World Newsletter

26 December 2019


Taliban militants have kidnapped 27 peace activists from a highway in 
Afghanistan's western Farah province, local officials and peace activists 
said on Wednesday. 
Massoud Bakhtawar, the Deputy Governor of Farah, said the activists were 
travelling in six cars from Herat to Farah on Tuesday evening when their 
convoy was stopped by the Taliban on a highway and taken to an unknown 
Bismillah Watandost, a member of the group, said the activists had planned 
to travel to various parts of Farah to call for peace and a ceasefire 
between the warring parties in Afghanistan. 
The group, People's Peace Movement, was formed to protest against violent 
attacks after a car bomb exploded at a sport stadium in Helmand province 
last year killing 17 civilians. 
The activists have travelled to various parts of the country, often marching 
through Taliban-controlled areas to demand a ceasefire between the Taliban 
and the Afghan government. 
The Taliban has previously accused the activists of being financed by the 
Kabul government, which the group has denied. 


The Dalai Lama on Wednesday vowed that Tibetan Buddhists will continue to 
fight with "the power of truth" the communist regime in China which, 
according to him, thrived on the "power of the gun". 
The Tibetan spiritual leader made the statement at the Mahabodhi Temple in 
Bodh Gaya near here, the place where Buddha is believed to have attained 
enlightenment more than two millennia ago. 
He arrived at Bodh Gaya on Tuesday night on his annual fortnight-long visit 
of the pilgrim town during which he offers discourses besides organizing the 
Kala Chakra initiation ceremony. 
"A survey conducted three years ago has shown a massive rise in the number 
of Tibetan Buddhists in China. We have the power of truth while the 
communist regime in China has the power of the gun," the Dalai Lama said. 
"As social animals, we cannot do without compassion. It is a virtue 
essential to achieving mental peace. The world is reeling under violence, 
often in the name of religion. This must not happen and humanistic values 
must be promoted," he added. 
About the spread of Buddhism in China, which has been officially atheist 
since the communist revolution, the Dalai Lama said, "China has 
traditionally been a Buddhist country. Among the adherents of various 
religions, Buddhists are the largest in number. 
"Moreover, many citizens of China are practising Tibetan Buddhism and its 
universities have a large number of Buddhist scholars," he added. 


Pope Francis appealed for peace in many of the world's hotspots, singling 
out the crises in the Middle East, Venezuela and Lebanon as well as armed 
conflicts ravaging many African countries. 
"May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and 
conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world," the 
83-year-old pontiff said in his traditional Christmas message at the 
"May he bring comfort to the beloved Syrian people who still see no end to 
the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade," he said, 
urging the international community to find solutions to allow the peoples of 
that region to live together in peace and security." He used his "Urbi et 
Orbi" (To the City and the World) speech to call for a resolution to the 
crisis in Lebanon, where he hoped for a return to "harmonious coexistence". 
In the Middle East, notably Iraq and Yemen, the Pope lamented that "so many 
people - struggling but not discouraged - still await a time of peace, 
security and prosperity." 
Pope Francis denounced attacks on Christians in Africa and prayed for 
victims of conflict, natural disasters and disease in the world's poorest 
He prayed for migrants undertaking a perilous and potentially deadly sea 
crossing to Europe to seek a better life, saying: "It is injustice that 
makes them cross deserts and seas that become cemeteries." 
"It is injustice that forces them to ensure unspeakable forms of abuse, 
enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps. It is 
injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a 
dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference." 


For the first time in more than 200 years, worshippers will not be able to 
attend Christmas mass at Notre-Dame cathedral, still being restored after a 
devastating fire. 
"There won't be a midnight mass at Notre-Dame. The last time this happened 
was during the French Revolution. Since 1803, there have always been 
Christmas masses at Notre-Dame," a Paris diocese spokeswoman told Reuters. 
The April 15 fire caused the roof and spire to collapse although the main 
bell towers and the outer walls were saved, along with religious relics and 
priceless works of art. 
"It's painful because we would have liked to celebrate Christmas at 
Notre-Dame but, at the same time, there is also hope: we're pressing ahead 
with the rebuilding, for example this huge crane which will help remove this 
damn scaffolding," said Monsignor Patrick Chauvet, the cathedral's senior 
administrative cleric. 
He was referring to the metal scaffolding, erected before the blaze for 
maintenance work, that melted in the fire and had to be disentangled from 
the cathedral's structure before it could be removed. 
"Christmas is the celebration of hope. Let's be patient, four more years", 
Chauvet added, inviting those who used to come to Notre-Dame for Christmas 
to go to nearby Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, one of the oldest churches in 
Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit, who would normally say Christmas mass in 
Notre-Dame, will this year officiate at the GrYss Circus in the Bois de 
Boulogne, the diocese said. 
Notre-Dame, which dates back to the 12th century, features in Victor Hugo's 
novel "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame". It was also there that Napoleon was 
crowned Emperor in 1804. 


Burkina Faso was in mourning on Wednesday after jihadists killed 35 
civilians, almost all of them women, in double attacks in the north, in one 
of the deadliest assaults in nearly five years of violence in the West 
African country. 
Seven soldiers and 80 jihadists also died in Tuesday's simultaneous attacks 
on the town of Arbinda and its military base in Soum province, which lasted 
"several hours" and was of a "rare intensity", the army said. 
Burkina Faso, bordering Mali and Niger, has seen regular jihadist attacks 
which have left hundreds dead since 2015 when militant violence began to 
spread across the Sahel region. 
"A large group of terrorists simultaneously attacked the military base and 
the civilian population in Arbinda," the army Chief of Staff said in a 
"This barbaric attack resulted in the deaths of 35 civilian victims, most of 
them women," President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on Twitter, praising 
the "bravery and commitment" of the defence forces. 
Government spokesman Remis Dandjinou later said 31 of the civilian victims 
were women, adding around 20 soldiers and six civilians were wounded. 
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but jihadist 
violence in Burkina Faso has been blamed on militants linked to both the 
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State groups. 


Hong Kong anti-government protesters marched through Christmas-decorated 
shopping centres on Wednesday, chanting pro-democracy slogans and forcing 
one mall to close early, as the police fired tear gas to disperse crowds 
gathering on nearby streets. 
The protests have turned more confrontational over the festive season, 
though earlier in December they had been largely peaceful after 
pro-democracy candidates overwhelmingly won district council elections. 
Despite the embarrassing results, Hong Kong's pro-Beijing leaders have made 
no new concessions. 
The riot police patrolled several neighbourhoods while tourists and 
shoppers, many wearing Santa hats or reindeer antlers, strolled past. There 
were no major clashes, but with impromptu crowds forming to shout expletives 
at the unpopular officers, who have been accused of using excessive force, 
the police briefly fired tear gas in Mong Kok, a popular protest area. 
Police describe their reaction to the unrest as restrained. 
Hundreds of protesters, dressed in black and wearing face masks, descended 
on shopping malls around the Chinese-ruled city, shouting popular slogans 
such as "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!" 
The police arrested several people in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin 
district after pepper-spraying them. The mall closed early. 


Pakistan has decided to import polio markers from India, months after it 
suspended trade ties with New Delhi following abrogation of the Article 370, 
according to a media report on Wednesday. 
"The federal Cabinet on Tuesday decided to give a one-time permission for 
import of polio markers from India," Dawn reported. 
Pakistan is one of the three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, 
where polio is still endemic. 
The markers used to mark the fingers of children after administering them 
polio vaccine are approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 
The Cabinet's decision to import markers from India comes months after the 
Pakistan government had on August 9 decided to suspend all kinds of trade 
with India following New Delhi's decision to abrogate Article 370 on August 
5 to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. 
"However, since a large number of medicines and raw material are imported 
from India, the country's pharmaceutical industry started demanding that the 
ban be lifted on them because otherwise Pakistan could face severe crisis of 
medicines, especially life-saving drugs, within a few weeks. Consequently, 
the government had in September lifted the ban on import of medicines and 
raw material from India," the paper said. 

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