AZERBAIJAN, SERBIA CANCEL VISA REQUIREMENTS

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan has signed the law “On approval of the agreement between the government of Azerbaijan and the government of Serbia on mutual abolition of visa requirements for persons holding civil passports.” Under this law, the document on mutual abolition of visa requirements, signed on October 11, 2021, in Belgrade, has been approved. The agreement between Azerbaijan and Serbia on the mutual abolition of visa requirements for holders of general civil passports was signed during a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers, Jeyhun Bayramov and Nikola Selakovic. Azerbaijan and Serbia collaborate in a variety of economic sectors. The Azerbaijan-Serbia Declaration on Strategic Partnership, signed in 2013, and the Joint Action Plan on Strategic Partnership, signed in 2018, laid the ground for the development of relations. The trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Serbia amounted to $9.2 million in 2021.

MUSLIM GROUPS DEMAND CLOSURE OF HOLOCAUST EXHIBITION

Some Muslim groups in Indonesia are demanding the closure of the country’s first permanent Holocaust exhibition, charging that it is part of an effort to normalise Indonesia’s relations with Israel. The exhibit launched timed to International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 and is located at Indonesia’s only synagogue, Shaar HaShamayim, located in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province. Yaakov Baruch, Shaar HaShamayim’s rabbi, said his motivation to open the exhibition was personal. But groups protesting the exhibition say they see it as part of Israel’s attempts to normalise relations with Indonesia and the occupation of Palestinian territories. The opening ceremony of the Holocaust Remembrance Day was attended by the German ambassador to Indonesia.

STRONG GROWTH IN INDONESIA’S TAKAFUL SECTOR

Indonesia’s takaful sector continues to expand on growing awareness and demand for takaful products, government support, easing of Covid-19 movement restrictions and a recovering economy, Fitch Ratings says in a new report. Most insurance companies are struggling to spin-off their Shari’ah business units (SBUs) in the short term because of high capital requirements and operating expenses. Only one SBU was spun off in 2021, and another is in the process of being separated, with 44 insurance companies to follow up on the Shari’ah Unit Separation Work Plan in 2024. The introduction of PSAK 74 – Indonesia’s equivalent of IFRS17 – is another challenge for takaful operators, including insurers intending to spin-off their SBUs. The takaful sector’s market share reached 9% of the country’s overall insurance market in 11M21 (11M20: 7%).

LIBYAN CRISIS DEEPENS AS PARLIAMENT CHOOSES NEW PREMIER

The crisis in Libya has deepened with the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) Parliament in the country’s east choosing former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as prime minister, while current Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh has vowed to continue in the post. The failure to hold discussions on the legitimacy of Libya’s Government of National Unity, originally scheduled on December 24, has led to differences of opinion in the west of the country as well. Arriving at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, Bashagha was greeted by a group of supporters. No legal sanctions were imposed on him and he did not encounter any obstacles. However, a group that introduced themselves as the “Libyan army support force” in Martyrs’ Square condemned the decision of the HoR parliament to elect Bashagha as the new prime minister. The group said that the decisions taken in the House of Representatives in its last meeting in Tobruk were not “in accordance with fair and transparent procedures,” it said.

BAHRAIN CONFIRMS APPOINTMENT OF ISRAELI NAVY OFFICER

Bahrain has confirmed that an Israeli Navy officer will be stationed in the Gulf state. In a statement, the Bahraini Foreign Ministry said the appointment of the Israeli officer is related to an international coalition “to secure the freedom of navigation in the region.” Media reports said that an Israeli officer had been appointed in Bahrain to serve as a liaison officer for the US Fifth Fleet. He was appointed by Israel’s Minister of Defence, Benny Gantz. The appointment was made following the signing of a defence agreement between the two countries last week during the visit of Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz.  Gantz met with Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and signed a security cooperation deal to coordinate efforts against their common enemy Iran.

UYGHUR TORCHBEARER FOR GAMES MEANT TO DEFLECT CRITICISM

China’s United Nations envoy has rejected his U.S. counterpart’s remark that China’s choice of an ethnic Uyghur as a torchbearer for the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics was an attempt to distract from his country’s alleged rights abuses against Muslim minorities. Ambassador Zhang Jun said in a statement on the embassy’s website that China “sternly refutes” the “unwarranted accusations” made by U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield in an interview with CNN. Zhang said that Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross country skier born in Xinjiang, is “among the best” of the 20 athletes from nine ethnic minorities competing for Team China at the Winter Games. “She is the pride and excellent representative of the Chinese people. Where does the U.S.’ inexplicable anger over this come from, and what intentions does it harbour?” Zhang said.

UK POLICE LEADERS RAISE CONCERN ABOUT DEFINITION

UK Police leaders have raised concerns that a proposed definition of Islamophobia will undermine counterterror operations and threaten freedom of speech. In a letter to the prime minister, the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said the change could “undermine many elements of counterterrorism powers and policies”, including port stops, bans on terrorist groups and propaganda, and the legal duty requiring schools, councils and the NHS to report suspected extremism. NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said: “We take all reports of hate crime very seriously and will investigate them thoroughly; however, we have some concerns about the proposed definition of ‘Islamophobia’ made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on British Muslims. “We are concerned that the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states.

PINK FLAMINGOS CAUGHT ON CAMERA RETURNING EARLY

Among three existing species across the globe, pink flamingos live only in Kazakhstan – in the Akmola and Aktobe regions. Approximately 50 pink flamingos were caught on camera flying back to Lake Karakol in western Kazakhstan two months ahead of schedule. The birds, which usually come back in early April, were caught on camera on the southern outskirts of Aktau in mid-February. According to local ecologists, their schedule changed due to severe warming and the early arrival of meteorological spring in the region. “For the third year in a row, flamingos are flying back earlier than usual. There are approximately 50 to 80 individuals. I think the others will come soon enough, because there were 1,000 birds last year.

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