A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an

Hundreds of Muslims in eastern Pakistan went on a rampage over allegations that a Christian man had desecrated the pages of Islam’s holy book, ransacking and burning his house and beating him before police officers rescued the man and his father, officials said. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 May 2024
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A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an

  • The incident occurred Saturday in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha
  • Police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men

LAHORE: Hundreds of Muslims in eastern Pakistan went on a rampage over allegations that a Christian man had desecrated the pages of Islam’s holy book, ransacking and burning his house and beating him before police officers rescued the man and his father, officials said.
The incident occurred Saturday in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha, a city in Punjab province, said district police chief Ijaz Malhi. He said police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men.
Malhi said the situation was under control and officers were investigating the allegations.
The incident brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan in August 2023, when angry mobs burned churches and attacked dozens in Jaranwala, a district in Punjab province. Muslim residents claimed they saw a Christian and his friend tearing out pages from a Qur’an and throwing them on the ground. No one was killed. In 2009, six Christians were killed and some 60 homes burned down in the district of Gojra in Punjab following allegations of insults to Islam.
Malhi said police on Saturday dispersed the crowds and were also seeking help from religious scholars to defuse tensions. The Punjab government condemned the attack.
The man’s small shoemaking factory was also burned down, Malhi said.
Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan.
Under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While no one has been executed for blasphemy, often just an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.


NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

Updated 58 min 17 sec ago
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NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

  • Jens Stoltenberg tells paper there are live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent
  • ‘Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance’

LONDON: NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons, taking them out of storage and placing them on standby, in the face of a growing threat from Russia and China, the head of the alliance said on Monday.
Jens Stoltenberg told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that there were live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent.
“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he told the paper.
“Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance.”
“NATO’s aim is, of course, a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will remain a nuclear alliance, because a world where Russia, China and North Korea have nuclear weapons, and NATO does not, is a more dangerous world.”
Stoltenberg said last week that nuclear weapons were NATO’s “ultimate security guarantee” and a means to preserve peace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that Moscow could use nuclear weapons to defend itself in extreme circumstances. It accuses the US and its European allies of pushing the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation by giving Ukraine billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which are being used against Russian territory.
NATO, which has taken on a greater role in coordinating arms supplies to Kyiv, rarely talks about weapons publicly, although it is known that the US has deployed nuclear bombs to several locations in Europe.


Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

Updated 16 min 55 sec ago
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Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

  • Taliban government were not included in first set of talks, refused invitation to second round in February
  • The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1 and have already been criticized by women’s groups

KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman said on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.

The Taliban government’s participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first set of talks and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.

“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1, and have already been criticized by women’s groups.

Mujahid told Afghan media on Sunday that a delegation — yet to be announced — would attend because the talks’ agenda appeared “beneficial to Afghanistan.”

The agenda includes “topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan, which are important,” he said.

However, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi warned in a post on social media site X later on Sunday that “if there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision” to attend.

Launched by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in May 2023, the series of talks aim to “increase international engagement with Afghanistan in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner,” according to the UN.

Civil society groups that included women were invited to the February talks but the Taliban government refused to participate unless its members could be the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

It also requested to meet Guterres, who at the time said the set of conditions to participate “were not acceptable.”

In recent weeks, multiple UN representatives and international envoys have held meetings with the Taliban government on the next Doha talks, which Guterres will not attend.

Diplomatic sources told AFP there were plans to consult with Afghan civil society groups before and after the next talks, but that they would not take part in meetings that include the Taliban authorities.

The sources said the official meetings were due to cover finance and economic issues, as well as counternarcotics efforts.

Several civil society groups have urged the UN to prioritize women’s rights and include Afghan women.

“The world must provide platforms for the people and women of Afghanistan to discuss the future of their country,” Afghan women’s rights activist Hoda Khamosh, now based in Norway, told AFP.

“Still, they are not heard because the world is interacting anyway with the Taliban, even if they say they do not recognize them.”

The international community has wrestled with its approach to the Taliban government since it returned to power in 2021, still not officially recognized by any other state.

The Taliban government has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women subjected to laws characterised by the UN as “gender apartheid.”

Human Rights Watch’s Associate Women’s Rights Director, Heather Barr, said the Taliban should not have been allowed to make demands on the conditions of the meetings considering their policies targeting women.

“It is unthinkable that diplomats could gather to discuss Afghanistan in the middle of such a crisis and do so without women’s rights being the main issue on the agenda and Afghan women being full participants in the discussion,” she told AFP.

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, extended Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi an advance invitation to the talks during a visit to Afghanistan in May, a statement said.

A key element of the talks held in the Gulf state, which hosted the Taliban during years of peace talks with the United States, is a UN independent assessment on Afghanistan released late last year.

The assessment, backed by Western nations, suggested recognition of the Taliban authorities be tied to the removal of restraints on women’s rights and access to education.

It also recommends the appointment of a UN special envoy, which the Taliban government has rejected.


Seven killed as Indian passenger and goods trains collide

Updated 2 min 20 sec ago
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Seven killed as Indian passenger and goods trains collide

  • Images on Indian broadcasters showed tangled wreckage of carriages flipped on their side
  • India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years

KOLKATA: At least seven people were killed when an express passenger train and a goods train collided Monday in India’s West Bengal state, derailing three passenger carriages, police said.

Images on Indian broadcasters showed the tangled wreckage of carriages flipped on their side, and one thrust high into the air precariously balanced on another.

Police said rescuers were scouring the twisted carriages in case there were more bodies trapped beneath.

“We have confirmation of seven deaths and 39 passengers admitted at a local hospital with various injuries,” local police officer Iftikar-Ul-Hassan told AFP.

The incident is the latest to hit India’s creaking rail network, which carries millions of passengers each day.

“We just saw the bodies of a dead driver and a guard... their bodies were taken out,” Rajesh Kumar Singh, from the Railway Protection Force, told AFP.

“Some more bodies may be under the crash site, but we don’t yet know for sure.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to “those who lost their loved ones,” in a post on social media, adding that “rescue operations are underway.”

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the crash “tragic” in a post on social media.

“Doctors, ambulances and disaster teams have been rushed to the site for rescue, recovery, medical assistance,” Banerjee said. “Action on war footing initiated.”

Banerjee said the crash took place in the Phansidewa area of Darjeeling district, when the Kanchenjunga Express train was hit by a goods train.

Railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the “injured are being shifted to the hospital.”

India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years, the worst in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar state, killing an estimated 800 people.

In June last year, a three-train collision killed nearly 300 people in Odisha state.

In recent years, India has been investing huge sums of money to upgrade the network with modern stations and electronic signalling systems.

On Sunday, a train crossed for the first time the world’s highest railway bridge — 359 meters (1178 feet) above a river — in India’s Himalayan region, the railways minister Vaishnaw said.

The arch-shaped steel structure over the Chenab River links sections of northern Jammu and Kashmir state, connecting the disputed territory to the rest of India.

Work on the railway track has been ongoing for nearly three decades, and the trial run comes ahead of a formal opening expected within weeks.


Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

Updated 17 June 2024
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Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

  • Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 60 square kilometers
  • The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just two percent contained Sunday evening

GORMAN, California: Strong winds pushed flames through dry brush in mountains along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles on Sunday, and officials warned residents in the wildfire’s path to be prepared to leave if it explodes in size again.
Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 23 square miles (60 square kilometers), one day after it forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area.
The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just 2 percent contained Sunday evening. No injuries were reported. The cause was under investigation.
Firefighters working in sweltering conditions and steep terrain raced to douse spot fires that erupted as unpredictable winds blew embers ahead of the flames, said Kenichi Haskett, a section chief for the LA County Fire Department. The gusts also hampered efforts by aircraft crews to drop water and fire retardant, he said.
“When it’s windy, it just sprays the water everywhere we don’t need it. So that’s a challenge,” Haskett said.
Meanwhile in Northern California, a small wildfire sparked Sunday prompted evacuation orders and warnings for a sparsely populated area near Lake Sonoma. The so-called Point Fire sent up a huge plume of dark smoke as it churned through brush and timber about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It was 15 percent contained.
The Southern California fire erupted Saturday afternoon near I-5 in Gorman, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. Two structures burned within the evacuated recreation area.
Flames were moving toward Pyramid Lake, a popular destination for boaters that was closed as a precaution on Father’s Day. No houses were threatened Sunday, but officials warned residents of Castaic, home to about 19,000 people, that they should prepare to leave if the fire pushes further south.
“If you’re in a warning area, be prepared with a ‘go bag,’ with overnight clothes and your cellphone, your medicines, your glasses. Have your car fueled up,” said Haskett. “Be ready to evacuate.”
Low humidity and gusts around 50 mph (80 kph) were expected throughout the day, and winds could pick up speed after sundown, warned the National Weather Service office for Los Angeles.
About 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the east, the nearly 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) Hesperia Fire forced road closures and prompted evacuation warnings after it broke out Saturday near mountain communities in San Bernardino County. The blaze was 19 percent contained Sunday evening.


Muslims in Asia celebrate Eid Al-Adha with sacrifice festival and traditional feast

Updated 17 June 2024
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Muslims in Asia celebrate Eid Al-Adha with sacrifice festival and traditional feast

  • On Monday, worshippers shoulder-to-shoulder joined in communal prayers in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta
  • Preachers in their sermons called on people to pray for Muslims in Gaza and Rafah

JAKARTA: Muslims in Asia on Monday celebrated Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, with food and prayers for people in Gaza suffering from the Israel-Hamas war.
One of the biggest Islamic holidays, the occasion commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s test of faith through slaughtering livestock and animals and distributing the meat to the poor. It’s a joyous occasion for which food is a hallmark where devout Muslims buy and slaughter animals and share two-thirds of the meat with the poor and it’s a revered observance that coincides with the final rites of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Much of Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh, observed Eid Al-Adha on Monday, while Muslims in other parts of the globe, including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen celebrated the holiday on Sunday.
On Monday, worshippers shoulder-to-shoulder joined in communal prayers in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. Preachers in their sermons called on people to pray for Muslims in Gaza and Rafah.
“Our prayers and thoughts are with our brother and sisters who are now suffering in Palestine,” worshipper Adi Prasetya said after praying at a field in southern Jakarta. “There are many opportunities for us now to channel our help through charities.”
“May Allah give strength to those ravaged by war... may those who are divided can live in peace again,” said another devotee, Berlina Yustiza.
Although Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country in the world, its traditions to mark Eid Al-Adha have been influenced by other religions.
Residents in Yogyakarta, an ancient center of Javanese culture and the seat of royal dynasties going back centuries, believe that if they manage to catch the crops arranged in the form of a cone-shaped pile called “gunungan” that is paraded from the royal palace to the Kauman Grand Mosque, it can bring them good luck. They scrambled to grab various food offerings, made of fruit, vegetables and traditional snacks.
A day before the sacrifice festival, people in East Java’s Pasuruan city expressed their gratitude and respect for the sacrificial animals by dressing them as beautiful as a bride. The sacrificial cow is wrapped in a seven-fold garland, a shroud, turban and prayer mat and paraded in a tradition called “manten sapi,” or bride cow, before being handed to the sacrificial committee.
Villagers in Demak, a town in Central Java province, celebrated the holiday with a procession of livestock called “apitan” as a form of gratitude for the food and harvest. They bring foods in bamboo containers to the town’s square that they eat together after praying. Locals believe the procession will provide prosperity and that disaster would come if it was abandoned.
Eid Al-Adha commemorates the Qur’anic tale of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ismail as an act of obedience to God. Before he could carry out the sacrifice, God provided a ram as an offering. In the Christian and Jewish telling, Abraham is ordered to kill another son, Isaac.
In Malaysia, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim joined thousands of congregants, including foreign tourists, and offered morning prayers at a mosque near his office in Putrajaya, south of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Meanwhile at a wholesale market in Selayang, just outside the capital, Muslim workers there knelt on mats placed on a large piece of white cloth laid outside the market to perform their prayers.
In his message, Anwar said the opportunity to go on the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah is one of God’s great gifts and should make one more ascetic and simpler.
“I invite Muslims to live the message of simplicity that is preached in Hajj, to always be humble and not be mesmerized by the attraction of temporary worldly riches,” Anwar said, “Let’s not deviate from this goal. The world should be a bridge to the eternal land.”