Muslim pilgrims to scale Mount Arafat for peak of hajj

Muslim pilgrims converged Thursday on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat for the climax of this year’s hajj, the smallest in modern times and a sharp contrast to the massive crowds of previous years.

A tight security cordon has been erected all around the foot of the rocky hill outside Mecca, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy.

Pilgrims, donning masks and observing social distancing, were brought in buses from neighbouring Mina, state television showed, as Saudi authorities impose measures to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

They were subject to temperature checks and attended a sermon — which state media said was translated into 10 languages — before they set off on the climb to the summit for hours of Koran recitals and prayers to atone for their sins.

The scene was strikingly different to last year’s ritual when a sea of pilgrims ascended Mount Arafat, marshalled by tens of thousands of stewards in a bid to prevent any crushes.

After sunset prayers, pilgrims will make their way down Mount Arafat to Muzdalifah, another holy site where they will sleep under the stars to prepare for the final stage of hajj, the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

It takes place on Friday and also marks the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam and a must for able-bodied Muslims at least once in their lifetime, is usually one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

But only up to 10,000 people already residing in the kingdom will participate in this year’s ritual, compared with 2019’s gathering of some 2.5 million from around the world.

“You are not our guests but those of God, the custodian of the two holy mosques (Saudi Arabia’s King Salman) and the nation,” Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten said in a video released by the media ministry on Wednesday.

Security cordon
A security cordon has been thrown around the holy sites to prevent any security breaches, an interior ministry spokesman said.

Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the deadliest stampede in the gathering’s history.

But this year, those risks are greatly reduced by the much smaller crowd.

The pilgrims have all been tested for the virus, and foreign journalists were barred from this year’s hajj, usually a huge global media event.

As part of the rites completed over five days in the holy city of Mecca and its surroundings, the pilgrims converged on Mount Arafat after spending the night in Mina.

A district of Mecca, Mina sits in a narrow valley surrounded by rocky mountains and is transformed each year into a vast encampment for pilgrims.

They began the hajj on Wednesday with their first “tawaf”, the circumambulation of the Kaaba, a large structure in Mecca’s Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray.

The Kaaba is draped in a black cloth embroidered in gold with Koranic verses and known as the kiswa, which is changed each year during the pilgrimage.

Pilgrims were brought inside the mosque in small batches, walking along paths marked on the floor, in sharp contrast to the normal sea of humanity that swirls around the Kaaba during hajj.

Israel, Nigeria sign bilateral agreement on green energy

Israel and Nigeria on Wednesday signed bilateral agreement in the field of green energy development.

The agreement was outcome of a closed door meeting between Mr Yotam Kreiman, Deputy Head of Israeli Mission to Nigeria, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology in Abuja.

Speaking, Yotam told newsmen that “Dor” Group is one of the leading companies in Israel in the field of energy.

He expressed appreciation to both the Dor partners and the ministry over success of the signing of the agreement.

According to him, the company had excelled in production of methanol as a safe, clean and green substitute for fuel in Israel and now in Nigeria.

Yotam said: “Both Dor and the diplomatic relations and friendship between Israel and Nigeria are now 60 years old.

“The process that brought us today has neither been short nor simple, after many test and checks of possibilities and probabilities, it is commencing.

“Israel is happy to bring technologies and knowledge to Nigeria, especially in this dire time, when job opportunities are scarce and much needed.

“We believe this project will change the future of Nigeria and Africa in general, particularly when it comes to green, clean energy.

“We know West Africa region looks up to Nigeria and we are happy to celebrate the beginning of this bilateral relation.”

He extolled Onu and other partners of Dor in Nigeria for their belief in the project to have contributed to the success of the agreement since the inception.

Meanwhile, Onu commended Israel’s remarkable achievements in the development of technology.

According to him, Israel had always excelled in whatever they set their minds on and thereby commended the signing of the bilateral agreement as a win-win situation for both countries.

ON YOUR BIKE: What is the government’s bike repair voucher scheme and how can I claim one?

The £50 repair voucher should help cyclists get back on the road

What are the vouchers?

The Fix your Bike Voucher Scheme allows Brits to claim a voucher worth up to £50 towards the cost of repairing their bike.

There are 500,000 vouchers available and they can be used to “drag bicycles out of retirement”.

Vouchers are given on a first come, first served basis.

The vouchers should typically cover the bill for a standard service and the replacement of a basic components like cables and inner tubes.

But you will have to hurry – the first round of 50,000 vouchers that were released around midnight July 28 went within hours.

The scheme has been so popular that the site crashed.

It was back up just before 4am but was later paused and by 9am the vouchers were no longer available.

Bike owners in England can visit the Energy Saving Trust’s website and register to get the free £50 voucher.

The rest will be put online in stages to help manage capacity across participating stores and prevent mechanics from becoming overwhelmed.

The Energy Saving Trust will then email you a code, which you can either show on your phone or print out and give to the retailer.

There are only 500,000 vouchers up for grabs in total so make sure you apply soon.

The voucher can only be used for repairs at participating businesses, so you can’t buy any bike accessories with it.

Registrations are also open for bike repair businesses who want to be part of the scheme.

The scheme was first announced on May 9 by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, as part of a £2billion package to encourage walking and cycling.

It was initially believed the scheme would launch in June, before it became mandatory to wear face coverings on public transport.

Shapps also mentioned the scheme again on June 4 during the coronavirus press conference.
How will the voucher scheme works?

Bike owners will need to find a registered bike mechanic and apply for a voucher online.

A map of participating bike shops and mechanics is available here.

They then bring their bike in to be fixed, using the voucher towards the cost.

Brits will then claim the cost of the discount back through the Energy Saving Trust website.
Who will be eligible and how can I apply?

Everyone in England will be able to apply for the scheme but only 500,000 vouchers will be handed out.

You are allowed a maximum of two vouchers per household.

Bike repairers must meet certain criteria including the possession of valid public liability insurance with a minimum cover of £2million.

If you are a bike repairer or want to get your hands on the voucher from 11.45pm on Tuesday, July 28, you can now apply on the Energy Saving Trust website here.

Exposure to outdoor blue light may increase the risk of developing bowel cancer, scientists say

Outdoor blue light from billboards, as pictured in Piccadilly Circus, have been linked to bowel cancer risk

Blue light exposure at night has previously been linked to higher risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer.The latest study found that high levels of blue light exposure – from the likes of LED street lights and advertisement billboards – is associated with “a 60% increased risk” of bowel cancer.

Researchers led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) looked at medical and epidemiological data of nearly 2,000 adults in Barcelona and Madrid, 660 of whom had bowel cancer.

Individuals with a history of working night shifts were excluded from the study due to its association with causing disruption the body’s 24-hour cycle, known as the circadian rhythm, and its links with bowel cancer risk.

Researchers used images taken by astronauts on the International Space Station to calculate the intensity of artificial light at night in the two Spanish cities.

The results found that participants with the highest exposure to blue light had a 60% higher risk of developing bowel cancer than the less-exposed population.

While its role in bowel cancer is unclear, scientists say studies have shown that disruption of circadian genes may contribute to the initiation and progression of bowel cancer.

It is believed that blue light can decrease the body’s production and secretion of the hormone melatonin, which plays a key role in regulating the circadian rhythm.

Dr Manolis Kogevinas, ISGlobal researcher and coordinator of the study, which was published in Epidemiology, said that research on the potential effects of light exposure on cancer “is still in its infancy” and needs more work.

He added: “We found an association only with blue light spectrum – this corresponds to the strong white light from hard LEDs and not with visual light.”

Researchers said no association has yet been found with other types of artificial light.

They added that the most recent study did not focus on indoor artificial light or devices such as tablets and phones which emit blue light.

However, Dr Kogevinas suggested that technology devices should be assessed because the public has “extensive exposure” to blue light through tablets and smartphones.

Commenting on the research, Genevieve Edwards, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, highlighted that the study did not consider “behavioural and lifestyle factors” that might increase bowel cancer risk.

She added: “We cannot tell from this study if artificial light directly led to people developing the disease.

“As the researchers acknowledge themselves, this area of work is in its infancy and we’d welcome further studies.”

RAPIST RAPPER: Grime star Solo 45 jailed for 24 years for raping four women

Solo 45 has been jailed for 24 years for repeatedly raping four women

He was unanimously convicted of 21 rapes, five counts of false imprisonment, two counts of assault by penetration and two of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

Judge William Hart imposed an extended sentence, meaning Anokye will serve 24 years in prison and a further five years on licence.

During the trial, graphic video clips – filmed by Anokye on his mobile phone – were played to the jury.

In the footage, Anokye is seen interrogating the women about previous sexual partners, slapping them, insulting them and raping them.

One clip showed a woman crying and saying “I hate you”, with the musician laughing and making a thumbs-up sign to the camera.

Anokye, who was signed to Island Records, was described as a “violent, controlling narcissist and a bully” by prosecutors during the case.

Jurors heard how he derived sexual pleasure from torturing the women by water-boarding, interrogating, assaulting and raping them.

The musician spoke of dacryphilia – sexual arousal from tears – and enjoyed playing a game he called “Catch me, Rape me”.

He forced one woman to lie in a bath of freezing cold water, held a shotgun to the head of another woman and made one sit with a bottle of water tied to her finger with a shoelace.

Police launched an investigation in 2017 after a woman claimed she had been raped at Anokye’s waterfront apartment in Bristol.
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