NEW DELHI: One of India’s biggest states on Monday banned a movie critics accused of stoking communal hatred and propaganda against Muslims but defended strongly by the ruling right-wing Hindu government.
“The Kerala Story” claims that 32,000 Hindu and Christian women from the mixed-faith state of Kerala have converted to Islam, and that some were recruited by the Daesh group.
Critics have called the film out for peddling lies aimed at fomenting communal polarization and unrest.
But the movie has been endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and seized on by Hindu hard-liners who say its portrayal is accurate.
The state of West Bengal, which has a larger population than Germany, on Monday banned the movie, with chief minister Mamata Banerjee — whose party opposes Modi’s — slamming it as a “distorted story.”
“This is to avoid any incident of hatred and violence, and to maintain peace in the state,” she told reporters in Kolkata.
The trailer for the Hindi-language film initially claimed that thousands of women had fled their homes “to be buried in the deserts” but as controversy mounted it was edited to say it was a story about three women from Kerala.
But the closing credits still say it is “dedicated to the thousands of girls in Kerala and Mangalore who didn’t come back home after their conversions.”
Anurag Thakur, the information and broadcast minister, said the film showed “the reality of Daesh” and that by banning it, West Bengal was effectively siding with terror outfits that “lure women with love.”
“Everyone must see this movie to understand the agenda of these terror outfits who operate globally but do their recruitment in some parts of India,” Thakur told broadcaster India Today.
Indian authorities have not previously expressed concern that thousands of their citizens may have joined IS (also known by the acronym Daesh), a prospect which would alarm counter-terrorism experts.
Multiplexes in the southern state of Tamil Nadu have also stopped the screenings of the movie fearing violence and unrest.
The controversy comes after “The Kashmir Files,” about Hindus fleeing from Muslim-majority Kashmir in 1989-90, last year saw incidents of people in cinemas calling for revenge killings of Muslims.
India, the world’s largest democracy, in January banned the screening of a BBC documentary about Modi’s role during deadly 2002 sectarian riots in Gujarat, calling it “hostile propaganda and anti-India garbage.”
LONDON: Two medical volunteers were seized from an ambulance driving in northern Khartoum and detained for days by Sudanese army forces, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Mohamed Ahmed and Mohamed Jamal went missing last week while helping to reopen the Haj Al-Safi Hospital in Bahri. The hospital had been closed due to intense combat between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
The families of the missing volunteers knew nothing about their disappearance until Sunday, when army intelligence published a statement saying that they were captured while operating a “stolen” ambulance, The Guardian reported.
However, activists denied these allegations, saying the two men were part of a volunteer effort to reopen the city’s hospitals.
Ahmed and Jamal were released on Monday after their captors shaved their heads in an apparent attempt to humiliate them, The Guardian reported.
Dr. Attia Abdallah, a spokesperson for the Sudan doctors’ syndicate, told the newspaper: “These two young men have been working with us for two weeks to reopen the hospitals. They should not have been rewarded by being arrested and accused of things that they have done.
“This is a way of pulling the civil forces to the war and take them from their duties.”
Some 80 percent of Khartoum’s hospitals have either closed or are unable to fully operate.
The World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross say that Sudan’s healthcare system could implode.
Civil resistance organizations in the country have played a crucial role in taking medicines to those caught up in the war, in the absence of a functioning government.
The military has sent death threats to the few remaining doctors still able to work, The Guardian reported.
Dr. Hiba Omer, the first president of Sudan’s medical union, was forced to go into hiding after receiving a series of WhatsApp messages accusing her of collaborating with the RSF.
She told The Guardian: “We keep receiving all sorts of threats; some people even came to the hospital.
“These people love death, blood and ugliness. They cannot stand seeing candle lighting for others.
“We are trying our best to save lives and to create a new dawn, but they hate that.
“The majority of those we receive are military personnel, both from the RSF and the army. We do not care who is who — we just treat whoever needs our help.
“We work under enormous pressure, basically living inside the hospital with very limited staff and limited medical equipment.”
LONDON: A British-led group of European countries has asked for expressions of interest to supply Ukraine with missiles with a range of up to 300 km (190 miles) in what would be another step-up in military support for Kyiv against Russia’s invasion.
The call for responses from companies who could provide such missiles was included in a notice posted last week by the International Fund for Ukraine — a group of countries including Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden — set up to send weapons to Kyiv.
Britain’s Ministry of Defense, which administers the fund, asked companies to get in touch if they could provide missiles that can be launched from land, sea or air with a payload of between 20 and 490 kg (44 and 1,078 pounds).
The notice asked for other desirable requirements including a “low probability of intercept,” “mission planning capability,” and “air defense penetration methods to increase probability of successful strike.” The notice said companies that responded would be contacted from June 5.
Asked about British policy on supplying fighter jets and long-range missiles to Ukraine at a think tank event in Washington, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly declined to detail specific plans.
But he said it was important to keep looking at ways to “enhance and speed up the support we give to Ukraine.”
“If we’re saving stuff up for a rainy day, this is the rainy day,” he said.
A British official said no final decision had been made to send missiles to Ukraine with the capabilities set out in the published notice.
The Washington Post reported details of the procurement notice earlier on Tuesday.
Britain and other Western countries have scaled up their pledges of military aid for Ukraine this year.
Britain said in January it would send 14 of its main Challenger 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. Other nations including the United States and Germany subsequently committed to supply tanks.
Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, told Reuters that Kyiv had no concrete information about the UK-led effort to supply long-range missiles, but that Ukraine had for months been consistently appealing to Western governments to provide long-range weapons.
“We would welcome it if the UK takes on a leadership role with the long-range missiles, in the same way they did with the Challenger 2 main battle tanks,” he said.
MOSCOW: The boss of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group on Tuesday accused a Russian military unit of fleeing positions near Bakhmut in Ukraine and said the state was incapable of defending its country.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose influence has risen hugely in Moscow’s Ukraine offensive, has in recent days released a series of scathing videos attacking Russia’s military leadership.
“Today one of the units of the defense ministry fled from one of our flanks… exposing the front,” Prigozhin said in a video.
He has threatened to pull his fighters out of Bakhmut on May 10 if he did not receive badly needed ammunition.
The mercenary group has spearheaded Moscow’s fight for the eastern Ukrainian city.
Prigozhin said soldiers were fleeing because of the “stupidity” of Russian army commanders, who he said were giving “criminal orders.”
“Soldiers should not die because of the absolute stupidity of their leadership,” Prigozhin said.
He released the video on Russia’s Victory Day, when Moscow celebrates the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II.
Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement later in the day that “assault troops” — normally a reference to Wagner units — were “continuing to fight in the western part” of Bakhmut.
The ministry said Russian paratroopers “provided assistance,” without mentioning Prigozhin’s accusation of soldiers abandoning their posts.
In his unprecedented attack on the Russian army, Prigozhin said Tuesday that Moscow’s top generals were trying to “deceive” President Vladimir Putin over the Kremlin’s Ukraine campaign.
“If all the tasks are being carried out in such a way as to deceive the commander-in-chief (Putin), then either he will rip your arse or the Russian people will — who will be angry that the war is lost,” Prigozhin said.
As Ukraine prepares for a spring offensive, the outspoken 61-year-old questioned the Kremlin’s ability to defend the country.
“Why is the state not able to defend its country?” Prigozhin said in the video, adding that Ukraine was hitting Russian border regions “successfully.”
Prigozhin published the video as Moscow celebrated its Victory Day with a grand military parade on Red Square that was televised across the country.
He said Ukraine was preparing for an offensive “that will be on the ground, not on TV.”
“So far, in our country everyone thinks that everything needs to be done on TV.”
Russia has provided near round-the-clock coverage of its offensive, showing the army in an exclusively positive light.
JAKARTA: Southeast Asian nations are “at a crossroads,” a senior Indonesian minister said on Tuesday, as top envoys of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations convened for the bloc’s biannual summit amid a series of challenges, including increasing deadly violence in Myanmar.
Myanmar has been gripped by escalating violence, which started when the military junta seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021 and unleashed a bloody crackdown on dissent.
The crisis in Myanmar has put ASEAN’s role under the spotlight over the last two years as fallout from the coup worsened, with the bloc’s chair Indonesia and member state Singapore condemning an attack on Sunday on an aid convoy that included their diplomats.
“ASEAN is now at a crossroads. Crisis after crisis is testing our power as a community. If we fail to overcome them it risks endangering our relevance,” Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said during the ASEAN Political Security Community council meeting on Tuesday.
“Externally, we are faced with rivalry between big powers that could potentially divide our group … internally, we face the prolonged crisis in Myanmar and the humanitarian crisis it brings.”
Indonesia is hosting the first of the biannual ASEAN summits in Labuan Bajo, East Nusa Tenggara, this week. Myanmar’s junta leaders have been barred from attending over their lack of progress in implementing a peace plan endorsed by the regional bloc in 2021.
Mahfud’s remarks come as ASEAN foreign ministers finalize the agenda ahead of a leaders’ meeting on Wednesday.
“The foreign ministers also discussed the Myanmar issue, including the recent attack that occurred when AHA Center and the ASEAN monitoring team was about to deliver humanitarian aid,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a press briefing, without elaborating further.
She said last week that Indonesia has been quietly engaging Myanmar’s junta, shadow government and armed ethnic groups in an effort to start a peace process.
While it remained unclear who was behind Sunday’s attack on the aid convoy that included Indonesian and Singaporean diplomats, Human Rights Watch warned that it “should serve as a wake-up call for ASEAN.”
HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told Arab News that the group’s statements of condemnation only “mask the reality that they still have not figured any way to meaningfully pressure the Myanmar military junta to come to the bargaining table.”
CAIRO: The death toll from the ongoing clashes in Sudan has risen to 604 people, including civilians, the UN health agency said on Tuesday. The new figures come as representatives of the warring parties are holding talks in Saudi Arabia.
More than 5,100 people were also wounded in connection with the fighting, World Health Organization spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told reporters. On Monday, the Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks only civilian casualties, said that the fatalities had reached 487.
The conflict started on April 15, after months of escalating tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and a rival paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF, commanded by Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
The fighting has turned urban areas into battlefields and displaced nearly 700,000 people on top of the 3.7 million who had already been internally displaced within the country before the conflict began, according to the UN migration agency.
On Monday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said that talks between delegations of both warring sides were expected to continue for a few more days in the coastal city of Jeddah.
The talks are part of a diplomatic initiative proposed by the kingdom and the United States in hopes of ending the fighting. Meanwhile, Burhan accused the RSF of using residential neighborhoods as their military bases and civilians as human shields.
In an interview late Monday with an Egyptian TV channel, Al-Qahira Al-Akhbariya, he insisted they must withdraw all their troops from the capital, Khartoum, before any truce agreement can be reached.
“If this is not achieved, there will be no point in going to Saudi Arabia, or engaging in any negotiations,” he said. “We won’t go ahead with any initiative that does not bring back normalcy and ensure the safety of our citizens.”
The RSF has not responded to Burhan’s statement.
Indian state bans film on women converts joining Daesh – Arab News