Saudi Arabia: Eid al-Fitr Holiday to Start Wednesday

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, announced Monday that the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the Ramadan fast, will begin on Wednesday.

“Supreme Court declares tomorrow the last day of #Ramadan and Wednesday the first day of #Eid Al-Fitr,” the official Saudi Press Agency said on its X account.

The timing of Eid al-Fitr is determined by the sighting of the crescent moon in accordance with the Muslim lunar calendar.

Saudi media outlets reported that the crescent moon was not visible on Monday.

The United Arab Emirates and Qatar also announced that Eid al-Fitr, a holiday normally celebrated with family gatherings, would begin on Wednesday.

The daytime fasting month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Observant Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk and traditionally gather with family and friends to break their fast in the evening.

Ramadan is also a time for prayer, with the faithful converging in large numbers on mosques, especially at night.

Fasting is widely practised in Saudi Arabia, home of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudis are expected to observe a four-day holiday for Eid al-Fitr.

Capsized Boat Kills 97 in Mozambique

At least 97 people died when an overloaded boat capsized and sank off the coast of Mozambique late Sunday, state-run Radio Mozambique reported, citing local officials.

Radio Mozambique on Monday quoted Silveiro Nauaito, administrator of Mozambique’s northern province of Nampula, as saying those aboard the boat, largely women and children, were travelling from the northern Lunga district to a small island off the coast known as Mozambique Island.

He said the 130 passengers were allegedly fleeing because of disinformation about a cholera outbreak and were headed to the island in search of health care.

Nauaito said rescue teams had found 12 survivors and were searching for more, but poor weather at sea was making the operation more difficult. He said 91 bodies were found on Sunday and six others early on Monday. About 40 bodies have been taken to either the island or the mainland, and burials of the victims have begun, he said.

Since January, Mozambique has been battling to contain a deadly cholera outbreak in its northern regions, a health crisis that has also affected neighbouring countries such as Malawi and Zambia.

The secretary of state in Nampula province, Jaime Neto, told VOA in a telephone interview that the boat could have been hit by a giant wave, but it was also overcrowded and not suitable for carrying passengers.

He also attributed the overcrowding of the boat to misinformation about the cholera outbreak. The vessel “was not prepared to take passengers. It ended up sinking and creating this situation that the province regrets.”

Boat travel is a major means of transport in Mozambique, which has a dilapidated road network. Accidents are common on the country’s rivers, lakes and Indian Ocean coast, with most due to poor maintenance of the vessels or overcrowding.

Spain to Scrap ‘Golden Visas’ Granting Non-EU Property Buyers Residency

Spain’s government said Monday it plans to scrap so-called “golden visas” that allow wealthy people from outside the European Union to obtain residency permits on investing more than half a million euros (dollars) in real estate.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said his minority coalition government would study the reform at Tuesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Speaking Monday, Sánchez said the reform was part of the government’s push to make housing “a right, not a speculative business.”

The government says some 10,000 such visas have been issued since the measure was passed in 2013 by a previous right-wing Popular Party government to attract foreign investors.

“Golden visas” are strongly criticized for spurring property price hikes and speculation in the housing sector. Soaring house prices have long been a major problem for many Spaniards, particularly in the country’s major cities.

Netanyahu Says Date Set for Rafah Attack

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday an undisclosed date for a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah had been set, even as the White House said its negotiators in Cairo had handed Hamas militants a proposal for a cease-fire and hostage-release deal.

“Today, I received a detailed report on the talks in Cairo,” the Israeli leader said in Jerusalem. “We are constantly working to achieve our goals, first and foremost, the release of all our hostages and achieving a complete victory over Hamas.

“This victory requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there. It will happen. There is a date,” he said.

The U.S. immediately rebuked Netanyahu. A Pentagon spokeswoman said, “We’ve been very clear that we don’t support operations into Rafah.”

“We want to see a credible plan for how they would conduct any operations there,” given “substantial” humanitarian concerns about more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there, said deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh. “We have not seen their official plan put forward.”

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns, Israeli, Hamas, and Qatar officials participated in talks in Cairo over the weekend. The White House characterized the negotiations as “serious.”

Bahrain Pardons over 1,500 in Largest Amnesty in Years

Bahrain’s king has pardoned 1,584 people facing criminal and “riot” charges, state media said Monday, in the largest such mass release in the Gulf nation in years.

The royal decree’s announcement, carried by the official Bahrain News Agency (BNA), did not specify whether political prisoners were among those to be released, though a rights group said it was likely.

BNA said that “this royal decree reflects his majesty’s keenness to maintain the cohesion and stability of the Bahraini society while protecting its social fabric.”

The pardons cover “those convicted for riot and criminal cases” and were announced as Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa marks 25 years since his ascension to the throne, BNA added.

Sayed Alwadaei, advocacy director for the Britain-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), said political prisoners were probably included in the pardon “as the term ‘riot’ refers to those who demanded political change.”

BIRD said the latest royal decree marks the “highest number of pardoned prisoners since the pro-democracy uprising in 2011,” when anti-government protests triggered a state crackdown.

Russia’s Lavrov Visits Beijing to Discuss Ukraine War, Asia-Pacific Situation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Beijing on Monday to highlight diplomatic ties and to discuss the war in Ukraine and the situation in the Asia-Pacific region.

The meeting between Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, comes as the two countries align on several issues and have increasingly been in disputes with democracies and NATO members.

Lavrov’s visit will last until Tuesday and coincides with the end of U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s four days of talks in Beijing to speak with Chinese officials about economic issues.

Yellen said of her trip that she had “difficult conversations” about national security, including U.S. concerns that Chinese companies have been supporting Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “China continues to provide materials to support Russia’s defence industrial base.”

Despite maintaining robust economic ties with Russia, China has asserted that it has not been providing arms or military assistance to Russia. On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that “China has an objective and fair position on the Ukraine issue.”

Top UN Court Opening Hearings in Case Accusing Germany of Facilitating Israel’s Gaza Conflict

Preliminary hearings are opening Monday at the United Nations’ top court in a case that seeks an end to German military and other aid to Israel, based on claims that Berlin is enabling acts of genocide and breaches of international humanitarian law in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Nicaragua argues that by giving Israel political, financial and military support and by defunding the United Nations aid agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, “Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide and, in any case, has failed in its obligation to do everything possible to prevent the commission of genocide.”

While the case brought by Nicaragua centres on Germany, it indirectly takes aim at Israel’s military campaign in Gaza following the deadly Oct. 7 attacks when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people. More than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. Its toll doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it has said women and children make up the majority of the dead.

Israel strongly denies that its assault amounts to genocidal acts, saying it is acting in self-defence. Israeli legal adviser Tal Becker told judges at the court earlier this year that the country is fighting a “war it did not start and did not want.”

Germany rejects the case brought by Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has asked the court to hand down preliminary orders known as provisional measures, including that Germany “immediately suspend its aid to Israel, in particular, its military assistance including military equipment in so far as this aid may be used in the violation of the Genocide Convention” and international law.

Iran FM Opens New Syria Consulate After Deadly Strike

Iran’s foreign minister inaugurated the country’s new consulate in Damascus on Monday, a week after a deadly strike blamed on Israel destroyed the former premises, sending regional tensions skyrocketing.

Tehran, a key Damascus ally, has vowed to avenge last Monday’s airstrike on the Iranian embassy’s consular section that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members, including two generals.

The strike came against the backdrop of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, which began with the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel.

Damascus and Tehran blame Israel for last Monday’s raid, but it has not commented.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian inaugurated the new consular section in a Damascus building in the presence of his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, whom he also met earlier Monday, state news agency SANA said.

An AFP correspondent at the inauguration said the new consulate was not far from the premises destroyed by the strike in the upscale Mazzeh area, which also houses other foreign embassies and UN offices.

Amir-Abdollahian was also set to meet President Bashar al-Assad, and Syria’s pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said his talks in Damascus would be “mainly focused” on repercussions of last week’s strike.

Yellen Says US Won’t Accept Chinese Imports Decimating New Industries 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned China on Monday that Washington will not accept new industries being decimated by Chinese imports as she wrapped up four days of meetings to press her case for Beijing to rein in excess industrial capacity.

Yellen told a media conference that U.S. President Joe Biden would not allow a repeat of the “China shock” of the early 2000s when a flood of Chinese imports destroyed about 2 million American manufacturing jobs.

She did not, however, threaten new tariffs or other trade actions should Beijing continue its massive state support for electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels and other green energy goods.

Yellen used her second trip to China in nine months to complain that China’s overinvestment has built factory capacity far exceeding domestic demand while fast-growing exports of these products threaten firms in the U.S. and other countries.

She said a newly created exchange forum to discuss the excess capacity issue would need time to reach solutions.

Yellen drew parallels to the pain felt in the U.S. steel sector in the past.

China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, said in March the government would take steps to curb industrial overcapacity.

But Beijing says the recent focus by the United States and Europe on the risks to other economies from China’s excess capacity is misguided.

US Warns of Possible Attacks on ‘Multiple Locations’ in Mogadishu

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi says it has received information about threats to multiple locations in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

One of the locations identified as a possible target for the threat is the city’s main airport, the Aden Adde International Airport, which also serves as a base for the African Union Mission in Somalia and multiple embassies, including the United States and other Western countries.

The security alert said, “All movements of U.S. Embassy personnel have been cancelled for Tuesday, April 9, 2024. The U.S. Department of State level-four travel advisory (“do not travel”) for Somalia remains in effect due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health issues, kidnapping, and piracy.”

U.S. citizens have been urged to take several measures, including reviewing their personal security plans and avoiding large crowds, gatherings and demonstrations, among other steps, to ensure their safety.

The United States did not specify where the threat is coming from, but the al-Shabab militant group has been carrying out attacks against the Somali government, African Union forces and other nations supporting Somalia.

Meanwhile, the Somali government Monday said that an airstrike killed more than 50 al-Shabab militants near the town of Harardhere in Galmudug state. The state-controlled Somali National News Agency said the operation was conducted in collaboration with “international partners.”

Philippines to Continue Dialogue with China over South China Sea Tensions

Philippines’ President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday called on China to talk to prevent more incidents like ramming vessels and the use of water cannons in the South China Sea.

Marcos said the Philippines continues to talk with China and is exhausting all options to speak to the Chinese leadership so as not to heat up tensions in the waterway.
He added he hopes the recently concluded joint maritime activity with Japan, Australia, and the United States will reduce incidents at sea with China.

Defense forces of the four nations on Sunday conducted a “maritime cooperative activity” involving five warships in the South China Sea.

Later this week, leaders of Japan, the United States and the Philippines will hold a summit in Washington to discuss issues like recent incidents in the South China Sea.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Swapping of Guard: French, British Troops Mark Entente Cordiale

French and British troops on Monday swapped roles to take part in the changing of the guard ceremonies outside the palaces of the other country’s head of state, in an unprecedented move to celebrate 120 years since the Entente Cordiale.

Signed in 1904, the Entente Cordiale accord cemented an improvement in relations after the Napoleonic Wars and is still seen as the foundation of the two NATO members’ alliance.

“Even after Brexit and with war back in Europe, “this entente cordiale is somehow the cornerstone… that allows us to maintain the bilateral relationship,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a video address on X, formerly Twitter.

“Long live the entente cordiale and long live the Franco-British friendship,” he said, switching to English.

Macron and the British ambassador to France, Menna Rawlings, on Monday morning, watched British guards taking part in the changing of the guard outside his Elysee Palace.

French guards were to do the same in London outside Buckingham Palace, King Charles III’s official residence.

At the Elysee, 16 members of the Number 7 Company Coldstream Guards of the UK embassy, wearing their traditional bearskin hats, relieved French counterparts from the first infantry regiment.

The French army choir then sang the two national anthems — God Save the King and La Marseillaise.

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