India’s capital chokes as pollution levels hit the worst this year

For a second year, New Delhi’s chief minister has likened the city to a “gas chamber.” (File/AFP)
Updated 24 December 2018

India’s capital chokes as pollution levels hit the worst this year

  • Environmentalists said that inaction by the authorities was inexcusable
  • The “severe” to “emergency” ratings mean that the air is not only hazardous for citizens with existing respiratory problems but can also seriously affect healthy people

NEW DELHI: Pollution levels in New Delhi have hit their worst this year in the past two days — earning a “severe” to “emergency” rating and indicating conditions that can spark a public health crisis.
Christmas Day in the Indian capital is also forecast to be bleak.
Senior government officials said the main reasons for the surge in the amount of toxic smog trapped over New Delhi were unusually cold air, including fog, and a lack of wind.
This mean that vehicle fumes, pollution from coal-fired power plants and industries, as well as smoke from fires being burned to keep people warm hangs over the city.
Data from the government’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) showed the air quality index, which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter, was an average of 449 on Monday, only slightly better than the 450 on Sunday.
The index measures the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter, or PM 2.5, that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can be carried deep into the lungs.
The previous highest recording this year was 447 on June 15, when there was a dust storm.
Anything above 100 is considered unhealthy.
In some parts of Delhi, pollution levels hit 654 on Monday, among the worst recorded this year, and visibility in some parts of the city was just 200 meters, the weather department said.
Environmentalists said that inaction by the authorities was inexcusable and a concerted effort was needed to reduce pollution from vehicles and industry.
“If this is not an emergency, then what is?” asked Delhi-based environmentalist Vimlendu Jha.
The “severe” to “emergency” ratings mean that the air is not only hazardous for citizens with existing respiratory problems but can also seriously affect healthy people.
Conditions are likely to remain severe on Tuesday, a holiday for Christmas. The PM 2.5 level may average above 400 and hit a high of 534 in some places, CPCB data showed.
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CPCB announced measures such as shutting factories and construction sites in heavily polluted areas until Wednesday along with an advisory to avoid using diesel-powered vehicles. (https://bit.ly/2EKre9J)
“The situation might improve slightly but is likely to continue in severe category until afternoon of Dec. 26, when wind speeds will pick up and improve dispersion of pollutants,” said a task force headed by the CPCB.
Steps this year have failed to make much difference and instead there has been finger-pointing between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration, the city government and the governments of states around the capital.
The apparent lack of concern about the toxic air among ordinary folk gives federal and local politicians the cover they need for failing to address the problem, say pollution activists and social scientists.
During October and November, the federal government had blamed neighboring states for failing to curb the burning of stubble in fields, but Delhi’s air worsened in December, data showed.
India’s toxic air claimed 1.24 million lives in 2017, or 12.5 percent of total deaths, according to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health this month.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in the number of patients with respiratory problems,” said Doctor Desh Deepak, at the government-run Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.
A damning report by the World Health Organization this year said India was home to the world’s 14 most polluted cities, with Delhi the sixth worst.
For a second year, New Delhi’s chief minister has likened the city to a “gas chamber.”
A city government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.


Second fatal shooting this month near George Floyd Square

Updated 15 August 2022

Second fatal shooting this month near George Floyd Square

  • The intersection became a makeshift memorial after Floyd’s death and was officially renamed earlier this year

MINNEAPOLIS: One man died and another was seriously hurt in the second fatal shooting this month near the intersection where George Floyd died in police custody more than two years earlier.
Minneapolis Police spokesman Officer Garrett Parten said officers found two wounded men with life-threatening injuries Sunday afternoon near the intersection in south Minneapolis that was renamed to remember Floyd’s death. One man died at the hospital, and the other man’s condition wasn’t immediately available.
No arrests were reported immediately.
A week before Sunday’s shooting, Mohamed Omar, 29, died after he was shot in the area early on Aug. 7. Parten said the police department would likely increase patrols in the area after the two shootings, which both took place near the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.
The intersection became a makeshift memorial after Floyd’s death and was officially renamed earlier this year. Floyd, who was Black, died May 25, 2020, after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Floyd’s death sparked protests nationwide and forced America to confront racial injustice.

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Police: Man drives into fundraiser crowd, then kills mother

Updated 15 August 2022

Police: Man drives into fundraiser crowd, then kills mother

  • Police identified the driver as 24-year-old Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes of Nescopeck, who was arraigned early Sunday on two counts of criminal homicide

BERWICK, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania state police say a man who was upset about an argument with his mother drove through a crowd at a fundraiser for victims of a recent deadly house fire, killing one person at the event and injuring 17 others, then returned home and beat his mother to death.
Police identified the driver as 24-year-old Adrian Oswaldo Sura Reyes of Nescopeck, who was arraigned early Sunday on two counts of criminal homicide.
Police allege in a criminal complaint that Sura Reyes said he argued with his mother at their Nescopeck home Saturday evening and while driving through nearby Berwick was “extremely frustrated” and was “tired of fighting with his mother, including about money, and wanted to be done with it.”
At the time, police said, a crowd of about 75 people, including adults and small children, had gathered in a blocked-off parking lot in Berwick outside the Intoxicology Department bar, which was holding an all-day fundraising event to benefit victims of the Aug. 5 blaze in Nescopeck that killed seven adults and three children.
Police say Sura Reyes told them he drove past the gathering, then turned around and headed back to the bar “to drive through the crowd of people.” Investigators asked how fast he drove into the crowd and Sura Reyes replied “speeding up.”
“Video surveillance gathered by the Pennsylvania State Police corroborates Sura Reyes’s statement that he sped up into the crowd purposefully,” according to the criminal complaint.
Geisinger Medical Center said it received 15 patients after the crash, and five remained in critical condition while three were listed in fair condition, a hospital spokesperson said Sunday morning. Seven patients had been treated at hospitals and released.
Trooper Anthony Petroski III told reporters late Saturday that Sura Reyes was not currently a suspect in the fire, the cause of which remains under investigation.
“This is a complete tragedy in a community where there’s already been tragedy,” Petroski said.
Shortly after the crash was reported, troopers were called about a man “physically assaulting” a woman less than two miles away in Nescopeck. Troopers arrived to find local police had arrested Sura Reyes and a woman was dead.
Luzerne County Coroner Francis Hacken confirmed Sunday that the victim, Rosa D. Reyes, 56, of Nescopeck, was the mother of Sura Reyes and had died of multiple traumatic injuries after being hit by a vehicle and assaulted with a hammer.
In the criminal complaint, police say Sura Reyes told investigators he saw his mother in the street upon returning home and struck her with his vehicle, then hit her with a hammer several times.
Sura Reyes was denied bail and remained in Columbia County prison pending an Aug. 29 preliminary hearing. News outlets reported that he said “Sorry” in response to reporters’ questions as he was taken from Shickshinny police station. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had a lawyer to comment on his behalf.
The first funerals for victims of the fire were held Friday, and more were scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
The bar called the events an “absolute tragedy” and said on its Facebook page that they will be closed until further notice and would like privacy “while we grieve add try to process the events that occurred.”

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Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

Updated 14 August 2022

Man dies after crashing car, firing gunshots near US Capitol

  • Police said the man was identified as Richard A. York III of Delaware
  • Added that the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street

WASHINGTON D.C.: A 29-year-old Delaware man died in an apparent suicide early on Sunday after crashing his car into a barricade near the US Capitol and firing shots into the air, police said.
While the man was getting out of the crashed car, it became engulfed in flames just after 4 a.m. (0800 GMT) at East Capitol Street and Second Street, US Capitol Police said.
Police said the man was identified as Richard A. York III of Delaware. “It is still not clear why he chose to drive to the Capitol Complex,” Capitol Police said in a statement.
Earlier, police said “it does not appear the man was targeting any members of Congress, who are on recess, and it does not appear officers fired their weapons.”
Police said the man then fired several gunshots into the air along East Capitol Street. As police responded and approached, the man shot himself, police said. No one was else injured.
The death is being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, which did not immediately identity or any details of his motives.
There are security barricades around the Capitol Complex checkpoints that are closely guarded.
In April 2021, 25-year-old motorist Noah Green rammed a car into US Capitol police and brandished a knife, killing one officer and injuring another and forcing the Capitol complex to lock down. Police shot and killed Green.


Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

Updated 14 August 2022

Taliban welcomes India’s diplomatic representation ‘upgrade’ in Kabul

  • Indian diplomats were recently sent back to the embassy in Afghanistan
  • Indian diplomats were recently sent back to the embassy in Afghanistan

KABUL: The Afghan foreign ministry has welcomed the “upgrade” of India’s diplomatic representation in Kabul, as the Taliban administration continued to struggle for recognition by the international community a year after it took over Afghanistan.

India had closed its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover last August, but New Delhi deployed a technical team earlier this year in June to coordinate their humanitarian efforts and assess the security situation in the country. 

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar confirmed on Friday that a batch of diplomats, except for the ambassador, was recently sent back to the embassy in Kabul to address a number of issues, such as humanitarian and medical assistance, as well as development projects. 

The Taliban administration has welcomed the move and promised security and immunity for Indian diplomats in Afghanistan.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan welcomes India’s step to upgrade its diplomatic representation in Kabul,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, Afghan foreign ministry spokesperson, said in a statement issued on Saturday. 

“The Afghan government hopes that upgrading diplomatic representation and dispatching diplomats would strengthen Afghan-India relations leading to the completion of unfinished projects by India and the commencement of new vital projects.” 

Though India was one of the few countries which opposed the reconciliation process with the Taliban in the past, experts said on Sunday that New Delhi is now looking to reshape its relations with Afghanistan. 

“India is keen to engage with the Taliban as New Delhi believes that the Taliban government is going to stay for 5+ years this time or maybe longer,” Farid Mamundzay, Afghan ambassador to India appointed by the previous government, told Arab News. 

“So it’s important for India’s geopolitical interest to forget the past and form new working relations with Kabul.”

An Afghan foreign ministry official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News that India didn’t want to be left behind its geopolitical rivals.

“India wants to have their own direct lines of communication to the Afghan government, as well as to counter Pakistani and Chinese influence in Afghanistan,” the official said.

India recently opposed plans by China and Pakistan to involve third countries in their ongoing multibillion-dollar infrastructure project, after Beijing and Islamabad agreed to extend the program to Afghanistan. New Delhi said last month that the proposed participation of third countries on those projects “directly infringe on India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

India’s efforts to improve relations with the Taliban government are aimed at protecting its own interests, Torek Farhadi, analyst and advisor to the former Afghan government, told Arab News. 

“When it comes to the Taliban, India will instrumentalize them against Pakistan when it is convenient for New Delhi,” he said. 

“What we need to understand about India is that they are a pragmatic player, driving towards their own interests.” 


Rushdie assailant Matar charged with attempted murder, denied bail because of international support

Updated 14 August 2022

Rushdie assailant Matar charged with attempted murder, denied bail because of international support

  • “He’s off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun,” his agent, Andrew Wylie, said
  • Suspect pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at court appearance on Saturday

CHICAGO: The literary agent for Salman Rushdie — attacked by a pro-Iran activist at an event in New York state on Friday — said that the author had been taken off his ventilator, was able to talk and had been making jokes.

Hadi Matar, 24, arrested for the attack, was charged but denied bail as prosecutors argued that he had international support for his actions.

Rushdie’s literary agent, Andrew Wylie, told media on Sunday that the author, the subject of a death fatwa issued by the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini 33 years ago, remained hospitalized due to serious injuries.

Wylie had previously described Rushdie’s condition as bleak, noting that the author was in a “critical condition,” that he was “likely to lose an eye,” and had suffered damage to his arm and his liver.

The news about the improved condition of Rushdie, 75, however, encouraged hope and tempered the attack as a failed attempt by the extremist Iran regime, accused of fostering terrorism around the world.

The suspect, Hadi Matar, 24, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree. He was arraigned on Saturday night at Chautauqua County Jail in New York.

Bail for Matar was denied with prosecutor’s arguing that Matar had international support and could easily flee the country.

Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt told Judge Marilyn Gerace that the fatwa issued by Iran in 1989 “plays an important role for bail consideration because his resources don’t matter to me . . . the agenda that was carried out yesterday is something that’s adopted and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County . . . Even if this court sets a million-dollar bail, we stand a risk that this bail could be met because of that.”

Matar, who is from Fairview, New Jersey, is scheduled to appear again in court on Friday. He is being represented by a New York public defender assigned to represent him by the court.

Calls for a crackdown on Iranian terrorism and violence escalated as police continued to investigate Matar’s motives and possible ties to supporters of Iran’s regime.

Matar’s Facebook page and social media included photos of Khomeini and other Iran regime leaders.

“The stabbing of Salman Rushdie was not a spontaneous act,” said Ali Safavi, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, who strongly condemned the attack. “Over 30 years ago, Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s ruling theocracy, issued a fatwa to murder him. His successor Ali Khamenei confirmed it and state institutions set a $3.5 million reward. Lesson to be learned is that appeasement backfires and emboldens terrorism.”

Former US president, Bill Clinton, wrote on Twitter: “Salman Rushdie has lived his life courageously and refused to let intimidation silence him, his art, and what he stands for. I am keeping him in my thoughts and praying for his recovery.”

Clinton’s post drew criticism from some writers, who accused the former president of turning a blind eye to violence against Muslims and Palestinians, but stopped short of praising Matar.

Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state, tweeted: “I’m horrified by the cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie and praying for his speedy recovery. As he once wrote: ‘A poet’s work (is) to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it from going to sleep’.”

Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel issued a statement offering thoughts and prayers for Rushdie’s recovery.

“The small tranquil community of the Chautauqua Institution has been shaken to its core by an act of violence, which has reverberated across Chautauqua County and western New York. It is disappointing that we live in a society where we cannot listen to the differences of others, especially in a place like the institution where thinkers and problem-solvers from around the world come to share their stories,” Wendel said.

“I thank all of the emergency and law enforcement agencies who have done a tremendous job in responding to this horrific event. It is through their quick response that they were able to mitigate the situation and capture the alleged assailant.”

Author Stephen King posted on Twitter that the attack had depressed him: “I’m trying to cheer myself up this afternoon. What happened to Salman Rushdie preys on my mind.”

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, a strong critic of President Joe Biden, turned the debate to politics, attacking Biden’s efforts to reach an accord with Iran on nuclear weapons.

“Iran has been plotting for the death of Salman Rushdie since 1989 and offered a bounty to anyone who assassinates him. Yesterday, he was attacked on stage. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is open to having additional talks with this dangerous, terrorist regime,” Blackburn wrote on Twitter.

Rushdie was about to address the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center and summer resort near Buffalo, New York, when he was attacked. Rushdie was planning to speak about America being a place of “asylum for writers and other artists in exile.”

Police said that Matar had a pass to attend the presentation at the gated institution community but that passes were available to anyone.