Parts of Beijing locked down due to fresh virus cluster

Beijing’s Xinfadi meat wholesale market and Jingshen seafood market were closed for disinfection and environmental sample collection after it emerged both were visited by two newly identified coronavirus patients, local media reported. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2020

Parts of Beijing locked down due to fresh virus cluster

BEIJING: Dozens of people tested positive for the coronavirus in Beijing as parts of the city were locked down Saturday after the emergence of a new cluster linked to a wholesale food market.
People were ordered to stay home at 11 residential estates in south Beijing’s Fengtai district and the nearby Xinfadi market was closed as authorities raced to contain the outbreak that has fueled fears of a resurgence in local transmission.
Most of the six new domestic infections reported Saturday were linked to the meat and vegetable market, the National Health Commission said.
But another 45 asymptomatic cases — which China counts separately — were detected after mass testing of nearly 2,000 workers at the market on Friday, city health official Pang Xinghuo later told reporters.
They have been placed under medical observation, Pang said.
Another worker tested positive at a farmers’ market in the city’s northwestern district of Haidian. They were a close contact of one of the confirmed cases linked to Xinfadi.
Beijing’s first COVID-19 case in two months, announced on Thursday, had visited Xinfadi market last week and had no recent travel history outside the city.
China’s domestic outbreak had been brought largely under control through vast, strict lockdowns that were imposed after the disease was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
These measures had mostly been lifted as the infection rate dropped, and the majority of cases reported in recent months were citizens living abroad who were tested as they returned home during the pandemic.
Among the six new domestic cases announced Saturday were three Xinfadi market workers, one market visitor and two employees at the China Meat Research Center, seven kilometers (four miles) away. One of the employees had visited the market last week.
Authorities closed the market, along with another seafood market visited by one of the patients, for disinfection and sample collection on Friday.
AFP reporters saw hundreds of police officers and dozens of paramilitary police deployed at the two markets, with no one allowed to leave Xinfadi.
Workers were seen hauling several crates of seafood out of Jingshen seafood market, also in Fengtai district.
Officials in Fengtai — which has more than two million residents — announced Saturday that the district has established a “wartime mechanism” and “field command center” to deal with the fresh wave.
Nine nearby schools and kindergartens have been closed. On Friday, Beijing delayed the return of students to primary schools across the city, and suspended all sporting events and group dining.
Cross-provincial tour groups have also been suspended.
The chairman of the Xinfadi market told state-run Beijing News that the virus was detected on chopping boards used to handle imported salmon, stoking fears over the hygiene of the city’s food supply.
Beijing’s market supervision authorities ordered a city-wide food safety inspection focusing on fresh and frozen meat, poultry and fish in supermarkets, warehouses and catering services.
Major supermarket chains including Wumart and Carrefour removed all stocks of salmon overnight in the capital, but said supplies of other products would not be affected, Beijing Daily reported Saturday.
Some Beijing restaurants were not serving any salmon on Saturday, according to AFP reporters.
On Saturday morning, community volunteers in various Beijing districts knocked on residents’ doors to ask if they had recently visited Xinfadi market.
Beijing authorities also announced a mass COVID-19 testing campaign of anyone who has had “close contact” with the Xinfadi market since May 30, after they tested over 5,000 environmental samples from farmers’ markets and large supermarkets across the city on Friday. Of those, all 40 positive samples came from Xinfadi market.


India sets up holding center for Rohingya in Kashmir

Updated 07 March 2021

India sets up holding center for Rohingya in Kashmir

  • An estimated 40,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India
  • 5,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in Jammu in the past few years

SRINAGAR: Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have sent at least 168 Rohingya refugees to a holding center, police said Sunday, in a process that they say is for the deportation of thousands of the refugees living in the region.

The move began Saturday following a directive from the region’s home department to identify Rohingya living in the southern city of Jammu, said Inspector-General Mukesh Singh. He said around 5,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in Jammu in the past few years.

“All of them are illegally living here and we have begun identifying them,” Singh said. “This process is to finally deport them to their country.”

More than 1 million Rohingya have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently mainly living in overcrowded, squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Since Saturday, officials have called hundreds of Rohingya to a stadium in Jammu, taking their personal details and biometrics and testing them for the coronavirus. A jail has been converted into a holding center in the outskirts of the city, and at least 168 Rohingya have so far been sent there, Singh said.

Rohingyas refugees stand at a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Jammu, India, on March 7, 2021. (AP)

The refugees, who have previously faced hostility in the city, were not informed of what was going on. Jammu is a Hindu-dominated area in Muslim-majority Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Khatija, a Rohingya Muslim woman who uses one name, said the Indian authorities took away her son on Saturday and she didn’t know where he was being kept. Her daughter-in-law gave birth on Sunday morning, she said.

An estimated 40,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India. Fewer than 15,000 are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many have settled in areas of India with large Muslim populations, including the southern city of Hyderabad, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. Some have taken refuge in northeast India bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Indian government says it has evidence there are extremists who pose a threat to the country’s security among the Rohingya and calls all of them “illegal immigrants” who will be deported.

In 2018 and 2019, Indian authorities deported at least 12 Rohingya in two groups to Myanmar. Rights groups have asked the Indian government to abandon plans for deporting Rohingya and evaluate their asylum claims.


Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

Updated 46 sec ago

Swiss agree to outlaw facial coverings in ‘burqa ban’ vote

  • The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed
  • The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community

ZURICH: A far-right proposal to ban facial coverings in Switzerland won a narrow victory in a binding referendum on Sunday instigated by the same group that organised a 2009 ban on new minarets.
The measure to amend the Swiss constitution passed by a 51.2-48.8% margin, provisional official results showed.
The proposal under the Swiss system of direct democracy does not mention Islam directly and also aims to stop violent street protesters from wearing masks, yet local politicians, media and campaigners have dubbed it the burqa ban.
"In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms," Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and a member of parliament for the Swiss People's Party, had said before the vote.
He called facial covering "a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland".
The Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland called the vote a dark day for the community.
"Today's decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority," it said.
It promised legal challenges to laws implementing the ban and a fundraising drive to help women who are fined.
The proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which has required adults to wear masks in many settings to prevent the spread of infection.
Two cantons already have local bans on face coverings.
France banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011 and Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Bulgaria have full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public.
Practically no one in Switzerland wears a burqa and only around 30 women wear the niqab, the University of Lucerne estimates. Muslims make up 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million people, most with roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The government had urged people to vote against a ban.
"After the ban on minarets, a majority of Swiss voters has once again backed an initiative that discriminates against a single religious community and needlessly stirs up fears and division," Amnesty International said.
"The veiling ban is not a measure for women's liberation, but a dangerous symbolic policy that violates freedom of expression and religion."


Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

Updated 07 March 2021

Russia reports 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, 368 deaths

  • The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours

MOSCOW: Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,534 in Moscow, taking the national case tally to 4,322,776 since the pandemic began.
The government’s coronavirus taskforce said that 368 people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the Russian death toll to 89,094.


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Updated 07 March 2021

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

  • It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment
  • Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts
MULTAN, Pakistan: Eight cars of a Lahore bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.
The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.
Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.
Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.
Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.

Khalilzad seeks support to shake up Afghan peace process, warring parties object

Updated 07 March 2021

Khalilzad seeks support to shake up Afghan peace process, warring parties object

  • Zalmay Khalilzad is on a visit to Kabul, Doha and other regional capitals, his first since under Joe Biden's administration
  • Peace negotiations in Doha are making little progress and violence in Afghanistan escalating

KABUL/ISLAMABAD/WASHINGTON: The US special envoy to Afghanistan proposed a shakeup of the stalled peace process this week, including an interim government and a conference of key players, according to diplomatic and political sources, but his plan faced immediate objections by the warring sides. 
Afghan-born US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad is on a visit to Kabul, Doha and other regional capitals, his first since US President Joe Biden’s administration began reviewing its options for the peace process and as time runs out before a May 1 US troop withdrawal deadline. 
With peace negotiations in the Qatari capital making little progress and violence in Afghanistan escalating, Khalilzad is trying to build consensus around alternative options with all Afghan sides and key regional players, sources said.
“(The United States) thinks Doha isn’t working and needs impetus and an alternate approach,” said one diplomatic source who closely follows the process.
In Kabul, Khalilzad met Abdullah Abdullah, the chief peace envoy, President Ashraf Ghani and other political and civil society leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai.
Three diplomatic sources, two sources on the teams of political leaders who met with Khalilzad and two international sources in Kabul said one of the envoy’s main proposals was an interim government arrangement, referred to as a participatory or representative government.
A former Afghan government official familiar with the matter said Khalilzad shared a document detailing the power-sharing proposal and that it revised a paper he circulated in December.
Another proposal was a meeting with a similar format to the 2001 Bonn conference, to involve representatives from a wide range of Afghan parties meeting in person while international agencies and diplomats push them to a solution.
Anti-Taliban leaders met under international auspices in the German city of Bonn after the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the insurgents from power and agreed on a provisional administration and a roadmap for forming a permanent government and writing a new constitution.
“We’re considering a number of different ideas that might accelerate the process,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Friday.
“The United States is not making any formal proposals and is continuing to review all relevant options for future force posture — and all means all,” a State Department spokesperson said on Saturday. “Ambassador Khalilzad has discussed a range of ways to move the diplomacy forward, nothing more.”
The two international sources said Khalilzad is asking the United Nations to take a lead role and call the conference.
Spokespeople for the UN mission in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two of the sources said the conference could be held in Turkey, but a third cautioned that location might meet resistance from Western nations and other countries including Germany and Uzbekistan were being considered.

CHALLENGES AHEAD
Khalilzad’s plans immediately encountered objections from both the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Ghani made a fiery speech in Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday, repeating his refusal to step aside for an interim government. “Any institution can write a fantasy on a piece of paper and suggest a solution for Afghanistan” he said, warning any transfer of power would have to take place through elections as required by the constitution.
Two international officials in Kabul said Ghani’s fierce opposition would be a problem for the plan.
“The problem here is that Ghani can blame the United States directly ... by challenging his legitimacy and considering an interim government it implies they are undermining the democratic process,” one of the officials said.
A Taliban leader in Doha who spoke on condition of anonymity said Khalilzad raised the possibility of an interim government and a conference with the insurgents’ negotiating team, as well as asking for a cease-fire or reduction in violence by 60-70%.
“Khalilzad has come with some ideas and his top agenda is the intra-Afghan dialogue to deliver some tangible results and very soon,” he said.
He said the Taliban would not join an interim government, but was not opposed to one being formed.
“We would recommend people with a good reputation for the interim government and this set up would need to work for at least two years to depoliticize all the government departments, including the security establishment,” he said.
They could consider the reduction in violence, but not a cease-fire, the Taliban leader said, and had asked Khalilzad to pressure the Afghan government to release 7,000 more Taliban prisoners.
“We don’t believe any other conference in any country would help resolve the Afghan conflict,” he said.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said they had not yet seen the plan, but if an alternative to talks in Qatar was sought, “it is doomed to failure.”
Two sources said Khalilzad was expected to visit Islamabad, Pakistan, a key player in the peace process, on his trip.
The envoy was the architect under President Donald Trump’s administration of a February 2020 deal between Washington and the Taliban, which envisaged the Afghan government and Taliban negotiating a peace agreement and setting a final withdrawal of foreign forces by May 1.