Cricket

Pakistani PM Imran Khan observes the fly-past during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad
FILE PHOTO – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (C) applauses as he is observes the fly-past by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) JF-17 Thunder fighter jet during the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

April 10, 2019

By James Mackenzie and Martin Howell

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s push to curb armed militant groups in the wake of a standoff with India that brought the nuclear-armed neighbors close to war reflected an urgent need for stability to meet growing economic challenges, Prime Minister Imran Khan said.

Facing a financial crisis and heavy pressure to take on militant groups to avoid sanctions from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money laundering and terror finance watchdog, Khan said Pakistan was acting in its own interests.

“Everyone now knows that what is happening in Pakistan has never happened (before),” Khan told a group of foreign journalists at his office in Islamabad on Tuesday, outlining a push to bring the more than 30,000 madrasas across Pakistan under government control and rehabilitate thousands of former militants.

“We have decided, this country has decided, for the future of the country – forget outside pressure – we will not allow armed militias to operate,” he said.

The comments underline a push by Pakistan to improve its image after years of accusations that its security services have exploited militant groups as proxies against neighbors, including India and Afghanistan.

Islamabad has consistently denied the accusations and said Pakistan has suffered more from militant violence than any other country, with tens of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic damage over recent decades.

But Khan, a former cricket star, implicitly accepted the role played by Pakistan in fostering and steering militant groups that grew out of the U.S.-backed mujahideen fighting Soviet forces in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“We should never have allowed them to exist once jihad was over,” he said, rejecting suggestions that he could face opposition from the powerful military and the ISI, Pakistan’s main intelligence agency.

“Today, we have the total support of the Pakistan army and intelligence services in dismantling them,” Khan said. “What use has ISI of them any more? These groups were created for the Afghan jihad.”

BROKEN PROMISES

Pakistan’s critics, including India, have dismissed Khan’s promises of a crackdown, saying similar pledges have been repeatedly made by previous governments only to be quietly dropped once attention shifted.

They point to Pakistan’s continued failure to arrest Masood Azhar, leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack in Pulwama district of Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 paramilitary police.

Khan said Pakistan was constrained by the need to build a legal case that would stand up in court but said Azhar had been driven underground and was “ineffective” and unwell.

“More important than him is the set-up and that is being dismantled,” he said.

Although Khan insisted that the actions against militant groups were being undertaken for Pakistan’s own benefits, his government, which came to power last August, faces severe economic headwinds that have made international support vital.

In discussions with the International Monetary Fund over what would be its 13th bailout since the 1980s, Pakistan is struggling to stay off the FATF blacklist, which would bring heavy economic penalties.

“We can’t afford to be blacklisted, that would mean sanctions,” Khan said.

With a currency that has lost more than a quarter of its value over the past year, a yawning current account deficit and galloping inflation running at over nine percent, Pakistan is in desperate need of a respite to get its economy on track.

Elected on a platform of tackling the endemic corruption that has helped cripple Pakistan’s economy, Khan said his top priority was to take 100 million people, or around half the population, out of poverty.

“You can only do this if there is stability in Pakistan.”

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie and Michael Perry)

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FILE PHOTO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at the opening ceremony for the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai
FILE PHOTO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at the opening ceremony for the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China, November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/Pool/File Photo

April 9, 2019

By James Mackenzie and Martin Howell

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he thinks there may be a better chance of peace talks with India if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the general election due to begin there on Thursday.

Khan said that if the next Indian government were led by the opposition Congress party, it might be too scared to seek a settlement with Pakistan over disputed Indian-controlled Kashmir, fearing a backlash from the right.

“Perhaps if the BJP – a right-wing party – wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” Khan told a small group of foreign journalists in an interview.

This was despite the massive alienation that Muslims in Kashmir and Muslims in general were facing in Modi’s India, said Khan, who took office last August.

“I never thought I would see what is happening in India right now,” said the former international cricket star. “Muslim-ness is being attacked.”

Khan said Indian Muslims he knew who many years ago had been happy about their situation in India were now very worried by extreme Hindu nationalism.

He said Modi, like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was electioneering based on “fear and nationalist feeling”.

The BJP’s pledge this week to propose stripping decades-old special rights from the people of Jammu and Kashmir, which prevent outsiders from buying property in the state, was a major concern, though it could also be electioneering, Khan said.

Khan did appear to offer India an olive branch, saying that Islamabad was determined to dismantle all Pakistan-based militias in the country, and that the government had full support from Pakistan’s powerful army for the program. Those to be dismantled include groups involved in Kashmir.

Nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India both claim Kashmir in full but rule in part.

Khan said Kashmir was a political struggle and there was no military solution, adding that Kashmiris suffered if armed militants from Pakistan came across the border, leading to Indian army crackdowns.

Relations between Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, two over Kashmir, reached a crisis point in February after a suicide bombing killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir.

Islamabad denied responsibility for the Feb. 14 attack, which was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, but the bombing prompted India to carry out a cross border air strike against what it said was a militant training camp in Pakistan.

Pakistan responded with air strikes of its own.

Pollsters say Modi and the BJP’s re-election bid got a boost from a wave of patriotism after the suicide bomb attack and the Indian government’s fast response.

Khan said there was still the possibility if the polls turn against Modi in the next few weeks that India could take some further military action against Pakistan.

The rolling election is held in phases and does not finish until May 19. The result is not due until May 23.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned on Sunday that Islamabad had “reliable intelligence” that India would attack again this month. India described the claim as irresponsible.

Khan said that it was vital for Pakistan to have peace with its neighbors, Afghanistan, India and Iran, if it was to have the kind of economy needed to pull 100 million people out of poverty.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Martin Howell; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)

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Canterbury Crusaders players and staff pause during their Captain's Run training session for two minute's silence, a week on from the Christchurch attack, at 11.32am Sydney time, at The Scots College, in Sydney
Canterbury Crusaders players and staff pause during their Captain’s Run training session for two minute’s silence, a week on from the Christchurch attack, at 11.32am Sydney time, at The Scots College, in Sydney, Australia, March 22, 2019. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts/via REUTERS

April 2, 2019

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – For 23 years the name Crusaders was a source of nothing but pride in Christchurch, the uncontroversial identity of a franchise that claims, with some justification, to be the most successful non-national professional rugby team in the world.

The city was changed forever on March 15, however, when 50 people were killed and dozens more injured by a suspected white supremacist in shootings during Friday prayers at two Christchurch mosques.

And after the wave of self-examination that swept across New Zealand in the wake of the attacks, it looks like there might now be nominative change afoot for the nine-times rugby champions of the southern hemisphere.

The juxtaposition of a city embracing those impacted by the attacks with a nickname that recalls medieval wars between Christians and Muslims was quickly recognized on social media with some calling for the Crusaders to be renamed.

The country’s Sports Minister Grant Robertson said it was a “responsible action” to reconsider the name and the Crusaders, after initially saying it merely reflected “the crusading spirit of this community”, agreed to at least discuss it.

While the Crusaders told Reuters last week they were still considering a time frame and process, several fans at the team’s match in Wellington last weekend were of the view that it was “just a name”, albeit one they wanted to keep.

“I think that they have to have a chat to the Muslim community and ask ‘are you okay with this?’,” Scott Wilson, a decorator from Christchurch, told Reuters.

“I don’t think they should change (but) I think it might have been more prudent to think about the name before they adopted it.”

While the name change has been debated widely in the rugby-mad country, Muslim groups have not engaged. The Federation of Islamic associations of New Zealand did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters.

SWORD-WIELDING KNIGHT

The Crusaders name was adopted by the Canterbury Rugby Union and five neighboring provinces when rugby went professional in 1996 and they were granted a franchise to compete in the competition that became Super Rugby.

New Zealand Rugby made the final decision and chief executive Steve Tew — who in 1996 held a similar post at the Crusaders — said any changes would still need their approval.

The team logo has always featured a sword-wielding knight, while pre-match entertainment at home games has traditionally involved horsemen dressed in chain mail riding around the pitch.

This is not the first time the appropriateness of such imagery being used to promote sporting contests in increasingly multicultural western countries has been questioned.

Several collegiate teams in the United States, including Alvernia University and Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, have jettisoned Crusaders mascots and nicknames in recent years, as did England’s Middlesex Cricket Club in 2008.

Native Americans have also protested against team names and logos in professional American sport that appropriate, or worse mock, their culture.

While baseball’s Atlanta Braves and the National Football League’s Washington Redskins have retained their names and imagery, there has been some change.

Major League Baseball team the Cleveland Indians announced in January that the caricature of a Native American warrior known as “Chief Wahoo” would be removed from their uniforms from the 2019 season.

“OPEN-MINDED AND PROGRESSIVE”

Re-branding an organization as successful as the Crusaders should not be too challenging as long as it was recognized from the start that they could not please everyone, according to marketing academic and branding consultant Dr Michael Lee.

“If the team culture is healthy and they do a lot of good things for society and their community then you don’t want to change that. All you do is change the name,” Lee, an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, told Reuters.

“You still have the same values — you’re a stand up citizen, do the right thing, help out when needed, all those sorts of values and the brand essence can stay the same, so in this situation it is really just changing the name.”

The national conversation about underlying racism in New Zealand triggered by the mosque shootings could also help ease any name transition, he added.

“Within the current climate, I can see why this rebranding has a little bit more impetus to it than other brands,” Lee said.

“There are going to be people who are really annoyed … but New Zealand is very open minded and progressive.

“If a top team like the Crusaders did change their name then that would spark a discussion in the rest of the world as to whether they need to address other similar issues.”

Michael Wagteveld, President of the Canterbury Rugby Supporters Club, told Reuters his body would support whatever decision the team made.

There looks certain to be at least some change on Saturday when the Crusaders play their first home match since the shootings, with chief executive Colin Mansbridge suggesting the mounted knights would be given the evening off.

“It’s not unequivocal yet, but they’re unlikely to be there and the game will reflect the occasion,” he told local media last week.

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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FILE PHOTO: Saudi fans watch the WWE
FILE PHOTO: Saudi fans watch the WWE “Crown Jewel” World Cup 2018 tournament at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal al Nasser

March 28, 2019

By Sinéad Carew

(Reuters) – A brawl between World Wrestling Entertainment Inc’s bears and bulls could reach a peak this year as the company renegotiates overseas contracts.

While a large contingent of short sellers have been betting that the stock will fall, WWE’s most ardent Wall Street fans say it will continue to rise even after outperforming the stock market last year and for much of 2019.

Shares in WWE soared 144 percent in 2018 as U.S. TV license deals that blew past analyst expectations with a 3.6-times hike in average annual value from its previous agreements.

The stock has risen another 13.6 percent so far this year as investors are betting on license renewals being negotiated in countries including India and the United Kingdom, which WWE expects to announce by mid-year.

Ten out of 13 analysts have buy ratings on the stock while three recommend holding the stock which last traded at $84.87. The mean share price target is $102.70 with the highest target at $157 and the lowest at $85, according to Refinitiv.

While the stock has already risen a lot on expectations for new business, Gabelli Funds analyst Alexandra Cowie says it still has room to gain further.

“I wouldn’t be selling before the contract news. Going in and coming out of announcements, it gets a double bump,” said Cowie, whose firm owns more than 174,000 WWE shares.

WWE is in an unusual entertainment category. Unlike traditional sports, its fights are scripted, but analysts measure its popularity against sports because it still involves athleticism and suspense.

The creator of Smackdown and Raw TV shows boasted a U.S. cable television viewership second only to the National Football League in 2018, according to Nielsen data. And in India, WWE viewership was second only to cricket, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council.

Guggenheim analyst Curry Baker expects a U.K. renewal similar to WWE’s current contract there. But he anticipates a five-fold boost to its average annual revenue in India to $124 million.

“The market is underappreciating the India opportunity,” said Baker who has a $105 price target and a buy rating on WWE.

MKM analyst Eric Handler, who raised his price target for the stock to $110 from $95 on Tuesday, says a possible U.S. deal for a third weekly hour of Smackdown could add $50 million to annual revenue. The company declined to comment on the prospect of an additional hour.

WWE shares have fallen 7.9 percent since Thursday. On Wednesday, Chief Executive Vincent McMahon sold 3.2 million of his shares, or four percent of WWE’s shares outstanding, to fund a separate entity.

It also came under pressure as the broader market has been losing ground on worries about global economic growth. But analysts say WWE contracts – which are for around three to five years – provide some insulation against economic fluctuations.

In the United States, live sports have been a key draw for cable TV subscribers, at a time when many consumers are cutting the chord to avoid high monthly fees.

“It feels like one of the lower-risk higher-return names in the media space,” said Baker.

Still, about 17 percent of WWE’s float is sold short, according to data from S3 Partners which estimates short seller mark-to-market losses of $359 million since the start of 2018.

The bets against the stock can be partly attributed to hedging by investors in its convertible bonds due in 2023, according to BTIG analyst Brandon Ross. “That’s contributed to it,” he said.

Wolfe Research analyst Marci Ryvicker, is Wall Street’s biggest fan, with a price target of $157.

Wall Street expects 2020 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $460.59 million on $1.33 billion revenue, according to Refinitiv data. Ryvicker expects EBITDA of $510 million on revenue of $1.423 billion.

With this in mind, Ryvicker says WWE looks cheap compared with other sports peers, including Nicks basketball team owner Madison Square Garden Co and a Liberty Media Corp subsidiary which owns Formula One rights and Liberty’s subsidiary that owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

WWE’s enterprise value is roughly 14.8 times her 2020 EBITDA estimates compared with multiples of 32 for Madison Square Garden, 33.2 for Liberty’s Atlanta Braves subsidiary and 12.6 for the Formula One subsidiary, the analyst wrote.

WWE “has no reason not to trade right in-line with its closest peers,” Ryvicker said.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Additional reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai, Lewis Krauskopf, Lance Tupper and Chuck Mikolajczak in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley and Lisa Shumaker)

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FILE PHOTO: New England Patriots Jerod Mayo speaks to reporters before training at the Oval Cricket Ground ahead of their NFL game against Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London
FILE PHOTO: New England Patriots Jerod Mayo speaks to reporters before training at the Oval Cricket Ground ahead of their NFL game against Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London October October 23, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo

March 27, 2019

Jerod Mayo, who spent his entire NFL career as a linebacker with the New England Patriots, is returning to the team as an assistant coach.

Mayo, who made 808 tackles in eight seasons (2008-2015), announced the news on Instagram on Wednesday.

“It is with great excitement, passion, and sense of purpose to share with you that I have accepted Coach (Bill) Belichick’s offer to rejoin the New England Patriots as a Coach,” Mayo wrote. “I am eager to get started and work hard alongside so many of my former coaches and teammates, all who I know to be solely focused on maintaining the winning culture we have come to know as the Patriot Way.”

Mayo reportedly will coach linebackers for new defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.

Mayo’s playing career ended at 29 after a series of injuries. He started 93 of his 103 career games in New England, twice earning Pro Bowl honors and being selected first-team All-Pro in 2010, when he led the league with 175 tackles.

–Field Level Media

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FILE PHOTO: Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad
FILE PHOTO: Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

March 26, 2019

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he feared another security incident with India, after the two nuclear-armed countries engaged in a dangerous escalation that fueled “war hysteria” in New Delhi ahead of elections next month.

In an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, Khan said tensions were still high even after the crisis over a militant attack in the disputed region of Kashmir had eased with the release of an Indian pilot captured by Pakistani forces.

“I’m still apprehensive before the elections, I feel that something could happen,” Khan told the newspaper.

Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, passed through a crisis last month after India accused Pakistan of being behind a militant attack that killed 40 policemen in Pulwama, in Indian-controlled Kashmir in February.

Islamabad denied responsibility for the attack, which was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e Mohammed, but the attack prompted India to launch a cross border air strike against what it said was a militant training camp in Pakistan.

Pakistan responded with air strikes of its own and in an ensuing dog fight over Kashmir, at least one Indian plane was shot down and its pilot captured. The pilot was subsequently returned to India, leading to an easing in the crisis.

Khan has offered to hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue, the latest in a long series of confrontations over Kashmir, a majority Muslim region that is claimed by both countries. However he said Modi’s government appeared to be using the tensions for electoral purposes.

“When Pulwama happened I felt that Mr Modi’s government used that to build this war hysteria,” Khan told the Financial Times. “The Indian public should realize that this is all for winning the elections, it’s nothing to do with the real issues of the subcontinent.”

He repeated a denial that Pakistan was involved in the Pulwama attack and said a crackdown had been launched against militant groups.

Although the immediate crisis has eased, parts of Pakistani airspace continue to be closed to overflights, causing severe disruption to several international airline operations.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said major airports had been re-opened and most commercial flights resumed after Pakistani airspace was closed during the height of the standoff but some areas were still closed.

“Part of the airspace is still closed for overflying – it’s partially open and partially closed. All major airports are open but a small part of the airpace is still closed,” the spokesman said, declining to elaborate.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Tennis: Miami Open
Mar 24, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Nick Kyrgios of Australia reaches for a forehand against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia (not pictured) in the third round of the Miami Open at Miami Open Tennis Complex. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

March 26, 2019

By Ian Ransom

(Reuters) – Having annoyed Rafa Nadal with an underarm serve at Acapulco, Nick Kyrgios doubled down with the tactic to win two points against hapless Serb Dusan Lajovic at the Miami Open and fire up a timeworn debate between modern fans and purists.

The mercurial Australian has been sanctioned for a litany of tennis offences, accused of tanking matches and slapped with a heavy fine for a crude remark about a player’s girlfriend.

But in dinking the ball over the net with a sneaky under-arm swing, Kyrgios was operating completely within the laws of the game, if not quite the “spirit”, as Nadal and others might have complained.

For a self-described lazy trainer, the 23-year-old has clearly put some time into honing the tactic since his effort against former world number one Nadal floated well beyond the service box.

The first attempt at 3-1 in the first set against unseeded Lajovic might have been regarded as text-book execution, if there existed such a consensus.

With the Serb standing well behind the baseline, Kyrgios leant over the ball, bounced it a few times and without looking up, flicked it just over the net.

It landed with enough slice to bounce twice for an ace and seal the game, leaving a flat-footed Lajovic no chance to reply.

More casually struck, Kyrgios’s second effort lacked something in execution, allowing Lajovic to swoop in and easily make the retrieve.

But the Australian was ready for the Serb’s drop-shot return, and flicked it past him to close out the first set.

British tennis luminary Judy Murray thrilled in the tactic.

“The whole point of tennis competition is to disrupt (yo)ur opponents game by applying pressure through changing the speed, spin, direction, depth or height of the ball,” the former Fed Cup captain and mother of Andy Murray tweeted.

“And that includes the serve. Kyrgios is a genius. I’m surprised more players don’t do it.”

SPORTING TABOOS

Belgian professional Kirsten Flipkens was among the social media users backing Murray’s stance, but there were plenty of detractors denouncing under-arm serving as questionable sportsmanship.

The debate between the laws and “the spirit” of the game is not unique to tennis, with a number of other sports having their own taboos.

Cricket was in uproar on Tuesday after Indian bowler Ravichandran Ashwin ran out English batsman Jos Buttler with the rarely used but entirely permissible “Mankad” dismissal in the Indian Premier League match on the previous evening.

As an Australian, Kyrgios will be well aware that a ball delivered underarm in a cricket match in 1981 triggered one of the biggest sporting scandals in the country’s history.

Australia’s Trevor Chappell rolled the ball along the pitch to prevent New Zealand batsman Brian McKechnie from scoring enough runs to win a match. It was perfectly legal at the time, but universally condemned.

In tennis, the frowning of opponents and conservative fans has likely made most players think twice about taking up under-arm serving as a tactic.

Five-times Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis was jeered vociferously by the crowd during the 1999 French Open final when she tried it against Steffi Graf on the way to defeat.

Roger Federer, however, said another concern was simply looking silly.

“Shouldn’t be ashamed if you try it. Just look silly if you miss,” the Swiss Master said after Kyrgios’s effort against Nadal.

For a maverick like Kyrgios, who regularly squanders points on botched ‘tweeners and other trick shots, the threat of embarrassment is unlikely to be a deterrent.

(Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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FILE PHOTO: Cricket - India v New Zealand - Third Test cricket match
FILE PHOTO: Cricket – India v New Zealand – Third Test cricket match – Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore, India – 08/10/2016. India’s Gautam Gambhir walks off the field after his dismissal. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo

March 22, 2019

By Krishna N. Das

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Former Indian cricketer Gautam Gambhir joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party on Friday, leaving a panel to decide whether to field him as a candidate in the cricket-crazy country’s upcoming general election.

With 9 million followers on Twitter, Gambhir could give Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) some extra pulling-power in the campaign for an election which will run from April 11 till May 23.

A top-order batsman from New Delhi, Gambhir played match-winning knocks in two cricket World Cup finals and also led his club team to two victories in the Indian Premier League.

“I am joining this party influenced by our prime minister, his vision,” Gambhir, 37, told reporters after being inducted into the party by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

“I’ve done whatever I could in cricket, and this is a fabulous platform for me to do something really good for this country and take this party forward and make this country a better place to live.”

Jaitley said the party’s election committee would decide if Gambhir will be nominated as a candidate.

Before Gambhir, fellow batsman Navjot Singh Sidhu was a lawmaker for the BJP until he jumped ship to join the main opposition Congress party in 2017.

The BJP has many other celebrities, mainly actors, in its ranks including cabinet minister Smriti Z. Irani, MP Kirron Kher and Delhi party chief Manoj Tiwari.

Pollsters say the Hindu nationalist BJP’s chances have risen sharply since tension with arch rival Pakistan shot up after a Pakistan-based Islamist militant group claimed a deadly attack on Indian paramilitary police in the disputed region of Kashmir last month.

Since the attack, Gambhir has urged India to forfeit matches against Pakistan in the next World Cup staring end-May.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Farhid Ahmed poses with a photo of his wife Husna, who was killed in the attack, after an interview with Reuters in Christchurch, New Zealand
Al Noor mosque shooting survivor Farhid Ahmed poses with a photo of his wife Husna, who was killed in the attack, after an interview with Reuters in Christchurch, New Zealand March 18, 2019. Picture taken March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

March 19, 2019

By Charlotte Greenfield and Tom Westbrook

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (Reuters) – Husna Ahmed was 19 when she arrived in New Zealand from Bangladesh on her wedding day. Waiting to meet her was Farid, the man she would marry in a few hours, as their families had agreed.

A quarter of a century later, the life they had built together was torn apart at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch when a gunman walked into the building, firing on worshippers at Friday prayers.

Husna encountered the gunman on his way out of the mosque. He shot her on the footpath. She fell and he fired two more shots, killing her instantly.

Farid, who uses a wheelchair after an earlier accident, was talking to a friend and was delayed from joining worshippers at his usual spot at the front of the mosque, instead praying in a small side room.

He managed to escape when he heard the shooting begin, returning when the gunman left, to find many of his friends and community members dead and comfort those who were dying.

Farid found out about his wife’s death when a detective he knew called his niece as they waited outside the mosque.

She passed the phone: “I don’t want you to wait the whole night, Farid. Go home, she will not come,” Farid said the detective told him.

“At the moment I hear that, my response was I felt numb,” Farid told Reuters. “I had tears but I didn’t break down.” His niece crumbled.

A total of 50 people were killed in the rampage, with as many wounded, as the gunman went from Al Noor to another mosque in the South Island city.

Most victims were migrants or refugees from countries including Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Syria, Turkey, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Husna was one of five members of a growing but tight-knit Bangladeshi community killed, according to the Bangladesh consul in New Zealand, Shafiqur Rahman Bhuiyan. Four others were wounded, one critically, he added.

Members of the Bangladesh cricket team, in town for a test match against New Zealand, narrowly avoided the carnage, turning up at the Al Noor mosque soon after the attack took place.

Based on what eyewitnesses told him, Farid said instead of hiding, Husna helped women and children inside the mosque and ran to the front of the building to look for him.

“She’s such a person who always put other people first and she was even not afraid to give her life saving other people,” Farid said.

Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with murder. He entered no plea and police said he is likely to face more charges.

The slaughter has rocked Christchurch, and New Zealand, to its core, blanketing the city in grief and driving Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to promise swift gun law reform.

Farid said he had forgiven his wife’s killer.

“I want to give the message to the person who did this, or if he has any friends who also think like this: I still love you,” Farid said. “I want to hug you and I want to tell him in face that I am talking from my heart. I have no grudge against you, I never hated you, I will never hate you.”

LIKE A MOTHER

A few hours after the massacre as evening fell, the front room of Farid’s home in a sleepy Christchurch suburb where he runs a homeopathy business was full with survivors and friends grieving for a woman many described as like a mother to them.

Husna was born on 12 October in 1974 in Sylhet, a city on the banks the Surma River, in northeastern Bangladesh. She was so fast that Shahzalal Junior High School would only let her run three races, to give her rivals a chance, Farid said.

She moved to New Zealand in 1994.

Thin, nervous and overwhelmed by leaving everyone she knew for a new life in an alien country, she burst into tears when her husband-to-be picked her up from Auckland airport.

He comforted her on the long drive back to Nelson, where he was living, and where she quickly found her feet.

With almost no other Bangladeshis in the small city, Husna made English-speaking friends and learned the language within six months. Farid said she spoke it with more of a Kiwi accent than he did.

When Farid’s workmates at a meatpacking plant agreed to work half an hour longer on Fridays so he could take a break to pray, she cooked them a feast every week in thanks.

And when Farid was partially paralyzed after being run over by a car outside his house, after four years of marriage, she moved with him to Christchurch and became his nurse.

“Our hobby was we used to talk to each other. A lot. And we never felt bored,” he said.

REBUILDING CHRISTCHURCH

When Christchurch was razed by a deadly earthquake in 2011, Husna helped settle an influx of Bangladeshi migrants – qualified engineers, metalworkers and builders – who came to assist the rebuilding of the shattered city.

Mohammad Omar Faruk, 36, was one of the new arrivals. Faruk was working as a welder in Singapore but leapt at the opportunity to come to New Zealand where working conditions were better and permanent residency was possible.

Faruk was also killed at Al Noor mosque.

His employer, Rob van Peer, said he had allowed his team to leave early last Friday after they finished a job by lunchtime, meaning Faruk could attend Friday prayers.

Van Peer said Faruk was loved by his colleagues for his loyal and friendly personality and fast, precise welds.

Zakaria Bhuiyan, a welder at another engineering firm, also died. Newly married, he was waiting for a visitor visa so his wife could travel from Bangladesh.

Mojammel Haque worked as a dentist in Bangladesh and was studying in New Zealand for an advanced medical qualification when he was killed.

All three men knew Husna, said Mojibur Rahman, a welder and former flatmate of Faruk.

“It’s really hard because we are a little community but everyone’s living here in unity, we know each other, we share everything with each together,” he said. “Now I don’t know what’s going to happen, how we become normal.”

The fifth Bangladeshi victim was Abus Samad, 66, a former faculty member of Bangladesh Agriculture University who had been teaching at Christchurch’s Lincoln University.

CUSTOMS AND CARE

Many new workers to Christchurch brought young families, or were starting them and Husna took it upon herself to care for women through their pregnancies, often waking Farid at all hours so he could drive her to the births.

“We think she’s like a mother…if there’s something we needed, we go to Husna,” said Mohammed Jahangir Alan, another welder.

Husna guided his wife, then 19, to a midwife and a doctor and joined her in the delivery room as she gave birth to a baby girl, Alan said.

A few days later Husna shaved the infant’s head, an Islamic ritual which she did for dozens of children in the community. She was so gentle the baby fell asleep while she pulled the razor over the soft skin.

Husna would also lead the customary washing and prayer ritual for women who died. She was due to lead a workshop the day after her death to teach other women the process.

Now, Husna’s devastated female family members will wash her for her funeral, expected later this week.

“We know she would just want us to be a part of it, to wash her,” said her sister-in-law Ayesha Corner.

After the burial, Farid says he wants to continue the work he and his wife used to do and to care for their 15-year-old daughter.

When the lockdown at her school lifted on Friday, their daughter returned home, knowing only her mother was missing and asking where she was.

“I didn’t miss a second, I said: ‘She is with God,’” Farid said.

“She said: ‘You are lying’. She said: ‘Are you telling me I don’t have a mother?’”

“I said: ‘Yes, but I am your mother now and I am your father…we have to change the roles.”

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Tom Westbrook in CHRISTCHURCH; Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Captain's Run
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union – New Zealand Captain’s Run – The Lensbury, Teddington, Britain – November 9, 2018 New Zealand’s Kieran Read during the captain’s run Action Images via Reuters/Matthew Childs

March 17, 2019

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All Blacks captain Kieran Read has urged his fellow New Zealanders to reject bigotry and support the country’s Muslim community after a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday.

The death toll from the shooting, carried out by a suspected white supremacist and described by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as the country’s “darkest day”, rose to 50 on Sunday.

New Zealand Football (NZF) said on Sunday that one of those killed was Kuwait-born Atta Elayyan, the goalkeeper for the New Zealand futsal team, a version of indoor soccer that is played internationally.

“My heart goes out to the futsal community,” said NZF chief executive Andrew Pragnell.

“They are a very tight-knit group and this news of Atta’s death will be devastating for all involved in the game. We feel their pain and their grief.”

New Zealand’s top professional soccer team, the Wellington Phoenix, said they would remember Elyaan and the other victims at their A-League match against the Western Sydney Wanderers, which will go ahead on Sunday after consultation with police.

The third cricket test between New Zealand and Bangladesh that was due to start in Christchurch on Saturday was canceled after the tourists narrowly avoided being caught up in the shooting.

Rugby is New Zealand’s most popular sport, however, and the captain of the All Blacks, the most successful international team in the game, is typically almost universally respected.

Read’s statement of support for New Zealand’s small Muslim community would therefore have more resonance than might be the case in other countries.

“That this hate filled atrocity has happened in our back yard is beyond words,” Read, who was caught up in the city center lockdown at his daughters’ school on Friday as police searched for the gunman, wrote on his Instagram account.

“My heart goes out to the victims and their families, our Muslim community and the people of Christchurch.

“Our nation is experiencing a great loss of innocence in the face of all that happened. Bigotry and intolerance has no place here in Aotearoa (New Zealand). This is not who we are.

“Our strength lies in our diversity and while acts such as this are orchestrated in an attempt to divide us, love and unity will always prevail.”

“NOT A RELIGIOUS STATEMENT”

Read also plays for the Christchurch-based Canterbury Crusaders, whose Super Rugby match against the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday was canceled after discussions between the teams and police.

The Crusaders adopted their name 23 years ago when rugby went professional but questions have been raised over its associations with the medieval religious wars between Christians and Muslims since the mosque attacks.

The franchise, which has won a record nine Super Rugby titles, issued a statement late on Saturday defending the name.

“We acknowledge and understand the concerns that have been raised,” it read.

“For us, the Crusaders name is a reflection of the crusading spirit of this community, and certainly not a religious statement.

“What we stand for is the opposite of what happened in Christchurch … our crusade is one for peace, unity, inclusiveness and community spirit.

“This team and the wider organization are united with our community in standing against such abhorrent acts … and in standing in support of our Muslim community.”

Read’s All Blacks team mate TJ Perenara also urged his compatriots to think about New Zealand’s Muslim community after witnessing the wider impact of the attacks on Saturday.

“I walked through the airport and saw Muslim people going about their day in fear, including one woman that I and a couple of others sat with while she cried,” the scrumhalf wrote on Instagram.

“I thought about how they were in fear as their community has been attacked … Once we have had time to grieve, it might be time for some uncomfortable conversations.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

Source: OANN


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