Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

The laborers play cricket in Doha, during their day off from work, on September 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy: AP)
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Updated 26 November 2022
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Cricket flourishes among Qatar World Cup migrant laborers

  • The sport that spread across the reaches of former British empire remains favorite of South Asian laborers
  • The need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades

DOHA: As dawn broke Friday in Qatar, the laborers who built this energy-rich country’s World Cup soccer stadiums, roads and subway filled empty stretches of asphalt and sandlots to play the sport closest to their hearts — cricket.

The sport that spread across the reaches of the former British empire remains a favorite of the South Asian laborers who power economies across the Arabian Peninsula, including more than 2 million migrant workers in Qatar.

It’s a moment of respite for workers, who typically just have Friday off in Qatar and much of the rest of the Gulf Arab nations. And it’s one they look forward to all week, batting and bowling before the heat of the day fully takes hold.

“It’s in our blood,” said laborer Kesavan Pakkirisamy as he coached his team at one sandlot, the skyline of Doha visible in the distance. “We’ve played cricket since a long time. It’s a happy journey for us.”

Laborer rights have been a focus of this World Cup since Qatar won the bid for the tournament back in 2010. Workers can face long hours, extortion and low pay. Qatar has overhauled its labor laws to put in a minimum wage and untie visas from employers, though activists have urged more to be done.

On Fridays, however, laborers control their day. Just down the road from the global headquarters of Qatar’s satellite news network Al Jazeera, workers gathered in a parking lot and another large desert expanse wedged between roads.

Some appeared nervous when Associated Press journalists stopped by their matches, with several asking if they’d be in trouble for playing cricket in vacant lots in this autocratic nation. Others, however, smiled and invited visitors to watch.

Hary R., an Indian from the southern state of Kerala, showed a reporter the mobile phone app he used to keep track of runs and overs. While Friday’s match was a friendly, there are tournaments organized among the Indian and Sri Lankan communities in Qatar to vie for supremacy.

“We are working throughout the week and we need to just get relaxed and meet our friends just for time pass and entertainment,” he said. His teammates on the Strikers, some of whom wore matching uniforms, shouted at him to keep track of the game.

Pakkirisamy, who shouted encouragement near two discarded couches used by players as a bench, praised his company for helping his colleagues take part in wider competitions.

“From my father and my grandfather, they have been playing in cricket since childhood age,” he said, describing a lifelong love of the game.

Pakkirisamy and his teammates, while lovers of cricket, still were excited about the World Cup being in Qatar.

“We are here for work, we are here for earning something for our family,” he said, adding that being in Qatar means, “It’s easy for us to be there, to see the game on ground, not only the TV.”

Cricket, with its lush green grass pitches, may seem like an anomaly in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the need for migrant labor has seen Gulf Arab nations draw cricket-playing workers to their shores for decades.

The United Arab Emirates has a cricket team that qualified for the International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup in Australia last month.

Dubai in the UAE is even home to the ICC’s headquarters and has hosted major cricket events, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League and the T20 championships.

But for laborers in the region, any empty patch of ground can be turned into a pitch.

“You can be in any road. You can be in any place,” Pakkirisamy said. “Any small place, you can play cricket.”


Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

Updated 4 sec ago
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Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

  • UNIFIL highlights ‘necessity of freedom of logistical movement’ to implement UN resolution

BEIRUT: The ambassadors of the Arab-International Quintet Committee on Lebanon have stressed the need to “accelerate the process of electing a new president.”

They also indicated that “there does not necessarily have to be a direct link between what’s happening in Gaza and Lebanon.”

The five ambassadors met Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday.

“What’s happening in Gaza should be a greater incentive for Lebanon to complete the process of electing a president, as it is of utmost importance for the future days,” said Egyptian Ambassador Alaa Moussa after the talks.

He was commenting on behalf of the other committee members, and added: “The challenges and commitments the region will witness require Lebanon to have a president speaking in its name.”

The committee, which comprises the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, and France, follows developments in Lebanon.

It affirmed that “in the coming period, it will seek to create once again the environment necessary, for the Lebanese political forces that have a genuine desire, to move toward ending this matter as soon as possible.”

Lebanon has been without a president since November 2022. The parliament has failed to elect one despite holding 12 electoral sessions — the last of which was in June — as candidates failed to make it to the second round of voting due to internal political disputes.

Moussa added: “The committee has a unified stance, which is our commitment to providing all possible assistance and facilitation.

“There is a renewed spirit, and we will work on this in the coming period to reach a unified position and a road map to complete the presidential election process. So far we remain optimistic."

A political observer said that the US had insisted on the restoration of stability in southern Lebanon to facilitate diplomatic efforts based on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to end hostilities in the country.

Mikati told Reuters on Thursday that an early halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. He added he was confident that Hezbollah would announce a ceasefire if Israel did the same.

His remarks came as a new clash was reported between Iran-backed Hezbollah and UN Interim Force in Lebanon troops in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday night.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said a peacekeeping vehicle on a routine logistical operation from southern Lebanon to Beirut ended up on an unplanned route.

The UNIFIL vehicle, which was carrying soldiers from a Malaysian battalion, entered the Hayy Al-Sullum area where Hezbollah members intercepted it, confiscating equipment and cameras.

Some reports said that UNIFIL staff were handed over to Hezbollah’s security committee while others claimed that they were handed over to the Lebanese army and later released.

The incident occurred amid ongoing discussions to bolster UNIFIL’s operations in the south to support the Lebanese army, while mending relations with Hezbollah.

The tension stems from Hezbollah’s objections to UNIFIL’s incursions into residential neighborhoods without being accompanied by the army.

A UNIFIL spokesperson said: “In addition to freedom of movement inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, peacekeepers have the freedom and authorization from the Lebanese government to move throughout Lebanon for administrative and logistical reasons.

“This freedom of movement is essential to implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”

Fighting has meanwhile continued between Israel and Hezbollah on the southern front.

The Israeli air force carried out noon raids on Friday on the border town of Aita Al-Shaab after a night of heavy shelling which caused extensive damage.

Israeli artillery then targeted the towns of Houla and Wazzani in the Marjayoun district.

The Lebanese Armed Forces announced that “members of an army patrol found an Israeli army drone carrying leaflets, and a specialized army unit worked to dismantle …it.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah announced that it had shot down “an Israeli army drone in the Azziyeh valley at midnight Thursday-Friday.”


Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison

Updated 01 March 2024
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Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison

  • Shervin Hajjipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him
  • It said Hajjipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest”

DUBAI: An Iranian singer who won a Grammy presented by US first lady Jill Biden has been sentenced to more than three years in prison over his anthem supporting the 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Shervin Hajjipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him.
It said Hajjipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest.” The court issued its sentence in part because it found he hadn’t properly expressed regret over publishing the song.
It also imposed a two-year travel ban and ordered him to create a song about “US crimes,” as well as make posts about those crimes online.
Hajjipour thanked his lawyers and his agent for their support.
“I will not mention the name of the judge and the prosecutor so that they don’t get insulted and threatened, because insults and threats are not in the religion of humanity,” he wrote. “Finally, one day we will understand each other. Until then.”
Hajjipour already had served some prison time, but was out on bail pending the court’s decision. It was unclear if he had already reported to serve his sentence.
Iranian state-run media, focused on the election Friday, didn’t note Hajjipour’s sentence. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hajjipour’s song “Baraye,” or “For” in English, begins with: “For dancing in the streets,” “for the fear we feel when we kiss.” The lyrics list reasons that young Iranians posted online for why they had protested against Iran’s ruling theocracy after Amini’s death in September 2022, allegedly for not wearing her mandated headscarf to the liking of security forces.
The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed more than 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.
Jill Biden awarded Hajjipour the Grammy’s new song for social change special merit award during the ceremony last year.
“This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights,” Biden said at the ceremony. “Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, life, freedom.”
Hajjipour’s sentencing comes as other activists, journalists and artists have faced arrest, imprisonment and harassment since the demonstrations. Among those imprisoned is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran condemned Hajjipour’s sentencing Friday, and demanded Iran immediately release him from the sentence.
“This blatant violation of Shervin’s rights to free speech and expression is a grave injustice and a clear affront to human rights principles,” the center said. “His imprisonment serves as a chilling reminder of the ongoing repression faced by artists, activists and dissenting voices in Iran.”


Calls for probe, ceasefire follow Israeli gunfire near aid convoy

Updated 01 March 2024
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Calls for probe, ceasefire follow Israeli gunfire near aid convoy

  • “The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on X
  • European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, also writing on X, said “every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency”

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: World leaders on Friday called for an investigation and a ceasefire nearly five months into the Gaza war, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Israeli troops opened fire as Palestinian civilians scrambled for food aid during a chaotic incident Thursday which the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said killed more than 100 people in Gaza City.
The deaths came after a World Food Programme official had warned: “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”
The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded the convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over.
An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat.”
Gaza’s health ministry called it a “massacre” and said 112 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.
The fatalities helped push the total number of Palestinian war dead in Gaza to 30,228 mostly women and children, according to the ministry’s latest toll.
Overnight Thursday-Friday 83 people were killed in strikes, the ministry said.
The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.
Israel’s military says 242 soldiers have died in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.
“The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X.
Her French counterpart Stephane Sejourne said: “there will have to be an independent probe to determine what happened,” and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani urged Israel “to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities.”
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, also writing on X, said “every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency.”
The head of Libya’s Presidential Council, Mohamed el-Manfi, appealed for “an urgent investigation” by the United Nations Security Council into the “unprecedented crime.”
US President Joe Biden — whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel — said Washington was checking “two competing versions” of the incident.
Aerial footage of the incident made clear “just how desperate the situation on the ground is,” a US State Department spokesman said. Washington was pushing Israel to allow in more aid, he said.
The Gaza City aid incident came with talks progressing toward a ceasefire, but would now complicate those efforts, Biden said.
The White House later said it had asked Israel to probe the “tremendously alarming” deaths. Deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said the event “needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
Qatar’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation” and called for “urgent international action” to halt the fighting in Gaza.
Further afield, in South America, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced the suspension of arms purchases from Israel after the “genocide” in Gaza City.
While the situation is particularly acute in Gaza’s north, Gazans are struggling for food, water and medical care throughout the territory including in far-south Rafah where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.
Israel is threatening to send in troops against Hamas fighters in Rafah.
Information conflicted on what exactly unfolded in Gaza City.
A witness, declining to be named for safety reasons, said the violence began when thousands of people rushed toward aid trucks, leading soldiers to open fire when “people came too close” to tanks.
Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the military had fired “a few warning shots” to try to disperse a “mob” that had “ambushed” the aid trucks.
“Thousands of Gazans” swarmed the trucks, “violently pushing and even trampling other Gazans to death, looting the humanitarian supplies,” he said.
When the crowd got too big, he said the convoy tried to retreat and “the unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured.”
Aerial images released by the Israeli army showed what it said were scores of people surrounding aid trucks in the city.
Ali Awad Ashqir, who said he had gone to get some food for his starving family, told AFP he had been waiting for two hours when trucks began to arrive.
“The moment they arrived, the occupation army fired artillery shells and guns,” he said.
Hagari denied Israeli forces carried out any shelling or strikes at the time.
Looting of aid trucks has previously occurred in northern Gaza, where residents have taken to eating animal fodder and even leaves to stave off starvation.
The chief of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said no UN agency had been involved in Thursday’s aid delivery, and called the incident “another day from hell.”
Among its war aims, Israel says it is fighting to bring home 130 hostages captured by militants on October 7 who remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure over the captives.
On Friday relatives and supporters of the hostages rallied outside the US embassy branch in Tel Aviv in a call for help to secure their release.
At another protest in the city on Thursday night, Alon Lee Green, 36, said things were at a crossroads.
“It’s either we are going into an eternal war that will never stop,” he said, “or we’re going to a diplomatic agreement, an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”


WHO says Gaza health system ‘more than on its knees’

Updated 01 March 2024
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WHO says Gaza health system ‘more than on its knees’

  • WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva: “All the lifelines in Gaza have more or less been cut”
  • “The food supplies have been cut off deliberately. Let’s not forget that”

GENEVA: People in the Gaza Strip are risking their lives to find food, water and other supplies such is the level of hunger and despair amid the unrelenting Israeli assault, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
“The system in Gaza is on its knees, it’s more than on its knees,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva. “All the lifelines in Gaza have more or less been cut.”
Lindmeier said this had created a “desperate situation,” as seen on Thursday, when more than 100 people seeking humanitarian aid in Gaza were killed.
Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces shot dead the Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery. Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded the aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.
“People are so desperate for food, for fresh water, for any supplies that they risk their lives in getting any food, any supplies to support their children, to support themselves,” Lindmeier said.
While aid is reaching southern parts of the Gaza Strip, it is too slow to avert a hunger crisis even there. Aid barely makes it to northern areas that are further from the main border crossing and only accessible through more active battle fronts.
“The food supplies have been cut off deliberately. Let’s not forget that,” Lindmeier said.
Israel has said the failure to get enough aid into Gaza to meet humanitarian needs is due to UN distribution failures.
A senior UN aid official told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that one quarter of the population of Gaza is one step away from famine and widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.


Hamas, other Palestinian groups stress ‘unity’ in Moscow

Updated 39 min 11 sec ago
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Hamas, other Palestinian groups stress ‘unity’ in Moscow

  • Meeting in Moscow brought together Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other Palestinian groups
  • Discussions in recent years about integrating Hamas into the PLO have ended in failure

GAZA: Palestinian factions including rivals Hamas and Fatah said on Friday they would pursue “unity of action” in confronting Israel after representatives met at Russia-hosted talks.
The meeting in Moscow on Thursday brought together Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other Palestinian groups for talks on the war in Gaza and an eventual post-war period.
It came on the heels of the resignation of the Palestinian Authority government, which is led by Fatah and based in the occupied West Bank.
Outgoing prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called for intra-Palestinian consensus as he announced the resignation, and some analysts said the development could pave the way for a government of technocrats that could operate in the West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza after the war.
Arab and Western leaders have been pushing for reforms to the Palestinian Authority as they discuss possible reconstruction efforts.
A statement on Friday by the Palestinian factions represented in Moscow said there would be an “upcoming dialogue” to bring them under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Thursday’s “constructive” talks saw agreement on points including the need for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and the creation of a Palestinian state, the statement said.
While Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered “terrorist” entities by Western powers, the PLO is internationally recognized as representing Palestinians in the Palestinian territories and diaspora.
Discussions in recent years about integrating Hamas into the PLO have ended in failure.
In recent years, Moscow has strived to maintain good relations with all actors in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Fatah and Hamas.
Russia’s relations with Israel have become strained amid Moscow’s criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza and rejection of a Palestinian state.
The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 30,228 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive in Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.