Chartered Plane Conveying Nigerians To Lagos From Dubai To Arrive At 7pm Today

 

A chartered plane conveying Nigerian returnees from the United Arab Emirates will now land at 7pm today, after it made a U-turn in a bid to properly tend to a pregnant woman who reportedly went into labour.

The flight which was expected to come in at 3pm is now expected to land at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport at 7 pm.

Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama confirmed the arrival time during his speech at the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Chartered Plane Conveying Nigerians To Lagos From Dubai Makes U-Turn

“One of the passengers, a lady, had a baby on the flight, or went into labour,” Onyeama said.

“So the plane had to turn back. And I am happy to say mother and child are doing well in the hospital. And the arrival time has been rescheduled to 7 pm this evening.”

After weeks of delay, the first batch of Nigerians stuck abroad amid the coronavirus pandemic were expected in the country today.

The Emirates flight is expected to be the first of at least two other flights scheduled to evacuate Nigerians within the next few days.

UAE Launches Online Weddings Amid COVID-19 Controls

A picture taken on March 28, 2020 shows a deserted street in the Emirate city of Dubai amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. KARIM SAHIB / AFP.

 

The United Arab Emirates has launched an online marriage service that allows couples to wed amid restrictions on movement and interaction imposed to counter the deadly coronavirus.

The UAE has taken strict measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 respiratory disease, which has claimed the lives of well over 100,000 people worldwide.

The justice ministry said on Sunday that citizens and residents can set a date for an online wedding ceremony conducted via video link with a cleric after their paperwork is submitted and approved — also online, according to the UAE’s official news agency WAM.

The procedure will see a cleric confirm the identity of the couple and witnesses, before a marriage certificate is relayed to a specialised court for validation.

The couple will receive confirmation of their marriage certificate via text message.

READ ALSO: EASTER: Pope Offers Prayer For COVID-19 Sick

The service was launched “to maintain the health of the public and that of people working in courts and to limit the presence of employees”, WAM reported.

This comes after Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, said on Wednesday it suspended “until further notice” marriages and divorces in the emirate. No announcement has been made about divorce proceedings.

Dubai has temporarily restricted the movement of people and vehicles, except for those working in “vital sectors” and with “essential needs” — such as food or medicine.

The UAE has recorded more than 3,700 coronavirus cases, including 20 deaths.

AFP

Dubai Tightens Measures Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

A picture taken on March 28, 2020 shows a deserted street in the Emirate city of Dubai amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. KARIM SAHIB / AFP

 

Dubai authorities on Saturday announced tighter measures to combat the novel coronavirus, as the number of cases in the United Arab Emirates surpassed 1,500.

For two weeks the movement of people and vehicles will be further restricted, with only one person per residence allowed to leave for “essential needs” such as food and medicine, according to the Dubai Media Office.

People working in “vital sectors” — including healthcare, media and delivery — are allowed to go out and supermarkets and pharmacies will remain in service.

Metro and tram services, however, will also be suspended.

In addition to movement restrictions, authorities announced “the extension of the sterilisation programme to 24 hours a day across all areas and communities in the emirate to protect the health and safety of the community”.

The measures went into effect at 8:00 p.m. (1600 GMT) on Saturday and are subject to renewal.

The authorities added that “extensive medical tests will be conducted across densely populated areas”.

The decision came shortly after the UAE announced on Saturday 241 new novel coronavirus infections — the highest single-day total since the outbreak in the country.

The Gulf state has now a total of 1,505 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease, and 10 deaths. It has enforced extensive lockdown measures to curb the spread of the illness including an ongoing night-time curfew.

The UAE has the second highest number of confirmed infections in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia, which has recorded more than 2,000 cases and 29 deaths.

dm-mah/sw/hkb

UAE Reports Middle East’s First Cases Of Coronavirus

A Tourist wearing a surgical mask is pictured next to Burj in Dubai on January 29 2020. The United Arab Emirates announced the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the Middle East, with a four-member Chinese family from Wuhan found to be infected.
GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

 

The United Arab Emirates said Wednesday that a Chinese family of four who arrived from Wuhan were infected with the new coronavirus, in the first confirmed cases in the Middle East.

The health ministry said that the condition of the family from Wuhan — the quarantined Chinese city at the epicentre of the health crisis — was stable and that they were “under medical monitoring”.

The World Health Organization confirmed the infections, saying the family arrived in the Emirates earlier this month.

They “were hospitalised on 25 and 27 January after testing positive for coronavirus,” it said in a statement, adding that two of the patients never showed any symptoms.

“Due to the global nature of travel”, it is expected that more cases will appear in other countries, it said.

The WHO’s regional director, Ahmed al-Mandhari, urged “individuals to stay calm and take the necessary precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe”.

Gulf airports, including Dubai which is one of the world’s biggest aviation hubs, said last week they would screen all passengers arriving from China amid the outbreak of the deadly virus.

The disease has spread to more than 15 countries since it emerged out of Wuhan late last year, with the death toll soaring to 132 and confirmed infections nearing 6,000.

All confirmed fatalities have so far been in China. Cases have been reported across the Asia Pacific region and in North America and Europe, but the infected family in the UAE is the first in the Middle East.

Dubai’s government said Thursday that some 989,000 Chinese tourists visited the glitzy emirate last year — a number expected to cross the one million mark in 2020.

 

Temperature scanners are used to screen passengers for fever with upon their arrival at Kuwait international airport in Kuwait City on January 29, 2020. The disease has spread to more than 15 countries since it emerged out of Wuhan late last year, with the death toll soaring to 132 and confirmed infections nearing 6,000. All confirmed fatalities have so far been in China. Cases have been reported across the Asia Pacific region and in North America and Europe, but the Wuhan family in the UAE is the first in the Middle East.

 

About 3.6 million Chinese transited through the emirate’s main airport in 2019.

Dubai International Airport in 2018 served over 89 million passengers, including more foreign passengers than any other airport worldwide for the fifth year in a row.

The UAE’s Abu Dhabi International Airport, another major hub, has also begun screening passengers arriving from China.

Between them, the two Emirati hubs operate dozens of flights a week serving Chinese cities.

China is the UAE’s top trading partner and Abu Dhabi is among the 15 top crude oil suppliers to Beijing. Several hundred Chinese companies have offices in the UAE.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Like SARS, it can be passed among humans via the respiratory tract.

The UAE health ministry said it has taken “all the necessary precautions” in line with standards approved by the World Health Organization.

It said that the country’s health system “works very efficiently and that the ministry is closely following the situation in a way that guarantees the health and safety of everyone.”

AFP

Words Alone Cannot Change Predispositions To Intolerance – Osinbajo

 

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo says it will take more than mere words to change the world’s predisposition to intolerance. 

According to the Vice President, in a world increasingly plagued by activities of the agents of intolerance and religious extremism, it will take acts of deep humility and personal sacrifice, especially by leaders across the board, in order to change the disposition to hate and prejudice.

Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Monday in a keynote address he delivered in Abu Dhabi at the opening session of the Sixth Assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace organized by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Speakers and participants at the conference were drawn from across the world, including countries like the United States, and there were representatives of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Among representatives from Nigeria were the Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, and the celebrated Imam from Plateau State, Abubakar Abdullahi.

The Vice President was also received after the opening session by both the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nayan, and the Ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the Vice President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister of the United Arab Emirates.

The reception was at the Al-Ain Palace of the Crown Prince, who is also the Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces.

According to the Vice President in his keynote address, “no amount of words or platitudes can change the human predisposition to prejudice and parochialism. Only acts of deep humility and personal sacrifice can.

“There is no question at all that this is the responsibility leadership places on those of us who are religious and political leaders in our countries.

“The responsibility of leadership is not just words, it is not text, it is not just laws. The responsibility of leadership is self-sacrifice, it is putting our reputation on the line, it is putting our words into action.

“It is my respectful submission that the burden rests squarely on leaders, especially religious and political leaders, and others we may describe as the elite in our nations and communities.”

READ ALSO: Why I Did Not Attend The Wole Soyinka Award Ceremony – Osinbajo

Continuing on the role of leaders of communities in promoting peaceful coexistence, Prof. Osinbajo said, “it is our role not only to articulate, as we are doing in this assembly today, the theoretical and doctrinal foundations for a more tolerant world but more importantly, to make the personal sacrifices that would compel our societies to commit themselves to lifestyles of tolerance.”

Speaking on how technology and globalization can also be used in promoting hate and intolerance, the Vice President said leaders who exemplified selflessness and love are better positioned to reverse the negative trend.

He said, “The defining paradox of our world today is that thanks to technology and globalization, we have never been more connected than we are today, and at the same time, we have probably never been more divided than we are today, and this is the handiwork of agents of intolerance who weaponize our fear of the ‘other’.

“In recent years, we have witnessed a rise of religious extremism, right-wing populism and ultra-nationalism. We have seen extremists hijack the symbols and letters of the faiths and use them to prosecute violent campaigns that violate the sanctity of human life on a global scale: ISIS, ISWAP, Boko Haram etc.

“Therefore, if we are to prevent an endless cycle of strife and conflict, tolerance is a necessity.”

The Vice President added that it was the responsibility of leaders, “especially religious and political leaders, and the elite in our nations and communities, to bear the torch of tolerance and illuminate new pathways to a shared future.”

Citing the examples of some community and religious leaders in Nigeria who offered their lives to save people of different faiths from theirs, Prof. Osinbajo urged leaders of groups and communities to imbibe the principles of tolerance and empathy.

According to him, “the great conflict of our time is not between Islam and Christianity, or between Islam and other religions, but between extremism and human solidarity, between the forces of hate and intolerance and those of empathy and peace – that is the great conflict today.

“We must emphasize the central place of the principle of empathy; this is a thread that runs through our moral traditions, and is summed up in the Golden Rule in the words of Jesus Christ where he said, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Jesus Christ goes further to say that “we must love our enemies; we must even pray for our enemies.”

“This is the notion of self-sacrifice. In other words, all of these is summed up in the general principle that we must treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated, and this is embedded in the Abrahamic traditions and other major religions.”

Earlier, the UAE Minister of Tolerance, Sheikh Nahayan Al Nahayan, spoke on the need for the world’s major religions to embrace tolerance as a virtue and vehicle to promote peaceful co-existence.

PHOTO: Osinbajo Travels To UAE For Peace Forum

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with UAE’s Minister of State, Ahmed Al Sayegh, at the Abu Dhabi International Airport ahead of his keynote address at UAE Peace Forum. Photos: Tolani Alli.

 

 

The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has travelled to the United Arab Emirates for the Sixth Assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

Professor Osinbajo departed Abuja on Sunday and was welcomed at the Abu Dhabi International Airport by UAE’s Minister of State, Ahmed Al Sayegh.

He is expected to deliver a keynote address entitled “The Role of Religions in Promoting Tolerance: From Possibility to Necessity” at the forum.

READ ALSO: Less Than 100,000 Nigerians ‘Making Noise’ About Sowore’s Rearrest, Says Adesina

Also, the Vice President would meet with the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nayan, at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi.

According to a statement from Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, both leaders would discuss bilateral issues on how to continue to expand diplomatic and economic relationships between Nigeria and the UAE.

The Assembly of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies is an annual event organised by the government of the United Arab Emirates.

“The Sixth Assembly will build upon the discussions and outputs of previous assemblies, as well as appreciation of the UAE’s decision to proclaim 2019 as the year of ‘tolerance’.

“The Sixth Assembly envisages an opportunity to initiate a civilised dialogue on the formulation of a new concept of tolerance, one that is humane and generous, and to transform a perspective that makes tolerance a religious imperative,” the UAE government was quoted as saying.

The Vice President is expected back in Nigeria later on Monday.

See photos of the visit below:

UN Report Finds Jordan, Turkey, UAE Violated Libya Arms Embargo

 

Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have regularly violated the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya since 2011, according to a confidential report by UN experts seen Thursday by AFP.

The three countries “routinely and sometimes blatantly supplied weapons with little effort to disguise the source,” a summary of a year-long study by the UN experts said.

According to diplomats, Jordan was accused of having trained troops of Khalifa Haftar, a military strongman in eastern Libya who launched an offensive in April in a bid to seize Tripoli.

The United Arab Emirates, another Haftar backer, is suspected of using attack aircraft on behalf of his forces.

READ ALSO: Baghdadi’s Wife Reveals IS Group Secrets After Capture

The UAE is suspected of involvement in a July 2 bombing of a detention center for migrants in a Tripoli suburb which left around 50 people dead.

The report does not definitively apportion blame for the attack but notes that the UAE is equipped with both US-made F-16s and French Mirage 2000-9s.

Turkey, which openly supports the government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, is accused of supplying his forces with military material ranging from armored vehicles to drones.

“Both parties to the conflict received weapons and military equipment, technical support and non-Libyan fighters in non-compliance with the sanctions measures related to arms,” said the experts’ report, delivered to members of the UN Security Council on October 29.

“The panel also identified the presence of Chadian and Sudanese armed groups in support of forces affiliated” with Sarraj and Haftar, the report said, although they have had only a limited impact.

“Although the military capability of both parties was apparently enhanced, in reality the impact of the foreign armed groups to outcomes in the conflict was limited,” it said.

– ‘New phase of instability’ –
The 85-page document and a more than 300-page annex includes pictures, maps and copies of ship manifests of cargos delivered to Libya by sea.

The report is expected to be the subject of debate by the Security Council’s 15 members at the end of the month in the sanctions committee responsible for Libya. It is then expected to be approved for public release, probably in December.

The experts said they were awaiting answers to their questions from several UN member states.

“The panel identified multiple acts that posed a threat to the security, peace and stability of Libya,” they said.

Since Haftar’s offensive in April, a “new phase of instability, combined with the interests of several states and non state actors in the outcome, amplified the existing proxy conflict that took shape post-2011,” they said.

“Military operations have been dominated by the use of precision-guided munitions from unmanned combat aerial vehicles, which to a degree has limited the collateral damage normally expected from such a conflict,” they said.

The use of drones “has been massive by both sides,” a diplomat said, confirming accusations leveled previously by the UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salame.

Another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the report does not mention the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya.

Several hundred have been deployed in Libyan territory in recent months, taking part in combat in support of Haftar’s forces, US media reported earlier this week, a charge denied by Moscow.

The report also said that human trafficking and smuggling of migrants, although reduced considerably, “continues to finance networks that contribute to instability.”

The panel said there had been attempts by the National Oil Corporation in the east of the country to illicitly export crude oil.

“Refined petroleum products continue to be diverted by sea and overland, albeit at a lower level than in previous years,” it said.

UAE Calls For Talks To Defuse US-Iran Tensions

Brian Hook (L), the US special representative on Iran, listens to Saudi Lieutenant General Prince Fahd bin Turki (C), the commander of the Arab Coalition, during a visit to an army base in al-Kharj, south of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on June 21, 2019. The US said Iran has no right to respond to diplomacy “with military force”, a day after Washington said Tehran shot down a US drone over the Strait of Hormuz. “Our diplomacy does not give Iran the right to respond with military force,” Hook, told reporters in Saudi Arabia. Fayez Nureldine / AFP

 

The United Arab Emirates on Sunday called for negotiations to defuse tensions between the United States and Iran after Tehran shot down a US drone.

“Tensions in the Gulf can only be addressed politically,” Anwar Gargash, UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter.

He said the crisis in the Gulf region “requires collective attention, primarily to de-escalate and to find political solutions through dialogue and negotiations.”

“Regional voices (are) important to achieve sustainable solutions,” said Gargash.

Tehran on Thursday shot down a US surveillance drone which it said entered Iranian airspace, a claim denied by Washington which said the aircraft was above international waters.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Saturday summoned the charge d’affaires of the UAE, from where it said the drone was launched, to protest Abu Dhabi’s decision to “put its installations at the disposal of foreign forces for aggression.”

The United States launched cyber attacks against Iranian missile control systems and a spy network in retaliation for the drone incident, according to US media reports Saturday.

Tehran is yet to react to the reports published by The Washington Post and Yahoo News.

US President Donald Trump said Friday he had called off strikes against Iran at the last minute, as such an attack would not have been a “proportionate” response.

‘We Did Not Suspend Issuing Tourist Visas To Nigerian Nationals,’ Says UAE

 

The United Arab Emirates has dismissed a report alleging that it reviewed the visa validity for Nigerians following the report of some Nigerians arrested for robbing a bureau de change in UAE.

Following the arrest, there were reports that the UAE reviewed the visa validity for Nigerians from three months to one month, however, the UAE has described those reports as inaccurate.

The UAE Embassy in a statement via Twitter on Friday explained that it had not suspended tourist visas for Nigerians.

It said, “In the light of the press reports published this morning, and alleging that the United Arab Emirates has suspended issuing tourist visas to Nigerian nationals, the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Abuja would like to announce this news is inaccurate and stresses the importance of getting the news from its official channels.”

READ ALSO: Saudi Arabia: We Must Protect The Innocent And Neutralise Frame Ups – Shehu Sani

On Sunday, five suspects were arrested for allegedly robbing a Bureau de Change office in Sharjah of Dh2.3 million.

The suspects who are said to be Nigerians, reportedly barged into the exchange and smashed the glass barrier between the customers and the staff, and stole the money in multiple currencies and fled.

Police however said on Sunday that moments later they were apprehended.

Pope Francis’ Historic Visit To UAE In Pictures

The presidential palace in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi during a reception for Pope Francis./ AFP

 

Pope Francis, the first leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to visit the Arabian Peninsula, will attend an interfaith meeting in the UAE on Monday as part of his outreach to Muslims.

 

READ ALSOPope Francis Makes History With Muslim Dialogue In UAE

Pope Francis Makes History With Muslim Dialogue In UAE

Pope Francis (R) shakes hands with a dignitary as he is accompanied by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum (L), during his welcome ceremony at the presidential palace in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019,/ AFP

 

Pope Francis, the first leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to visit the Arabian Peninsula, will attend an interfaith meeting in the UAE on Monday as part of his outreach to Muslims.

The pope’s highly publicised 48-hour visit to the United Arab Emirates will also include an open-air mass on Tuesday for 135,000 of the Muslim country’s million Catholic residents.

The pontiff, who made history when he touched down in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night, said he came “as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together and to travel paths of peace together”.

READ ALSOPope Francis’ Historic Visit To UAE In Pictures

The pope is expected to raise the issue of Yemen, devastated by a war in which the UAE is a key player, with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.

Yemen is home to what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, triggered by the intervention of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies in a war between the government and Huthi rebels.

More than 10 million Yemenis now risk imminent starvation.

– Open-air altar –
Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb — imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s prestigious seat of learning — greeted the pope with an embrace on Sunday night as the pontiff arrived in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

The emirate’s crown prince was also at the airport to greet the pontiff, who has made strengthening ties between Christianity and Islam a cornerstone of his papacy.

Hours before he flies back to Rome on Tuesday, the pope will lead a mass in a stadium in the capital, which local media say will be the largest public gathering ever in the UAE.

The UAE has dubbed 2019 its “year of tolerance”, but rights groups have criticised the country for its role in Yemen, where an estimated 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led alliance including the UAE joined the government’s fight against the Huthis in 2015.

Rights groups, which have slammed the UAE over its intolerance of dissent, have also urged the pope to raise the issue of Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati activist serving a 10-year prison term.

– Pope addresses Yemen war –
Before heading to the Gulf on Sunday, Pope Francis urged warring parties in Yemen to respect a truce agreement and allow deliveries of food aid.

“The population is exhausted by the lengthy conflict and a great many children are suffering from hunger, but cannot access food depots,” he said.

“The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God.”

The pope and his host Sheikh Mohammed are also expected to discuss “terrorism” and violence.

The UAE, which prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity, is a member of the US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in both Syria and Iraq.

The UAE has eight Catholic churches. Oman, Kuwait and Yemen each have four.

Qatar and Bahrain have one each, while ultra-conservative Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia bans all non-Muslim places of worship.

Muslims make up nearly four-fifths of the UAE’s population, but the country is also home to nearly a million Catholics, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia.

Migrants from Asian countries make up about 65 percent of the population.

Pope Francis Lands In UAE For Historic Visit

 

Pope Francis landed in the United Arab Emirates Sunday on the first-ever visit by a pontiff to the Arabian Peninsula — the birthplace of Islam.

The pope touched down in Abu Dhabi for the 48-hour trip during which he will meet leading Muslim clerics and hold an open-air mass for some 135,000 Catholics.

The pontiff will take part in an interreligious conference on Monday, meeting Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s prestigious seat of learning.

Hours before he flies back to Rome on Tuesday, he will lead mass in a stadium in Abu Dhabi — set to be the largest gathering ever in the UAE, according to local media.

His visit comes with the UAE engaged in a long-running military campaign in Yemen and embroiled in a diplomatic spat with nearby Qatar.

Before heading to the Gulf, the pontiff urged warring parties in Yemen, where the UAE backs the government against Huthi rebels, to respect a truce agreement.

READ ALSO: Taliban To Meet Afghan Opposition In Moscow – Official

“I appeal to all parties concerned and to the international community to allow the urgent respect of established accords to ensure the distribution of food,” he said.

“The population is exhausted by the lengthy conflict and a great many children are suffering from hunger, but cannot access food depots, he added.

“The cry of these children and their parents rises up to God.”

‘Great week’

Nearly one million Catholic migrants reside in the UAE, mostly hailing from the Philippines and India. Around 135,000 have secured precious tickets to Tuesday’s mass at Zayed Sports City Stadium.

On Sunday morning, hundreds of Catholics queued in drizzling rain outside St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Abu Dhabi to get their passes.

“I think the pope coming really opens doors for conversations about tolerance that the whole world needs to hear,” said Collins Cochet Ryan, a 39-year-old expectant mother from the US.

For Indian Doris D’Souza, who lives in Goa, Pope Francis’s trip to the UAE was not to be missed.

“Since I came to know about the pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi, we jumped (at) the opportunity to be witness.”

The UAE capital’s main streets and those leading to St. Joseph’s Cathedral — which the pope is set to visit on Tuesday — were lined with Vatican City flags and banners of the interreligious meeting.

‘Terrorism vs. love’

UAE minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash extended an official welcome to Pope Francis on Sunday.

“It is a visit that carries great humanitarian value, and the UAE adds a new (chapter) in the history of fraternity and tolerance,” he tweeted.

He took an apparent jab at Qatar, which hosts Islamist cleric Youssef al-Qardawi and is engaged in a bitter standoff with its Gulf rivals.

Gargash pointed out the difference “between those hosting a cleric of violence and terrorism… and those who host the pope and the Al-Azhar sheikh for a dialogue of love and communication”.

The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, cut all ties with Doha in June 2017 over allegations it supports extremists.

The UAE prides itself on its religious tolerance and cultural diversity.

It has eight Catholic churches. Oman, Kuwait and Yemen each have four.

Qatar and Bahrain have one each, while ultra-conservative Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia bans all non-Muslim places of worship.

Rights controversy

The UAE has however been criticised by rights groups for its involvement in a bloody Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, where an estimated 10,000 people have been killed in four years of war.

Millions of Yemenis face imminent starvation, according to the UN.

Rights groups have also slammed the Gulf state for upholding a 10-year prison term against activist Ahmed Mansoor on December 31 — two weeks after the UAE declared 2019 the “Year of Tolerance”.

“Despite its assertions about tolerance, the UAE government has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said Sunday.

“But the UAE has shown how sensitive it is to its image on the global stage, and Pope Francis should use his visit to press UAE leaders to meet their human rights obligations at home and abroad.”