EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

A view shows an apartment building damaged by a recent Russian military strike in Kherson, Ukraine on November 27, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 November 2022

EU proposal would send proceeds of frozen Russian funds to Ukraine

  • Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft
  • "Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused," Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU's executive said

BRUSSELS: The European Commission proposed a plan on Wednesday to compensate Ukraine for damage from Russia’s invasion with proceeds from investing Russian funds frozen under sanctions.
Officials in the EU, United States and other Western countries have long debated whether Ukraine can benefit from frozen Russian assets, including around $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves and $20 billion held by blacklisted Russians.
Moscow says seizing its funds or those of its citizens amounts to theft.
“Russia must ... pay financially for the devastation that it caused,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive said in a statement.
“The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at 600 billion euros. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”
European Commission officials said that one short-term option for Western nations would be to create a fund to manage and invest liquid assets of the central bank, and use the proceeds to support Ukraine.
The assets would be returned to their owners when sanctions were lifted, which could be part of a peace agreement that ensured Ukraine received compensation for damages.
“It’s not easy so it will require strong backing from the international community but we believe it is doable,” one official said.
With regard to the frozen assets of private individuals and entities, seizing these is usually only legally possible where there is a criminal conviction.
The Commission has proposed that violations of sanctions could be classified as an offense that would allow confiscation.
Von der Leyen also said that the Commission was proposing the establishment of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Moscow denies its invasion, which it calls a “special military operation,” constitutes aggression, a war crime under international law.


Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

Updated 30 January 2023

Indonesian Muslims protest Quran burning in Sweden

JAKARTA: Hundreds of Indonesian Muslims marched to the heavily guarded Swedish Embassy in the country’s capital on Monday to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Waving white flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, more than 300 demonstrators filled a major thoroughfare in downtown Jakarta and trampled and set on fire portraits of Danish anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan along with the flags of Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Authorities blocked streets leading to the embassy, where more than 200 police and soldiers were deployed in and around the building that was barricaded with razor wire.
Earlier this month, Paludan received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, where on Jan. 21 he burned the Quran. Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Quran near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.
It angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests, including in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Protesters in Jakarta chanted “God is Great” and “Get out, Swedish embassy!”
Indonesian government has strongly condemned the burning of the Quran by Paludan and summoned Swedish Ambassador Marina Berg last week, said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah.
“This act of blasphemy has hurt and tarnished religious tolerance,” the ministry said in a statement on Jan. 22. "Freedom of expression must be exercised in a responsible manner.”
Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm, which has applied jointly with Finland to join NATO, of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups. NATO requires unanimous approval of its existing members to add new ones, but Turkey says it would only agree to admit Sweden if the country met its conditions.
Protest organizer Marwan Batubara told the crowd that Paludan was being aggressively hostile to Islam and called on Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark to punish those who desecrated the Quran and apologize to Muslims.
“It hurt us deeply and we demand that Sweden bring him to court so that such incidents don’t happen again,” he said. “Defending those who insult Islam under freedom of expression will only invite martyrs to defend Islam.”
The Swedish Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement that “the Islamophobic act committed by a far-right extremist in Sweden is strongly rejected by the Swedish government.”
“This act does not in any way reflect the opinions of the Swedish government,” the statement said.


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

Updated 30 January 2023

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 30 January 2023

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.


Bomb kills 34 at mosque inside Peshawar police compound - city commissioner

People look for survivors under a collapsed roof, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar on January 30, 2023. (Reuters)
Updated 30 January 2023

Bomb kills 34 at mosque inside Peshawar police compound - city commissioner

  • Security officials say too early to determine if attack was carried out by suicide bomber
  • Such attacks have increased since Pakistan Taliban called off truce with government last year

PESHAWAR: Up to 34 people were killed and dozens of others wounded when an explosion ripped through a mosque inside a compound where the headquarters of the provincial police force are located in Peshawar, the commissioner of the northwestern city said.

Police said up to 350 worshipers were inside the mosque for afternoon prayers when the bomber detonated his explosives.

“It was a big explosion that totally damaged the mosque’s roof but it will be premature to say whether it was a suicide explosion,” Commissioner Peshawar Riaz Mehsud told Arab News, putting the casualties at 34 and number of wounded at 150. “Security officials are investigating the nature of the blast.”

"We haven't yet confirmed how many policemen are dead and wounded but I think 90 percent casualties are of police personnel because most of those offering prayers in the mosque were policemen," Mehsud added.

Muhammad Ijaz Khan, the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), said many people, including policemen, were still trapped under the debris.

“We can’t as of yet determined what caused the explosion but it was a security lapse,” Khan said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing but the Pakistani Taliban group have recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when the group called off a ceasefire signed with the government in May.

Muhammad Asim, a spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), the city’s largest medical facility, told Arab News people were still being pulled out of the rubble and being brought to the hospital, so the death toll could rise.

Ahmad Khan, a police constable who was inside the mosque when the blast occurred, said the roof collapsed after the explosion.

“It was the time for Zuhr (afternoon) prayers,” Khan said. “I was in the second row among worshippers when the blast took place. The roof of the mosque collapsed with many worshippers trapped but I managed to come out with small injuries.”

Akbar Khan, an official at the Edhi charity in Peshawar, estimated that 50 people, including policemen, were still trapped under the debris.

Soon after the blast, the provincial health department declared a state of emergency at the city’s hospitals.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif urged people, especially followers of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ruling party, to donate blood to those injured in suicide attack.

“Reach Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, and contribute to saving precious human lives,” he tweeted.
 


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."