Saturday, May 06, 2017

Rouhani slams nuclear deal saboteurs in debate

Tehran, May 5 - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani criticised conservative opponents for trying to sabotage the nuclear deal with world powers and vowed more civil rights during today's second presidential election debate.

    In rare criticism of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Rouhani slammed the decision to write anti-Israel messages on ballistic missiles before testing them.

    "We saw how they wrote slogans on missiles and showed underground (missile) cities to disrupt the JCPOA (nuclear deal)," he said during the debate, which comes ahead of the May 19 election.
    "Our nation got through these issues because the majority of society chose morality and Islam from day one," he added.

    Iran argues that the missile tests are not banned under the 2015 deal, which curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of certain sanctions, but they have heightened tensions with the US and Israel.
    Rouhani said his conservative opponents in the election were linked to those trying to scupper the deal and broader outreach to the West.

    "When our diplomats were negotiating the deal, what were you doing behind the scenes? Some people acted like the opponents of the Iranian people," he said.
    One of his main challengers, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, said he would not tear up the nuclear accord but slammed what he called the government's weak stance and empty promises.

    "We should not show any weakness in the face of the enemy," said Raisi, who had a more lively debate after a lacklustre showing in the first round last week.

    "This agreement was like a cheque that the government has been unable to cash. Mr Rouhani promised that after the signing of the deal all the sanctions would be lifted and people's lives would improve, but they have not," he said.

    Rouhani hit back with a spirited defence of the nuclear deal, saying it had allowed a massive increase in oil sales and opened the way for Iran to take a central position in regional diplomacy.
    "It is unprecedented that Iran has such an important role," he said, referring to this week's talks on Syria alongside Russia and Turkey.

    Rouhani also vowed to improve civil rights -- a crucial plank of his 2013 presidential campaign which has been stymied by the conservative judiciary and security forces.
    "Civil rights are not just on paper, they will turn into practice. We will hold different sectors responsible," he said.

    The other main hardline challenger, Tehran mayor Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf, sought to score points on the stagnant economy, seen as Rouhani's main weakness.
    Ghalibaf returned frequently to his favourite theme -- attacking the elite "four-percenters", a nod to the global "We are the 99-per cent" campaign.

    "Who has benefited (from the nuclear deal)? The four- percenters. Who has been hurt? The people," he said.
    Six candidates were selected last month by the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, which rejected more than 1,600 applicants.

    Split evenly between three conservatives and three moderate-reformists, the debates have the flavour of a team event.

    Many expect the other moderate candidates -- vice- president Eshaq Jahangiri and Mostafa Hashemitaba -- to withdraw at the last minute to boost Rouhani's chances.

Syria safe zones closed to US-coalition jets

     Moscow, May 5 - Jets from the US-led coalition are barred from proposed safe zones in Syria set to be created under a deal inked by Russia, Iran and Turkey, Moscow's envoy said today.

    "In terms of their actions in the de-escalation zones then from this moment these zones are closed for their flights," the Kremlin's envoy to peace talks in Kazakhstan Alexander Lavrentiev was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

    "Aviation operations, especially by the international coalition forces, are absolutely not envisioned," he said.

    Regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey on Thursday signed a deal at talks in Kazakhstan to set up four safe zones in the war-torn country.

    The agreement did not explicitly mention the US-led coalition, which has been targeting jihadists from the Islamic State group, but Lavrentiev insisted that "flights cease over these territories."
    "We as guarantors will closely monitor all operations," he said.

    Moscow's envoy said this means coalition air power can now only focus on "Islamic State targets that are located in the area of Raqa, some populated areas in the region of the Euphrates, Deir Ezzor and further on to the territory of Iraq."

    The exact boundaries of the proposed safe zones in Syria are yet to be defined but they are meant to focus on rebel- held territory.

    The United States gave an extremely cautious welcome to the deal, citing concerns over Iran's role as a guarantor, even as it expressed hope that the agreement could set the stage for a settlement.

    The limitations could throw up obstacles for any potential US operations in Syria in the future after President Donald Trump carried out Washington's first direct strike on the forces of Russian ally Bashar al-Assad last month over an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Friday, May 05, 2017

It's All Halal in Kenya

Halal shops and restaurants as well as beauty and cosmetic shops are finding plenty of Catholic and Christian customers who are looking for products they know are safe. 
In a country where 82 percent are Christian, halal, the dietary standard in Islamic law, is finding greater acceptance.

Kenya is now home to a modest 100 halal-compliant food industry businesses, offering Muslims a choice of offerings and convenience, but that market may be growing.

In addition to the country’s estimated 4 million Muslims (out of 42 million), halal is finding favor among Christians as well.

"When I eat here, I also promote religious tolerance,” said Lynn Wambui, a 22-year-old Christian, who ate at Pronto, a restaurant specializing in halal foods. "The food is also tasty.”

Halal, which means "lawful” or "permitted” in Arabic, requires that meat such as beef, lamb, goat and poultry be raised and killed humanely and that a blessing be said at the time of slaughter. Non halal foods include carnivorous animals and birds of prey, as well as pork and products derived from pork such as gelatin. Fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains are permitted.

In April, Nairobi hosted the East Africa Islamic Economic Summit to allow business and government leaders opportunities to explore how to boost the halal market economy.

"What is happening in Kenya reflects developments in the rest of the world,” said Abdullah Kheir, a religious scholar at Umma University in the coastal city of Mombasa. "Halal generally is becoming more acceptable.”

According to Kheir, most people find the food less risky since there are strict guidelines governing its slaughter.

"They are sure that the meat is not from forbidden animals such as dogs or donkeys or even pork,” said the scholar, who teaches Shariah and Islamic studies.

Father Wilybard Lagho, a Roman Catholic priest in the Mombasa Archdiocese, said care needed to be taken such that they are used in an inclusive way.

"At a time when there is Islamophobia, such symbols can be easily misinterpreted,” said Lagho.

Halal also applies to other sectors such as cosmetics and beauty. Globally, the sector is believed to be worth $2.3 trillion. Kenya has developed a certification and regulatory frame to meet the standards.

Cosmetics shops applying the principles, for example, refuse to sell human hair.

Mohammed Hagi, the director of Kushitic, a beauty and cosmetic outlet in Nairobi, said that although most of his customers are Christians, he cannot sell the hair often used for braiding or as weaves or wigs.

"It’s forbidden by the law,” said Hagi. "We do not stock them. We sell what is permissible, including perfumes, makeup, oils.” (ABNA)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Huge crowds of Shiite faithful throng Baghdad shrine

Baghdad, Apr 23 - Hundreds of thousands of Shiite faithful thronged the mausoleum of Imam Kadhim in Baghdad today for the climax of a week-long pilgrimage that saw millions converge on the Iraqi capital.

    Beating their heads and chests, crowds of pilgrims lurched and swerved to try to touch a mock coffin being carried to the shrine in the northern neighbourhood of Kadhimiyah.

    "This visit means a lot to us, it is about showing respect for the suffering of the imam and the injustice he faced and about reaffirming our dedication to him," said Ahmad Jamal, a 28-year-old civil servant in the crowd of pilgrims.

    Kadhim, the seventh of 12 revered imams in Shiite Islam, died in 799 AD. The commemoration has in recent years turned into a huge event that brings the Iraqi capital to a standstill for days.

    The organisers estimated that around 10 million people came to Kadhimiyah for the commemoration in recent years, which is still less than the 17 million faithful said to have visited the southern shrine city of Karbala for the Arbaeen pilgrimage last year.

    Shiite religious events and sites are considered prime potential targets for suicide attacks by the Islamic State group and huge security deployments were visible across Baghdad.

    Many of the main thoroughfares have been blocked to traffic for days to minimise the risk of car bombs and allow the pilgrims to reach the shrine. Some of them walk several days, mostly from southern Iraq.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Bahrain cuts Sheikh Ali Salman jail term: judicial source

Dubai, Apr 3 - Bahrain's top court today reduced the jail sentence of Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, who has been in prison since 2014, a judicial source said.

The Sunni-ruled kingdom's court of cassation reduced Salman's sentence from nine to four years, the source said on condition of anonymity.
No further details were immediately available.

The court of cassation in October had ordered a retrial of the 51-year-old cleric, who headed the now-banned Al-Wefaq Shiite opposition movement.

Salman had been arrested on charges of inciting hatred and insulting the state in December 2014.
He was found guilty in July 2015 and sentenced to four years in jail.

An appeals court later more than doubled his jail term to nine years, after reversing an earlier acquittal on charges of calling for regime change by force.

Salman is considered a moderate who has pushed for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain compared to more hardline groups who have demanded the toppling of the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty in a string of protests that go back to 2011.

Bahrain has cracked down over the past six years on dissent by members of the Shiite majority, whom it accuses of being manipulated by Iran.
Shiite Iran has consistently denied any involvement.

The kingdom last year ordered the dissolution of Al-Wefaq, the country's main Shiite opposition party, for "harbouring terrorism".
Al-Wefaq was the largest bloc in Bahrain's elected lower house of parliament.

Its lawmakers resigned en masse in protest against the state crackdown on the 2011 protests.
In 1995, Salman was among a string of oppositionists exiled from Bahrain, moving to the United Arab Emirates and then Britain.

In 2001, he returned to Bahrain under a general amnesty and set up Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society with other Shiite opposition figures.

In 2006 he was elected secretary general of the group.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Exposed : Netanyahu held secret Arab peace meeting: report

Jerusalem, Feb 19 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met secretly with Arab rulers last year to hear then US secretary of state John Kerry pitch a regional peace plan, an Israeli newspaper reported today.

    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also attended the February 2016 talks hosted by King Abdullah II in the Jordanian city of Aqaba, Haaretz said, citing former senior officials in the Obama administration who asked to remain anonymous.

    It said Kerry wanted the sides to endorse six principles, which he laid out publicly in a December speech.
    They included a call for Israel to vacate territory it occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War, subject to land swaps agreed between the two sides.

    A former Obama administration official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed to AFP that the meeting was held but would not comment on the substance of Kerry's proposal.

    Since 1967, Israel has pulled out of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip but annexed east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

    It continues to occupy the West Bank, where hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in settlements seen as illegal by the international community.
    Kerry's parameters envisioned a Palestinian state, with Palestinians recognising Israel as a "Jewish state".

    Both would share Jerusalem as the "internationally recognised capital of the two states".
    Israel claims the city as its "undivided" capital.
Netanyahu's coalition government, the most right-wing in Israel's history, rejects talk of ceding any part of it to Palestinian sovereignty.

    "Netanyahu did not accept Kerry's proposal and said he would have difficulty getting it approved by his governing coalition," Haaretz wrote on today.
    Netanyahu's spokesman and Jordanian officials refused to comment on the report.

    Meeting on Wednesday at the White House, Netanyahu and President Donald Trump each spoke of prospects of a regional Middle East understanding to end the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    "For the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally," Netanyahu told Trump.

    "We think the larger issue today is how do we create the broader conditions for broad peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab countries," Netanyahu said the following day on MSNBC.
    Trump said Netanyahu's proposal for a regional alliance was something that "hasn't been discussed before", adding that it would take in "many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory".