Almost one-fifth of the land used for Indonesian palm oil plantations is located in the country’s forest conservation areas, despite a law banning such activity, a study by Greenpeace has found. The report, produced by Greenpeace and TheTreeMap, describes a catastrophic failure of law enforcement that has permitted swathes of land — including UNESCO sites, national parks and areas mapped as habitats for orangutans and Sumatran tigers — to be cultivated as palm oil plantations. Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, which is used in many everyday products and foods, from shampoo and lipstick to chocolate and frozen pizzas. However, demand for palm oil is driving the destruction of carbon-rich forests that are home to Aboriginal communities and crucial to biodiversity. Of the estimated 16.38 million hectares of palm oil plantations across Indonesia, 19 percent are found inside forest conservation areas. The analysis, produced using maps of industrial palm oil plantation concessions and satellite imagery, found that by the end of 2019, there were 3.12 million hectares of palm oil operations across forest conservation areas. Half of the operations (1.55 million hectares) were industrial palm oil plantations. At least 600 plantation companies had operations set up inside forest conservation areas, the study found. As of the end of 2019, plantings to produce palm oil in Indonesia’s forest conservation areas occupied 183,687 hectares of land previously considered orangutan habitats and 148,839 hectares of Sumatran tiger habitats. Greenpeace Indonesian Forests Campaign head Kiki Taufik said that instead of punishing companies, the government had offered increasingly lenient amnesties for such operations. “It’s supposed to be that [companies] are sanctioned, but now they have got the red carpet out to process the illegal [activities],” Taufik said. It is not clear what proportion of the identified plantations have subsequently been legalized. Policy is pushing Aboriginal and rural communities toward an apocalyptic future, he said. “In
BITTER DISPUTE: In one ballot, 60 percent of residents near a planned dump site backed the proposal, but in another, the traditional owners unanimously rejected it
Two tonnes of nuclear waste are next year to be shipped from the UK to Australia, as debate continues over a national storage facility. The shipment of four 500kg canisters inside a forged steel container called a TN-81 is part of a waste swap deal with the UK. The waste is to be stored temporarily at Sydney’s Lucas Heights facility, before being sent to the national radioactive waste management facility that the Australian government plans to build near Kimba, South Australia. In 1996, Australia sent spent fuel rods from its Hifar reactor — the predecessor to the existing Opal multi-purpose reactor — to the UK to be recycled into fuel for nuclear power plants. Next year, the “radiologically equivalent” waste is to be sent to Australia under a waste repatriation project. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation said that it successfully repatriated radioactive waste from France to Australia in 2015 and that TN-81s have been successfully used in 180 nuclear shipments around the world. The government said that Lucas Heights does not have the room, so it plans to commission a dump. It settled on a site at Napandee, near Kimba in South Australia, but that plan has been deeply divisive. A ballot run by the Australian Electoral Commission found that more than 60 percent of people in the Kimba council area supported the facility. However, the traditional owners, the Barngarla community, have said that many were excluded from that ballot because they lived outside the council area. In a separate ballot, Barngarla voters unanimously rejected the dump site proposal.
It is one of the last places in Kabul where women can meet outside their households, a bubble of freedom and even frivolity away from the gaze of men. Mohadessa has kept her beauty salon open, despite threats from Afghanistan’s new rulers. Since the Taliban seized Kabul in mid-August, many women have disappeared from public spaces, driven into private areas out of fear and sometimes very real threats. However, Mohadessa’s beauty salon has, for now, remained a place where women can relax among themselves outside the household and share their woes — or forget them in favor of fun and fashion. The oasis provides income for the staff and moments of indulgence for the clients, but its days might be numbered. “We don’t want to give up and stop working,” the 32-year-old entrepreneur said over the hubbub of women getting ready for a wedding celebration. “We love that we have a job, and it is necessary for women to work in Afghan society — many of them are the breadwinners for their family,” Mohadessa said. Customers are dropped off outside, and whisked past posters advertising fashion and beauty brands that are now blotted out with white paint. They quickly disappear into the shop through a heavy curtain. Once inside, the women shed their headscarves and outer garments, and their excited voices compete with the hum of hairdryers as they choose their new looks. The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, women were obliged to wear a burqa. Under the Islamist movement’s interpretation of Shariah law, beauty salons were banned outright. Just having painted nails meant that a woman could risk having her fingers cut off. However, since the Taliban returned to the capital and declared their Islamic Emirate, the movement has been at pains to present a more liberal face to the world. Eager to secure international finance to head
She has been described as “a vision of the future” who is every bit as good as other abstract artists today, but Ai-Da — the world’s first ultra-realistic robot artist — hit a temporary snag before her latest exhibition when Egyptian security forces detained her at customs. Ai-Da was yesterday due to open and present her work at the Great Pyramid of Giza, the first time that contemporary art has been allowed next to the pyramid in thousands of years. However, because of “security issues” — which might include concerns that she is part of a wider espionage plot — Ai-Da and her sculpture were held in Egyptian customs for 10 days before being released on Wednesday, sparking a diplomatic fracas. “The British ambassador has been working through the night to get Ai-Da released, but we’re right up to the wire now,” said Aidan Meller, the human force behind Ai-Da, shortly before her release. “It’s really stressful,” Meller added. Border guards at first detained Ai-Da because she had a modem, and then because she had cameras in her eyes — which she uses to draw and paint, Meller said. “I can ditch the modems, but I can’t really gouge her eyes out,” he said. She was finally cleared through customs on Wednesday evening, hours before the exhibition was due to start, with the British embassy in Cairo saying that it was “glad” the case had been resolved. Ai-Da and her sculpture had been sent in specialized flight cases by air cargo to Cairo before the Forever Is Now exhibition, which runs until Nov. 7 and is presented by the consultancy firm Art d’Egypte in partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The exhibition showcases works by leading Egyptian and international artists, including Stephen Cox, Lorenzo Quinn, Moataz Nasr and
Bags of damaged banknotes have been retrieved from the coffers of the Iraqi Central Bank’s branch in Mosul, once a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) group. In the imposing building riddled with gaping holes and a blackened ceiling, workers removed sacks containing packs of banknotes rolled up in black plastic bags from a hole in the floor. “After starting to fix the building and removing rubble, we were able to access the safes,” Mosul branch head Hussein al-Zaidi said. “We discovered banknotes in bags, small bills,” he added. The banknotes were badly damaged after “the coffers were engulfed in groundwater due to an air strike” during the offensive to take Mosul from IS fighters. About 175 bags have been found so far, he said, without specifying the total value of the money. When IS fighters took Mosul in the summer of 2014, they seized several hundred million dollars, as well as gold bars, from the Mosul branch. The country’s second city, Mosul was the IS group’s Iraqi “capital” of their self-proclaimed “caliphate.”
WORRISOME TREND: While three-quarters of Indian adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a ‘sizeable number’ have not yet taken their second dose
India yesterday celebrated the milestone of administering 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses, with the government promoting the achievement in song and video, even as a recent drop in inoculations worries healthcare providers. After a slow beginning in the middle of January, India’s immunization campaign has covered three-quarters of its 944 million adults with at least one dose, but only 31 percent with two. The government wants all adults to be vaccinated this year. “India scripts history,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter. “We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of 130 crore [1.3 billion] Indians.” Modi marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi. The Indian Ministry of Health announced musical and other programs across the country, and special illuminations of national monuments, including a colonial-era jail. Nearly 90 percent of the vaccines administered in India have come from the Serum Institute of India, which produces a licensed version of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The institute has more than tripled its capacity since April and can produce 220 million vaccine doses per month. It has also slowly resumed exports for the first time since April, when the government stopped all overseas sales to meet domestic demand as infections rose dramatically. The WHO, which relies heavily on India for supplies to its global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX, congratulated the country for reaching the landmark. “India’s progress must be viewed in the context of the country’s commendable commitment and efforts to ensure that these life-saving vaccines are accessible globally,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Southeast Asia regional director. India has so far reported 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths, most during a second wave of infections of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 that surged through the country between April and May. A “sizeable number” of people in
New York City on Wednesday ordered all police officers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, setting up a showdown with the force’s union as officers across the US challenge mandated inoculations. The directive — which also applies to firefighters, prison guards and sanitation workers — comes as disgruntled officers in Chicago and Los Angeles push back against proof of vaccination requirements. Vaccine rates amongst the New York Police Department lag behind the city average: About 71 percent of its 55,000 staff members have been inoculated compared to 84 percent of all adults in the city. In a bid to boost the rate, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all public workers must provide proof they have received at least one vaccine dose, or risk losing their jobs. “I’m saying this to every mayor, every governor, every CEO, it’s time for these mandates, finish this war, or we’re going to have COVID with us way too long,” he told MSNBC. The order applies to 160,000 city employees and is to go into effect on Nov. 1. Corrections officers would have another month to be vaccinated due to a staffing crisis at Rikers Island prison. “Unvaccinated employees will be placed on unpaid leave until they show proof of vaccination to their supervisor,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. They would not have the option of providing a negative test instead, but medical and religious exemptions would be allowed. The New York City Police Benevolent Association, the world’s largest municipal police union representing about 24,000 officers, said it would challenge the move. It supports vaccines, but opposes mandates, saying it should be a personal decision between individual officers and their healthcare providers. The union endorsed former US president Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election and has repeatedly clashed with De Blasio, a Democrat. “Now that the city has moved to unilaterally
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized using a “mix and match” strategy for people who require a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine after their primary series. “The FDA has determined that the known and potential benefits of the use of a single heterologous booster dose outweigh the known and potential risks of their use in eligible populations,” the agency said in a statement. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines are authorized in the US. A single dose of any of them might be used following completion of primary vaccination with a different COVID-19 vaccine. According to the decision, people who received two Moderna shots initially and are 65 or older, older than 18 and at high risk for COVID-19, or older than 18 and have high occupational exposure, may receive a booster. All adults who received the one-dose J&J vaccine more than two months ago are also eligible for a booster. Previously, only immune compromised people, or those who belonged to elderly or high-risk groups and had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, were eligible for a boost. The data supporting the decisions came from emerging research reviewed by the FDA. “Today’s actions demonstrate our commitment to public health in proactively fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic,” FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said. The statement also cautioned of highly rare side effects associated with the vaccines. The mRNA vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have been associated with increased risks of inflammatory heart conditions, myocarditis and pericarditis, especially in younger males. The J&J vaccine has been linked to a serious and rare type of blood clot in combination with low blood platelets one or two weeks after administration.
‘BROKEN PROMISES’: Five young campaigners started their protest after US President Joe Biden threatened to water down his US$3.5 trillion social and environmental bill
With little more than sun hats, placards and folding chairs, five young climate campaigners have begun a hunger strike in front of the White House, urging US President Joe Biden not to abandon his bold climate agenda. The protest, organized by the Sunrise Movement youth group, came a day after Biden threatened to water down his US$3.5 trillion social and environmental legislation ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The five protesters said they would eat no food and drink only water. They intend to gather in Lafayette Park every day from 8am to 8pm until their demands — which include a civilian climate corps, clean energy performance program and funding for environmental justice — are satisfied. On Wednesday, in bright autumn sunshine, the quintet stood in a row holding signs including “Hunger striking for my dreams” and “Hunger striking for my future children.” They then sat down in red folding chairs with the words “Hunger strike day one” written in giant letters on the pavement before them. “I’m nervous in that I know that I will go on hunger strike until the demands are met, until I’m absolutely physically unable to,” said Ema Govea, a high-school student who turned 18 on Tuesday. “That’s scary and I know my parents are worried and my friends back home are worried.” Biden met privately on Tuesday with nearly 20 moderate and progressive Democrats in separate groups as he appeared ready to ditch an ambitious US$3.5 trillion package in favor of a smaller proposal that can win passage in the closely divided US Congress. A provision central to Biden’s climate strategy is among those that could be scaled back or eliminated. US Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative lawmaker from coal-rich West Virginia, has made it clear that he opposes the Clean Energy Performance Plan, which would see the
A former student on Wednesday pleaded guilty to killing 17 people in a shooting rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and apologized in court to relatives of the victims. Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time, took a legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, his former school, on Valentine’s Day in 2018, and killed 17 students and staff members. Cruz pleaded guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted murder for those wounded during the attack, which sparked a student-led movement for tighter gun control laws. Cruz responded “guilty,” as Judge Elizabeth Scherer read off each of the charges in a Fort Lauderdale courthouse. He told the judge he was suffering from a “little anxiety,” but understood the charges against him and was pleading guilty of his own volition. Cruz is now to go before a jury for the penalty phase of the trial. He faces a minimum of life in prison without parole, but prosecutors have said they would seek the death penalty. The judge set Jan. 4 for the start of jury selection for the penalty phase. Following his guilty pleas, Cruz, who is now 23, apologized to the relatives of his victims. “I am very sorry for what I did and I have to live with it every day,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “It brings me nightmares.” “If I were to get a second chance, I would do everything in my power to try to help others,” he said. Addressing relatives of the victims, Cruz said: “I believe it’s your decision to decide where I go, whether I live or die, not the jury’s.” Relatives of some of the victims were among the spectators in the courtroom and wiped away tears as a prosecutor recounted the attack in chilling detail. The shooting was
NORSE AMERICA: A new type of dating showed that a settlement in Canada featuring eight timber-framed buildings was occupied 471 years before the arrival of Columbus
Long before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, eight timber-framed buildings covered in sod stood on a terrace above a peat bog and stream at the northern tip of the Canadian island of Newfoundland, evidence that the Vikings had reached the New World first. However, when precisely did the Vikings journeyed to establish the L’Anse aux Meadows settlement had remained unclear — until now. Scientists on Wednesday said a new type of dating technique using a long-ago solar storm as a reference point revealed that the settlement was occupied in 1021, exactly one millennium ago and 471 years before the first voyage of Columbus. The technique was used on three pieces of wood cut for the settlement, all pointing to the same year. The Viking voyage represents multiple milestones for humankind. The settlement offers the earliest-known evidence of a transatlantic crossing. It also marks the place where the globe was finally encircled by humans, who thousands of years earlier had trekked into North America over a land bridge that once connected Siberia to Alaska. “Much kudos should go to these northern Europeans for being the first human society to traverse the Atlantic,” said geoscientist Michael Dee of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who led the study published in the journal Nature. The Vikings, or Norse people, were seafarers with Scandinavian homelands: Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They ventured through Europe, sometimes colonizing and other times trading or raiding. They possessed extraordinary boat-building and navigation skills, and established settlements on Iceland and Greenland. “I think it is fair to describe the trip as both a voyage of discovery and a search for new sources of raw materials,” Dee said. “Many archeologists believe the principal motivation for them seeking out these new territories was to uncover new sources of timber, in particular. It is generally believed they left
This week, the largest Triceratops skeleton ever unearthed is to be auctioned in Paris, but museum curators such as Francis Duranthon can only dream of getting their hands on such a prize. With an estimated price tag of up to 1.5 million euros (US$1.7 million), Duranthon, who directs the Toulouse Museum of Natural History, told reporters that the skeleton would cost 20 to 25 years of his acquisitions budget. “We can’t compete,” he said. The Triceratops is among the most distinctive of dinosaurs due to the three horns on its head — one at the nose and two on the forehead — that give the dinosaur its Latin name. “Big John” is the largest known surviving example, with a skeleton about 8m long. It was discovered in South Dakota in 2014 and flown to Italy, where it was assembled by specialists. It is only the latest dinosaur to be sold by the Drouot auction house, which, according to its Web site, handled an Allosaurus and a Diplodocus, each worth 1.4 million euros in 2018. Last year, it sold a second Allosaurus for 3 million euros. That these and other skeletons could adorn private mansions rather than museum halls is a common source of frustration. For Steve Brusatte, a consultant on the forthcoming Jurassic World movie, “dinosaur fossils belong in museums.” The author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs remembers being a teenager and seeing the fossil that would inspire him to go into paleontology. “The T-rex skeleton Sue was put on display at the Field Museum in Chicago,” Brusatte told reporters. “It awed me and, standing under it, it gave me a new perspective on the ancient world.” In 1997, Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex that sparked the imagination of the young Brusatte, was also put up for auction. The Field Museum raised more than US$8 million to purchase it. However, “it
The Brazilian Ministry of Justice has dispatched security forces to an indigenous reservation in the south of the country where two people have been killed in a dispute over renting land to soy farmers. Federal police said that they are investigating the fatal shooting of two members of the Kaingang community on Saturday during a wave of violence fueled by dissent in the community over distributing the farming income. Rosenildo Batista and Lucas Caetano were killed after being expelled from the reservation over a disagreement with the leader, said Iuri de Oliveira, the officer leading the investigation. Police have identified suspects in the killings, but have not made any arrests yet, De Oliveira said. Human rights groups and members of the Kaingang community say the murders are related to an arrangement to grow cash crops on the Serrinha reservation, a 12,000-hectare area in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. With scarce global soy supplies and Brazil selling large volumes to China, the pressure is immense to expand grain areas, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged commercial farming on indigenous lands. In an order published in the government’s official gazette on Tuesday, Brazilian Minister of Justice Anderson Torres authorized national security forces to support police on the Serrinha reservation. FUNAI, the government’s indigenous affairs agency, said it is monitoring the situation. Although challenged as unconstitutional, a 2019 settlement between FUNAI, federal prosecutors and Cotriserra, a cooperative of Serrinha residents, has allowed the residents to keep leasing reservation land for farming. In a statement, the Roman Catholic Church’s Indigenous Missionary Council said the leasing of Serrinha land had spurred divisions over the distribution of income, calling on authorities to end land rentals to stop the violence. In a public letter last month, a group of Kaingang elders accused the leader, Marciano Inacio Claudino, of hoarding proceeds from the three 60kg
LITHUANIA Vaccine comments shut The nation’s biggest news portals on Wednesday said they were switching off public comments on their articles about COVID-19 vaccines to curb conspiracy theories. About 71 percent of adults in the nation of 2.8 million people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but infection rates have surged in recent days. “We are showing solidarity with the state and society with the common effort to disable the unfounded misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers,” Association of Online Media head Arnas Marcinkus said. “The success of the vaccination campaign must be our common cause, without excluding the government or the media. We all need to find solutions to get out of the pandemic,” he said. POLAND Canadian wins Chopin prize Canadian musician Bruce Xiaoyu Liu (劉曉禹) on Thursday won the top prize at the prestigious Chopin international piano competition. The decision came after several hours of deliberations by a 17-person international jury. The winner receives a 40,000 euros (US$46,558) prize and gold medal. The second prize ex aequo went to Alexander Gadjiev and Kyohei Sorita, while Martin Garcia came in third. UNITED STATES Hypersonic tech concerns The White House has raised concerns about Chinese hypersonic missile technology through “diplomatic channels,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. Asked by reporters as he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Pennsylvania whether he was concerned about reports that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic weapon, President Joe Biden said: “Yes.” China has denied the reports. GERMANY Pandemic novels coming This week’s Frankfurt book fair, the world’s oldest and largest, brings with it the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic novels. Some of the best-known authors have pandemic tales on the way, with Jodi Picoult finding inspiration in a tourist stranded abroad, while Margaret Atwood is teaming up with the likes of Dave Eggers and John Grisham on a “collaborative
HARDER TO TRACK: Submarines could carry more of the smaller missiles, which the KCNA said have advanced capabilities such as ‘flank mobility and gliding skip mobility’
North Korea test-fired a new, smaller ballistic missile from a submarine, state media said yesterday, a move that analysts said could be aimed at more quickly fielding an operational missile submarine. The statement from state media came a day after South Korea’s military reported that it believed North Korea had fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) off its east coast, the latest in a string of North Korean missile tests. Washington urged North Korea to refrain from further “provocations,” with White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday saying that the US remained open to engaging diplomatically with the North over its weapons programs. Pyongyang has so far rejected those overtures, accusing the US and South Korea of talking diplomacy while ratcheting up tensions with their own military activities. South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong yesterday called for Washington to ease sanctions if the North returns to talks. “Action must be taken as soon as possible to stop North Korea from further developing nuclear and missile capability,” he told the South Korean parliament. “I think considering relaxing sanctions can surely be an option.” The US and the UK planned to raise the North’s latest test at a UN Security Council meeting yesterday, diplomats said. The “new-type” SLBM was launched from the same submarine used in a 2016 test of an older SLBM, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said. North Korea has a large fleet of aging submarines, but has yet to deploy operational ballistic missile submarines beyond the experimental Gorae-class boat used in the tests. Photographs released by KCNA appeared to show a thinner, smaller missile than North Korea’s earlier SLBM designs, and could be a previously unseen model first showcased at a defense exhibition in Pyongyang last week. A smaller SLBM could mean more missiles stored on a single submarine, although with a shorter range, potentially
Japan’s Mount Aso erupted yesterday, spewing a giant column of ash thousands of meters into the sky as hikers rushed away from the popular tourist spot. No injuries were immediately reported after the late-morning eruption in southwest Japan, which sent rocks flying in a dramatic blast captured by nearby CCTV cameras. People were warned not to approach the volcano as it ejected hot gas and ash as high as 3,500m, and sent stones tumbling down its grassy slopes. Authorities were checking if any hikers had been trapped or injured, officials told local media, as TV footage showed dozens of vehicles and tour buses parked at a nearby museum that has a clear view of the volcano. Pale gray torrents of ash were seen rushing down Aso’s slopes toward the museum, but did not reach the site. For those near the mountain, “caution must be exercised for large flying rocks and flows of pyroclastic materials,” Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) official Tomoaki Ozaki said. “Caution is warranted even in far-away areas downwind, as the wind may carry not just ash, but also pebbles,” Ozaki told a televised news conference, warning that toxic gases might also have been emitted. The last time the JMA raised its warning for Aso to yesterday’s level — three out of five — was when it erupted in 2016, having rumbled to life the previous year after being dormant for 19 years. The agency has been warning of increasing volcanic activity there in the past few days, including a small eruption on Thursday last week. Mount Aso’s huge caldera dominates the southwestern main island of Kyushu, where the 1,592m volcano is a popular tourist draw. Japan is one of the world’s most volcanically active countries. It sits on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire” where a large proportion of the planet’s quakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. In September 2014,
At least 34 people have died following days of heavy rains in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said yesterday, as rescuers continued work to free those stranded. Aerial footage of the affected areas showed engorged rivers and villages partially submerged by floodwaters. “There is huge loss due to the floods ... the crops have been destroyed,” Dhami told Asian News International after surveying the damage late on Tuesday. “The locals are facing a lot of problems, the roads are waterlogged, bridges have been washed away,” Dhami said. “So far, 34 people have died and we are trying to normalize the situation as soon as possible.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter that he was “anguished” by the loss of life. The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam. Unseasonally heavy rains across India have led to deadly floods in several areas of the country in the past few days. Authorities in the southern state of Kerala on Monday said that more than 20 people had died there due to landslides.
In a small salon in a nondescript town in northern India, a haircut is not just a trim or a crewcut, but an opportunity to have some art embossed on the back of your head. Brothers Rajwinder and Gurwinder Singh Sidhu in Dabwali in India’s Punjab state are now famous in their small part of the world for giving haircuts shaped in images of the customer’s choice. From the Taj Mahal, complete with its many turrets and towers, to a lifelike portrait of Michael Jackson, the brothers use a range of trimmers, scissors and pencils, among other tools, to get every minute detail of the hairdos correct. “In the beginning we used to give anyone we could get hold of free haircuts so that we could practice our skills on them. Some days we used to practice till 2am, because during the day we used to run the regular salon,” said Rajwinder Singh Sidhu, the younger of the two brothers. These days the brothers, aged 29 and 31, charge anywhere from US$20 to US$30 for their special hairdos, and say they have plans to take their business outside of India as well. From requests of images of Bollywood stars to popular sports stars and even an impression of Mickey Mouse, the brothers’ salon is seeing a steady stream of customers who want to draw attention to themselves at social gatherings or events, but do not want something lasting, like traditional tattoos. “Today, I got a tattoo of the Taj Mahal. The monument is very beautiful and with this tattoo, I will stand out in the crowd,” said salon customer Darbar Singh, showing off his brand new haircut.
SENATE REPORT: The 1,200-page document alleges that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro turned down chances to acquire vaccines, which cost an estimated 95,000 lives
The senator leading a congressional probe into Brazil’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has recommended that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with homicide for alleged government errors that led to the deaths of thousands. Bolsonaro has dismissed the probe as politically motivated. It is highly unlikely that he would face trial on such charges, which would have to be brought by the Brazilian Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, who was appointed by Bolsonaro. The nearly 1,200-page document, prepared by opposition Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros for a Brazilian Senate commission that conducted the probe, alleges that Bolsonaro turned down early opportunities for the government to acquire vaccines, delaying Brazil’s inoculation campaign and costing an estimated 95,000 lives. The report says that Bolsonaro was guided “by an unfounded belief in the theory of herd immunity by natural infection and the existence of a treatment.” “Without the vaccine, deaths would be stratospheric, as they turned out to be,” the report adds. The draft report still needs to be voted on by the Senate commission, and could be vetoed and altered. The vote is to take place next week. Neither the presidential office nor the Brazilian Ministry of Health immediately responded to requests for comment. Earlier on Tuesday, Bolsonaro told supporters that the probe was a “joke,” saying that he was not concerned about it. The report also says that charges should be filed against three of Bolsonaro’s sons: Brazilian Senator Flavio Bolsonaro; Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal deputy; and Carlos Bolsonaro, a city councilor. The report alleges that the sons spread misinformation that incentivized “non-compliance with sanitary measures to contain the pandemic.” With a death toll of nearly 604,000 people due to COVID-19, Brazil has the second-highest toll worldwide, behind only the US. Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized by public health experts for railing against lockdowns, frequently refusing to wear a mask in public
PUSH FOR ACTION: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that one aim of the Moscow meeting was to consolidate global efforts to ‘prevent a humanitarian crisis’
Russia yesterday hosted Taliban officials for talks in Moscow, as it seeks to assert its influence on Central Asia and push for action against Islamic State (IS) fighters that it says have massed in Afghanistan. The talks, which drew officials from 10 countries including China and Pakistan, were one of the Taliban’s most significant international meetings since seizing power in mid-August. They came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that IS fighters were gathering in Afghanistan to spread discord in former Soviet republics. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov addressed the gathering. The Taliban delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior figure in the new Afghan leadership who led talks with the EU and the US last week. Those followed talks in Ankara between Taliban and Turkish officials. Brussels has pledged 1 billion euros (US$1.16 billion) to avert a humanitarian crisis after the hardline group’s takeover. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said that one of the aims of the Moscow meeting was to consolidate the “efforts of the international community to prevent a humanitarian crisis.” Moscow also said that the formation of an “inclusive government” would be on the agenda, and that parties to the talks were expected to release a joint statement afterward. Moscow has reached out to the Taliban and hosted its representatives in Moscow several times in the past few years, even though the Taliban is a designated terrorist organization in Russia. Senior Russian officials, including Putin, have been voicing numerous other security-related concerns since the Taliban wrested control of Afghanistan and foreign troops pulled out after nearly 20 years. About 2,000 fighters loyal to the IS group had converged in northern Afghanistan, Putin said last week, adding that their leaders planned to send them into Central Asian countries disguised as refugees. After the Taliban’s takeover, Russia ran