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NEW DELHI: A manhunt for a radical Sikh preacher in India entered its second day on Sunday, after authorities arrested 112 of his supporters and shut mobile internet across the Punjab state.

Amritpal Singh rose to prominence in recent months demanding the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland, and with his inter­pretation of Sik­hism at rallies in rural pockets of the northern state of some 30 million people.

Last month Singh, 30, and his supporters allegedly armed with swords, knives and guns raided a police station after one of his aides was arrested for a suspected assault and attempted kidnapping.
After the operation began on Saturday, Pun­jab police tweeted late in the day that 112 had been arrested in the “mega crackdown”.
But Singh himself was not thought to be among them.
On Sunday, there was a major police presence across Punjab, especially around Singh’s village of Jallupur Khera, local media reported.
The police said its “manhunt” was ongoing and the overall “situation is under control, citizens (are) requested to not believe in rumours”.
Local media reports said the Punjab government ordered the mobile internet shutdown to be in place until Monday noon.
Authorities frequently shut down mobile internet services, particularly in India-held Kashmir.

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office on Friday claimed Pakis­tan had played a role in facilitating the dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“It is obvious that this [Saudi-Iran] agreement is a result of the mediation efforts of China and the constructive talks that took it facilitated and the two sides were able to resolve their differences,” Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told a weekly press briefing.
“We welcome this development. Pakistan like several other countries and friends of both Iran and Saudi Arabia played their part in facilitating the dialogue,” she added.
In this context, the spokesperson recalled that the first meeting of the two foreign ministers took place in Islamabad on the sidelines of an OIC meeting.
“But we do not wish to take away credit from China in this latest agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia on normalisation of relations and congratulate them for their successful diplomatic efforts,” she said.
Says first meeting of two foreign ministers took place on the sidelines of OIC session in Islamabad
Ms Baloch said Pakistan commends China’s visionary leadership in coordinating this historic agreement.
“We believe that this diplomatic breakthrough will contribute to peace and stability in the region and beyond. We hope this normalisation would define a template for regional cooperation and harmony,” she remarked.
In reply to a question about a negative tweet by a PTI leader about Pakistan-China ties, she said that Islamabad’s relationship with Beijing is decades old.
“It is a relationship that has continued to grow in strength over the last several decades. We have been friends through good times and tough times, despite changing situation around us, international developments, and any domestic developments in Pakistan or in China. Both sides are committed to this relationship. One statement by some individual cannot in any way damage this relationship, because it is based on mutual trust, on mutual confidence and the support of the peoples of Pakistan and China, who have for generations supported Pakistan-China friendship,” she said.
Answering a question, the spokesperson said Pakistan has continued to call for peace in the region and security for all its friends, including Saudi Arabia.
“We hope that with this agreement and the normalisation of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, there will be progress on outstanding issues including any differences that they have on Yemen. We hope this would have peace dividends for the region including in Yemen,” she remarked.
When asked to comment on reports that China has deman­ded payments from Pakistan overdue on the Chinese independent power plants installed under the CPEC, she stressed that Pakistan and China were “all-weather strategic cooperative partners”.
She said China was a consistent, generous and steadfast friend that has stood by Pakistan for the last several decades. China came and invested in Pakistan’s power sector under CPEC when no foreign investor was ready to invest in the country.
“This investment resulted in economic development to the country and helped us in overcoming shortage and breakdowns. We are grateful to our Chinese friends for their consistent commitment to Pakistan, to CPEC and for investments in Pakistan. The claims that you have mentioned being made in the media have taken an inter-governmental conversation completely out of context by adding sensationalist jargon to it. Let me underline that Pakistan and China consult closely on all matters and find optimal win-win outcomes and we will continue to do that. The people of Pakistan are proud of our friendship with China, which has always come to Pakistan’s assistance when most needed, including in this difficult economic situation,” she said.
The spokesperson said Pakistan was deeply concerned at the world-wide increase in racism, xenophobia and violence motivated by Islamophobia, which is manifesting itself in negative profiling and stigmatisation of Muslims, vandalisation of Islamic symbols and holy sites, discriminatory laws and policies, ban on Hijab, and attacks on mosques. She said that Pakistan was also concerned about rising hate crime against Muslims including burning of the holy Quran in Europe.
“We call for fostering global dialogue to promote a culture of peace and tolerance and to raise awareness to combat Islamophobia.”
In this context, she also condemned the recent remarks made by a BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister in Karnataka, K.S. Eshwarappa.
“These remarks are yet another manifestation of the rising Islamophobia in India. Pakistan is deeply concerned at the alarming rise in communal violence and hatred directed against Muslims in India, who are being systematically stigmatised and marginalised on account of their faith. We call on India to take immediate steps to ensure safety, security, and well-being of minorities and allow them to profess and practice their faith in peace.”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia could start making investments in Iran “very quickly” after they agreed to restore diplomatic ties, the Saudi finance minister said on Wednesday, despite sweeping US sanctions against Tehran.

Mohammed Al Jadaan said there were “a lot of opportunities” in Iran and that he could not see any reason to prevent investments from taking place between the two Gulf heavyweights.
“I would say quickly,” he told the Financial Sector Conference in Riyadh, when asked how soon Saudi Arabia could start making “significant” investments in Iran. “When people really stick to the principles of what was agreed, I think that could happen very quickly.”
In a surprise, Chinese-brokered announcement on Friday, Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to work towards restoring ties and reopening diplomatic missions within two months.
The oil-rich rivals, who are on opposing sides in conflicts across the Middle East, severed relations in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed a Shia leader, triggering violent protests.

KUWAIT: Chinese Ambassador to Kuwait Zhang Jianwei has affirmed that the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore diplomatic relations under the auspices of Beijing caught the attention of the international community, especially the Gulf countries, reports Al- Qabas daily. In a statement to the daily, Jianwei pointed out this agreement will help perpetuate the policy of good neighborliness; and ensure security, stability and peace throughout the world, not just the Arab region.

He said China played a positive role in reaching this agreement, especially since the two parties — Saudi Arabia and Iran — agreed to resume diplomatic relations and open embassies in the two countries. He confirmed that Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two important and influential countries in the region. He added: “China continues to exert efforts to support stability and peace in the region and to push toward a policy of good neighborliness, especially since the Chinese president put forward the Global Security Initiative last year. We will intensify efforts to realize this initiative in the interest of the region in general, and the Gulf countries in particular.

The world is now living under complex and turbulent circumstances, so the international community must face these challenges, since the world has become one village.” On China taking the role of the United States in the region, he reaffirmed that the Chinese role will serve the parties in the region; and work toward regional stability and development. He said his country pursues peaceful and independent policies; while calling for cooperation, peace, solidarity and mutual benefit in the region. He added that the fate of the region belongs to its people, as they are the decision-makers.

Asked if there is a plan to send Chinese armed forces to the region, he disclosed that China’s national military defense policy is different from that of other countries. He pointed out there are no Chinese military bases in the Gulf countries at present. He also confirmed China’s commitment to strengthen cooperation with Gulf states in all fields, including combating terrorism and security cooperation based on mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of others.

He said this is one of the most important features of China’s foreign policy. He then unveiled his country’s plan to enhance mutual visits between the officials of China and the Gulf countries to serve the common interests of the two parties. “We are also interested in strengthening Chinese- Kuwaiti relations and fruitful cooperation in various fields,” he asserted. He praised Kuwait for welcoming the joint statement on the resumption of Saudi- Iranian relations, mediated by China; indicating that this is an evidence of Kuwait’s interest in regional issues. “We will work with the Kuwaiti side to strengthen relations and achieve stability in the region,” he concluded.

THE Chinese capital is not usually associated with Middle East peacemaking. Yet it was in Beijing on Friday that smiling top officials from the host country, Saudi Arabia and Iran announced to a surprised world that Riyadh and Tehran had decided to re-establish diplomatic relations.

This is no mean achievement, considering the terse ties between the two states, particularly in the decades since 1979’s Islamic Revolution in Iran. The deal, if all goes according to plan, would open up a new vista of cooperation between two of the Muslim world’s most influential states, while the breakthrough also brings to the fore a dominant China’s newfound role as international peacemaker.

Relations have alternated between lukewarm ties and open hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran ever since the revolution. However, the relationship suffered a severe jolt when Riyadh executed prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Baqir al-Nimr in 2016. Thereafter, Iranian protesters attacked Saudi missions in Tehran and Mashhad, which led to the rupture in diplomatic ties. During and before this period, both sides have competed for influence in Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and most notably Yemen, where the devastating civil war has pitted the pro-Iran Houthi militia against the Saudi-allied government. Therefore, a Saudi-Iranian détente has the potential to bring stability to all these states, particularly Yemen.

Moreover, improved ties between what are seen as the Muslim world’s leading Sunni and Shia powers can also mean better intra-Muslim relations. This is especially true for countries like Pakistan, which have witnessed significant sectarian violence, much of it influenced by the Saudi-Iran rivalry.
Coming to China’s role, the peace deal signals that Beijing is willing to take a more active role in international diplomacy. This may be partly due to the fact that China wants stability in an important market — the Gulf — and maintains good relations with both Riyadh and Tehran. Iraq and Oman have also played quiet, important roles in bringing both sides to the table.
However, the deal has sent alarm bells ringing in important capitals, most significantly Washington. The US has welcomed the move, albeit in a cagey manner. The American establishment seems to be wary of Iran breaking out of isolation — that the US has worked quite hard to maintain — and is also not too happy to see China playing an active role in global diplomacy. Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, there is disquiet bordering on panic, as senior opposition figures have termed the peace deal a “failure of Israel’s foreign policy”.
The path to peace for the Saudis and Iranians will not be easy, as there remains a wide gulf of mistrust while there are spoilers aplenty who will be seeking to sabotage the deal. But for the sake of their people and the Muslim world, both sides need to make it work.

DUBAI: A crisis over suspected poisonings targeting Iranian schoolgirls escalated Sunday as authorities acknowledged over 50 schools were struck in a wave of possible cases. The poisonings have spread further fear among parents as Tehran has faced months of unrest. It remains unclear who or what is responsible since the alleged poisonings began in November in the Shiite holy city of Qom. Reports now suggest schools across 21 of Iran’s 30 provinces have seen suspected cases, with girls’ schools the site of nearly all the incidents.

The attacks have raised fears that other girls could be poisoned apparently just for going to school. Education for girls has never been challenged in the over 40 years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran has been calling on the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to have girls and women return to school. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Saturday said without elaborating that investigators had recovered “suspicious samples” in the course of their investigations into the incidents, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. He called for calm among the public, while also accusing the “enemy’s media terrorism” of inciting more panic over the alleged poisonings.

However, it wasn’t until the poisonings received international media attention that hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi announced an investigation into the incidents on Wednesday. Vahidi said at least 52 schools had been affected by suspected poisonings. Iranian media reports have put the number of schools at over 60. At least one boy’s school reportedly has been affected. Videos of upset parents and schoolgirls in emergency rooms with IVs in their arms have flooded social media. Making sense of the crisis remains challenging, given that nearly 100 journalists have been detained by Iran since the start of protests in September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. She had been detained by the country’s morality police and later died.

The security force crackdown on those protests has seen at least 530 people killed and 19,700 others detained, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran. Attacks on women have happened in the past in Iran, most recently with a wave of acid attacks in 2014 around Isfahan, at the time believed to have been carried out by hard-liners targeting women for how they dressed. Speculation in Iran’s tightly controlled state media has focused on the possibility of exile groups or foreign powers being behind the poisonings. That was also repeatedly alleged during the recent protests without evidence.

In recent days, Germany’s foreign minister, a White House official and others have called on Iran to do more to protect schoolgirls – a concern Iran’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed as “crocodile tears.” However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that Iran has “continued to tolerate attacks against women and girls for months” amid the recent protests. “These poisonings are occurring in an environment where Iranian officials have impunity for the harassment, assault, rape, torture and execution of women peacefully asserting their freedom of religion or belief,” Sharon Kleinbaum of the commission said in a statement. Suspicion in Iran has fallen on possible hard-liners for carrying out the suspected poisonings. Iranian journalists, including Jamileh Kadivar, a prominent former reformist lawmaker at Tehran’s Ettelaat newspaper, have cited a supposed communique from a group calling itself Fidayeen Velayat

WASHINGTON: The White House on Monday gave federal agencies 30 days to purge Chinese-owned video-snippet sharing app TikTok from all government-issued devices, setting a deadline to comply with a ban ordered by the US Congress.
Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young in a memorandum called on government agencies within 30 days to “remove and disallow installations” of the application on agency-owned or operated IT devices, and to “prohibit internet traffic” from such devices to the app.
The ban does not apply to businesses in the United States not associated with the federal government, or to the millions of private citizens who use the hugely popular app. However, a recently introduced bill in Congress would “effectively ban TikTok” in this country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression,” ACLU senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff said.
“We have a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the country and around the world.” Owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, TikTok has become a political target due to concerns the app can be circumvented for spying or propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Beijing says Washington overstretching concept of national security
The company did not immediately respond to the White House guidance. China’s foreign ministry slammed the ban.
“We firmly oppose the wrong practice of the United States to generalise the concept of national security, abuse state power, and unreasonably suppress firms from other countries,” spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Tuesday.
The law signed by US President Joe Biden last month bans the use of TikTok on government-issued devices. It also bans TikTok use in the US House of Representatives and Senate.
Denmark’s parliament tells MPs to uninstall TikTok
On Tuesday, Denmark’s parliament announced that it had asked MPs and all staff to remove the TikTok app from mobile devices because of the “risk of spying”.
It follows recommendations from the Danish Centre for Cyber Secu­rity urging officials and civil servants to remove TikTok from their phones after the European Com­mission banned the app on work devices to “protect” the institution.
The parliament said it had “decided to advise against the use of TikTok on mobile devices provided to members and staff by the Danish Parliament”.
“There is a risk of espionage when using TikTok, so we adapt accordingly,” house speaker Soren Gade said.
The ultra-popular video platform has come under increased scrutiny over fears it could give Beijing access to sensitive user data from around the world.

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