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France votes on anti-radicalism bill that worries Muslims

Paris: France’s National Assembly approved legislation designed mainly to counter a rise in Islamism in towns and cities which the government says threatens national unity.

The bill is part of broader French efforts to fight extremism in recent years that gained new urgency after a teacher was beheaded in October and other attacks.

President Emmanuel Macron says the efforts are also needed to protect French values such as gender equality and secularism from encroaching fundamentalism in some communities.

But many French Muslims say the draft law limits religious freedom and unfairly targets them, and say France already has enough laws to fight terrorist violence. Critics call the bill a political manoeuver by Macron to win support from conservative and far-right voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.

France’s Muslim population is estimated to number about five million people, many whose family origins lie in Algeria or other parts of its former empire.

The country has suffered a wave of Islamist militant attacks in recent years, and tackling religious extremism, French identity and domestic security will be big issues in next year’s presidential election.

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10 landmark global events that shaped the year

Intro: Here are 10 moments that made global headlines in 2020, with Covid-19 eclipsing all other major events.

The WHO referred to COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. (credit: paho.org)

World in the grip of Covid-19

  1. Days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared novel coronavirus as a disease that was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in January, the organization formally identified and named it as Covid-19 on February 11. A month later, the health agency declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic on March 11.

After 11 months, the overall number of global coronavirus cases topped 84.5 million, while the deaths surged to more than 1.83 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The US is the worst-hit country with the world’s highest number of cases and deaths at 20,396,243 and 349,933. India comes in second place in terms of cases at 10,305,788, while the country’s death toll soared to 149,218.

Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport. credit: Wikipedia,

West Asia crises worsens

  1. Western Asia started off the year witnessing tumult in several countries in the region, with the US-led killing of Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani and an intensification of the Persian Gulf crisis. The US administration justified the killing of Soleimani saying he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US personnel and was plotting to kill many more.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated when the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on May 18, 2018 and reimposed sanctions. The killing of Soleimani further added to escalations. The Yemeni civil war continued and Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Arab world’s longest-serving ruler, died aged 79, setting off concerns regarding stability in the region.

Britain is the first member state to leave the EU, which was set up to forge unity after the horrors of World War II. (credit: sharecast.com)

UK formally bids adieu to EU

  1. In January, the UK withdrew from the European Union after the European Parliament approved ‘Brexit’ and an 11-month transition period.

As the year ended, UK lawmakers approved the post-Brexit trade deal between the country and the European Union (EU) by a large majority, paving the way for an orderly Brexit when the transition period ended on December 31. The trade deal will need to be scrutinized by the European Parliament early next year before it is formally ratified by the Council of the EU.

HK’s controversial security law

  1. The Hong Kong national security legislation was enacted in May by Beijing to promulgate a national security law in Hong Kong. According to this law, Beijing has attempted to limit what it deems “external interference” in Hong Kong’s affairs, and has criminalized acts that it deems a threat to national security; for instance, subversion and secession. The act also allowed China to set up a national security agency in Hong Kong. Following this, the US had stated that Hong Kong was no longer an autonomous territory.

Protests in Belarus over poll fraud

  1. Presidential elections in Belarus in August sparked widespread protests after Alexander Lukashenko unilaterally declared himself president. The elections were contentious, with reports of election fraud and opposition candidates and protestors calling for the votes to be invalidated. Researchers had said these protests were the largest in Belarus’ political history. Activists and international observers had also reported widespread violence, intimidation and suppression being meted out to protestors. Several countries including the European Union did not accept the election results.

Israel-Arab peace deal

  1. The Israel-Arab peace deal saw countries like the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalize relations with Israel, in a process facilitated by the US under the Trump administration. The UAE was the first country to engage in this process in August.

The Pfizer ended COVID-19 vaccine trial with 95% efficacy. (credit: sciencemag.org)

Covid-19 vaccines roll out

  1. Approximately a year after coronavirus first surfaced in China and rapidly spread around the world killing at least 1.7 million people, Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech announced an Emergency Use Authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine. On December 8, the United Kingdom became the first country to begin a mass inoculation campaign using a tested vaccine.

Armenia-Azerbaijan clash

  1. The long-disputed, semi-autonomous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh stole global headlines after a long-simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted into a hot war in September. Azerbaijan, backed by drones from Turkey, launched a military assault on Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian region on its territory, leaving several thousand dead.

A Russia-brokered peace agreement in November ended the fighting, with Armenia required to withdraw from three areas of the breakaway region along with seven neighboring areas. In the town of Kalbajar people burned their homes before fleeing ahead of arriving Azerbaijani troops.

Teacher beheaded in France over cartoons

  1. The murder of Samuel Paty, a French middle-school teacher, took place on October 16, 2020 in a suburb of Paris for showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Prophet Mohammad to his students in a civics class. He was beheaded by an Islamist terrorist. The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for his blasphemous act.

Days after the beheading incident, a knife-wielding assailant, said to be shouting Allahu Akbar, killed a woman and two others at a church in the French city of Nice on October 31, 2020. Reports suggested that both the incidents were linked to each other.

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced radical Islam and said the incident was a typical Islamist terrorist attack. The response of the French government has been criticized by many Muslims, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Some countries also called for a boycott of French goods.

New Covid-19 strain

  1. The emergence of the new and deadly mutated variant of the “pandemic coronavirus” in the UK in December put the world once again on high alert. The scientists have scrambled to figure out whether the UK variant titled ‘B.1.1.7’ is really more adept at human-to-human transmission. They’re also wondering how it evolved so fast.

According to the prestigious journal Science, the ‘B.1.1.7’ variant has acquired 17 mutations all at once — a feat never seen before. The worry is: Scientists say that ‘B.1.1.7’ may already be much more widespread. Other than the UK, it has been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark, India, Italy and Australia.

WHO has said it is working closely with the UK medical authorities to understand how the new mutant coronavirus variant is likely to affect the course of the pandemic.

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France warns citizens as Muslim world seethes

Paris: France warned its citizens living or travelling in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions as anger surged over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

A rift between France and Muslim nations is growing after French President Emmanuel Macron said earlier this month that Islam was in “crisis”.

From proposing stricter laws to uphold the principle of secularism to using terms like “Islamic separatism” and Islamic terror attacks”, Macron’s comments have evoked severe backlash from countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran among others.

France’s foreign ministry issued safety advice to French citizens in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Iraq and Mauritania, advising them to exercise caution. “They should stay away from any protests over the cartoons and avoid any public gatherings.”

Tension escalated after French teacher Samuel Paty was killed on October 16 near his school in broad daylight. He had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students. Since the crime, French officials were perceived as linking the killing to Islam.

While eulogizing the teacher on October 21, Macron declared that “France will not give up cartoons”.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Macron and even questioned the mental state of his French counterpart.

As the discourse seeped to the general populace on social media, many accused France of using secularism to persecute Muslim minorities in France and #BoycottFrenchProducts trended on Twitter.

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Je suis Samuel: France rallies for beheaded teacher

Paris: Tens of thousands of people rallied in Paris and cities across France in solidarity with a teacher beheaded for showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Demonstrators on the Place de la Republique held aloft posters declaring: “No to totalitarianism of thought” and “I am a teacher” in memory of murdered colleague Samuel Paty.

“You do not scare us. We are not afraid. You will not divide us. We are France!” tweeted Prime Minister Jean Castex, who joined the Paris demonstration.

Samuel Paty was murdered on his way home from the school where he taught in a suburb northwest of Paris on Oct 16 afternoon.

A photo of the teacher and a message confessing to his murder was found on the mobile phone of his killer, 18-year-old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov, who was shot dead by police.

French police have arrested nine people over the beheading of the teacher, a judicial source said.

The attack came as a trial is in progress over the January 2015 massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had published caricatures of the prophet Mohammed that unleashed a wave of anger across the Islamic world.

The magazine republished the cartoons in the run-up to the trial in September and last month a young Pakistani man wounded two people with a meat cleaver outside its former offices.

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