shipping cargo to the space station since 2012, using the same kind of rocket and similar capsules, and recycling those parts as well.


Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

Updated 14 April 2021

Queen returns to royal duties after death of Prince Philip

  • Prince Philip died at the age of 99
  • The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning

LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II has returned to royal duties, four days after the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

The 94-year-old British monarch attended a retirement ceremony for a senior royal official on Tuesday, according to the Court Circular, the official record of royal engagements.

The royal family is observing two weeks of mourning for Philip, who died Friday at the age of 99. The palace has said members of the royal family will “undertake engagements appropriate to the circumstances” during the mourning period.

The queen attended a ceremony at Windsor Castle for Lord Chamberlain Earl Peel, who has retired as the royal household’s most senior official. He oversaw arrangements for the funeral of Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, until handing over to his successor days before the duke’s death.

Philip’s funeral will take place Saturday at Windsor Castle, with attendance limited to 30 because of coronavirus restrictions.

Servicemen and women from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force will take part in the funeral procession, and Philip’s coffin will be borne to St. George’s Chapel at the castle on a specially adapted Land Rover, which he designed himself.


In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

Updated 12 April 2021

In Russia, the legend of cosmonaut Gagarin lives on

MOSCOW: Sixty years after he became the first person in space, there are few figures more universally admired in Russia today than Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
His smiling face adorns murals across the country. He stands, arms at his sides as if zooming into space, on a pedestal 42.5 meters (140 feet) above the traffic flowing on Moscow’s Leninsky Avenue. He is even a favorite subject of tattoos.
The Soviet Union may be gone and Russia’s glory days in space long behind it, but Gagarin’s legend lives on, a symbol of Russian success and — for a Kremlin keen to inspire patriotic fervor — an important source of national pride.
“He is a figure who inspires an absolute consensus that unifies the country,” says Gagarin’s biographer Lev Danilkin.
“This is a very rare case in which the vast majority of the population is unanimous.”
The anniversary of Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12, 1961 — celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day — sees Russians of all ages lay flowers at monuments to his accomplishment across the country.
The enduring fascination comes not only from his story of rising from humble origins to space pioneer, or even the mystery surrounding his death.
Gagarin, says historian Alexander Zheleznyakov, was a figure who helped fuel the imagination.
“He transformed us from a simple biological species to one that could imagine an entire universe beyond Earth.”

Humble beginnings
The son of a carpenter and a dairy farmer who lived through the Nazi occupation, Gagarin trained as a steel worker before becoming a military pilot and then, at age 27, spending 108 minutes in space as his Vostok spacecraft completed one loop around the Earth.
He was lauded for his bravery and professionalism, an example of the perfect Soviet man, but his legend was also imbued with tales of camaraderie, courage and love for his two daughters and wife Valentina Gagarina.
Long a secret, Gagarin wrote his wife a poignant farewell letter in the event that he died during his mission.

People watch the launch of a model rocket during a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Russia's Yuri Gagarin's first manned flight into space, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

“If something goes wrong, I ask you — especially you — Valyusha, not to die of grief. For this is how life goes,” he wrote, using a diminutive for Valentina.
In an interview with AFP in 2011, cosmonaut Boris Volynov recalled a man who, despite sharing privileges of the Soviet elite, spent hours on the phone to procure medicine or a spot in a hospital for his less well-off friends.
On his return to Earth, Gagarin found himself at the center of a propaganda campaign on the superiority of the Soviet model.
Biographer Danilkin says Gagarin was used by authorities as an example to the rest of the world, but also to convince Soviet citizens, who had endured World War II and Stalin-era repressions, “that the sacrifices of the previous decades were not in vain.”
President Vladimir Putin, he said, has co-opted that legacy to cement his own hold on power, promoting Soviet victories to encourage support for his 20-year rule.
“The current authorities methodically appropriate popular cults: first that of victory during World War II, then the conquest of space,” Danilkin says.

Tragic figure
Like all great Russian heroes, Gagarin is a tragic figure.
His death during a training flight in 1968 at the age of 34 remains a mystery because authorities never released the full report of the investigation into the causes of the accident.
Partial records suggest his MiG-15 fighter jet collided with a weather balloon, but in the absence of transparency, alternative theories abound.
One holds that Gagarin was drunk at the controls; another that he was eliminated by the Kremlin which feared his popularity.
More than 40 years later, many Russians have yet to come to terms with his death.
“How could the top cosmonaut, such a young and kind man, die like that so suddenly?” says historian Zheleznyakov.
“People are still trying to get over it.”


Saudi FM invites Filipino minister to AlUla after Bocelli concert piques interest

Updated 09 April 2021

Saudi FM invites Filipino minister to AlUla after Bocelli concert piques interest

  • Prince Faisal bin Farhan explained that the concert was held in AlUla and invited the minister to visit the city
  • Bocelli serenaded a limited number of concert-goers at the heritage site due to social distancing measures on Thursday

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has invited a Filipino minister to AlUla after the lawmaker tweeted asking how to access Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli’s recent performance in the historic city.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan explained that the concert was held in AlUla and said “It would be a pleasure to host your Excellency there during your next visit to Saudi.”
Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. serves as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and is a former journalist.

Bocelli enchanted his audience in AlUla on Thursday in what is believed to be the first-ever performance within the walls of the ancient desert city.
It was the tenor’s third performance in the Kingdom, and Bocelli serenaded a limited number of concert-goers at the heritage site due to social distancing measures.


Mrs. World gives up crown after onstage melee in Sri Lanka

Updated 09 April 2021

Mrs. World gives up crown after onstage melee in Sri Lanka

  • Reigning Mrs. World took crown away from Sri Lanka pageant winner
  • Mrs. World 2020 Caroline Jurie now facing criminal charges

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: The reigning Mrs. World on Friday relinquished her title while defending her decision to pull the crown off the head of the winner of this year’s Mrs. Sri Lanka, whom she falsely claimed to be a divorcee and unqualified to take part in the contest.
Caroline Jurie, the winner of Mrs. World 2020, has been accused of hurting Pushpika De Silva, who on Sunday was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka at a televised pageant in Colombo. Jurie was arrested on Thursday and later released on bail.
In a statement Friday, Jurie said she stood against “injustice” and called the judging of the pageant “tainted.”
“My only intention was to stand up for the injustice caused to the competitors throughout this competition which was tainted with heavy politicization.”
Jurie said she wanted to ensure that every contestant had an equal opportunity, because she had seen “from the beginning” that the contest was corrupted. She stressed that she did not favor anyone.
“I am now ready to hand over the crown,” she said at at the end of the video, before removing the crown from her head.
Jurie, who is also Sri Lankan, faces allegations that she injured De Silva during Sunday’s on-stage melee.

Pushpika De Silva poses for photographs with her Mrs Sri Lanka crown after it was forcibly removed by the reigning Mrs World, Caroline Jurie at the Mrs Sri Lanka contest, in Colombo on April 6, 2021. (REUTERS)

Moments after De Silva won the title, Jurie came on stage and snatched the crown from her, claiming she is divorced and ineligible to participate in the contest. Jurie then handed the crown to the first-runner up, declaring that woman the winner.
De Silva denied being divorced.
“Being apart is one. Divorce is something else. I’m still an un divorced woman,” she said on Facebook.
But on Friday, Jurie said: “How I is see it, the purpose of Mrs. World is to celebrate all women who are married and still strive to conquer their dreams, despite the commitment and responsibilities a married woman strives to fulfill.”
She added that the pageant “was certainly not created to discriminate divorced women but to celebrate the dreams of the married woman.”
Sri Lankan police said they received a complaint from De Silva that she suffered injuries when her crown was removed. Police arrested Jurie and a model, Chula Padmendram, on Thursday on charges of “simple hurt and criminal force. The two women were later released on bail and have been ordered to appear in court on April 19.
The incident at Sunday’s pageant, which was attended by the prime minister’s wife, created a huge uproar in the Indian Ocean island nation. Organizers of the pageant on Monday said they would return the crown to De Silva.
Sri Lanka will be hosting the final Mrs. World contest this year.
Meanwhile, Jurie said she will stand for what she believes is right. “I stand for values, even if it means I have to stand alone,” she said.