Monday, September 7, 2020

India, Angola hold first joint commission meeting, agree to diversify trade ties

The meeting was co-chaired by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Angola counterpart Tete Antonio. (ANI)

New Delhi [India], September 07 (ANI): India and Angola on Monday held the first Joint Commission Meeting during which the two sides agreed to diversify their trade relationship and discussed cooperation in health, pharmaceuticals, defence, agriculture, food processing, digitization and telecom.

The meeting was co-chaired by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Angola counterpart Tete Antonio.

"Co-chaired the 1st India-Angola Joint Commission Meeting with FM Tete Antonio. Comprehensive review of bilateral issues. Agreed to diversify the trade basket. Discussions included cooperation in health, pharmaceuticals, defence, agriculture, food processing, digitization & telecom," Jaishankar tweeted.

"Welcome the signing of MoUs on health, training and visa facilitation," he added. (ANI)

UK foreign secretary summons Russian ambassador over Navalny's case

Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

London [UK], September 07 (ANI/Sputnik): The United Kingdom has summoned the Russian ambassador over the situation with Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who is currently being treated in a clinic in Germany for alleged poisoning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Monday.

"Today the UK summoned Russia's Ambassador to the UK to register deep concern about the poisoning of Alexey @Navalny," Raab said on Twitter, adding that Russia needed to have "a full, transparent investigation."

Earlier in the day, the Charite hospital in Berlin said that Navalny's condition improved and he had been brought out of artificially induced coma.

"Relieved to hear that Alexei Navalny has been taken out of the medically induced coma. I hope his condition continues to improve," Raab wrote.

The Kremlin said earlier in the day it was expecting Germany to share its information about the case with Moscow soon. The Kremlin stressed that it considered any attempts to accuse Russia or its government of complicity in this situation as absurd and groundless. (ANI/Sputnik)

Pakistan's prison report highlights massive scale of mistreatment of women in jails: US-based NGO

Pakistan flag

New York [US], September 07 (ANI): Pakistan's Human Rights Ministry report highlighted the poor conditions of women in prisons as well as the massive scale of mistreatment meted out to them in jails and the need for broad and sustained reform, said US-based NGO Human Right Watch's Asia director Brad Adams.

The report 'Plight of Women in Pakistan's Prisons,' submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan on August 26, highlighted that Pakistan's prison laws did not meet international standards and that officials often ignore laws meant to protect women prisoners, according to a statement by the Human Right Watch (HRW).

"The Human Rights Ministry has highlighted the massive scale of mistreatment of women in prison and the need for broad and sustained reform," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "While an important step, this report can only bring change if Pakistani authorities follow its recommendations and end widespread abuse."

Of the 1,121 women in prison as of mid-2020, 66 per cent had not been convicted of any offence and were detained while awaiting the conclusion of their trial. More than 300 women were detained in facilities outside the districts where they lived, making family visits nearly impossible.

On September 2, Khan ordered officials to carry out a Supreme Court decision compelling the release of women prisoners to reduce prison congestion and limit the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19.

The women to be released are awaiting trial for minor offences or have served most of their prison terms. Khan also asked for "immediate reports on foreign women prisoners and women on death row for humanitarian consideration" and possible release, the statement noted.

The committee, which submitted the reported to Khan, found that prison staff routinely failed to observe appropriate protections against the spread of the coronavirus. Prison staff failed to put social distancing measures in place or require prisoners and staff to wear masks.

The committee urged comprehensive medical screening for all entering prisoners.

According to the HRW, the children who accompany their mothers in prison face additional risks.
The committee found that 134 women had children with them in prison, some as old as 9 and 10, despite the legal limit of 5 years. At least 195 children were housed in prisons as of 2020.

A critical lack of funding in the prison healthcare system has meant that mothers whose children are with them in prison often lack essential health care, leaving both the women and the children at risk of contracting infections.

One prisoner reported that her child, who had a developmental disability, was not offered any support services or medical care despite the prisoner's repeated requests during her six years of incarceration.
Pakistan needs urgent and comprehensive prison reform, with a particular focus on the rights of women, children, and at-risk prisoners, the HRW said.

"The Human Rights Ministry report is an opportunity for the Pakistan government to take meaningful steps to improve the treatment of women in prisons in the country and start a much-needed process of systemic, large-scale prison reform," Adams said. (ANI)

WHO panel on response to COVID-19 pandemic to begin work Tuesday: Tedross

The health body's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (ANI)

Geneva [Switzerland], September 07 (ANI/Sputnik): The World Health Organization (WHO) review committee established to assess the performance of its International Health Regulations during the global coronavirus pandemic will begin its work on Tuesday, the health body's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

"Tomorrow, the review committee of the International Health Regulations will begin its work. The International Health Regulation is the most important legal instrument in global health security. As a reminder, the review committee will evaluate the functioning of the IHR during the pandemic so far and recommend any changes it believes are necessary," Tedros said during a press briefing on Monday.

"It will review the convening of the Emergency Committee, the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern, the role and functioning of international IHR focal points and will examine progress made in implementing the recommendations of previous International Health Regulation review committees," Tedros added. (ANI/Sputnik)

Saudi Arabia convicted 8 people charged for killing Jamal Khashaggi

Dissident Journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Riyadh [Saudi Arabia], September 07 (ANI): Saudi Arabia on Monday convicted eight people charged in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, state media reported on Monday.

The court handed 20-year sentences to five people and three others were sentenced to between seven to 10 years, Al Jazeera reported citing state media on Monday. The eight convicted were not identified.

The final court verdict comes after Khashoggi's sons said in May they had "pardoned" the killers - meaning they would not receive death sentences. Five of the men earlier had been sentenced to death.
Khashoggi, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi regime, was killed on October 2 last year in Turkey where he had gone to obtain paperwork certifying his divorce from his former wife Alaa Nassif in order to be able to marry his Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

His killing had brought international outrage and battered the reputation of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (ANI)

Russian opposition leader Navalny condition improved, says Berlin hospital

Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition leader.

Berlin [Germany], September 07 (ANI): The condition of Alexey Navalny, a Russian opposition leader who is believed to poisoned with military-grade nerve agent Novichok, have improved, said Berlin's Charite hospital on Monday.

"The health condition of Alexei Navalny, who has been treated at Charite University Hospital Berlin since August 22, 2020, has improved. The patient's medically induced coma could be ended. The patient is being weaned off the ventilator. He reacts to speech. The long-lasting effect of the heavy poisoning is still not ruled out," the hospital said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the German government said Navalny had been poisoned with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok.

Novichok is the same agent that was used to poison the Russian double agent and his daughter in 2018.

Navalny, a well-known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell ill while flying to Moscow from Siberia, prompting an emergency landing in Omsk, Siberia.

His personal doctor and aide said Navalny had drunk black tea at an airport cafe, which she believed was laced with poison.

Three days later, Navalny was transferred to the Charite Hospital in Germany for "extensive medical diagnosis" at the insistence of his wife and his associates. (ANI)

53 ASEM countries call for tranparent, timely sharing of accurate information to combat COVID-19

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Brussels [Belgium], September 07 (ANI): Underscoring the transboundary nature of coronavirus pandemic, 53 Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) countries called for sharing of information in a free, responsible, transparent and timely manner in order to "decisively and effectively control" the spread of the virus.

In the joint statement, the 53 ASEM partners including India highlighted that the virus does not distinguish between continents, borders, nationalities or ethnicities.

The statement was issued on the behalf of 53 ASEM partners by Foreign Ministers of Cambodia as the host nation of the 13th ASEM Summit, the EU and Germany as regional coordinators of the European group, Singapore as the regional coordinator of the ASEAN group, and Russia as the regional coordinator of the Northeast and South Asia group.

The ministers called upon ASEM partners to implement national action plans by putting in place, according to their specific contexts, comprehensive, proportionate, time-bound, age-, gender- and disability-sensitive measures across governmental sectors against COVID-19, and strengthen actions to involve women's participation in all stages of decision-making processes.

"The transboundary nature of the pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of Asia and Europe. The virus does not distinguish between continents, borders, nationalities or ethnicities," the statement read.

"We reaffirm our commitment to working together and sharing experiences, best practices and information in a free, responsible, transparent and timely manner in order to decisively and effectively control the spread of the pandemic," it added.

The ministers said that they commit themselves to continue to work closely with all relevant international and regional organisations and financial institutions to collaborate further towards enhancing our pandemic preparedness, resilience and response.

The ministers welcomed ASEM partners' pledging commitments towards the Euro 15.9 billion outcome for the Coronavirus Global Response and towards the USD 8.8 billion outcomes for the Global Vaccines Summit.

They underlined the importance of having sufficient resources and encourage cooperation among ASEM partners to facilitate our collective action against COVID-19, including ensuring the uninterrupted provision of healthcare through our health systems.

The ministers pledged to continue working together to maintain and facilitate international trade, including through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and coordinate responses in ways that ensure international traffic and critical transportation infrastructures, such as air and seaports, remain operational, and the flow of cargo and goods continue while observing public health and safety considerations.

"As we gradually ease restrictions, we encourage all ASEM partners to collaborate in strengthening disease outbreak and pandemic early warning systems. We will also seek to improve and expand information and communication with each other for the implementation of concerted outbreak and pandemic preparedness and response measures," the statement read.

The ministers reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the momentum of ASEM to strengthen multilateralism for socio-economic resilience. "The virus will not weaken our resolve to stand together in solidarity and our mutual support during this difficult time. Through our concerted efforts and close cooperation, ASEM partners will emerge from this unprecedented global challenge stronger and more resilient," the statement added. (ANI)

Moscow, Riyadh discuss G20 talks, OPEC+ deal implementation, COVID-19 vaccine

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Moscow [Russia], September 7 (ANI/Sputnik): Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud held a phone conversation about preparations for the G20 summit, the implementation of the OPEC+ oil production cuts deal, and the joint production of the Russian vaccine against COVID-19, the Kremlin said on Monday.

The conversation was held at Riyadh's initiative, the Kremlin noted.

"In the context of Saudi Arabia's presidency in the G20, they discussed preparations for the meeting of G20 heads of state and government, which will be held in November," the Kremlin said in a statement.

"Both sides expressed satisfaction with the implementation of the OPEC+ agreements, which have contributed to the stabilization of the global energy markets. They agreed to continue close coordination," the Kremlin added.

The leaders also touched upon the effort to overcome negative consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for the global economy and finance, including for the Putin-proposed initiative to create so-called green corridors for mutual deliveries of medical drugs, food, equipment and technologies, the statement read on.

"A special focus was made on the prospects of joint production of the vaccine for [coronavirus] infection prevention, developed in Russia," the Kremlin said.

Putin and Al Saud confirmed commitment to expand cooperation on trade, the economy and investment, the Kremlin said. (ANI/Sputnik)

UK Judge turns down plea by Nirav Modi's lawyers to bar press in extradition trial

Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi. 

London [UK], September 7 (ANI): A judge in Westminster Magistrate's Court in London rejected an application by lawyers of fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi to bar the press from the extradition trial.

The five-day trial of Modi, who is lodged in a prison in London since his arrest in March last year, began earlier today.

Modi's lawyer requested the judge to bar members of the press from the proceedings.

The 49-year-old fugitive was arrested in March 2019 in London and charged with money laundering and defrauding Punjab National Bank (PNB) of more than Rs 11,000 crore.

In view of coronavirus pandemic, Nirav Modi appeared from a room in Wandsworth prison in Southwest London.

The second leg of the trial began on Monday after it was adjourned until September after a week of extraordinary drama at the court in Central London in May this year. (ANI)

Berlin reluctant to name specific dates for concluding Brexit deal: Spokesman

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Berlin [Germany], September 7 (ANI/Sputnik): Berlin would rather not set any specific dates for the European Union's trade agreement with London and supports the EU's chief Brexit negotiator in his efforts to reach a deal, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.

On the eve of the eighth round of London-Brussels talks that are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, the UK government announced its determination to "move on" if no deal is reached by October 15, the day of the next European Council summit.

"I don't want to set a deadline, but we support Michel Barnier in his efforts to conclude the agreement in the foreseeable future. I would not like to talk about a specific number of days," Seibert told reporters.

After the UK withdrew from the European bloc on January 31, both sides entered into an 11-month transition period to set the rules for their future bilateral trade.

If no agreement is eventually secured, London and Brussels will have to trade on the terms set by World Trade Organisation, meaning that tariffs and full border checks would be imposed on UK goods entering the EU. (ANI/Sputnik)

WikiLeaks says about 40 activists prevented from accessing Assange's extradition hearing

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

London [UK], September 7 (ANI/Sputnik): The WikiLeaks whistleblowing organization said Monday, citing unconfirmed reports, that about 40 activists lost their remote access to the extradition hearing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Earlier in the day, the extradition hearing resumed in the criminal court in London.

"Unconfirmed reports entire list of 40 civil society and political monitors have had their remote access to the #Assange hearings withdrawn - after being invited to register for access last week. This includes Parliamentarians and NGOs. #FreePress," the WikiLeaks said on Twitter.

The United States has requested Assange's extradition in connection with confidential documents made public by the Wikileaks. In a separate case, the UK court sentenced him to jail time over is earlier breach of bail conditions. (ANI/Sputnik)

Nirav Modi's five-day extradition trial in PNB fraud case begins in UK

Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi

London [UK], September 07 (ANI): Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi's five-day extradition trial began on Monday at the Westminster Magistrate's Court in London.

Nirav Modi joined in the trial through a video link from Wandsworth prison in South London.

Earlier in the day, a team of Enforcement Directorate arrived in London.

In May, the trial of Modi has been adjourned until September after a week of extraordinary drama at the Westminster Magistrate's Court in Central London.

Nirav Modi, wanted in India on the charges of fraud and money-laundering, was arrested in March 2019 in London and charged with money laundering and defrauding Punjab National Bank (PNB) of more than Rs 11,000 crore.

Taliban appoints Mallawi Abdul Hakim as new chief negotiator

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Kabul [Afghanistan], September 7 (ANI): Taliban leaders have appointed Mawlawi Abdul Hakim, the chief justice of the group, as head of their 21-member negotiating team in Qatar, TOLO News reported. Citing sources close to the Taliban, TOLO news reported that most of the fatwas (rulings) of the group, particularly on war, are issued by Mawlawi Abdul Hakim and that he will attend the negotiating table with full authority.

The former chief negotiator Abbas Stanekzai will be Mawlawi's deputy. Meanwhile, Mohammad Naeem Wardak has been appointed as the spokesman of their negotiating team.

The new appointments come amid the intra-Afghan negotiations that are about to be finalised from the two sides - Afghanistan and the Taliban.

Pakistan drifting away from US towards China: Defence analyst

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (ANI)

Islamabad [Pakistan], September 7 (ANI): Amid the drastic change in US-Pakistan's relationship, China is the only hope for Pakistan for economic assistance, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, said Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst and South Asian politics scholar.

Speaking during an interview with The News International, Siddiqa said amid the fast-changing world dynamics wherein the coalition among the United States, India and Saudi Arabia gains strength, "Pakistan is drifting away from the US towards a potential alliance between China, Russia and perhaps Iran."

"The nature of US-Pakistan relations is changing drastically. Even though it has played a vital role in the US-Taliban negotiations, no one expects the continuation of American financial assistance to Pakistan. Islamabad joined the American alliance against the Taliban after 9/11," Siddiqa said.

"While the dominant narrative popularised by Islamabad was that it was forced into alignment, governments stuck to the narrow prism of extracting financial resources from the US, which also meant delivering reluctantly. The foreign policy debate in Pakistan is silent about our own responsibility in supporting the Taliban or keeping Osama bin Laden. Ultimately, the relationship collapsed at a point of overselling of our capabilities with limited capacity to deliver," she added.

The US-Pakistan relation has continued to be on a downhill as the latter has failed to take strong action against the terrorist groups emanating from its soil.

Due to the deteriorating ties, Siddiqa said, "China appears to be the only option. It may be Pakistan's only hope for economic assistance, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic... In the wake of the fast-changing world dynamics, as the coalition among the United States, India and Saudi Arabia gains strength, Pakistan is drifting away from the US towards a potential alliance between China, Russia and perhaps Iran."

She, however, noted that there are a lot of issues that still need to be worked out between these countries and Pakistan can benefit only "if it can do its homework and go beyond the idea of extracting limited benefits."

"There is an expectation that Pakistan and Iran will come close as a result of both being part of BRI, especially if Beijing and Tehran sign an agreement that is being talked about. Right now, we don't know if the agreement will get signed, but even if it does, I am not sure that we are domestically talking about the competition between Iran and Pakistan that will happen naturally. It was there even when both neighbours were once part of an American alignment," she said.

She further stated that Pakistan needs to improve its relations with its neighbours including India, Iran and Afghanistan.

While commenting on Pakistan's defence and foreign policy, Siddiqa said, "Pakistan's defence and foreign policy community lacks independent thinking and diversity of viewpoints. Over the years, alternative voices have been silenced. I was talking to a diplomat, who said that during her two postings to the country between 2016 and now, many people that she would talk to are no longer in the country.

The security community that we have now comprising faculty at the known public sector universities and think tanks only preach to the choir by communicating dominant narratives of the establishment back to them through their reports. It is interesting to note that most of the think tanks are located on the Grand Trunk Road with little input from other parts of the country." (ANI)

China funding terror groups by putting African rosewood on verge of extinction

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London [UK], September 7 (ANI): China's reckless pillaging of forests in Africa has left the rosewood species on the verge of extinction and helped to fund terror groups, according to experts.

Beijing has slapped restrictions on logging at home, but ironically, it is helping to fill the coffers of terrorists by resorting to illegal logging in Africa. According to official estimated, Chinese timber imports from Africa are worth nearly USD 2.2 billion a year, although the number could jump to USD 17 billion due to illegal logging, reported.

Environmentalists have warned that replacing rosewood is difficult as it takes decades for trees to grow to a commercially useful size and become fully mature.

Due to corruption, black market trade is flourishing and benefitting terror groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Senegal.

Three years back, China had banned logging in its natural forests in a bid to stop polluting rivers and prevent flooding. However, they have not been able to stop illegally sourced timber from arriving.
China had exhausted hardwood stocks in Southeast Asia by 2010. Since then, imports of African rosewood has zoomed by 700 per cent.

Naomi Basik Treanor, from the US charity Forest Trends, was quoted as saying, "Many rosewood areas in Southeast Asia are now commercially extinct. Because African rosewood is of lower grade, it's cheaper and in such high demand that it is now the most traded in the market. It is being pillaged."

Nigeria had accounted for 40 per cent of all China's hardwood imports before 2017. As per an investigation by Environmental Investigative Agency in Nigeria, illegally harvested logs amounting to USD 1 billion has been shipped secretly to China in the last four years.

The loggers paid a further USD 1 million in bribes to Nigerian officials, according to the agency. It became concerned over links to terror groups and criminal gangs and suspended all hardwood trade from Nigeria. However, not all exports have come to a halt, according to

"The level of indebtedness, which African countries have to China as a result of the Belt And Road Initiative makes it easier to persuade governments to turn a blind eye," Naomi said.

Naomi added, "If both sides are invested there is going to be far less intervention to stop illegal trading and lot more turning the other cheek." (ANI)

Brakes of 100 Chinese faulty train compartments in Sri Lanka to be replaced: Govt

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Colombo [Sri Lanka], September 7 (ANI): The Sri Lankan government has announced that it will replace the brakes on faulty Chinese train compartments used in the island nation.

The government said there are in total 100 Chinese train compartments used in Sri Lanka, which are faulty.

Sri Lanka's Railways General Manager, Dilantha Fernando told Colombo Gazette that Chinese train compartments are equipped with disk brakes, which Sri Lankan trains do not use.

Fernando said this has resulted in serious concerns being raised by engine drivers recently.

"The disk brakes are used for high-speed trains. Those do not work in Sri Lanka. So we are looking at converting the brake system on these train compartments. But it will take time," he said.

The government had recently withdrawn train engine drivers from operating trains with faulty Chinese compartments.

Secretary of the Railway Engine Drivers Association, Indika Dodangoda had told the Colombo Gazette that there are 100 Chinese train compartments used in Sri Lanka, which are faulty.

He said since 2010, complaints had been made with the Railway Department over the faulty train compartments.

Since the matter was not resolved the train engine drivers had withdrawn from operating trains with faulty Chinese compartments.

However, an assurance was later given that the issue will be looked into and the train engine drivers returned to operating trains with faulty Chinese compartments.

Dodangoda said at least 200 accidents or incidents had occurred since 2010 involving trains with Chinese train compartments. (ANI)

R Masakul appointed as next High Commissioner of India to Jamaica

Diplomat R Masakul

New Delhi [India], September 7 (ANI): Diplomat R Masakui has been appointed as the next High Commissioner of India to Jamaica.

Masakui is presently Ambassador of India to the Republic of Zimbabwe.

"He is expected to take up the assignment shortly," the MEA said.

He has served in Reserve Bank of India from 1999 to 2001.

After joining the Indian Foreign Service, Masakui served as Third Secretary/Second Secretary, Jakarta, Indonesia, Under Secretary, UNES, New Delhi, Consul in Johannesburg, South Africa, Counsellor in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

He has also served as Director in the Ministry of External Affairs. (ANI)

Japan order evacuation of over 1.1 million people due to Typhoon Haishen

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Tokyo [Japan], September 07 (ANI/Sputnik): More than 1.1 million people living in Japan's four southwestern prefectures were ordered to immediately evacuate on Monday due to Typhoon Haishen, which has been raging across northeast Asia over the weekend, the NHK broadcaster reported.

The evacuation was ordered for Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto and Kagoshima, and recommended for another 2.3 million people in a further eight prefectures.

On Sunday night, Haishen passed through Japan's southwestern island of Kyushu, causing massive damage. Over 50 people were injured and more than 500,000 households were left without electricity due to the typhoon. (ANI/Sputnik)

India, Bangladesh to hold Joint Conslutative Commission soon: Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar

New Delhi [India], September 7 (ANI): External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday said that India and Bangladesh will hold Joint Consultative Commission soon.

Taking to Twitter, Jaishankar said, "Warm conversation with FM Dr AK Abdul Momen of Bangladesh. Agreed to hold our Joint Consultative Commission very soon. Will continue to work closely to reach the ambitious goals set by our leaders."

Earlier today, The Bangladesh Parliament has unanimously adopted a condolence motion on former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, who passed away last month.

According to the High Commission of India in Bangladesh, the motion said the people of Bangladesh will remember Mukherjee as a "true patriot".

"Bangladesh @jatiyoshangsad unanimously adopted a condolence motion on the demise of late Pranab Mukherjee, adding, 'The people of Bangladesh will always remember this great eternal leader as a genuine well-wisher of the people of India and Bangladesh and a true patriot'," the High Commission said in a tweet on Monday.

Mukherjee breathed his last at a Delhi hospital on August 31. He was 84. (ANI)

Fighting intesifies in northeast Yemen, 28 dead

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Aden [Yemen], September 7 (ANI/Xinhua): Fighting heavily intensified between Yemen's government forces and the Houthi group in the country's northeastern province of al-Jawf during the past 24 hours, leaving 28 killed, a military official told Xinhua.

The local military official said on condition of anonymity that "armed confrontations that began on late Sunday are still taking place between the government troops and the Houthi group over the control of key areas in al-Jawf province."

The ongoing fighting left nearly 18 Houthis and 10 members of the government forces killed with scores of injuries among both factions, the source said.

He indicated that the government forces were determined to expel the Houthis out from strategic areas in al-Jawf, but fighting expanded further in the province.

"The Houthis staged a stiff resistance and succeeded in impeding the progress of the government forces in al-Jawf til the moment," the source added.

Another local Yemeni military official confirmed that the Iran-backed Houthis made progress on-ground and captured areas in the neighbouring oil-rich province of Marib.

Warplanes of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened and carried out a series of airstrikes against the Houthi-led areas in al-Jawf and Marib provinces, according to the local Yemeni sources.

The Iran-allied Houthis control much of al-Jawf and government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition are attempting to expel the rebels out of the province.

Yemen has been mired in civil war since late 2014 when the Houthi group seized control of much of the country's north and forced the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi out of the capital Sanaa.

The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 to support Hadi's government. (ANI/Xinhua)

Over 50 injured as Typhoon Haishen hits Japan

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Tokyo [Japan], September 7 (ANI): More than 50 people have been injured and four have gone missing as typhoon Haishen battered Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu, causing massive blackouts and disrupting transportation, Kyodo News reported.

Fifty-two people were injured in Kyushu and elsewhere due to the typhoon, a Kyodo News tally as of noon stated.

Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of torrential rains, strong winds and tidal surges in some areas.

Typhoon Haishen is now headed towards the Korean Penninsula.

Kyodo news reported that As of noon Monday, the typhoon was moving north at a speed of about 50 km per hour off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. It had an atmospheric pressure of 960 hectopascals at its center, packing winds of up to 180 km per hour.

However, the strength has reportedly downgraded from "extremely powerful" to "powerful." (ANI)

300 Rohingya refugees reach Indonesia after being stranded at sea for months

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Jakarta [Indonesia], September 7 (ANI): Nearly 300 Rohingya refugees reached Aceh province in Indonesia on Monday after they were stranded at sea for the last six months, according to media reports. The Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, were spotted by local fishermen several kilometres off the coast of Lhokseumawe, authorities said.

Nearly one million Rohingyas, who fled from their native Myanmar in 2018 to escape atrocities from the armed forces, are living in refugee camps across the world, mostly in Bangladesh. Human traffickers conduct operations by promising the Rohingyas a better livelihood.

Common destinations include Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to name a few. The United Nations has expressed concerns over the plight of Rohingyas and urged Myanmar to stop its military campaign against the community and take them back into the country. (ANI)

China using Pakistan for military logistics facilities: US Defence report

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Washington [US], September 7 (ANI): The US Department of Defence in its annual report to Congress on 'Military and Security Developments involving the People's Republic of China 2020' has stated that Pakistan is among the countries, which have been chosen by the Beijing for "military logistics facilities".

According to the Defence Department's report published last week, the PRC is seeking to establish a robust overseas logistics and basing infrastructure to allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at greater distances.

"Beyond its current base in Djibouti, the PRC is very likely already considering and planning for additional overseas military logistics facilities to support naval, air and ground forces. The PRC has likely considered locations for PLA military logistics facilities in Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Seychelles, Tanzania, Angola and Tajikistan," read the report.

The Department further stated that China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) projects in Pakistan dealing with pipelines and port construction intend to decrease Beijing's reliance on transporting energy resources through strategic chokepoints, such as the Strait of Malacca.

"In support of its national strategy, the PRC pursues a range of goals through OBOR to include strengthening its territorial integrity, increasing its energy security and expanding its international influence. Given the Party views the PRC's security and development interests as complementary, the PRC leverages OBOR to invest in projects along China's western and southern periphery to improve stability and diminish threats along its borders. Similarly, OBOR projects associated with pipelines and port construction in Pakistan intend to decrease China's reliance on transporting energy resources through strategic chokepoints, such as the Strait of Malacca," the department said.

China's Strategic Support Force (SSF) runs tracking, telemetry and command stations in Namibia, Pakistan and Argentina, The Pentagon noted.

Further, China has increased its bilateral and multilateral engagement with foreign militaries, including Russia, Pakistan, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as it will improve the PLA's ability to organise and manage combined operations that integrate foreign forces.
"The PRC uses multilateral forums and international organizations to generate new opportunities to expand its influence, strengthen its political influence, promotes strategic messaging that portrays it as a responsible global actor, advance its development interests and limit outside interference in and criticism of its initiatives," the report said.

"Towards these ends, the PRC has embraced multilateral organizations such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as forums and initiatives such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, the "17+1" initiative between China and 17 Central and Eastern European countries, and the Belt and Road Forum," the report read. (ANI)

Pakistan to take final call today on reopening educational institutions

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Islamabad [Pakistan], September 7 (ANI): The Imran Khan-led government will make a final decision on Monday regarding the opening of educational institutions across Pakistan from September 15.

An Inter-Provincial Education Ministers Conference (IPEMC) will be held regarding the move to reopen educational institutions, which were shut on March 13 in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, Geo News reported.

Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mahmood will chair the meeting along with officials of the Health Department and Higher Education Commission to decide on standard operating procedures pertaining to the recommencement of academic sessions.

Health ministry officials would apprise the ministers regarding the current COVID-19 situation in the country.

According to the agenda of the meeting, the IPEMC will hold discussions on a single national curriculum, examinations in 2021 and short curriculum for the current academic year.

The recommendations will be sent to the National Command Operation Centre (NCOC) for further discussions among all stakeholders.

On August 27, the NCOC had suggested that all education institutions in Pakistan should be reopened with a top to bottom approach -- first universities, colleges, high schools and so on -- and on a rotational basis, according to Geo News.

According to the latest data published in The Dawn, Pakistan has 298,903 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 6,345 deaths.

Sindh Province accounts for the highest number of coronavirus cases -- 130,671; followed by Punjab 97,226; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 36,625; Islamabad 15,750; Balochistan 13,292 and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir 2,331. (ANI)

Xi is reportedly angered by Indian defiance along border

Chinese President Xi Jinping (File Photo)

Hong Kong, September 7 (ANI): Predictably, China has reacted angrily to successful Indian military action along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) caught napping when Indian troops moved to occupy hilltop features near Lake Spanguur on the night of August 29-30. This anger allegedly ascends all the way to the top of China's military hierarchy, Chairman Xi Jinping.

China has for a long time relied on India behaving reactively rather than preemptively, as it manufactured seizures of territory along the troublesome un-demarcated border. This time the PLA has been on the receiving end, and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is not happy.

Some media alleged that the CCP leadership was "enraged" that a PLA commander withdrew forces to avoid physical conflict at Spanguur, though evidence to substantiate this is yet to emerge. This latest embarrassment came on top of the bloody fracas in the Galwan Valley on 15 June, which occurred on none other than the auspicious occasion of Xi's 67th birthday. Losing casualties, with Chinese numbers still a state secret, represented a severe loss of face to Xi on his birthday.

Dissatisfied with their level of CCP and personal loyalty, it is also rumoured Xi is on the brink of a "brutal purge" of the PLA and regular law enforcement agencies. China's authoritarian leader has always sought to consolidate military power, something his immediate predecessors could not achieve, and he is becoming even more paranoid about political loyalty and social unrest within China.

This explains why, on August 26, the Chinese police apparatus (including the Ministries of Public Security and State Security) swore fealty to the CCP and was removed from the State Council's chain of command. A ceremony saw Xi pompously conferring a new flag on the police, one bearing the red colour of the party. Xi "ordered the police to be loyal to the party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement and strict in discipline".

Law enforcement forces have now followed suit as the People's Armed Police (PAP), which Xi placed under his immediate leadership in the Central Military Commission (CMC) in January 2018. In any popular uprising such as the one that happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the PAP would be called upon to put down any unrest.

Xi has repeatedly called for personal loyalty, and issued warnings about "two-faced" people, a phrase referring to someone who pledges obedience but actually secretly resists. Xi wants to get rid of all such people from positions of influence. Furthermore, a political study campaign is being prosecuted across political and legal forces to promote a "spirit of rectification", which harks back to Mao's destructive purges. Three deputy minister-level public security officials have already been detained in 2020, and Xi's paranoia seems to be rising to hysterical levels.

Xi has always been a hands-on leader, probably because he is distrustful of anyone outside his handpicked inner circle. It is believed he personally encouraged the launch of four ballistic missiles into the South China Sea on August 26, another provocative action sent as a warning to the USA.

A dramatic purge of the law enforcement system seems set to occur and, with Xi disappointed about how land grabs along the Himalaya border are going, further refinement of the PLA could occur. Of course, every time he implements such a purge, the PLA becomes a more politically astute organization and less military-focused as leaders seek to consolidate their own positions and think less of the overall benefit of the PLA.

With ongoing border tensions, the mood on Chinese social media platforms like Sina Weibo reflects concern, anger and deprecation of India as well. For example, one netizen quoted Chinese professor Zhang Weiwei as saying: "India's expert advice is for Modi not to provoke China. Otherwise, India will receive five times the humiliation it had in 1962."

An unusually muted post by Hu Xijing, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, received nearly 20,000 likes: "Both India and China are great powers and capable of mobilizing their national strength to solve a military border conflict. Yet, at this very moment, both sides have to calm down." Another poster put the tensions with India in perspective: "The Sino-Indian border conflict is a matter of time.

In the coming winter, both sides have to withdraw their troops. Hence, whether China can get back Taiwan is the utmost important problem to China!"

However, hubris remains a common sentiment. One Chinese netizen, who is infamous for his bullheadedness, posted to popular acclaim, "Two months ago, India just suffered what it deserved.

The Indian leader army officers ran away and abandoned their colleagues when the PLA struck them hard, leading to the death of 20 Indian soldiers and officers. How dare they come back now?"
There was pride in the PLA too among many citizens. "The Sino-India border is having conflicts once again. Soldiers of the PLA have left their suicide notes and loaded bullets into their [rifle] chambers." This harked back to an earlier post doing the rounds online, supposedly written by a PLA soldier to his wife, "If I can't come back, I will give you a pension; if I'm disabled, I'll give you a divorce certificate; if I come back, give yourself to me."

Interestingly, however, Weibo began censoring the hashtag #China-India border conflict in order to tamp down the issue. When this topic is searched, a message appears saying, "According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the page is not found."

A survey of 2,000 Chinese citizens by the Global Times and China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations concluded that 70 per cent believed India was too hostile towards China, and nearly 90 per cent supported strong government retaliation.

Referring to the aforementioned and latest confrontation, in late August India took pre-emptive action after Chinese tanks were reported near the PLA's Moldo Post on the night of August 29, presumably an attempt to strengthen its tactical posture south of Lake Pangong by encroaching into hitherto unoccupied territory.

Yet, elsewhere in the Ladakh sector, PLA forces remain inside India's perceived border in the Galwan Valley, Gogra and the north bank of Pangong Lake. The Chinese have encamped, with every indication they intend to winter over in these new positions. This Ladakh standoff has now lasted far longer than the one at Doklam in 2017, with no sign of the deadlock being broken.

It is interesting that official Chinese denunciations are similar no matter whether it is the PLA or Indian armed forces initiating the action. Counselor Ji Rong, the Chinese Embassy spokesperson in India, stated, "On August 31st, Indian troops violated the consensus reached in previous multi-level engagements and negotiations between China and India, illegally trespassed the Line of Actual Control again at the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake and near the Reqin Pass in the western sector of China-India border, and conducted flagrant provocations, which again stirred tension in the border areas."

"Illegally crossed" simply means what China considers to be the LAC in that particular area. Ji continued, "The Indian side's actions seriously violated China's territorial sovereignty, seriously violated the relevant agreements and important consensus of the two countries, and severely damaged the peace and tranquillity of the border area." Chinese troops have acted aggressively and amassed large numbers, making such flowery words meaningless.

This kind of language is identical to Beijing's official line throughout the whole standoff, as PLA troops unilaterally altered the status quo. China has shown minimal or no interest in resolving the situation on the ground or in high-level negotiations, so its words simply amplify Chinese hypocrisy. In the meantime, China regularly shows footage and images of Chinese troops as they "practice for war" on the Tibetan Plateau.

It is thus important that Delhi maintain a consistent position calling out China for its falsehoods. Indeed, this firm action by India was well overdue, and it will give the PLA and China's leadership much to think about as they consider their next move. Delhi is demonstrating it will stand up to bullying and that it will assertively counter Chinese moves.

At the same time, however, the risk of escalation increases, something that China will now have to input into its calculus of how hard it can push in the future.

A serious problem for Xi is that he has perpetrated a cycle of territorial provocations so that it is now difficult for him to pull back without appearing weak. Again, this indicates miscalculation on the part of the all-seeing and all-wise Xi, who controls every aspect of the Chinese party-state. He totally underestimated the incensed reaction of India to bloodshed along the border, and the resulting anti-China sentiment is affecting Chinese businesses, further compounding the nation's economic woes.

Yet such miscalculations and kneejerk retaliation has become a pattern of Chinese foreign relations. For instance, Foreign Minister Wang Yi's five-nation tour of Europe created as much tension as it did peacemaking. By going on the offensive so quickly, China is narrowing its options and making enemies.

China has long pursued a policy of slow and gradual encroachment of land and maritime territory, as has occurred in the South China Sea. Yet Xi appears to have overextended himself, as China's leaders battle numerous and serious issues simultaneously. As one example, Chinese troops mobilized in Inner Mongolia to suppress protests last week after Beijing enacted a policy that will sideline the local language and culture.

These actions near Lake Spanguur could reflect a more assertive Indian policy, which has often ceded territory after being taken by surprise by PLA incursions, and then been stymied by China's refusal to make any concessions during senior military-to-military negotiations.

China also holds the view that India is being used as a pawn to contain its own rise, primarily by the US. Yet Beijing seems not to realize that it is its own actions that are in fact pushing Delhi closer to Washington. India is becoming more pragmatic in aligning itself with other nations, something Beijing can take credit for. Indian officials will meet as part of the Quad grouping - comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US - later this month. One item on their agenda could be an intelligence-sharing arrangement.

Whatever happens next, the heady days of the "Wuhan spirit" have all but evaporated thanks to Xi's intransigence. (ANI)

Nepal's Rato Machindranath Jatra sees no extravaganza this year

Police deployed in Pulchowk to prevent any large congregation during the Rato Machindranath Jatra. (ANI)

Lalitpur [Nepal], September 7 (ANI): As Nepal continues to register more number of coronavirus cases, cultural and religious events like Rato Machindranath Jatra is being celebrated with almost no extravaganza.

Rato Machindranath Jatra is the longest chariot festival of the Himalayan Nation. According to the lunar calendar, the longest chariot festival of Nepal begins on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of Bachhala, the seventh month in the lunar Nepal Sambat calendar but this year it didn't fall as per the set-out rule.

However, due to the strict measures amid COVID-19, the festival was fast-tracked. The lack of pomp and show has not only left the followers disheartened but a clash between locals and police on Thursday over pulling of Rato Machindranath chariot left dozens injured and several arrested.

A day later 'Kshama Puja' was performed, after which people from 19 various ethnic groups agreed to fast track the chariot procession.

As per the agreement made on Friday, chariot of Rato Macchindranath was pulled up to Sorhakhutte Falcha, in front of Lalitpur Metropolitan Office. The 'Red God' will be toured around the city and then taken back to Bungamati by September 11.

"Many people claimed that Lord Machindranath has faced a lot of pain as it was left under a scorching sun. These claims compelled people to believe that unpleasant situations will arise if Lord Machindranath gets angry," Mana Maya Mulmi, one of the member of Jatra organising committee told ANI.

Mana Maya Mulmi further said, "Today, the chariot was pulled without any problems and I am very happy. It went peacefully, the police also coordinated well. The CDO office and every concerning party organising this ceremony have played their role efficiently and responsibly."

Amid the COVID-19, Bhaktapur has called off its Bisket Jatra while Kathmandu has called off its Indra Jatra. Similarly, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur jointly called off the Gai Jatra.

A large number of security personnel have been deployed in Pulchowk to prevent any large gathering of people amid the pandemic. Only some designated local people and volunteers were allowed to be in the area on Sunday.

Chariot procession of Rato Machindranath also called as "Bunga Dugh" in Newari meaning the God of Rain and Harvest is the longest Jatra in Nepal, which runs on for months depending widely on astronomy.

It should have started on April, as earlier years but world health pandemic of Coronavirus pushed back the dates twice -- once in April and again in June.

Dates were differed twice in April due to lockdown imposed by the government. With the end of lockdown in July, the construction of chariot was expedited by "Guthi" or social organisation assigned to hold on traditional processions and festivals.

The ascension of Lord Machindranath was performed on July 25. (ANI)

Bangladesh Parliament unanimously adopts condolence motion on Pranab Mukherjee

Former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee (File Photo)

Dhaka [Bangladesh], September 7 (ANI): The Bangladesh Parliament has unanimously adopted a condolence motion on former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, who passed away last month.

According to the High Commission of India in Bangladesh, the motion said the people of Bangladesh will remember Mukherjee as a "true patriot".

"Bangladesh @jatiyoshangsad unanimously adopted a condolence motion on the demise of late Pranab Mukherjee, adding, 'The people of Bangladesh will always remember this great eternal leader as a genuine well-wisher of the people of India and Bangladesh and a true patriot'," the High Commission said in a tweet on Monday.

Mukherjee breathed his last at a Delhi hospital on August 31. He was 84.

The Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi held a special condolence meet for Mukherjee last week. The national flag of Bangladesh flew at half-mast at the High Commission as the neighbouring country observed state mourning in honour of the former Indian President.

In 2013, Bangladesh conferred the honour of 'Bangladesh Muktijuddho Sommanona' (Liberation War Honour) on Mukherjee for his valuable contribution to Bangladesh's Liberation War of 1971. (ANI)

Xi Adopting Ultra-Nationalist Agenda, Indefinite One-Man Rule To Strengthen Grip On China

Chinese President Xi Jinping (File Photo)

Beijing [China], September 7 (ANI): Chinese President Xi Jinping is looking to further cement his position by doubling down on an ultra-nationalist agenda, indefinite one-man rule and ideological conformity.

In an op-ed article written by Simon Tisdall for The Guardian, China has been enveloped in a ring of fire due to Xi's authoritarian and expansionist policies, ever since becoming the President and Chinese Communist Party chief in 2012-13.

Coupled with increasing vehemence of the Xi administration, China is locked in conflict and confrontation from Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, South China Sea and Taiwan.

"A leader bound by conventional political and institutional checks and subject to public scrutiny might be expected to pause and take stock at such a moment. But in regimented, censored and heavily surveilled one-party China, Xi faces few such constraints. Instead, he is doubling down on an ultra-nationalist agenda, indefinite one-man rule and ideological conformity, as defined by him," Tisdall said.

According to the writer, it is rumoured that the Chinese President might declare himself as "Chairman Xi" soon.

Battered by the coronavirus, China's manufacturing heartlands are recovering from the pandemic at a faster rate. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 1.2 per cent of growth is predicted for this year and above 5 per cent annually thereafter, well placed ahead of other major economies.
However, there exists an increasing rich-poor divide, which is symbolised by Xi, whose unaccountably large personal fortune is put at USD 1.5 billion. There is evidence that a widening wealth gap is weakening social cohesion. With the pandemic originating in Wuhan last year, China's reputation abroad has been severely hit.

Recently, Xi instructed his party cadres in Tibet to build an "impregnable fortress" to guard against "splitism" and ensure frontier security. Outlining his hardline approach towards the ethnic minorities, he called on further subjugating Tibetan Buddhism to socialist principles.

Oppressive measures and actions practised in Tibet were applied against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, Tibetan activist Kelsang Dolma said.

"Chen Quanguo, then a rising star, arrived in Tibet as the new (Chinese Communist) Party secretary in 2011 and rapidly transformed Tibet into one of the most pervasive police states in the world. In 2016, Chen became Xinjiang's party secretary ... bringing techniques practised on Tibetans to Xinjiang," Dolma wrote.

Up to a million Uyghurs and other minorities have been incarcerated in detention camps in Xinjiang for "extremist" activities like praying. Reports emerged in June regarding a campaign of forced sterilisation, contraception and abortion aimed at reducing the birth rate of Uyghurs.

Also, testimony on state-ordered hysterectomies on Uyghur women was broadcast on television. Such repressions amount to crimes against humanity, said Tisdall.

Xi's obsession with conformity, security and total obedience led to protests against the move to curb the teaching of Mongolian language in schools in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region in China. Students in Hohhot shouted slogans, "Mongolian is our mother language! We are Mongolian until death!" students shouted. Inner Mongolia became an independent republic in 1945, which lasted for just two months.

"As in Tibet and Xinjiang, Mongolian unrest reflects wider hostility to the attempted absorption of ethnic minorities into dominant Han Chinese culture, a central tenet of Xi's pursuit of a common national identity. Yet it also suggests that despite all the coercive tools at his disposal, his ruthless methods are stimulating rather than reducing domestic resistance," Tisdall wrote.

In Hong Kong, massive protests erupted against China's move to introduce a draconian national security law, which "effectively threw down a gauntlet to the UK and the international community".
Shifting to Taiwan, which Xi considers the self-governing island as a "renegade province", China is steadily building its military presence in the region. The Chinese President has warned of seizing Taiwan by force.
"Some dismiss this as sabre-rattling. But encouraged by the west's tame surrender of Hong Kong, Xi may yet dump Beijing's failing policy of gradual, peaceful reunification. He may calculate instead that Donald Trump's chaotic America, busy fighting itself, will not come to Taiwan's defence. That could bring calamity," Tisdall wrote in The Guardian.

The author noted that as China rises to become a global superpower, he perhaps fears genuinely for the nation's unity and internal security.

Recently, Cai Xia, a Beijing professor, was expelled from the Communist Party for lashing out at Xi and compared him to a mafia boss.

"Under the regime of Xi, the CCP is not a force for progress for China. In fact, it is an obstacle to China's progress," Cai was quoted as saying by South China Morning Post last month.

"I believe I am not the only one who wants to leave this party. More people would like to withdraw or quit this party. I had intended to quit the party years ago when there was no more room to speak and my voice was completely blocked," she had said. (ANI)

Schools in Cambodia reopen after COVID-19 situation eases

Flag of Cambodia 

Phnom Penh [Cambodia], September 7 (ANI/Xinhua): Schools in Cambodia reopened on Monday after a six-month closure due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said in an earlier statement that schools must strictly adhere to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health to curb the virus spread.

He said teachers and students must wear face masks, have their body temperature checked, regularly wash hands with soap or alcohol and gel-based sanitisers and keep social distancing of 1.5 metres in classrooms.

The Minister said that anyone whose body temperature is higher than 37.5 degrees Celsius will not be allowed to enter the school.

"The number of students in a classroom must not be more than 20 to 25," Chuon Naron said, adding that the schools can arrange students to attend school two or three days a week and to do the rest of their learning at home.

Cambodia has seen success in controlling the spread of COVID-19. The Southeast Asian country has recorded a total of 274 confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, said a Ministry of Health's statement on Monday, adding that none have died and 272 have recovered. (ANI/Xinhua)

Third annual Indo-Pacific Business Forum to be held in Hanoi next month

Representative Image

Washington [US], September 7 (ANI): The third annual Indo-Pacific Business Forum is slated to be held in Vietnam's capital Hanoi on October 28 and 29.

The United States government, in partnership with the Government of Vietnam, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the US-ASEAN Business Council, will be sponsoring the forum, a statement from the Department of State said.

"Participants attending from the US will join the virtual conference on October 27-28," it added.
The forum advances a vision for the Indo-Pacific as a free and open region composed of nations that are independent, strong and prosperous.

Government and business leaders from the US, Vietnam and across the Indo-Pacific will discuss energy and infrastructure, the digital economy, market connectivity, health and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and US-Indo-Pacific partnerships and commercial opportunities, according to the statement.

"The forum will showcase high-impact private sector investment and government efforts to support market competition, job growth, and high-standard development for greater prosperity in the Indo-Pacific," it said.

The forum will be conducted via a secure online conferencing platform and there will be optional in-person participation in some events for attendees in Hanoi. (ANI)

Has Malaysia's AirAsia found the blueprint for airlines to survive COVID-19?

Malaysia's AirAsia in hoping a "super app" they are developing will help it recover from the devastation to its business caused by the coronavirus. (ANI)

By Lee Kah Whye
Singapore, September 7 (ANI): Malaysia's AirAsia is hoping a "super app" they are developing during the Covid 19-enforced travel hiatus, will help it recover from the devastation to its business caused by the coronavirus. This was revealed by CEO and founder Tony Fernandes in an interview with the BBC published on August 31.

As sobering news continues to flow in from the global airline industry, has AirAsia found the elixir that will alleviate the cash flow problems faced by carriers all over the world?

When the pandemic struck and cross border travel barriers came up, it was almost certain that travel-related businesses -- hotels, airlines, airports, travel agents, tour operators, tourist destinations, travel booking websites -- were going to be among those most severely impacted.

Airlines all over the world have been losing revenue and shedding employees. They are facing a future where they expect to mount fewer flights because of reduced travel demand. Many airlines are projected to be smaller and leaner organisations than they were in pre-COVID times at least in the foreseeable future.

Last week, Virgin Atlantic said it is planning to cut another 1,150 jobs subject to union consultation. This is on top of the over 3,500 jobs already being phased out from the 10,000 employees it had at the start of the year. The carrier had earlier announced that it had obtained court approval from the UK and US for its 1.22 billion pounds (USD 1.62 billion) rescue package which it hopes will secure its future for another 18 months.

The package which had already been approved by creditors includes 600 million pounds (USD 797 million) of support from the airline's owners, Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Delta Air Lines, 450 million pounds of deferred payments to creditors and 170 million pounds of financing from US-based Davidson Kempner Capital Management.

In the Pacific, the future of another of Branson's ventures, Virgin Australia, became clearer last week as the USD 2.5 billion rescue package backed by Boston-based Bain Capital was finally agreed to by creditors. The deal will see the carrier end most of its long-haul international flights, cut 3,000 employees and adopt a value-based business model. In the package, unsecured creditors will be paid between 9 and 13 cents on the dollar for their claims.

News from Asia featured Bangalore-based AirAsia India reported that its losses widened to USD 45 million for the quarter ending June 2020 compared with a loss of USD 2 million for the same period last year. With air travel coming to a grinding halt during this reporting period, revenue fell 91 per cent. AirAsia owns 49 per cent of AirAsia India with joint venture partner Tata Sons the other shareholder.

In June, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) updated its earlier projection and revealed that the airline industry was losing around USD 230 million every day. Based on this, it said it expects that by the end of 2020, airlines from around the world will collectively lose USD 84.2 billion. Revenue would have fallen by some 50 per cent to USD 419 billion from USD 838 billion in 2019. In 2021, it said that it expects losses to be reduced to USD 15.8 billion with revenues rising to USD 598 billion.

As for the AirAsia Group, in the earlier mentioned interview with the BBC, Fernandes, said he hopes that the "super app" his team is building will rival those of the most popular apps in Southeast Asia from Grab, GoJek and WeChat. These super apps allow users to access a variety of services including food delivery, shopping, payments, entertainment, transport and travel.

They have been using the time during the travel slump to improve AirAsia's app as well as the company's payments platform BigPay.

As with other airlines, revenue has all but evaporated for AirAsia. Group revenue for the second quarter (ending June) fell 96 per cent to MYR 119 million (USD 28.6 million) from the same quarter in 2019 while airline revenue declined 98 per cent year on year. Among other measures, it had to let go of 30 per cent of its staff to help it survive.

"The downturn was a blessing in disguise in some ways as it allowed us to focus more on it. Running an airline takes up a lot of our time but we have been given the opportunity and time to focus on our digital business," Fernandes was quoted by the BBC as saying.

He said, "AirAsia has always been a digital company. We were one of the first airlines to sell online. It is in our bloodstream."

With a database of over 60 million customers, Asia's largest low-cost carrier already has a good starting point.

"I know a super app sounds like a lofty target but Grab and GoJek also started out small as food or mobility apps. Plus, people also questioned me the same way when I said I wanted to start AirAsia," Fernandes said.

Besides its "super app" ambition, AirAsia is also diversifying its business portfolio. Last year, the company launched its own record label called RedRecords in partnership with Universal Music. Fernandes was formerly a Warner Music executive before Time Warner merged with America Online.

The fledgling label said it wants to discover and promote stars from Southeast Asia who will appeal to a Western audience. (ANI)

Just 21 pc Americans would agree to get vaccinated against COVID-19

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Washington [US], September 7 (ANI/Sputnik): Only about one-fifth of Americans would want to get a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible if it became available, a new YouGov poll conducted for CBS shows.

If a coronavirus vaccine became available in the US at no cost, 58 per cent of respondents say they would consider it but would wait to see what happens to others first before getting one, the poll data, released on Sunday, shows. This is seven per cent more than in July.

Just 21 per cent of voters nationwide say they would get a vaccine as soon as possible if one became available, down from 32 per cent in late July. Another 21 per cent say they would not get a coronavirus vaccine at all, as compared to 17 per cent in July.

More than 60 per cent of respondents say they would think the vaccine was rushed through if it were released this year. More Republicans (52 per cent) think if a vaccine becomes available this year, they would consider it a scientific achievement to find one that fasts, as compared to 23 per cent of Democrats. More than 70 per cent of Democrats would think it was rushed through (compared to 48 per cent of Republicans).

Only 54 per cent of Americans say they trust the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for accurate information on the coronavirus. Back in March, this figure was 86 per cent.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that CDC had alerted public health officials across the United States in all 50 states and five major cities that they should be ready to start distributing a new COVID-19 vaccine by late October or early November.

Meanwhile, the Russian Health Ministry registered the first vaccine against COVID-19, named Sputnik V, on August 11. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin expressed hope on Sunday that the majority of the Russian capital's residents would be vaccinated against the coronavirus within several months. (ANI/Sputnik)

Trump administration committed to holding China accountable for COVID-19: Pompeo

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo (File photo)

Washington [US], September 7 (ANI): US President Donald Trump is committed to making sure that the administration holds China accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives across the world and led to economic disruption, said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

"President @realDonaldTrump is committed to making sure that we hold China accountable for this virus now destroying hundreds of thousands of lives all across the world and billions of dollars in wealth. We will hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for that," Pompeo was quoted as saying in a State Department tweet on Sunday (local time).

Relations between the US and China have worsened in recent times with the two countries sparring over a range of issues including Beijing's territorial aggression in the South China Sea and the Chinese government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Pompeo has said recently that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a clear and intensifying pattern of bullying its neighbours from the Taiwan Strait to the Himalayas and beyond and hoped for a peaceful resolution of the situation on the India-China border.

Last Wednesday, the top US diplomat said the Department of State will now require senior Chinese diplomats in the US to receive approval to visit American university campuses and to meet with local government officials. (ANI)

Australian can get free coronavirus vaccine early next year: Morrison

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (File Photo)

Canberra [Australia], September 7 (ANI/Sputnik): A coronavirus vaccine will likely become available to people in Australia as early as at the start of next year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

"Australians will gain free access to a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful," Morrison said in a statement on Monday.

According to the release from the Prime Minister's Office, the Australian government has reached a 1.7 billion dollar supply and production agreement with pharmaceutical companies, which will ensure that a free COVID-19 vaccine will be available progressively throughout 2021 in Australia.

"Under the agreement, the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and the University of Queensland/CSL will provide more than 84.8 million vaccine doses for the Australian population, almost entirely manufactured in Melbourne, with early access to 3.8 million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine in January and February 2021," the statement from the Prime Minister's Office said.

Morrison stressed that there are no guarantees that the vaccines will prove successful.

Australia has over 26,200 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 750 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. More than 22,400 people have recovered. Victoria State, which has over 19,500 confirmed cases, is the worst-hit.

On Monday, Victoria reported only 41 new cases, the lowest single-day increase registered in the state since the end of June (41 new cases were reported on June 27).

Victoria Premier Dan Andrews said on Sunday that coronavirus restrictions were going to be eased in the state starting from September 13. (ANI/Sputnik)

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