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For Afghan Hazaras, where to pray can be life and death choice

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October 21, 2021

By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

KABUL (Reuters) – Each time Hussain Rahimi leaves his Kabul home for the mosque to pray, he recites the Kalima – a short verse that is the central tenet of Islam – because he is not sure he will come home alive.

“I am afraid. My family is afraid when we go to the mosque,” said 23-year-old Rahimi, an ethnic Hazara – a predominantly Shi’ite community that has been at the receiving end of some of the most violent attacks in Afghanistan’s bloody history.

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The last two Fridays have seen suicide bombings at mosques – both attacks claimed by Islamic State (ISIS) and both targeting the minority Shi’ite sect. More than 100 people were killed in total.

In the wake of the violence, some Hazaras are not going to the mosque at all.

Hazaras have long been discriminated against in Afghanistan from a mix of factors, of which religion is just one.

But while thousands died under the last Taliban government from 1996-2001, it was the appearance of Islamic State in Afghanistan from around the start of 2015 that made them and the wider Shi’ite community a systematic target.

Many hundreds were killed in suicide attacks on mosques and community centres by hardline Sunni militants who do not see them as true Muslims, bringing a form of the sectarian violence that devastated countries like Iraq to Afghanistan.

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No up-to-date census data exists, but estimates put the size of the overall Shi’ite community at between 10-20 percent of the population, including Persian-speaking Tajiks and Pashtuns as well as Hazaras.

In addition, Hazaras have often also been victim of the ethnic and economic rivalries endemic to Afghan politics.

Rahimi lost his sister, a 12th grade student, in a bombing of a Kabul school in May which killed mostly young girls.

Although the Taliban have promised that all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups will be protected, the killing has gone on since they seized power in August.

“When we are out of our homes, our family calls and asks where we are … they tell us to return home quickly, the situation is bad,” says Rahimi, a computer science student at Kabul University, clutching a picture of his sister.

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He is still working up the courage to go to the mosque for Friday prayers – the most important congregation for Muslims across the world.

GARDEN OF THE MARTYRS

With more than 400 Shi’ite mosques in Kabul alone, total security is impossible and no one knows where the next attack will come.

“Our community feels that on future Fridays, maybe Herat will explode, maybe Kabul will explode, maybe some other,” said Mohammad Baqer Sayed, a university professor who has worked for the rehabilitation of victims of previous attacks.

The Persian-speaking Hazara, thought to trace their descent back to the armies of the 13th century Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, are considered the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan behind the Pashtuns and Tajiks.

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But they have suffered discrimination and oppression ever since the “Iron Amir” Abdur Rahman cleared thousands from their lands in central Afghanistan during his ruthless campaign to found the modern Afghan state in the 19th century.

So many have been killed in suicide attacks that they have a special graveyard in Kabul, called the Garden of the Martyrs, where most of those killed in the May school bombing were buried.

Asif Lali, who works at a clinic a few meters away from the school, has decided with his family to stay away from Friday prayers for the moment.

“We are frightened of everything. Even when we cross the road,” he said.

Like many Shi’ite Hazara families in Kabul, he is no stranger to death. He lost his younger brother when an Islamic State suicide bomber killed dozens of people outside Kabul airport during the chaotic evacuation in August.

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“The attacks on Shias are not just in mosques … they happen in educational institutions and universities – in the education institution you see behind me,” he said.

Under the previous government, Shi’ite communities were offered some basic training and weapons so that they could protect their mosques, but the Taliban have mostly removed these, leaving many feeling even more vulnerable.

Taliban authorities pledged to step up security at Shi’ite mosques last week, but the assurance is not enough for many, who have little faith in a movement long seen as their enemy.

“They should consult with the leaders, the scholars, the professors, and other social activists of the Hazara and Shia people, who know more than the Taliban about their security problems,” the professor Sayed said.

(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by James Mackenzie and Mike Collett-White)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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