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Day Of Mourning In Pakistan As Hundreds Die In Greece Boat Mishap



Pakistan is observing a day of mourning after hundreds of its nationals are feared to have died when a refugee boat sank off Greece last week in one of the worst disasters of its kind.

Survivors said more than a hundred Pakistanis along with dozens of Egyptians, Syrians and Palestinians were among an estimated 750 people, according to media reports, onboard the fishing trawler on their way to Europe when the vessel sank on Wednesday off the Peloponnese peninsula.

So far, nearly 100 people have been rescued and 78 bodies have been retrieved from the sea, according to rescue officials. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said at least 12 Pakistanis were among those rescued.

The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Saturday that while the number of people on the boat was unclear, various testimonies put the figure between 400 and 750.

On Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a national day of mourning on Monday. He ordered the formation of a high-level committee to investigate the incident.

Authorities have made more than a dozen arrests of alleged human traffickers, who charge millions of rupees (thousands of dollars) to send citizens outside Pakistan.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it arrested three suspected traffickers over the weekend, including a key suspect identified as Sajid Mehmood.

Mehmood was arrested on Friday night from Karachi airport while he was trying to flee the country, an FIA official told Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

“This is an important breakthrough,” the official said.

Officials in Pakistan-administered Kashmir said they have arrested 10 suspected human traffickers so far in relation to the case.

Chaudhry Shaukat Ali, a senior official in the region, told Al Jazeera at least 23 of those missing in the sinking were from Kashmir’s Kotli district.

In the first three months of 2023, more than 400 refugees drowned in the central Mediterranean, according to rescue agencies.

In a report released in April, the UNHCR said that figure made it the deadliest quarter since 2017 on the world’s most dangerous refugee crossing. It said the figure is potentially an undercount.


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French Schools Send Home Schoolgirls For Wearing Muslim Dress Abayas



French President Emmanuel Macron

French schools sent dozens of girls home for refusing to remove their abayas – an over-garment from the shoulders to the feet worn by Muslim women – on the first day of the school year, a government minister said on Tuesday.

Defying a ban on the Muslim dress, nearly 300 girls showed up on Monday morning wearing an abaya, education secretary Gabriel Attal told the BFM broadcaster.

The Daily Mail quoted Attal as saying that most agreed to change out of the dress, but 67 refused and were sent home.

The government announced last month it was banning the abaya in schools, saying it broke the rules on secularism in education that have already seen Muslim headscarves banned on the grounds they constitute a display of religious affiliation.

The move gladdened the political Right but the hard-Left argued it represented an affront to civil liberties.

French schools sent dozens of girls home for refusing to remove their abayas – an over-garment from the shoulders to the feet worn by Muslim women – on the first day of the school year, a government minister said on Tuesday.

Announcing the ban last month, Attal said at the time: ‘When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them. I have decided that the abaya can no longer be worn in schools.’

Attal said the girls refused entry were given a letter addressed to their families saying that ‘secularism is not a constraint, it is a liberty’.

If they showed up at school again wearing the dress there would be a ‘new dialogue’, the minister said.

On Monday evening, president Emmanuel Macron defended the controversial measure, saying there was a ‘minority’ in France who ‘hijack a religion and challenge the republic and secularism’, leading to the ‘worst consequences’ such as the murder three years ago of teacher Samuel Paty for showing Mohammed caricatures during a civics education class.

‘We cannot act as if the terrorist attack, the murder of Samuel Paty, had not happened,’ he said in an interview with Youtube channel HugoDecrypte.

An association representing Muslims has filed a motion with the State Council, France’s highest court for complaints against state authorities, for an injunction against the ban on the abaya and the qamis, its equivalent dress for men.

The Action for the Rights of Muslims (ADM) motion is to be examined later on Tuesday.

Abdallah Zekri, vice-president of the French Council for Muslim Worship, said last month the abaya ‘has never been a religious symbol’ and should not be banned.

He said the ban was yet another example of politicians using dress favoured by women and girls to attack some five million Muslims living in France.

‘I think the minister could have asked the opinion of religious leaders,’ said Zerkri.

‘For me, the abaya is not a religious dress, it is a form of fashion.

‘If you go to some stores, you find abayas. It’s a long and loose dress at the same time. It has nothing to do with religion.’

A law introduced in March 2004 banned ‘the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation’ in schools.

This includes large Christian crosses, Jewish kippas and Islamic headscarves.

Unlike headscarves, abayas occupied a grey area and had faced no outright ban until now.

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Gabon’s BREAKING:Military Leader Sworn In As President



Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema

Gabon ‘s new military leader was sworn in as the head of state Monday less than a week after ousting the president whose family had ruled the Central African nation for more than five decades.

Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, took the oath in the presidential palace in front of a packed, boisterous room of government officials, military and local leaders in Gabon’s capital, Libreville. Oligui is a cousin of the ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba, served as a bodyguard to his late father and is head of the republican guard, an elite military unit.

Speaking to applause and standing ovations Monday, Oligui said the military had seized power without bloodshed and promised to return power to the people by organizing free, transparent and credible elections.

“With the new government, made up of experienced people, we’re going to give everyone a chance to hope,” he said.


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BREAKING: Gabonese Military Officers Sack President



President Ali Bongo

Senior Gabonese military officers appeared on national television to announce they have taken power.

The group of 12 officers made the announcement shortly after Gabon’s election body reported early on Wednesday morning that President Ali Bongo had won a third term in office.

After observing “irresponsible, unpredictable governance resulting in a continuing deterioration in social cohesion that risks leading the country into chaos… we have decided to defend peace by putting an end to the current regime”, one of the soldiers said, speaking on the Gabon 24 TV channel.

There was no immediate comment from the Gabon government, the Reuters news agency reported.

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