France closes Paris mosque in clampdown over teacher’s beheading

The Grand Mosque de Pantin, which will close following a request by the prefect, in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, October 20, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2020

France closes Paris mosque in clampdown over teacher’s beheading

  • The mosque in a densely-populated suburb northeast of Paris had published a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder
  • Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously bestowed France’s highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour

PARIS: French authorities said Tuesday they would close a Paris mosque in a clampdown on radicalism that has yielded over a dozen arrests following the beheading of a teacher who had shown his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The mosque in a densely-populated suburb northeast of Paris had published a video on its Facebook page days before Friday’s gruesome murder, railing against teacher Samuel Paty’s choice of material for a class discussion on freedom of expression, said a source close to the investigation.

The interior ministry said the mosque in Pantin, which has some 1,500 worshippers, would be shut on Wednesday night for six months.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has vowed there would be “not a minute’s respite for enemies of the Republic.”

The order came after police on Monday launched a series of raids targeting extremist networks, mainly in the Paris region.

Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from the junior high school where he taught in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the capital.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov, who also posted images of the decapitated body on Twitter.
Anzorov was shot dead by police.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said Tuesday that Paty would be posthumously bestowed France’s highest order of merit, the Legion of Honour, for having been “martyred” because of his profession.

The murder was preceded by a fierce online campaign against Paty and the school, led by the father of a schoolgirl.

The school said Paty had given Muslim pupils the choice to leave the classroom.

The father who posted the video shared by the Pantin mosque is among 15 people arrested after the killing, along with a known radical and four members of Anzorov’s family.

Darmanin accused the father and the radical of having issued a “fatwa” against the teacher.

On Tuesday, the head of the Pantin mosque, M’hammed Henniche, said he had shared the video not to “validate” the complaint about the cartoons, but out of fear that Muslim children were singled out in class.

Four pupils suspected of accepting payment for pointing Paty out to his killer were also taken into custody Monday.

Junior interior minister Marlene Schiappa was to meet the French bosses of social media networks Tuesday to discuss bolstering the “fight against cyber-extremism.”

Paty’s killing has drawn parallels with the 2015 massacre at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people, including cartoonists, were gunned down for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Tens of thousands of people took part in rallies countrywide on Sunday to honor Paty and defend freedom of expression, while Muslim leaders gathered at his school Monday to offer condolences and distance their religion from the atrocity.

French President Emmanuel Macron threatened that “fear is about to change sides” in the new anti-extremist campaign.

Paty’s beheading was the second knife attack since a trial started last month over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

In the September attack, two people were wounded outside the publication’s former offices.

A silent march is planned for Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Tuesday evening in homage to Paty, while parliament will observe a minute of silence in the afternoon.

Macron will attend an official homage with Paty’s family Wednesday at the Sorbonne university.

Blanquer added that schools countrywide will observe a minute’s silence for Paty when pupils return after the autumn break, and a special lesson on the recent events will be taught in all classes.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti on Tuesday denied there had been any failure on the part of intelligence services.

“This is an insidious war,” he told France Inter. “There is organized terrorism that is monitored by our services, and then there is a young man of 18 who was not on the radar of the intelligence services and who committed this abominable act.”

Meanwhile, Paris prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into a French neo-Nazi website hosted abroad that republished the photo of Paty’s decapitated corpse posted to Twitter by the killer.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Updated 33 min 16 sec ago

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

Updated 38 min 59 sec ago

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.


US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

Updated 20 April 2021

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

  • Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions

MOSCOW: Washington’s envoy to Moscow will return to the United States for consultations, the US embassy said on Tuesday, after Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions.
“Ambassador Sullivan is returning to the United States for consultations this week,” the US diplomatic mission in Moscow said in a statement sent to AFP, quoting the envoy as saying he needed to “speak directly” with senior officials on the state of US-Russia relations.


Cooperate despite ‘genocide’? Biden tests ties with China, Russia

Updated 20 April 2021

Cooperate despite ‘genocide’? Biden tests ties with China, Russia

  • Climate envoy John Kerry issued a joint statement with China saying the two nations are “committed to cooperating with each other”

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden’s administration accuses China of genocide but reached a joint pledge to cooperate on climate. The White House is also working to arrange a summit with Russia, despite imposing harsh new sanctions.

Biden’s strategy is not about easing tensions, so often the stated goal of diplomacy, but identifying narrow areas to work together — especially on climate change — while acknowledging that much of the relationship will remain hostile.

Biden alluded to America’s Cold War relationship with the Soviet Union last week after he ordered sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats as a way to impose costs over Moscow’s alleged interference in US elections and a major hacking operation.

“We want a stable, predictable relationship,” said Biden, who proposed a summit in a neutral country during a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin even while pressing him over the health of jailed dissident Alexei Navalny.

“Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control,” he said.

Biden’s relationship with China is guided by a similar philosophy — described, in a colloquial phrase popular in his White House, as being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a speech Monday, defended the approach from expected criticism by saying that no nation’s climate efforts would “excuse bad behavior.”

“Climate is not a trading card; it is our future,” Blinken said.

Climate envoy John Kerry, after a visit to Shanghai last week, issued a joint statement with China saying the two nations are “committed to cooperating with each other.”

However general in tone, it marked a stark contrast to a testy first meeting between top officials in March in Alaska, where Blinken raised concerns on a host of Chinese actions including what Washington has described as “genocide” against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people.

Biden has invited Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to a climate summit this week, with Kerry saying it would be tantamount to “killing yourself” not to work together on climate despite other disagreements.

Biden’s cool approach follows the highly personalized diplomacy of his predecessor Donald Trump, who voiced admiration for Putin and in his last year in office incessantly berated Beijing, which he blamed for the devastating Covid-19 pandemic.

Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who advised former president Barack Obama on China, detected a “gradual but significant shift” in the stance toward Beijing under Biden.

“His administration has dialed down the rhetorical heat and focused purposefully on concrete areas of the relationship where American interests are impacted by Chinese actions,” Hass said.

“Both sides also have slowly begun restoring direct functioning channels of diplomatic communication to address areas of concern and explore opportunities for coordination.”

China and the United States are the world’s top two economies and together account for half of global emissions responsible for climate change. Russia is the fourth biggest emitter and Putin has accepted an invitation to speak at the climate summit.

Putin’s decision to participate “signals that he, too, is interested in preserving some space in the fraught US-Russian relationship,” said Heather Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But, Conley said: “Speaking at a virtual summit and mitigating climate impacts are two very different things.”

“What is striking to me is that while both Beijing and Moscow are speaking the language of climate change before international audiences, at home, they are putting their foot on the accelerator to increase global carbon emissions,” she said, pointing to Russia’s fossil-fuel industry and China’s reliance on coal plants.

In a recent essay, Andrew Erickson, a China expert at the US Naval War College, and Gabriel Collins of Rice University argued that the United States should look to compete rather than coordinate with China on climate. They said the United States could champion a carbon tax on exports — already backed by the European Union — to force China to cut back on coal.

“Xi’s bullish talk of combating climate change is a smokescreen for a more calculated agenda,” they wrote in Foreign Affairs.

“Chinese policymakers know their country is critical to any comprehensive international effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and they are trying to use that leverage to advance Chinese interests in other areas.”