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Pope Francis holds historic meeting with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric

NAJAF, March 6: Pope Francis held a historic meeting with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Saturday, in a powerful appeal for coexistence in a land torn by sectarianism and violence.

Francis’s meeting in the holy southern city of Najaf, during a whirlwind and risky tour of Iraq, marked the first time a pope has met with such a senior Shi’ite cleric. Children lined a street and waved Iraqi and Vatican flags at the leader of the world’s Catholics.

The pontiff has visited predominantly Muslim countries including Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian territories, using those trips to call for inter-religious dialogue.

After his 55-minute meeting with Sistani, Francis headed to the ruins of ancient Ur in southern Iraq, revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He is scheduled to give a speech at an interreligious meeting. After flying back to Baghdad, he is expected to deliver mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph. Sistani is one of the most important figures in Shi’ite Islam, both within Iraq and beyond. He wields enormous influence over politics.

His edicts sent Iraqis to free polls for the first time in 2005, rallied hundreds of thousands of men to fight against Islamic State in 2014 and toppled an Iraqi government under pressure from mass demonstrations in 2019.

Sistani, 90, rarely takes meetings, and has refused talks with Iraq’s current and former prime ministers, according to officials close to him. Sistani agreed to meet the pope on condition that no Iraqi officials would be present, said a source in the president’s office.

The meeting with Francis took place at Sistani’s humble home which he has rented for decades, located along a narrow alleyway in Najaf.

An ascetic cleric of almost mythical stature among millions of Shi’ite followers, Sistani intervened at critical junctures as Iraq lurched from one crisis to another. A gaunt figure, the reclusive Sistani worked from his spartan base near the golden-domed Imam Ali shrine in Najaf.

He was rarely seen in public. Pope Francis began his most risky foreign trip on Friday, flying into Iraq amid the tightest security ever seen for a papal visit to appeal to the country’s leaders and people to end militant violence and religious strife.

The country has deployed thousands of security personnel to protect him during the visit, which comes after a spate of rocket and suicide bomb attacks and a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Francis said he was making the trip to show solidarity with Iraq’s devastated Christian community of around 300,000, just one fifth of the number before the U.S. invasion in 2003 and the brutal Islamist militant violence that followed.

Pope John Paul II came close to visiting, but had to cancel a planned trip in 2000 after talks with the government of then-leader Saddam Hussein broke down.

The 84-year-old Francis, limping from what appeared to be a fresh flare-up of his painful sciatica, made an impassioned call for Iraqis to finally give peacemakers a chance during a gathering of Iraqi officials and diplomats at the presidential palace.

He later paid tribute to people killed in attacks motivated by religion, visiting a Baghdad church where Islamist gunmen killed about 50 worshippers in 2010. Iraq’s security has improved since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017, but the country continues to be a theatre for global and regional score-settling, especially a bitter U.S.-Iran rivalry that has played out on Iraqi soil.

The U.S. invasion of 2003, after years of international sanctions and a devastating war with Iran instigated by former leader Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, plunged Iraq into sectarian conflict and chronic mismanagement that has plagued it since.

Prince Harry-Meghan Markle to Oprah: Diana went through this alone, but we have each other

NEW YORK, March 1: Prince Harry has said that his and wife Meghan Markle's decision to take a step back from the royal family was exacerbated by a desire to not have history repeat itself. He did not want to be overwhelmed by media scrutiny in the way that his mother, Diana, was.

Prince Harry in a clip from an upcoming interview said that he cannot imagine what it must have been like for his mother to navigate intense media scrutiny alone, because at least he has his wife, Meghan Markle, by his side.

Harry and Meghan, who last year announced that they would take a step back from their duties as members of the British royal family, will make a joint appearance on Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special, where they will be in conversation with television personality Oprah Winfrey.

“My biggest concern was history repeating itself," Harry said in one clip, alluding to his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car crash after separating from his father, Prince Charles. “I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side,” Harry continued, grasping Meghan's hand. “Because I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her [Diana], going through this process by herself all those years ago. It’s been unbelievably tough for the two of us, but at least we had each other.”

Harry and Meghan stepped away from full-time royal life in March 2020, unhappy at media scrutiny and the strictures of their roles. They cited what they described as the intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media toward Meghan, who is African-American.

Harry addressed the issue in a recent appearance on James Corden's show, when he defended Netflix's The Crown. "Of course, it’s not strictly accurate,” Harry said. “It gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle [looks like], what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everything else ― what can come from that.”

“I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family or my wife or myself,” he added. “Because it’s the difference between ‘That is obviously fiction, take it how you will,’ but this is being reported on as fact because you’re supposedly news. I have a real issue with that.”

Harry and Meghan have shifted base to California, and have struck deals with Netflix and Spotify. The Crown swept the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, with Emma Corrin also winning a trophy for playing Diana on the show.

Bailable warrant issued against Kangana Ranaut on Javed Akhtar's complaint

MUMBAI, March 1: A Mumbai court on Monday issued a bailable warrant against actor Kangana Ranaut after she failed to appear before it in connection with a defamation complaint filed against her by lyricist Javed Akhtar.

The Andheri metropolitan magistrate's court had issued a summons to Kangana on February 1, directing her to appear before it on March 1.

However, the actor failed to appear on Monday, following which Magistrate RR Khan issued a bailable warrant against her and posted the matter for further hearing on March 26. A lawyer in the case had earlier informed March 22 as the next date of hearing.

Her advocate Rizwan Siddiquee argued in the court that the summons and process were issued against Kangana without following the procedure laid down in law and hence, were "bad in law".

Siddiquee said a petition would be filed in the Bombay High Court challenging the process issued by the magistrate. Javed Akhtar's advocate Vrinda Grover, however, argued that even if the process is being challenged, Kangana has to appear before the court as directed, in the absence of any stay on the summons by a higher court.

"It is the accused's right to appeal against the order, or even challenge the proceedings, that no one can deny and no one can stop, not even this court. However, she (Ranaut) has failed to comply with the order of this court and there is also no stay obtained from a higher court,"the lawyer argued.

Grover then filed an application seeking a non-bailable warrant to be issued against the actor. This was opposed by Siddiquee.

Magistrate Khan observed that Kangana was at the liberty to approach a higher court to challenge the process issued against her, but that would not absolve her from appearing before this court.

Akhtar filed the complaint against Kangana in November last year for allegedly making baseless and false statements against him which, according to him, damaged his reputation.

In his complaint, the lyricist claimed Kangana had made defamatory comments against him in an interview by dragging his name while referring to a "coterie" existing in Bollywood, following the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput in June last year.

Greta Thunberg, WHO, Kremlin Critic Among Nobel Peace Prize Nominees

OSLO, Jan 31: Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the World Health Organization and climate campaigner Greta Thunberg are among those nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, all backed by Norwegian lawmakers who have a track record of picking the winner.

Thousands of people, from members of parliaments worldwide to former winners, are eligible to propose candidates. Nominations, which close on Sunday, do not imply an endorsement from the Nobel committee.

Norwegian lawmakers have nominated the eventual laureate every year since 2014, with the exception of 2019, said Henrik Urdal, Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo. "The pattern from recent years is quite stunning."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides who wins the award, does not comment on nominations, keeping secret for 50 years the names of nominators and unsuccessful nominees.

But nominators can choose to reveal their picks.

According to a survey of Norwegian lawmakers, nominees include Thunberg, Navalny, the WHO and its COVAX programme to secure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.

Thunberg was named as one of "the foremost spokespeople in the fight against the climate crisis", with the campaigning group she co-founded, Fridays for Future, also receiving a nod.

Navalny, nominated by Russian academics, was named for his "efforts for a peaceful democratisation of Russia" by Norwegian former minister Ola Elvestuen.

The battle against COVID-19 is front and centre, including a nomination for the GAVI vaccine alliance.

Other names are Belarusian activists Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo for their "fight for a fair election and inspiration for peaceful resistance", one nominator, Geir Sigbjoern Toskedal, said.

Another, Jette Christensen, also named the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, and IUSTITIA, a group of Polish judges defending civil rights.

"My nomination this year is ... for the fight to preserve democracy as a form of government in Europe," Christensen said.

Freedom of information is a recurring theme with nominees including the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists; former Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb el Rhazoui; news website Hong Kong Free Press, the U.S.-based International Fact-Checking Network and Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).

Other nominees include former U.S. President Donald Trump, NATO and the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).

Also on the list is Aminatou Haidar, for her peaceful campaigning towards an independent Western Sahara, the International Space Station and the International Scout Movement.

The 2021 laureate will be announced in October.

Shinzo Abe, Ram Vilas Paswan Among Padma Awardees

NEW DELHI, Jan 25: The Government of India on Monday, 25 January, announced the winners of the 2021 Padma awards, with former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, late singer SP Balasubrahmanyam, sand artist Sudarshan Sahoo as well as archaeologist BB Lal among those having been awarded the Padma Vibhushan.

The Padma Vibhushan is the country’s second-highest civilian award, after the Bharat Ratna.

Former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who passed away in November 2020, and late political stalwart Ram Vilas Paswan are among those who have been awarded the Padma Bhushan posthumously.

The Padma Bhushan is the third highest civilian award in the country.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, former Principal Secretary to PM Nripendra Misra, former Gujarat CM late Keshubhai Patel and late religious leader Kalbe Sadiq are also among the 10 recipients of the Padma Bhushan award.

Meanwhile, former Governor of Goa Mridula Sinha, British film director Peter Brook, Father Vallés (posthumous), Professor Chaman Lal Sapru (posthumous) are among 102 recipients of the Padma Shri award.

The awards are given across various disciplines -- art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering, trade and industry, medicine, literature and education, sports, and civil service, among others.

The Padma Vibhushan is awarded for exceptional and distinguished service, the Padma Bhushan for distinguished service of high order, and the Padma Shri for distinguished service in any field.

The awards are conferred by the President of India at ceremonial functions which are held at Rashtrapati Bhawan usually around March or April every year.

The list, released by the government on Monday evening, comprises 7 Padma Vibhushan, 10 Padma Bhushan and 102 Padma Shri Awards.

 



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