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Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to return to pre-Covid levels

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The annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will return to pre-pandemic levels this year after restrictions saw the religious commemoration curtailed over concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision was announced by the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan al-Rabiah at the opening of the Hajj Expo.

Al-Rabiah announced that in addition to lifting the limit on Hajj pilgrims, authorities had also reduced the insurance fee for Umrah pilgrims from 235 riyals to 88 riyals, and the insurance fee for Hajj pilgrims 109 riyals to 29 riyals.

He also announced the total infrastructure investments of the Saudi government in the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca at a cost of more than 200 billion riyals, which is the largest construction project in history.

Saudi Arabia is also working on expanding the Prophet’s Mosque and other holy sites.

Al-Rabiah also spoke about the mega project to develop Quba Mosque, and develop the facilities and infrastructure with the best international standards, with partners in the Transport and Logistics Services Organization to increase the seating capacity, including the establishment of the largest airport in the Kingdom to serve the guests of Ar-Rahman (King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah), with the cost exceeding 40 billion riyals, as well as the construction of the Haramain train, which connects Mecca al-Mukarramah and al-Madinah al-Munawwarah, at a cost of more than 64 billion riyals – which has greatly contributed to reducing the duration of the trip to from six to two hours.

He explained that starting this year, all Hajj missions can make contracts with any licensed company in Saudi Arabia, where in the past each Hajj mission being restricted to make contracts with a certain number of companies since decades ago, emphasizing the Hajj and Umrah Ministry’s role in enhancing competitiveness by allowing Hajj missions to make contracts with multiple companies, instead of just one company.

Al-Rabiah noted holders of Umrah visas can now travel throughout Saudi Arabia, and holders of all other types of visas are allowed to perform Umrah, with the period of the Umrah visa duration extended from 30 days to 90 days.

He also spoke about the launch of the Nusuk platform, which allows to pilgrims obtain the e-visa within less than 24 hours.

The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, represents one of the world’s largest gatherings of people. Before the pandemic, the pilgrimage drew millions each year to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.

In 2019, over 2.4 million people took part in the pilgrimage. But in 2020, amid the lockdowns sparked by the pandemic, Saudi Arabia drastically curtailed the hajj with as few as 1,000 residents of Saudi Arabia permitted to take part. It was an unprecedented move unseen even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide.

In 2021, some 60,000 residents of Saudi Arabia attended. Last year saw one million faithful perform the pilgrimage.

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Brazilian deported after found carrying drugs worth MVR 6.5M

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ABrazilian traveler has been deported after Maldives Customs officials found 2.6 kilos of cocaine in her luggage.

According to Customs, the traveler, identified as a 23-year-old Brazilian woman, had arrived in Maldives via Doha on Monday, February 6.

Customs officials flagged the traveler for suspicious behavior, and conducted a search of her luggage, during which they found a suspicious substance – which tested positive for cocaine.

The cocaine seized in the operation weighed 2.6 kilos.

The street value of the drugs is estimated to be MVR 6.5 million.

According to Customs, the drugs seized in the operation has been handed over to the police, while the traveler was deported following discussions with law enforcement agencies.

Customs reserves the right to bar entry to people based on intel they use or may use Maldives as a transit point to traffic drugs.

Source(s): sun.mv

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U.S. long-arm jurisdiction harms int’l order, rule of law

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BEIJING, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) — The United States has a longstanding practice of exerting frequent long-arm jurisdiction over other countries, which severely harms the international political and economic order and the rule of law.

In essence, long-arm jurisdiction is an arbitrary judicial practice wielded by the U.S. government on the strength of the U.S. hegemony to enforce extraterritorial jurisdiction over entities and individuals of other countries on the ground of its domestic law.

In line with international law, the exercise of a country’s jurisdiction over an extraterritorial person or entity generally requires that the person or entity or its conduct has a real and sufficient connection to that country. Yet the United States exercises long-arm jurisdiction on the basis of the “minimum contacts” rule, constantly lowering the threshold for application.

Meanwhile, to exercise long-arm jurisdiction, the U.S. government has further developed the “effects doctrine,” meaning that jurisdiction may be exercised whenever an act occurring abroad produces “effects” in the United States, regardless of whether the actor has U.S. citizenship or residency, and regardless of whether the act complies with the law of the place where it occurred.

Long-arm jurisdiction has become a means by which the United States abuses unilateral sanctions, especially secondary sanctions. According to the Treasury 2021 Sanctions Review, by fiscal year 2021, the number of active U.S. sanctions designations had increased to more than 9,400.

U.S. sanctions have strained relations between countries and undermined the international order. So far, the “long arm” of U.S. jurisdiction has reached China, Russia, Iran, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cuba, France, Britain, Germany, Japan, among others.

Long-arm jurisdiction has become a tool for the U.S. authorities to interfere with normal international commercial exchanges and competition.

In 2013, in order to beat Alstom in their business competition, the United States applied the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to arrest and detain then Alstom’s senior manager Frederic Pierucci on charges of bribing foreign officials. He was further induced to sign a plea deal and provide more evidence and information against his company, leaving Alstom no choice but to accept General Electric’s acquisition, vanishing ever since from the Fortune 500 list.

In an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine, Professor Daniel Drezner of Tufts University criticized successive U.S. administrations for abusing economic coercion and economic violence, and using sanctions as the preferred solution to diplomatic problems, which have been causing humanitarian disasters.

When COVID-19 was raging across the world, the U.S. government did not relent in imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran, Syria and other countries, making it difficult for these countries to obtain the much-needed medical supplies to fight the virus. As a result of the sanctions, Iran has been cut off access to essential medicines and medical equipment, putting the health of millions of Iranians in jeopardy.

Long-arm jurisdiction not only undermines the principle of sovereign equality, violates international law, and erodes the multilateral order with the United Nations at its core, but also creates and intensifies tensions and conflicts among major countries, and poses a threat to the international security system established after World War II. It also interferes with and distorts normal international commercial exchanges and trade order, disrupts the supply chain of global trade, damages the interests of enterprises and raises their operating costs.

The United States should renounce its illegal unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction measures, and truly take up its international responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Small unknown asteroid accidentally detected by Webb telescope

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European astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope have detected a previously unknown asteroid about the size of Rome’s Colosseum in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The asteroid measuring between 100 and 200 meters in length is suspected to be the smallest object observed to date using the telescope, the U.S. space agency NASA said Monday.

The European astronomers “serendipitously detected” the asteroid, NASA said in a statement, adding that more observations would be needed to better characterize its nature and properties.

“We – completely unexpectedly – detected a small asteroid,” said Thomas Muller, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

It was detected during calibration of the telescope’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), which operates in mid-infrared wavelengths.

“Webb’s incredible sensitivity made it possible to see this roughly 100-meter object at a distance of more than 100 million kilometers,” Muller said.

Webb, which has been operational since July, is mainly built to study the life cycle of stars. Another main research focus is on exoplanets, planets outside Earth’s solar system.

Webb was not designed to look for small objects such as the newly discovered asteroid, but Muller said its discovery “suggests that many new objects will be detected with this instrument.”

Source(s): AFP & CGTN

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