Pope calls for talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia

Pope Francis, flanked by children from the five continents, speaks from his studio's window to the faithful gathered for the traditional Sunday's noon blessing in St. Peter's Square at The Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 01 October 2023
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Pope calls for talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia

  • More than 100,000 refugees have arrived in Armenia since Azerbaijan’s military operation to retake control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the UN said on Saturday

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis has called for talks between Azerbaijan and Armenia to restore peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, adding that the region was experiencing a humanitarian crisis.

“I have been following the dramatic situation of the displaced people in Nagorno-Karabakh in recent days and I renew my call for dialogue between Azerbaijan and Armenia, hoping that talks between the parties ... will foster a lasting agreement that will put an end to the humanitarian crisis,” the pope said during his Sunday prayer.

More than 100,000 refugees have arrived in Armenia since Azerbaijan’s military operation to retake control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the UN said on Saturday.

The pope also said he was praying for the victims of the explosion at a fuel depot near the city of Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Also on Sunday, Azerbaijan’s prosecutor general issued an arrest warrant for ex-Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan as the first UN mission to visit the region in three decades arrived in the former breakaway state.

Harutyunyan led the breakaway region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but was largely populated by ethnic Armenians, between May 2020 and last month, when the separatist government said it would dissolve itself by the end of the year after a three-decade bid for independence.

Azerbaijani police arrested one of Harutyunyan’s former prime ministers, Ruben Vardanyan, on Wednesday as he tried to cross into Armenia along with tens of thousands of others who have fled following Baku’s 24-hour blitz last week to reclaim control of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Harutyunyan and the enclave’s former military commander, Jalal Harutyunyan, are accused of firing missiles on Azerbaijan’s third-largest city, Ganja, during a 44-day war in late 2020, local media reported. 

The clash between the Azerbaijani military and Nagorno Karabakh forces led to the deployment of Russian peacekeepers in the region.

The arrest warrant announcement by Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev reflects Azerbaijan’s intention to quickly and forcefully enforce its grip on the region following three decades of conflict with the separatist state.

While Baku has pledged to respect the rights of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, many have fled due to fear of reprisals or losing the freedom to use their language and to practice their religion and cultural customs.

In a briefing on Sunday, Armenia’s presidential press secretary, Nazeli Baghdasaryan, said that 100,483 people had already arrived in Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh, which had a population of about 120,000 before Azerbaijan’s offensive.

Some people lined up for days to escape the region because the only route to Armenia — a winding mountain road — became jammed with slow-moving vehicles.

A UN delegation arrived in Nagorno-Karabakh Sunday to monitor the situation. 

The mission is the organization’s first to the region for three decades, due to the “very complicated and delicate geopolitical situation” there, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Friday.

Local officials dismissed the visit as a formality. 

Hunan Tadevosyan, spokesperson for Nagorno-Karabakh’s emergency services, said the UN representatives had come too late and the number of civilians left in the regional capital of Stepanakert could be “counted on one hand.”


US airman who set self on fire outside Israeli embassy dies: Pentagon

Updated 10 sec ago
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US airman who set self on fire outside Israeli embassy dies: Pentagon

WASHINGTON: An active member of the US Air Force has died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington over the weekend in protest of the war in Gaza, the Pentagon said Monday.
An Air Force spokeswoman said the unnamed man had “succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night. We will provide additional details 24 hours after next of kin notifications are complete.”

Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

Updated 26 February 2024
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Russia seeks to imprison veteran rights advocate for nearly 3 years over Ukraine war criticism

  • The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army

The Russian authorities on Monday sought a prison sentence of nearly three years for a veteran human rights advocate who spoke out against the war in Ukraine.
The prosecution demanded that Oleg Orlov, 70, be convicted of “repeatedly discrediting” the Russian army and sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison, in a retrial after he was earlier ordered to pay a fine. In a move that underscored how little tolerance President Vladimir Putin’s government has for criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, the prosecution appealed the fine, seeking a harsher punishment.
The charges against Orlov, co-chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights group Memorial, came after he posted on Facebook an article he wrote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. He has rejected the case against him as politically motivated.
A court in Moscow in October 2023 delivered a guilty verdict and fined Orlov 150,000 rubles (about $1,500 at the time), a significantly milder punishment compared to the lengthy prison terms some other Russians have received for criticizing the war.
Both the defense and the prosecution appealed the verdict, and a higher court voided the fine and sent the case back to the prosecutors. A new trial began earlier this month, another step in a yearslong, unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that the Kremlin ratcheted up after sending troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
The hearing on Monday drew over 100 supporters and more than a dozen Western diplomats, Russian independent news site Mediazona reported. Orlov brought a book to the hearing — “The Trial” by Franz Kafka — reflecting his view of the trial as absurd. At a hearing on Thursday, Orlov read the novel and refused to engage in the proceedings.


The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

Updated 26 February 2024
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The Taliban hold another public execution as thousands watch at a stadium in northern Afghanistan

  • The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan
  • It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban held a public execution on Monday of a man convicted of murder in northern Afghanistan as thousands watched at a sports stadium, the third such death sentence to be carried out in the past five days.
The execution took place in heavy snowfall in the city of Shibirghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, where the brother of the murdered man shot the convict five times with a rifle, according to an eyewitness . Security around the stadium was tight, said the witness, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
It was also the fifth public execution since the Taliban seized power of Afghanistan in August 2021 as the US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their withdrawal from the country after two decades of war.
The development was ominous as the Taliban, despite initial promises of a more moderate rule, began carrying out severe punishments in public — executions, floggings and stonings — shortly after coming to power. The punishments are similar to those under their previous rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Taliban government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The statement said Monday’s death sentence was carried out following approval by three of the country’s highest courts and the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The executed man, identified as Nazar Mohammad from the district of Bilcheragh in Faryab province, had killed Khal Mohammad, also from Faryab. The killing took place in Jawzjan.
On Thursday in the southeastern Ghazni province, the Taliban executed two men convicted of stabbing their victims to death. Relatives of the victims fired guns at the two men, also at a sports stadium as thousands of people watched.
Separate statements from the Taliban’s supreme court said a man and a woman convicted of adultery were flogged with 35 lashes each in northern Balkh province over the weekend. Two other people were lashed in eastern Laghman province, also over the weekend; they were given each 30 lashes for allegedly committing immoral acts.
The United Nations has strongly criticized the Taliban for carrying out public executions, lashings and stonings since seizing power, and called on the country’s rulers to halt such practices.


Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

Updated 26 February 2024
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Anti-Muslim hate speech soars in India, research group says

  • Research group ‘India Hate Lab’ documents 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023
  • Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, India’s prime minister since 2014

Anti-Muslim hate speech in India rose by 62 percent in the second half of 2023 compared to the first six months of the year, a Washington-based research group said on Monday, adding the Israel-Gaza war played a key role in the last three months.

India Hate Lab documented 668 hate speech incidents targeting Muslims in 2023, 255 of which occurred in the first half of the year while 413 took place in the last six months of 2023, the research group said in a report released Monday.

About 75 percent, or 498, of those incidents took place in states governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the report. The states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the most hate speech.

Between Oct. 7 — when Palestinian group Hamas attacked Israel, sparking the conflict in the Gaza Strip as Israel retaliated — and Dec. 31, there were 41 incidents of hate speech against Indian Muslims that mentioned the war, the report added. It accounted for about 20 percent of hate speech in the last three months of 2023.

The research group said it used the United Nations’ definition of hate speech — prejudiced or discriminatory language toward an individual or group based on attributes including religion, ethnicity, nationality, race or gender.

Rights groups have alleged mistreatment of Muslims under Modi, who became prime minister in 2014 and is widely expected to retain power after the 2024 elections.

They point to a 2019 citizenship law that the UN human rights office called “fundamentally discriminatory;” an anti-conversion legislation that challenges the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and the 2019 revoking of Muslim majority Kashmir’s special status.

There has also been demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction and a ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka when the BJP was in power in that state.

Modi’s government denies the presence of minority abuse and says its policies aim to benefit all Indians. The Indian embassy in Washington and India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

India Hate Lab said it tracked online activity of Hindu nationalist groups, verified videos of hate speech posted on social media and compiled data of isolated incidents reported by Indian media.


Off to Michigan, Nikki Haley is staying in the race despite Trump’s easy primary win in South Carolina

Updated 26 February 2024
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Off to Michigan, Nikki Haley is staying in the race despite Trump’s easy primary win in South Carolina

  • Haley insists she is sticking around even with the growing pressure to abandon her candidacy and let Trump focus on Democratic President Joe Biden
  • With his win Saturday in the first-in-the South contest, Trump has now swept every primary or caucus on the GOP early-season calendar that awards delegates

TROY, Michigan: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley says it’s not “the end of our story” despite Donald Trump’s easy primary victory in South Carolina, her home state where the onetime governor had long suggested her competitiveness with the former president would show.
Defying calls from South Carolina Republicans to exit the race, Haley traveled Sunday to Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday. In the less than 24 hours following her Saturday night loss to Trump, Haley’s campaign said that she had raised $1 million “from grassroots supporters alone,” a bump they argued “demonstrates Haley’s staying power and her appeal to broad swaths of the American public.”
But with Sunday also came the end of support for Haley’s campaign from Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the powerful Koch network.
In a memo first reported by Politico and obtained by The Associated Press, AFP Action senior adviser Emily Seidel wrote that, while the group “stands firm behind our endorsement” of Haley, it would “focus our resources where we can make the difference,” redirecting spending toward US Senate and House campaigns and away from Haley’s presidential bid.
“Given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory,” Seidel wrote.
AFP Action had endorsed Haley’s campaign in November, promising to commit its nationwide coalition of activists — and virtually unlimited funds — to helping her defeat Trump, with door knockers fanning out across early-voting states and sending out dozens of mailers on her behalf.
With his win Saturday in the first-in-the South contest, Trump has now swept every primary or caucus on the GOP early-season calendar that awards delegates. His performances have left little maneuvering room for Haley, his former UN ambassador.
“I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now,” Trump said in a victory night celebration in Columbia.
Haley insists she is sticking around even with the growing pressure to abandon her candidacy and let Trump focus entirely on Democratic President Joe Biden, in a 2020 rematch.
In addition to the rally in vote-rich Oakland County, Michigan, northwest of Detroit on Sunday evening, she scheduled a Monday event in Grand Rapids, a western Michigan Republican hub. Ahead of the first event on Sunday evening, dozens of supporters filed into a Troy hotel ballroom, festooned with campaign signs and featuring a guitar-playing duo to entertain the crowd, rather than Haley’s typical classic rock rally playlist.
“I’m grateful that today is not the end of our story,” Haley told supporters Saturday. “We’ll keep fighting for America and we won’t rest until America wins.”
Asa Hutchinson, a Trump critic and former Arkansas governor who dropped out of the GOP presidential race after Iowa’s leadoff caucuses in January, said he thought Haley should stay in. “The challenge is that she did everything she could in South Carolina,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Haley has pledged to keep going through at least the batch of primaries on March 5, known as Super Tuesday. “But it’s got to accelerate because you run into the delegate wall. And the delegate wall is March 5,” Hutchinson said. “So she’s got to prove herself.”
South Carolina’s most prominent Republicans stood with Trump, including US Rep. Nancy Mace, who endorsed him this past week.
To US Rep. Russell Fry, “this has always been a primary in name only” and that Trump was never in jeopardy of losing to Haley. Fry said Trump would be the GOP nominee and the latest election results were “just further validation of that.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Trump ally, said Trump was on “a pathway” to being able to clinch the nomination by mid-March. “I would say the wind is strongly” at his back, Abbott told CNN.
Not all voters in South Carolina want Haley to end her campaign.
Irene Sulkowski of Daniel Island said she hoped Haley would soldier on, suggesting the former governor would be a more appealing general election candidate than Trump despite his popularity among the GOP base that powers the primary season.
“They’re not thinking, ‘Who do you want to represent us in the general election?’” said Sulkowski, an accountant. “And they need to have a longer-term view.”