Indian COVID-19 hotspot state announces curfew

Health workers wait to conduct COVID-19 tests on passengers at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai, India, Thursday, March 25, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 26 March 2021

Indian COVID-19 hotspot state announces curfew

  • The federal government has already announced everyone older than 45 will be eligible for vaccination from April 1

MUMBAI: India's worst-hit state Maharashtra, including its capital Mumbai, will be under a nightly curfew from Sunday following a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, officials said.
India as a whole has a seen a renewed surge in new infections in recent weeks, dashing hopes at the start of the year that the country of 1.3 billion people had beaten the pandemic.
Maharashtra in western India, home to around 110 million people, has seen the biggest rise, recording on Thursday more than 35,000 new infections in 24 hours, the highest yet.
Mumbai recorded over 5,500 cases on Friday, almost doubling its highest daily count of last year.
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray warned Friday of even stricter restrictions if people do not follow guidelines on social distancing and mask-wearing, local media quoted him as saying.
"I have no intention of imposing a lockdown, but given the growing number of patients, there is a possibility that the health facilities that we have set up on a large scale across the state will also be reduced," Thackeray said.
India has recorded almost 12 million infections, the third highest behind the United States and Brazil, although per capita rates and the number of fatalities are considerably lower.
The renewed jump in cases has prompted India, which many other poorer countries were relying on for supplies including through the Covax initiative, to put the brakes on exports of vaccines.

Mike Pence to launch presidential campaign against Donald Trump in Iowa

Updated 7 sec ago

Mike Pence to launch presidential campaign against Donald Trump in Iowa

  • Pence’s campaign to test party’s appetite for a socially conservative, mild-mannered and deeply religious candidate
  • Former vice president and his advisers see Iowa as key to his potential pathway to the nomination
DES MOINES, Iowa: Mike Pence is staking his presidential hopes on Iowa as he launches a campaign for the Republican nomination for president in Des Moines on Wednesday that will make him the first vice president in modern history to take on his former running mate.
Pence’s campaign will also test the party’s appetite for a socially conservative, mild-mannered and deeply religious candidate who has denounced the populist tide that has swept through his party under former President Donald Trump. And it will show whether Pence still has a political future after Jan. 6, 2021, with a large portion of GOP voters still believing Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen and that Pence had the power to reject the results.
Pence and his advisers see Iowa — the state that will cast the first votes of the GOP nominating calendar — as key to his potential pathway to the nomination. Its caucus-goers include a large portion of evangelical Christian voters, whom they see as a natural constituency for Pence. They also think Pence, who represented Indiana in Congress and as governor, is a good personality fit with the Midwestern state.
“We believe the path to victory runs through Iowa and all of its 99 counties,” said Scott Reed, co-chair of a super PAC that launched last month to support Pence’s candidacy.
Iowa has typically been seen as a launching pad for presidential candidates, delivering momentum, money and attention to hopefuls who win or defy expectations. But recent past winners including Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have failed to ultimately win the nomination.
And Pence faces steep challenges. He enters the race as among the best-known Republican candidates in a crowded GOP field that now includes Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
But Pence — seen by Trump critics as complicit with his most indefensible actions and maligned by Trump loyalists as a traitor — is also saddled with high unfavorable ratings.
A CNN poll conducted last month found 45 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would not support Pence under any circumstance. Only 16 percent said the same about Trump.
Pence’s favorability has also slipped in Iowa, according to The Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.
Shortly after leaving office, in June 2021, 86 percent of Iowa Republicans said they had a favorable view of Pence. But the Register’s March Iowa Poll showed that figure had dropped to 66 percent. The poll also found Pence with higher unfavorable ratings than all of the other candidates it asked about, including Trump and DeSantis, with 26 percent of Republicans polled saying they have a “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable view of him.
And just 58 percent of Iowa evangelicals said they had favorable feelings toward Pence — a particularly disappointing number, given his campaign’s strategy.
But Pence, who has already visited Iowa more than a dozen times since leaving office, has also received a warm welcome from voters during his trips. During a “Roast and Ride” event over the weekend that drew a long list of 2024 candidates, Pence stood out as the only candidate to actually mount a Harley and participate in the event’s annual motorcycle ride. When he arrived at a barbecue at the state fairgrounds, he moved easily from table to table, warmly greeting and chatting with attendees.
But there remains lingering skepticism of Pence among many Republican voters who adhere to the baseless but persistent conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen. Many who cling to the falsehood believe Pence was complicit in the plot to deny Trump a second term because he refused Trump’s pressure campaign to reject the Electoral College vote when he presided over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump’s supporters violently stormed the building.
Pence advisers say they recognize the challenge and intend to explain to voters directly that Pence was adhering to his constitutional duty and never had the power to impact the vote in his ceremonial role.
“I think it’s something you have to walk straight through,” said his longtime adviser Marc Short.
Beyond Jan. 6, his team sees their primary goal as reintroducing Pence to a country that largely knows him as Trump’s second-in-command. They want to remind voters of his time in congressional leadership and as governor and are planning a campaign heavy with town halls, house parties and visits to local diners and Pizza Ranch restaurants — — more intimate settings that will help voters get to know him personally.
“People have seen Mike Pence the vice president. I think what people are going to see is Mike Pence the person,” said Todd Hudson, the speaker of the House in Indiana and a longtime Pence friend who has signed on to help with outreach to state legislators. “I’m super excited for people to get to know the Mike Pence that I know, who’s funny, who’s just a wonderful person... the more relaxed Mike Pence.”
Reed believes there is a strong desire in the party for a candidate like Pence who espouses Reagan-style conservatism, including traditional social values, hawkish foreign policy and small government economics.
“We think this nomination fight is going to be an epic battle for the heart and soul of the conservative, traditional wing of the Republican Party. And Pence is going to campaign as a classic conservative. His credentials are unmatched,” he said.
Unlike Trump and DeSantis, Pence has argued that cuts to Social Security and Medicare must be on the table and has blasted those who have questioned why the US should continue to send aid to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression.
“We are not going to try to out-Trump Pence. Everybody else is,” Reed said. “Pence is the only candidate running not to be Trump’s VP.”

Protests in France as unions make last-ditch bid to resist higher retirement age

Updated 3 min 36 sec ago

Protests in France as unions make last-ditch bid to resist higher retirement age

  • French union activists seek to reignite resistance to a higher retirement age
  • President Emmanuel Macron says pension reform needed to finance the pension system as the population ages
PARIS: French union activists marched on the headquarters of the Paris Olympics and slowed traffic at the capital’s Orly Airport with strikes Tuesday as they sought to reignite resistance to a higher retirement age.
But the last-ditch effort drew fewer followers than at the height of the movement earlier this year, and even some union leaders seemed ready to move on.
President Emmanuel Macron’s move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 — and force the measure through parliament without a vote — inflamed public emotions and triggered some of France’s biggest demonstrations in years. But the intensity of anger over the pension reform has ebbed since the last big protests on May 1, which more than 500,000 people attended in Paris alone, and since the measure became law in April.
As part of Tuesday’s actions, a third of flights were canceled at Paris’ Orly Airport because of strikes, and about 10 percent of trains around France were disrupted. Around 250 marches, rallies and other actions were planned around the country to mark the 14th day of national protest since January over the pension reform.
A small group of activists with the hard-left CGT union pushed their way into the headquarters of the 2024 Olympics in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, chanting anti-Macron slogans.
In Paris, mild tensions flared near a restaurant in the Left Bank as individuals engaged in minor vandalism of bus shelters and threw objects at police. Police quickly dispersed the crowds.
Thousands gathered along the embankments of the Seine River near the gold-domed Invalides monument before setting off on their march to southeast Paris. The peaceful crowd waved union flags, banged drums and chanted to demand the withdrawal of the pension law and a lower retirement age.
In the western city of Rennes, union activists marched on train tracks before being turned back by police, according to local public broadcaster France Bleu.
Macron says the pension reform was needed to finance the pension system as the population ages. Unions and left-wing opponents say the changes hurt poorer workers and have argued for higher taxes on the wealthy and employers instead.
The outgoing head of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said that after Tuesday’s actions, “we will continue to contest the retirement reform, but it will take on a different form.”
CGT chief Sophie Binet told reporters at the Paris march that other protests are ‘’probable,” but she too said it was time to talk about other issues such as working conditions or tax fraud by companies.
Organizers of Tuesday’s protests hope to rally support before a possible parliamentary debate on Thursday on a bill that is seeking to repeal the new retirement age.
Legislators from centrist opposition group LIOT proposed the bill to put back the retirement age to 62. But it has already met challenges before it reaches the parliamentary floor. While Macron’s centrist party doesn’t have a majority in the National Assembly, it has allied with the conservative Republicans party to push back the opposition’s efforts.

Slovenian foreign minister calls for permanent UN Security Council seats for Arabs and Africans

Updated 07 June 2023

Slovenian foreign minister calls for permanent UN Security Council seats for Arabs and Africans

  • Tanja Fajon told Arab News the council is faced with too many African and Arab issues for these groups not to be granted their own place at the table
  • Slovenia was elected by the General Assembly on Tuesday as non-permanent member of the council, along with Algeria, Guyana, South Korea, and Sierra Leone

NEW YORK CITY: Any negotiations about UN Security Council reforms must include discussions about permanent seats for the African Union and the Arab League, Slovenia’s deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs told Arab News on Tuesday.

Tanja Fajon was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York following a General Assembly vote that elected her country as one of five new non-permanent members of the council, the UN body tasked with maintaining global peace and security.

She said one of her country’s priorities is to work on making the UN a more effective organization.

“Just the pure fact that we have 80 percent of the agenda” in the Security Council on African issues without the continent having a permanent seat there is “an important message” that speaks to the necessity of “finding compromises” and taking steps to “reform the council to make it more effective.”

Discussions and debates at the UN have intensified in recent months, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine, about the need for significant reforms of the council to take into account the changing needs of global governance in terms of peace and security, including growing calls from the Global South for a more effective presence at the table.

Potential reforms could include increases in the numbers of permanent and non-permanent members to help better address the complex and evolving challenges to international peace and security.

In addition to the many challenges in Africa that are on the council’s agenda, there are several significant Arab issues in which little progress has been made in recent years, with some facing stalemate, including Syria, Yemen and the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Asked by Arab News whether this might mean that in addition to the African Union, the Arab League deserves a permanent Security Council seat, and whether she would advocate for such a move when Slovenia’s tenure as a non-permanent member begins in January 2024, Fajon said: “Yes, if we talk about enlargement we have to speak about enlargement in both categories.” She added that “this is something where we have to find compromise.”

She reiterated that her country is determined to pursue reforms of the UN’s most powerful body and added: “We have good expertise and know how to move ahead (and we) will continue to even strengthen the dialogue with our partners.

“We have to make this organization more effective. I am aware of the challenges. I spoke with many colleagues on the need for the reform. So we will work in that regard to find compromises on how to reform the Security Council to make it more effective.”

Slovenia, which is a member of the EU and NATO received 153 votes in the General Assembly, comfortably defeating Belarus, which received 38 votes in the secret ballot. They were competing for the council seat allotted to Eastern Europe.

The other countries elected to serve a two-year council term were Guyana (which received 191 votes), Sierra Leone (188), Algeria (184) and South Korea (180). Their terms will begin on Jan. 1, replacing Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana and the UAE, whose two-year terms end on Dec. 31.

Asked whether Slovenia, as a member of NATO, would be influenced in the Security Council by the position of the US, Fajon said: “Let me put it simply: Give us a chance to prove that we are capable of working with everyone, that we are very self confident with our foreign policy, and that we will work hard to understand everyone and (their) needs.”

She added that in her role as foreign minister she met in the past year with more than 150 representatives of world governments, and Slovenians “have enough self confidence and we have a strong diplomacy network that we will do what we believe is best, not only for Slovenia and our region but for the world.”

Prepare for new global status quo as marginalized voices ‘must be heard,’ says Sierra Leone’s foreign minister

Updated 07 June 2023

Prepare for new global status quo as marginalized voices ‘must be heard,’ says Sierra Leone’s foreign minister

  • After his country was elected a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, David Francis told Arab News that 2024 will be ‘a defining year’ for council reforms
  • He said the solidarity of the Global South should not be underestimated and there is a consensus in favor of ensuring the council is fit for purpose to address historic injustices

NEW YORK CITY: The world needs to be prepared for a new status quo, in which all nations have a voice, to emerge after the war in Ukraine ends, Sierra Leone’s foreign minister told Arab News on Tuesday.

David Francis said that “for the first time, those who have been marginalized, excluded, underrepresented or unrepresented in the permanent and non-permanent category of the UN Security Council are now saying ‘Our voice must be heard.’”

He was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday after the organization’s General Assembly elected his country a non-permanent member of the Security Council, the world body tasked with maintaining international peace and security. Sierra Leone was elected alongside Slovenia, Algeria, Guyana and the Republic of Korea to serve two-year tenures that will begin on Jan. 1, 2024.

The Security Council has 15 members, five of which, known as the P5, are permanent: China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Each of them holds the power to veto any council resolution or decision.

The remaining 10, non-permanent members are elected by the 193-member General Assembly in a way that reflects the geographical distribution of member states by region.

Calls have intensified recently for Security Council reforms to ensure the positions of nations in the Global South are better represented and empower them to play a more significant role in efforts to solve their problems.

Francis said that 2024 will be “a defining year for the reform of the Security Council,” and the P5 are showing real commitment to the greater inclusion of regions that have long been sidelined, including Africa.

There are still question marks, however, over whether the five permanent members are truly open to the idea of a permanent seat for the African Union on the council and whether, short of that, reforms would have any significant meaning at all.

Asked by Arab News about these concerns, Francis said: “Well, things happened in the world: The Ukraine crisis, the prevailing geopolitics, and the emergence of the Global South solidarity is very important.

“We should not underestimate the Western countries themselves, but (also the) Russian Federation. In my discussions with European foreign ministers — the UK foreign secretary, the US deputy secretary of state, the French, (and) I’m just back from China; I had the same discussion with the Chinese foreign minister and a telephone conversation with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister — there’s a general consensus that now is the time to reform the Security Council to make it fit for purpose to address the issue of the historic injustice and underrepresentation of regions such as Africa. So I am confident that we will make that move.”

The five newly elected council members will replace Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana and the UAE, whose two-year terms end on Dec. 31, and join existing non-permanent members Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique and Switzerland.

Ukraine evacuates thousands after key dam destroyed

Updated 06 June 2023

Ukraine evacuates thousands after key dam destroyed

  • Washington warned there would be "likely many deaths" as Moscow and Kyiv traded blame for ripping a gaping hole in the Kakhovka dam
  • People in Kherson, the largest population centre nearby, headed for higher ground as water poured into the Dnipro River

KHERSON, Ukraine: An attack on a major Russian-held dam in southern Ukraine on Tuesday unleashed a torrent of water that flooded a small city and two dozen villages and forced the evacuation of 17,000 people, sparking fears of a humanitarian disaster.
Washington warned there would be “likely many deaths” as Moscow and Kyiv traded blame for ripping a gaping hole in the Kakhovka dam, which is located on the frontline and provides cooling water for Europe’s largest nuclear plant.
Kyiv said the destruction of the dam — seized by Russia in the early hours of the war — was an attempt by Moscow to hamper its long-awaited offensive, which Ukraine’s leader stressed would not be affected.
An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was scheduled for 2000 GMT Tuesday following requests from Russia and Ukraine, diplomatic sources said.
People in Kherson, the largest population center nearby, headed for higher ground as water poured into the Dnipro River.
“There is shooting, now there is flooding,” said Lyudmyla, who had loaded a washing machine onto a cart attached to an old Soviet car.
“Everything is going to die here,” added Sergiy as water from the dam poured into the city which was the scene of heavy fighting in 2022.
Ukrainian authorities said 17,000 people were being evacuated and a total of 24 villages had been flooded.
“Over 40,000 people are in danger of being flooded,” Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said, adding that 25,000 more people should be evacuated on the Russian-occupied side of the Dnipro River.
Vladimir Leontyev, the Moscow-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka where the dam is located, said the city was underwater and hundreds of people had been evacuated.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of blowing up the dam and said authorities expected up to 80 settlements to be flooded, urging the world to “react.”
“This crime carries enormous threats and will have dire consequences for people’s lives and the environment,” Zelensky told a Vatican peace envoy, Italian cardinal Matteo Zuppi, in Kyiv, the presidency said.
He later said in a Telegram message that the explosion “did not affect Ukraine’s ability to de-occupy its own territories.”
Kyiv also called for a meeting of the UN Security Council and warned of a potential “ecocide” after 150 tons of engine oil spilled into the river.
Western powers also blamed Russia for the damage, with EU chief Charles Michel calling it a “war crime,” while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the dam breach was “outrageous“
The United States “cannot say conclusively what happened at this point,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Russia however said the dam was partially destroyed by “multiple strikes” coming from Ukrainian forces and urged the world to condemn Kyiv’s “criminal acts.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the destruction was the result of “deliberate sabotage by the Ukrainian side.”
The Soviet-era dam, built in the 1950s, sits on the Dnipro River, which provides cooling water for the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant some 150 kilometers (90 miles) away.
Moscow and Kyiv offered conflicting versions on the safety of the facility.
The Russian-installed director of the plant, Yuri Chernichuk, echoed the UN agency and said that “at the moment, there is no security threat to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”
“The water level in the cooling pond has not changed,” he said, adding that the situation was under control.
But Ukraine, which in 1986 suffered the devastating Chernobyl nuclear disaster, sounded the alarm.
“The world once again finds itself on the brink of a nuclear disaster, because the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant lost its source of cooling. And this danger is now growing rapidly,” Zelensky’s aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said.
The Ukrainian nuclear operator, Energoatom, said the water level of the Kakhovka reservoir was “rapidly decreasing, which is an additional threat to the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”
The UN humanitarian agency said it was concerned about “the severe humanitarian impact on hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the front line.”
“Flooding and fast-moving water can move mines and explosive ordnance to new areas which previously had been assessed as safe, thus putting more people in danger,” it added.
News of the damage came after Russia said Ukraine had begun a long-expected counter-offensive to claw back lost territory after Moscow invaded in February, 2022.
On Tuesday, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Moscow had halted Kyiv’s offensive but lost 71 soldiers over the past three days, an extremely rare admission of Russia’s losses.
On Monday, Zelensky praised his troops for advances claimed near the devastated city of Bakhmut.
Kyiv already accused Moscow of mining the dam as combat raged nearby in October, during the last major offensive by Ukrainian forces seeking to regain lost territory. Russia denies the claim.
The Kakhovka dam has strategic value as it pumps water into the North Crimean Canal, which starts in southern Ukraine and crosses the entire Crimean peninsula.
Experts say that any problem with the dam could cause water supply problems for Crimea, which has been under Russian control since 2014.