international

Pakistan’s police beat women protesters in Sindh

             

Karachi [Pakistan], (ANI): Pakistan’s police on Saturday applied baton charge to disperse women protesters in Sindh province’s Tando Allahyar who agitated against the arrest of their family members following a Friday night arson attack on a ’15 police helpline’ centre in the city, a media report said.

The Tando Allahyar police on Saturday beat women protesters with sticks which drew criticism from Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan leadership. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah also took notice of the use of force by police against the women and asked the Hyderabad DIG, Pir Mohammad Shah, for an inquiry, reported Dawn.
Three cases have been registered by Tando Allahyar police against Asif Khanzada — presumably brother and complainant of Bholu Khanzada murder case — and many others at the A-Section police station of Tando Allahyar. An unspecified number of suspects were picked up, said the Pakistani publication.

It came after an arson attack occurred on the police center on Friday night following the funeral of MQM-P activist, Khalilur Rehman alias Bholu Khanzada, who was gunned down at the gate of sessions court earlier in the day.

Nearly 10 motorcycles and a private car present inside the police centre were torched. According to police officials, intruders took away their motorbikes and official instruments including charging devices of walkie-talkie sets.

With regard to the arson attack, the police conducted raids on the houses of suspects. However, amid the crackdown, family members of the suspects blocked Hyderabad road near Islamia Mohallah and raised slogans against police highhandedness, according to Dawn.

Pakistan police beat women protesters with sticks in order to disperse them. The video of the incident went viral and drew criticism from the political parties and government functionaries. (ANI)

FBI, Europol take down computer servers used in ‘major international cyberattacks’

Washington [US] (ANI): The FBI, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency and Canada on Tuesday announced to have taken down 15 computer servers that were used in “major international cyberattacks.”
The 10-country sting operation involved police from Germany to the United Kingdom to Ukraine. The crackdown targeted a popular virtual private networking (VPN) service that police say cybercriminals used to cover their tracks while breaching numerous organizations and trying to extort them, said law enforcement agencies said this week, reported CNN. Europol said that after seizing the servers, investigators have identified “more than 100 businesses” that were at risk of being hacked by cybercriminals, including ransomware groups.
It’s the latest effort by North American and European police to bust ransomware groups that have threatened critical infrastructure on both continents.
US and European enforcement agencies in the fall arrested two people in Ukraine who allegedly made multimillion-dollar ransom demands following hacks of European and US organizations, reported CNN.
A note from investigators greeted visitors to the website of VPNLab.net, the targeted VPN service: “THIS DOMAIN HAS BEEN SEIZED.” The note said that law enforcement would continue combing through the VPN data in an effort to track the hackers.
“The cybercriminals using this VPN were committing attacks globally,” Europol spokesperson Claire Georges told CNN.
The administrator of a popular Russian and English-language cybercrime forum with over 180,000 registered users has advertised the VPN service since 2009, according to Mark Arena, CEO of cybersecurity firm Intel 471.
The news comes as US officials say they believe Russia, in a rare move, has arrested the person responsible for the ransomware attack on a major US pipeline operator last May, reported CNN. (Image source: Unsplash)

HC asks Delhi govt to expeditiously consider the issue of early re-testing of COVID-19 positive international travelers

New Delhi [India]: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked Delhi Government to consider expeditiously the issue of early re-testing of international travellers who detected COVID-19 positive on arrival from different foreign countries.
The court was hearing a plea of a mother whose 18-year-old son was admitted to a private hospital in the national capital after he was tested COVID-19 positive upon his arrival here from the United Kingdom.
Justice Rekha Palli asked the Delhi government to expeditiously consider the matter so that patients, like the petitioner’s son, do not suffer.
The petitioner has moved the Delhi High Court last month with her plea seeking to know the outcome of the genome sequencing test carried on her son.
Later her son tested negative and was discharged from the hospital during the pendency of the matter.
The petitioner told the court like her son, various other patients were being kept in
various health facilities for days as the hospitals were not conducting re-testing COVID-19 periodically.
Responding to petition submission, counsel appearing for the hospital submitted that the hospital administration was only following the Delhi government directive that in relation to international travellers who test COVID-19 positive, they have to be re-tested on the tenth day of the first test or after three days of being asymptomatic.
Advocate Arun Panwar, appearing for the Delhi government said they are following the guidelines issued by the Centre and urged the court to grant time to seek instructions.
However Central government counsel Bharati Raju submitted that there was no ban on repeat RT-PCR in their guidelines.
The court had listed the matter for further hearing on January 14.
The petitioner had said that despite her son having no symptoms he was compelled to stay at a private hospital and despite his repeated requests no RTPCR test was conducted.
The petitioner had also told the court she was not being provided with the genomic sequencing report to enable her to ascertain whether her son was suffering from omicron.

Mohammad Hafeez announces retirement from international cricket

Lahore [Pakistan]: Pakistan all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez has announced his retirement from international cricket on Monday.
After making a debut on April 3, 2003, against Zimbabwe, the all-rounder has decided to retire after 18 years. Hafeez represented Pakistan in 392 international matches, scoring 12,780 runs and taking 253 wickets, besides also captaining the side in 32 international matches. He was a member of the Pakistan side that won the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in England and Wales.
Overall, Hafeez played in three 50-over World Cups (2007, 2011 and 2019), six 20-over World Cups (2007, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2021) and three ICC Champions Trophies (2006, 2013 and 2017).
“Today I say goodbye to international cricket with pride and satisfaction. In fact, I have earned and accomplished more than I had initially envisaged and for that, I am thankful to all my fellow cricketers, captains, support staff and the Pakistan Cricket Board who helped me out during my career,” read Hafeez’s statement in an official Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) release.
“And, of course, my family who made big sacrifices to ensure I achieved my aspirations of representing Pakistan at a global stage. I am extremely fortunate, lucky and proud to have been considered worthy of donning the national kit with Pakistan emblem for 18 years. My country and my team have always been at my forefront and therefore, every time I stepped onto the field, I tried to raise their profile and image by playing hard and tough but within the rich traditions of spirit of cricket,” he added.
PCB Chairman Ramiz Raja lauded praises for Hafeez and wished him luck for his life ahead.
“Hafeez has been a wholehearted cricketer who worked tirelessly at his game to have a long and fruitful career. His game evolved with time, adjusting to different formats quite intelligently. Later in his career, he became a T20 specialist, where he was never out of touch with modern demands of this testing format. His batsmanship took a sprightly turn, nailing sixes almost at will,” said Ramiz Raja.
“He has worn the green blazer with pride for which we at the PCB are thankful. I wish him best of luck for his future life and thank him again for his magnificent contribution to Pakistan cricket,” he added.
In the ICC Player Rankings, Hafeez achieved the highest Test rankings of 22nd in batting, 29th in bowling and fifth in all-rounders. In the ODI rankings, Hafeez’s highest ranking was 13th in March 2014, while he topped the bowling and all-rounder charts in August 2012 and January 2013, respectively.
Hafeez’s rankings in T20I were equally impressive, peaking to ninth in batting in February 2007, third in bowling in August 2013 and number-one in all-rounders in March 2014.

Imran Khan asks the international community to engage with the Taliban

Islamabad [Pakistan]: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the international community to engage with the Taliban whose foreign assets have been frozen.
The Ashraf Ghani-led government in Afghanistan was overthrown in mid-August this year, and since then, the country is facing a severe financial crunch, with their foreign assets frozen, according to Geo TV. Earlier, Imran Khan said that humanitarian organisations wishing to work from Pakistan to support efforts in Afghanistan should be facilitated and that Islamabad had already committed to being the air and land bridge for humanitarian support to Kabul.
However, despite Imran Khan’s appeal, the latest report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Afghanistan shows concern about “conditional humanitarianism” or attempts to “leverage” humanitarian assistance for political purposes implying Pakistan’s motives.
Further, on December 19, Pakistan is hosting an extraordinary session of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Foreign Ministers in Islamabad and the issue of Afghanistan will be discussed in detail.

Virat Kohli becomes first player to win 50 international matches in each format

Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India]: Indian skipper Virat Kohli on Monday became the first player to record 50 international wins in each format of the game.
Kohli achieved the feat after India defeated New Zealand by 372 runs in the second Test of the two-match series here at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday. With this win, Team India is back to the number 1 spot in ICC Test rankings. The victory over New Zealand also means India sealed the two-match series 1-0, and now Kohli’s side will head to South Africa for three Tests and three ODIs, beginning December 26.
“Congratulations @imVkohli. The first player with 50 international wins in each format of the game,” BCCI tweeted.
Resuming Day 4 at 140/5, overnight batters Rachin Ravindra (18) and Henry Nicholls managed to add just 22 more runs to the total before the former was scalped by Jayant Yadav and the visitors were staring down the barrel, still needing 378 runs for a win with just four wickets in hand.
In his very next over, Jayant Yadav dismissed Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee and it seemed that the hosts would wrap up the match before the lunch break on Day 4.
The final two wickets also fell in quick succession and in the end, New Zealand was bowled out for 167, handing the hosts a 372-run win.

Amid Omicron scare, two international passengers test positive for COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu

Chennai (Tamil Nadu) [India] : A day after two cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant were detected in India, two international passengers, one each from the UK and Singapore tested positive for coronavirus in Tamil Nadu’s capital city Chennai, informed State Health Minister Ma. Subramanian on Friday.
“A passenger from Singapore at the Tiruchirappalli International Airport was found COVID positive and got admitted to a private hospital; samples have been sent for genome sequencing to Chennai and Bengaluru,” said Subramanian while addressing a press conference at Teynampet, Chennai on Friday. “Another passenger from the UK in Chennai was found COVID positive and is admitted to a special ward of the King Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chennai; samples have been sent for genome sequencing to Chennai and Bengaluru,” added the Tamil Nadu Health Minister.
Earlier on Thursday, Subramanian had said that staff at airports in Chennai, Madurai, and Coimbatore have started compulsory testing of passengers arriving from 11 ‘at risk’ countries in view of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
Speaking to ANI on Thursday, Subramanian had said, “The airports in Chennai, Madurai, and Coimbatore have started compulsory testing of passengers arriving from 11 ‘at risk’ countries where Omicron variant of coronavirus is spreading rapidly.”
Two cases of the new Omicron variant of Coronavirus have been detected in Karnataka, the Union Health Ministry said on Thursday.
A new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.
On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’. The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’.

Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered.

Nine international travellers test positive for COVID at Mumbai

Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India] : Nine international travellers, including one from South Africa, who arrived at Mumbai International Airport between November 10 – December 2 have tested positive for COVID-19, said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Friday.
The BMC has sent the samples of the patients for genome sequencing to find out if they are positive for the new COVID-19 variant Omicron. Meanwhile, the Centre on Thursday informed that two people have tested positive for the Omicron variant in Karnataka.
The new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.
On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’. The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’.
Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered.
The new Omicron coronavirus variant has been confirmed in 23 countries and their number is expected to rise, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said.
India has also added several countries to the list from where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in the country, including post-arrival testing for infection.

The first female chief economist in IMF history Gita Gopinath, promoted as IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director

Washington [US] : Indian-American Gita Gopinath, the chief economist of International Monetary Fund, is being promoted as IMF’s First Deputy Managing Director, the fund announced on Thursday.

She would replace Geoffrey Okamoto who plans to leave the Fund early next year. Gopinath, who was scheduled to return to her academic position at Harvard University in January 2022, has served as the IMF’s chief economist for three years. “Both Geoffrey and Gita are tremendous colleagues- I am sad to see Geoffrey go but, at the same time, I am delighted that Gita has decided to stay and accept the new responsibility of being our FDMD,” said Kristalina Georgieva, IMF’s Managing Director. Georgieva said Gopinath’s contribution to the Fund’s work has already been exceptional, especially her “intellectual leadership in helping the global economy and the Fund to navigate the twists and turns of the worst economic crisis of our lives.” She also said Gopinath- the first female chief economist in IMF history- has garnered respect and admiration across member countries and the institution with a proven track record in leading analytically rigorous work on a broad range of issues.

Under Gopinath’s leadership, the IMF’s Research Department had gone from “strength to strength,” particularly highlighting its contributions in multilateral surveillance via the World Economic Outlook, a new analytical approach to help countries respond to international capital flows (the integrated policy framework), and Gopinath’s recent work on a pandemic plan to end the COVID-19 crisis by setting targets to vaccinate the world at feasible cost, said the IMF’s Managing Director. “As the pandemic continues its grip on us, the work of the Fund has never been more critical and international cooperation never more important.I am very thankful to Kristalina and the Board for this opportunity, and so look forward to collaborating closely with all the incredibly brilliant and committed colleagues at the Fund, working with whom has been an absolute privilege,” Gopinath said.

CSA fully confident of hosting series in secure bio-environment

Cape Town [South Africa] : The Proteas men’s team has been part of no less than eight international cricket bio-secure environments (BSEs) in total – these have ranged from home tours against England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and most recently the Netherlands, to away tours to Pakistan, West Indies, Ireland, Sri Lanka and the ICC T20 World Cup in the United Arad Emirates (UAE) and Oman.
South Africa is slated to host India in three Tests, three ODIs and four T20Is with the tour to commence on December 17. According to the CSA’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Shuaib Manjra: “CSA has instituted world-class standards and measures to ensure that all players, staff and officials are protected within this environment. Our main focus was to safeguard the cricket biosphere by managing strict entry standards and limited movement outside of its cordon.”
Dr Manjra has emphasized that the BSE has met the highest standards set by the national government and CSA is continuously looking at ensuring that the management of the BSE is second to none in the world.
“What we have implemented at our BSE is a cordon sanitaire which offers full and continuous protection to all individuals who respect and abide by our very demanding guidelines and rules”, added Dr Manjra in an official release.
“Playing cricket in a BSE was a massive challenge for everyone involved in the game,” commented Proteas white-ball captain, Temba Bavuma.
“CSA has to be commended for the way that they have gone about the BSEs. It hasn’t been an easy year for us all. Being confined to a hotel room and being restricted from leaving the hotel and having the choice – in most places away from home – between your room and the team room and little access outside the hotel takes its toll, particularly for the all-format playing members of the team and management. I’m confident that our BSEs are of the highest safety standards and the protocols are set not only with everyone’s physical well-being, but mental health in mind,” he added.
Proteas Test captain, Dean Elgar echoed Bavuma’s sentiments, saying: “It’s hard to believe that we’ve been working in these BSE conditions for a year now, but anyone who has been affected, either directly or indirectly by the COVID-19 virus, knows that this is a necessity if we want to continue playing cricket.”
“It takes a toll on a player mentally and yet this team continues to produce good results and make progress – that’s something that I personally don’t think is being spoken about enough. The measures that have been put in place and the hotels have been chosen take into account the teams’ physical and mental health needs. We don’t know how much longer we’ll be operating like this, but it’s gratifying to know that when tours come around the health and safety of all involved is a top priority,” Elgar concluded.
Chairperson of the CSA Board, Lawson Naidoo commended the resilience and fortitude of the Proteas, saying: “The Proteas have endured difficult BSE conditions occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet their hunger to play the game and represent their country triumphed over all the discomfort. CSA is proud to have athletes of this calibre; those who are readily prepared to put the sport first. We accordingly thank the Proteas for their exemplary zeal and appreciate their sacrifices.”

COVID test mandatory for all international passengers arriving in state: Karnataka

Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India] : Minister of Health and Medical Education Dr K Sudhakar on Tuesday informed that international passengers arriving in Karnataka must undergo mandatory COVID-19 RT-PCR testing.
Speaking to the media after the technical advisory committee meeting, Dr K Sudhakar said, “A mandatory RTPCR test is being carried out for travellers from countries where the new virus is found. Chief Minister has instructed us to test travellers from any country.” Sudhakar informed that about 2,500 passengers come to the state every day, from various nations. Those who will be tested negative will be home quarantined for seven days. “Those who are symptomatic and negative will have to undergo testing at home on the fifth day. Asymptomatic will be tested on the seventh day. If positive, they will be immediately hospitalized. And they will be treated separately,” he added.
Covid’s new variant, the ‘Omicron’ virus has been found in 12 countries across the world. To prevent this variant, all necessary precautionary measures are being taken in the state.
Considering our population and health infrastructure, we need to be more careful than other countries, Dr Sudhakar said, “Preparations for the health care services including availability of beds, oxygen beds, deployment of doctors and personnel, supply of medicine were also discussed at the meeting. Those who have not got vaccination should voluntarily come forward and get vaccinated and stay safe. Suggestions regarding vaccine drive and measures to increase the numbers were discussed. 41 lakh people are slated to get a second dose of the Covid vaccine. Priority will be given to reach out to these people.”
“The central government is getting samples from all states. Every international passenger’s contacts are being tracked and tested”, the Minister said.
Sudhakar further informed that by using technology such as the ‘Quarantine’ App, ‘Tele Medicine’ are also being considered. “In addition, a panel of 10 experts has been set up to formulate separate guidelines for treatment”, Minister Sudhakar further added.

Seven-day quarantine must for all international passengers : Bengaluru

Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India] : After two South Africa-returnees tested positive for COVID-19 and amid increasing concern over the new variant ‘Omicron’, the Bengaluru airport has made seven days quarantine compulsory for all international passengers.
Addressing the media after inspecting Kannur International Airport Ltd (KIAL) airport yesterday, the Bengaluru Rural District Health Officer Tippeswamy said, “All international passengers who test negative for COVID-19 on arrival in Bengaluru will be put in quarantine for seven days. They will be tested again after seven days.” 598 such passengers are under surveillance, he informed.
Tippeswamy conducted a video conference with senior officials of the health and airport authorities and said that they are mainly checking the vaccination report, RT PCR test and Rapid antigen test reports of the passengers coming from high-risk countries.
“We are also conducting RT PCR test at the airport for the passengers arriving from high-risk countries. If they are found negative, then they will be suggested to home quarantine. If the passenger tests positive, they will be sent to a designated hospital for isolation,” he added.
The District Health Officer also informed that in view of the new variant, new guidelines are expected by today or tomorrow.
During the virtual discussion, as per Tippeswamy, they discussed the issue of passengers coming from Kerala and Maharastra to Bengaluru without RT-PCR test and vaccination report.
“We’ve already directed airlines to check reports compulsorily and not to allow anyone to travel without the report,” he said.
As per the Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar, the samples of one of the two passengers had tested positive for novel coronavirus which is “a little different from the Delta variant.”
While speaking to the media, Sudhakar said, “One is relatively better and the other, we are finding it a little different from Delta variant. We have sent the sample to the Centre’s lab. We are waiting for final inference.”
Meanwhile, in view of the new variant of COVID-19, the Dakshina Kannada district administration resumed the Covid screening at Talapady Checkpost, conducting RT-PCR tests of those arriving in the district from Kerala without COVID-19 negative report.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraja Bommai on Monday asked people not to panic about the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ and suggested following COVID-19 precautionary measures strictly.
Karnataka reported 315 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths in the past 24 hours.

Gujarat announces new rules for international flyers amid concerns over ‘Omicron’

Ahmedabad (Gujarat) [India]: Amid the rise in concern due to the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’, the Gujarat Government has mandated RT-PCR testing for travellers landing at the airport from Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier in the day, chaired a meeting with top officials on the COVID-19 situation and said that the country needs to be proactive in light of the new variant while laying emphasis on the precautions to contain the virus. PM Modi was briefed about the Covid-19 situation across the world, including the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’ along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries, as per the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
He further highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’. PM Modi also asked officials to review plans for easing international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.
This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel.
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, Principal Secretary to PM Modi, PK Mishra and NITI Aayog member (health) Dr VK Paul among others attended the meeting.

PM Narendra Modi lays foundation stone of Noida Jewar International Airport

Noida (Uttar Pradesh) [India] : Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday laid the foundation stone of Noida International Airport (NIA) in Jewar, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Uttar Pradesh.
The PM was accompanied by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia at the project site. “Noida International Airport will be a multi-modal connectivity hub. It will create employment opportunities for more than 1 lakh people. Soon we will see 17 airports including an international airport at Ayodhya in the state,” Scindia said.
The airport is being developed by Yamuna International Airport Private Limited (YIAPL), a 100 per cent subsidiary of the project’s Swiss concessionaire Zurich International Airport AG.
Yamuna International Airport Pvt Ltd (YIAPL) is developing Noida International Airport under the PPP model in close partnership with the Government of Uttar Pradesh and the Government of India.
With the construction of the airport, it is being expressed that the job opportunities will open in the state.
According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the International Airport near Jewar will be developed as an Aviation Hub which is conceived to provide all the modern, efficient and hi-tech facilities. The airport area when fully operational is expected to have Aero and Non-Aero activities along with MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) facilities.
The present project envisages an area of land requirement measuring 3500 acres. In the first phase of development, only 1327 hectares of land would be developed.
Noida International Airport is strategically located, which is at a road distance of about 72 km from IGI Airport, 40 km from Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad respectively, 28 km from Greater Noida, 65 km from Gurugram and 130 km from Agra.
“Noida and Delhi will be connected to the airport through hassle-free metro service. All major nearby roads and highways like the Yamuna Expressway, Western Peripheral Expressway, Eastern Peripheral Expressway, Delhi-Mumbai Expressway and others will be connected to the airport,” the ministry said.
The airport will also be linked to the planned Delhi-Varanasi High-Speed Rail, enabling the journey between Delhi and the airport in only 21 minutes
The airport will be the logistics gateway for North India. Owing to its scale and capacity, the Noida International Airport will prove to be a game-changer for the state.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the airport is strategically located and will serve the people of cities including Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Agra, Faridabad and neighbouring areas.
The projected cost of the proposed project is estimated at around Rs 15000- 20000 crore and the development of the first phase of the airport is being done at a cost of around Rs 10,050 crore.
The ministry further said that the airport will house two passenger terminals while adding that Terminal 1 will have a capacity of 30 million 10 passengers per year and Terminal 2 will have a capacity of 40 million passengers per year.
“Terminal 1 will be built in two stages – the first for 12 million passengers per year and the second with an additional capacity for 18 million passengers per year. This phase is scheduled to be completed by the year 2024. Terminal 2 will also be built in two stages – with a first stage capacity of 12 million passengers per year and second stage capacity of 18 million passengers per year,” it said.
This is one of the largest financings in an Indian greenfield airport. The financial close marks another crucial milestone for the project, bringing it closer to the start of construction works. The project is being funded on a debt-to-equity ratio of 65:35.
The work at the airport is scheduled to be completed by 2024.

International Flights Expected To Return To Normal By End Of Year: Centre

New Delhi [India] : International flight operations are expected to return to normal “by the end of the year”, Rajiv Bansal, the Aviation Ministry Secretary, was quoted by news agency PTI on Wednesday. All international flights (except those on repatriation missions and carrying essential goods, like medicines and food) were grounded in March last year, as the country went into a Covid lockdown. Restrictions were eased once the number of cases dropped and as vaccination coverage increased, with ‘air bubble’ arrangements negotiated with other countries. India currently has 25 such deals. Under an air bubble arrangement, international passenger flights can be operated by member countries’ respective carriers into each other’s territories, subject to certain conditions. He said that while the government was keen for things to return to normal, it would take measures to guard against a renewed wave of coronavirus infections, particularly since several major European nations have recorded frightening surge in daily new cases. “I am all for regaining our space in the civil aviation arena in the world and making a hub in India and for more wide body aircraft. We will get there but bear with me and trust me… I am on your side. We will work together but in a safe environment,” he said at a public event.

PM Modi to lay foundation stone of Noida International Airport

New Delhi [India] : Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone of the Noida International Airport (NIA) in Jewar, Gautam Buddha Nagar, Uttar Pradesh on November 25 at 1 pm.
According to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Uttar Pradesh will become the only state in India to have five international airports. The development of the airport is in line with the vision of the Prime Minister towards boosting connectivity and creating a future-ready aviation sector.
“A special focus of this grand vision has been on the state of Uttar Pradesh that is witnessing the development of multiple new international airports including the recently inaugurated Kushinagar airport and the under-construction international airport at Ayodhya,” it said.
This airport will be the second international airport to come up in Delhi NCR. It will help decongest the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport.
As per PMO, the airport is strategically located and will serve the people of cities including Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad, Aligarh, Agra, Faridabad and neighbouring areas.
The airport will be the logistics gateway of northern India. Due to its scale and capacity, the airport will be a game-changer for Uttar Pradesh. It will unleash the potential of Uttar Pradesh to the world, and help establish the state on the global logistics map.
It further said that for the first time, an airport in India has been conceptualised with an integrated multi-modal cargo hub, with a focus on reducing the total cost and time for logistics.
“The dedicated cargo terminal will have a capacity of 20 lakh metric tonne, which will be expanded to 80 lakh metric tonnes. Through facilitating the seamless movement of industrial products, the airport will play a crucial role in helping the region attract huge investments, boost rapid industrial growth, and enable the reach of local products to national and international markets. This will bring new opportunities for numerous enterprises, and also create tremendous employment opportunities,” the statement added.
The airport will develop a Ground Transportation Centre that will feature a multimodal transit hub, housing metro and high-speed rail stations, taxi, bus services and private parking.
This will enable seamless connectivity of the airport with the road, rail, and metro. Noida and Delhi will be connected to the airport through hassle-free metro service. All major nearby roads and highways like the Yamuna Expressway, Western Peripheral Expressway, Eastern Peripheral Expressway, Delhi-Mumbai Expressway and others will be connected to the airport.
The airport will also be linked to the planned Delhi-Varanasi High-Speed Rail, enabling the journey between Delhi and the airport in only 21 minutes.
The airport will also house a state-of-art Maintenance, Repair and Overhauling (MRO) Service.
The design of the airport is focused on low operating costs and seamless and fast transfer processes for passengers.
The airport is introducing a swing aircraft stand concept, providing flexibility for airlines to operate an aircraft for both domestic and international flights from the same contact stand, without having to re-position the aircraft. This will ensure quick and efficient aircraft turnarounds at the airport while ensuring a smooth and seamless passenger transfer process.
It will be India’s first net-zero emissions airport. It has earmarked dedicated land to be developed as a forest park using trees from the project site. NIA will preserve all native species and be nature positive throughout the development of the airport.
The development of the first phase of the airport is being done at a cost of over Rs 10,050 crore.
The airport is spread over more than 1300 hectares of land, the completed first phase of the airport will have a capacity to serve around 1.2 crore passengers a year and work on it is scheduled to be completed by 2024.
It will be executed by the international bidder Zurich Airport International AG as a concessionaire.
The groundwork for the first phase regarding land acquisition and rehabilitation of the affected families has been completed.

Taliban to appoint new envoys, officials to Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions abroad

Kabul [Afghanistan] : The Taliban on Monday said that new envoys and officials will be appointed to Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions abroad.
Inamullah Samangnai, the Deputy spokesman of the Islamic Emirate, said currently most of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions abroad are run by envoys appointed by the former government. He said the Islamic Emirate is in contact with the Afghanistan embassies abroad. “Soon activities will improve, and some people will be introduced instead of those who are not present and have left their jobs. Or, some people who are a better alternative will be introduced in embassies and consulates,” he said.
Meanwhile, a number of former diplomats said the appointment of ambassadors to Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions by the Taliban is not possible, unless the international community recognizes the Islamic Emirate, reported Tolo News.
“Appointing new people to the diplomatic missions is not possible unless the Taliban government is recognized by the countries in which they want to appoint new people,” said Shukria Barakzai, the former Afghan ambassador to Norway.
“If (Kabul) does not have good political relations with those embassies, those embassies cannot do their jobs properly because they need a budget for the salaries of their staff and for the expenses of the embassies,” said Ahmad Khan Andar, a political activist.
Ten countries have opened their embassies in Kabul, but the Islamic Emirate has only appointed new diplomats in Afghanistan’s embassy in Pakistan, reported Tolo News.

Brazil currently has no immediate plans to join OPEC

Brasilia [Brazil] : Brazil does not plan to join the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at the moment, but is determined to interact with it in the format of cooperation, Brazilian Minister of Mines and Energy Bento Costa Lima Albuquerque said on Wednesday.
“At the moment there are no plans to join OPEC. But we continue to work with them in the format of cooperation,” the minister said on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference. He stressed that Brazil is the seventh largest oil producer and exporter in the world.
“Therefore, we decided that we must have good relations with OPEC and OPEC+,” the minister added.
In October 2019, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that he would like to see his country in OPEC. In his opinion, Brazil has capacity to join the organization, since there are large oil reserves on its territory. However, such statements have not been followed through.

First SAI Institutional Awards

New Delhi [India] : A total of 162 athletes and 84 coaches were conferred with awards in the Outstanding Award and Best Award category for their performance in national and international competitions on Wednesday.
The first-ever SAI Institutional Awards for Athletes and Coaches were given out by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) on Wednesday, in the presence of the Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Anurag Thakur and Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Nisith Pramanik. The athletes and coaches were given cash awards amounting to a total of Rs 85.02 lakhs during the ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here.
According to a statement, the awards acknowledged the exceptional performance of the SAI athletes and coaches under the various sports promotion schemes at the national and international level from 2016. The awards thus have been granted to the deserving candidates for the years of 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Praising the award winners, Anurag Thakur said, “I heartily congratulate all athletes and coaches who have been awarded today. Sports is very close to the heart of our Hon’ble PM Shri Narendra Modi ji and taking his vision forward, a host of facilities are being extended to athletes. Every athlete is an inspiration for his generation.”
The Sports Minister also spoke about the importance of sports being an integral part of the National Education Policy. “When the sporting achievements of a student are announced in his or her school, it inspires other students to look beyond just academics and include sports in their life.”
“That is the power of an athlete. I am also glad that sport has become an integral part of the National Education Policy and therefore is a part of every student’s life now,” Anurag Thakur added.
The categories of awards were Outstanding Award (for National level achievements) and Best Award (for International level achievements). The selection committee comprised senior SAI officials as well as eminent sportspersons, who streamlined the nominations received from the Regional Directors of the various SAI National Centres of Excellence.
The awardees have also been given a special tailor-made blazer along with a citation.

Healthy US-China relations imperative for effective response to global challenges: Xi at virtual Summit

Beijing [China] : Healthy and stable relations between China and the United States are imperative to maintain a stable international environment and effectively respond to global challenges, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday during a virtual summit with US President Joe Biden.
“A healthy and sustainable relationship between China and the United States is essential to advance the development of the two countries and ensure a peaceful and stable international environment, including an effective response to global challenges such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sputnik reported quoting Chinese Foreign Ministry reported. Xi Jinping expressed his readiness to work with US President Joe Biden to build consensus to move China-US relations forward, adding that both the countries are at critical stages of development and the “global village” of humanity faces multiple challenges.

Xi made these remarks during his highly-anticipated virtual meeting with Biden, where the latter is expected to “raise concerns” over Beijing’s actions and “insist the communist regime play by the rules of the road”.

During his opening remarks, Xi stressed that a sound and steady China-US relationship is required for advancing the two countries’ respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment, including finding effective responses to global challenges such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
China and the US should respect each other, co-exist in peace, and pursue win-win cooperation, he said.
Xi also expressed his readiness to work with Biden to build consensus and take active steps to move China-US relations forward in a positive direction. Doing so will advance the interests of the two peoples and meet the expectation of the international community, he said.
In the very beginning of his remark, Chinese Xi said, “Although we can’t see each other face to face, this is not bad, either. I feel very happy to see my old friend.” Biden nodded and said, “Thank you”.
The US President opened the virtual summit noting that both have “spent an awful lot of time talking to each other” over the years, and “maybe I should start more formally even though you and I have never been that formal.”
This is the first meeting between the two leaders since Biden has assumed office. Although both have spoken twice over the phone so far. 

TerraPay partners with MTN Mobile Money Uganda Limited to aid real-time international money transfers into key international corridors

The Hague [Netherland] : TerraPay, a global payments infrastructure company, today announced its association with MTN Mobile Money Uganda Limited, a leading telecom operator in Uganda and part of the MTN Group.
The partnership will enable MTN Mobile Money Uganda Limited in facilitating international digital cross border remittances and speedy money transfers to beneficiaries in regions such as India and China. Since 2020, TerraPay has been offering inbound remittances to MTN Mobile Money Uganda Limited’s mobile wallets. In its drive to build global payments highways that interconnect mobile wallets and banks across the world, TerraPay aims to cultivate inclusivity, independence, digital mobility and empowerment amongst everyone, with the additional outbound remittance channels now opened up.
Speaking on the occasion, Willie Kanyeki, Regional Director, East and Southern Africa, TerraPay said, “Since last year, TerraPay has partnered with MTN Mobile Money Uganda Limited as a digital payments infrastructure company equipped to deliver inbound cross-border payments to mobile wallets in the East African region. Now, with the expanded partnership, we will be facilitating outbound international remittance payment to countries such as India and China. Beneficiaries, including friends and family of migrants across these countries will now have access to assured, real time and convenient, small value ticket remittances channels connecting our global network of 4Bn+ Bank Accounts and 1.5Bn+ Mobile Wallets.
Commenting on the partnership, Stephen Mutana, MTN Mobile Money Uganda Ag. Chief Executive Officer said: “This partnership is a true testimony of our MTN Group platform strategy of building strong ecosystems through partnerships and we will continue to invest in expanding the reach of our platform to consumers and businesses beyond Uganda because we believe that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life.”
“We further believe that mobile money transfers should not be limited to borders and the winner in all this, is the MTN Mobile Money customer who will experience a seamless user experience sending and receiving money from China and India, directly on their mobile phones.”
Stephen went on to explain that MTN Mobile Money has been at the forefront of driving financial inclusion in Uganda. The popularity of mobile money transfer services continues to rise amongst Uganda’s social and business population. This is largely supported by the increasing adoption of mobile payments as well as an increasing need for cashless transactions.
TerraPay’s best-in-class interoperability engine and scalable and agile technological prowess will aid partners and their customers and businesses to send and receive payments on a fully regulated, scalable, secure, transparent, and efficient platform.
The Company has established itself as a global Partner to leading banks, money Transfer operators, mobile wallet operators and financial Institutions to facilitate digital transactions without borders.
As a B2B company, TerraPay partners with other businesses and helps them leverage its agile, secure, and scalable technology platform to enhance their customer proposition for remittances, payments, and cross border spends. TerraPay has footprints in over 94 countries around the world.

Imran Khan govt again plans to increase petroleum prices

Islamabad [Pakistan] : Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government has again expressed the intention to increase the petroleum development levy on petroleum products in the coming days amid condemnation by the Opposition parties after a recent hike in prices of petroleum products.
“The International Monetary Fund [IMF] has also asked to increase the petroleum development levy [PDL] but it will depend on the global prices of petroleum products,” Geo News quoted Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Shaukat Tarin on Saturday. “If the global price of oil goes down, it will be easy for the government to increase the PDL,” Tarin said, adding that the prices of petroleum products were increased because they were directly linked with the international market, where the prices touched their peak in the last several years, Geo News reported.
Earlier on Friday, Imran Khan led-government had increased petroleum prices by up to Pakistani Rupees 8.14 per litre,
Meanwhile, Imran Khan on Wednesday announced “country’s biggest-ever” subsidy package worth Rs 120 billion, providing a 30 per cent discount on ghee, flour and pulses to support 130 million people by ebbing away from the impact of inflation.
Shortly after Khan’s announcement opposition leaders had criticised the move and had called it an “acceptance of the government’s failure” and “nothing but a joke”, said the Pakistani publication.
Taking to Twitter, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had said that the PM’s package is “too little for 200 million people,” Geo News reported.
Following suit, former senator and PPP leader Sherry Rehman had termed PM Imran Khan’s address to the nation a “bizarre speech”, and called the premier the “Blame Minister of Pakistan”.

G20 leaders have reached historic agreement for effective international tax system, says Italian PM

Rome [Italy]: Leaders of G20 nations have reached an “historic agreement” for a fairer and more effective international tax system that would set a 15 per cent global minimum corporate tax.
“We reached a historic agreement for a fairer and more effective international tax system,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at the opening of the G20 summit on Saturday. The OECD had finalised a major reform of the international tax system earlier this month under which Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) will be subject to a minimum 15 per cent tax rate from 2023. The deal was agreed by 136 countries and jurisdictions representing more than 90 per cent of global GDP.
The global minimum tax seeks to block corporations from moving jobs or profits overseas in order to avoid paying taxes.
According to Hill, the agreement would set a 15 per cent global minimum corporate tax rate that administration officials say would generate $60 billion or more in additional revenue annually in the U.S. alone.
The first session of the G20 Rome Summit kicked off on Saturday as world leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi gathered to discuss the global economy and health
Over the next two days, the heads of state and government of the world’s major economies, together with invited countries and representatives of international and regional organizations, will address several key topics of the global agenda. Finance Ministers traditionally attend the event as well.
Draghi said in his opening remarks that “multilateralism is the best answer” to deal with the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic across the world.
“The pandemic has kept us apart. Earlier we have faced protectionism, unilateralism, nationalism, but the more we go with all our challenges, the more it is clear the multilateralism is the best answer to the problem we face today,” he said.
“In many ways, it (multilateralism) is the only possible answer from the pandemic to climate change to fair and equitable taxation, going it alone is simply not an option. We must do what we all can do to overcome our differences. We must recall the spirit that led to the creation of this group,” he added.
The Italian Prime Minister said that almost two years since the start of the pandemic, “we can finally look at the future with some optimism”.
“Successful vaccination campaigns and coordinated actions from government and central banks have allowed the global economy to rebound,” he said.

UN expresses concerns over Sudan coup reports, calls for the immediate release of detained

The United Nations on has expressed concern over reports of a military coup in Sudan and has called on the security forces of the North African country to “immediately” release those reported to have been detained.

Khartoum [Sudan] : A statement issued by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Sudan, Volker Perthes on Monday said: “I am very concerned about reports of an ongoing coup and attempts to undermine the political transition in Sudan. The prolonged detentions of the Prime Minister, government officials and politicians are reportedly unacceptable.” According to various media outlets, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has been put under house arrest after an unidentified military force besieged his house early on Monday. Citing Arab News daily, Sputnik reported that four of Sudan’s cabinet ministers and one civilian representative of the Sovereign Council were also arrested in the early hours of Monday.
Volker appealed to the security forces to immediately release the detained ones.
“I call on the security forces to immediately release those who have been unlawfully detained or placed under house arrest. It is the responsibility of these forces to ensure the security and safety of the persons in their custody,” he tweeted.
He further urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint and return to dialogue.
“I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint. All parties should immediately return to dialogue and participate in good faith to restore constitutional order,” Volker Perthes tweeted.
Earlier, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a coalition of labour unions opposed to the country’s military issued a statement calling on people to occupy the streets and declare “a state of resistance and civil disobedience.”
Khartoum police deployed teargas against demonstrators demanding a transfer of power from the military to the civilian government on Sunday, according to a Sputnik correspondent.
The term of the eleven-member transitional Sovereign Council of Sudan expires next month. After that, the military council is to transfer power to the civilian government.

Taliban warns Pakistan International Airlines to reduce fares or face ban

Kabul [Afghanistan]: The Taliban has warned the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Afghanistan’s Kam Air to reduce the fares of Kabul to Islamabad flights or they would be banned from landing in Afghanistan, local media reported on Friday.
“Pakistan’s PIA and Afghanistan’s Kam Air will be banned to conduct flights from Kabul to Islamabad if they do not charge the same price as they did prior to their takeover,” Khaama Press reported citing Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Administration statement. The statement said: “Airlines will be fined and punished if they violate the rules.”
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan warned the Airlines after PIA started charging up to USD 2,500 for each ticket from Kabul to Islamabad, the publication reported.
The statement has also asked people to cooperate with the administration in reporting violation of the new rules. They have asked people to report the documented violation to them, Khaama Press reported.
Meanwhile, it has been almost two months since the Taliban captured Kabul after an aggressive and rapid advance against Afghanistan government forces after the US military drawdown.

National Identity Card centres to reopen in Afghanistan

Kabul [Afghanistan] : The National Statistics and Information Authority in Afghanistan said that electronic National Identity Card (eNIC) centres are going to reopen across the country on Wednesday.
This comes after the recent announcement by the Taliban to issue and distribute national identity cards. In the first step, about 30,000 identity cards that were already created would be distributed to Afghan nationals, said NSIA officials, TOLOnews reported.
“30,000 identity cards have been printed and are ready to be distributed. The process will begin on Wednesday,” said Yousuf Ahadi, who is in charge of information technology at the NSIA.
According to TOLOnews, many local residents said they need ID cards for numerous reasons.
Shabir Ahmad, a Kabul resident said that he wants to travel abroad in order to get medical attention for a family member.
Shabir Ahmad said: “We seriously need ID cards. Everyone needs to take their patients abroad. Having ID cards is necessary for getting a passport.”
Hasamudin, a resident emphasised the need to open ID centres before the reopening of Passport centres.
“Before the reopening of the passport department, it was necessary that ID centres be opened. People have many problems that are related to the opening of the ID card centre, “Hasamudin said.
According to NSIA, 104 centres are present for the distribution of ID cards in Afghanistan, including 25 in Kabul.
This comes as thousands of people are waiting to get their passports and national IDs.
The process of issuing passports and national IDs to Afghans were halted after the fall of the previous government (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) and the Taliban taking over the country on August 15.

Political Activism, British MPs operate from behind veil of charity

London [UK] : According to an expert, some British Parliamentarians are getting paid to frame the Kashmir issue during debates about the region. Italian political advisor Sergio Restelli in his writing for the news website InsideOver, claimed that British MPs get paid for spewing “venom” against New Delhi . They get paid either in terms of votes or sketchy donations or all-expenses-paid trips funded by the Pakistan government. Far from being hauled up for financial gain in exchange for pushing the agenda of their benefactors, Restelli stated that such behaviour is condoned and pushed under the carpet.
While naming British MP Debbie Abrahams, who was deported from India in 2011, the Italian political advisor explained that some British MPs deliberately bring up the rights issue of selective areas.
“Who can take exception to such high principles that the Hon. Abrahams espoused? The only problem is that for the MP in question, human rights are not universal.”
Since 2011, Abrahams has raised the issue of Kashmir on more than 20 occasions and in various formats in the British Parliament.
“But how many times has she spoken about the genocide of Uyghur Muslims in China or the horrible human rights situation in Balochistan where thousands have been killed and thousands more subjected to “enforced disappearances” by the Pakistani authorities? Restelli asked.
Following the deportation from India, Abrahams went on a fully-funded trip to Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
According to official papers, after the trip on March 20, 2020, she declared that the Pakistan High Commission paid £15,590 for her trip, along with two staffers.
“Interestingly, on exactly the same dates 6 more MPs who also visited PoK were part of the same delegation (all paid for by the Pakistan High Commission) and they declared that the total cost was £2290. The math does not make sense, does it?”
Predictably, four of the six MPs who visited PoK also “spouted venom against New Delhi” in the Kashmir debate.
The political advisor also named another British MP Angela Rayner, who is reportedly connected to a clear quid pro quo between the ‘donations’ made by British Pakistani businessmen with the Pakistani government and Pakistan’s intelligence agency ISI.
Sergio Restelli asked why in the face of profuse evidence of Pak connection in buying influence in the UK is being tolerated by the British authorities?
He further asked why such “open purchase of MPs by Pakistan is being allowed so blatantly?”

Russia records 18,856 COVID-19 cases in past 24 hours

Moscow [Russia]: Russia registered 18,856 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, down from 18,985 the day before, bringing the overall tally to 6,975,174, the country’s response center said on Friday.

“Over the past day, 18,856 COVID-19 cases were confirmed across 85 Russian regions, including 1,336 cases (7.1%) without clinical symptoms,” the center said, adding that the rate of increase stands at 0.27%.
Moscow has the highest number of new cases with 1,633 daily infections, down from 1,864 the day before. The Russian capital was followed by St. Petersburg with 1,437 new cases, up from 1,330, and the Moscow region with 681 new cases, up from 614.

The response center reported 799 new deaths linked to the coronavirus, up from 798 the day before, raising the country’s death toll to 185,611.

In the same 24 hours, 18,690 COVID-19 patients were discharged from hospitals across the country, up from 18,669 the day before, bringing the total to 6,236,738. (ANI/Sputnik)

United Kingdom in talks with Taliban over further evacuations

It comes after Taliban pledge to allow further departures. As per an official statement by the UK govt, over 17,000 people had been evacuated by the UK from Afghanistan so far

London, UK, September 1 : The UK is reportedly in talks with the Taliban over furthering the evacuation process and securing a safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals and Afghans who remain there.

“The Prime Minister’s special representative for Afghan transition, Simon Gass, has travelled to Doha and is meeting with senior Taliban representatives to underline the importance of safe passage out of Afghanistan for British nationals, and those Afghans who have worked with us over the past 20 years,” the BBC quoted a government spokesman as saying.

It comes after a Taliban pledge to allow further departures. As per an official statement by the UK government, over 17,000 people had been evacuated by the UK from Afghanistan so far, including over 5,000 UK nationals.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Taliban deployed its special forces at the Kabul airport hours after the last batch of US troops left Afghanistan.

The final evacuation flight of the US was conducted in the last hours of Monday night, airlifting their military and non-military personnel back home, one day before the August 31 deadline.

The British troops had left the country over the weekend. The Taliban have promised those with authorisation will be allowed to leave the country.

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Louisiana reports first death due to Hurricane Ida

Washington, Aug 30: The first death caused by Hurricane Ida has occurred in the US state of Louisiana, the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office (APSO) informed on Monday.

According to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC), Ida weakened to a Category 2 storm on Sunday, but still poses danger with maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour) reported in Louisiana.

North Korea appears to have restarted its nuclear reactor: UN

Pyongyang, Aug 30(UNI) According to the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) North Korea has secretly restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, a report by the UN atomic agency said here on Sunday.

The agency said that the reactor is believed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, the BBC reported here on Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was expelled by Pyongyang in 2009 and relies on satellite imagery to carry out its assessments.

Its latest report said there were indications of activity “consistent with the operation of the reactor” since early July.

Turkey withdraw from Women’s T20 WC Europe Qualifer

Dubai, Aug 25: The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Wednesday confirmed that Turkey have withdrawn from the Women’s T20 World Cup Europe Qualifier as the necessary approval and travel documentation required due to COVID-19 restrictions for the team was not able to be secured from the Turkish Sports Ministry.
The event due to start on Thursday in La Manga, Spain will now see the Qualifier be played as five-team tournament with a revised fixture.
”It is with great regret that Turkey will not be taking part in the Europe Qualifier at La Manga. We have been in communication with the Federation over the past month to provide any assistance to secure their arrival into Spain in time for the event and would like to thank the Federation for their efforts in trying to secure the documentation,” said Andy Wright, ICC Regional Development Manager – Europe in a statement.
”We have worked closely with the remaining participating teams and the event will now be played as a five-team tournament. We are looking forward to seeing play getting underway tomorrow in what is still set to be a very competitive event,” he added.
The revised fixtures are:
August 26, 2021 – Netherlands v Scotland (10:30); Ireland v Germany (10:30); France v Netherlands
August 27, 2021 – Germany v France (10:30); Ireland v Scotland (10:30); Netherlands v Germany
August 28, 2021 – Rest Day
August 29, 2021 – France v Ireland (10:30); Scotland v Germany
August 30, 2021 – Netherlands v Ireland (10:30); Scotland v France

Massive A74 iceberg, nearly the size of Greater London, brushes past the Antarctic coast

Many thought a big nudge from the passing A74 iceberg might be the event that made it all happen. But it didn’t; or at least, it hasn’t happened yet.

A massive iceberg, nearly the size of Greater London, has brushed past the coast of Antarctica. The A-74 iceberg has been floating in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea and has remained close to the shelf due to ocean currents that spun it around the western tip of Brunt. According to the details, the A74 iceberg is made just a faint contact with the coast, with reports saying it would probably have knocked off a similarly sized iceberg had it been any firmer. 

Scientists in the United Kingdom have been keeping a close watch on the icy liaison because one of their bases is nearby. 

According to a report , Dr. Ollie Marsh from the British Antarctic Survey said they’ve been monitoring the situation very closely for the past six months because A74 has been drifting around in the same kind of area.

“But then there were some really strong easterly winds and these seemed to trigger a rapid movement in A74 that saw it scrape along the edge of the western Brunt,” he said. 

The Brunt is what’s called an ice shelf. It’s an amalgam of glacier ice that has flowed off the land and floated out to sea.

It’s still attached to the train of ice behind – but only just. An enormous crack, called Chasm 1, has opened up in recent years in the shelf’s far-western sector. An area measuring some 1,700 sq km is on the verge of breaking free.

Many thought a big nudge from the passing A74 iceberg might be the event that made it all happen. But it didn’t; or at least, it hasn’t happened yet.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) has captured radar images of the movement of the iceberg, which is 1,270 square kilometres in size. 

The iceberg remains attached in the vicinity of McDonald Ice Rumples, where the ice shelf is grounded on the seabed amid reports of minor impact.

Sending troops to Afghanistan not in Russia’s interests: Deputy Foreign Minister

Moscow, Aug 23: Russia has no plans of sending a military contingent to Afghanistan and the Taliban is in no need of military support, Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Oleg Syromolotov told Sputnik.
“Such phrasing of the question is not relevant,” Syromolotov said when asked about the possibility of Russia sending troops to Afghanistan. “Such a step would not be in our interests. In addition, the new Afghan authorities have started to restore order in the country and do not need anyone’s military support,” he added.
The Taliban entered Kabul on August 15. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani resigned and fled the country to prevent what he described as bloodshed that would occur if the militants had to fight for the city.
The chief of the political office of the Taliban, Abdul Ghani Baradar, will likely announce the decision concerning the structure of the future Afghan government over the next two weeks, a source in the Taliban told Sputnik on Saturday.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper that there are no prerequisites for the entry of a Russian military contingent into Afghanistan, and Moscow plans to focus primarily on political and diplomatic efforts to establish an intra-Afghan dialogue and facilitate a peaceful resolution of all the problems Afghanistan currently faces.

Malaysia reports 22,262 new COVID-19 cases, 223 more deaths

Kuala Lumpur [Malaysia], August 21: Malaysia reported another 22,262 new COVID-19 infections, the health ministry said on Saturday, bringing the national total to 1,535,286.
Health Ministry Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a press statement that 40 of the new cases are imported and 22,222 are local transmissions. Another 223 more deaths have been reported, bringing the death toll to 13,936.
Some 18,576 patients have been released after recovery, bringing the total number of cured and discharged to 1,260,470, or 82.1 percent of all cases.
Of the remaining 260,880 active cases, 1,035 are being held in intensive care units and 513 of those are in need of assisted breathing.

Curfew imposed on parts of Australia’s Sydney with lockdown extended one more month

Sydney, Aug 20: Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW), epicentre of the country’s current COVID outbreak, announced Friday to extend the lockdown on Greater Sydney until the end of September and to impose curfew on some areas of concern.

For residents and businesses in the local government areas of concern, the curfew will be introduced from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time except for authorised workers, emergencies or medical care from Monday Aug. 23. Outdoor exercise will be limited to one hour per day.

In Greater Sydney, mask wearing will be mandatory when the residents are outside home, except when exercising, from Monday Aug. 23.

The current lockdown on Greater Sydney and surrounding areas, that is scheduled to end on Aug. 28, will be extended until the end of September.

The announcement came after the state recorded 644 new locally acquired cases and four deaths in the past 24 hours to 8 p.m. Thursday local time.

There have been 10,582 locally acquired cases reported in NSW since June 16, when the first case in this outbreak was reported, accounting roughly one-fourth of Australia’s total COVID-19 cases since the initial outbreak early last year.

World cannot remain indifferent to asymmetrical threats faced by UN peacekeepers: India at UN

United Nations, Aug 18: India on Wednesday said that with UN peacekeepers being faced with more asymmetrical threats in their line of duty in countries, the world body cannot remain indifferent to the dangers they face, and announced that it is supporting the UN in the rollout of the UNITE Aware platform to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, chairing the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Technology and Peacekeeping, during India’s month-long presidency, also announced four points for the protection of UN peacekeepers.

“Since deploying for the first time in 1948, UN peacekeeping missions continue to operate in a variety of challenging settings. This could involve armed groups, non-state actors and terrorists,” he said.

“Because the nature of peacekeeping missions and their attendant threats have become more complex, it is vital that our capabilities to secure the peacekeepers keep pace.

“We owe it to them to ensure that our protective efforts meet the highest standards,” Jaishankar said.

He said the 21st-century peacekeeping must be anchored in a strong ecosystem of technology and innovation that can facilitate UN peacekeeping operations in implementing their mandates in complex environments.

He also said that India has provided 2,00,000 doses of Covid vaccines for UN Peacekeeping personnel worldwide.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce that India is supporting the UN in rollout of the UNITE Aware Platform across select peacekeeping missions. It is based on the expectation that a peacekeeping operation can be visualized, coordinated and monitored on real time basis,” he said.

The four points he outlined included the need to focus on proven, cost effective and field serviceable technology. Agile manoeuvrability of assets, that should be environment friendly, and the need of sound intelligence and sharing of data that will help in precise positioning of troops,

UN pledges continued Humanitarian support for Haiti after earthquake : Guterres

Moscow, Aug 18: The United Nations will continue to provide aid for Haitians affected by the devastating earthquake, including medical support and emergency shelter, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.

“My message to the people of Haiti: You are not alone. We stand by your side in these trying times. The @UN continues to assist those affected by Saturday’s deadly earthquake with humanitarian aid, including medical supplies & health care, clean water, emergency shelter & more,” Guterres wrote on Twitter.

On Monday, the UN allocated $8 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to support the humanitarian response in Haiti.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti on Saturday, claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 people. On Monday, the Haitian government declared three days of national mourning for the disaster’s victims.

US has moved over 3,000 Afghans in past three days – UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield

United Nations, Aug 18: The United States in the past three days has taken out of Afghanistan more than 3,000 Afghans who were in danger, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

“You know, we are working around the clock to get vulnerable Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan out of Afghanistan. We have secured the airport and we are getting planes out 24 hours a day,” Thomas-Greenfield told CNN in an interview.

“In the past three days we’ve moved more than 3,000 people, and we will continue to take people out who are vulnerable as quickly as we possibly can until we finish the job,” she said.

On August 15, the Taliban (terrorist group, banned in Russia) completed their takeover of Afghanistan by entering Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country to prevent what he described as bloodshed that would occur if militants had to fight for the city. Most countries have reduced or evacuated their diplomatic missions in the Central Asian country following the events.

Trump compares US expenses for operation in Afghanistan with Russia’s military budget

Washington, Aug 18: Former US President Donald Trump compared the annual state expenses for operation in Afghanistan with the Russian military budget.

“We were spending $42 billion a year. Think of it, 42 billion. I understand Russia spends $50 billion a year for their entire military, we are spending $42 billion,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

“And we get nothing,” he said.

On August 15, the Taliban (terrorist group, banned in Russia) completed their takeover of Afghanistan by entering Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani left the country to prevent what he described as bloodshed that would occur if militants had to fight for the city. Most countries have reduced or evacuated their diplomatic missions in the Central Asian country following the events.

On this day in 2008: Virat Kohli made his international debut

New Delhi [India]: Thirteen years ago on this day (August 18), skipper Virat Kohli took his first steps on the international stage as he made his ODI debut for India.
However, his stint at the crease was short-lived as Kohli scored just 12 runs in his first international match. Kohli had opened the batting India, and he faced 22 balls and batted for 33 minutes at the crease before Sri Lankan bowler Nuwan Kulasekara dismissed him in the eight over.
The MS Dhoni-led side was bundled out for 146 in this particular match as Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan both picked three wickets each.
Sri Lanka chased down the target with 91 balls to spare and defeated India by eight wickets. Kohli had to wait for 14 matches for his first century, and he finally breached the 100-run mark against Sri Lanka at Kolkata in 2009.
He went on to play a knock of 109 and this century was the first of many. To date, Kohli has registered 43 tons in ODIs and has established his image as one of the finest run-chasers in the history of cricket.
The India skipper has played 254 ODIs so far, in which he has scored 12,169 runs at an average of 59.07 with his highest score being 183 against Pakistan. The right-handed batsman is in second place, only behind legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar in the list for most hundreds in ODI cricket.

Airport of Kabul resumes commercial flights – Pentagon

Washington, Aug 16: The international airport of Kabul has resumed commercial flights suspended over the seizure of the city by the Taliban Islamist movement (banned in Russia), Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told Sputnik.

“US Forces have now assumed responsibilities for air traffic control at the airport, supported by Afghan counterparts. Commercial traffic continues, though it has experienced some sporadic stoppages and delay,” Kirby said on late Sunday.

On Sunday, the Taliban entered Kabul, after which President Ashraf Ghani announced resignation and left the country. Ghani said his decision was dictated by the desire to prevent violence as the militants were ready to carry out an attack on the capital.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said that the movement had put an end to the 20-year war in the country

Another 5.8 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti

Moscow, Aug 15 : A new 5.8 magnitude earthquake has hit Haiti, a day after a more powerful deadly tremor, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said on Sunday.

The earthquake was registered at 03:20 GMT, with the epicenter located 41 kilometers (25 miles) northwestern of the southern city of Les Cayes at a depth of 30 kilometers.

On Saturday, Haiti faced a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that left more than 300 people dead and over 1,800 more injured.

60 Taliban terrorists killed in Afghan air force airstrikes

Kabul [Afghanistan]: At least 60 Taliban terrorists were killed in airstrikes conducted by the Afghan Air Force (AAF) in Dihdadi district of the country’s Balkh province, informed the Afghanistan Ministry of Defense on Saturday.


“60 Taliban terrorists were killed in airstrikes conducted by AAF in Dihdadi district of Balkh province, yesterday. Also, 40 motorbikes, a large amount of their weapons & amos (ammunition) were destroyed,” Ministry of Defense, Afghanistan tweeted. Afghanistan is witnessing a surge in violence as the Taliban has intensified its offensive against Afghan forces and civilians with the complete pullback of foreign forces just a few weeks away.


Earlier on Friday, the UN had said Afghans displaced by fighting are streaming into Kabul and other large cities.


“Due to the conflict that we’re seeing across the country, many people are arriving in Kabul and other large cities, trying to seek safety for themselves and for their families,” said Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.


The United Nations and its humanitarian partners verified 10,350 internally displaced people arriving in Kabul between July 1 and Thursday, Dujarric said.


Due to mounting offensive by the Taliban, the terrorist group has managed to get hold of half of the country’s 34 provincial capitals and now control roughly two-thirds of Afghanistan, with the complete pullback of foreign troops just two weeks away.


Meanwhile, Pentagon said it is “certainly concerned” by rapid the Taliban advances in Afghanistan, adding that the terror group is trying to isolate Kabul as they have “taken over border crossing, highways, and major intersections to control lines of communication and revenue”.

Libya releases 84 Nigerian inmates

Tripoli, Aug 14: The Libyan Ministry of Justice said Friday that it had released 84 inmates, along with their children, and had deported them back to their country, Nigeria.

“The deportation was carried out by the team tasked with following up all the legal procedures of those who were released by court orders, whether they are illegal migrants or criminally convicted,” the Ministry said in a statement.

The deportation was done in presence of both countries’ officials.

US FDA allows emergency use of 3rd dose of COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people

Washington, Aug 13: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of a third dose of both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines against COVID-19 for immunocompromised people.
“The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease. After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said on late Thursday, as quoted by the body’s statement.
“Today’s action allows doctors to boost immunity in certain immunocompromised individuals who need extra protection from COVID-19. As we’ve previously stated, other individuals who are fully vaccinated are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine at this time,” Woodcock added.

Philippines extends travel ban on India, 9 other countries as Delta variant spreads

Manila, Aug 13: The Philippines has extended its travel ban for all inbound travelers from India and nine other countries to Aug 31 as Delta variant cases rise across the country, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Friday.

The Delta variant has spread in the Philippines, where 627 cases have been reported, including 11 deaths.

Aside from India where the Delta variant was first detected, the Philippines also banned travelers from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, where the variant has spread.

However, the country allows returning overseas Filipino workers under its repatriation program, but they will be isolated for 14 days upon the arrival.

The Philippines is grappling with soaring COVID-19 infections fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, prompting the government to reimpose a hard lockdown in Metro Manila and other regions.

The Philippines now has more than 1.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 29,539 deaths.

Moldova intends to intensify contacts with Russia to strengthen dialogue: President Sandu

Chisinau, Aug 12: Moldovan President Maia Sandu, after a meeting with Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Dmitry Kozak, said she intends to intensify bilateral contacts with Russia to strengthen dialogue between the countries.
Kozak arrived in Chisinau on a working visit on Wednesday. He has met with Sandu, Foreign Minister Nicolae Popescu and other officials.
“We have an extensive bilateral agenda with the Russian Federation and many topics of mutual interest to our states and citizens. We discussed them at today’s meeting and are ready to continue their detailed consideration, including through the intensification of bilateral contacts,” Sandu wrote on his Facebook page after the meeting with Kozak.

Belarus proposes to US to reduce embassy staff until September 1 – Foreign Ministry

Minsk, Aug 11: The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has proposed to the United States to reduce the number of its embassy staff to five people until September 1, the ministry’s spokesman, Anatoly Glaz, told Sputnik on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, the US imposed new sanctions against Belarus, and Minsk vowed to evaluate possible response measures.
“Our response to their unfriendly and even aggressive actions was reported to the American side today at the Foreign Ministry during a meeting with Charge d’Affaires Ruben Harutunian … Amid Washington’s actions to reduce cooperation in all spheres and economic strangulation of our country, we also quite objectively see no point in the presence of such significant personnel of the American diplomatic mission in Belarus,” Glaz said.
The spokesman added that it is hard to understand “what will they do” in current circumstances.
“In this regard, a proposal was made to the US side to reduce the number of its embassy staff in Minsk to 5 people by September 1. Actually, such a completely understandable logic will be taken into account in the event of a further worsening of bilateral cooperation at the initiative of the United States,” Glaz added.

US-China trade in January-July 2021 grew 40 pc to $404.57 Billion: Chinese Customs

Beijing, Aug 11: In the first seven months of 2021, trade between the United States and China increased by 40 percent compared to the same period last year and amounted to $404.57 billion, China’s General Administration of Customs said.
Exports from China to the United States in the first seven months of this year rose 36.9 percent to $302.446 billion, while the United States imported $102.125 billion worth of goods into China, up 50.4 percent than in the same period last year.
Separately, in July, US-China trade amounted to $63.756 billion; exports from China to the United States reached $49.592 billion, and China’s imports from the United States reached $14.164 billion.
Trade between the United States and China, despite the protracted trade war and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, in 2020 grew by 8.3 percent to $586 billion.

Canada’s Spavor, detained by China in 2018, sentenced to 11 years, to be deported: Reports

Moscow, Aug 11: Canadian Michael Spavor, detained by China in late 2018, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Chinese court on spying charges, CBC reported.

The court also called for Spavor’s deportation and confiscation of some $10,000 of personal property. It was not immediately clear when the Canadian could be forced to leave China.

China detained Spavor in December 2018 – several days after Huawei Technologies’ Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver.

Australian state sees worst day with highest new COVID-19 cases, 4 deaths

Sydney, Aug 10: The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) saw another disastrous day with a record daily high of 356 new local cases and four deaths on Tuesday.

What is more concerning is around one third of the new locally acquired cases were in the community while infectious.

Among the four deaths, three cases were linked to the current outbreak triggered by Delta variant and one case got infected overseas, NSW Health said.

Despite the climbing local transmission, the government is reluctant to further tighten restrictions. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would not take “any strategies that aren’t going to work” and is against the idea of imposing a ring of steel around the epicentre areas in southwest Sydney.

Berejiklian said the current restrictions for the eight local government areas in western and southwest Sydney had prevented a further skyrocketing of new infections, saying strong suppression works as there are no hundreds of thousands of cases and deaths.

“That gives us a chance to see what people can do in September and October but it is really important to ensure we provide the vaccine, targeted strategy to reduce the spread especially among key worker groups.”

In the neighbouring state of Queensland, police have warned residents living in the bordering areas with NSW to expect greater enforcement of border restrictions facing the growing transmission. Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Steven Gollschewski said residents would be aware of the situation and not travel unless absolutely necessary.

“We will increase operational capabilities there to ensure we are intercepting higher numbers of people coming across,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state of Victoria recorded 20 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, as its regional areas enjoy the first day out of lockdown.

Shooting kills 1 police officer, injures another in Chicago

Chicago [US], August 8 : A Chicago police officer was killed and another seriously wounded in a shooting Saturday night in the South Side area of the U.S. city, local media reported.
Both officers were taken to University of Chicago Medical Center, where one of them, a female officer, was pronounced dead, while the other was in critical condition, according to local authorities cited by media. Police said two suspects were taken into custody shortly after the shooting incident.

SARS-CoV-2 variants could be named after star constellations if Greek letters run out: WHO

London, Aug 8: Future variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, could be named after star constellations when Greek letters run out, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) technical chief for COVID-19, told The Telegraph.

In late May, the WHO said that the strains of COVID-19 would be named with Greek letters in order to avoid associating them with certain territories and countries. There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet.

“We’re actually considering star constellations … We were going to go with Greek gods or goddesses, and I said please, please don’t make me say that publicly,” Van Kerkhove said.

She confirmed that there was a real threat of the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 mutations that could make existing vaccines ineffective.

Number of COVID-19 cases in Brazil rises by 43,033 to over 20.15Mln – Ministry of Health

Brasilia, Aug 8: The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Brazil has increased by 43,033 to 20,151,779 within the past 24 hours, the national Ministry of Health said on late Saturday.

According to the ministry, the death toll has risen by 990 to 562,752 people within the same period of time.

More than 18.89 million patients have recovered since the start of the outbreak.

A day earlier, the country confirmed 42,159 new coronavirus cases, with 1,056 fatalities.

Brazil comes second in terms of the death toll following the United States with more than 616,000 fatalities, and third in terms of the number of confirmed cases after the US and India.

The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020. To date, more than 202.11 million people have been infected with the coronavirus worldwide, with over 4.28 million fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Latvian border guards detain 38 migrants for illegally crossing border from Belarus

Riga, Aug 7: Nearly 40 undocumented migrants were detained when trying to cross into Latvia’s border from Belarus, the country’s State Border Guard said on Saturday.
“Thirty-eight individuals who have crossed the state border illegally have been detained in accordance with the procedures set by the immigration law and placed in accommodation centers for detained foreigners,” the border agency said in a statement.
Latvia has recently witnessed a rise in the numbers of migrants crossing into its territory from Belarus after its neighbor, Lithuania, became a new “eastern front” for illegal migration to the European Union.
Europe believes Minsk is using migrants to get back at the European Union’s decision to impose political and economic sanctions on the country. The Belarusian authorities, in turn, argue that they cannot deal with the migration issue due to Western sanctions.

Bangladesh and Pakistan – a study in contrast: International Think Tank

Dhaka, Aug 5: Emerging from the dark shadows of Pakistani rule 50 years ago, Bangladesh today surpasses Pakistan in almost every socio-economic indicators. The two countries are a study in contrast in how Bangladesh has achieved remarkable success starting from being called a ‘basket case’ in 1971 to a miracle economy in 2021 while Pakistan has slid down on all parameters.
A report brought out by the Canadian think tank International Forum for Right and Security (IFFRAS) provides some sharp contrast and comparison between the two countries.
The growth rate of Bangladesh is way above that of Pakistan. Even before the pandemic, in 2018-19 Bangladesh recorded 7.8 percent growth rate compared to Pakistan’s 5.8 percent.
In May 2021, Bangladesh had a forex reserve of over 45 billion USD while Pakistan’s forex reserves stood at less than half at 17.1 billion USD.
Starting off 70 percent richer than Bangladesh in 1971, fifty years later Pakistan has a much lower per capita GDP of USD 1543 compared to Bangaldesh’s per capita income of USD 2227 as it grew at an impressive 9 percent in 2021.
The savings rate in Bangladesh is 30 percent of the GDP while for Pakistan it is about 15-20 percent.
Bangladesh is now among the top exporters of Readymade Garments (RMG) in the world with exports worth over USD 35 billion. On the contrary, despite being a cotton growing country Pakistan’s export of garments and textiles stagnates at USD 10 billion.
The social indicators also present a story in contrast. In 1951, the population of Bangladesh, which was then called East Pakistan, was 42 million while West Pakistan had a population of 33.7 million. However, in 2021, Bangladesh has a much lower population of 165 million compared to Pakistan’s population of 200 million.
The share of women in the workforce has consistently grown in Bangladesh while it has declined in Pakistan.
The report says that Bangladesh and Pakistan are world apart today as they perceive their national interests differently. While Bangladesh sees its future in human development and economic growth, Pakistan has focussed its energy in checkmating India and nurturing non-state actors.

Singapore reports 98 new COVID-19 cases

Singapore, Aug 5: Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 98 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total tally in the country to 65,508.

The new infections included 96 locally transmitted cases, of which 38 were linked to previous cases and have already been placed on quarantine, while 20 were linked to previous cases and were detected through surveillance, and 38 were currently unlinked.

The other two were imported cases, who had already been placed on Stay-Home Notice (SHN) or isolated upon arrival in Singapore.

A total of 577 cases are currently warded in the hospital. Most are well and under observation. There are currently 40 cases of serious illness requiring oxygen supplementation, and eight in critical condition in the intensive care unit (ICU).

US advocacy group sues Texas Governor to block order on banning transportation of migrants

Washington, Aug 5: A lawsuit against Texas Governor Greg Abbott seeks to halt enforcement of an executive order requiring police to stop cars suspected of transporting migrants, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said on Thursday.
The lawsuit follows a court ruling on Tuesday in a separate Justice Department challenge, in which the judge paused the enforcement of the executive order for ten days, the release said.
The ACLU lawsuit differs from the Justice Department because it names as plaintiffs several charitable organizations that operate shelters and provide other services for migrants, asylum seekers and their families in border communities, the release added.
Plaintiffs include Annunciation House, one of the largest shelter providers on the border, Angry Tias & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, a volunteer organization that aids migrants; Jennifer Harbury, a humanitarian volunteer who frequently drives migrants; and FIEL Houston, an immigrants’ rights organization.
The ACLU noted that the Texas governor’s order would prevent migrants from traveling from border regions to join family members in other parts of Texas and other states.
Texas and other border states face an unprecedented surge of hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the border in a bid for US residency, typically by seeking political asylum.

Boris Johnson: All Covid-19 Restrictions To End In UK On July 19

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday (local time) confirmed that all virus restrictions in England will end on July 19.

Johnson told reporters that the move will eliminate mandates to wear masks in public places, social distancing rules, and work-from-home recommendations reported NHK World.

Johnson noted that vaccines help to prevent people with the coronavirus from developing serious symptoms.

He insisted that, while hospitalizations and deaths will continue to rise, they will likely be much lower than during the peak of the outbreak last autumn, reported NHK World.

He said, “we cannot simply revert instantly from Monday, July 19 to life as it was before COVID.”

Meanwhile, officials said the government recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded indoor areas. Some experts warned that eliminating restrictions when the virus is spreading will be risky, reported NHK World.

Britain has seen its daily case count top 30,000 in recent days, amid the spread of the Delta variant.

Johnson urged people to act with caution and personal responsibility, saying, “this pandemic is not over.”

FDA Adds New Warning To J&J Covid-19 Vaccine

US regulators on Monday added a new warning to Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine about links to a rare and potentially dangerous neurological reaction but said it’s not entirely clear the shot caused the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration announced the new warning, flagging reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder that can causes muscle weakness and occasionally paralysis. Health officials described the side effect as a “small possible risk” for those getting the shot.\

The action comes after the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed reports of about 100 people developing the syndrome after receiving the one-dose vaccine. Almost all of them required hospitalization and one person died, the FDA said

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks some of its nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis that typically is temporary. An estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people develop the syndrome each year, according to the CDC.

The number of cases reported in connection with J&J’s vaccine represents a tiny fraction of the nearly 13 million Americans who have received the one-dose shot. Most cases were reported in men — many 50 years old and up — and usually about two weeks after vaccination.

J&J said in a statement it has been discussing the reports with the FDA and other health regulators around the world.

The CDC said it would ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to review the issue at an upcoming meeting.

The government said the vaccines most used in the US, made by Pfizer and Moderna, show no risk of the disorder after more than 320 million doses have been administered.

The new warning will be included in pamphlets given to people getting the J&J shot. They should seek medical attention if they experience any symptoms, which include tingling sensations, trouble walking and double vision, the FDA said.

Vaccines historically provide broad protection with little risk but come with occasional side effects just like other drugs and medical therapies. The three COVID-19 vaccines used in the US were each tested in tens of thousands of people, but even such huge studies can’t rule out extremely rare side effects.

The CDC and the FDA have been monitoring side effect reports submitted by physicians, drugmakers and patients to a federal vaccine safety database.

Guillain-Barre can be triggered by a number of infections, including flu, cytomegalovirus and Zika virus. But there have been rare cases in which people develop the disorder days or weeks after receiving certain vaccines.

J&J’s vaccine was highly anticipated because of its one-and-done formulation and easy-to-ship refrigeration. But early on, it was linked to another rare risk, of blood clots, and the company hasn’t been able to produce as much as expected because of problems at a Baltimore factory that helps make the shots.

Pakistan’s Private Schools Association Launches Documentary On Malala Yousafzai

Pakistan’s private schools’ association on Monday launched a documentary on Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai for her controversial views on Islam, marriage and her pursuit of the Western agenda.

Malala, who turned 24 on Monday, was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Having received the prize at the age of 17, Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate. She shared the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India.

Addressing a press conference at his office in Gulberg here the All-Pakistan Private Schools Federation president Kashif Mirza said: “Through this documentary film — I am not Malala – we will tell 20 million students in 200,000 private schools across the country about her controversial views on Islam, marriage, pursuing of Western agenda.”

“The idea behind this is we want to expose Malala among the youth as it does not get impressed by her so-called story of struggle for women rights,” Mirza said.

He said Malala had advocated “partnership” that is adultery in Islam.

“Marriage is a sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and partnership is adultery,” he said.

‘I am not Malala’s Day’ is also observed on July 12 in private schools as lectures and seminars are held to expose her western agenda to students.

Mirza said Malala has categorically rejected the institution of marriage and suggested that ‘partnership’ is better than getting married.

“Malala has attacked the institution of marriage and family structure by advocating that people should live in sin…No one can justify Muslims living together without marriage as it is strongly condemned in Islam,” he said.

Similarly, Mirza said in her book “I am Malala”, the Nobel Peace winner book has highly controversial material in it which is contrary to the teachings of Islam, Quranic injunctions, ideology of Islam and Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistan Army.

“This book is written at the behest of western forces that used Malala for their ulterior motives. Malala has declared Islam and Pak army as ‘militant’ in her controversial book. She also criticised Quranic verses about two women’s testimony to be equal to that of a man and also about the four witnesses in rape case,” he said.

Mirza said a group photo with writer Tasleema Nasreen and strong ties with an Indian for Nobel award are enough to explain Malala’s designs.

Mirza alleged her blog in BBC under the name “Gul Makai” was written by someone else as she could not even read or write by then.

“Malala’s father Ziauddin had admitted in a TV programme that her blog was written by BBC correspondent Abdul Hai Kakar and the book ‘I am Malala’ was written by Christina Lamb,” he said. 

Russia, US must work to prevent armed conflicts due to threat of escalation: Antonov

Washington, Jul 13: Russia and the United States must do everything to prevent armed conflicts between the two countries, as they could potentially escalate to the nuclear level, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov has said.

“We think that it is necessary to do everything possible to prevent any kind of armed conflict between our countries, which inevitably could escalate up to the nuclear level,” Antonov told Russian-speaking students of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

8 People Dies, 9 Missing In Hotel Collapse In Eastern China

Authorities say at least eight people have died and nine remained missing in a hotel collapse in Suzhou city in eastern China. The hotel building collapsed Monday afternoon, the Suzhou government said.

Most people in the building at the time were hotel guests. Rescuers used cranes, ladders, metal cutters and search dogs to look for survivors. Twenty-three people were trapped. Six have been rescued.

More than 600 people including earthquake rescue teams and 120 vehicles have been mobilized for the operation. Suzhou city is in Jiangsu province near Shanghai.

South Korea’s Capital Seoul Witness Distancing Curbs As Coronavirus Spreads

From Monday, South Korea will impose the highest level of social distancing restrictions (level 4) in its capital Seoul and other neighbouring areas with a view to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). South Korea, which is currently witnessing the fourth wave of the pandemic, has so far recorded 1,69,146 cases and 2,044 deaths due to the viral disease.

According to the new regulations, private social gatherings of three or more people will be prohibited after 6pm, churches and night clubs will be closed, and visitors will not be allowed at hospitals and nursing homes. All types of rallies have been banned and only family members can attend funerals and marriages.

On Sunday, 1,100 people tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). This is the sixth consecutive day that the daily infections were above the 1,000 mark. However, the fourth wave of the pandemic has brought fewer serious cases and deaths than the earlier ones and many senior citizens along with vulnerable people have been vaccinated, news agency Reuters reported.

On the other hand, health authorities and experts have warned the situation might worsen as a rising number of young patients have not been vaccinated yet and the threat of the highly infectious Delta variant is still looming.

A report by the Washington Post on July 9 said that during the earlier period of the pandemic, South Korea had received global recognition for controlling the viral disease by carrying out robust testing and contract tracing and while also avoiding a strict countrywide lockdown.

The report added that authorities might have given an incorrect signal to the public with the “premature lifting” of Covid-related restrictions. Choi Jae-wook, a medical professor at the Korea University in Seoul, told the Washington Post that as the delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading globally, authorities should have tightened and not eased the restrictions.

The fourth level of social distancing restrictions starting Monday has also put the country’s industrial sector into an ‘emergency mode’. Industries are now focusing on reducing cases among their employees by expanding the spectrum of telework, which in simple terms means working from home, and have also upgraded their in-house quarantine guidelines, according to news agency ANI. Samsung has asked its employees to refrain from visiting karaoke, nightclubs and bars and get tested for Covid-19 before returning to work if they visited such places. LG Electronics, meanwhile, is imposing a total ban on business trips, training and external meetings.

Nepal’s Supreme Court Orders To Appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba As PM

Nepal’s Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives for a second time in nearly five months, delivering a major blow to Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli who is currently heading a minority government after losing a trust vote in the House.

A five-member Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday also ordered the appointment of Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister within two days.

The bench led by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana had concluded hearings in the case last week. The bench comprised four other senior most justices — Dipak Kumar Karki, Mira Khadka, Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada and Dr Ananda Mohan Bhattarai — at the apex court.

President Bidya Devi Bhandari had dissolved the 275-member lower house for the second time in five months on May 22 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli and announced snap elections on November 12 and November 19.

Last week, the Election Commission had announced the schedule for mid-term elections despite the uncertainty over polls.

As many as 30 petitions, including one by the opposition alliance led by the Nepali Congress, were filed against the dissolution of the House by the President.

Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

On February 23, the apex court reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives, in a setback to embattled Prime Minister Oli who was preparing for snap polls.

Georgia People Protests Over The Journalist’s Death

Several thousand people protested in front of the Georgian parliament on Sunday evening, demanding that the ex-Soviet nation’s prime minister resign over the death of a journalist who was attacked and beaten by anti-LGBT protesters.

Cameraman Alexander Lashkarava was found dead in his home by his mother earlier Sunday, according to the TV Pirveli channel he worked for. Lashkarava was one of several dozen journalists attacked last Monday by opponents of an LGBT march that had been scheduled to take place that day in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Organizers of the Tbilisi March For Dignity cancelled the event, saying authorities had not provided adequate security guarantees. Opponents of the march blocked off the capital’s main avenue, denounced journalists covering the protest as pro-LGBT propagandists and threw sticks and bottles at them.

Lashkarava, according to his colleague Miranda Baghaturia, was beaten by a mob of 20 people. Local TV channels later showed him with bruises on his face and blood on the floor around him. Media reports say he sustained multiple injuries and had to undergo surgery but was discharged from a hospital on Thursday.

The cause of his death was not immediately clear. Police launched an investigation into Lashkarava’s death, which Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Salome Zurabishvili both described as “a tragedy.”

Animosity against sexual minorities is strong in the conservative Black Sea nation of Georgia.

The Tbilisi Pride group said Monday that opponents of the planned march were supported by the government and by the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Open Caucasus Media group published a photo of a man it said was a local TV journalist being pulled away from the scene in a headlock by an Orthodox priest.

Zurabishvili condemned the violence, but Garibashvili alleged the march was organized by “radical opposition” forces that he claimed were led by exiled former President Mikheil Saakashvili.

A large crowd of protesters that gathered in Tbilisi on Sunday demanded that authorities punish those responsible for the attack on journalists and urged Garibashvili to step down. Some protesters blamed the prime minister for enabling the violence by publicly denouncing the LGBT march.

Pfizer, US Officials To Meet On Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Shots

Pfizer says it plans to meet with top US health officials Monday to discuss the drugmaker’s request for federal authorization of the third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine as President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser acknowledged that “it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely” that booster shots will be needed. The company said it was scheduled to have the meeting with the Food and Drug Administration and other officials Monday, days after Pfizer asserted that booster shots would be needed within 12 months.

Pfizer’s Dr. Mikael Dolsten told The Associated Press last week that early data from the company’s booster study suggests people’s antibody levels jump five- to 10-fold after a third dose, compared to their second dose months earlier — evidence it believes supports the need for a booster.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn’t rule out the possibility but said it was too soon for the government to recommend another shot. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA did the right thing last week by pushing back against Pfizer’s assertion with their statement that they did not view booster shots as necessary “at this time.”

Fauci said clinical studies and laboratory data have yet to fully bear out the need for a booster to the current two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen. “Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stop there. … There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people.”

He said it was quite possible in the coming months “as data evolves” that the government may urge a booster based on such factors as age and underlying medical conditions. “Certainly it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely at some time, we will need a boost,” Fauci said.

Monday’s planned meeting between Pfizer and US health officials was first reported by The Washington Post. Currently only about 48% of the US population is fully vaccinated. Some parts of the country have far lower immunisation rates, and in those places the delta variant is surging. Last week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said that’s leading to “two truths” — highly immunised swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.

Fauci said it was inexplicable that some Americans are so resistant to getting a vaccine when scientific data show how effective it is in staving off COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, and he was dismayed by efforts to block making vaccinations more accessible, such as Biden’s suggestion of door-to-door outreach.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., agreed Sunday that there is a vaccine resistance in Southern and rural states like his because “you have that more conservative approach, skepticism about government.”

Describing his efforts to boost vaccinations in his state, which is seeing rising infections, Hutchinson said “no one wants an agent knocking on a door,” but “we do want those that do not have access otherwise to make sure they know about it.”

The grassroots component of the federal vaccination campaign has been in operation since April, when supplies of shots began outpacing demand. It was outlined and funded by Congress in the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill passed in March and overwhelmingly is carried out by local officials and private-sector workers and volunteers.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., blasted opposition to vaccination efforts from some GOP lawmakers as “absolute insanity.” He said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California and others in the party need to speak out against “these absolute clown politicians playing on your vaccine fears for their own selfish gain.”

Russia interested in talks between India, Eurasian Commission on free trade – Lavrov

Moscow : Russia is interested in the start of negotiations between India and the Eurasian Economic Commission on the creation of a free trade zone, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.
“We are interested in the start of negotiations between India and the Eurasian Economic Commission on the formation of a free trade zone as soon as possible,” Lavrov said following his meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

Lavrov says date not fet For high-level Russia-India summit yet

The date is not yet set for the Russia-India summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday, adding that the leaders will hold a meeting when the COVID-19 situation allows.
Russia’s top diplomat said that he had discussed the issue with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“We paid special attention to the development of political dialogue, preparation of the content of the future Russian-Indian summit, which is scheduled for this year, but our leaders will determine the specific date depending on the development of the situation with the coronavirus infection pandemic,” Lavrov said following a meeting with Jaishankar in Moscow.

UNICEF To Supply 220 Million Doses Of The Johnson & Johnson To African Union

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has announced the signing of an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to supply 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-dose vaccine against Covid-19 for all 55 member states of the African Union (AU) by the end of 2022.

Some 35 million doses are to be delivered by the end of 2021, Xinhua news agency quoted Unicef as saying in a statement on Thursday.

The agreement between Unicef and Janssen will help implement the Advance Purchase Commitment signed between the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) and Janssen in March 2021.

That agreement secured an option to order another 180 million doses, bringing the maximum access up to a total of 400 million doses by the end of 2022, said the UN agency.

The AU established AVAT in November 2020 to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to the African continent, with a goal of vaccinating 60 per cent of its population.

Unicef will procure and deliver Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of the AVAT initiative.

Other partners include the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Bank.

“African countries must have affordable and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible. Vaccine access has been unequal and unfair, with less than 1 per cent of the population of the African continent currently vaccinated against Covid-19. This cannot continue,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“Vaccinating the world against Covid-19, as the virus continues to spread and mutate, is one of the largest and most complex collective health undertakings the world has ever seen, and we need all hands on deck,” said Fore.

PM Boris Johnson Announces Withdrawal Of UK Troops From Afghanistan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Thursday the withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan, signalling the end of Britain’s military mission in a two-decade-long conflict.

“All British troops assigned to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan are now returning home,” Johnson told the House of Commons, the lower house of the British parliament.

The Prime Minister would not disclose the exact timetable of the departure for security reasons, but added that most of the 750 remaining British troops had already left, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Over the last two decades, 150,000 members of Britain’s armed forces served in Afghanistan, 457 of whom died, according to Johnson.

Britain’s move follows the announcement by US President Joe Biden in April that all US troops would leave Afghanistan before September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that drew the United States into its longest war.

Johnson said that Britain will use “every diplomatic and humanitarian lever” to support Afghanistan’s development and stability, including over 100 million pounds (about $138 million) of development assistance this year, and 58 million pounds for the Afghan national security and defense forces.

26 Injured, 3 Workers Killed In A Massive Fire At Bangladesh Juice Factory

At least three workers, including two women, died and 26 others were injured in a massive fire at a juice factory on the outskirts of Dhaka on Thursday evening, officials said.

The fire broke out at the multi-story building of the Shezan Juice Factory of Hashem Foods Ltd in Bhulota Karnagop area in Narayanganj around 5 p.m. and 15 units of fire services are still struggling to contain it, fire service and civil defence media official M. Rayhan told IANS.

The deceased has been identified by police as Swapna Rani, 34, of Sylhet, and Mina Akter, 33, of Rupganj while another deceased man was yet to be identified. The injured were sent to hospital, Superintendent of Police, Zayedul Alam, said.

The firefighters rescued 12 workers who were trapped on the second and third floors of the building after the fire erupted, Upazila Chief Executive Shah Nusrat said.

The number of injuries and deaths may rise as a large number of workers were inside the factory, some injured workers told IANS.

Of the injured, 10 were sent to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and 16 were admitted to US Bangla Medical College Hospital at Rupganj.

Japan Under The Fourth Covid-19 State Of Emergency

The Japanese government has decided to place capital Tokyo under the fourth Covid-19 state of emergency, covering the entire duration of the upcoming Olympics, in an effort to curb a recent surge in infections.

The government announced on Thursday that the emergency will be effective from July 12 to August 22, which may cause the Summer Olympic Games to be held without spectators at venues in the capital, Xinhua news agency reported.

Addressing a news conference here, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the occupancy rate of hospital beds and the number of patients in serious condition remain low due to the vaccine rollout, but infection cases in Tokyo were rising due to the spread of the Delta variant.

“We must avoid another outbreak starting in Tokyo. With that in mind, we decided to take preemptive measures, and declare a state of emergency for Tokyo once again,” Suga was quoted as saying by the public broadcaster, NHK.

With two weeks until the Olympic Games, Suga pledged safety above all.

“Holding a safe and secure Games amid the coronavirus pandemic is a good opportunity to show our global unity to overcome the current difficulties together,” he said.

Infection cases in the capital have been going up.

Health authorities reported 896 new infections on Thursday, marking the 19th straight day cases have gone up compared to the week before.

Japan has so far reported 811,712 coronavirus cases, with 14,897 deaths.

At least 37,214,200 vaccine doses against Covid-19 have been administered in the country till date.

California To Pay Reparations Of $25,000 To The Survivors Of Forced Sterilisation

The California state in the United States is set to pay reparations of up to $25,000 to the survivors of decades of horrific practice call ‘eugenics’. The practice, which was prevalent from 1909-1979, the government sterilized some people, mostly with mental illness or physical disability, whom it deemed unfit to have children, according to the news agency Associated Press. Some of the victims of this practice include people as young as 13-year-old, the AP report further said.

The supporters of the ‘eugenics’ believed the people with such “undesirable traits should not have children” in order to improve the human race.

According to the Associated Press, more than 20,000 people were sterilized under this practice until the law was repealed in 1979. Notably, since the practice is so old, only a few hundred people might be alive by now.

The state has set aside $7.5 million for the reparations program, part of its $262.6 billion operating budget that is awaiting governor Gavin Newsom’s signature.

California is the third state in the US after Virginia and North Carolina to make compensation to the victims of the so-called “eugenics movement”. Along with this, the state government will pay compensation to women who were sterilised in the prisons. Of which, some cases could be as recently as 2010, the news agency also reported.

Between 2005 to 2013, California sterilized at least 144 women, it also reported. “We must address and face our horrific history,” said Lorena Garcia Zermeño, policy and communications coordinator for the advocacy group California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. “This isn’t something that just happened in the past.”

It also reported that the state while all of the women signed consent forms, officials in 39 cases did not do everything that was legally required to obtain their permission for the sterilization.

The first eugenics sterilization law was introduced in Indiana state in 1907. Later, it expanded to 30 states. It reached California in 1909. It was by far the largest program, accounting for about a third of everyone sterilized in the United States under those laws.

Explosion Erupts On A Container Ship At Major Global Port In Dubai

A fiery explosion erupted on a container ship anchored in Dubai at one of the world’s largest ports late Wednesday, authorities said, sending tremors across the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates. The blaze sent up giant orange flames on a vessel at the crucial Jebel Ali Port, the busiest in the Middle East that sits on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula.

The combustion unleashed a shock wave through the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai, causing walls and windows to shake in neighborhoods as far as 25 kilometers (15 miles) away from the port. Panicked residents filmed from their high-rises as a fiery ball illuminated the night sky. The blast was powerful enough to be seen from space by a satellite.

There were no immediate reports of casualties at the port, which is also the busiest port of call for American warships outside the U.S.

Some 2 1/2 hours after the blast, Dubai’s civil defense teams said they had brought the fire under control and started the “cooling process.” Authorities posted footage on social media of firefighters dousing giant shipping containers. The glow of the blaze remained visible in the background as civil defense crews worked to contain the fire.

The extent of damage caused to the sprawling port and surrounding cargo was not immediately clear. Footage shared on social media of the aftermath showed charred containers, ashes and littered debris.

The sheer force and visibility of the explosion suggested the presence of a highly combustible substance. Dubai authorities told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that the crew had evacuated in time and that the fire appeared to have started in one of the containers holding “flammable material,” without elaborating.

Seeking to downplay the explosion, Mona al-Marri, director-general of Dubai Media Office, told Al-Arabiya the incident “could happen anywhere in the world” and that authorities were investigating the cause.

The Jebel Ali Port at the northern end of Dubai is the largest man-made deep-water harbor in the world and serves cargo from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Asia. The port is not only a critical global cargo hub but a lifeline for Dubai and surrounding emirates, serving as the point of entry for essential imports.

Dubai authorities did not identify the stricken ship beyond saying it was a small vessel with a capacity of 130 containers.

Ship tracker MarineTraffic showed a fleet of small support vessels surrounding a docked container ship called the Ocean Trader flagged in Comoros. Footage from the scene rebroadcast by the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency showed firefighters hosing down a vessel bearing paint and logo that corresponds to the Ocean Trader, operated by the Dubai-based Inzu Ship Charter.

The Ocean Trader docked at Jebel Ali Port at midday Wednesday. Ship tracking data showed the vessel had been sailing up and down the coast of the UAE since April. The United Nations ship database identified the vessel’s owners as Sash Shipping corporation. Sash and Inzu Ship Charter did not immediately respond to the request for comment.

Operated by the Dubai-based DP World, Jebel Ali Port boasts a handling capacity of over 22 million containers and sprawling terminals that can berth some of the world’s largest ships. Port officials said they were “taking all necessary measures to ensure that the normal movement of vessels continues without any disruption.”

State-owned DP World describes Jebel Ali Port as a “gateway hub” and a “vital link in the global trade network” that connects eastern and western markets. The company did not immediately respond to request for comment on the blast.

Highly Transmissible Delta Strain Becomes Dominant Variant In US

The highly transmissible Delta strain has overtaken the Alpha variant to become the dominant variant in the US, according to new estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Delta, which was first found in India and is now in over 100 countries, represented 51.7 per cent of new infections in the US over the two weeks ending July 3, Xinhua news agency reported citing the CDC.

Meanwhile, the proportion of new cases caused by Alpha, which was first detected in Britain, was just 28.7 per cent over the same time period, according to the CDC.

Recently, health officials and experts have warned that the Delta variant was on track to become the dominant variant in the US, as its prevalence in the nation doubles about every two weeks.

They are concerned the variant will cause a surge in new cases this fall, hitting the unvaccinated population the hardest.

Increasing cases were reported in states with lower vaccination rates, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the CDC.

Although Delta is highly contagious, research show that most vaccines still remain highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths caused by the variant.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday pushed for all eligible Americans to get Covid-19 vaccinations, stressing the importance of being protected against Delta.

The country reached its highest vaccination rate in mid-April when the seven-day average of doses administered daily topped about 3.4 million. But the rate has dropped since then.

About 47.6 per cent of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and 55.1 per cent of the population has received at least one shot as of Wednesday, CDC data show.

Biden set a goal in May of having 70 per cent of American adults receive at least one Covid-19 shot by the Fourth of July. But just 18 states and Washington, DC surpassed that goal by the date, according to a Forbes report.

Uk Reports 32,548 Coronavirus Cases; The Highest Daily Increase Since January

Britain has reported another 32,548 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, the highest daily increase since January, according to official figures released on Wednesday.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the country now stands at 4,990,916, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The country also recorded another 33 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain to 128,301. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

More than 45.5 million people in Britain have received the first jab of Covid-19 vaccine and over 34 million people have received two doses, the official figures showed.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that most Covid-19 restrictions are set to end on July 19 as part of the final step of England’s roadmap out of the lockdown.

This will be confirmed on July 12 following a review of the latest data by the British government.

The plans were greeted with mixed reactions.

Leader of the main opposition Labour Party Keir Starmer accused Johnson of putting the country on course for a “summer of chaos and confusion” with his plans, Sky News reported.

But when answering questions at the parliament, Johnson said that the government was taking a prudent approach by “moving away from self-isolation towards testing over the course of the next few weeks”, according to media reports.

To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Russia, the US as well as the European Union have been racing against time to roll out coronavirus vaccines.

Second Explosion At A Chemical Plant In Bangkok; 60 Injured And 30 Admitted To Hospital

A second explosion at a chemical plant in Bangkok left Thailand rattled on Tuesday, hours after the first blaze was extinguished in firefighting operations lasting well over an entire day. At the end of it, only twisted metal frames and charred remains were what remained of the Ming Dih chemical factory warehouses, reported the Associated Press, adding that the back-to-back explosions powerful enough to blow out the windows and doors of nearby residences.

Even while the first blaze was being doused with water and foam to keep the highly flammable chemical styrene monomer from reigniting, a second explosion triggered a new fire on Tuesday afternoon that burned for about an hour, the agency added.

Earlier, a massive explosion at the plastic pellet manufacturing plant on the outskirts of Bangkok had rattled areas as far as the airport terminal of Thailand’s capital. At least 60 people were left injured in the disaster, many of who were emergency responders. An 18-year-old volunteer firefighter was killed in the fire. More than 30 people have also been admitted to the hospital.

A second explosion at a chemical plant in Bangkok left Thailand rattled on Tuesday, hours after the first blaze was extinguished in firefighting operations lasting well over an entire day. At the end of it, only twisted metal frames and charred remains were what remained of the Ming Dih chemical factory warehouses, reported the Associated Press, adding that the back-to-back explosions powerful enough to blow out the windows and doors of nearby residences.

Police questioned the factory manager in their investigation of the cause of the explosion, who told them that he and eight staff members were woken from their sleep on the site by a strong chemical smell and fled just before the blast, said Maj. Gen. Chumpol Poompuang, the district’s police commander.

Authorities ordered a 5-kilometer (3-mile) area around the foam and plastic pellet manufacturing factory, near Bangkok’s main airport, evacuated as the factory burned, telling residents to avoid inhaling any fumes and warning that they could cause dizziness and vomiting, and cancer in the long term.

“North Korea Likely To Face Food Shortage”: United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation

The acute food shortage in North Korea where the price of a packet of coffee has gone up to $100 is just the beginning of a harsh, lean period in the country, the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation has forwarned, estimating North Korea’s food shortage of this year at around 860,000 tonnes this year. The country could experience a “harsh lean period” as early as next month, the UN body has said.

According to the FAO report, as quoted by AFP, North Korea is projected to produce a “near-average level” of 5.6 million tonnes of grain this year, which is around 1.1 million tonnes short of the amount required to feed its entire population. With “commercial imports officially planned at 205,000 tonnes”, North Korea will likely face a food shortage of around 860,000 tonnes.

“If this gap is not adequately covered through commercial imports and/or food aid, households could experience a harsh lean period from August to October,” it said.

What is the present food crisis situation in North Korea?

In June, North Korean leader Kim Jon Un formally addressed the food shortage issue of the country and said the situation is now getting tense. Reports said the price of rice skyrocketed in June and corn has been on the rising path since the beginning of 2021. South Korea’s Korea Institute of National Unification has said rice price has soared owing to a lack of supply. In 2020, North Korean grain production also fell by an estimate of 5.2 per cent.

Several key government officials have been replaced apparently for the mismanagement of the crisis.

What led to the food crisis

North Korea shut its borders since 2020 amid the pandemic, while its own agriculture sector failed because of flood damage. All these, compounded with the ongoing international sanctions on the country, have led to this situation. But the food crisis was not unforeseen as the crunch began from last year itself. According to a report from the US department of agriculture, North Koreans were eating 445 calories less a day than the 2,100-calorie diet recommended by the United Nations.

How will North Korea overcome the food crisis?

In an article, South China Morning Post has said “emaciated” Kim Jong Un will ride out the famine in North Korea with China’s help. Kim’s greetings to Xi Jinping on the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party are being interpreted by experts as a message from Kim that North Korea’s strong ties with Beijing will help Pyongyang navigate the crisis.

Bagram The Last Of Military Bases The US Had, Handed Over To Afghan Forces

Bagram is the seventh and last of military bases the US has handed over to Afghan forces as it winds down its presence there of two decades and leave much ahead of the self-imposed deadline of September 11.

The United Sates on Tuesday said the Bagram base was turned over after discussions and coordination at “higher levels” in both the Afghanistan government and forces and disputed an Afghan commander’s account of Americans leaving quietly in the night without notifying anyone.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the “final conversations” with the Afghans took place 48 hours prior and there had been a “general understanding and again, as we got closer, more detail was provided to Afghan leaders”.

But, he conceded, “we didn’t go into the exact hour at which all US would leave Bagram” for operational security reasons.

A top Afghan general who is the new commander of the Bagram base, Mir Asadullah Kohistani, had told reporters earlier, “We (had heard) some rumour that the Americans had left Bagram … and finally, by seven o’clock in the morning [last Friday], we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram.”

Asked about the Afghan commander’s remarks, Kirby said, “I can’t speak for the level of information that went down the Afghan chain of command, but I can tell you that Afghan leaders, civilian and military, were appropriately coordinated with and briefed about the turnover.”

Kirby said these conversations with Afghans included a walk-through of the Bagram base to give them a preview of what was being turned over to them.

Bagram is the seventh and last of such bases the US has handed over to Afghan forces as it winds down its military presence there of two decades and leave much ahead of the self-imposed deadline of September 11 announced by President Joe Biden.

A smaller number of US military personnel will be stationed in Afghanistan to provide security to the sprawling American diplomatic compound in Kabul and guard the Kabul airport till Turkish forces take over at the conclusion of a final agreement currently in discussion.

The US Central Command, which has military jurisdiction over US deployment in Afghanistan, has said 90% of the drawdown has been finished.

The US has said it is also watching closely the tightening military grip of the Taliban on the country. Though it has declined to change its drawdown schedule or slow it down, the US has said politically negotiated settlement is the only way forward in Afghanistan, and not a military solution.

State department spokesperson said at a separate briefing that “any Afghan government that comes to power at the barrel of a gun, that comes to power through the use of force, is almost certainly going to lack … critical ingredients” that will be needed – international assistance, international legitimacy and popular support of the Afghan people.

The Taliban have sought to assure the world of their commitment to a negotiated settlement but have stalled talks till the US forces are out. The last round that was supposed to take place in Istanbul, Turkey was never held.

As an important stakeholder in Afghan peace, India has watched US drawdown with some concern. On a recent US visit, external affairs minister S Jaishankar attributed US drawdown to “political expediency”. And at a UNSC debate, he reiterated India’s call for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” in Afghanistan and for the United Nations to play a leading role.

Xi Jinping Promotes PLA Commander Xu Qiling To The Rank Of General

Chinese President Xi Jinping has promoted Xu Qiling, Commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command which oversees the borders with India, to the rank of a General, amid the continued standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

Xi, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) – the overall high command of the PLA, promoted 58-year-old Xu to the rank of General – the highest rank for officers in active service in China.

The other officers who were promoted to the rank of General included Commander of the Southern Theatre Command Wang Xiubin, Commander of the PLA Army Liu Zhenli, and Commander of the PLA Strategic Support (Missile) Force Ju Qiansheng, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Xi presented certificates of the orders he signed to them at a ceremony held by the CMC in Beijing on Monday.

Xu, who held the rank of Lt. Gen. previously, was appointed to head Western Theatre Command ground in June last year.

Xinhua in its report referred to Xu as the Commander of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command.

Regarded as the rising star in the PLA, Xu was one of the young generals promoted by Xi after he took the helm of the PLA in late 2012.

India and China were locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year.

However, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong Lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.

The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points.

India has been particularly pressing for disengagement of troops in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang. According to military officials, each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive high altitude sector.

There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach to this issue at the 11th round of military talks.

On June 25, India and China held a virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs during which they had agreed to hold the next round of military talks at an early date to achieve the objective of complete disengagement in remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh.

The two sides had a “frank exchange” of views and decided to maintain dialogue to reach a mutually acceptable solution for withdrawal of troops in all friction points to enable progress in the overall ties, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi.

Don’t return to era of ‘your terrorists’ and ‘my terrorists’: India cautions UN

India said that the international community should not forget that before the 9/11 terror attacks, the world was divided into “your terrorists” or “my terrorists”.

India has cautioned that 20 years after the 9/11 terror attacks, there are attempts again to divide terrorism into different terminologies such as violent nationalism and right wing extremism, asserting that the world should not return to the era of “your terrorists” and “my terrorists” but fight the scourge collectively.

Participating in the UN General Assembly debate on adoption of resolution on 7th Review of Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (GCTS) on Tuesday, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador TS Tirumurti said that the international community has acknowledged that the threat of terrorism is grave and universal, and can only be defeated by collective efforts of all UN member states, without any exception.

“It is only after 9/11 that we accepted that terrorism in one part of the world can directly impact another part of the world and we all came together to fight terrorism collectively,” he said.

‘Attempts to divide us once again’

The envoy said the international community should not forget that before the 9/11 terror attacks, the world was divided into “your terrorists” or “my terrorists”. Two decades later, “we are now seeing attempts to divide us once again” by adopting new terminologies under the guise of “emerging threats” such as racially and ethnically-motivated violent extremism, violent nationalism, right wing extremism, he said.

“I do hope that member states do not forget history and divide terrorism again into different categories and take us back to the era of ‘your terrorists’ and ‘my terrorists’ and erase the gains we have had over the last two decades,” Tirumurti said.

He noted that the continued absence of a universally agreed definition of terrorism is “detrimental to our shared goal” of eliminating the global scourge.

“The current strategy fails to resolve the stalemate preventing the adoption of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, which India has championed,” Tirumurti said.

According to the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is a “unique global instrument to enhance national, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism. Through its adoption by consensus in 2006, all UN Member States agreed the first time to a common strategic and operational approach to fighting terrorism”.

The UN General Assembly reviews the Strategy every two years, making it a living document attuned to member states’ counter-terrorism priorities. The General Assembly reviews the Strategy and considers the adoption of a resolution on this occasion, the UN agency said.

‘Terrorism in all its forms should be condemned’

Tirumurti said the Global Counter Terrorism Strategy was adopted by consensus 15 years ago and was a major step forward in maintaining and achieving international peace and security.

“It was agreed that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations should be condemned, there cannot be any exception or justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of motivations behind such acts, and wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed. It was also recognised that the menace of terrorism cannot be and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group,” Tirumurti said.

He said it is essential for all member states to not only not squander the gains of “what we have achieved so far but also ensure that we do not give the slightest opportunity to provide excuses or justification for terrorism, thereby diminishing our collective fight”.

“Justifying terrorism in any way, whether on grounds of religion, ideology, ethnicity or race, will only provide the necessary fodder for terrorists to enhance their activities even more,” he said.

Noting that while the matter of religious “phobias” finds mention in the current document, Tirumurti said India is once again constrained to point out that this listing has been selective and confined only to the three Abrahamic religions.

“This august body has once again failed to acknowledge the rise of hatred and violent terrorist attacks against other religions, inter alia, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism. Further, we need to make a distinction between countries which are pluralistic and those which resort to  sectarian violence and trample over minority rights. United Nations is not a body or the forum where member states should take sides on religious-phobias, but should instead truly foster a culture based on universal principles of humanity and compassion so that terrorists’ narratives are fought collectively,” he said.

The envoy also asserted that success of this strategy will depend only if member states “walk the talk” by sincerely implementing the provisions and fulfilling their obligations as envisaged in the strategy.

As a victim of cross-border terrorism for several decades, India has been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism and one of the major victims of terrorism. However, it’s time to call out those that blatantly violate global commitments by harbouring terrorists and terrorist entities by willfully giving moral, material, financial and ideological support to these groups, he said.

Tirumurti said the misuse of internet and social media for terrorist propaganda, radicalisation and recruitment of cadre; misuse of new payment methods such as block-chain currencies, payment wallets, crowdfunding platforms for terrorism financing; and misuse of emerging technologies such as drones, 3D printing, Artificial Intelligence, robotics have emerged as the most serious threats of terrorism, which warrants collaborative actions from all member states.

“The international community needs to adopt a policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism. Our collective condemnation of terrorism must be loud, clear and without any ambiguity,” he said.

Imran Khan, Kim Jong-un And Viktor Orban Among The ‘Press Freedom Predators’ List: RSF

Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released a list of 37 heads of states who massively cracked down on press freedom. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban are among the “predators of press freedom”, said RSF.

Two women, Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong’s administrative chief Carrie Lam, have also been added to the list. This is the first time that women leaders have found a place on the press freedom predators’ list.

The list was released on Monday. The list has come out after a gap of five years; the RSF released the last list in 2016.

The global press body said that 17 of the 37 leaders have been added for the first time on the list. It has accused these leaders of “creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them”.

At least 19 countries have been show in the red colour by the RSF, which it says shows the bad situation for journalism. Sixteen countries have been coded black, which RSF says the situation is “very bad”.

The average of the predators included in the list is 66 and one-third of them are from the Asia-Pacific region.

Some of the other inclusions in the list are Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Myanmar’s Min Aung Hlaing, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.

In the case of Imran Khan, the RSF said, “In the shadows, behind candidate Khan, the military reasserted the deep state,” adding that cases of brazen censorship are legion since he became prime minister.

“Newspaper distribution has been interrupted, media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals have been jammed,” the RS further said.

Talking about Bin Salman, the report said, “His repressive methods include spying and threats that have sometimes led to abduction, torture and other unthinkable acts. Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific murder exposed a predatory method that is simply barbaric.”

Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul to procure documents to marry and was brutally slain inside it in 2018.

About the women on the list, the RSF said, “Lam’s predatory exploits include the adoption of a digital security law in 2018 that has led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted.”

The watchdog’s chief urged world governments to disavow the practices used by the leaders it singled out and to recognize the positive contributions made by an independent press.

Students Get Abducted By Group Of Gunmen In Northern Nigeria

Dozens of students were abducted Monday by armed bandits at Bethel Baptist High School in Damishi town of Chikun Local Government Area in Kaduna State in northern Nigeria.

A group of gunmen stormed the school early Monday, at around 2 a.m., shooting sporadically as they kidnapped the students, said police spokesman Mohammed Jalije. The exact number of students taken by the bandits is not yet certain, he said.

John Hayab, whose son attends the school and who narrowly escaped the abduction, said about 180 students attend the high school.

“We cannot give the exact figure of those abducted for now, until those who ran into hiding for safety are back and a census of the students is taken, but we know they took a lot of students,” he said. “I am just speechless, I don’t know what to say. My son was among the students who narrowly escaped.”

“I am part of this unfortunate incident because it is my church,” he added. “This is a very, very sad situation for us.”

Hayab, who is the chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, told The Associated Press on Monday that so far, 26 students had returned and he was hopeful that more would escape from their kidnappers.

This is the fourth abduction of students in Kaduna state in the past six months. There have been seven mass kidnappings of students in Nigeria so far this year.

The abductions are being carried out by armed groups who want ransoms. Many schools have been forced to close as authorities are unable to adequately protect them.

The spate of mass abductions from schools in Nigeria has grown significantly since 2014 when members of the jihadi rebels Boko Haram abducted 276 female students from a government school in Chibok in northeastern Borno State.

Aircraft With 29 People Onboard Goes Missing In Russian Far East region

A Russian aircraft with 29 people onboard has gone missing in Russia’s Far East, local media reported on Tuesday. Twenty-nine people were onboard the aircraft including 6 crew members, Sputnik reported.

An Antonov An-26 plane with 22 passengers and six crew members, flying from the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to the town of Palana, missed a scheduled communication, local emergency officials said. The plane also disappeared from radar, the local transport ministry.

The plane belonged to a company called Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise. The plane has been in operation since 1982, Russian state news agency Tass reported. The company’s director, Alexei Khabarov, told the Interfax news agency that the plane was technically sound.

An investigation has been launched, and a search mission is underway. Two helicopters and an airplane have been deployed to inspect the missing plane’s route, local officials said.

The plane was on approach for landing when contact was lost about 10 kilometers (six miles) away from Palana’s airport. The head of the local government in Palana, Olga Mokhireva, was aboard the flight, spokespeople of the Kamchatka government said.

In 2012, an Antonov An-28 plane belonging to Kamchatka Aviation Enterprise crashed into a mountain while flying from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk and coming in for a landing in Palana. A total of 14 people were on board and 10 of them were killed. Both pilots, who were among the dead, were found to have alcohol in their blood, Tass reported.

US Is The Top Threat To Global Cybersecurity: Wang Wenbin

Amid strained ties between Washington and Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Monday said that the United States is “the top threat to global cybersecurity.” 

“As facts have proven time and again, it is the US that has been forcing companies to install backdoors and obtaining user data in violation of relevant rules. The US itself is the top threat to global cybersecurity,” Wenbin said during a press briefing.

Wenbin stated that the US has long been taking advantage of its advanced tech capacity to run invasive surveillance on people at home and abroad, steal various types of data and violate all kinds of privacy.

“The Patriot Act adopted after 9/11 requires cyber companies to offer regular updates on user information. This move has drawn much attention from around the world. France’s CNIL decided in December last year that the French websites of Google and Amazon breached relevant French law by placing cookies on the computers of users without obtaining prior consent and without providing adequate information. Earlier, Ireland asked Facebook to suspend the transmission of EU user data to the US,” he further said.

“We call on the international community to jointly expose and reject US practices that endanger global cybersecurity and undermine global rules,” he added.

The ties between Washington and Beijing had deteriorated after the US has taken sharply opposing positions against China in various issues including the trace of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the human rights exploitations of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

Two Doses Of Pfizer Vaccine Induce Good Antibody Response Against SARS-CoV-2 Variants

Two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine induce a “very good” antibody response against the SARS-CoV-2 variants, according to a study on 180 health care workers in Finland.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications on June 28, found that the immune response was as strong against the Alpha variant first identified in the UK, as against the original virus found in Wuhan, China in 2019.

The immune response was somewhat decreased against the Beta variant first found in South Africa, but the vaccine generated neutralizing antibodies that give relatively good protection against the variant.

A neutralizing antibody is responsible for defending cells from pathogens.

The researchers, including those from the University of Turku and University of Helsinki, studied the immune response induced by the coronavirus vaccinations, which started in Finland in December last year.

They analyzed vaccine responses in 180 health care workers, each of whom received two doses of the Pfizer-Biontech mRNA vaccine, and compared it with immune response in recovered COVID-19 patients.

The vaccine participants were aged 20-65 years, 149 were females and 31 were males.

The group of recovered COVID-19 patients comprised 50 volunteers, aged 19-93, with 33 among them females and 17 males.

All vaccinated subjects were found to have an excellent antibody level against the original virus after two vaccine doses.

The immune response was just as strong against the Alpha variant of the virus.

“The study demonstrates the efficiency of the Covid-19 vaccine and its ability to induce antibody responses in the working-age population regardless of their age or sex. The vaccine is one of the most effective I have ever studied,” said Ilkka Julkunen, professor at the University of Turku.

Although the immune response against the Beta variant was weaker, the vaccinated subjects did have neutralizing antibodies that give relatively good protection against the variant.

“After two doses, the immune response created by the Covid-19 vaccine was even better than after a coronavirus infection with mild symptoms,” said Pinja Jalkanen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Turku.

Professor Anu Kantele from Helsinki University Hospital noted that it is very promising that nearly all of the vaccinated subjects had even a small amount of neutralizing antibodies against the Beta variant.

The study will continue to follow up on immune response and protection against other variants circulating around the world, such as the delta variant first found in India.

The research will focuses on the analysis of the antibodies of other available coronavirus vaccines. 

Military Plane Crash In Philippines Kills 50 And Injure 49

The death toll in the crash of a transport aircraft in Philippines has reached 50, with 49 others injured, officials said Monday. According to the details, the Lockheed C-130 Hercules was carrying 96 mostly combat troops when it overshot the runway while landing Sunday at the Jolo airport in Sulu province. It slammed into a coconut grove beyond the airport and burst into flames in a noontime disaster witnessed by horrified soldiers and villagers.

Troops, police and firefighters rescued 49 military personnel, including a few who jumped off the aircraft before it exploded and was gutted by fire. Seven people on the ground were hit by aircraft parts and debris, and three of them died, the military said.

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules was one of two refurbished US Air Force aircraft handed over to the Philippines, Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia, as part of military assistance this year.

The aircraft earlier had carried two-star Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr., his wife and three children from Manila to southern Cagayan de Oro city, where he’s set to become the new military regional commander on Monday.

Those who boarded the C-130 in Cagayan de Oro for the flight to Sulu were army troops, many of them newly trained recruits, to be deployed in the battle against Abu Sayyaf militants in the south.

Brawner was stunned to learn the plane he’d just flown on had crashed. “We’re very thankful that we were spared but extremely sad that so many lost their lives,” Brawner told The Associated Press.

A video taken by troops showed the aircraft landing in clear weather then vanishing beyond the airport. “It vanished, it vanished,” one soldier exclaims. Dark gray smoke later billowed from the crash site in a wooded area as the troops, yell, “It fell, it fell” and let off curses in horror.

“They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” Sulu military commander Maj. Gen. William Gonzales said. Government forces have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants in the predominantly Muslim province of Sulu for decades.

It was not immediately clear what caused the crash and investigators were looking for the C-130’s black boxes containing the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan said it was unlikely that the aircraft took hostile fire. Military chief of staff Gen. Cirilito Sobejana told reporters Sunday that “the plane missed the runway and it was trying to regain power but failed and crashed.”

An air force official told The AP that the Jolo runway is shorter than most others in the country, making it more difficult for pilots to adjust if an aircraft misses the landing spot. The official, who has flown military aircraft to and from Jolo several times, spoke on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to speak publicly.

President Rodrigo Duterte expanded the military presence in Sulu to a full division in late 2018, deploying hundreds of additional troops, air force aircraft and other combat equipment after vowing to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. The small but brutal group has been blacklisted by the U.S. and the Philippines as a terrorist organization for ransom kidnappings, bombings and beheadings.

Before Sunday, the Philippine air force’s deadliest disaster was a crash in a rice field north of Manila in 1971 that killed 40 military personnel, military historian Jose Custodio said.

A recently delivered S-701 Blackhawk helicopter crashed more than a week ago near Clark freeport, a former U.S. airbase, killing all six air force personnel on board.

The Philippine government has struggled for years to modernize its military, one of Asia’s least equipped, as it dealt with decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies and territorial rifts with China and other claimant countries in the South China Sea.

UK Government Plans To Decrease The Gaps Between Two Doses Of Covid-19 Vaccinations

The UK government has ruled out plans to decrease the gaps between two doses of Covid-19 vaccinations, even as infections driven by the Delta variant are surging in the country.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation ruled out the three-week gap and recommended “an interval of 8 to 12 weeks between doses of all the available Covid-19 vaccines”, dashing hopes that the UK might be able to speed up the vaccination program by closing the gaps between doses, the Financial Times reported.

The advisory body said this gap would “avoid confusion and simplify booking, and will help to ensure a good balance between achieving rapid and long-lasting protection.”

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK is “very likely” to ease lockdown measures on July 19. It was pushed back by four weeks from June 21 amid concern over the spread of the Delta variant.

Easing of lockdown measures could be a cause of concern as the country will not meet its target of ensuring two-thirds of adults with two jabs, FT cited people familiar with the UK vaccination programme.

Experts from the National Health Service (NHS) and scientists are concerned as only 63 per cent in the country are fully vaccinated, while more than 85 per cent received only the first dose of a Covid vaccine. At the same time latest data showed Covid-19 infections have jumped by 74 per cent week-on-week.

“We may have weakened the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths but this significant increase in infections with the Delta variant raises serious concerns,” Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School, was quoted as saying.

“One risk was that, as the virus spread it would continue to generate new variants increasing the risk that one will pop up that is more vaccine resistant,” he added.

While some suspect that the decision to not reduce the gap between the two jabs is due to difficulty in accessing supplies. However, government insiders have denied supply constraints, the report said.

But, Prof Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the JCVI said: “regardless of supply constraints the minimum eight-week gap was preferable as it meant young people, who may not receive boosters in the autumn, had robust and long-lasting protection.

Joe Biden: “Today We’re Closer Than Ever To Declaring Our Independence From A Deadly Virus”

Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do,” President Joe Biden on Sunday mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the pandemic. He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning that the fight against the virus wasn’t over.

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1,000 service members, first responders and other guests for a July Fourth celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.

For Biden, it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed. The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication yet that the U.S. had moved into a new phase of virus response. Shifting from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.

“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.

Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Biden wanted all Americans to celebrate, too, after enduring 16 months of disruption in the pandemic and more than 605,000 deaths. The White House encouraged gatherings and fireworks displays all around the country to mark — as though ripped from a Hollywood script — the nation’s “independence” from the virus.

And there was much to cheer: Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust U.S. vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants were open, hiring was picking up and travel was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

However, Biden’s optimism was measured for good reason. The vaccination goal he had set with great fanfare for July Fourth — 70% of the adult population vaccinated — fell short at 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More concerning to officials was the gap between heavily vaccinated communities where the virus was dying out and lesser-vaccinated ones where a more infectious variant of the virus was already taking hold.

More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, and tens of millions have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccines.

“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis Board of Health. “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it.”

Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do,” President Joe Biden on Sunday mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the pandemic. He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning that the fight against the virus wasn’t over.

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1,000 service members, first responders and other guests for a July Fourth celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.

For Biden it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed. The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication yet that the U.S. had moved into a new phase of virus response. Shifting from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.

“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.

Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Biden wanted all Americans to celebrate, too, after enduring 16 months of disruption in the pandemic and more than 605,000 deaths. The White House encouraged gatherings and fireworks displays all around the country to mark — as though ripped from a Hollywood script — the nation’s “independence” from the virus.

And there was much to cheer: Cases and deaths from COVID-19 were at or near record lows since the outbreak began, thanks to the robust U.S. vaccination program. Businesses and restaurants were open, hiring was picking up and travel was getting closer to pre-pandemic levels.

However, Biden’s optimism was measured for good reason. The vaccination goal he had set with great fanfare for July Fourth — 70% of the adult population vaccinated — fell short at 67%, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More concerning to officials was the gap between heavily vaccinated communities where the virus was dying out and lesser-vaccinated ones where a more infectious variant of the virus was already taking hold.

More than 200 Americans still die each day from COVID-19, and tens of millions have chosen not to get the lifesaving vaccines.

“If you’ve had the vaccine, you’re doing great,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician at the John Cochran VA Medical Center and St. Louis Board of Health. “If you haven’t had the vaccine, you should be alarmed and that’s just the bottom line, there’s no easy way to cut it.”

“But that doesn’t take away from the fact that this country is in a significantly better place,” she said.

Still, about 1,000 counties have a vaccination rate below 30%, and the federal government is warning that they could become the next hot spots as virus restrictions ease.

The administration was sending “surge” teams to Colorado and Missouri. Additional squads of infectious disease experts, public health professionals and doctors and nurses were getting ready to assist in additional locations with a combination of low vaccination rates and rising cases.

Overall, the vastly improved American landscape stood in stark contrast with much of the rest of the world, where there remained vast vaccine deserts and wide community spread that could open the door to even more dangerous variants. The Biden administration was increasingly turning the federal response to the complicated logistics of sending excess U.S. vaccines abroad in an effort to assist other nations in beating back the pandemic.

With U.S. demand for vaccines falling even as they have been widely available for months, and as governments and businesses dangled an array of incentives at Americans to get a shot, officials were increasingly emphasizing that the consequences of disease now largely reflect the individual choices of those who are not yet vaccinated.

“The suffering and loss we are now seeing is nearly entirely avoidable,” said the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

When asked about the potential risks of holding gatherings around July Fourth in areas where there are large pockets of unvaccinated individuals, White House press secretary Jen Psaki had countered that “if individuals are vaccinated in those areas, then they are protected.”

The cookout and fireworks viewing at the South Lawn was “being done in the right way,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in television interviews, and “consistent” with CDC guidelines. The White House was not requiring vaccinations but was asking guests to get a COVID-19 test and to wear a mask if they are not fully vaccinated.

“For as much work there still is to do, it’s so important to celebrate the victories,” Davis said. “I’m OK with us having those pockets of joy and celebration as long as we still wake up the next day and continue to go to work and prioritize equity in vaccine distribution.”

Delta Variant Continues To Evolve And Mutate; WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Warned

The world is in a very “dangerous period” of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by more transmissible variants like Delta, which is continuing to evolve and mutate, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned.

He said in countries with low vaccination coverage, terrible scenes of hospitals overflowing are again becoming the norm.

“Compounded by more transmissible variants, like Delta, which is quickly becoming the dominant strain in many countries, we are in a very dangerous period of this pandemic,” Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Friday.

“But no country is out of the woods yet. The Delta variant is dangerous and is continuing to evolve and mutate, which requires constant evaluation and careful adjustment of the public health response,” he said.

Noting that the Delta variant has been detected in at least 98 countries and is spreading quickly in countries with low and high vaccination coverage, he said there are essentially two ways for countries to push back against new surges.

“Public health and social measures like strong surveillance, strategic testing, early case detection, isolation and clinical care remain critical,” he said, adding that masking, physical distance, avoiding crowded places and keeping indoor areas well ventilated are the basis for the response.

Ghebreyesus underscored that the world must equitably share protective gear, oxygen, tests, treatments and vaccines and stressed that he has urged leaders across the world to work together to ensure that by this time next year, 70 per cent of all people in every country are vaccinated.

“This is the best way to slow the pandemic, save lives, drive a truly global economic recovery and along the way prevent further dangerous variants from getting the upper hand. By the end of this September, we’re calling on leaders to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of people in all countries,” he said.

As new manufacturing hubs- including for mRNA vaccines- are being developed, the WHO chief said this could be accelerated by companies openly sharing technology and know-how.

“In particular, I urge those companies- BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna- to share their know-how so that we can speed up the development of new production. The sooner we start building more vaccine hubs and upping global vaccine capacity, the sooner we can diminish deadly surges,” he said.

The Delta variant, first detected in India, is now being reported in nearly 100 countries, which is “likely an underestimate” and the highly transmissible strain is expected to rapidly outcompete other variants and become dominant globally over the coming months, WHO had said this week.

The COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update published by WHO said that as of June 29, 2021, “96 countries have reported cases of the Delta variant, though this is likely an underestimate as sequencing capacities needed to identify variants are limited. A number of these countries are attributing surges in infections and hospitalizations to this variant.”

It said given the increase in transmissibility, the Delta variant is “expected to rapidly outcompete other variants and become the dominant variant over the coming months.”

WHO noted that the tools that exist today to combat the coronavirus- including individual, community level-public health and social measures, infection prevention and control measures, that have been used since the beginning of the pandemic-remain effective against current variants of concern, including the Delta variant.

Death Toll From Northwest Heat Wave Expected To Keep Rising

Each day, more deaths are being linked to the heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest this past week, with medical staff who treated people overwhelmed by temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) saying the toll from the extreme weather will keep creeping up.

Hundreds of deaths were being investigated as heat related in Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia. The dangerous heat began June 25 and only began to subside in some areas on Tuesday.

The death toll in Oregon alone has reached at least 95, the state medical examiner said on Friday, with most occurring in Multnomah County, which encompasses Portland. The deaths include an Guatemalan immigrant who collapsed as he worked at a plant nursery in a rural Oregon town during the soaring heat.

In Canada, British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between June 25 and Wednesday. Normally, she said about 165 people would die in the province over a five-day period. She said it was too soon to confirm how many deaths were heat related but that it was likely behind most of them.

Washington state authorities have linked about 30 deaths to the heat, with more reports coming in each day this week.

“I think, over time, we will understand that the numbers are only going to climb,” said Dr. Steve Mitchell, director of Harborview Medical Center’s Emergency Medicine Department in Seattle.

“I know, in my experience, that I’m expecting to see much larger numbers than what we are currently able to report because of talking to EMS colleagues who were experiencing twice as many calls for help that day.”

There were 1,792 emergency room visits for suspected heat-related illness since June 25, the Washington state Department of Health said Thursday. Of those visits, 21 per cent required people to be admitted to the hospital.

Monday had the most emergency room visits, with 702, the health department said. It was the hottest day of the heat wave in many areas, with Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and other cities smashing all-time heat records. It reached 108 F (42 C) in Seattle, and 116 F (47) in Oregon’s largest city.

“With this latest heat emergency, when we were dealing with it, the only thing comparable at Harborview and in the region that we’ve experienced recently was actually the early days of COVID,” Mitchell said.

Forecasters blamed the temperatures that spiked more than 30 degrees above normal on a “heat dome” that parked a strong high pressure system over the region. Temperatures cooled considerably in western Washington and Oregon by Tuesday, though a heat warning was still in effect for parts of the interior Northwest and Canada.

Experts say the hot weather is a harbinger of things to come as climate change affects global weather patterns.

The extraordinary heat wave stretched into the upper reaches of California, where several wildfires erupted in the hot, dry conditions, making it difficult for firefighters trying to beat back the flames that have driven thousands from their homes in mountain communities and burned several residences.

South African Experts: Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines Pfizer And J&J Are More Effective Against The Delta Variant Of The Coronavirus Than The Beta Strain

The anti-COVID-19 vaccines by US pharma majors Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that are being used in South Africa are more effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus than the Beta strain, experts have said.

The Beta variant, which was first detected in South Africa, caused a second wave at the beginning of this year whereas the Delta variant, first detected in India, is driving the current third wave in South Africa, resulting in increased lockdown restrictions as the number of infections and deaths have already surpassed those of the previous two waves.

In a media briefing led by Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi on Friday, experts said that results in both laboratory research and field studies had shown that the vaccines were effective against the Delta virus.

“What we have seen in the in vitro work is that the J&J vaccine works better against the Delta variant and gets better over time where both the Delta and Beta variants are concerned,” said Professor Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council.

Gray said there was no need yet to get a booster jab of the J&J vaccine. Referring to the studies so far, she said that a single shot worked just as well as two doses given to health care workers over a period.

“Right up to eight months we may say that we have durable immune responses as measured in people who we are following up over time,” she said.

“Quite unequivocally, the single shot of J&J vaccine works against both the Delta and the Beta variants of concern at eight months. So this is just to reassure the public that we don’t need to boost the J&J vaccine just yet, but we need to keep following up the participants to see when the durability of the immune response wanes,” Gray said.

Professor Penny Moore of the University of Witwatersrand confirmed that existing laboratory data suggested that the vaccines currently being used in South Africa work better against the Delta variant than they have against the Beta variant.

“In a large measure, our epidemic now in South Africa is driven by the Delta variant, so it is very crucial that we understand how that variant reacts to the various vaccines that we have in South Africa.

“Against the Pfizer vaccine, the antibodies were really good at 1,000 (but) with the AstraZeneca vaccine the antibodies dropped right down to 146, indicating that the vaccine would not work so well against the Beta variant. But when we look at the Delta variant which is now circulating in South Africa, the numbers have gone back up again,” Moore said.

WHO earlier expressed concern about possible new waves in Europe due to the Delta variant, which has been detected in over 25 countries around the globe. The Delta variant is more transmissible than the previous two variants.

With vaccine stocks running out as vaccination campaigns are stepped up, the health minister said that South Africa will get delivery of 2.1 million more Pfizer doses this month, together with 500,000 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines that are still due for delivery.

The epicentre of South Africa’s third wave is the economic hub of Gauteng Province. A two-week lockdown that started on Monday has prohibited travel into or out of the province except under special circumstances to contain the exponentially rising infections and deaths.

By Friday, South Africa had passed two million infections. With 381 deaths from COVID-19 related issues overnight, the current death toll has touched 61,029.

Joe Biden: US Troops Not To Leave Afghanistan In Next Few Days

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that the drawdown in Afghanistan is “on track”, but troops will not leave the country in the next few days.

When asked by reporters at the White House whether the US will complete withdrawal in the next few days, Biden replied, “No, we’re on track exactly as to where we expect it to be.”

“I wanted to make sure there was enough running room that we…wouldn’t be able to do it all till

“There’ll still be some forces left, but it’s a rational drawdown with our allies… there is nothing unusual about it.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later told reporters during a daily briefing that the withdrawal is expected to be completed by the end of August.

Biden in April ordered all US troops to leave Afghanistan before September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that drew the US into its longest war.

Security situation in the war-torn country has deteriorated as Taliban militants continue heavy fighting against government forces and gain ground since the drawdown of US troops on May 1.

The Taliban advances have prompted the US intelligence community to conclude that the government of Afghanistan could collapse as soon as six months after the complete withdrawal of the US military from the country, according to a report of The Wall Street Journal.

“I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government,” Biden said on Friday. “But I am concerned that they deal with the internal issues that they have to be able to generate the kind of support they need nationwide to maintain the government.”

He also noted that the Afghan military needs to depend on its own capabilities to ensure the security of the capital Kabul.

Biden’s words came as US troops had left a major military base in Afghanistan. A spokesperson for the Afghan Defense Ministry confirmed earlier in the day that all US and NATO forces in Afghanistan had evacuated the Bagram Airfield near Kabul, handing over the largest coalition base to Afghan government troops.

India’s Ambassador In US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu Interacted With The WhiteHouse Fellows At EEOB

India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu on Thursday interacted with White House fellows and discussed with them the intricacies of diplomacy and the relationship between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

Sandhu, in a tweet, said “an enjoyable and substantial interaction” with the White House fellows at Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex.

“Covered wide areas ranging from diplomacy, India-US relations, regional developments, healthcare, energy, environment, IT and education with this group of young emerging American leaders in different fields!” he added.

Founded in 1964, the White House Fellowship is a non-partisan programme that brings young leaders into the federal government to provide first-hand experience working at the highest levels of government.

A key element of this unique fellowship is the education programme in which prominent leaders from across society meet the fellows.

In the past, the fellows have heard from dignitaries like Colin Powell, the former secretary of state. Sandhu was the first one to be invited under the Biden administration to this interaction.

In the past, several Indian-Americans have been selected for the prestigious fellowship. Prominent among them include Dr Sanjay Gupta of CNN, Rajeev Venkayya, EVP Vaccines, Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

Indian-American Priya Dandiya from Florida is a White House fellow for the year 2020-21. Pia is the founding principal of Democracy Prep Endurance High School in Harlem, New York. Every single graduate of her school went on to attend college despite nearly all living below the poverty line.

California Firefighters Battle Big Wildfires In High Heat

Hundreds of firefighters worked Thursday in high heat to beat back three large wildfires in the forests of far Northern California, where the flames destroyed several homes and forced some communities to evacuate.

Mount Shasta, the volcano that towers over the region, was shrouded in a haze from smoke plumes that could be seen in images from weather satellites in space.

The scene was ominously reminiscent of last year’s California wildfire season, which scorched more than 6,562 square miles (17,000 square kilometers) of land, the most in the state’s recorded history.

An extraordinary Pacific Northwest heat wave that extended into the upper reaches of California was slowly receding, but it was only expected to cool off slightly before temperatures trend back up heading into the Fourth of July weekend, forecasters said.

“It is very hot and dry,” said Suzi Johnson, a Shasta-Trinity National Forest spokeswoman for the Salt Fire, which broke out Wednesday and grew to 7 square miles (18 square kilometers), shutting several lanes of Interstate 5 and prompting evacuation orders for some roads in Lakehead, an unincorporated community of around 700 people.

A reporter for the Redding Record Searchlight saw at least a dozen buildings destroyed south of Lakehead, including homes, garages and outbuildings, the paper reported.

Johnson told the paper that investigators were trying to locate a car that may have started the fire Wednesday afternoon near Interstate 5 when hot pieces or parts apparently flew off and ignited dry brush.

About 300 firefighters battled the blaze but were hampered by hot weather and challenging terrain, officials said.

The fire was a threat to homes around Shasta Lake north of the city of Redding, more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of San Francisco. The huge lake is popular with vacationers, but its water level is dramatically low because of the drought.

No building damage was reported from two other northern fires, which erupted as California and the rest of the U.S. West was mired in a historic drought tied to climate change.

To the north, the Lava Fire burning partly on the flanks of Mount Shasta grew to nearly 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) and was 25 per cent contained. Evacuation orders for communities near the city of Weed were still in effect.

The steep, rocky terrain challenged nearly 1,300 firefighters battling the blaze, which was ignited by lightning last week.

To the northeast, the Tennant Fire that broke out Monday in the Klamath National Forest and forced evacuations grew to about 15 square miles (38 square kilometers). The fire was expected to advance north toward Oregon, and its cause was being investigated.

Many of California’s national parks have restrictions on campfires, cooking and smoking because of fire risks in the hot, dry summer. The parks are bracing for large crowds over the holiday weekend.

Fire authorities throughout California also have stepped up campaigns urging people not to use fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, citing both the explosive dangers and the threat of wildfires in the withering conditions.

“The fuels are bone dry,” Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said at a news conference.

“We are extremely concerned about the use of fireworks of all kinds.”

UAE Bans Citizens From Travelling To India, Pakistan And Others

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has banned its citizens from traveling to several countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. This comes after the UAE last month extended the travel ban on passengers from 14 countries until July 21 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Foreign Ministry and the National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority stated that, with the start of the travel season, citizens need to comply with all precautionary and preventive measures related to Covid-19, The Express Tribune reported.

In a notice issued to Airmen (NOTAM), UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, said flights from 14 countries, includes Liberia, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic Of Congo, Uganda, Zambia, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and South Africa, will remain suspended until 23:59 hours of July 21, 2021.

However, cargo flights, as well as business and charter flights, would be exempted from the restrictions. The UAE authorities also instructed UAE citizens to adhere to self-isolation should they get Covid-19 positive during their travel, and to ensure compliance with all instructions, requirements and health protocols applied by their host countries.

Meanwhile, infected Emiratis will be allowed to return to the UAE after getting the necessary approvals from the relevant authorities in the host country as well as the competent health departments in the UAE. 

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