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LONDON: Muslim communities are being failed by the UK’s flagship counter-extremism Prevent strategy, a government advisor has told the BBC.
Dame Sarah Khan said the government had left a “vacuum” of information detailing the strategy’s purpose that was subsequently being filled by extremists, while fears of racism accusations left some local authorities uncomfortable tackling extremism.
“Continuing to engage communities, explaining what the programme is, addressing concerns — that’s got to continue in a much better way,” she said, adding that some groups were using accusations of Islamophobia as “cover” for extremist practices, and that she had seen examples of local councillors who felt “unable” to push back against the radicalization of young Muslims.
Khan has been a vocal supporter of the controversial strategy launched in 2007 to reduce the UK terror threat by stopping people being drawn into terrorism. Her intervention comes as ministers prep a review into how effective Prevent is.
WASHINGTON: A dozen members of the US Congress have asked the Biden administration to look into recently introduced Israeli rules that limit the numbers of American academics and students who can teach or study at Palestinian universities in the Occupied Territories.
Jamaal Bowman, a representative from New York, sent a letter, co-signed by 11 of his Democratic colleagues, to the secretaries of state, homeland security, and education calling for an inquiry into the restrictive new rules. They were announced by the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which functions as the de-facto Israeli military government in the Occupied Territories.
The Congress members said in their letter: “According to the recent COGAT announcement, a limit of only 100 foreign academics and 150 foreign students will be allowed to teach or study at Palestinian universities.”
They said the new rules will “severely restrict the ability of American academics and students to teach and study at Palestinian universities” in the Occupied Territories, “while no similar restrictions apply to American academics and students seeking to teach and study at Israeli universities, nor to Israeli academics and students seeking to teach and study in the United States.”
In addition, they noted that the Israeli government “will only grant visas to professors and students for approved fields of teaching and study and limit the amount of time professors and students can spend at Palestinian universities.”
They said: “We find the policies outlined by the COGAT to formalize discriminatory treatment of Palestinian Americans and other citizens.”
These new rules are due to take effect in July, the members of congress noted, and they asked Biden administration officials to reveal how many Americans seeking to study or teach at Palestinian universities have been denied entry to Israel and on what basis?
They also asked the State Department to clarify its position on the new procedures, which “would have the effect of limiting academic freedom of American citizens seeking to study and/or teach at Palestinian universities.” They set a deadline of June 10 for a response.
The other members of Congress who co-signed the letter include Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Ilhan Omar, both from Minnesota, Rep. Marie Newman, a progressive from Illinois who has been a vocal advocate for the rights of Palestinians, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American from Michigan.
Chris Habiby, the legislative and policy coordinator for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the Arab News that the new COGAT rules “simply formalize the practices that Arab Americans, and in particular Palestinian Americans, have been experiencing for decades.”
He added: “The ADC appreciates the courage of shown by Congressman Bowman and 11 other House Democrats in calling out Israeli discrimination against Palestinians.”
Israel has asked the Department of Homeland Security, which polices entry into the US, to include Israeli citizens visiting America in the US Visa Waiver Program. Objections to this center on allegations of Israeli discrimination against American citizens of Palestinian or Arab descent who are subjected to intrusive searches and often denied entry to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Visa Waiver Program includes statutory requirements that must be met before any country is considered for inclusion. One key requirement is “reciprocity,” which means that American citizens visiting a country that is a member of the program must be treated the same way as a citizen of that country who is visiting the US.
The letter from the members of Congress points out that according to the US State Department: “Some US citizens of Arab or Muslim heritage (including Palestinian Americans) have experienced significant difficulties and unequal and occasionally hostile treatment at Israel’s borders and checkpoints.”
Habiby urged US authorities to put pressure on Israel to prevent the new rules taking effect.
“The Biden administration must take concrete steps to ensure that the Israeli government does not implement this ordinance,” he said.
WASHINGTON: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday it was aware of more than 700 global cases of monkeypox, including 21 in the United States, with investigations now suggesting it is spreading inside the country.
According to a new CDC report, 14 were thought to be travel associated.
All patients are in recovery or have recovered, and no cases have been fatal.
“There have also been some cases in the United States that we know are linked to known cases,” Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, told reporters on a call.
“We also have at least one case in the United States that does not have a travel link or know how they acquired their infection.”
Monkeypox is a rare disease that is related to but less severe than smallpox, causing a rash that spreads, fever, chills, and aches, among other symptoms.
Generally confined to western and central Africa, cases have been reported in Europe since May and the number of countries affected has grown since.
Canada also released new figures Friday, counting 77 confirmed cases — almost all of them detected in Quebec province, where vaccines have been delivered.
Though its new spread may be linked to particular festivals in Europe, monkeypox is not thought to be a sexually transmitted disease, with the main risk factor being close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has monkey pox sores.
A person is contagious until all the sores have scabbed and new skin is formed.
Raj Panjabi, senior director for the White House’s global health security and biodefense division, added that 1,200 vaccines and 100 treatment courses had been delivered to US states, where they were offered to close contacts of those infected.
There are currently two authorized vaccines: ACAM2000 and JYNNEOS, which were originally developed against smallpox.
Though smallpox has been eliminated, the United States retains the vaccines in a strategic national reserve in case it is deployed as a biological weapon.
JYNNEOS is the more modern of the two vaccines, with fewer side effects.
“We continue to have more than enough vaccine available,” Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response in the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters.
In late May, the CDC said it had 100 million doses of ACAM200 and 1,000 doses of JYNNEOS available, but O’Connell said Friday the figures had shifted, though she could not divulge precise numbers for strategic reasons.
The CDC has also authorized two antivirals used to treat smallpox, TPOXX and Cidofovir, to be repurposed to treat monkeypox.
“Anyone can get monkeypox and we are carefully monitoring for monkeypox that may be spreading in any population,” said McQuiston.
That being said, the CDC is undertaking special outreach in the LGBT community, she added.
A suspected case “should be anyone with a new characteristic rash,” or anyone who meets the criteria for high suspicion such as relevant travel or close contact.
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s agriculture minister called on citizens on Friday to start growing food in their home gardens to help avert looming shortages, as the country’s debt crisis continues to worsen.
The island nation of 22 million people, which defaulted on international debts of more than $50 billion last month, has been facing a severe shortfall in imports of essential goods, which is also pushing inflation to new record highs. 
While the Colombo Consumer Price Index rose to nearly 40 percent year-on-year in May, up from almost 30 percent in April, food inflation surged to 57.4 percent, up from 46.6 percent, leaving many in Sri Lanka already unable to afford three meals a day. 
Officials have been looking for ways to boost domestic production since Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned of a food crisis by August.
“We are urging the people to grow their food at home: crops and cereals such as green gram; all types of yams, potatoes, cassava and sweet potatoes; cowpeas; condiments such as chilies, cardamom and curry leaves, and fruits,” Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera told Arab News.
He said that if there is an emergency, the government will get food “from any part of the world,” and has so far sought help from India, with which Sri Lanka has a credit line facility, to import over 30,000 metric tons of rice — the country’s staple.
Local rice production has dropped in Sri Lanka, after last year’s decision by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to ban all chemical fertilizer. Although the ban has been lifted, the country has been unable to secure fertilizer imports for the cultivation season.
“We have again reverted to carbonic fertilizer for cultivation, which will take some time to bring back the situation to normalcy,” Amaraweera said.
But urban gardening may not contribute much to surviving this period, according to Prof. Palitha Weerakkody from the Department of Crop Science of the University of Peradeniya.
“This is ideal for rural and semi-urban areas,” he told Arab News, adding that even there, constraints would be significant due to a lack of manpower, as Sri Lankan families are no longer big like they used to be in the past.
“With small families of three to four people, this type of cultivation has its own limitations,” Weerakkody said. “And they can’t grow paddy in home gardens.”
Hunger is looming as Sri Lanka is struggling with its worst economic crisis in memory and is now sliding from an upper-middle-income economy to one seeking international donations and emergency loans.
Sri Lanka needs at least $3 billion in emergency funds this year and its leaders have been trying to negotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund.
In May, the IMF began technical discussions with Sri Lankan authorities, and a new round of talks is expected this month.
KARACHI: New hikes in the prices of fuel and electricity are expected to cause an inflationary storm in Pakistan, industrialists and experts said on Friday, as the government slashed subsidies for a second time in a week to secure International Monetary Fund bailout money.
Pakistan entered a three-year IMF deal in 2019 but is struggling to implement tough policy commitments to revive the $6 billion program desperately needed to stabilize its struggling economy.
A pending tranche of over $900 million is contingent on a successful IMF review, and would also unlock other multilateral and bilateral funding for Pakistan, whose foreign reserves currently cover just two months’ worth of imports.
After the IMF pushed Islamabad to roll back its subsidies for the oil and power sectors during talks in Doha last week, the Finance Ministry raised fuel prices by around 20 percent, and within a week by another 17 percent effective from Friday.
The country’s inflation rate is forecast to soar to 19 percent this month — its highest in over a decade.
The new petrol price is PKR209.86 ($1.06) per liter and diesel is PKR204.15 per liter. The fuel hikes, which come along with an increase in the basic power tariff by 47 percent announced by the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority a day earlier, have sent shockwaves among Pakistani industrialists who say many of them will be forced to close.
“The outcome of the tariff and fuel price hike would be determinantal for the industries as it would increase unemployment, drastically cut exports, and would increase inflation in the country,” Muhammad Idrees, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.  
“No one will think about setting up industries after the steps taken by the government, because it would render the business unviable, and industries will be eliminated in large numbers.”
The Pakistan Yarn Merchants Association called on the government to reverse its decisions to save the industry, especially small and medium-sized enterprises.
“The sharp rise in prices of petroleum products, excessive power tariff, and severe energy crisis are catastrophic for business and industry,” Saqib Naseem, the association’s chairman said in a statement.
The country’s inflation rate is expected to soar to 19 percent this month — its highest in over a decade.
“The direct impact of the fuel and power tariff hike would be on the Consumer Price Index, which will add 1.5 percent and 2 percent to the prevailing inflation rate,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.
“The combined inflationary impact of the fuel and electricity tariff, if the determined tariff is implemented, would be around 19 percent in June. There would be a second-round impact when the price hike of goods and services after the cost of input is increased.”
Uzair Younus, director of the Pakistan Initiative at the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council, said the “inflationary storm” expected to hit the country in the coming days would “destroy purchasing power of ordinary households.”
And more hardships may be on the cards as there are more IMF requirements to meet.  
“There is still about a 9-rupee subsidy on petrol and about 23-rupee subsidy on diesel. In addition, the government has to place a 17 percent sales tax and a 30-rupee levy, as agreed to with the IMF months ago,” Younus told Arab News.
“Assuming oil price stays the same and rupee doesn’t weaken further, we are looking at petrol touching about 285 rupees a liter.”
Pakistan’s equity market has already reacted to the latest developments, with the benchmark KSE 100 index declining by 923 points, or 2.2 percent, to close at 41,314.88 points on Friday.
NEW DELHI: Members of a minority Hindu group in Kashmir Valley have started to leave the area, citing fear amid an intensifying string of killings targeting the community.
Indian-controlled Kashmir has been witnessing a wave of deadly attacks since August 2019, when the government abrogated the Muslim-majority region’s limited constitutional autonomy to bring it under the direct rule of New Delhi.
On Tuesday, gunmen killed a Hindu schoolteacher in Kulgam district. On Thursday, a Hindu bank employee was shot dead in the same area. The killings came less than a month after a government employee, another member of the community, was murdered in nearby Budgam.
Since May, members of the community have been holding protests against the local administration, demanding relocation to a safer place, but as no steps have been undertaken by the government, many have decided to leave on their own.
“The local and the central government has failed to secure the lives of religious minorities staying in Kashmir Valley,” Sanjay Tickoo, who heads the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, the largest Kashmiri Pandit organisation in the region, told Arab News on Friday.
“Around 3,000 Kashmiri Pandit employees have left the valley during the last two days and the remaining will go in the next couple of days.”
Some 5,000 members of the Pandit community have been living in the valley since 2010 — two decades after about 200,000 of them fled Kashmir when an anti-India rebellion broke out. They returned under a government resettlement plan that provided jobs and housing.
Jagat Bhat, a Kashmiri Pandit and government employee who was working in Srinagar, the main city of Kashmir Valley, said the resettlement plan was “an invitation to death.”
He told Arab News that 10 families from his neighborhood alone moved out to nearby Jammu district on Thursday.
“The situation is very bad and those who can are leaving the valley for safer places,” he said.
“We left the valley with whatever stuff we could carry early in the morning on Friday,” Rubon Sapro, a schoolteacher, said. “The situation in the valley has worsened and there is a great sense of fear among Hindu minorities. They are leaving the valley in hordes.”
Sunit Bhat, who lives in a transit camp, one of the seven camps that the government built in 2010 to accommodate the Pandit community under the resettlement plan, said he is now only waiting to get his son’s school certificate before the family can move.
“Already many have left and those who are still in the valley will move out in a day or two after finishing local formalities,” he told Arab News. “I will leave the valley most probably tomorrow morning. I cannot think of returning to the valley again.”
While earlier this week a local spokesperson of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Dr. Hina Bhat, said relocation of Pandits would be against the government’s policy, another party official blamed the current instability on neighboring Pakistan.
The Indian government has been invested in projecting the majority-Muslim region as a stable, integrated part of India after revoking its autonomy 2019.
“The way the situation has been improving in the valley in the last four years, there has been an atmosphere of frustration in Pakistan, and they have been trying to vitiate the atmosphere in the valley,” Manzoor Bhat, BJP spokesperson in Srinagar, told Arab News. “Pakistan wants to sabotage the peace in Kashmir.”
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Both countries claim the region in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training rebel groups, which Pakistan denies.

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