New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

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Buildings are seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, October 30, 2019. (Reuters)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
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Congress party volunteers hold placards as they march against the alarming levels of pollution in the city, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. (AP)
Updated 06 November 2019

New Delhi breathless as people take to streets to demand clean air

  • India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks
  • On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution

NEW DELHI: It is more than 15 days since Sunieta Ojha’s two children and husband began complaining of a persistent cough and congestion in the heart.
They have stopped going out and bought three air purifiers to protect themselves from the air pollution that has engulfed New Delhi and the National Capital Territory (NCR).
A lawyer by profession, Ojha has been facing the tough task of taking care of three sick people while ensuring her professional life remains unaffected.
“My kids, who are 10 and 5 years old, keep on coughing and feel uncomfortable the whole day. They cannot step out and play. Life has become very suffocating for us,” Ojha said.
“The NCR has turned into a gas chamber where people have no other option but to suffer,” she told Arab News.
India’s national capital and its adjoining areas have been under a blanket of toxic smog for almost two weeks. The Air Quality Index (AQI) has exceeded the 500 mark regularly. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the AQI should not exceed more than 60. This year has been the worst for the past three years.
The air quality in Delhi improved on Wednesday. However, it still remains in a hazardous zone.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people protested in Delhi against the escalating pollution and asked the government to intervene to address the issue.
“I have never bothered about pollution in life. I have been busy in my professional life. But that was a mistake. I realize that something needs to be done to address the issue of air pollution because it affects everyone’s life and I tried mobilizing people through my social media posts,” said Shuchir Suri, one of the main organizers behind mobilizing citizens on the issue of pollution.
“It is a movement for clean air. This is happening globally, and this should happen in India also. Clean India starts with clean air. People want a change now in the way we look at environmental pollution,” Suri said.
Last week the Delhi government declared a public health emergency and ordered the shutting of schools until Nov. 6. It distributed four million masks in schools.
It has also introduced a car-rationing system in Delhi for ten days from Nov. 3-14, in which cars with odd and even number plates would use the roads on alternate days.
The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up central and the local government for not doing enough to address the issue of pollution. It ordered the cessation of all construction and demolition activities in Delhi. It also asked the neighboring states of Panjab and Haryana to stop the burning of farm stubbles, which environmentalists believe is one of the major causes of the toxic smog at the onset of winter in Delhi.
Dr. Loveleen Mangla, of Metro Hospital and Cancer Institute, said: “Bad air can damage your lungs, it causes bronchitis. If the air quality is bad then particulate matter or PM 2.5 can enter the heart through the lungs and also cause heart attacks.”
He said that in the past month there had been an huge increase in the number of patients visiting him with respiratory problems.
“In the prevailing situation, it would be difficult for patients to get back to normal life. The medication can subside the problem for the time being but it cannot cure,” Mangla told Arab News.
“Air purifiers and masks do not really address the issue. These are short-term measures. They are more for the psychological satisfaction of the people. Patients cannot remain confined to home all the time,” he said.
Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha, who runs an NGO called Swechha that advocates a clean environment, said: “It’s the collective failure of the central and the state government and all the wings of the executive that a problem which affects the lives of so many people remains neglected year after year.”
“The public health emergency that India has needs to be looked at from the 360-degree angle, not just 60 degrees. It cannot be looked at as a November-December issue; the air quality has to be addressed keeping in mind the whole year,” Jha told Arab News.
“I am disappointed that so many years have passed and still the problem is lingering. There is no way out but to find out a solution.”
He said that Delhi and the NCR have 10 million vehicles and the Delhi master plan says that almost 80 percent of the people should be using public transport, but this is not the case. “Right now, only one fourth of the total population of 40 million is using public transport. So the region needs robust public transport and facilities to address last-mile connectivity.”


Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

Updated 2 min 26 sec ago

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

  • Many Myanmar citizens have been taking to the streets day after day
  • The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 wanted people

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar observed a “silent strike” on Friday, with many people staying home to mourn the more than 700 people killed in protests against a Feb. 1 coup and others wearing black held small marches in several cities and towns.
Many Myanmar citizens, infuriated by the return of military rule after five years of civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, have been taking to the streets day after day with activists thinking up new ways to show opposition as the security forces step up their suppression.
“Let’s make the roads silent,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on her Facebook page.
“We have to stage a Silent Strike to show our sorrow for the martyrs who have scarified their lives. The most silent voice is the loudest.”
Friday is the fourth day of the five-day traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, known as Thingyan. Most people this year are shunning the usual festivities to focus on their campaign against the generals who overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and locked up her and many others.
Streets in the main city of Yangon were largely deserted, residents said, while black-clad protesters held small rallies in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of violence but overnight, two people were shot and killed in the central town of Myingyan, Radio Free Asia reported.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 people wanted under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces.
Two prominent protest organizers were arrested on Thursday along with an actor and singer, both known for speaking out against the coup.
Late on Thursday, soldiers raided a famous Buddhist monastery in the second city of Mandalay and arrested two people, the Myanmar Now media group reported.
Opponents have been organizing both at home and abroad with the aim of stepping up their campaign.
A previously unknown group called the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army said on Facebook it aimed to fight the military to restore an elected government and protect the people and it called for volunteers.
It gave no details about how it aimed to take on the well-equipped and seasoned army, which has been battling ethnic minority insurgents for decades.
International pressure has also been slowly building on the military, particularly from Western governments, though the military has a long record of brushing off outside pressure.
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the coup and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target the two companies is the most significant response for the bloc since the coup.
EU diplomats said in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
The EU declined to comment and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.


Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.


India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

Updated 16 April 2021

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

  • Total coronavirus cases in India nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States

BENGALURU: India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday.
It was the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days. Total cases reached nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.
India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the data showed.


Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

Updated 16 April 2021

Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

  • Pakistani lawmakers’ plane turned back after ‘old explosive’ found at airport: Interior ministry
  • Furious Afghan MPs slam government for lost opportunity to open new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations

KABUL: The Afghan government has shot down claims that authorities deliberately prevented an aircraft carrying a Pakistani parliamentary delegation from landing in Kabul.

Pakistan National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on April 8 left for the Afghan capital with a nine-member delegation on the invitation of the chairman of Afghanistan’s lower house, Mir Rahman Rahmani, with a view to holding wide-ranging discussions, including on Afghan peace and cross-border trade.

However, his plane was turned back as it was about to descend to Kabul airport, over what was reported to be a security threat.

Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said on Wednesday that at least four other flights were also prevented from landing at the airport that day as officials had to shut the facility to disarm an “an old explosive.”

He told Arab News: “The airport was shut because an explosive was found. There was no other thing.”

The incident led to outrage among Afghan members of parliament, who summoned the chiefs of the country’s security establishment, including the interior minister, for a briefing on the matter.

Sadiq Ahmad Osmani, a lawmaker from Parwan province, told Arab News: “Their reasoning and explanations were not compelling to the lawmakers because they (Pakistani lawmakers) could have been informed about this (security threat) way ahead of the departure of his (Qaiser’s) flight.

“We had full preparations, high protocol for his trip here, but unfortunately the news of the security threat there totally damaged our national hospitality. There are some at the top who had created the problem. It was an improper move,” he said.

Allah Gul Mujahid, a lawmaker from Kabul, said no trips by visiting officials had been canceled in the past 20 years over minor security threats.

Herat lawmaker, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, openly blamed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the cancellation of Qaiser’s visit. Ghani’s office was unavailable for comment.

“He (Ghani) wants to damage further relations between the two countries,” Hanafi said, adding that the visit could have opened a new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations.


Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Updated 15 April 2021

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

  • PM Scott Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in line with the US decision to end its military operations there
  • Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison choked back tears as he read the names Thursday of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan to mark the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year war.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in September in line with the US decision to end its military operations there.
Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.
Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan “a significant milestone in Australia’s military history” that marked the end of a costly chapter for the country’s defense force.
He then read out the names of the 41 Australian soldiers killed in the conflict, halting several times as he choked back sobs, especially when mentioning Brett Till, a 31-year-old sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense,” he said.
“These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom.”
While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.
Veterans groups have pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among Afghan veterans and other ex-servicemen and women.
The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.