Ukraine Muslims pray for victory, end of occupation

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Former Mufti-turned-fighter Sheikh Said Ismahilov, stands for a portrait, after leading Muslim soldiers during prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha, in Medina Mosque, Konstantinovka, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP)
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Former Mufti-turned-fighter Sheikh Said Ismahilov, leads Muslim soldiers during prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha, in Medina Mosque, Konstantinovka, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 12 July 2022

Ukraine Muslims pray for victory, end of occupation

KOSTIANTYNIVKA: By the time the Russians invaded, 43-year-old Mufti Said Ismahilov — one of the Muslim spiritual leaders of Ukraine — had already resolved that he would step aside from his religious duties to fight for his country.
At the end of last year, as warnings of an imminent attack grew louder, Ismahilov began training with a local territorial defense battalion. By then he had served as a mufti for thirteen years.
Born and raised in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, Ismahilov had already fled Russia once before, in 2014, when Moscow-backed separatists captured his city. He eventually moved to a quiet suburb outside Kyiv called Bucha — only to find himself, eight years later, at the heart of Moscow’s assault on Kyiv, and the site of atrocities that shocked the world. It felt as if the threat of Russian occupation would never end.
“This time I made the decision that I would not run away, I would not flee but I would fight” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in Kostiantynivka, a town close to the front lines in eastern Ukraine where a battle for control of the region is intensifying.
Ismahilov began working as a military driver for paramedics evacuating the wounded from front lines or besieged towns. Tasked with driving in highly dangerous conditions, but also emotionally supporting the critically injured, Ismahilov says he sees his new job as “a continuation of my spiritual duty before God.”
“If you are not scared and you can do this, then it is very important. The Prophet was himself a warrior,” Ismahilov says. “So I follow his example and I also will not run, or hide. I will not turn my back on others.”
Ismahilov was one of dozens of Ukrainian Muslims who gathered at the mosque in Kostiantynivka Saturday to mark Eid Al-Adha — an important religious holiday in Islam. The mosque is now the last remaining operational mosque in Ukrainian-controlled territory in Donbas. Ismahilov told the AP that there are around 30 mosques in the region in total but that most are now in the hands of the Russians.
Last week, Russia captured the city of Lysychansk, the last major stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the eastern province of Luhansk. The governor of the Luhansk region said on Saturday that Russian forces are now pressing toward the border with the neighboring Donetsk region.
Muslims make up almost 1 percent of the population in Ukraine, which is predominantly Orthodox Christian. There is a large Muslim population in Crimea — home to the Crimean Tatars and illegally annexed by Russian in 2014. Numbers there jump to 12 percent. There is also a sizeable Muslim community in eastern Ukraine, the result of waves of economic migration as the region industrialized and many Muslims immigrated to the Donbas region to work in the mines and factories.
The conflict in 2014 forced many Muslims from Crimea and Donbas to relocate to other parts of the country where they joined long-established Tatar communities or built new Islamic centers alongside Turks, Arabs and Ukrainian converts.
But the invasion has forced many to flee once again. The mosque in Kostiantynivka used to cater for a local Muslim population of several hundred people. On Saturday, few local residents were present, having journeyed west with their families. Instead the congregation was made up of soldiers or combat medics from different units: Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian converts from Kharkiv, Kyiv and western Ukraine.
In his sermon following the traditional Eid prayers, Ismahilov told the congregation that this year’s Eid had a symbolic significance in the midst of the war, and asked them to remember Muslims living in occupied territories, where many have lost their homes and several mosques have been destroyed by shelling. Referencing a series of arrests of Crimean Tartars in the wake of the 2014 annexation, Ismahilov said Muslims in occupied territories do not feel safe.
“There is a lot of fear. … The war continues and we have no idea what is happening in the occupied territories and what situation Muslims are in there” he said.
Ismahilov told the AP that he considers Russian Muslims invading Ukraine, including Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov’s infamous Chechen battalions, as “criminals”.
“They are committing sins and … they have come as murderers and occupiers, on a territory that is the home of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Muslims, without any justification. Allah did not give them that right” says Ismahilov. “They will answer for all this before God.”
Olha Bashei, 45, a lawyer turned paramedic from Kyiv who converted to Islam in 2015, says Russia is trying “erase Ukraine from the face of the earth.” Bashei began working as a frontline paramedic in Donbas in 2014. She considers this war her ‘jihad’, a term to denote a holy war or personal struggle in Islam.
“This war is my war, and I defend my jihad because I have nephews, I have a mother and I defend my home. I do not want my nephews to ever see what I, unfortunately, saw in this war” she said.
“Islam even helps me because in Islam, in prayer, you somehow distract yourself from the war because you read the prayer and you have a connection with the Almighty. For me, Islam is a force that supports me even in war.”
As the soldiers prepared the customary sacrificial sheep for the Eid feast, a residential area in Kostiantynivka several kilometers away came under violent shelling. The incoming artillery shook the ground. Some soldiers ran to the mosque’s bunker. Others shrugged it off and continued to drink their tea and eat dates. The shelling caused several fires, injuring several inhabitants and burning roofs to cinders.
Ismahilov said they would pray for victory and the liberation of the occupied territories.
“We pray that our Muslim compatriots will be safe, that our families will be reunited, that the slain Muslims will go to heaven, and that all the Muslim soldiers who are defending their country will be accepted as shahids (martyrs) by Allah.”


Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Updated 11 sec ago

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

  • Truss: Conservatives must unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain
BIRMINGHAM: British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her fractious party to stick together and help transform the economy and the country, fighting to restore her dwindling authority after a chaotic first month in office.
Addressing Conservative lawmakers and members at an annual conference overshadowed by internal bickering and confusion over policy, Truss said the party needed to unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain.
So far, however, her misfiring attempt to cut $51 billion (£45 billion) of taxes and hike government borrowing has sent turmoil through markets and her party, with opinion polls pointing to electoral collapse rather than a honeymoon period for the new leader.
“We gather at a vital time for the United Kingdom. These are stormy days,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“In these tough times, we need to step up. I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and to put us on a stronger footing.”
As she started to speak, two protesters held up a sign asking “Who voted for this?” before they were escorted away by security personnel as the crowd chanted “out, out, out.”
Truss, elected by party members and not the broader electorate, was addressing the party faithful after she was forced to reverse plans to scrap the top rate of tax. She acknowledged that change brings “disruption.”
That U-turn has emboldened sections of her party who are now likely to resist spending cuts as the government seeks ways to fund the overall fiscal program.
That risks not only the dilution of her “radical” agenda but also raising the prospect of an early election.
Having entered the conference hall to a standing ovation and the sound of M People’s “Moving On UP,” Truss told party members and lawmakers that she wanted to build a “new Britain for the new era.”
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie. Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice,” she said in the central English city of Birmingham.
“That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle.”
The conference, once expected to be her crowning glory after being appointed prime minister on Sept. 6, has turned into a personal nightmare, and a battle for the country’s political future.
As the debate moved on from tax cuts to how the government would fund them, lawmakers and ministers openly clashed, in stark contrast to the sense of discipline on display at the opposition Labour Party conference last week.
Some lawmakers fear Truss will break a commitment to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, something they argue would be inappropriate at a time when millions of families are struggling with the cost of soaring prices.
Ministers say they are yet to take a decision and are obliged to look at economic data later this month.
While markets have largely stabilized after the Bank of England stepped in to shore up the bond market — albeit after the cost of borrowing surged — opinion polls now point to an electoral collapse for the Conservatives.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said before the speech that Labour now held an average lead of 25 percentage points and the Conservatives needed to accept they were “in deep, deep electoral trouble.”

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Updated 54 min 41 sec ago

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

  • Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts

MOSCOW: Moscow said Wednesday it should be part of the probe into leaks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, after Sweden blocked off the area around the pipelines pending an investigation.
“There should really be an investigation. Naturally, with the participation of Russia,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, as quoted by Russian news agencies.
Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, raising political tensions already sky high since the Kremlin sent troop to Ukraine in February.
On Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the issue.
Vershinin told the assembly that “the general opinion was that this was sabotage and that it should be investigated” but that “no decision had been made” on an international probe.
Last Wednesday, Russia launched an “international terrorism” investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a probe “required the cooperation of several countries.”
He denounced an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia.
On Monday, Sweden blocked off the area around the pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea while the suspected sabotage was being investigated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts.
Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Wednesday that “it is clear that the United States is the beneficiary, primarily economic” of the leaks.
Both Moscow and Washington have denied involvement.


Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

Updated 05 October 2022

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

  • 20-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail is accused of making a threat to kill the late 96-year-old monarch

LONDON: A man accused of making a threat to kill the late Queen Elizabeth after being arrested at her Windsor Castle home on Christmas Day last year will go on trial next year, London’s Old Bailey Court heard on Wednesday.
Jaswant Singh Chail, 20, who has been charged under Britain’s Treason Act, is accused of making a threat to kill the 96-year-old monarch, possessing a loaded crossbow with intent to use it to injure the queen, and possession of an offensive weapon.
Elizabeth, who died last month, was at the castle on the day of the intrusion with her son and now King Charles and other close family members
Chail, who appeared at Wednesday’s hearing via videolink wearing a black hoodie, spoke only to confirm his name and his date of birth.
He was told the trial date was set to March 20 next and would last two to three weeks.
He did not enter a plea, the case was adjourned for further evidence to be obtained and Chail was detained in custody. The next hearing will take place at a date yet to be confirmed in December.


Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi allowed to leave Iran — State Department

Updated 05 October 2022

Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi allowed to leave Iran — State Department

  • Baquer Namazi was detained in February 2016 when he went to Iran to press for the release of his son Siamak
  • UN said last week that the pair had been allowed to leave Iran, after an appeal from its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

WASHINGTON: Detained US citizen Baquer Namazi has been allowed to leave Iran and his son has been granted furlough from prison, the State Department said Wednesday, confirming their release.

Namazi, a former UNICEF official, was detained in February 2016 when the 85-year-old went to Iran to press for the release of his son Siamak, who had been arrested in October of the previous year.

The United States has been pressing for the release of these two men and two other Americans amid efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major Western powers.

“Wrongfully detained US citizen Baquer Namazi has been permitted to depart Iran, and his son Siamak, also wrongfully detained, has been granted furlough from prison,” a State Department spokesperson told AFP.

It added that the older Namazi “was unjustly detained in Iran and then not permitted to leave the county after serving his sentence, despite his repeated requirement for urgent medical attention.”

“We understand that the lifting of the travel ban and his son’s furlough were related to his medical requirement.”

The United Nations said last week that the pair had been allowed to leave Iran, after an appeal from its Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Both were convicted of espionage in October 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Baquer Namazi was released on medical leave in 2018 and had been serving his sentence under house arrest.

At least two other American citizens are currently held in Iran.

Businessman Emad Sharqi was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for espionage, and environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, who is also a British national, was arrested in 2018 and released on bail in July.

A drive to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal resumed in late November last year, after talks were suspended in June as Iran elected ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The 2015 deal — agreed by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 under president Donald Trump and reimposed biting economic sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.

On Sunday, the United States rejected Iranian reports that Tehran’s release of US citizens would lead to the unfreezing of Iranian funds abroad.

“With the finalization of negotiations between Iran and the United States to release the prisoners of both countries, $7 billion of Iran’s blocked resources will be released,” the state news agency IRNA said.

But the State Department dismissed any such link as “categorically false.”

Billions of dollars in Iranian funds have been frozen in a number of countries — notably China, South Korea and Japan — since the US reimposed sanctions. 


Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia

Updated 05 October 2022

Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia

  • ASEAN has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power last year

PHNOM PENH: Myanmar’s junta leader has not been invited to a regional summit next month, host Cambodia said Wednesday, in a fresh diplomatic snub for the isolated military regime.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power last year.
But there has been little progress on a “five-point consensus” agreed with the junta, and its leader and ministers have been shut out of recent meetings of the 10-member regional bloc.
Linking the invitation to “progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus,” a Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman said the junta had been invited to “nominate a non-political representative for the upcoming ASEAN Summits.”
This means junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would not be allowed to attend, just as his top diplomat was barred from foreign ministers’ gatherings in Phnom Penh in February and August.
The five-point plan, agreed in April last year, calls for an immediate end to violence and dialogue between the military and the anti-coup movement.
There is growing dissatisfaction within ASEAN — sometimes criticized as a toothless talking shop — at the Myanmar generals’ stonewalling.
The junta’s execution of four prisoners in July, in defiance of widespread international calls for clemency, caused further anger.
August’s meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers ended with a rare condemnation from the bloc for the junta’s actions.
The ministers said they were “deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Naypyidaw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the five-point consensus.”
ASEAN’s own envoy tasked with brokering peace has admitted the scale of the task, saying “even Superman cannot solve” the crisis.
The regional bloc’s snub comes as Washington attempts to exert more pressure on the junta through the United Nations, following outrage over an air strike that killed 11 schoolchildren last month.
US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet held talks with other governments and with representatives of the self-declared National Unity Government — dominated by ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party — during the UN General Assembly earlier this month.
Myanmar is planning fresh elections in August next year, but Chollet warned there was “no chance” they could be free and fair.
The junta has justified its power grab pointing to alleged fraud in the 2020 elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won easily.
A military crackdown on dissent in the wake of the coup has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta, meanwhile, says the uprising against its rule has left almost 3,900 of its supporters dead.