Tajikistan quake shakes north India, Pakistan, no major damage

Pakistani federal employees gather outside their offices after a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Islamabad on October 26, 2015. (AFP/File)
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Updated 13 February 2021

Tajikistan quake shakes north India, Pakistan, no major damage

  • The US Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 5.9
  • In Muzaffarabad, where a 2005 earthquake wreaked serious destruction, many people rushed out of their homes in fear

NEW DELHI: Strong tremors were felt in northern India and Pakistan on Friday as a result of an earthquake in Tajikistan, witnesses said. Many residents ran out of their homes, but no major damage was reported.

The US Geological Survey put the quake's magnitude at 5.9 and centered 35 km (55 miles) west of Murghob in Tajikistan, central Asia.

The Tajikistan Emergency Situations Ministry said the epicenter was 420 km (260 miles) east of the Tajik capital Dushanbe near the border with China.

Tremors were felt in Dushanbe but the epicenter was in a sparsely populated area.

Cracks were reported in some homes in northern Kashmir, the Indian Meteorological Department said. A witness also reported a wall collapse near the northern Indian city of Amritsar, but there were no reports of casualties.

A resident in Indian-administered Kashmir's Baramulla district said it felt like a strong wind had lashed his house. "My whole house shook and cracks appeared in a corner of one of the rooms," Firdous Ahmad Khan said.

Tremors were felt across Pakistan including the capital, Islamabad, and northwestern Peshawar, and even as far as the eastern city of Lahore, which borders India.

In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir, where a 2005 earthquake wreaked serious destruction, there was panic, according to witnesses, and many people rushed out of their homes in fear.

"I thought it's the same like what had hit us in 2005. My children started crying," said Asif Maqbool, a resident in Madina Market, a neighborhood of Muzaffarabad that was almost flattened in the 2005 quake.

Saima Khalid, a resident of the Khawaja Muhalla district of Muzaffarabad, said everyone in the neighborhood came out onto the streets.

"They were crying, reciting verses from the Holy Quran," she said.


Sydney eases more COVID-19 curbs as vaccinations pass milestone

Updated 16 min 14 sec ago

Sydney eases more COVID-19 curbs as vaccinations pass milestone

  • Masks will no longer be mandatory in offices and more people will be allowed to gather in homes and outdoors

SYDNEY: Thousands of children returned to school in Sydney on Monday after months of home learning as Australia’s largest city, buoyed by rising vaccination rates, eased more COVID-19 restrictions.
Masks will no longer be mandatory in offices and more people will be allowed to gather in homes and outdoors after New South Wales state, home to Sydney, reached an 80 percent double dose inoculation rate for people aged over 16 over the weekend.
The latest in a series of planned easing of restrictions marks a shift by Australia’s largest cities to living with the virus, a strategy officials have warned will bring a greater number of COVID-19 cases in coming weeks.
“This is not over, there is a long journey to go,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Monday, urging people to strictly follow the remaining health rules.
Retail stores, pubs and gyms can allow more vaccinated patrons and nightclubs can reopen for seated drinking, while weddings can have unlimited guests. However, all must follow social distancing measures.
The return to the classroom has been staggered, with the youngest and eldest students — those in kindergarten, year 1 and year 12 — returning on Monday. All others return next week.
New South Wales reported 265 new cases on Monday, the lowest single-day rise in 10 weeks and well below a high of 1,599 in early September.
Neighboring Victoria reported 1,903 new cases, up from 1,838 a day earlier. State capital Melbourne is on track to begin exiting its lockdown on Friday as full vaccination levels near 70 percent. The city has endured around nine months under strict stay-home orders since March 2020 — the longest in the world, according to Australian media.
Some virus-free states, however, have flagged they will keep internal borders closed amid fears that reopening could overwhelm their health systems.
By contrast, the federal government said it would roll out its vaccination passport for international travel from Tuesday, a key step in its plan to allow Australian citizens to travel abroad from next month.
Authorities said last week that vaccinated international travelers, initially only citizens and permanent residents, will be allowed to enter Sydney from Nov. 1 without the need to quarantine.
With some 145,000 cases and 1,543 deaths, Australia’s exposure to the coronavirus pandemic has been relatively low.


Myanmar opposition welcomes ASEAN’s junta snub, wants summit invite

Updated 59 min 10 sec ago

Myanmar opposition welcomes ASEAN’s junta snub, wants summit invite

  • ASEAN will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to its Oct. 26-28 summit
  • Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform

Myanmar’s shadow government, formed by opponents of ruling military, welcomed on Monday the exclusion of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming regional summit, but said it should be the legitimate representative.
However, the opposition said it would accept inviting a truly neutral alternative Myanmar representative, as decided over the weekend by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
ASEAN will invite a non-political representative from Myanmar to its Oct. 26-28 summit, in an unprecedented snub to the military leaders behind a Feb. 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.
The opposition National Unity Government (NUG), which has been outlawed by the military, said the non-political figure who attends the summit must not be a representative of the junta in disguise.
“ASEAN excluding Min Aung Hlaing is an important step, but we request that they recognize us as the proper representative,” said its spokesman Dr. Sasa.
The decision was an unusually bold step for the consensus-driven bloc, which traditionally favors a policy of engagement and non-interference.
Brunei, ASEAN’s current chair, issued a statement citing a lack of progress made on a roadmap that the junta had agreed to with ASEAN in April to restore peace in Myanmar.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government blamed “foreign intervention” for the decision which it said was against the objectives of ASEAN, the ASEAN Charter and its principles.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform. Thousands of its opponents have been arrested, including San Suu Kyi.
Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group that has tracked the arrests and killings. The military has called its opponents “terrorists.”


New Zealand PM Ardern extends COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland

Updated 18 October 2021

New Zealand PM Ardern extends COVID-19 lockdown in Auckland

  • No changes in the social restrictions that have already been in place for over two months in Auckland under alert level 3

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that the country’s biggest city Auckland will remain in lockdown for another two weeks as it looks to control the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
There will be no changes in the social restrictions that have already been in place for over two months in Auckland under alert level 3, Ardern said at a news conference.


Pakistan’s religion ministry holds annual conference with focus on ‘promotion of unity’

Updated 18 October 2021

Pakistan’s religion ministry holds annual conference with focus on ‘promotion of unity’

  • Conference is part of celebrations for Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
  • The conference has been held annually by Ministry of Religious Affairs since 1976

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s 46th National Rehmatul Lil Aalameen Conference kicked off in the federal capital today, Monday, as part of celebrations for the upcoming Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Rabi Al-Awwal is the third month in the Islamic calendar. The month holds special significance for Muslims around the world as they observe the 12th of the month as Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Last week, Prime Minister urged the nation to celebrate next week’s birth anniversary in an “unprecedented manner” this year.
“The two-day conference titled ‘Role of Masjid, Madaris, Khanqas and Imambargahs for the promotion of unity and harmony in the light of teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),’ would conclude on Tuesday,” state-run APP news agency said on Monday. “National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser would be the chief guest on the inaugural day of the conference.”
The second day, Tuesday, would have sessions presided over by President Dr Arif Alvi and PM Khan.
The conference has been held as the annual event of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony since 1976.
“The conference aimed at highlighting the soft image of Islam would disseminate the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and also encourage the [Muslim] authors by giving them awards on outstanding books and research papers written on the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” APP said.
“People from all walks of life, including Parliamentarians, ambassadors, Ulema, scholars, students of religious seminaries, universities, deans of universities and representatives of chambers of commerce and industry will attend the moot.”


IMF, Pakistan resume talks today for release of $1 billion loan tranche

Updated 18 October 2021

IMF, Pakistan resume talks today for release of $1 billion loan tranche

  • Finance ministry says negotiations ‘moving forward positively’
  • Denies media reports that talks had concluded last week in ‘failure’

ISLAMABAD: Talks between Pakistani officials and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are “moving forward positively” and will form the basis for the completion of the 6th review of a $6 billion loan program, the Pakistan ministry of finance has said, adding that talks would resume today, Monday.
In 2019, Pakistan reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy. Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in a fresh round of talks for the release of a $1 billion tranche of the loan.
Five reviews of the program had been completed by March. The sixth is pending since June this year, which, if completed, will enable Pakistan to receive around $1 billion from the fund.
“Fund and Pakistani authorities will resume the talks on Monday [October 18, 2021] from where they were left on Friday,” Muzzamil Aslam, spokesperson for the finance ministry, said in a statement on Sunday. “There is no truth in the news of talks’ failure.”
Negotiations between Pakistan and the IMF are being led by secretary finance division, Yusuf Khan, in Washington, and are “moving forward positively,” the statement said: “No timeframe was set at any stage for conclusion of the talks. The negotiations with the IMF will continue till the successful conclusion.”

Pakistan's Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin (L) arrives in New York ahead of meeting with IMF on October 16, 2021. (Ministry of Finance)

The clarifications from the finance ministry came after local media reported that talks between the fund and Pakistan had concluded on Friday and failed.
Experts said talks may have stalled due to the government’s resistance to the IMF’s demand to increase energy prices even further. A hike of Rs 1.39 per unit was announced last week.
Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin has been a staunch opponent of power tariff hikes and personal taxes but has showed some flexibility in recent weeks.
“The other stumbling block is the IMF’s insistence to increase the revenue generation target close to Rs 500 billion in addition to the revenue collection target of Rs 5.8 trillion,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News. “This would not be an easy decision to take by the political government under current circumstances.”