Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

A screengrab from a May 8, 2022, video shows Noor Mohammad departing for Makkah by bike from Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni, Afghanistan. (Social media)
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Updated 30 June 2022

Afghan pilgrim bicycling to Makkah reaches Saudi Arabia by air

  • Noor Mohammad, 48, departed from his home in Ghazni province in early May
  • He was stranded in Iran after failing to obtain Iraqi visa to continue journey by land

KABUL: A pilgrim from southeastern Afghanistan, who became a social media sensation when he embarked on a bicycle journey to Makkah last month, has reached Saudi Arabia, Afghan authorities said on Wednesday, after his expedition took a series of unexpected turns, including a sponsored flight.

Noor Mohammad departed from his home in Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province in early May, planning to cover more than 6,000 kilometers to reach the holy city of Islam by July and perform Hajj.

As he cycled through Afghanistan, a Taliban scholar offered him assistance in getting a plane ticket, but the 48-year-old refused, wanting to go the extra mile in fulfilling the sacred obligation.

Little did he know that soon the help would be needed when after three weeks he got stranded in Iran, trying to obtain an Iraqi visa in the border city of Khorramshahr.

“My Afghan friends promised to get me Iraq’s visa there,” Mohammad told Arab News, as he described his further attempts to get a Kuwaiti visa instead. Again, to no avail.

That was when he decided to reach out to the scholar.

“I had no other way. I contacted Shaikh Hammasi through WhatsApp,” he said. “He introduced me to an Afghan businessman who helped with the stay in Iran and return back to Kabul.”

A screengrab from a May 8, 2022, video shows Noor Mohammad departing for Makkah by bike from Layeq village, in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni, Afghanistan. (Social media)

In Kabul, he was immediately accepted for a Hajj preparation course, where officials took care of his departure. His flight was reportedly covered by acting Interior Minister Serajuddin Haqqani, a close aide of Anas Haqqani — the minister’s brother and senior Taliban leader — told Arab News.

“The ministry of Hajj processed my passport on an urgent basis,” Mohammad said, just days before leaving for Saudi Arabia.

He flew from Kabul on Tuesday, after all his travel documents were processed.

“His name was put on the first flight after that,” Mawlawi Israrulhaq, an official at the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, said. “He traveled to Jeddah from where he will join other Afghan Hajjis in Makkah.”

Mohammad was preparing for his flight days after a deadly earthquake wreaked havoc in eastern Afghanistan, killing an estimated 1,150 people last week.

He has been praying for the victims and said he would remember them too when he reached Makkah.

“As soon as I get to Makkah, I will pray to Allah to make it easy for the families who lost loved ones and their houses,” he added. “I am going to ask him to solve all problems of Afghans.”

At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

Updated 02 October 2022

At least 129 dead after riot at Indonesia football match

  • Arema FC supporters rioted after their team lost to the visiting team Persebaya Surabaya
  • Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, says police and rescuers

MALANG, Indonesia: At least 129 people died at a football stadium in Indonesia when thousands of fans invaded the pitch and police fired tear gas that triggered a stampede, authorities said Sunday.
The tragedy on Saturday night, in the eastern city of Malangm was one of the world’s deadliest sporting stadium disasters.
Arema FC supporters at the Kanjuruhan stadium stormed the pitch late on Saturday after their team lost 3-2 to the visiting team and bitter rivals, Persebaya Surabaya.
Police, who described the unrest as “riots,” said they tried to persuade fans to return to the stands and fired tear gas after two officers were killed.
Many of the victims were trampled or choked to death, according to police.
East Java police chief Nico Afinta said many people were crushed and suffocated when they ran to one exit.
He initially said a total of 127 people had died, but the toll was later raised to 129.
A hospital director told local TV that one of the victims was five years old.
Images captured from inside the stadium during the stampede showed huge amounts of tear gas and people clambering over fences.
People were carrying injured spectators through the chaos.

Video footage circulating on social media showed people shouting obscenities at police, who were holding riot shields.
The stadium holds 42,000 people and authorities said it was a sell-out, Police said 3,000 people stormed the pitch.
“We would like to convey that... not all of them were anarchic. Only about 3,000 who entered the pitch,” Afinta said.

Torched vehicles, including a police truck, littered the streets outside the stadium on Sunday morning. Police said 13 vehicles in total were damaged.
The Indonesian government apologized for the incident and promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding the stampede.
“This is a regrettable incident that ‘injures’ our football at a time when supporters can watch football matches from the stadium,” Indonesian Sports and Youth Minister Zainudin Amali told broadcaster Kompas.
“We will thoroughly evaluate the organization of the match and the attendance of supporters. Will we return to banning supporters from attending the matches? That is what we will discuss.”
Fan violence is an enduring problem in Indonesia, where deep rivalries have previously turned into deadly confrontations.
Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya are longtime rivals.

Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed to buy tickets for the game due to fears of violence.
However Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Mahfud MD, said organizers ignored the recommendation of authorities to hold the match in the afternoon instead of the evening.
And he said the government had recommended only 38,000 tickets be printed, but there was instead a sell-out crowd of 42,000.
“The government has made improvements to the implementation of football matches... and will continue to improve. But this sport, which is a favorite of the wider community, often provokes supporters to express emotions suddenly,” he said in an Instagram post.
The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) suspended football matches of Indonesia’s top league, BRI Liga 1, for one week.
It also banned Arema FC from hosting home games for the rest of the season and said it would send an investigation team to Malang to establish the cause of the crush.
“We’re sorry and apologize to families of the victims and all parties over the incident,” PSSI chairman Mochamad Iriawan said.
Indonesia is to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in May at six stadiums across the country. The Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang is not included in that list.
Other stadium disasters include a 1989 crush in the stands at Britain’s Hillsborough Stadium, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans, and the 2012 Port Said stadium tragedy in Egypt where 74 people died in clashes.
In 1964, 320 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during a stampede at a Peru-Argentina Olympic qualifier at Lima’s National Stadium.

Stampede at Indonesian football match leaves nearly 200 dead

Updated 31 min 36 sec ago

Stampede at Indonesian football match leaves nearly 200 dead

  • Rights groups call for investigation as Indonesia set to host FIFA U-20 World Cup
  • Stampede occurred after police used tear gas to control crowd

JAKARTA: Nearly 200 people were killed when violence broke out after a local league football match in East Java, authorities said on Sunday, in what appears to be the worst stadium disaster in half a century.

Frustrated supporters of Arema football club rushed onto the field at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang city after their team lost 2-3 to visiting Persebaya Surabaya on Saturday night.

The death toll has been rapidly rising since early Sunday when police recorded 129 deaths.

“This number increased to 174 people who have died, according to 10:30 a.m. data gathered by the regional disaster management agency in East Java,” East Java Deputy Gov. Emil Dardak told local media.

The real figure is likely to be higher. Volunteers from the local community have launched a campaign to identify the victims, checking households for missing persons as many teenage fans had no identification documents.

Soccer fans carry an injured man following clashes during a soccer match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP Photo) 

The stampede occurred as fans rushed into an exit gate as police tried to control the crowd with tear gas.

“We used tear gas. It had gotten anarchic. They started attacking officers, they damaged cars,” East Java police chief Nico Afinta told reporters.

Footage circulated on social media showed scuffling between football fans and officers in riot gear, while others scaled a fence when they tried to flee the clouds of tear gas.

Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said the stadium had been filled beyond its capacity, with 42,000 tickets sold for an arena that could accommodate only 38,000 people.

“Most of the victims had died because it was crowded, there was jostling, and some were trampled and had suffocated,” he said in an Instagram post.

Officers examine a damaged police vehicle following a clash between supporters of two Indonesian soccer teams at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 1, 2022. (AP)

President Joko Widodo ordered a thorough investigation into the incident and ordered the Football Association of Indonesia to suspend all games in the Indonesian top league BRI Liga 1, until the probe has been completed.

“I regret that this tragedy occurred,” he said in a televised speech. “I hope this is the last football tragedy in the country.”

The Indonesian stadium disaster was one of the worst in the history of football and the deadliest in more than five decades. In 1964, violence that broke out at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru, left 328 people dead.

The incident and police response to it may deal a blow to Indonesia’s plans to host the FIFA Under-20 World Cup next year, and its bid to stage the Asian Cup, also in 2023, after China pulled out as host.

Rights groups are blaming the high death toll from Saturday’s match on the use of tear gas by police.

“It’s clear that the use of tear gas is prohibited by FIFA. FIFA in article 19 of its stadium safety and security regulations stressed that the use of tear gas or firearms are prohibited for crowd control in stadiums,” the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation said in a statement.

“We suspect that the use of excessive force with the use of tear gas and unprocedural crowd control have caused the massive death toll.”

Amnesty International Indonesia has called for accountability, saying the “loss of life cannot go unanswered.”

“People must be warned that tear gas will be used and allowed to disperse,” the group’s executive director Usman Hamid said. “Tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when widespread violence has occurred and when other methods have failed.”

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

Updated 02 October 2022

Sweden allows exports of war material to Turkey

  • Four rockets landed in the Green Zone on Wednesday during a partial lockdown as parliament was convening, wounding seven security personnel, and another four rockets fired from eastern Baghdad landed around the zone on Thursday

STOCKHOLM: Sweden has reauthorized exports of war materials to Turkey in an apparently significant concession to Ankara, which is threatening to block the Nordic country’s NATO membership.

Ankara requested the lifting of the restrictions — which were introduced in 2019 following a Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria — after Sweden applied to join NATO in mid-May.

“The government has made the assessment that a Swedish membership in NATO is the best way to protect Sweden’s and the Swedish people’s security,” the Inspectorate of Strategic Products said in a statement.

The government had already announced in June that Swedish membership of the military alliance could affect policy around military exports.

“Sweden’s application for NATO membership to a large degree strengthens the defense and security policy arguments for approving exports of war materials to other member states, including Turkey,” the authority said.

The ISP said it had approved exports relating to “electronic equipment,” “software” and “technical assistance” to Turkey in the third quarter of 2022.

To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain. New members to the alliance require unanimous approval.

Turkey’s parliament is due to resume work on Saturday after the summer break. But the country is heading for parliamentary elections in June 2023 and this could make it cautious about voting on membership for the Nordic countries.

As of Friday, Ankara had not reacted to the Swedish announcement.


UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

Updated 02 October 2022

UN chief ‘strongly condemns’ coup in Burkina Faso

  • The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned army officers who seized power in Burkina Faso and called on all parties to refrain from using violence in the restive West African country.

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the unfolding developments in Burkina Faso. He strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The situation in capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and the deployment of soldiers in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba’s supporters and the country’s new strongmen.

The new putschists were quick to introduce an overnight curfew.

The army officers who have seized power in Burkina Faso said in televised comments that toppled junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base.”

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Capt. Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures, who overthrew Damiba on Friday, the French Embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

The embassy also denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military.”

According to the coup plotters, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 km from the capital Ouagadougou.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

He had installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

Updated 01 October 2022

Cultural ministers pledge more action to return priceless artifacts

  • The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities

MEXICO CITY: Cultural ministers and representatives from 150 countries committed to expanding efforts to return historical artifacts to their countries of origin, according to a declaration released on Friday, following a UNESCO conference in Mexico City.

Major museums, auction houses and private collectors have faced growing pressure in recent years to repatriate priceless works of art and other antiquities from Latin American and African nations, among others, which argue the goods were often taken unethically or illegally.

The declaration from the United Nations’ cultural arm called for open, inclusive international dialogue on illegally acquired artifacts and concrete measures to battle the illicit trade in antiquities.

The declaration deems culture a “global public good” that should be included in the UN development goals.

Restitution of cultural artifacts is often politically sensitive and raises questions over the transport and care of often delicate antiquities.

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has renewed calls in India for the return of one of the world’s largest uncut diamonds from Britain’s crown jewels, while Chile has for years demanded the return of a Moai statue from the British Museum.

Mexico’s government has previously called for the return of a 500-year-old Aztec crest known as Montezuma’s headdress from a Vienna museum, but experts have deemed its centuries-old iridescent quetzal feathers, dotted with golden pendants, too fragile for transport.

During the conference, ministers also discussed how to protect heritage from wars and climate change.

Ernesto Ottone, a senior UNESCO official, expressed hope that old attitudes are shifting in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.

“In the last three years there has been a change, a turning point, on how restitution can be made,” he said, pointing to recent bilateral deals that have led to the return of artifacts. “Today, doors are opening for us.”