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Rooftop majlis: Beirut commemorates Ashoura amid coronavirus | News



Beirut, Lebanon – About 20 women in black scarves and robes walked into a building in the southern Dahiyeh suburb of Beirut on Saturday evening.

The women, from teens to grandmothers, climbed up to the rooftop to join an hour-long mourning ceremony in commemoration of the seventh-century death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Saturday evening marked the 10th night of the Islamic month of Muharram, the Ashoura. 

This year, Ashoura fell within a 17-day, nationwide lockdown imposed by the Lebanese government on August 21, following a spike in coronavirus cases and fatalities in the wake of a massive explosion at Beirut’s port earlier this month.

An organiser arranges platters of food for attendees of the ceremony [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Lebanon, with 16,275 reported cases and 155 deaths, has banned all social gatherings, closed businesses and shops, and imposed a night-time curfew.

The restrictions mean there have been no street processions or large public gatherings for Ashoura.

So, several people in the neighbourhood decided to hold downsized gatherings on their rooftops and balconies instead.

“The communal element of Ashoura is very important to us,” said 24-year-old Fatima Kanso. “So, we came up with the idea of holding an open-air rooftop majlis [gathering] on top of four buildings in the block in order to come together while also respecting the restrictions.”

Adamant to commemorate

Fatima stood guard at the doorway to the rooftop, checking each woman’s temperature, disinfecting their hands, and ensuring they wore face masks before showing them to their seats.

As the organiser, she arrived early to arrange 35 plastic chairs – the maximum they could host at the event – in a manner that ensured social distancing.

“We are adamant to hold our mourning ceremonies no matter what the circumstance,” explained Fatima as she handed a younger family member bags with cakes and a drink to place on each chair.

“We await Muharram every year so the thought of holding a solitary majlis at home this time was very painful,” she said. “When our leaders ordered us to adhere to the restrictions, we had to find a way to do it while respecting their instructions.”

Ashoura amid COVID19

Fatima Kanso and her neighbours kept a safe social distance between chairs on their rooftop. [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Before the start of Muharram, Lebanon’s two main Shia movements, Hezbollah and Amal, told their followers to abide by stay-at-home measures, advising against all public gatherings.

In a televised speech, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah urged compliance with coronavirus-related restrictions, encouraging his followers to commemorate Imam Hussein’s death at home or via livestreaming.

‘Double the sorrow’

Along with her mother-in-law, Um Ahmad, Fatima had spent the day cooking meals for the poor and preparing a wheat and chicken dish for the attendees.

As she arranged platters of pastries on a table, her husband Ahmad Kanso, a locally known Muharram poetry reciter who came to lead the ceremony, set up the speaker system in a small room on the roof.

He explained that the speakers allowed the four female-only rooftop gatherings to follow his recitation and other neighbours to take part from their balconies.

“I’m used to being in a hall filled with thousands of people, especially on this night,” said the 26-year-old.

“Although we feel double the sorrow this year – sorrow over the death of Imam Hussein and sorrow over not being able to mourn together – it is a blessing to still be gathering like this.”

Ashoura amid COVID19

Ahmad Kanso, a popular Muharram poetry reciter in his neighbourhood, preparing to lead the ceremony [Arwa Ibrahim/Al Jazeera]

Every night, the young reciter started his ceremony with a poem and then a short story narrating the life and death a prominent figure in Shia Islam who was killed during the battle of Karbala.

For Muslims, the death of Imam Hussein is a symbol of resistance against injustice and oppression.

By the time Ahmad wrapped up, several women were bent over, sobbing into their sleeves.

‘Serious responsibility’

Like many others, 45-year-old Abeer al-Aseely, who attended the ceremony, found the lack of public gatherings this year painful but realised that efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus were more important.

“For the first time in my life, I’m not attending the usual large street processions and public gatherings,” said al-Aseely. “It’s painful, but our health and safety is more important.”

While calls to adhere to strict health guidelines have fallen on deaf ears in some countries in the region, including Iraq, which saw throngs of Shia Muslims flock to the shrines of Imam Hussein in Karbala, the situation in Lebanon has been relatively contained.

“Some people circumvented the coronavirus-related restrictions over the past 10 days, but for us, it’s been a huge responsibility to do everything right,” said al-Aseely. “It’s only right to social distance, or cancel the ceremonies altogether.”

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Another blow as Judge throws out Kiggundu’s lawyer Muwema



When court sat on Friday to hear the Kiggundu’s application to stop independent audit, he did not have a written application, and Justice Henry Adonyo instead ordered the plaintiff’s lawyer Fred Muwema to go make a written application seeking court to dismiss the audit and return to court on September 30 for a hearing of the application. But this adds more pressure on Kiggundu who is choking with the loans.

On 31 August, the judge ordered the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) to carry out and independent audit into the accounts of the businessman and financial statements exchanged between the two parties, and present a report to court.

When asked by journalists why he has filed for an application seeking dismissal of the audit, Fred Muwema had this to say. “We are saying that let the validity and legality of those credit facilities (loans) be decided first before you can audit” He said.

The ruling on the application of the main suit to determine whether the businessman owes loan arrears to the bank is set for 5th October 2020, after which a date for hearing of the case will be set.


Hamis Kiggundu through his companies Ham enterprises and Kiggs International (U) ltd sued DTB branches in Kenya and Uganda for deducting money from his accounts something which the bank contends and said they only acted as per the loan agreement of deducting 30% from Kiggundu’s accounts to recover the credit facilities rendered to him between February 2011 and September 2016

But Court documents filed by the bank in their defense shows that Kiggundu, between February 2011 and September 2016, was granted various credit facilities by the said DTB Banks.

First, via Ham Enterprises Limited, Kiggundu obtained a loan of $6,663,453 and another Sh2.5bn from the DTB (U) to finance his projects in the real estate business.

Later, according to New Vision, he got a facility worth $4.5m through Kiggs International (U) Limited from DTB (K) and mortgaged his properties, which include Plot 328 located at Kawuku on Block 248 Kyadondo, three plots that include 36, 37 and 38 on Folio 1533 Victoria Crescent II situated in Kyadondo and land on Makerere Hill Road on LRV 3716 Folio 10 Plot 923 Block 9.

Documents show that as of January 21, 2020, Kiggundu was in default on payment obligations of $6.298m on the loan facility of $6.663m, as well as sh2.885b on the demand overdraft facility of sh1.5b and the temporary demand overdraft facility of sh1b.

The banks say that Kiggundu was in default on the payment of another $3.662m out of a total loan facility of $4m and another $458,604 on a loan facility of $500,000, as of January 21, 2020.

The DTB consequently served him with a demand notice to either pay up or lose the assets that he submitted as collateral security. The bank threatened to attach a plot on Makerere Hill Road and other prime commercial properties.

Analysts says that Kiggundu’s lawyer is playing delaying tactics aimed at stopping the independent audit as ordered by the court earlier. Kiggundu had wanted court to believe his own audit of loan transactions, but that would amount to injustice to the banks that gave him money-DTB Uganda and DTB Kenya.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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