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Pakistan releases Chinese national charged with blasphemy

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A Chinese national who was arrested in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy has been released from a high-security prison after a court granted him bail, a defense lawyer and local police said Friday.

Atif Khan Jadoon, the lawyer for the man who has been only identified as Mr. Tian said the Chinese national was granted bail by a judge in the northwestern city of Abbottabad on Thursday.

Tian was released after he filed a surety bond of 200,000 rupees ($700), Jadoon said.

The latest development comes weeks after Tian, who worked on a dam project, was detained after hundreds of residents and laborers in the town of Komela in northwestern Pakistan blocked a key highway and demanded his arrest. They alleged that Tian used insulting remarks about Islam, a charge the man denies.

Tian was part of a group of Chinese working on the Dasu Dam, the biggest hydropower project in Pakistan. He was accused of blasphemy on April 15 after he criticized two drivers working on the project for taking too much time to pray during work hours.

Authorities say Tian was briefly hospitalized on April 17 as he was not feeling well.

Tian pleaded not guilty during his earlier appearance before the court. He also insists that he did not insult Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, according to his lawyer and local police officials who questioned him.

Beijing has said that the Chinese embassy in Islamabad was looking into the matter.

According to police, they arrested Tian to save him from a potential attack by angry residents. The arrest of Muslims and non-Muslims on charges of blasphemy is common in Pakistan, but foreigners are rarely among those detained.

In 2021, a mob lynched a Sri Lankan man at a sports equipment factory in the eastern Punjab province. It later burned his body in public over allegations he desecrated posters bearing the name of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Manitoba First Nation says members lack health care due to nursing shortage

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WINNIPEG – Members of a northern First Nation looking to get prescriptions refilled, blood work done or access to other basic health-care services are often being turned away because of a nursing shortage in the community.

The nursing station in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has been open only for medical emergencies for nearly a year because the community has just two nurses to treat its 3,500 citizens.

“We cannot continue with the current state of affairs,” Chief Angela Levasseur said at a press conference on Monday.

“Our people have a right to health care. They have the right to be able to attend the nursing station and be seen by a nurse.

“It is inhumane and an affront to our dignity.”

Levasseur has heard reports of nurses working around the clock while running on two to three hours of sleep. On occasion, a third nurse has been brought in to help alleviate some of the pressure.

The reduction of services has resulted in patients, including infants, elders and people with chronic health conditions, being denied critical medical care, said Levasseur. Many of these patients are being directed to go to the hospital in Thompson, about 90 kilometres away.

Residents without a vehicle are forced to rely on an overburdened medical transportation service or go without help.

“The failure to address this crisis is literally a threat to many people’s lives,” said Levasseur.

The community has sent proposals to the federal government to advocate for an increase in funding to hire more nurses and address the wage gap between what it offers nurses and what private agencies provide.

“It’s really disheartening,” said Lynda Wright, the community’s health director. “It’s really difficult to try and help people when you lack the resources and the funding … it’s difficult seeing your people suffer when the access to care is not there.”

Levasseur is renewing calls to provide funding for an additional three nurses for the Nation.

The office of Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Government data shows that nursing stations in remote First Nations communities in Manitoba were facing a 67 per cent operational vacancy in the last fiscal year.

A document tabled in the House of Commons earlier this year says that over the 2023-24 fiscal year, all Indigenous Services Canada-operated nursing stations in Manitoba have run at a reduced capacity due to staffing shortages.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation has felt the staffing crunch, resulting in the community declaring a state of emergency earlier this year.

The community is supposed to have 13 or 14 nurses available, but most days there are about half of that for the roughly 8,000 who live on-reserve.

“We continue to cry out for help to make sure we can provide health services and medical services for our people,” said Chief David Monias, who was on hand for Monday’s press conference.

Levasseur said the community’s situation has left everyone at their “breaking point.”

“What we’re most worried about with this crisis situation being ignored is that the two or three nurses that we have on a day-to-day basis are going to walk out.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Cyprus displays jewelry, early Christian icons and Bronze Age antiquities once looted from island

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus on Monday put on display artifacts — some of them thousands of years old — that were returned after a Turkish art dealer looted them from the ethnically divided island nation decades ago.

Aydin Dikmen took the artifacts from the country’s breakaway north in the years after Cyprus’ split in 1974, when Turkey invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. The antiquities were kept in Germany after authorities there seized them in 1997, and protracted legal battles secured their repatriation in three batches, the last one this year.

Addressing the unveiling ceremony at Cyprus’ archaeological museum, President Nikos Christodoulides said the destruction of a country’s cultural heritage as evidenced in recent conflicts becomes a “deliberate campaign of cultural and religious cleansing that aims to eliminate identity.”

Among the 60 most recently returned artifacts put on display include jewelry from the Chalcolithic Period between 3500-1500 B.C. and Bronze Age bird-shaped idols.

Antiquities that Dikmen also looted but were returned years ago include 1,500-year-old mosaics of Saints Luke, Mark, Matthew and James. They are among the few examples of early Christian works to survive the Iconoclastic period in the 8th and 9th centuries when most such works were destroyed.

Cyprus’ authorities and the country’s Orthodox Church for decades have been hunting for the island’s looted antiquities and centuries-old relics from as many as 500 churches in open auctions and on the black market.

The museum’s antiquities curator, Eftychia Zachariou, told the ceremony that Cyprus in recent years has benefited from a shift in thinking among authorities in many countries who now opt to repatriate antiquities of dubious provenance.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Smoke from massive wildfires in Alberta comes with silver lining

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Massive wildfires in Alberta are coughing up clouds of smoke that are obscuring the sky and are hazardous to health.

However, there’s so much smoke that wildfires are being shaded from the sun and daytime temperature highs in some areas are cooler than forecast, leading to reduced fire activity.

“When smoke clears, we can expect to see increased and significant fire behaviour due to anticipated continuing hot, dry weather,” Alberta Wildfire said in an update Monday.

About 7,500 people in Alberta were under evacuation orders.

The three communities that make up Little Red River Cree Nation — John D’Or Prairie, Fox Lake and Garden River — remain under evacuation order as the out-of-control Semo Wildfire Complex burns nearby. It’s estimated to be more than 960 square kilometres in size.

“The next 48 hours is pretty critical,” Chief Conroy Sewepagaham said in a video update on Facebook.

“The dozer groups are going to be working 24-7. They’re going to do whatever they can to extend Highway 58 towards High Level, and extending the northern portion of the highway going into Garden River.”

Alberta Wildfire said the nearby blaze had reached Highway 58, the only road out of Garden River, and was 13 kilometres northwest of the community itself as of Monday afternoon.

Residents of the northern communities of Chipewyan Lake and Janvier 194 have also been ordered to leave.

More than 160 wildfires are burning across Alberta.

Environment Canada said cooler temperatures were expected to start moving into northwestern parts of the province starting Monday night, though hot conditions may persist through much of the week farther south.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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