India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
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India’s National Security Adviser concluded a visit to Colombo after “fruitful discussions” with President Rajapaksa. (@GotabayaR)
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Updated 29 November 2020

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties

India, Sri Lanka strengthen trade, security ties
  • Colombo trilateral forum ends with pledge to improve intel sharing
  • Bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $4.59 billion in 2019

COLOMBO: India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval concluded a three-day visit to Colombo on Sunday after “fruitful discussions” with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on trade, new investments and security amid plans to bolster bilateral ties with the island nation.
“Had a fruitful discussion with Shri @Ajitdovalkumar, NSA #India this evening. National Sec, Sec in the Indian Ocean, new Indian investments, continuation of infrastructure proj. & strengthening bilateral relations between #SriLanka & #India were the areas discussed at the meeting,” Rajapaksa tweeted.
In a separate tweet after the meeting, the High Commission of India in Colombo acknowledged the “productive discussion” between the two officials.
“NSA Ajit Doval called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa & had a productive discussion. NSA Doval expressed hope that the India-Sri Lanka bilateral relationship would diversify and deepen further under the strong leadership of PM @narendramodi and President @GotabayaR @MEAIndia,” it said.
As one of Sri Lanka’s closest neighbors, India is among its top investors with cumulative investments amounting to more than $1.2 billion since 2003. 
According to the Indian Board of Investment, bilateral trade between the two countries totalled $4.59 billion in 2019.
Sri Lankan tourists are among the top 10 sources of revenue for India’s tourism sector, with more than 107,360 tourist visas issued by the High Commission of India in Colombo last year. However, tourism has suffered a setback since the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent global travel ban in March.
Doval took part in a trilateral forum with Maldivian Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi and Kamal Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s defense secretary, on Saturday, with officials from Mauritius and Seychelles attending virtually.
In a joint statement after the meeting, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defense said that the 4th National Security Adviser-level trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation meeting had been revived after a six-year gap to expand the scope of intelligence sharing, including terrorism and cybersecurity, based on “common security threats.”
The first meeting was held in 2011 and, later, in New Delhi in 2014.
“We were able to resolve several maritime problems, such as human trafficking, drug trafficking and general security,” Brig. Chandana Wickremesinghe, a ministry spokesperson, told Arab News.
Current observers Bangladesh, Mauritius and Seychelles “will become permanent members soon,” he added.
“The Indian Ocean commands 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, has 80 percent of the world’s shipborne energy transport, and facilitates 46 percent of the world’s merchandise trade — maritime security remains one of our highest priorities,” Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said during his opening address at the forum.
The three countries also agreed to improve intelligence sharing and “focus on issues such as terrorism, radicalization, extremism, drugs, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, cybersecurity and climate change,” the statement said.
Muheed Jeeran, a lobbyist, told Arab News that the forum took place at the “right time” when other countries “were looking for a berth in the Indian Ocean.”
“The representatives of the three countries would have chalked out the preventive measures that could be adopted in case of a third-party interference,” Jeeran said.
Regional security “will lead to peace in the Indian Ocean,” he added.


Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Far-right and others march against French virus rules
Updated 24 July 2021

Far-right and others march against French virus rules

Far-right and others march against French virus rules
  • Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday
  • French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns

PARIS: Far-right activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement protested Saturday against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and other venues and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it Friday, as virus infections are spiking and hospitalizations are rising anew. The French government is trying to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals, and avoid new lockdowns.
Most French adults are fully vaccinated and polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures. But not everyone.
Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations Saturday around France. Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organized by a former top official in Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration party.
While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march. Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles could also be seen in a video of the incident.
Many marchers focused their anger on a French “health pass” that is required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues. To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.
Lawmakers have debated the measure amid divisions over how far to go in imposing health passes or mandatory vaccinations.
Last weekend, more than 100,000 people protested around France against the measures. They included far-right politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron for various reasons.
Remaining members of France’s yellow vest movement, largely from political extremes, are using the virus bill to try to rekindle its flame. The movement started in 2018 as a broad uprising against perceived economic injustice and led to months of protests marked by violence between demonstrators and police, but subsided after the French government addressed many of the protesters’ concerns.


Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
Updated 24 July 2021

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
  • The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time
  • The resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts

KABUL: Afghan authorities on Saturday imposed a night-time curfew across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces to curb surging violence unleashed by a sweeping Taliban offensive in recent months, the interior ministry said.
“To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces across the country,” except in Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The curfew will be effective between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. local time, Ahmad Zia Zia, deputy interior ministry spokesman said in a separate audio statement to reporters.
Since early May, the Taliban have launched a widespread offensive across the country that has seen the insurgents capture border crossings, dozens of districts and encircle several provincial capitals.
With the withdrawal of American-led foreign forces all but complete, the resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.


Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise
Updated 24 July 2021

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise

Vietnam locks down capital Hanoi for 15 days as COVID-19 cases rise
  • The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public
  • In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths

HANOI, Vietnam: Vietnam announced a 15-day lockdown in the capital Hanoi starting Saturday as a coronavirus surge spread from the southern Mekong Delta region.
The lockdown order, issued late Friday night, bans the gathering of more than two people in public. Only government offices, hospitals and essential businesses are allowed to stay open.
Earlier in the week, the city had suspended all outdoor activities and ordered non-essential businesses to close following an increase in cases. On Friday, Hanoi reported 70 confirmed infections, the city’s highest, part of a record 7,295 cases in the country in the last 24 hours.
Nearly 5,000 of them are from Vietnam’s largest metropolis, southern Ho Chi Minh City, which has also extended its lockdown until Aug. 1.
In the latest wave of COVID-19 since April, Vietnam has recorded over 83,000 infections and 335 deaths.
A meeting of the National Assembly that opened in Hanoi on Tuesday with 499 delegates is going ahead, although it was shortened to 12 from the original 17 days.
The delegates have been vaccinated, are regularly tested for the coronavirus and are traveling in a bubble, and are isolated at hotels, according to the National Assembly.


At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods
Updated 24 July 2021

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods

At least 125 dead as heavy rain in India triggers floods
  • Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say
  • Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594mm of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Rescue teams in India struggled through thick sludge and debris on Saturday to reach dozens of submerged homes as the death toll from landslides and accidents caused by torrential monsoon rain rose to 125.
Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say. Downpours lasting several days have severely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, while major rivers are in danger of bursting their banks.
In Taliye, about 180 kilometers southeast of the financial capital of Mumbai, the death toll rose to 42 with the recovery of four more bodies after landslides flattened most homes in the village, a senior Maharashtra government official said.
“About 40 people are still trapped. The possibility of rescuing them alive is thin as they’ve been trapped in mud for more than 36 hours,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to talk to the media.
Harsh weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks, with floods in China and Western Europe and heat waves in North America, raising new fears about the impact of climate change.
Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas as they released water from dams about to overflow. The hill station of Mahabaleshwar recorded its highest ever rainfall — 60 cm in 24 hours.
Rescuers were searching for victims of landslides in four other places in the state, the official said.
“Around 90,000 people were rescued from flood affected areas,” the Maharashtra government said in a statement, as authorities released water from overflowing dams.
Thousands of trucks were stuck for more than 24 hours on a highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was in anguish over the loss of lives.
“The situation in Maharashtra due to heavy rains is being closely monitored and assistance is being provided to the affected,” Modi said on Twitter on Friday.
In the southern state of Telangana, heavy rain caused flooding in the state capital of Hyderabad and other low-lying areas.
Indian environmentalists have warned that climate change and indiscriminate construction in fragile coastal regions could lead to more disasters.
“The rain fury that lashed Mahabaleshwar ... is a strong warning against any more tampering with the ecologically fragile Western Ghats,” environment economist Devendra Sharma said on Twitter referring to the range of hills along India’s west coast.


Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces

Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces
Updated 24 July 2021

Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces

Philippines evacuates thousands as monsoon rains flood cities, provinces
  • Over 14,000 people, most of them from a flood-prone Manila suburb, had moved into evacuation centers

MANILA: Philippine authorities moved thousands of residents of the capital, Manila, out of their low-lying communities on Saturday as heavy monsoon rain, compounded by a tropical storm, flooded the city and nearby provinces.
The national disaster agency said 14,023 people, most of them from a flood-prone Manila suburb, had moved into evacuation centers.
“We ask residents of affected areas to remain alert and vigilant, take precautionary measures, and cooperate with their respective local authorities,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
Harsh weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks, bringing floods to China, India and Western Europe and heat waves to North America, raising new fears about the impact of climate change.
The Philippines, a Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, sees about 20 tropical storms a year but a warmer Pacific Ocean will make storms more powerful and bring heavier rain, meteorologists say.
In some parts of the Philippine capital region, an urban sprawl of more than 13 million people, flood waters, in places waist-deep, cut off roads to light vehicles.
The Philippines is also grappling with one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in Asia, and has tightened curbs to prevent the spread of the more infectious Delta variant.