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Malaysian Hindus will silently protest against Naik.

Sonu Kanojia

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Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy on Saturday clarified that the planned gathering against controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik to be held on Sunday at a Hindu temple in Butterworth is not a rally, but a prayer session.

“The event of Sunday is not a rally but a prayer session for Hindus who have been hurt and humiliated by Zakir Naik and Perlis Mufti Mohammed Asri Zainal.

“Following the prayer session, a few participants intend to lodge police reports against those who have humiliated and demeaned Hinduism in the past few years including Naik and Asri,” Ramasamy said.

But on the contrary the police warned the public not to join the gathering saying that it is illegal and those involved could be penalised under the violation of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012.

North Seberang Prai district police chief ACP Azmi Adam told reporters that the police rejected the application because it violates the Peaceful Assembly Act, to hold a rally in a place of worship.

Ramasamy said that three banners about the rally hung in three districts on Penang mainland have been taken down.

“Police have no authority to tell what Hindus should do. If the Malaysian police can allow Zakir Nair and Asri to say all kinds of things against Hindus and also fails to take any action then they also do not have any right to stop hindus who are merely gathering for prayers.

“Is it an offence to call for prayers and then to lodge police reports against those responsible for the sorry state of inter-religious tensions in the country,” he said.

Ramasamy, who is also DAP deputy secretary-general, also claimed that the prayers session this Sunday as nothing to do with Hindraf.

“The event is merely organized by local Hindus to reaffirm their faith in Hinduism. Now, what is terribly wrong with this?,” he asked.

Ramasamy also questioned why the police invoke the Peaceful Assembly Act if the proposed event is about organising prayers at a Hindu temple.“How come the police in the past have refused to invoke this law to curb the incendiary religious activities of Naik and others. Can’t the Hindus have a mass gathering at a Hindu temple for the purpose of prayers and religious solidarity. Why are the police jumping the gun?

“Who are the police to say that they will not allow the rally to take place, but would allow if those gathered wished to pray. When did the Malaysian police assumed the responsibility of the guardians of the temple? Who are they to say when Hindus can pray and not to pray in temples? Isn’t this something too much?

“I have been informed by the organizers that the Sunday event for prayers and solidarity would proceed in a peaceful manner and that there is no need for the police or any other agencies to over react to the situation,” Ramasamy said.

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Pope Francis arrives in Ireland

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Dublin  |  Pope Francis touched down in Dublin today for a historic two-day visit to Ireland, where the Catholic Church is battling to regain trust following multiple scandals.

His Alitalia “Shepherd One” flight landed under cloudless skies at 10:26 am (0926 GMT), where deputy head of government Simon Coveney and his children were waiting to meet him with a bouquet of white and yellow roses with Irish foliage.

Hundreds of thousands of wellwishers and over a 1,000 journalists are expected to follow Francis during his tour of Dublin and County Mayo in the far west of the country.

Francis will tour Dublin today on his Popemobile before visiting a hostel for homeless families and giving a speech at Croke Park stadium.

The highlight of the visit will be an outdoor mass in the city’s Phoenix Park tomorrow, expected to draw 500,000 people — a tenth of the country’s entire population.

It is the first papal visit to Ireland since Pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 1.5 million people there in 1979.

The country has since undergone fundamental social change, becoming more secular — electing a gay prime minister and voting to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion.

The church has also been tarnished by clerical abuse scandals and victims and their supporters will hold a “Stand for Truth” demonstration in Dublin during the Sunday mass.

The Vatican confirmed Francis will meet with victims but provided no details, and said It also said he was unlikely to announce specific measures to combat sexual abuse within the church following a devastating recent US report that accused more than 300 priests in the state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.

In Tuam, a town in western Ireland, a silent vigil was planned in solidarity with victims of “mother and baby” homes — institutions accused of being punishment hostels for unwed pregnant women.

He will meet with President Michael D Higgins and Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar.

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Pakistan bans discretionary use of state funds, first-class air travel by govt officials

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Islamabad  |  Pakistan’s new government has banned the discretionary use of state funds and first-class air travel by officials and leaders, including the president and the prime minister, as part of its austerity drive.

The decisions were made at a Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday, according to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

“It has been decided that all the top government officials, including the president, prime minister, chief justice, senate chairman, speaker national assembly and the chief ministers will travel in club/business,” he told media.

To a question, Chaudhry said that the Army chief was not allowed first-class travel and always used business class.

He said that the discretionary allocation of funds by the prime minister and the president and other officials was also stopped by the Cabinet.

Chaudhry claimed that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif used Rs 51 billion discretionary funds in a year.

The prime minister also decided to stop using a special plane for foreign visits or domestic travelling and use business class.

After his victory in the July 25 general election, Khan decided not to use palatial Prime Minister House and instead live in a small portion of it that was previously used as the residence by the military secretary to the prime minister.

Khan also decided to use only two vehicles and keep two servants. He refused to use elaborate official protocol.

The Cabinet took up a host of issues, including reverting to six-day working week, but decided to continue five-day working after some ministers opposed the idea because it may alienate government servants.

The five-day working was instituted in 2011 due to power shortages and save fuels. The Cabinet was briefed that five-day working had not affected the performance or output by the civil servants.

While retaining two weekly off-days, the Cabinet changed the official office timings from 8-4 pm to 9-5 pm.

The meeting also decided to conduct an audit of all the mega transport projects carried out in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the previous governments.

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Rohingya emergency one year on: UN says thousands of lives saved, but challenges remain

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United Nations  |  Significant progress has been made in protecting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since they fled, but lives “will once again be at risk” if funding is not urgently secured, UN officials have said on the eve of the first anniversary of a military crackdown that forced them to flee their country.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas, most of them Muslims, have been displaced from Rakhine since the military began a crackdown on militants last August. Most have crossed the border into Bangladesh, joining the 200,000 refugees already there.

Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response for the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) Peter Salama told journalists in Geneva that deadly disease outbreaks had been held at bay in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar despite “all the conditions being in place for a massive epidemic”.

Outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, polio, cholera and rubella have been contained, he said, noting that “thousands of lives” had been saved so far, thanks to the joint efforts of the Bangladesh Government, WHO and partners.

“We need to sustain the vigilance for early warnings of infectious diseases,” Salama said. “That is still a major risk due to the environmental situation, the poor sanitation, the massive overcrowding, the way these people are being housed and we need to maintain our ability to scale-up outbreak response as required.”

His call to scale up help was echoed in Geneva by IOM, the UN migration agency, spokesperson Joel Millman.

“This was the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and the challenges have been immense, he said, highlighting comments by the agency’s Chief of Mission in Bangladesh Giorgi Gigauri. Countless lives have been saved thanks to the generosity of the Government of Bangladesh, the local community and donors and the hard work of all those involved in the humanitarian response. But we now face the very real threat that if more funding is not urgently secured, lives will once again be at risk.”

One year on from the exodus sparked by a military operation likened to ethnic cleansing by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, more than 720,000 Rohingya people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh.

They have joined an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who were previously displaced.

One of the camps, Kutupalong, shelters more than 600,000 refugees, making it the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In addition to the challenge of providing people’s basic needs shelter, water and sanitation and healthcare the agency has carried out huge engineering work to reduce the risk of landslides and flooding. This also involved mobilizing and training hundreds of refugee volunteers to serve as first responders in the event of a natural disaster, although the camps have largely withstood the adverse weather.

Another key area of concern is the health of some 60,000 pregnant Rohingya women in the camps. Many of them suffered gender-based violence either prior to or during the course of their flight from Myanmar, WHO’s Salama said, adding that only one-fifth of them will give birth in a suitable healthcare facility.

Partner agency UNHCR also underlined the calls for the international community to step up support for the Rohingya, who are stateless and unable to return to Myanmar. This is despite the UN’s signing of an official Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Myanmar in June, to help establish conditions conducive for the safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya.

According to OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the mainly Muslim Rohingya communities that have stayed in Rakhine state require urgent and in some cases lifesaving – help.

Some 660,000 people are in need across Rakhine state including more than 176,000 in Northern Rakhine, OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said.

“We stand ready to go there as soon as access allows,” he added.

“Most humanitarian organisations that have been working in Northern Rakhine state for years have still not been able to resume programmes and services for these population which are some of the most vulnerable in the world.”

Till date, the USD 950 million Rohingya 2018 appeal is only just over 30 per cent funded.

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