With three months left before a landmark election, a group of hard-line Sunni Muslim clerics may hold the key to Iraq's future. \nThe Association of Muslim Scholars, created only 18 months ago but now the most influential representative of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, is threatening to boycott the January balloting if US and Iraqi troops storm the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah. \nA large-scale boycott by the powerful Sunni Arabs -- who make up 15 percent to 20 percent of Iraq's nearly 26 million people and are spearheading an increasingly vicious insurgency -- would be disastrous for the vote's credibility and may push Iraq into even deeper disarray. \nThe association, which boasts an active membership of 3,000 clerics nationwide, has hardened its stance against the US presence in Iraq recently as US warplanes stage almost daily raids against suspected militant safehouses in Fallujah. \nSheik Abdul-Salam al-Kobeisi, a senior association official, said the group would call for a boycott if it determines the vote would prolong the US presence in the country. \n"When we do, we will reject the elections, issue an edict declaring it illegitimate and not accept its results," he told The Associated Press. "We are capable of doing this, both in the so-called Sunni triangle and beyond." \nThe interim Iraqi government and its US backers see the vote as a crucial step toward democratic rule in Iraq. It also is a major plank in Washington's exit strategy from Iraq, where it maintains about 140,000 troops. \nIn the election, which is supposed to be held by Jan. 31, Iraqis will select a 275-member assembly whose main task will be to draft a constitution. If adopted, it will be the foundation for a second election to be held by Dec. 15 next year. \nThe Sunni association, which is suspected of maintaining links with some insurgent groups, has long been a staunch critic of the US presence in Iraq and of the US-backed interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. \nIt has, however, been careful not to publicly condone armed resistance against US or Iraqi forces. Although no boycott call has been issued, al-Kobeisi hinted Saturday that the decision to oppose the ballot has already been made. \n``Certainly, we have washed our hands of this election,'' he told AP. ``Frankly, the association believes the election is a ploy to allow the Americans to stay.'' \nA boycott call by the clerics would have resonance among Iraq's Sunni Arabs, who are angry and frustrated over the loss of power they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein. Many fear domination by the long-oppressed Shiite majority. \nSome Iraqi experts question whether a Sunni boycott would be universal. Nazim al-Jassour, a political scientist from Baghdad University, noted that some Shiite-led political parties, like Allawi's Iraq National Accord, have many secular Sunni members. \nAl-Jassour, however, said the association has both the means and the support to raise doubts about the credibility of the election. \nAs expected, Iraq's Shiites -- about 60 percent of the population -- are embracing the election, encouraged by their clerics who see the ballot as an opportunity for power. A senior aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani -- Iraq's top Shiite cleric -- told worshippers in Karbala on Friday that failure to vote would be ``sinful.''
‘LIKE A CASSANDRA’: Chinese residents of Prato went into self-imposed lockdown and warned their Italian neighbors about what was coming, but were ignored In the storm of infection and death sweeping Italy, one big community stands out to health officials as remarkably unscathed — the 50,000 ethnic Chinese who live in the town of Prato. Two months ago, the country’s Chinese residents were the target of what Amnesty International described as shameful discrimination, the butt of insults and violent attacks by people who feared that they would spread the coronavirus through Italy. However, in the Tuscan town of Prato, home to Italy’s single biggest Chinese community, the opposite has been true. Once scapegoats, they are now held up by authorities as a model for early,
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,