Turkey to send delegation to Egypt in May, foreign ministers to meet later

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says ‘conditions’ between Ankara and Cairo ‘have matured and meetings could continue. (AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Turkey to send delegation to Egypt in May, foreign ministers to meet later

  • Ankara ramps up a push to repair strained ties with Cairo after years of animosity

ANKARA: Turkey will send a delegation led by its deputy foreign minister to Egypt in early May, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday, as Ankara ramps up a push to repair strained ties with Cairo after years of animosity.
Last month, Turkey said it had resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wanted to further cooperation, eight years after ties crumbled over the Egyptian army toppling a Muslim Brotherhood president close to Ankara in 2013.
A thaw in ties between the regional powerhouses could have repercussions around the Mediterranean. They have backed rival sides in the war in Libya and sealed conflicting maritime deals with other coastal states. But Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that a new period was beginning in Turkey-Egypt ties.
Speaking in an interview with broadcaster NTV, Cavusoglu said Cairo had invited the Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in the first week of May to discuss ties. He added that a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whom he spoke to at the weekend, would take place after those talks.
“The Egyptian side invited a delegation from Turkey to their country in the first week of May. The conditions between us have matured, meetings could continue,” Cavusoglu said.
Cairo has said Turkey’s actions “must show alignment with Egyptian principles” to normalize ties. Last month, Ankara asked Egyptian opposition TV channels operating in Turkey to moderate their criticism of Cairo, in the first concrete step aimed at easing diplomatic tensions.


From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

Updated 13 May 2021

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

  • Shahwani and Rodini are physics students at the University of Balochistan
  • Say the self-funded robot took them six months to make from scratch with ‘zero support’

QUETTA: It’s an unlikely trio in an unlikely place-- two smart young Baloch students stand proudly outside their university in Quetta with an all-white, five feet, four inches tall humanoid robot between them. 
Aziz Ullah Shahwani, 24, and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini, 25, are students of physics at the University of Balochistan, and the robot they created, named Bolani, is their final project.
“I didn’t take any interest in technology-related experiments till I graduated school due to the absence of a physics teacher in my native district Kalat... but when I came to the University of Balochistan for my master’s degree in physics I decided to invent something new, something no other student in the history of UoB has done,” Shahwani told Arab News, as he proudly unveiled Bolani outside the Physics department of his university.

Five feet, four inches tall humanoid robot Bolani is ready for a walk at the Physics Department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, May 4, 2021. (AN photo)

Coming from the remote Kalat and Sorab districts in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province, Shahwani and Rodini are largely self-taught, and said they had received close to no financial support during their endeavour from their university or the government of Balochistan.
The two boys from these distant Pakistani towns worked for six months to conquer the impossible, working on advanced 3D softwares, even welding and painting the body of their robot themselves.
“While making Bolani, I learned the use of new software and 3D printing,” Shahwani said. 
“Because I have designed Bolani by myself on solid work software, it was an unforgettable experience,” he continued.
Bolani is named after the famed mountain pass Bolan, roughly 127 km from the capital Quetta, south of the Hindu Kush mountains. 
For now, Bolani can move forward and backward, he can move his eyes, neck and jaw and can shake hands with human beings when Shahwani, gives him the command through an app installed in his mobile phone.

Aziz Ullah Shahwani and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini check Bolani's circuits at a lab of the Physics Department of the University of Balochistan, Quetta, May 4, 2021. (AN photo)

Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini who assisted Aziz in building Bolani, said they wanted to create something new instead of submitting research papers like everybody else.
“We took assistance and guidance from our professors because after thorough searching we couldn’t find the robotic circuits and motors in Quetta... later we installed locally purchased motors in order to finalize Bolani,” Rodini told Arab News.
“Bolani cost us Rs.50,000 ($326) and due to the lack of financial assistance, we used iron and steel to shape the humanoid robot,” Rodini said. He added there had been ‘zero support’ from the university’s higher authorities and provincial government.
Shahwani and Rodini are now planning to upgrade Bolani with additional features like voice and face recognition censors that will allow the robot to talk.
Professor Ajab Khan Kasi, head of the physics department at the University of Balochistan supervised the students while they built Bolani and said their creation was a ‘milestone’ in the history of the university.
“It took six months to complete the robot and during this period, Aziz and Mukhtiar have done all the processes with their own hands... even the welding, coloring and mechanical work on Bolani,” Professor Kasi told Arab News.
“The humanoid robot has been working in 9 degree freedom which allows him to move his hands, neck and eyes,” he said.

Bolani can move his eyes, jaw and neck on commands sent to him via Bluetooth. (AN photo)

For now, Shahwani has said he will upgrade Bolani by installing motion sensors, and aims to continue his studies. He said he is now looking for support from the government and his university. 
But until that happens, he said, the two of them would not feel disappointed.
“Because we are inspired by Pakistan’s Nobel prize laureate Dr. Abdul Salam and the young Dr. Yar Jan Baloch who works as a space scientist in Cambridge University,” he added.
“We are following in their footsteps.”

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Updated 14 May 2021

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

BANGKOK, Thailand: Beaten, kicked in the groin and threatened with sexual violence — a young Myanmar teenager detained by the junta’s security forces has described the treatment suffered by some women and girls behind bars.
Shwe Yamin Htet, 17, and her mother were arrested on April 14 in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, which has been blanketed with heavy security since the military seized power in a coup.
As they were walking to a friend’s house from a morning protest, she said, they were stopped by two security trucks.
“They forced us to crouch face-down on the ground,” Shwe Yamin Htet told AFP.
The high school student then faced six days of fear and anxiety, held with women who alleged torture and abuse by police behind closed doors.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she herself had to endure a police officer molesting her during an interrogation session.
The teenager was released on April 20, but her mother was not as fortunate — Sandar Win was instead taken to Yangon’s Insein prison.
“My mother is my only family,” she said. “I’m very worried for her safety and life.”
To secure her release, she said, she had to sign documents saying she suffered “no torture” behind bars.
“It’s the opposite of what they have done,” Shwe Yamin Htet said. “It is totally unacceptable and unfair.”

Political prisoners
Her mother is among more than 3,800 civilians arrested and still languishing behind bars since the February 1 coup, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Little is known about the conditions of detainees across Myanmar, as those released rarely speak out about it.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she and her mother were taken first to a local police station where they were questioned separately.
“I was touched by a police officer, who told me he could kill me and make me disappear,” she said.
“If I didn’t push his hand away, I’m sure he would have continued.”
She added that her mother was slapped twice during her interrogation.
The following day, they were taken to a detention center on Yangon’s northern outskirts where they met other women, some of whom had bruises all over their bodies.
One of them — a woman who had been in a relationship with a foreigner — was beaten so badly she could barely talk or eat, Shwe Yamin Htet said.
“We had to feed her fried egg and rice,” she said. “She told us she couldn’t urinate because her women parts had been kicked during the interrogation.”
The National Unity Government — an underground group of ousted lawmakers opposing the junta — has announced it is investigating the “allegations of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in unlawful detention.”
“These cases are indicative of the wider pattern of sexual and gender-based violence committed by Myanmar’s military that has persisted for years with impunity, particularly against ethnic minority women and girls in armed conflict areas,” it said in a statement.

Rights and dignity violated
Another woman held in the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet recalled similar experiences.
Ngwe Thanzin — a pseudonym to protect her identity — told AFP she and four others were protesting in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township when they were arrested.
“I was kicked in my face for having a black mask in my bag,” she said, adding that security forces also yelled misogynistic abuse at them.
The women were then taken to the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet, where Ngwe Thanzin said she was handcuffed so tightly it left marks on her wrists.
“They also threatened us saying they could kill us and make us disappear without anyone knowing it,” she told AFP.
During her three-night detention, she said she saw a 19-year-old girl bruised so badly she could barely stand.
“They don’t beat or torture in front of other people. But when people were individually interrogated, they came out with bruises.”
AFP was unable to independently verify the allegations made by Shwe Yamin Htet and Ngwe Thanzin.
Repeated attempts to contact the junta spokesman for a response went unanswered.
And junta-appointed Minister of Social Welfare Thet Thet Khine — who chairs a National Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence in Conflict — could not be reached for comment.
Ngwe Thanzin said the least the junta could do was have female security personnel available to interrogate them, instead of men.
“All our rights and dignity were violated and abused,” she said.
“Since we have no rights, I felt we were like water in their hands.”

As poverty bites, Lebanese give up their pets

Updated 14 May 2021

As poverty bites, Lebanese give up their pets

BEIRUT: Ibrahim Al-Dika had raised his Belgian shepherd Lexi since she was a tiny pup, but then Lebanon’s economic crisis made him jobless and he had to sell her to repay a bank loan.
“It got to the point where I was no longer able to feed her, the bank was pressuring me, and I hit a wall,” said the 26-year-old, devastated beside her empty kennel outside his Beirut home.
“I didn’t sell a car or a telephone. I sold a soul. I sold a part of me.”
Can you afford to keep your pet? Animal activists say this is a dilemma a growing number of Lebanese owners are facing as their purchasing power nosedives.
Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost their jobs or seen their income reduced to a pittance due to Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades.
As many families struggle to stay afloat, activists say increasingly more pet owners are asking for help to feed or re-home their animals, selling them, or in the worst cases abandoning them.
Dika, after losing his father to illness, was laid off last year when his employer, a fashion retailer, closed shop, affecting his ability to support his mother and brother.
He had spent around a year caring for Lexi, and training her to sit, heel, give him the paw, and play dead.
But when the bank started calling, he saw no option other than to sell her.
He drove over a few days later to check in on her, and Lexi thought he had come to take her home.
“She leapt straight into my car,” he said. “She broke my heart the way she looked at me.”
With more than half of Lebanon’s population now living in poverty, many Lebanese have to depend on non-governmental organizations to get by — even to feed their pets.
Amal Ramadan, 39, said she used to make donations to animal charity PAW. But these days it is her receiving free bags of food from them for her pit bull and bichon, Nelly and Fluffy.
Her monthly salary working in car rental, once equivalent to $1,000, is now worth just $120 because of the Lebanese currency’s sharp devaluation.
“I don’t have enough income to feed my pets,” said the widowed mother of two, who has taken on extra work to make ends meet.
Ramadan said she would rather starve than give up Nelly and Fluffy.
But as the price of imported pet food, meat and veterinary care soars, activists said some other animals have not been so lucky.
At the Woof N’ Wags dog shelter in southern Lebanon, volunteer Ghada Al-Khateeb watched a female dog lying on her side, breathing weakly under a grubby white coat, after she was rescued from the local trash dump.
She said pet abandonments were on the rise.
“Nobody can afford to feed their dogs anymore,” said the 32-year-old hairdresser and divorced mother of twins.
“When they come to hand them over, they tell us: ‘our children are our priority’.”
The shelter’s founder, 28-year-old Joe Okdjian, said he was in desperate need of more donations.
“Sometimes they go a day or two without food,” he said of the 90 dogs already in his care.
As Lebanon’s economy crumbles, people’s fates are mirrored in those of their pets.
In the capital, rescuer Soraya Mouawad said two or three people a week were asking her to re-home their animal.
They say they are emigrating, moving into a smaller home, or can no longer look after them “for personal reasons,” said the founder of Animals Pride and Freedom.
Many young professionals have fled Lebanon since 2019, especially after a massive explosion in Beirut last summer killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of the city.
Dedicated activists are working to ensure dozens of pets can also emigrate.
In one room at the Animals Lebanon shelter in Beirut, two cats lay in their beds.
One of them, Hips, was hit by a car in February and is paralyzed below the waist. The other, Edward, was dumped in a box in the street in November and appears to suffer from an allergy.
Soon, the charity said, Hips and Edward are set to travel to a new life in the United States.

King Salman prays for ‘continued security and stability’

Updated 14 May 2021

King Salman prays for ‘continued security and stability’

  • All mosques and prayer areas maintain full health protocols

JEDDAH: King Salman performed Eid prayers in NEOM on Thursday. 

Earlier, he extended greetings to Saudi citizens and residents and Muslims all over the world.

In a tweet on Thursday, the king said: “We thank God Almighty for making the blessed Eid Al-Fitr a sign of good and satisfaction after completing the fasting and prayers of Ramadan. 

“Eid carries hope, optimism, and happiness, and we pray to God to cleanse the entire world of all evil, protect us from harm, and grant us continued security, stability, and tranquility.”

The king said this Eid is an occasion to overcome the ordeal that the world has suffered from the health, social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

King Salman said he was “optimistic about the positive steps in place to achieve stability in the Arab world, so that security and prosperity prevail for all parts of the globe.”

“Combating this pandemic that has befallen the world requires all of us to adhere to the health measures announced by the Ministry of Health, including social distancing, and the need to receive the vaccine, which will work to immunize our dear community of citizens and residents,” the king said.

Mask-clad worshippers entered Makkah’s Grand Mosque along socially distanced paths to offer Eid prayer. Worshippers at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah also followed COVID-19 protocols.

As Saudi families gathered to celebrate the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, the Kingdom’s health minister urged people to follow official health precautions to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“I need your attention on your Eid. Be careful, refrain from shaking hands completely, be sure to practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings,” Tawfiq Al-Rabiah tweeted on the eve of festivities.

“Go to the Eid prayer with your own prayer mat, wear the mask constantly, sanitize your hands before and after receiving or giving Eidiya, and leave a safe distance between you and others,” he added. The minister also warned parents not to allow children to hug or kiss their grandparents, saying that such practices may endanger older members of the family.

Worshippers across the Kingdom performed Eid Al-Fitr prayers in 20,569 mosques and open-air prayer areas set up by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance.

Mosques and prayer areas were equipped with facilities in accordance with the health protocols approved by the authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The imams spoke during the Eid sermon about the blessing of completing fasting and praying qiyaam, and the importance of the continuation of good deeds after Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported 11 more COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday. The death toll now stands at 7,122.

The Health Ministry reported 1,116 new cases, meaning that 430,505 people have now contracted the disease. There are 9,244 remaining active cases, 1,344 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 377 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 320 in Makkah, 134 in the Eastern Province and 71 in Madinah. In addition, 1,129 patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries to 414,139.

Saudi Arabia so far has conducted 17,812,376 PCR tests, with 71,457 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,195,164 people inoculated so far.

OIC: Continuing Houthi attacks against civilian targets tantamount to war crimes

Updated 14 May 2021

OIC: Continuing Houthi attacks against civilian targets tantamount to war crimes

  • The OIC announced on Thursday that it will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, at the request of Saudi Arabia, to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly condemned the “cowardly, hostile action” by terrorist Houthi militias in Yemen, which on Thursday launched eight drones and three ballistic missiles at civilian targets in the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government said it intercepted and destroyed the drones and missiles before they reached their targets.

OIC Secretary-General Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the coalition forces for their vigilance and professionalism in responding to the Houthi’s attack, which took place on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

“The continued launch of ballistic missiles and drones toward civilians and civilian objects is considered war crimes, and a flagrant defiance of international laws, customs and agreements,” he said.

He also reiterated the OIC’s solidarity with the Kingdom in all the steps Saudi authorities take to deter Houthi aggression and protect civilians.

Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international-relations scholar, told Arab News: “This is a particularly special day for Muslims, Eid Al-Fitr, and all Muslims are also preoccupied by what is happening in Palestine.

“We always hear Iran making threats, but instead of standing with Palestine it is targeting Makkah, Madinah and the Kingdom. This demonstrates the Houthi’s futility, and the extent of Tehran’s malice and how it is always standing with the Houthi forces.

“As we’ve seen, such events are always against civilians. Iran and the Iran-backed Houthi militias have their weapons aimed at civilians because they want civilian victims.” Al-Shehri added: “These are war crimes. The global community should do something, especially about the hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones. The world is only watching.” Meanwhile, the OIC announced on Thursday that it will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, at the request of Saudi Arabia, to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza. The meeting of the foreign ministers of OIC member nations will address the continuing Israeli attacks in the Palestinian territories, which have escalated since Monday.

Israeli troops were massing at the Gaza border on Thursday. Meanwhile Hamas targeted Israel with rocket attacks. The increasingly intense hostilities have caused international concern and provoked clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

With fears growing that the violence could spiral out of control into full-blown war, the US announced on Wednesday it is sending an envoy, Hady Amr, to the region.