Indian village cheers for incoming US vice president Kamala Harris

People from Kamala Harris maternal grandfather’s hometown of Thulasendrapuram in India are jubilant and gearing up for celebrations. (AP)
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Updated 20 January 2021

Indian village cheers for incoming US vice president Kamala Harris

  • First woman, first woman of color and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency
  • People from her maternal grandfather’s hometown jubilant and gearing up for celebrations

THULASENDRAPURAM, India: A tiny, lush-green Indian village surrounded by rice paddy fields was beaming with joy Wednesday hours before its descendant, Kamala Harris, takes her oath of office and becomes the US vice president.
Harris is set to make history as the first woman, first woman of color and first person of South Asian descent to hold the vice presidency.
In her maternal grandfather’s hometown of Thulasendrapuram, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) from the southern coastal city of Chennai, people were jubilant and gearing up for celebrations.
“We are feeling very proud that an Indian is being elected as the vice president of America,” said Anukampa Madhavasimhan, a teacher.
Harris’ grandfather moved to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, decades ago. Harris’ late mother was also born in India, before moving to the US to study at the University of California. She married a Jamaican man, and they named their daughter Kamala, a Sanskrit word for “lotus flower.”
Ahead of the inauguration, special prayers for her success were held at the town temple during which the idol of Hindu deity Ayyanar, a form of Lord Shiva, was washed with milk and decked with flowers by the priest.
Ahead of the US elections in November, villagers in Thulasendrapuram also pulled together a ceremony at the temple to wish Harris good luck. After her win, they set off firecrackers and distributed sweets and flowers as a religious offering.
Posters of Harris from the November celebrations still adorn walls in the village and many hope she ascends to the presidency in 2024. President-elect Joe Biden has skirted questions about whether he will seek reelection or retire.
“For the next four years, if she supports India, she will be the president,” said G Manikandan, who has followed Harris politically and whose shop proudly displays a wall calendar with pictures of Biden and Harris.
On Tuesday, an organization that promotes vegetarianism sent food packets for the village children as gifts to celebrate Harris’ success.


Lufthansa posts record annual loss

Updated 04 March 2021

Lufthansa posts record annual loss

  • Europe’s biggest airline said it expects to book an operating loss again in 2021
  • The group’s current fleet of 800 aircraft will be slashed to 650 by 2023

FRANKFURT: German flag carrier Lufthansa said Thursday it lost a record €6.7 billion ($8.1 billion) in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic wiped out demand for travel and left aircraft grounded.
Europe’s biggest airline said it expects to book an operating loss again in 2021, although smaller than last year, as capacity runs at only 40-50 percent of pre-pandemic levels for the full year.
Underlining the long road to recovery, it added that capacity will climb to 90 percent of 2019’s level only in “the middle of the decade.”
After borders slammed shut as governments scrambled to halt the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis, the airline faced an uncertain future.
In June, it was offered a lifeline by the German government, which pumped in nine billion euros for a 25 percent stake.
“The past year was the most challenging in the history of our company — for our customers, our employees and our shareholders,” said Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr.
In the airline’s home base, demand is sluggish with work from home orders curtailing lucrative business travel while official warnings are in place against leisure tourism in many countries worldwide.
Across Europe, restrictions are also in place as governments continue to battle rising infection numbers.
Lufthansa is currently flying about 20 percent of its capacity, with little improvement expected in the next one to two months.
But it expects demand to pick up again in the summer with a vaccination rollout progressing and more capacity for tests available.
“Internationally recognized digital vaccination and test certificates must replace travel bans and quarantine,” Spohr stressed, repeating calls by other airline bosses.
Lufthansa, which includes subsidiaries Swiss, Austrian, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings, operated only 31 percent of its overall capacity last year.
Revenues sank 63 percent to €13.6 billion for 2020, compared to €36.4 billion in 2019.
The operating loss came in at €5.5 billion, while a year ago, the airline’s comparative adjusted earnings before interest and tax stood in the black at €2.0 billion.
Although it has put much of its staff on curtailed hours and brought its headcount down from a pre-pandemic 141,000 to 110,000 currently, another 10,000 jobs are still on the line.
Over the last months, it has done deals with unions representing pilots and ground crew so as to head off forced redundancies until March 2022.
Pilots agreed to short hour arrangements and corresponding salary cuts while ground staff signed on to giving up bonuses and pay raises to save their jobs.
The group’s current fleet of 800 aircraft will be slashed to 650 by 2023.
Lufthansa’s woes mirror those of its competitors elsewhere.
Industry group IATA, which represents 290 major airlines worldwide, warned last week that global air passenger traffic will recover more slowly than expected this year because coronavirus variants have created strong headwinds.
The International Air Transport Association now estimates that traffic will reach between 33 and 38 percent of the levels recorded in 2019.
Its previous 2021 forecast was for traffic to reach 51 percent of the levels seen before the coronavirus pandemic struck.


Texas power grid operator fires CEO after deadly blackouts

Updated 04 March 2021

Texas power grid operator fires CEO after deadly blackouts

  • The mid-February storm temporarily knocked out up to half the state’s generating plants

BENGALURU: Texas’ power grid operator ousted chief executive Bill Magness on Wednesday, as the fallout continues from a deadly blackout last month that left residents without heat, power or water for days.
His departure followed fierce criticism by state lawmakers of the handling of the crisis by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which has led one large electricity provider to seek bankruptcy and put several others near to it.
The mid-February storm temporarily knocked out up to half the state’s generating plants, triggering outages that killed dozens and pushed power prices to 10 times the normal rate.
“ERCOT’s decision to oust CEO Bill Magness signals accountability for the disaster that swept through our state two weeks ago,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement on Twitter.
“(This step) offers the opportunity for new leadership that can more efficiently prepare and direct our state’s resources when dangerous weather strikes,” he added.
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who on Monday called for the heads of ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission to resign, also welcomed the move.
The legislature now can begin “fixing what went wrong,” Patrick said.
ERCOT said in a statement cited by multiple media organizations that its board had directed that Magness be given a 60 days’ termination notice. The board would begin an immediate search for a new CEO.
Brad Jones, former head of New York’s power grid, is the leading candidate to replace Magness as ERCOT’s CEO, Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the board’s thinking.
Magness was grilled for hours last week for leaving power prices at up to 450 times the usual rate after the threat to the state’s grid had ended.
Seven of ERCOT’s 15 directors have resigned in the last week and the head of the state’s Public Utility Commission, which supervised ERCOT, resigned on Monday.
The winter storm caused widespread blackouts across Texas, a state unaccustomed to extreme cold, knocking out power to more than 4 million people at its peak.


Pakistani director’s film on harassment against women in running for Dubai awards

Updated 04 March 2021

Pakistani director’s film on harassment against women in running for Dubai awards

  • “I am a speaker for 509” has been directed by Anwar Al Amin in collaboration with BBDO advertising agency and NGO Women in Struggle for Empowerment
  • Film submitted to Dubai Lynx Awards, winners to be announced in April

DUBAI: A short film on sexual harassment at the workplace, made by a Dubai-based Pakistani film maker and director, is in the running for the Dubai Lynx Awards, which celebrate “creative excellence” in the MENA region.
The film, “I am a speaker for 509,” has been directed by Anwar Al Amin, founder of Film House, and made in collaboration with BBDO, an advertising agency based in Pakistan, as well as WISE (Women in Struggle for Empowerment), a Pakistan-based non-governmental organization formed in 2011 and led by Bushra Khaliq. 
“The idea was conceived by BBDO and we got WISE on board since they empower women in Pakistan and raise awareness on the issue,” Anwar told Arab News on Thursday. 
The film, starring Pakistani actors Ghana Ali and Fawad Jalal, shows a female model who is seeking work and is asked by a director to meet him in private rather than at a studio, with promises that she will be cast in a film. It ends with a tea boy speaking up against sexual harassment and encouraging others to do so as well.

Screengrab of a short film on sexual harassment at the workplace titled "I am a speaker for 509". (Photo courtesy: Anwar Al Amin)

“We were in the midst of releasing the film when the pandemic happened but now it is the right time to give it another push,” Amin said. “We have also submitted the film for some awards.”
On February 3, the film was submitted to the Dubai Lynx Awards. In reply to questions by Arab News, Lynx Awards said that they only could “help provide jury quotes for any film that wins. Winners will be announced at the beginning of April.” 
“Our idea basically is to enhance the image of Pakistan in the international market. There is a very wrong perception of Pakistan and it is viewed as a state where there are no rights for women,” Amin said, explaining why he had focused on taking the film to the international market instead of Pakistani audiences. 
In January this year, the film was also listed among the top five socially responsible ads worldwide by Adforum which recognizes the best ad films in the world based on their execution and creativity. The director was listed among the top five worldwide and the film was also an Editor’s Pick for February.
“Pakistan is a male dominated society and we are facing centuries old patriarchal structures here, so the impact of this on women’s daily life is very much obvious,” Khaliq said. “Every day women complain about these issues and we wanted to create more awareness around this.”


Three Chinese companies may invest $1 billion in Sudan says minister: Asharq Business

Updated 04 March 2021

Three Chinese companies may invest $1 billion in Sudan says minister: Asharq Business

  • Agriculture, petroleum and mining targeted
  • Chines firms lured by investment law reforms

DUBAI: Sudan’s Minister of investment, Al Hadi Muhammed Ibrahim, met with a Chinese delegation from three companies, that may invest up to $1 billion in Sudan, he told Asharq Business on Wednesday.
The investments would target the agriculture, mining and petroleum fields, he said.
Ibrahim confirmed that the projects would be offered in a transparent way and would be open to competitive bidding.
He stressed to the visiting delegation that Sudan’s legal system set a clear path to protect the investor and the state.
Ibrahim said that the Chinese delegation had been attracted by recent changes to the country’s investment law which provides a package of incentives and tax exemptions.
“We have restructured the ministry and started improving the investment environment,” he said. “So the investor will come and find all the procedures in one portal with easy and strict procedures,” he said.


Pakistan Super League cricket series postponed with ‘immediate effect’

Updated 15 min 38 sec ago

Pakistan Super League cricket series postponed with ‘immediate effect’

  • PCB says decision made after seven coronavirus cases reported in the competition
  • Says will focus on the secure passage of all participants, arrange tests, vaccines 

KARACHI: The Pakistan Cricket Board announced on Thursday it had decided to postpone the ongoing Pakistan Super League cricket series after a number of players tested positive for the coronavirus.
Three players tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Islamabad’s two foreign cricketers, including Australian leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed, and another unnamed foreign player, are already in isolation after testing positive earlier this week.
“Following a meeting with the team owners and considering the health and wellbeing of all participants is paramount, the Pakistan Cricket Board has decided to postpone the HBL Pakistan Super League 6 with immediate effect,” the PCB said in a statement. “The decision was made after seven cases were reported in the competition, which had started on 20 February.”
“The PCB, as an immediate step, will focus on the safe and secure passage of all participants, and arrange repeat PCR tests, vaccines and isolation facilities to the six participating sides,” the statement said.
PCB has also decided to offer coronavirus vaccine doses to all participants of PSL, becoming the first cricket board to do so.
“The decision has been made in the line with the PCB’s duty of care policy and to ensure all participants of the league remain safe and healthy during the event, which concludes on 22 March,” PCB said in a separate statement on Wednesday. “The vaccine doses will be administered on Thursday and will be offered to all those inside the biosecure bubble. However, it will solely be the players and officials’ decision if they want to get the vaccine shots.”
PCB Chief Executive Wasim Khan said the cricket board took the “health, safety and wellbeing of its players and officials very seriously.”