Muslims around the world perform Eid prayers amid Covid-19 pandemic distancing

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Masked and socially distanced to fight the coronavirus, Muslims around the world held prayers on Friday to mark the festival of Eid al-Adha, with mosques at reduced capacity and some praying in the open air.

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 84, whose country is home to two of Islam’s holiest sites, tweeted holiday congratulations a day after leaving hospital in Riyadh. The Haj pilgrimage is being held in the country with attendance drastically reduced.

In Istanbul, Muslims held Eid al-Adha prayers at Hagia Sophia for the first time since the historic building was reconverted to a mosque this month following a court ruling revoking its status as a museum that drew criticism from Western countries.

In Lebanon, devastated by economic crisis, many found it hard to afford traditional Eid customs. In Tripoli, the country’s second city, there were no decorations or twinkling lights, and no electricity to power them.

Instead, a large billboard read: “We’re broke.”

Around the world, the festival had to fit in with the realities of the coronavirus.

In Indonesia, the religious ministry asked mosques to shorten ceremonies, while many cancelled the ritual of slaughtering livestock and distributing meat to the community.

Instead sheep, goats and cows were being killed in abattoirs to mark the ‘Feast of the Sacrifice’, celebrated by Muslims to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail at God’s command.

“This year’s Eid al-Adha is very different from previous years because we need to follow health protocols as we perform prayers, like maintaining social distancing,” said Devita Ilhami, 30, who was at the Sunda Kelapa mosque in Jakarta.

She said they had to bring their own prayer mats, with markers on the ground to show where they should be laid.

Elsewhere in Asia, Muslims including in Thailand and Malaysia prayed in or outside mosques wearing masks.

In Malaysia, while some mosques cancelled the ritual of slaughtering livestock, 13 cows were killed in the traditional way, but under rules limiting the number of animals and people at the Tengku Abdul Aziz Shah Jamek mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attended prayers in Kabul. Islamist Taliban militants say they will observe a three-day ceasefire for the holiday, offering some respite from weeks of violence.

In India, where Eid will be celebrated mostly from Saturday, several states have eased coronavirus restrictions to allow worshippers to gather in mosques in limited numbers.

“Only small groups of worshippers will be allowed into mosques,” said Shafique Qasim, a senior cleric at the Nakhoda mosque in the eastern city of Kolkata.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Irish Muslims performed prayers to mark the festival of Eid al-Adha on Friday at Dublin’s Croke Park Gaelic sports stadium, a site of historic importance for Irish nationalists who always had a deep connection with the once dominant Catholic Church.

Around 200 Muslims laid out prayer mats on the pitch usually used for the national sports of Gaelic football and hurling and where in 1920 British troops opened fire on a crowd, killing 14 people during Ireland’s War of Independence.

With Muslims unable to hold large gatherings in mosques due to Covid-19 social-distancing rules, Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, chair of Irish Muslim Peace & Integration Council, approached the management of Croke Park, who he said did not hesitate to offer the venue.

Irish President Michael D. Higgins described the event as an important moment in Ireland’s narrative. Leaders of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths attended and spoke at the event, which was broadcast live on television for the first time.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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Scores of anti-government protesters arrested in Zimbabwe

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Scores of people were arrested Friday in Zimbabwe as hundreds of military troops as well as police attempted to thwart an anti-government protest, with streets empty and many people hiding indoors.

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Organizers said demonstrators originally planned to protest alleged government corruption but instead targeted the ruling political party, using the hashtag #ZANUPFmustgo.”

Tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy implodes. Inflation is more than 700%, the second highest in the world. Now the coronavirus burdens the threadbare health system.

Police arrested scores of people who tried to hold low-key protests, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said. They included prominent author Tsitsi Dangarembga and Fadzayi Mahere, spokeswoman of the main opposition MDC Alliance party. Charges against them were not yet clear, the lawyers said.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has described the planned protest as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government.” He warned that security agents “will be vigilant and on high alert.”

Speaking at the burial Friday of a cabinet minister who died from COVID-19, Mnangagwa did not directly refer to the protest but called for unity and urged Zimbabweans to shun violence.

The normally teeming downtown capital, Harare, was deserted as soldiers and police patrolled and manned checkpoints. An army helicopter hovered over some of the capital’s poor, volatile suburbs. Security forces on Thursday drove people out of the city and forced businesses to close.

“So both the government and the people are afraid of protests more than coronavirus,” chuckled a security guard, walking along an empty road. “I have never seen these security people so effective, and the people so compliant, even during those days of the complete lockdown.”

The southern African country had gradually relaxed its lockdown to allow for some commercial activity, but it continues to ban protests as part of lockdown rules.

The opposition and human rights groups have said they witnessed abuses such as arrests, detentions, beatings and the stalking of activists and ordinary people accused of violating the lockdown ahead of the planned protest.

Police and government spokespeople have dismissed the allegations, even as a prominent journalist and a politician behind the protest have spent close to two weeks in detention.

Mnangagwa’s administration accuses the U.S. government of funding the two men and other activists involved in mobilizing the protest, with a ruling party spokesman this week calling the U.S. ambassador a “thug.”

Anti-government protests in Zimbabwe in 2018 and 2019 resulted in the killing of several people, allegedly by the military.

The pandemic has brought a new layer of suffering.

In public hospitals, doctors and nurses are frequently on strike, and infrastructure is so dilapidated that “unborn children and mothers are dying daily,” according to the Zimbabwe Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The World Food Program this week projected that the number of Zimbabweans facing food insecurity could reach 8.6 million by the end of the year.

That would be “a staggering 60% of the population – owing to the combined effects of drought, economic recession and the pandemic,” the WFP said, appealing for more money to intervene.

(AP)

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Northeastern students will have to test negative on three coronavirus tests over five days before being allowed to physically attend classes

Northeastern today announced specifics of its Covid-19 plan for this fall, and it starts with an immediate Covid-19 test and then a trek to their rooms to await the results.

The requirement applies to all students, even if they’re coming from states Gov. Baker says are exempt from the state’s quarantine rule – other New England states, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii – as well as to students coming to Boston who plan to live off campus.

Students who test negative on the first test will be immediately allowed out of Husky quarantine but won’t be allowed to attend classes in person until after they get negative results back on tests on their third and fifth days. Students who test positive will be required to hole up in quarantine for two weeks, taking all classes remotely. Those with on-campus housing will get meals delivered to their door; all quarantined students are supposed to forswear any visitors.

After their arrival, during the five days in which they will have their three coronavirus tests, students who live on campus will be able to go outside their rooms – while wearing a mask – for tasks such as picking up food, attending medical appointments, or sharing hall bathrooms and showers. …

Students living on campus who test positive for the coronavirus will be isolated and moved into special on-campus housing units with private bathrooms. Food will be delivered to them, and they will have case managers and clinical support on a daily basis.

The school will let students’ family members help them move in, but only up to the dormitory door – only students will be allowed in to the residence buildings.

Anyone else helping them move in will need to stay within the area where they unload their vehicles. At that point, university employees will help the students move into their rooms.

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SF Giants manager Gabe Kapler takes responsibility for ‘mental screw-up’ in 10th inning

The San Francisco Giants fell to the San Diego Padres 12-7 in extra innings Thursday night after a top-of-the-10th meltdown that featured a Tyler Rogers implosion and an embarrassing Gabe Kapler brain fart.

Rogers, the reliever who was lit up by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the season opener, was charged with five earned runs and failed to earn an out in the 10th after retiring the side in the 9th. His ERA on the young season now stand at 20.25.

With Rogers struggling, Kapler walked on the field and moved to replace him with right-handed-reliever Rico Garcia, but seemingly did not take notice of the fact that pitching coach Andrew Bailey had just completed his own visit to the mound. Under MLB rules, if a pitcher receives two mound visits in the same inning during a given at-bat, the pitcher must face the batter until the batter is retired or reaches base.

Umpires then ordered Tyler Rogers to re-take the mound against Padres catcher Austin Hedges, who promptly laid down a successful squeeze bunt that brought in another run.

After the game, Kapler took responsibility for the “screw-up.”

“That was just a mental screw-up on my part,” he told reporters. “I’ve been around the game for a long time and I just had a lapse in memory in the dugout. We were talking about a lot of different things and I popped out there and went and got him and obviously that was just a mental screw-up on my part. I just wanted to own that. It’s 100 percent my responsibility.”

Kapler had a similar bullpen mishap during his first season as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, when he called on a reliever who hadn’t even been warming up to enter a game, and was subsequently chewed out by the MLB.

Eric Ting is an SFGATE reporter. Email: [email protected] | Twitter:@_ericting

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British filmmaker Alan Parker, director of ‘Midnight Express’, dies at 76

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British filmmaker Alan Parker, whose movies included “Bugsy Malone,” “Fame,” “Midnight Express” and “Evita,” has died at 76.

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A statement from the director’s family says Parker died Friday in London after a long illness.

Parker was one of Britain’s most successful directors, whose diverse body of work includes ”Mississippi Burning,” “The Commitments and “Angela’s Ashes.” Together his movies won 10 Academy Awards and 19 British Academy Film Awards.

Parker also championed Britain’s film industry, serving as the chairman of the British Film Institute and the U.K. Film Council. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002.

British film producer David Puttnam said Parker “was my oldest and closest friend – I was always in awe of his talent. My life, and those of many others who loved and respected him, will never be the same again.”

He is survived by his wife Lisa Moran-Parker, his children Lucy, Alexander, Jake, Nathan and Henry, and seven grandchildren.

(AP)

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All aboard: EU approves Alstom’s purchase of Bombardier rail unit

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The European Commission gave French engineering giant Alstom the green light to buy Canadian train-maker Bombardier Transport on Friday, a year-and-a-half after blocking a mega-merger with Germany’s Siemens.

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Paris and Berlin were infuriated when Brussels blocked the former plan to build an all European giant but the Canadian tie-up should now go ahead — with conditions.

Alstom will have to divest itself of some of its plants, but the new entity could still be of a scale to compete with the Chinese world-leader in the sector, CRRC.

“Going forward, a stronger combined Alstom and Bombardier entity will emerge,” EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

“Thanks to the comprehensive remedies offered to solve the competition concerns … the Commission has been able to speedily review and approve this transaction.”

Alstom’s chief executive, Henri Poupart-Lafarge, had earlier in the day expressed confidence the decision would go his way this time.

“The dialogue with Brussels has been extremely fluid, extremely rapid since we announced the transaction with Bombardier in February, so five months later we have the decision,” he stressed.

“I believe that a dialogue of trust has been established. Is this the consequence of the difficulties of the previous dossier or not? I don’t know,” he added, referring to the blocked Siemens tie-up.

In order to appease Vestager’s anti-trust concerns, Alstom gave an undertaking to sell off some of its assets, including a French plant in Reichshoffen in Alsace which employs 780 people.

Before these concessions, the new group would have had a turnover of 15.5 billion euros per year and 76,000 employees.

‘Fed and pampered’

Had the European Commission been worried that the project might have hurt competition, it could have launched a more detailed investigation, which would have lasted about four months.

Alstom had notified Brussels in mid-June of the planned acquisition of its competitor Bombardier Transport for six billion euros in a deal to be finalised in the first half of 2021.

The two groups have a virtual monopoly on rolling stock in France, where they work together regularly, as they do on the Paris Metro and RER suburban transport network.

The threat of Chinese competition had already been cited as a reason for Siemens’ planned takeover of Alstom, which was blocked by the Commission in February 2019.

But Brussels feared an overly dominant position in Europe in rail signalling and high-speed trains.

The EU should not help to create “fed and pampered” industrial champions, but let competition drive innovation, Vestager had argued.

Alstom had fewer overlapping operations with Bombardier than with the German group, which helped win approval of the deal.

Bombardier’s subsidiary Bombardier Transportation is based in Berlin and runs the largest railway plant in France, with 2,000 employees, in Crespin in the north of the country.

Alstom, meanwhile, operates many smaller sites and last year, before the coronavirus crisis, its order book peaked at 40.9 billion euros.

(AFP)

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Nantes: A maritime metropolis of arts and culture

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Straddling the Loire and looking out to the Atlantic, water has long shaped the history and identity of Nantes. The French city is now capitalising on its maritime history, as its former shipyards play host to the innovative contemporary art event “A journey to Nantes”. FRANCE 24’s Olivia Salazar-Winspear meets its founder and director Jean Blaise, who tells us about the city’s strategy to bring together culture and tourism, as well as artists Myrtille Drouet and Evor Damoiseau, who are reinventing the urban landscape with their installations.

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We also take a stroll around two sights that shed light on the history of Nantes: the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany and the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery, both of which provide key insights into how the city’s past has shaped modern French society.

And we check in with the city’s steampunk mascots: the Machines de l’île. These fantastical, mechanical creatures have become synonymous with contemporary culture in Nantes and their star player, the elephant, regularly draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the site.

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