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Religious Congregation In Pakistan Sparks Fresh Fear Of Coronavirus Pandemic

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At a time when coronavirus pandemic has surreptitiously effaced man-made illusory geographical borders by spreading from Wuhan province in China to 185 countries across the world, Pakistan seems to have failed to heed to constant call of health experts calling for self-isolation.

A recent mass religious gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat, a global conservative Muslim missionary group, that brought together tens of thousands of Muslim preachers from some 80 countries in Pakistan has sparked fresh fears over Covid-19 spread in Pakistan and beyond, even as the Imran Khan-led government has remained adamant that it will neither seek assistance under SAARC emergency fund nor contribute anything to contain the coronavirus.

India has contributed $10 million dollars to the SAAR fund. Apart from India, contributions have also been committed by Sri Lanka ($5 million), Bangladesh ($1.5 million), Nepal ($1 million), Afghanistan ($1 million), Maldives ($200,000) and Bhutan ($100,000), taking the total amount in the Covid-19 Emergency Fund to $18.3 million.

Earlier Malaysian media had reported that more than half of the country’s known coronavirus cases were traced to a mass religious gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in late February and early March.

Preachers who attended also spread the virus to Brunei and Thailand, the New York Times reported, saying the gathering created “the largest known viral vector in Southeast Asia”.

Concerns in Pakistan about the fresh spread of novel coronavirus are not unfounded and the eerily similar incident involving Tablighi Jamaat has already started to show its results.

The first two cases of coronavirus infection in the Gaza Strip, a war-shattered territory with a fragile health system, were confirmed over the weekend in Palestinian men who attended the religious gathering 10 days ago in Pakistan, according to an Islamabad-based Palestinian diplomat Ahmed Rabi.

The United Nations has warned that a Covid-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak health system in the coastal strip under an Israeli blockade since 2007.

Four people in the southern province of Sindh, who attended the meet, were infected with the virus while five preachers from Kyrgyzstan who stayed in a mosque in Islamabad after attending the gathering have also tested positive, said a senior health official.

On Tuesday, the number of total confirmed cases in Pakistan crossed 900, with the highest being reported from Sindh. Other Pakistani provinces do not provide a detailed breakdown of coronavirus cases, so the actual national number may be much higher than anticipated.

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Hagia Sophia: Turkey turns iconic Istanbul museum of Hagia Sophia into mosque

The court ruled that Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.

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The iconic Istanbul museum of Hagia Sophia will be turned into a mosque. Hours after a landmark court ruling Friday (July 10), the Turkish government confirmed that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia will be reopened for worship after an 85-year hiatus.

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

The nearly 1,500-year-old architectural gem will be transferred to the state Religious Affairs Directorate under a presidential decree, according to a Friday announcement in the Official Gazette.

Earlier Friday, ruling on a petition filed by an Istanbul NGO, Turkey’s Council of State overturned a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum.

The court ruled that Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.

After centuries of use as a church under the Byzantine Empire, in 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Mehmet II following his conquest of Istanbul. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum. Posting his decree on social media today, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed best wishes for the change, which he has long advocated.

While details of the change are not yet known, Turkish officials have pointed out that many famed houses of worship, such as Paris’ Notre Dame and Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, are also open to visitors.

“Opening up Hagia Sophia to worship won’t keep local or foreign tourists from visiting the site,” Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman, told Anadolu Agency in an interview this week. Turkey is home to people of many faiths who can freely exercise their religions, he added.

World Reacts To Decision On Hagia Sophia

The Russian Orthodox Church expressed shock at Turkey’s decision to withdraw the museum status of Hagia Sophia, blaming it of disregarding voices of millions of Christians. “The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,” Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida stated.

“Today’s court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored,” Legoida said.

UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status, saying it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialogue nor notification beforehand”.

“UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” the UN’ cultural body said in a statement.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides tweeted –  Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations”.

Christodoulides said Turkey’s “escalating, flagrant violation of its international obligations is manifested in its decision to alter the designation of Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage Site that is a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith”.

Later, Greece called Turkey’s move an “open provocation to the civilised world”. “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan … takes his country back six centuries,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

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Americas

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

Nikki Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.  

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India has pinned hopes on Nikki Haley to become the US Vice President (VP) should Donald Trump get re-elected this November. Haley, a first-generation Indian American, is expected to strengthen Indo-American relation and also attract a lot of voters including women and minorities.

According to the reports, there is speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate.

Despite resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has been active in politics. She has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena.

She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities and has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And Hailey has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.

The former governor of South Carolina, Haley is one of the people who left the Trump Administration on good terms. She has even promised to campaign for the President for his re-election bid.

Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, Haley’s recent moves can be seen as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse. Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events.

While Haley has dismissed reports about her running for VP, her being an influential person of colour could help Trump win constituencies he is currently losing.

India pinning hopes on Nikki Haley

The US Presidential elections are a spectacle observed globally and India would be hoping Trump wins and Haley gets elected as the VP. Haley enjoys nationwide popularity amongst Indian-Americans and her election as VP could lead to stronger ties between Washington and New Delhi.

She has natural links to India with her parents having emigrated to the US in the 1960s from Punjab. Haley has often pointed out that India is an example of a free government and recently even applauded New Delhi’s decision to ban 59 Chinese applications and for standing up to China.

With an Indian-American at the helm of affairs, New Delhi would see it as an opportunity to get closer to Washington. It could lead to India benefitting in the areas of trade, defence and investment and would be a huge blow to neighbours China and Pakistan.

US Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November and will be contested between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. While Biden’s re-election does not mean that India and the United States will have weak relations, having Trump in the White House and Haley as VP would definitely lead to stronger Indo-American ties.

Armaan Srivastava. Views Personal

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Middle East

British defense minister hails Saudi-UK ties days after imposing sanctions

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The British government privately called Saudi Arabia to praise their bilateral ties a day after sanctioning its senior officials for human rights abuses, The Independent reported on Friday. 

Defense Minister Ben Wallace called his Saudi counterpart to emphasize Britain’s support for the Saudis, The British daily reported, citing Saudi media. The British government decided not to publish the call, but the state-run Saudi Press Agency was less subtle.

In a press release, it reported: “His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense, received yesterday a phone call from His Excellency British Defence Secretary, Mr Ben Wallace, during which the partnership between the two countries was discussed, especially in the defence field, and the efforts made by the two countries to enhance regional and international security.”

The report went on to say that Wallace “expressed his country’s appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s role in addressing threats to stability in the region.”

“He also affirmed the country’s government’s keenness to strengthen defence relations between the two friendly countries, especially in the field of military exports to the Kingdom,” the report said. On Monday, Britain announced its first independent sanctions regime. It had previously joined with the UN and EU sanctions, but post-Brexit will now implement its own system.

Of the 49 initial individuals sanctioned, 20 were Saudis involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

On Tuesday, Britain announced it will resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia a year after the court of appeal declared that the UK government acted unlawfully by selling arms to the kingdom without first assessing whether they were involved in breaches of international humanitarian law.

An official government review found that airstrikes in Yemen, which breached international humanitarian law, were only “isolated incidents”, Trade Secretary Liz Truss said in a written statement to the parliament.

By Karim El-Bar

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