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Clashes after women enter Indian temple

SABARIMALA, Kerala: An Indian priest closes the doors of the Ayyappa shrine at the Sabarimala temple after performing “purification” rituals following the entry of two women yesterday. — AFP THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: Protests and violence erupted in southern India yesterday after two women defied traditionalists to enter one of Hinduism’s holiest temples for the first time…

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Clashes after  women enter  Indian temple

SABARIMALA, Kerala: An Indian priest closes the doors of the Ayyappa shrine at the Sabarimala temple after performing “purification” rituals following the entry of two women yesterday. — AFP

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: Protests and violence erupted in southern India yesterday after two women defied traditionalists to enter one of Hinduism’s holiest temples for the first time since a landmark court ruling. Police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon as protests and clashes between rival groups erupted across the southern state of Kerala, local media reported, with several officers injured. The Supreme Court in September overturned a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age – deemed as those between 10 and 50 – setting foot inside the gold-plated Sabarimala temple.

In recent weeks Hindu traditionalists – backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have prevented attempts by women to access the hilltop site, with some hardliners turning violent. But in a surprise predawn operation yesterday that was heralded by activists but that enraged conservative devotees, police enabled two women to penetrate the temple and then leave again undetected, officials confirmed. Video images showed the 42-year-old women, Kanaka Durga and Bindu Ammini, wearing black tunics with their heads bowed as they rushed in. “We did not enter the shrine by climbing the 18 holy steps but went through the staff gate,” one of the women later told reporters.

As soon as news of yesterday’s breach spread, the temple head priest ordered the shrine closed for a purification ritual. It reopened after around an hour. Later clashes were reported between scores of people chanting slogans in front of the state parliament in Kerala’s state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Some reportedly set fire to tyres. The standoff petered out around five hours later after police intervened. Five female protesters who tried to barge into the state parliament were arrested.

Journalists were also assaulted in Thiruvananthapuram and in the city of Kollam while clashes were reported elsewhere. Police with batons charged at demonstrators who were trying to enforce a shutdown of shops and businesses in the area called for by the Sabarimala temple hierarchy. Public bus services were suspended after protesters blocked their path and pelted vehicles with stones.

Modi’s government did not immediately react to news of the women entering the temple, but activists celebrated. “Watching the visuals of them making their way into the shrine makes me cry in joy – how long it has taken for us to claim space, to write our way into history,” wrote feminist author Meena Kandasamy on Twitter. “This is a good beginning for women in the new year,” said activist Trupti Desai.

The possibility of more confrontations was raised by a call from an umbrella group of rightwing Hindu groups in Kerala, the Sabarimala Karma Samithi, which is supported by the BJP, for a state-wide protest strike today. The BJP called for protesters to be peaceful. Earlier, the Kerala state president of the BJP described the women’s visit as “a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples”. The party’s state president, P S Sreedharan Pillai, told TV channels the BJP would “support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists”. “Let all the devotees come forward and protest this,” he said.

Officials from the main opposition Congress party in the state, in a rare alignment with their main rival for power at the national level, the BJP, also called for protests. “This is treachery … The government will have to pay the price for the violation of the custom,” K Sudhakaran, vice-president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, said in a statement.The state government defended its decision to protect the women as they went into the temple, saying it was a matter of civil rights. “I had earlier made it clear that the government will provide protection if any women come forward to enter the temple,” said Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Vijayan told a news conference the women faced no obstruction yesterday. It was not immediately clear how they managed to avoid devotees guarding the temple.

September’s verdict was the latest progressive ruling from the court, with judges also overturning bans on gay sex and adultery last year – posing a challenge to Modi’s traditionalist BJP. In rare comments regarding the Sabarimala temple on Tuesday, Modi – running for a second term in elections later this year – appeared to support the ban, saying the matter was related to tradition. “There are some temples which have their own traditions, where men can’t go. And men don’t go,” Modi told Indian media.The restriction on women at Sabarimala, situated on top of a 915-m hill in a tiger reserve that takes hours to climb, reflects a belief – not exclusive to Hinduism – that menstruating women are impure.

Traditionalists argue also that the temple deity, Ayyappa, was celibate. Repeated efforts by women to enter the temple since September have been angrily rebuffed by Hindu devotees with police having to step in to escort them away to safety. The Supreme Court is to start hearing a legal challenge to its ruling on Jan 22. Women are still barred from a handful of Hindu temples in India. The entry of women at Sabarimala was taboo for generations and formalized by the Kerala High Court in 1991. – Agencies

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SULAIMANIYA: An attack by Daesh militants on a village in northern Iraq on Friday killed three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram account.The attack took place in the Makhmour region, a hotbed for Daesh activity that sees regular attacks against Kurdish forces, Iraqi forces and often civilians.Makhmour is a mountainous area about 70 km southeast of Mosul and 60 km southwest of the Kurdish capital of Irbil.Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called for greater security cooperation between Iraqi Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to stop Daesh’s insurgent activities.Iraqi officials and analysts have long blamed a lack of coordination along a stretch of territory claimed by both Baghdad and Irbil for Daesh’s continued ability to wage deadly attacks.Daesh controlled roughly a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, including the remote Makhmour region but also major cities including Mosul.A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.Western military officials say at least 10,000 Daesh fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.A statement from the Kurdistan region’s armed forces, the peshmerga, said Daesh militants attacked the village in the early hours of Friday killing three residents.It said peshmerga forces intervened, resulting in clashes that killed at least seven of their soldiers.Kurdish security and hospital officials said the final death toll was at least 10 peshmerga soldiers and three villagers.In a separate development, Kurdish demonstrators in The Hague stormed the headquarters of the global chemical weapons body on Friday, sparking clashes in which six people were hurt and 50 arrested, Dutch police said.

FASTFACT

A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the Daesh extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.

Dozens of protesters alleging that Turkey is using toxic arms in northern Iraq broke through security to enter the grounds of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.A number of them managed to get inside the lobby of the building before police removed them, diplomatic sources said, while the rest staged a noisy protest outside the front doors.Police dragged the demonstrators off one by one, put them on the ground and handcuffed them, journalists saw. Some were bundled into waiting vans, but the large number meant many were taken away in a hired bus.At least a dozen police vehicles sealed off the road outside the OPCW, which is opposite Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s official residence. Several ambulances and a medical helicopter were also at the scene.Two police officers and four protesters were wounded when the demonstrators “stormed the building,” The Hague police said.Turkish jets regularly attack the separatists’ bases in northern Iraq and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, with several villages having emptied of their inhabitants since a new Turkish army offensive in April.The PKK and Kurdish organizations in Europe have in recent months accused Turkey of using chemical weapons, including a nerve agent and sulfur mustard gas, in dozens of attacks in northern Iraq.“We have called on OPCW and all international bodies to come and independently investigate the use of chemical weapons,” Zagros Hiwa, a spokesperson for the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, the PKK’s political branch, told AFP.

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Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines  LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut.  There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan…

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Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed

Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines 

LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut. 

There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan and Harib, the major general told Al-Arabiya, noting that army forces cut the Houthis’ supply line between Bayhan and Harib.

He explained that military operations continued on all fronts, with the southern front seeing most of the action. He also noted the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s support with airstrikes. 

“Marib is not besieged, and the Houthis are far from achieving this,” he said. 

He added that most of those fighting for the Houthis were children and young men. 

“They do not care about the children of Yemenis who are killed by the dozens every day,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia. 

The coalition announced on Friday night that it had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher south of Sanaa.

The coalition added that it also destroyed a “mine-making workshop” in the capital, stressing that it had taken “preventive measures to spare civilians and civilian structures from collateral damage” during the airstrikes.

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US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows. Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the…

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US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.

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