Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai

Smoke rises from a building that caught fire in Mumbai. (AP)
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Updated 22 January 2022

Fire in residential building kills 6, injures 15 in Mumbai

  • The fire was caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner in one of the apartments
  • Nearly two dozen fire engines extinguished the blaze and controlled the smoke after a two-hour effort

NEW DELHI: A major fire in a 19-story residential building killed at least six people and injured 15 others on Saturday in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, officials said.
The fire was caused by a short-circuit in an air conditioner in one of the apartments, Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said.
Residents said the fire started on the 15th floor and a big column of black smoke soon enveloped the building. More than 90 people escaped the building on their own or helped by neighbors, they said.
Ganesh Purnaik, a spokesman for the city government, said the fire left six people dead and 15 hospitalized with injuries.
Four of the injured were in critical condition, said police officer Saurabh Tripathi.
Nearly two dozen fire engines extinguished the blaze and controlled the smoke after a two-hour effort, media reports said. Firefighters rushed the injured to two nearby hospitals.
Pednekar said some of the injured needed oxygen support because they had inhaled smoke.
Fires are common in India, where building laws and safety norms are often flouted by builders and residents.
In August, a fire killed eight coronavirus patients at a hospital in Ahmedabad, a major city in Gujarat state. In December 2018, a late-night fire in a Mumbai restaurant killed 15 people.


Belarus introduces death penalty for ‘attempted’ terrorism

Updated 6 sec ago

Belarus introduces death penalty for ‘attempted’ terrorism

MOSCOW: Belarus has introduced the death penalty for attempts to carry out acts of terrorism — charges faced by exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who on Wednesday joined the United States in denouncing the decision.
Belarus — a close ally of Russia that has supported its military offensive in Ukraine — is the only country in Europe that continues to carry out executions despite calls for a moratorium.
“Lukashenko signed a law on the possibility of the death penalty for an attempted terrorist act,” Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday, citing an online government portal for legal information in Belarus.
It said the law would come into force 10 days after its publication.
Two years ago, Belarus faced historic protests against the re-election of strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet country with an iron fist for more than two decades.
Thousands of activists were arrested in the crackdown and the key leaders of the opposition movement are now either jailed or in exile.
Among them is Tikhanovskaya, a political novice who ran against Lukashenko in the August 2020 polls in place of her jailed husband.
She now leads the Belarusian opposition from exile in Lithuania, while her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky is serving 18 years in prison on what supporters say are politically motivated charges.
Last March, Belarusian prosecutors charged Tikhanovskaya in absentia with “preparing acts of terrorism as part of an organized group,” according to Belarusian state news agency Belta.
Tikhanovskaya on Wednesday denounced the decision of the “lawless regime” to expand the use of the death penalty, saying it targeted anti-government activists.
“This is a direct threat to activists opposing the dictator and the war,” Tikhanovskaya tweeted.
“I urge the international community to react: sanction lawmakers and consider any tools to prevent the political killings,” she added.
The United States condemned the legislation, calling it a desperate move by Lukashenko to retain power.
“These actions are those of an authoritarian leader desperate to cling to power through fear and intimidation,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Belarus and its leadership are already under a litany of Western sanctions over its handling of the opposition protests and over its support for Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.
But many opposition activists remain behind bars in Belarus awaiting trial.
On Wednesday, a Belarusian court in the north-western city of Grodno started a closed-door hearing in the case against 12 activists accused of “preparing acts of terrorism,” according to Belarusian rights group Vyasna.
Among them is veteran activist Nikolai Avtukhovich, who has already served more than seven years in prison. The 59-year-old faces other charges, including treason.
The activists are accused of setting a policeman’s home and car on fire, and burning another policeman’s car in the autumn of 2020.
Capital punishment in Belarus — carried out by shooting — is highly secret and there are no official statistics.
The country’s last known death sentence was carried out against Victor Pavlov, who was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of murder and larceny, according to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The committee had called for his execution to be halted while it examined his allegations of torture in detention but said in March that his family had been informed it had taken place, without any information about when he was executed.
Pavlov was the 15th person executed in Belarus since 2010 while their case was still pending before the committee, it said.

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

Updated 18 May 2022

Three decades later, convict in former Indian PM Gandhi assassination freed

  • Gandhi was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in an election in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur in 1991
  • His killing was seen as an act of retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the release of A.G. Perarivalan, who was convicted of involvement in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Gandhi was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber while campaigning in an election in the southern Indian town of Sriperumbudur in May 1991. His killing was seen as an act of retaliation after he sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987.
Perarivalan was convicted in 1991 of purchasing the batteries used to detonate the bomb that killed Gandhi.
In May 2021, the Tamil Nadu state government allowed Perarivalan to leave on parole, using a provision in the Tamil Nadu Prison manual.
The Supreme Court took a lenient view of Perarivalan, saying he was 19 years old at the time of arrest and had been jailed for over 30 years, including 16 years on death row and 29 years in solitary confinement.
Speaking to the Indian Express newspaper on Wednesday, Perarivalan recalled years spent in a cramped 6 feet (1.8 m) by 9 feet (2.7 m) cell during his time in solitary confinement.
“A room in which I had nothing but empty walls to look at,” he said, describing obsessively counting bricks on the wall, measuring the door and bolts and imagining smells he craved.
Six others people, including a woman, are still in jail and are awaiting a verdict in the case.
The court said Perarivalan was released after considering his “satisfactory conduct in jail and during parole” and “chronic ailments.”
Gandhi’s widow, Sonia, is head of India’s main opposition Congress party while their son, Rahul, has been leading its campaign for elections. A Congress party spokesman said on Wednesday the party was deeply saddened by the court’s decision.
Many in the state of Tamil Nadu celebrated the verdict as a victory for human rights.
“My best wishes and warm welcome to Perarivalan who is set to fully breathe the air of liberation after more than 30 years of imprisonment,” Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin tweeted.


Mozambique declares polio outbreak linked to Pakistan

Updated 18 May 2022

Mozambique declares polio outbreak linked to Pakistan

  • The case in Mozambique is the second imported case of polio in southern Africa this year
  • Sequencing indicates the case is linked to a strain of polio spreading in Pakistan in 2019 

JOHANNESBURG: Health authorities in Mozambique declared a polio outbreak Wednesday after confirming that a child in the country’s northeastern Tete province had been paralyzed by the disease.

The case in Mozambique is the second imported case of polio in southern Africa this year, following a case discovered in Malawi in mid-February. It’s the first case of wild polio in Mozambique since 1992, although cases linked to a mutated virus from the oral vaccine were detected in 2019.

The latest case in Mozambique was found in a child who experienced signs of paralysis in late March, according to a statement issued by the World Health Organization.

Sequencing indicates that the case in Mozambique is linked to a strain of polio spreading in Pakistan in 2019, similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year.

WHO declared Africa free of the wild polio virus in August 2020 even though numerous countries across the continent have reported outbreaks linked to the vaccine in recent years. There is no difference between the disease caused by the wild virus or the mutated virus from the vaccine.

“The detection of another case of wild poliovirus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising given the recent outbreak in Malawi. However, it shows how dangerous this virus is and how quickly it can spread,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Africa director.

In response to the case in neighboring Malawi, Mozambique recently carried out two mass vaccination campaigns in which 4.2 million children were vaccinated against the disease, said WHO.

Disease surveillance is being strengthened in five countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Vaccination campaigns in the coming weeks are planned to reach 23 million children aged five years and below.

Polio is highly infectious, spread mostly via water and largely affects children younger than five years. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunization. WHO and its partners began an effort to eradicate polio globally in 1988 and have missed numerous deadlines to wipe out the disease. 


Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Updated 18 May 2022

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

  • The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano
  • She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups

GENEVA: Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of Daesh group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.
The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.
She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups, according to the indictment. She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.
The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to an ‘extremist knife attack’ and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of Daesh.”
“The suspect acted willfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Daesh’,” it said.
One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.
The attacker was arrested and detained.
Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.
The woman had formed a relationship on social media with an extremist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.
She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.


Hindu groups file fresh petitions to stop Muslims from entering historic Indian mosque

Updated 18 May 2022

Hindu groups file fresh petitions to stop Muslims from entering historic Indian mosque

  • Hindus say court should decide on plea to approve looking for Hindu relics in 17th century mosque
  • Muslims vow to fight legal battles against Hindu groups disrupting sanctity of mosques and tombs

LUCKNOW: Members of hard-line Hindu groups filed petitions in a court in northern India to stop Muslims from entering a historic mosque, until the court decides on an earlier plea seeking approval to look for any Hindu relics which may be on the site, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Judges of a local court in Mathura, a Hindu religious town in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, allowed the new petitions but have yet start hearings in the 2020 case aimed at securing permission to film and survey inside the 17th century Shahi Eidgah mosque.

“We suspect that Hindu symbols could be removed inside Shahi Eidgah mosque so we want the court to suspend entry of Muslims,” said Mahendra Pratap, a lawyer involved in the case.

This month, another local court in the state allowed a team to inspect and film inside one of the most prominent mosques in Varanasi, an ancient town, also the political constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Tuesday, the country’s top court overturned a ruling imposed by a Varanasi court to limit large Muslim prayer gatherings in the Gyanvapsi mosque, but allowed the local court to continue proceedings. read more

Members of hard-line Hindu groups tied to Modi’s party believe that Islamic invaders destroyed Hindu temples during their 200-year rule.

“We believe that idols of Hindu gods were lying inside the mosque built after a temple was destroyed by Muslim rulers to prove supremacy,” said Ranjana Agnihotri, a lawyer appearing on behalf of Hindu groups questioning the legitimacy of the Shahi Eidgah mosque in Mathura.

Surveyors involved in the Varanasi case said they found a large relic of the Hindu god Shiva inside the Gyanvapsi mosque, but Muslim groups said that a fountainhead was being misrepresented to stir religious tension.

Reports of idols found inside the mosque have further emboldened Hindu groups in western and southern states to demand searches in other mosques.

Police in Aurangabad city said they had intensified security around the grave of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb after members of MNS, a regional political party, threatened to destroy the tomb, which they believe was anti-Hindu.

The same party recently succeeded in forcing the Maharashtra government to ensure the decibel levels of the Muslim prayer calls were lowered after its leaders threatened to chant Hindu prayers outside mosques. read more

Leaders of Muslim political and religious groups said they will fight legal battles against Hindu groups disrupting the sanctity of mosques and tombs.

“We (Muslims) will not let Hindus insult our faith and our mosques,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a federal lawmaker and leader of a regional Islamic political party.