News in brief: Relief in India over Ayodhya ruling
- Relief in India over Ayodhya ruling
Peaceful reaction to the court verdict on disputed Ayodhya holy site has been welcomed, as fears of backlash fade.
India breathed a sigh of relief on Thursday as a hotly-anticipated court ruling on ownership of a contested religious site was issued without any sign of descent into sectarian violence.
Indian politicians had appealed for calm after a court ruled that both Hindus and Muslims should share a plot of land in the northern town of Ayodhya that is claimed as both a mosque and a temple.
The judges gave control of the main disputed section of the site, where a mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus. Other parts of the site will be controlled by Muslims and another Hindu sect.
The dispute over the site flared up in 1992 after a Hindu mob destroyed the mosque and nearly 2,000 were killed in ensuring rioting between Hindus and Muslims across the country.
Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, had described the 60-year-old Babri mosque-Ram temple case as one of the biggest security challenges in India.
But despite some Muslims saying they would challenge the ruling, there was no sign of a repeat of the widespread sectarian strife that many had feared the ruling would spark.
"The law and order situation throughout the country has been extremely peaceful," said P. Chidambaram, the home minister. "We are therefore very pleased and satisfied that the people of India have been respectful and dignified."
Indian newspapers said on Friday that the peaceful reaction to the verdict heralds a new dawn for the country, which has suffered periodic bouts of sectarian violence over the years.
"The compromise nature of the verdict along with the substantive outcome of dividing the disputed land have restrained any party from claiming outright victory or sulking in total defeat," the Hindu newspaper said in an editorial. "On balance, the verdict should help the nation as a whole put a longstanding dispute behind."
Analysts said that the issue was handled well by both politicians and community leaders. "People have shown a great degree of maturity, and politicians too have understood that they cannot ignite anger over the issue," said R.K. Mishra, a political science teacher in Saket Degree College in Ayodhya.
"I think we can safely say people have grown up and have started focusing on their priorities instead of wasting time and energy over a piece of land," he added.
But the dispute over the holy site is unlikely to end with the ruling, with Muslims unhappy with only receiving a third of the plot of land.
Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric in New Delhi's main Jama Masjid mosque, said he was "definitely not happy" with the ruling, adding that Muslims would not give up their claims to rebuild the mosque at the site.
Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim member of parliament, said on Thursday that "there is anger building up among the Muslim community over the verdict but, god willing, it may not translate into street violence."
But in Ayodhya, many Muslims were more circumspect about the ruling, with many preferring not to comment on the case for fearing of sparking reprisals from the Hindu community.
"If I say anything then chances are the Hindus will not like it and we will start fighting again," said Ameen Sheikh Sardar, a Muslim car mechanic in Ayodhya. "We Muslims have decided to remain silent. The less we talk about the disputed land, the better it is for the people of Ayodhya."
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Israeli authorities boarded a British yacht, took down its flag and "almost strip searched" its crew as they attempted to break the blockade to Gaza, a Briton on board said today.
Vish Vishvanath was one of nine people travelling on the British-flagged catamaran Irene when it was intercepted.
The freelance photo-journalist from Twickenham, south west London, said the vessel had been "hijacked" in international waters and surrounded by about eight boats whose crew trained machine guns on them.
The armed Israeli authorities who came on board took down the boat's British flag, he said, "which is something you're not supposed to do".
The 36-year-old was one of two Britons on board the yacht. The other was Irene's captain, Glyn Secker.
Both men were detained in Israel prior to deportation.
Arriving at Luton Airport this morning, Mr Vishvanath said he had been "almost strip-searched" and that the Israeli authorities had confiscated all his camera gear and his phone.
The group set sail earlier this week from Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus, with a consignment of medicines, toys and water purifiers.
But the catamaran was seized yesterday around 20 miles from Gaza by Israeli naval forces, with nine people and aid for the territory on board.
Mr Vishvanath said: "We had some intelligence that we wouldn't be intercepted until we got to the edge of the Israeli territorial waters, which would have been yesterday around noon.
"We had a decent night's sleep but at about 9am or 10am we saw a frigate and a gun ship.
"The frigate followed us for quite a way. Then about another four speedboats appeared and another gun ship. In total there were about eight boats."
The boats approached the British yacht and told it to stop, he said.
"They said if we acted calmly no one would get hurt," he added.
But the captain ignored their warnings to turn back.
One of two former Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) members on board Irene repeatedly read out a statement telling the naval forces that "the occupation is illegal", Mr Vishvanath said.
He went on: "All the passengers and crew were in agreement it would be positive resistance. We weren't going to do what they told us, they would have to do it themselves.
"The captain didn't give up the helm easily."
Men who he believed were special forces commandos then boarded the boat and Tasered one of the ex-IDF men, who was putting up a struggle, he said.
"I saw both men get dragged into a support boat and taken away," the photo-journalist said.
"About three commandos ambushed me and took all my camera gear. They confiscated my cell phone because it had a camera on it.
"There was a lot of resistance - people just weren't going to play ball - but there was no violence," he added.
The captain then cut the fuel lines so the Israeli authorities had to tow the boat for two to three hours to the Israeli port of Ashdod, he said.
They removed the yacht's satellite phones and shut down all its communications, he added.
According to a spokeswoman for the activists, the non-Israelis on board were transported to an immigration centre in Israel, where they were temporarily detained.
Five Israelis, one US and one German citizen were also on the boat.
Mr Vishvanath said he was not an activist but was there to document events.
He said he was the only non-Jew on board and that all had been prepared to be intercepted by the Israeli authorities.
"The others were pointing out that it's not in their name," he said. "That all Zionists are Jews but not all Jews are Zionists."
A Holocaust survivor among the group lectured the commandos at length for about four hours, he added.
"They were engaging in conversation. They were friendly enough," he said.
Israeli military officials said Irene was taken over after the captain ignored two warnings to turn back.
"No violence of any kind was used," they said.
London-based activist group Jews for Justice for Palestinians organised the mission - called Jewish Boat To Gaza - and said its last contact with Mr Secker was at 10.37am British time yesterday.
The incident comes four months after a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-led international flotilla aiming to break the blockade. Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists sparking a major international incident.
Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza three years ago in a bid to stop Islamic militant Hamas from building up an arsenal of weapons, but the move has proved inflammatory ever since.
Pro-Palestinian activists have sailed a string of blockade-busting boats to the coastal strip over the past two years, although few have reached Gaza.
'Mumbai-style' terror attack on UK, France and Germany foiled
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A plot to launch "commando-style" attacks on Britain, France, and Germany has been intercepted and foiled by drone attacks on militants based in Pakistan, security and intelligence sources said last night.
The plan for suicidal onslaughts similar to the 2008 atrocity in Mumbai – where 166 people were killed in a series of gun and grenade assaults – was disrupted after a combined operation involving US, UK, French and German intelligence agencies, officials said.
British security and intelligence sources, who have been concerned for some time about the possibility of a Mumbai-style attack in Europe, confirmed that they believed a plot was being hatched from Pakistan.
The increased rate of coordinated US drone raids along the border with Afghanistan is believed to be a response to intelligence gathered about the plot. Security sources insisted that attacks in Europe were not imminent.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, however, has been evacuated twice because of a bomb scare in the past two weeks, a precaution that may have been prompted by the intelligence.
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A beacon of hope in Bosnia
It was the scene of some of the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 war, but residents are slowly rebuilding ties.
Foca, a region of breathtaking gorges and dark forests in south-eastern Bosnia will be forever remembered for some of the most appalling atrocities of the 1992-1995 war. The declaration of independence by a Muslim-dominated administration in Sarajevo on March 3, 1992 prompted a defiant Bosnian Serb population to try and carve out territory of their own - territory which would become the post-war Bosnian "entity" of Republika Srpska, in which Foca lies.
Bosnian Serb forces descended on Foca just a month after the war began, terrorising, imprisoning and torturing the Muslim population and destroying their property and cultural heritage. Hundreds were murdered with dozens of corpses dumped in the Drina River.
But the systematic rape of Muslim women and girls is what made the name Foca infamous. Victims were moved into what would become known as "rape camps", one of the biggest being a sports hall next to the municipal police station. Bosnian Serb soldiers and paramilitaries would visit to pick out women and girls as young as 12 and take them away to rape them. Some told of being forced to feign laughter, others of domestic enslavement.
No Muslims left
Foca's name was linked to 11 indictments at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, equalling the grim record set by Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces killed 7,000 men and boys and displaced 20,000 or more in the final months of the war three years later.
Two men implicated in the crimes committed in Foca died before they could face trial, but eight have been convicted and handed sentences totalling 133 years. The trial of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the last of those to be tried at The Hague for crimes relating to Foca, is still underway.
Before Foca's horrors began the population of 45,000 had been half Serb and half Muslim. By the time they were over there were no Muslims left. Over 430 bodies have been unearthed in the years since, but 2,800 more people remain unaccounted for.
Most of the Muslim inhabitants simply fled. Not one of the town's 17 Muslim holy places, 12 mosques, was left standing. Among those destroyed was the 16th century Aladza ("Colourful") Mosque.
In 1994 the Bosnian Serb authorities celebrated the success of the campaign by renaming the region "Srbinje", or "the place of the Serbs". And so it was for years afterwards, often being considered a likely bolt-hole for indicted war criminals, like Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic, who is still at large.
Catholic primary school set to convert to Islamic faith
A Roman Catholic primary school in the heart of an Asian community in Lancashire looks set to become the first in the country to convert to an Islamic faith school.
Just a decade ago, Sacred Heart RC Primary School in Blackburn was a flourishing Catholic community, with 91 per cent of its pupil intake professing the faith. Now that number has dwindled to no more than 3 per cent.
As a result, the Diocese of Salford – which is responsible for the running of the school – has concluded it is no longer "appropriate" for the Catholic Church to remain in charge. Instead, its future is the subject of a consultation, with the local mosque a leading contender to take over the day-to-day running of the school.
The 197-pupil school is in the centre of Blackburn and its pupils are largely from ethnic minority groups, with Indians and Pakistanis in the majority. In all, around 97 per cent of its intake is Muslim. Nearby, there is already an established and successful Muslim secondary, the Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School, which caters for 383 pupils and is repeatedly listed in the top 10 non-selective state schools based on its exam performance. It has already expressed an interest in taking over Sacred Heart.
Whether this would mean running it as a Muslim faith school or in partnership with another institution has yet to be determined.
Hamid Patel, Tauheedul's headteacher, said: "We are the only outstanding [as rated by Ofsted] Muslim school and we are the only outstanding secondary school in the area.
"We're very keen on collaboration. We will consider both options [running it as a faith school or becoming a lead partner in the running of the school]."
According to a report presented to Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council's executive, if Sacred Heart became a Muslim school it would "provide increased diversity... and offer a faith school that matches the population of the town".
Just exactly who will end up running the school will be decided by open competition, a mechanism put in place by the previous Labour government to give parents more of a say.
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Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has said Palestinians would not immediately walk away from peace talks with Israel even if it does not extend a 10-month limited settlement moratorium due to expire on Sunday at midnight.
Abbas's comments on Sunday came as diplomatic efforts intensified to try to get Israel to extend the partial freeze on construction by Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
A day earlier, Abbas had told the UN General Assembly in New York that Israel must choose between "peace and the continuation of illegal settlements" if it wants international talks to succeed.
But on Sunday Abbas told al-Hayat newspaper that if the freeze was not continued he would "go back to the Palestinian institutions, to the Arab follow-up committee".
As Abbas travelled to Paris for a meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, to "expolore developments in the peace process", Israelis and US mediators were racing to find a compromise that would allow the fragile talks to continue.
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