VATICAN CITY, June 6 -- Pope Francis will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4, Agence France-Presse reported on Thursday, citing a statement by Vatican Spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.
"I can confirm that the Holy Father will receive Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Vatican on July 4," Gisotti said. The Kremlin earlier confirmed that Putin was expected to make a visit to Italy but said nothing about the date of the visit and the president’s plans to meet with Pope Francis. In November 2018, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the date of Putin’s visit to Italy would be agreed on through diplomatic channels. He pointed out that the invitation for the Russian leader to visit Italy had been mentioned during Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s visit to Russia on October 24, 2018. In April, Kremlin Aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that the Russian president planned to visit Italy in the summer. Italian Ambassador to Russia Pasquale Terracciano said later that Putin was expected to visit the country in July.
BANGKOK, May 4 -- Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn has performed intricate Buddhist and Brahmin ceremonies to symbolically transform him into a living god as the Southeast Asian nation officially crowned its first monarch in nearly seven decades.
The king was joined by new Queen Suthida on Saturday after a surprise announcement three days before the coronation that the thrice-divorced monarch had married for a fourth time. The king appeared dressed in white as he underwent a royal purification ritual, sitting under a canopied fountain that poured consecrated waters over his head. The country's Buddhist Supreme Patriarch also poured sacred waters over the king's body, followed by Brahmin priests and royal family members.
Hundreds of state officials in immaculate white uniforms lined the streets around the Grand Palace.
King Vajiralongkorn, 66, became constitutional monarch after the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October 2016 after 70 years on the throne. Bhumibol was seen as a figure of unity in the politically chaotic kingdom. His son Vajiralongkorn, 66, is less well-known to the Thai public, preferring to spend much of his time overseas and rarely addressing his subjects. The king's coronation, after a period of mourning for the late king, comes amid the uncertainty of an unresolved election battle between the current military government chief and a "democratic front" trying to push the army out of politics.
King Vajiralongkorn has inherited one of the world's richest monarchies and a kingdom submerged in political crisis. Thai kings' coronation rituals are a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu Brahmin traditions dating back centuries. One of the many official titles King Vajiralongkorn will take is Rama X, signifying that he is the 10th king of the Chakri dynasty founded in 1782. "The monarchy is the only institution in this country that has lasted for more than 700 years," Sulak Siwarak, a historian in Thailand told Al Jazeera.
"I think the new king means well about his country. He wants to do something significant."
Royal patron of BuddhismSaturday's rituals are about transforming him into a "Devaraja", or a divine embodiment of the gods. As the waters started pouring, ancient cannons from the 19th century, used specifically for the coronation, started firing 10 volleys each. The king will then change into a full uniform and take a seat on an eight-sided, carved wooden throne to receive sacred waters on his hands in an anointment ritual. Selected officials, including military government chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the National Legislative Assembly, and the chairman of the Supreme Court, will pour the waters from eight directions, representing the cardinal and ordinal directions on a compass. The waters used in both rituals were collected from 117 sources last month and blessed by Buddhist monks and Brahmin priests in temples around the country before they were combined and consecrated. Before noon, the purified and anointed sovereign will sit under an elaborate nine-tiered umbrella, where he will receive the royal golden plaque containing his name and title, the royal horoscope, and the royal seal, which were made in a three-hour ritual last week. The king will also receive and wear five articles of the royal regalia from the chief Brahmin. Once in full regalia, the king will give his first royal command, a short utterance that will highlight the essence of his reign. The king will proclaim himself the royal patron of Buddhism later in the evening, and perform a private housewarming ritual at the royal residence where he will stay the night, as previous kings have done.
SINGAPORE, April 14 -- From celebrities to ministers, condemnation from the West has been heaped on Brunei for enacting harsh anti-gay laws that prescribe death by stoning for various offences – but the tiny oil-rich nation has showed little concern it may be making foes of its traditional friends.
Neither is it likely to fully alienate the West, observers say, despite remaining resolute on the implementation of sharia law in the face of backlash from world leaders. Ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men, has a track record of balancing dialogue with the West – the United Kingdom and the United States are major export partners – while courting increased engagement with China, the country’s main import trading partner. “Brunei has been practising hedge diplomacy in its foreign policy,” says Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. “However, the greater the criticism from Western countries – including resorting to boycotts – the more likely Brunei will turn to Asia and in particular, China, which has cleverly stayed clear of Brunei’s domestic affairs.”
Beijing has developed a keen interest in Brunei, partly due to the possibility of joint development deals in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which could provide a key toehold into contested South China Sea waters. Brunei is among the claimants to the disputed sea, but its unassertive approach has made it appealing to China, says Mustafa. While Beijing has yet to propose any concrete plans, similar attempts to forge deals with other South China Sea claimants suggest it would “not be surprising to see China offer joint development prospects to Brunei”, says Joseph Liow of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
But if joint agreements are signed, it could prove problematic for other Southeast Asian claimants and the wider international community as it would undercut the 2016 international ruling that says China has no claims to the waters delineated by its controversial nine-dash line, says Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. If China manages to strike a development deal with Brunei, it would indicate Brunei’s EEZ waters were legally “disputed”, strengthening Beijing’s claim and weakening near-universal consensus of the ruling, says Poling. However, there is still “no evidence Brunei is willing to take that gamble”, he says.
Nevertheless, ties between both countries are growing, as Brunei looks to diversify its income streams in a country traditionally reliant on oil reserves – estimated to run out within two to three decades. Brain drain is a growing issue, as is unemployment, which stood at 9.3 per cent according to latest figures. The nation, an enthusiastic supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative , has unveiled a development plan to build a dynamic and sustainable economy by 2035.
TOKYO, April 1 -- Japan on Monday revealed the name of the era as "Reiwa," which will define the new emperor's reign when he ascends the Chrysanthemum Throne next month following a historic abdication.
The name consists of two characters: "Rei," which can have meanings related to "order" but also "auspicious" and "Wa," usually translated as "peace" or "harmony." After weeks of fevered speculation and top-secret discussions, the two "kanji" characters were unveiled to reveal a name that will last as long as new emperor Naruhito's rule. It may appear arcane to outsiders, but the announcement of a new era name is a massive event in Japan, marked with special newspaper editions, calligraphy shows and public festivities.
Although the Gregorian calendar is widely used in the world's third-largest economy, Japan is the only country still using Chinese-style imperial calendars for private and public documents as well as computer records. The new name therefore has a huge impact on daily life and people tend to recall major events in public and private life by when they fell in a certain era, 2019 is known as Heisei 31, or the 31st year of current Emperor Akihito's rule.
Strict guidelines to select the name
The era name must adhere to strict guidelines. It should consist of only two characters, be easy to read and write, and not employ common names or the first character of any of the last four eras: Heisei, Showa, Taisho and Meiji. Company names are excluded as well as the most popular choices in private guessing competitions, amid widespread speculation online as to what the new name could be. To prevent leaks, the panel were locked away in a special room in the prime minister's office, swept for bugs, and their phones confiscated. The 85-year-old Akihito will become the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in around two centuries when he steps down on April 30 in favor of Crown Prince Naruhito, who will ascend the throne the next day. Japan is marking the announcement of the new era in a wide variety of ways, some less serious than others.
LAGOS, March 17 -- Church leaders in Nigeria have said that Christians are experiencing "pure genocide" as 6,000 people, mostly women and children, have been murdered by Fulani radicals since January.
"What is happening in Plateau state and other select states in Nigeria is pure genocide and must be stopped immediately," said the Christian Association of Nigeria and church denominational heads in Plateau State in a press release last week. The church leaders said that "over 6,000 persons, mostly children, women and the aged have been maimed and killed in night raids by armed Fulani herdsmen," which is prompting their cry to the government of Nigeria "to stop this senseless and blood shedding in the land and avoid a state of complete anarchy where the people are forced to defend themselves."
The press release also pleaded with the international community, as well as the United Nations, to intervene in the Fulani attacks, fearing they might spread to other countries as well. "We are particularly worried at the widespread insecurity in the country where wanton attacks and killings by armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists have been taking place on a daily basis in our communities unchallenged despite huge investments in the security agencies," they added, saying President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to bring attackers to justice. They referenced several mass-scale attacks this year, including the slaughter of over 200 people, mostly Christians, at the end of June in raids carried out by the herdsmen on local area farmers near the city of Jos. Although some international news media has sought to characterize the killings as a land conflict between community groups, the church leaders, along with major persecution watchdog groups such as Open Doors USA and International Christian Concern, have all said that Christians are being deliberately targeted.
"We reject the narrative that the attacks on Christian communities across the country as 'farmers/herdsmen clash.' The federal government has been so immersed in this false propaganda and deceit while forcefully pushing the policy idea of establishing cattle ranches/colonies on the ancestral farming lands of the attacked communities for the Fulani herdsmen as the only solution to the problem," the press release declared, accusing the government of also pushing such a narrative. "How can it be a clash when one group is persistently attacking, killing, maiming, destroying; and the other group is persistently being killed, maimed and their places of worship destroyed? How can it be a clash when the herdsmen are hunting farmers in their own villages/communities and farmers are running for their lives?" the church leaders asked. "How can it be a clash when the herdsmen are the predators and the inhabitant/indigenous farmers are the prey? Until we call a disease by its real name and causatives, it would be difficult to properly diagnose the disease for the right curative medications."
There have been different reports on the number of Christians killed in Nigeria since the start of the year. The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Intersociety, stated on Tuesday that a combined total of 1,750 Christians, along with non-Muslims, have been killed both by the Fulani herdsmen, and by Boko Haram radicals, who are a separate terror group. Intersociety also warned of a genocide in its statement. "Nigeria is drifting to [a path of] genocide through killing, maiming, burning and destruction of churches and other sacred places of worship, and forceful seizure and occupation of ancestral, worship, farming and dwelling lands of the indigenous Christians and other indigenous religionists in Northern Nigeria," it said. Roman Catholic Bishop William Avenya of Gboko separately told charity Aid to the Church in Need that the world cannot wait for a full-on genocide before deciding to intervene. "Please don't make the same mistake as was made with the genocide in Rwanda," he pleaded, referring to the massacre of Tutsi people in Rwanda, where close to 1 million were killed in 1994. "It happened beneath our noses, but no one stopped it. And we know well how that ended," Avenya said.