Deaths after hotel attack in Somali capital

Debris remain at the blast site from a suicide car bombing attack from the day before at the side of Afrik Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Feb. 1, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 01 February 2021

Deaths after hotel attack in Somali capital

  • A suicide car bombing on Sunday evening was followed by a shootout between Al-Shabab militants and security forces at the Hotel Afrik
  • Al-Shabab insurgency carries out regular gun and bomb attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia

MOGADISHU: Nine people died after Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents stormed a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu, battling security forces until the early hours of Monday, a police spokesman said.
A suicide car bombing on Sunday evening was followed by a shootout between Al-Shabab militants and security forces at the Hotel Afrik.
“The operation is over now. Nine people including four attackers died and over 10 civilians were injured,” Sadik Ali, told reporters from the scene and via Facebook.
The attack on a hotel in the heart of the heavily fortified city comes as Somali politicians wrangle acrimoniously over delayed elections and follows the withdrawal of around 700 US military personnel last month.
The US troops were largely supporting Somali special forces known as Danaab who are skilled at complex operations against high level Al-Shabab targets.
They also enjoyed considerable support from the Americans, including air support and medical evacuations, and some Somali politicians have raised fears the pullout ordered by US President Donald Trump could weaken the fight against al Shabab.
The insurgency has battled since 2008 to overthrow Somalia’s internationally-backed central government and establish its rule, based on its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
It carries out regular gun and bomb attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia.
It has also vowed to disrupt national elections, which were scheduled to begin in December but have been delayed after the opposition accused the president of packing the electoral board with his allies. Newly appointed legislators were meant to pick a president on Feb. 8, but even the elections for lawmakers have yet to be held.
Times of political turmoil have also traditionally provided a boost to the insurgency, as security chiefs may be ordered to concentrate on political rivals rather than Al-Shabab.
Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble said in a statement that former military general Mohamed Nur Galal was among those killed in Monday’s attack.
“I condemn the barbaric attack,” he said. “General Mohamed Nur Galal will be remembered for his over 50 year role in defending the country.”

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India's top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary on Modi

Updated 8 sec ago

India's top court to consider cases against block on BBC documentary on Modi

  • At least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in 2002 riots in India's Gujarat state
  • The documentary alleges Modi had ordered police to turn a blind eye while he was CM

NEW DELHI: India's Supreme Court will consider petitions next week against a government order blocking the sharing of clips of a BBC documentary that questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership during riots in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat. 

The government has dismissed as a biased "propaganda piece" the film released last week, titled "India: The Modi Question", and blocked the sharing of any clips from it on social media. 

The Supreme Court will take up the petitions next week, Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said in court on Monday. 

A New Delhi-based lawyer, M L Sharma, opposed the government's move in one of the petitions to the Supreme Court. 

A separate petition by lawyer Prashant Bhushan, journalist N. Ram and opposition politician Mahua Moitra focused on the order to take down social media links to the documentary. 

In a Twitter comment on the second petition, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, "This is how they waste the precious time of the Honourable Supreme Court, where thousands of common citizens are waiting and seeking dates for justice." 

Modi, who aims for a third term in elections next year, was chief minister of Gujarat in February 2002, when a suspected Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. 

The incident sparked one of the worst outbreaks of religious bloodshed in independent India. 

In reprisal attacks across the state at least 1,000 people were killed, most of them Muslim, as crowds roamed the streets for days, targeting the religious minority. But activists put the toll at more than twice that, at about 2,500. 

Modi has denied accusations that he did not do enough to stop the riots. He was exonerated in 2012 following an inquiry overseen by the Supreme Court and a petition questioning his exoneration was dismissed last year. 

The BBC has said the documentary was "rigorously researched" and involved a wide range of voices and opinions, including responses from people in Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. 


WHO says COVID-19 still an international emergency

Updated 15 min 38 sec ago

WHO says COVID-19 still an international emergency

  • WHO chief had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over

GENEVA: Three years to the day after the World Health Organization sounded the highest level of global alert over COVID-19, it said Monday the pandemic remains an international emergency.
The UN health agency’s emergency committee on Covid-19 met last Friday for a 14th time since the start of the crisis.
Following that meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus “concurs with the advice offered by the committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” the organization said in a statement.
Tedros, it said, “acknowledges the committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences.”
Even prior to the meeting, the WHO chief had suggested the emergency phase of the pandemic is not over, pointing to surging numbers of deaths and warning that the global response to the crisis “remains hobbled.”
“As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better position now than we were a year ago, when the omicron wave was at its peak, and more than 70,000 deaths were being reported to WHO each week,” he told the committee at the start of Friday’s meeting.
Tedros said the weekly death rate had dropped below 10,000 in October but had been rising again since the start of December, while the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in China had led to a spike in deaths.
In mid-January, almost 40,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths were reported — more than half of them in China — while the true toll “is certainly much higher,” he said.
The WHO first declared a so-called PHEIC as what was then called the novel coronavirus began to spread outside China on January 30, 2020.
Though declaring a PHEIC is the internationally agreed mechanism for triggering a global response to such outbreaks, it was only after Tedros described the worsening COVID-19situation as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, that many countries realized the danger.
Globally, more than 752 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported to the WHO, including more than 6.8 million deaths, though the United Nations’ health agency always stresses that the true numbers are likely much higher.


At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan's Peshawar — officials

Updated 2 min 31 sec ago

At least 17 killed, dozens injured in blast targeting mosque in Pakistan's Peshawar — officials

  • The explosion occurred when worshippers were offering prayers inside the Police Lines mosque
  • Lady Reading Hospital management urges Peshawar residents to donate blood for the wounded Rehmat Mehsud

ISLAMABAD: At least 17 people were killed and dozens of others injured after a blast targeted a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, officials said on Monday, fearing an increase in the number of casualties. 

The blast occurred inside the mosque at the Police Lines in Peshawar's sensitive Red Zone area, according to Faizan Khan, a spokesman for Rescue 1122 service. Pakistan's Geo News channel reported. 

The incident took place at a time when a large number of worshippers were offering prayers inside the mosque. The injured persons were being shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). 

"So far 17 dead bodies and more than 60 injured persons have been brought to the hospital," Muhammad Asim, an LRH spokesman, told reporters in Peshawar. 

The LRH management has imposed an emergency at the hospital and requested citizens to donate blood as a large number of wounded persons were under treatment at the hospital. 

Akbar Khan, an official of the Edhi Foundation rescue service, said the blast was so powerful that it brought down the roof of the mosque.  

"Most of the people are trapped under the rubble and the number of casualties could increase," he said. 

Television footage showed several ambulances rushing to the site of the explosion, the exact nature of which has yet to be ascertained. 

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast, but the Pakistani Taliban have previously claimed such attacks in Pakistan's northwest. 

Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has witnessed an uptick in militant attacks in recent months, particularly after the Pakistani Taliban ended their months-long ceasefire with the government in Islamabad in November last year. 

The group has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past one and a half decade, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members in government custody, and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions.


Gandhi's killer a hero to India's diehard Hindu nationalists 

Updated 30 January 2023

Gandhi's killer a hero to India's diehard Hindu nationalists 

  • Gandhi, who is celebrated the world over as an apostle of non-violent struggle, was gunned down 75 years ago
  • For generations, Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse was roundly despised as archvillain of India's freedom struggle

MEERUT: Hindu fundamentalist Ashok Sharma has devoted his life to championing the deeds of an Indian "patriot": not revered independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, but the man who shot him dead. 

Sharma is the custodian of a temple dedicated to Nathuram Godse, who 75 years ago this Monday on January 30, 1948, gunned down a figure celebrated the world over as an apostle of non-violent struggle. 

For generations, the young religious zealot – hanged the following year – was roundly despised as the archvillain of India's long struggle to free itself from British colonial rule. 

But since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi nearly a decade ago, an alternate history forged in Hindu nationalist ideology has left Sharma no longer a "lone warrior" in worshipping the assassin. 

"I was ostracised by everyone, including my family and friends... but today I command respect for being Godse's disciple," he told AFP at his shrine in the bustling city of Meerut, a couple of hours from New Delhi by car. 

"There is a wind of change in the country and people have understood that Godse was the real patriot and Gandhi a traitor." 

Sharma established his unremarkable temple complex in 2015, a year after Modi took office, after several unsuccessful attempts under previous governments that saw him briefly jailed and his property seized. 

Its inauguration was met with outrage and hand-wringing in the press, renewed in 2019 when it marked the anniversary of Gandhi's death with a staged re-enactment of the killing using an effigy that spurted fake blood. 

Now the humble shrine, featuring small ceramic busts of Godse and his chief accomplice Narayan Apte, is visited by droves of people – some out of curiosity, but most to pay their respects. 

Sharma and his followers hold daily prayers in front of the Godse idol, chanting religious sermons that accuse Gandhi of betraying the nation despite his role in mobilising the mass protests that brought India's independence. 

In their view, Gandhi failed to stop Britain's colony from being partitioned into the separate nations of India and Pakistan, thwarting it from becoming a state governed by ancient Hindu scriptures. 

"It is because of Gandhi and his ideology that India was divided and Hindus had to bow before Muslims and outsiders," said Abhishek Agarwal, like Sharma a member of the century-old radical Hindu Mahasabha group. 

School students scatter flowers on the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on his death anniversary in Hyderabad on January 30, 2023. (AFP)

Agarwal said that Godse was denigrated by post-independence secular politicians in a conspiracy to suppress Hindu beliefs and impose democracy, a concept he claims is alien to local historical tradition. 

"But now Gandhi is exposed and Godse's word is spreading far and wide. The secular leaders cannot stop this storm and there will be a time when Gandhi's name will be wiped out from the pious land," he told AFP. 

Godse was born in a small Indian village in 1910, the son of a postal worker, and at a very young age joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a still-prominent Hindu revivalist outfit whose members conduct paramilitary drills and prayer meetings. 

He was 37 years old when he shot Gandhi at point-blank range as the latter emerged from a multi-faith prayer meeting in New Delhi. 

At the time, authorities briefly banned the RSS -- despite its leaders claiming that Godse left the organisation before the crime -- but reversed course not long before the killer was executed alongside an accomplice. 

Today, the RSS has continued relevance as the ideological fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which it founded to champion Hindu causes in the political realm. 

Decades before he became India's leader, Prime Minister Modi's first role in public life was as an RSS cadre. 

Modi has regularly paid respect to Gandhi as one of the 20th century's most venerated figures, visiting his spiritual retreat and speaking movingly about his ideals and legacy. 

He has refrained from weighing in on efforts by nationalist activists to rehabilitate the legacy of Gandhi's assassin -- to the disappointment of Sharma and his acolytes. 

But he has also never explicitly denounced Godse or his ideology, and his government has championed the work of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an important Hindu ideologue who served as Godse's mentor and was tried alongside him but acquitted as a co-conspirator in the assassination. 

Modi has proved adept at channelling India's growing tide of Hindu nationalism after coming to power in 2014, invoking the glorious past of India's majority religion and promising to end its "persecution". 

His departure from the secular values of his predecessors has been watched with dismay by Gandhi's great-grandson Tushar, an author living in Mumbai. 

Tushar told AFP that Godse's veneration was the direct result of an ideology espoused by Modi's government that risked sowing the "seeds of our destruction". 

"For too long we've been too diplomatic and a bit generous in equating it as nationalism. It's not nationalism, it is fanaticism," he said. 

"Our hate will devour us. If we have to survive, then somewhere the venom of hate will have to be expunged." 


Ukraine calls for faster weapons supplies as Russia presses eastern offensive

Updated 30 January 2023

Ukraine calls for faster weapons supplies as Russia presses eastern offensive

  • Three killed in Russian strikes on Kherson, says governor
  • Zelensky presses Macron to ban Russia from Paris Games

KYIV, Ukraine: Russian missile strikes killed three people in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson while fighting raged in the eastern Donetsk region where Russia again shelled the key town of Vuhledar, Ukrainian officials said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine was facing a difficult situation in Donetsk and needed faster weapons supplies and new types of weaponry, just days after allies agreed to provide Kyiv with heavy battle tanks.
“The situation is very tough. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region — there are constant Russian attacks,” Zelensky said in a video address late on Sunday.
“Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies and open up new weapons options for Ukraine.”
Three people were killed and six injured on Sunday by Russian strikes on Kherson that damaged a hospital and a school, the regional administration said.
Russian troops had occupied Kherson shortly after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and held the city until Ukrainian forces recaptured it in November. Since its liberation, the city has regularly been shelled from Russian positions across the Dnipro river.

A view of an apartment building severely damaged by a Russian missile in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on January 30, 2023. (REUTERS)

Later on Sunday a missile struck an apartment building in the northeastern town of Kharkiv, killing an elderly woman, regional Governor Oleh Synehubov said.
A Reuters picture from the scene showed fire engulfing part of a residential building in the country’s second most-populous city.
Russia on Saturday accused the Ukrainian military of deliberately striking a hospital in a Russian-held area of eastern Ukraine, killing 14 people. There was no response to the allegations from Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement late on Sunday that Russian forces had shelled Bakhmut, the focus of Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donetsk region, as well as Vuhledar to the southwest where fighting has intensified in recent days.
Ukrainian military analyst and colonel, Mykola Salamakha, told Ukrainian Radio NV that Russian troops were mounting waves of attacks on Vuhledar.
“From this location we control practically the entire rail system used by the Russians for logistics ... The town is on an upland and an extremely strong defensive hub has been created there,” he said.
“This is a repetition of the situation in Bakhmut — one wave of Russian troops after another crushed by the Ukrainian armed forces.”
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield reports.

Sunday’s civilian casualties came three days after at least 11 people were killed in missile strikes which were seen in Kyiv as the Kremlin’s response to pledges from Ukraine’s allies to supply battle tanks.
After weeks of wrangling, Germany and the United States last week said they would send Ukraine dozens of tanks to help push back Russian forces, opening the way for other countries to follow suit.
While a total of 321 heavy tanks had been promised to Ukraine by several countries, according to Kyiv’s ambassador to France, they could take months to appear on the battlefield.

Ukraine is keen to speed up the delivery of heavy weapons as both sides in the war are expected to launch spring offensives in the coming weeks.
Talks were also under way between Kyiv and its allies about Ukraine’s requests for long-range missiles, a top aide to Zelensky said on Saturday. Ukraine has also asked for US F16 fighter jets.

Olympics
Zelensky said he had sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron as part of his campaign to keep Russian athletes out of the Paris Olympic Games.
He said that allowing Russia to compete at the 2024 Paris Games would be tantamount to showing that “terror is somehow acceptable.”
“Attempts by the International Olympic Committee to bring Russian athletes back into the Olympic Games are attempts to tell the whole world that terror is somehow acceptable,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

Referring to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin when the Nazis were in power, he said: “The Olympic movement and terrorist states definitely should not cross paths.”
Russia, he said, must not be allowed to “use (the Games) or any other sport event as propaganda for its aggression or its state chauvinism.”
The International Olympic Committee said last week that it welcomed a proposal from the Olympic Council of Asia for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be given the chance to compete in Asia.
Russia says it launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine to fend off a hostile West and “denazify” the country. Ukraine and its allies say the invasion was an unprovoked act of aggression.