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Saudi Arabia bars foreign travellers from Haj over COVID

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(Last Updated On: June 13, 2021)

Saudi Arabia has restricted the annual Haj pilgrimage to its own citizens and residents for the second year running in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state Saudi Press Agency (SPA)reported on Saturday.

Only people aged between 18 and 65 who have been vaccinated or immunised against the virus, and are free of chronic diseases, will be able to take part, the ministry that manages the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca said in a statement carried by SPA.

It also set a maximum of 60,000 participants.

“The decision (was made) to guarantee the safety of haj amid uncertainty over the coronavirus,” the kingdom’s health minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said in a televised press conference carried by SPA.

“Despite the availability of vaccine, there is uncertainty over the virus and some countries still record high numbers of COVID cases, the other challenge is the different variants of the virus, hence came the decision to restrict haj,” al-Rabiah said.

The minister said only approved COVID vaccines from Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will be valid for the haj.

Sources told Reuters in May a plan was being considered to bar overseas pilgrims from performing Haj, a once in a lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it.

Before the pandemic enforced social distancing globally, some 2.5 million pilgrims used to visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long haj, and the lesser, year-round umrah pilgrimage, which altogether earned the kingdom about $12 billion a year, according to official data.

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Afghanistan demolishes Scotland by 130 runs in World Cup match

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2021)

Afghanistan thrashed Scotland in their first T20 Super 12 World Cup match in Sharjah on Monday night, after Mujeeb Ur Rahman propelled Afghanistan to a commanding 130-run victory. 

Among the flood of social media messages congratulating the team on their win was one from Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid who said in a tweet: “Congratulations to all Afghans on the victory of the Afghan team in the ongoing World Cup Twenty20.

“Congratulations to the team and wish them more success in the future,” he tweeted.

Other senior IEA members, including Anas Haqqani also congratulated the team. 

Afghanistan’s spinners ripped through Scotland’s batting line-up as Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Rashid Khan and company spun their side to a 130-run win in Sharjah, Afghanistan’s biggest margin of victory in T20 internationals.

Youngster Mujeeb was the star of the show with the ball, taking three in an over and finishing with a five-for, the best ever return for a bowler on T20 World Cup debut.

Earlier Najibullah Zadran top-scored with a sparkling 59 as his side reached 190/4, Afghanistan’s highest T20 World Cup score.

Afghanistan got off to a fast start after winning the toss and opting to bat, with openers Hazratullah Zazai and Mohammad Shahzad finding the boundary repeatedly in a 54-run partnership through the Powerplay.

Zazai’s dangerous knock came to an abrupt end at the midway point of the Afghanistan innings, as he failed to connect well with a swipe across the line and was bowled by Mark Watt for 44 off 30.

Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Najib picked up where the openers left off, with the teenager Gurbaz in sparkling form, hitting four sixes in his 46 off 37.

Gurbaz’s aggressive knock was finally halted by Josh Davey in the penultimate over, but Najib and skipper Mohammad Nabi went big at the death, with the captain hitting 11 off just four balls.

And Najib fell to the final ball of the innings, caught on the boundary for 59 off just 34 balls.

Left-arm spinner Watt finished the pick of the bowlers for Scotland, with his wicket coming at the cost of just 23 runs in four overs, with Safyaan Sharif also impressive with 2-33.

Scotland’s chase got off to a lightning start as George Munsey reverse swept Nabi for four off the second ball, reverse sweeping for six the very next delivery.

But Scotland’s hopes of reaching the daunting 191 to win all but disappeared in the fourth over, when Mujeeb removed Kyle Coetzer and Calum MacLeod in consecutive deliveries, before picking up Richie Berrington with the last ball of the over.

Scotland were five wickets down before Rashid Khan even got the ball in his hand, and the Afghanistan talisman bagged his first wicket with his third delivery, trapping Michael Leask plumb in front.

The magnificent Mujeeb finished with figures of 5/20 off his four overs, while Rashid rounded it off in style, taking 4/9 off just 14 balls, ICC reported.

 

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Colombia’s most-wanted drug lord caught

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(Last Updated On: October 25, 2021)

The man Colombia describes as the world’s most dangerous drug trafficker told security forces: “You beat me” when he was captured during an operation this weekend, the government said on Sunday, pledging to extradite him swiftly to the United States.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, was caught by Colombia’s armed forces during an operation in a rural area of Colombia’s Uraba region, Antioquia province, which involved more than 500 members of Colombia’s special forces and 22 helicopters, officials said on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Otoniel is accused of exporting hundreds of tonnes of cocaine each year, while President Ivan Duque said after the arrest he is also responsible for killing police officers, recruiting minors and sexually abusing children.

Colombia’s government will file a petition on Monday with the Andean country’s Supreme Court to extradite Otoniel to the United States, Justice Minister Wilson Ruiz told Reuters on Sunday, adding the process could take four weeks to complete.

“Extradition awaits all those who commit international crimes,” Defense Minister Diego Molano told journalists in Necocli, close to where Otoniel, 50, was captured, Reuters reported.

Colombia had offered a reward of up to 3 billion pesos (about $800,000) for information concerning Otoniel’s whereabouts, while the U.S. government had put up a reward of $5 million for help locating him.

Both rewards will be paid, Molano said, while describing Otoniel as “the worst kind” of criminal.

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Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others: Erdogan

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(Last Updated On: October 24, 2021)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had told his foreign ministry to expel the ambassadors of the United States and nine other Western countries for demanding the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala.

Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey’s NATO allies and the expulsions, if carried out, would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power, Reuters reported.

Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has remained in detention while his latest trial continues, and denies the charges.

In a joint statement on Monday, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release”.

They were summoned by the foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.

“I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata (undesirable) at once. You will sort it out immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech in the northwestern city of Eskisehir.

The US and French embassies and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Reuters reported.
A US State Department spokesperson said it was aware of the reports and was seeking clarity from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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