Air in Indian capital turns toxic after Diwali fireworks

Morning haze and smog envelops the skyline in New Delhi, India, on November 5, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 05 November 2021

Air in Indian capital turns toxic after Diwali fireworks

  • Concentration of PM2.5 stood at 999 per cubic meter in Delhi on Friday morning against the WHO's safe limit of 25
  • India's Supreme Court last month imposed a ban on fireworks during Diwali, but it was largely defied in Delhi

NEW DELHI: Residents of New Delhi woke up to grey skies on Friday as air quality plunged to hazardous levels the morning after Diwali, as people across the Indian capital defied a ban on firecrackers and celebrated the festival of lights throughout the night.  

According to IQAir, a Swiss group that measures air quality levels based on the concentration of lung-damaging particulate matter known as PM2.5, Delhi, home to 30 million people, is the most polluted city in the world.

The concentration of PM2.5 stood at 999 per cubic meter in Delhi on Friday morning against the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 25.

"The air quality is in severe category on Friday," R. K. Jenamani of the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) told Arab News. "This severe condition has come in the last 18 hours."

The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), an initiative by the Indian government to measure the quality of air in the capital city, said in a statement on Friday that "firework emissions on the night of Diwali degraded air quality from very poor to severe category and relief is expected only from the evening of 7th November."

Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India, during which Hindus celebrate the victory of good over evil, when mythical god Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya after spending 14 years in exile. As people traditionally mark the holiday with fireworks, the Supreme Court of India last month imposed a blanket ban on their use, but it was widely defied.

The effect of fireworks on Delhi’s air quality was coupled with the burning of stubble by in neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana as Diwali coincides with the end of harvest season and farmers prepare their fields for the next crop.

"Firecrackers have only spiked the situation and created a health emergency in Delhi and adjoining areas," New Delhi-based environmentalist Vimlendu Jha said. "It’s very unfortunate that we are living in COVID times when respiratory stamina is of ultimate necessity and we know that air pollution affects that stamina, and we actually went ahead and burst crackers."

Doctors in the capital region say they have observed an increase in respiratory cases since Thursday night.

"Since last night, I have admitted eight patients with crises due to increased respiratory issues with some needing oxygen as well," Dr. Mayank Saxena of the Yatharth hospital on the outskirts of Delhi told Arab News.

"Some of the normal people with no history of respiratory problems are having complaints. No doubt the dip in air quality has caused significant health worries among people in the national capital region," he said.

Ranjana Kumar, who lives in the Vikaspuri area of west Delhi, said she has been facing difficulty in breathing since last night.

"Despite the ban on firecrackers, people did not listen. As a result, we all are suffering. It's afternoon on Friday there is fog and the pollution level is high," she said. "Delhi has become unlivable in this time of year, but people like us cannot escape this environment."


Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

Updated 15 sec ago

Finland amends law to bolster Russia border fence

  • Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in NATO in May
  • As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences
HELSINKI: Finnish parliament passed legislation Thursday to build stronger fences on its border with Russia, as the country seeks to join NATO following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Finland reversed decades of military non-alignment by seeking membership in the military alliance in May, formally starting the process to join this week.
Fearing that Moscow could use migrants to exert political pressure, the new amendments to Border Guard Act facilitate the construction of sturdier fences on the Nordic country’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) eastern border with Russia.
The aim of the law is to “improve the operational capacity of the border guard in responding to the hybrid threats,” Anne Ihanus, a senior adviser at the interior ministry, said.
“The war in Ukraine has contributed to the urgency of the matter,” she added.
As it stands, Finland’s borders are secured primarily with light wooden fences, mainly designed to stop livestock from wandering to the wrong side.
“What we are aiming to build now is a sturdy fence with a real barrier effect,” Sanna Palo, director of the Finnish border guards’ legal division, said.
“In all likelihood, the fence will not cover the entire eastern border, but will be targeted at locations considered to be the most important,” Palo said.
The new law makes it also possible to close border crossings and concentrate asylum seekers at specific points, in the event of large-scale crossover attempt.
Helsinki also passed amendments to Emergency Powers Act to make the definition of “emergency” better take account of various hybrid threats.

Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death awaits federal sentencing

Updated 28 min 15 sec ago

Minneapolis police officer convicted in George Floyd’s death awaits federal sentencing

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges in December

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is due to be sentenced in federal court on Thursday for violating the civil rights of George Floyd, a year after a state court sent him to prison for more than two decades for murdering Floyd in an arrest.
Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal civil rights charges in December in the US District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, a decision that averted a second trial but almost certainly extended his time behind bars.
Chauvin, who is white, admitted he violated Floyd’s right not to face “unreasonable seizure” by kneeling on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for more than 9 minutes in a murder captured on cellphone video that horrified people around the world.
A state court has already sentenced Chauvin to 22-1/2 years in prison for intentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. People sentenced to prison for felonies in Minnesota are usually released on parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence.
Chauvin’s guilty plea to the federal charges came as part of an agreement with prosecutors that said he would face between 20 and 25 years in federal prison.
In that agreement he admitted for the first time that he was to blame for Floyd’s death.
Floyd could be seen in videos pleading for his life before falling still on the road beneath Chauvin’s knee. A medical examiner ruled the police restraint stopped Floyd from being able to breathe.
Federal prosecutors have asked Judge Paul Magnuson to sentence Chauvin to 25 years, a sentence that would run concurrently with the state one.
Floyd’s murder sparked one of the biggest protest movements seen in the United States, with daily marches to decry racism and brutality in US policing. Chauvin was helping three colleagues to arrest Floyd in May 2020 on suspicion Floyd had used a fake $20 bill when buying cigarettes.
The three other former police officers who worked to arrest Floyd — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung and Thomas Lane — were found guilty in the same federal court in February of violating Floyd’s rights. They are yet to receive a sentencing date.


Boris Johnson to announce resignation as UK PM — government source

Updated 07 July 2022

Boris Johnson to announce resignation as UK PM — government source

  • With eight ministers resigning, an isolated Johnson set to bow to inevitable, declare he’s stepping down
  • The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take about two months

LONDON: Boris Johnson will announce his resignation as British Prime Minister on Thursday, a government source said, after he was abandoned by ministers and his Conservative Party’s lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern.

With eight ministers, including two secretaries of state, resigning in the last two hours, an isolated and powerless Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare his was stepping down later.

His Downing Street office confirmed that Johnson would make a statement to the country later.

After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been abandoned by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him.

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take about two months.

In a sign of his evaporating support over one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, Johnson’s finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, had called on his boss to resign.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” he said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defense minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was facing paralysis.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Britain’s departure from the European Union and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals have exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke strict COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.


Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

Updated 07 July 2022

Russian defense ministry says warplane hit Ukrainian troops on Snake Island

  • Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island in the Black Sea on June 30

Russia’s defense ministry said on Thursday that a Russian warplane struck Ukraine’s Snake Island in the Black Sea overnight, shortly after Ukrainian troops claimed to have raised their flag over the island.
Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian President’s chief of staff, posted a video on Telegram on Thursday of three soldiers raising a large Ukrainian flag on the island, from which Russian forces withdrew on June 30.


Boris Johnson to quit as UK prime minister

Updated 50 min 40 sec ago

Boris Johnson to quit as UK prime minister

  • His Downing Street office said Johnson would make a statement to the country later

LONDON: Boris Johnson will announce his resignation as British prime minister on Thursday after he was abandoned by ministers and his Conservative Party’s lawmakers who said he was no longer fit to govern.

After ministers, including two secretaries of state, continued to quit the government early on Thursday, an isolated and powerless Johnson was set to bow to the inevitable and declare he was stepping down later, a source said.

His Downing Street office said Johnson would make a statement to the country later.

After days of battling for his job, Johnson had been deserted by all but a handful of allies after the latest in a series of scandals broke their willingness to support him.

“His resignation was inevitable,” Justin Tomlinson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said on Twitter. “As a party we must quickly unite and focus on what matters. These are serious times on many fronts.”

The Conservatives will now have to elect a new leader, a process which could take weeks or months. It was not clear whether Johnson would or could stay on in a caretaker role while the person who would be the new prime minister was chosen.

Many said he should leave immediately and hand over to his deputy, Dominic Raab.

“As well as resigning as party leader the PM must resign his office,” Conservative parliamentary deputy Nick Gibb said. “After losing so many ministers, he has lost the trust and authority required to continue.”

The crisis comes as Britons are facing some of the tightest squeeze on finances in decades, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with soaring inflation, and the economy forecast to be the weakest among major nations in 2023 apart from Russia.

It also follows years of internal division sparked by the narrow 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and threats to the make-up of the United Kingdom itself with demands for another Scottish independence referendum, the second in a decade.

Support for Johnson had evaporated during one of the most turbulent 24 hours in recent British political history, epitomised by finance minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who was only appointed to his post on Tuesday, calling on his boss to resign.

Zahawi and other cabinet ministers had gone to Downing Street on Wednesday evening, along with a senior representative of those lawmakers not in government, to tell Johnson the game was up.

Initially, Johnson refused to go and seemed set to dig in, sacking Michael Gove — a member of his top ministerial team who was one of the first to tell him he needed to resign — in a bid to reassert his authority.

One ally had told the Sun newspaper that party rebels would “have to dip their hands in blood” to get rid of Johnson.

But by Thursday morning as a slew of resignations poured in, it became clear his position was untenable.

“This is not sustainable and it will only get worse: for you, for the Conservative Party and most importantly of all the country,” Zahawi said on Twitter. “You must do the right thing and go now.”

Some of those that remained in post, including defense minister Ben Wallace, said they were only doing so because they had an obligation to keep the country safe.

There had been so many ministerial resignations that the government was facing paralysis with no one willing to accept the vacant posts.

“It is our duty now to make sure the people of this country have a functioning government. This is true now more than ever,” Michael Ellis, a minister in the Cabinet Office department which oversees the running of government, told parliament.

The ebullient Johnson came to power nearly three years ago, promising to deliver Brexit and rescue it from the bitter wrangling that followed the 2016 referendum.

Since then, some Conservatives had enthusiastically backed the former journalist and London mayor while others, despite reservations, supported him because he was able to appeal to parts of the electorate that usually rejected their party.

That was borne out in the December 2019 election. But his administration’s combative and often chaotic approach to governing and a series of scandals exhausted the goodwill of many of his lawmakers while opinion polls show he is no longer popular with the public at large.

The recent crisis erupted after lawmaker Chris Pincher, who held a government role involved in pastoral care, was forced to quit over accusations he groped men in a private member’s club.

Johnson had to apologize after it emerged that he was briefed that Pincher had been the subject of previous sexual misconduct complaints before he appointed him. The prime minister said he had forgotten.

This followed months of scandals and missteps, including a damning report into boozy parties at his Downing Street residence and office that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules and saw him fined by police over a gathering for his 56th birthday.

There have also been policy U-turns, an ill-fated defense of a lawmaker who broke lobbying rules, and criticism that he has not done enough to tackle inflation, with many Britons struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said Johnson’s resignation was good news for Britain.

“But it should have happened long ago,” he said. “He was always unfit for office. He has been responsible for lies, scandal and fraud on an industrial scale.”