Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis

Indian opposition takes jab at Modi over vaccine shortage, COVID-19 crisis
  • Most Mumbai vaccine centers closed, city mayor tells Arab News

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of complacency and missteps in the handling of the pandemic by the country’s main opposition party, after six states reported a shortage of coronavirus vaccines and more than 145,000 new infections were recorded on Saturday.

The Congress Party also blamed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for prioritizing “vaccine diplomacy” by exporting vaccine doses instead of reserving them for domestic use.

“The Modi government has mismanaged the situation – exported vaccines and allowed a shortage to be created in India,” Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi said during a special meeting on Saturday to address the COVID-19 crisis.

“We must focus on India’s vaccination drive first and foremost, then only export vaccines and gift them to other countries.”

She emphasized the need for “responsible behavior” and adhering to all laws and COVID-19 regulations “without exception.”

But the government insisted there were enough vaccines in stock, accusing the opposition of “playing politics” even as India grappled with a deadly second wave of infections.

“There is no shortage of vaccines,” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma told Arab News, adding that state governments were following the “procedure laid down by the center.”

Six opposition-ruled states said earlier this week that they were running out of vaccines and would be forced to discontinue the vaccination drive if the central government did not send supplies.

One of the worst affected states is western India’s Maharashtra, which recorded 58,993 new cases on Saturday out of the nationwide total of 145,384.

“There are 108 vaccines centers in Mumbai, but most of them have been closed due to a lack of vaccines,” Mumbai Mayor Kishori Kishore Pandekar told Arab News.

“The number of doses we have cannot last more than two days. If this is the situation in India’s financial capital Mumbai, imagine the case in remote areas of the state.”

Pune, one of Maharashtra’s biggest cities, has also run out of vaccines.

“We have not been vaccinating since Thursday in Pune, and we don’t know when the next lot of doses will arrive in the city,” Dr. Avinash V. Bhondwe, president of the Indian Medical Association’s Maharashtra wing, told Arab News.

The eastern state of Odisha has reported a shortage in doses, leading to the closure of 700 vaccination centers, according to media reports.

Verma said the current situation was due to the “desperate” measures taken by state governments.

“People above 45 years was the target group for the vaccination (drive). Some state governments are getting desperate, and they want to give vaccines to one and all. This is not possible for a (country with a) size like India. Vaccine production and export needs have been calibrated.”

But the BJP’s explanation did not satisfy Pankaj Vohra, from the New Delhi suburb of Noida, who went to hospital on Friday for his second jab but could not get vaccinated due to a shortage.

“A day before going to the hospital, I got a confirmation that I should come for the second dose,” he told Arab News. “But when I reached the hospital, I was told that the Covishield vaccine was available and not Covaxin. If the government cannot fulfil its domestic demand, why is it exporting vaccines?”

India has allowed permission for the emergency use of Covishield – the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India – and Covaxin, directed by Bharat Biotech in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.

It launched its vaccination drive on Jan. 16 and has inoculated 94 million people, far below the initial target of 300 million.

Only 12.5 percent of the 94 million have received the second dose, based on an advisory by the Health Ministry, which recommends a 28-day gap between the first and second dose.

“The government did plan the vaccination drive,” Dr. Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based public health expert, told Arab News. “Most of the developed countries made arrangements that they get enough doses of vaccines when they need them, but the Indian government did nothing about it.”

He wondered why just two companies in India were producing vaccines, and suggested the government use a compulsory licensing policy and allow other local companies to produce them.

“That way, you could have a large number of vaccines available,” he added.

There has been increased demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the past few weeks following a leap in cases, with Saturday’s daily infections rising by a record for the fifth time this week.

Last week experts told Arab News that India was on its way to becoming the “ground zero and global epicenter” for the coronavirus outbreak.

“The rising number of cases is due to the government’s failure to implement preventive measures,” Jesani said. “Political leadership is unhindered in their political campaigns addressing huge gatherings without following any COVID-19 protocol.”

Bhondwe urged the government to allow more companies to produce vaccines in India and to allow more foreign vaccines to come to India.

“People are in a state of panic, and they see some hope in vaccines. The government should not disappoint its people.”

China slams G7 ‘manipulation’ after Xinjiang, Hong Kong criticism

China slams G7 ‘manipulation’ after Xinjiang, Hong Kong criticism
Updated 2 min 31 sec ago

China slams G7 ‘manipulation’ after Xinjiang, Hong Kong criticism

China slams G7 ‘manipulation’ after Xinjiang, Hong Kong criticism
  • ‘The Group of Seven (G-7) takes advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China’s internal affairs’

BEIJING: China on Monday accused the G7 of “political manipulation” after it criticized Beijing over its human rights record in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
In a communique after a three-day summit in England, G7 leaders slammed China over abuses against minorities in the Xinjiang region and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, while US President Joe Biden called for Beijing to “start acting more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights.”
The Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom responded angrily on Monday, and accused the G7 of “interfering.”
“The Group of Seven (G-7) takes advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China’s internal affairs, which we firmly oppose,” an embassy spokesman said in a statement.
The statement accused the G7 of “lies, rumors and baseless accusations.”
Human rights groups say China has rounded up an estimated one million Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang into internment camps, which Beijing says is to eradicate Islamic extremism.
“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms” the G7 communique read.
At their first physical summit in nearly two years, leaders of the seven nations announced a number of pledges on COVID-19 vaccinations, climate change, rights and trade.
They also called for a new investigation in China into the origins of COVID-19 — prompting a response from the Chinese embassy that the work needs to be done in a “scientific, objective and fair manner,” without agreeing to a new probe.
“The current epidemic is still raging around the world, and the traceability work should be carried out by global scientists and should not be politicized,” the embassy said.
The coronavirus first emerged in central China in late 2019, and the World Health Organization sent a team of international experts in January to probe its origins.
But their long-delayed report published in March drew no firm conclusions, and the investigation has since faced criticism for lacking transparency and access.
The G7 also announced a new infrastructure fund which President Biden said would be “much more equitable” than China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
The Chinese embassy statement complained in response that the “accusations against China on economic and trade issues in the communique are inconsistent with the facts and are unreasonable.”

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump
Updated 14 June 2021

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump

Biden to rebuild ‘sacred’ NATO bond shaken by Trump
  • The summit at NATO’s Brussels headquarters is set to greenlight a 2030 reform program
  • Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump undermined faith in the West’s security architecture 

BRUSSELS, Belgium: US President Joe Biden will seek to restore bonds of trust at NATO’s first post-Trump summit on Monday, as leaders push to revitalize the alliance despite differences over dangers ahead.
The allies will agree a statement stressing common ground on securing their withdrawal from Afghanistan, joint responses to cyberattacks and relations with a rising China.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump undermined faith in the West’s security architecture by questioning Washington’s commitment to defend European partners.
And he clashed publicly with counterparts the last time leaders met in 2019, before abruptly heading home early.
In contrast, Biden has firmly reasserted American backing for the 72-year-old military alliance — and his administration has been making a show of consulting more with partners.
But there remain divisions among the allies on some key issues — including how to deal with China’s rise and how to increase common funding.
Partners are concerned about the rush to leave Afghanistan and some question the strategy of an alliance that French President Emmanuel Macron warns is undergoing “brain death.”
“We do not view NATO as a sort of a protection racket,” Biden said Sunday after a conciliatory G7 gathering in Britain.
“We believe that NATO is vital to our ability to maintain American security.”
He stressed the United States had a “sacred obligation” to the alliance and the principle of collective defense, promising he would “make the case: ‘We are back’, as well.”
The summit at NATO’s cavernous Brussels headquarters is set to greenlight a 2030 reform program.
The leaders will agree to rewrite the core “strategic concept” to face a world where cyberattacks, climate change, and new technologies pose new threats.
Looming large in the background is the scramble to complete NATO’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan after Biden surprised partners by ordering US troops home by September 11.

“I’m very confident that this summit will demonstrate the strong commitment by all NATO allies to our transatlantic bond,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP.
“We have a unique opportunity to strengthen our alliance.”
European diplomats insist that confronting an emboldened Russia remains the “number one” priority for an alliance set up to counter the Soviet threat in the wake of World War II.
Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea gave renewed purpose to NATO and fellow leaders will be keen to sound Biden out ahead of his Wednesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On China, Biden is picking up from where Trump left off by getting NATO to start paying attention to Beijing and is pushing for the alliance to take a tougher line.
But National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, briefing reporters from Air Force One, played down how big a part this would play in the statement. “The language is not going to be inflammatory,” he said.
Many allies are wary of shifting too much attention away from NATO’s main Euro-Atlantic sphere.
“This is not about moving NATO into Asia, but it’s about taking into account the fact that China is coming closer to us,” Stoltenberg told AFP.
He pointed to attempts by Beijing to control critical infrastructure in Europe, its moves in cyberspace and heavy spending on modern weapons systems.
“NATO has to be ready to respond to any threats from any direction,” he said.

As NATO looks to the future, it is putting one of its most significant chapters behind it by ending two-decades of military involvement in Afghanistan.
Allies are patching together plans to try to avert a collapse of Afghan forces when they leave and figuring out how to provide enough security for Western embassies to keep working.
Biden will discuss a Turkish offer to keep troops at Kabul airport, in a meeting with leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara has offered to secure the essential transport hub, but insists it would need American support.
Sullivan said the leaders would discuss how “our embassies can stay in a safe and secure way in Afghanistan, to be able to do all the things they definitely want to do, providing for the Afghan government and security forces, the people.”
But the US president is also set to push Erdogan on Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defenses and human rights.
As part of a reform agenda over the next decade, Stoltenberg is pressing for allies to improve political cooperation.
But there have been disagreements over proposals for increased common funding for NATO, with France especially arguing it would distract from efforts by individual nations.
On that front Biden is expected to tone down Trump’s rhetoric, bashing allies for not spending enough.
But he will still push European allies and Canada to further boost defense budgets to reach a target of two percent of GDP.
Stoltenberg said allies are expected to sign off on a new cyber defense policy and to create a fund to help start-ups developing groundbreaking technology.
They could also rule for the first time that an attack on infrastructure in space — such as satellites — could trigger the bloc’s collective self-defense clause.

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech
Updated 13 June 2021

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech

Pakistani startups raise $85m amid rush of foreign funding in fintech
  • Internet finance platforms fetched about $22m mainly from abroad since January
  • Abhi, to be launched in July this year, will provide employees with salary advances based on accrued wages

KARACHI: Venture capitalists injected more than $85 million in Pakistani startups in the first five months of 2021, with fintech companies riding a wave of interest by overseas investors, according to data from Invest2Innovate Ventures (I2I), which supports early-stage enterprises in untapped developing markets.
Pakistani Internet platforms engaged in finance and business, or fintech companies, fetched about $22 million, mostly in foreign funding, since January 2021, according to Alpha Beta Core, a tech-driven boutique investment banking and financial advisory services platform.
It includes recent deals by TAG Innovation, KTrade and Abhi, which raised $12.1 million in separate rounds.
Industry experts said that Pakistan’s increasing mobile phone penetration and growing young population are major attractions for foreign funding in startups.
Official data shows Pakistan has 85 percent teledensity, with 183 million cellular, 98 million 3G/4G and 101 million broadband subscribers.
The decrease in global air travel during the coronavirus pandemic has also provided an unexpected advantage for startups in Pakistan, cutting out the requirement that investors visit the country as part of the due diligence process, and making them more open to discussing deals remotely over Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
Syed Amin Ul Haque, federal minister for IT, told Arab News that fintechs were “gaining traction” in Pakistan due to government measures to create an “enabling environment,” including increasing broadband connectivity and reducing taxes on telecoms.
“IT enabling environment has been created in Pakistan through policy measures,” Haque said.
“Withholding tax was 12.5 percent and now it has been approved by the cabinet to bring it down to 10 percent. Federal excise duty on SIM cards was 17 percent, and now we have reduced it to 16 percent.
“All these measures will be part of the financial bill in the upcoming budget, to be implemented from July.”
During the last 10 months of the current fiscal year, IT exports had also increased by 46 percent, the minister said.
Kalsoom Lakhani, founder and partner at I2I, told Arab News that data collected by her firm showed that Pakistani startups had already raised close to $85 million in funding.
“This means that we have already surpassed the total amount, $65.6 million raised in 2020, by the middle of the year,” she said.
“Most of the funding has been made in e-commerce, but a high number of deals in fintech, mainly pre-seed and seed, were made.”
Khurram Schehzad, CEO of Alpha Beta Core, said that the growth of fintech in Pakistan was due to a realization that the country’s growing retail, wholesale and trade sectors required a better financial ecosystem.
“Pakistan is a highly under-tapped market as far as financial inclusion goes — just under 25 percent of the population use banks, while mostly cash is used for payments,” Schehzad told Arab News.
“There is a massive retail, wholesale and trade sector that needs a financial ecosystem with ease and comfort. With all these points, and a large middle class and tech-savvy population and youngsters, there is a need for solutions at various stages of the financial ecosystem.”
TAG, Pakistan’s first digital financial super app, last week announced that it had closed $5.5 million in a pre-seed round led by Venture Capitals Quiet Capital management and Liberty City Ventures from the US, and Fatima Gobi Ventures.
The funding round is the largest ever pre-seed in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan region.
“The funds will be utilized to give access to Pakistan’s large unbanked population through digital accounts,” TAG co-founder and CEO Talal Ahmed Gondal told Arab News.
Ali Farid Khwaja, chairman of Karachi-based stock brokerage KASB Securities, which owns and operates stock trading app KTrade, said that the company wanted to “target 10 million mobile phone users to invest in Pakistani stocks within the next four years.”
“We will be spending money to educate people how to become partners in the country’s corporations and connecting them with financial markets,” he said.
The KTrade app, which launched in 2019 and allowed investors to trade in equities in the Pakistan Stock Exchange, raised $4.5 million in a funding round spearheaded by Hong Kong-based investment firm TTB Partners and New York-based VC HOF Capital.
German investor Christian Angermayer also took part in the round, according to a statement issued on Monday.
Another Pakistani fintech, Abhi, a Karachi-based salary advance platform, this week raised $2 million in a seed round led by Vostok Emerging Finance. Village Global, a US-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage startups, also took part in the round, marking its first fintech investment in Pakistan.
Other participants in the round included Sarmayacar, I2I, Zayn Capital and Portman Wills, the co-founder of Wagestream, a London-headquartered financial wellness platform.
Abhi, to be launched in July this year, will provide employees with salary advances based on accrued wages.
“We have been working on this idea for the past three years, and our core point was financial inclusion,” Omair Ansari, co-founder of Abhi, told Arab News.
“We want to address pain points in the manual payments process and allow employees to access their salary in advance when they need it.”
The startup is now conducting a three-month pilot run involving 20 companies from the pharmaceutical, textile and retail sectors.
Ansari believes that the Pakistani startup market is increasingly on the radar of global venture capitalists and “looking much better now.”
He plans to tap into the improving conditions to expand in Pakistan and then take his venture abroad.
“After focusing first on Pakistan, we plan to expand to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” Ansari said.
“Overseas operations are expected to commence within the next two years.”

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’
Updated 13 June 2021

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’

Expert: UK terror attacks by ex-inmates ‘in the pipeline’
  • Ian Acheson carried out govt-commissioned review into extremism in prisons
  • Justice Ministry spokesperson: ‘A whole range of tools help us to manage extremist offenders’

LONDON: An attack by radicalized former inmates is “in the pipeline” in the UK because of a lack of control over extremism in the country’s jails, a former prison governor has warned.

Ian Acheson, who carried out a government-commissioned review into extremism in prisons, said attacks like those carried out by convicted terrorist Usman Khan and extremist Sudesh Amman were likely to be repeated.

“There are good people doing their best to make sure that another outrage won’t happen,” Acheson said, “but being good isn’t the same as doing well. Another Khan is in the pipeline.”

Khan murdered two people in London in November 2019, less than a year after being released from jail.

Amman carried out a knife attack in the capital three months later, a few days after he was released.

There was an attack on a prison officer by an extremist cell at HMP Whitemoor, and in June 2020 Khairi Saadallah, another released prisoner, murdered three people in an attack in a park in Reading. 

Acheson’s review, in 2016, led to the creation of three separation centers to remove terrorists and extremists from general prison populations, but only two are currently in use.

An anonymous prison officer working in a high-security facility told The Independent that he was worried about what was happening to extremists in British jails.

“The new ones that come in with an extremist view leave with a stronger one,” he said. “You’re releasing people onto the streets and you dread to think what’s going to happen. No matter what ministers say, everything is not great in UK prisons, it’s appalling.”

Jonathan Hall QC, the UK’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, is undertaking a review of terrorist offending inside jails after concerns were raised that crimes committed inside were not being prosecuted, causing “lost opportunities to mitigate risk.”

An inquest into Khan’s attack on Fishmongers’ Hall in London Bridge found that he had been radicalizing fellow inmates for years, but despite this being known to authorities, he was never moved to one of the separate facilities. He was originally jailed in 2012 for trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Kashmir.

An MI5 officer gave evidence to the inquest to say there “was a suggestion that Khan had become more extreme since entering prison,” and there were fears he could even coordinate terrorist activities from inside jail.

Another officer gave evidence to suggest that Khan had voiced his desire to commit an attack to fellow inmates prior to his release in 2018.

Acheson said: “I find it inconceivable that a man with Khan’s well-understood danger to national security was not even considered for separation let alone isolated.”

While in prison, Khan had direct content with radical preacher Abu Hamza and helped radicalize vulnerable inmates.

Khan also wrote a poem in prison about decapitating non-Muslims, and kept newspaper clippings about terrorist attacks and Daesh

Brusthom Ziamani, an associate of Khan, was found to have access to Daesh propaganda while in HMP Whitemoor.

Ziamani and fellow inmate Baz Hockton attempted to murder a prison officer at the facility in January 2020, six weeks after Khan’s attack on Fishmongers’ Hall.

A Justice Ministry spokesperson said in a statement: “We are locking up terrorists for longer, and have tough measures in place to prevent them from spreading their poisonous ideology in prison.

“More than 37,000 prison staff have been trained to identify, report and stop such behaviour, and a whole range of tools help us to manage extremist offenders.

“These include separation centres, which were introduced shortly before Khan left prison, but also monitoring communications and financial transactions and ensuring the strictest possible conditions on release.”

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
Updated 13 June 2021

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu

Filipino troops kill four Abu Sayyaf Group militants, including notorious commander, in Sulu
  • Military commends joint task force efforts to nab ASG’s ‘extremely violent’ Yadah

MANILA: Philippine government forces have killed a notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) commander, blamed for a series of kidnappings for ransom in the southern Philippines, along with three other ASG members during an intense battle on Sunday, officials said.

A report from the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the ASG commander as Injam Yadah, who was killed in a joint military and police operation in Barangay Alat, Jolo island of Sulu province.

Two of the other slain members were identified as Al-Al Sawadjaan — reportedly the youngest brother of ASG bomb maker Mundi Sawadjaan — and a man known by the alias “Rauf.”

The identity of the third ASG member has yet to be established.

“Based on the report from the ground, combined elements of the military and police conducted a law enforcement operation to serve a warrant of arrest against ASG sub-group leader Injam Yadah ... around 2 a.m. on Sunday, June 13, 2021,” Wesmincom Commander Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr. said in a statement.

However, after “sensing the presence of troops” in the area, Yadah and his followers opened fire, which “prompted the government forces to retaliate.”

The Joint Task Force–Sulu (JTF) said that all four ASG members were “killed on the spot.”

“We’ve long been on the hunt for Yadah; he has a reputation of being extremely violent — beheading captured innocent civilians and security forces alike. Finally, his hideous acts will now come to a full stop,” a report obtained by Arab News quoted Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, commander of JTF-Sulu, as saying.

Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Wilfredo Borgonia, Army 35th IB commander, said Yadah was involved in the kidnapping for ransom of several foreign nationals and Filipinos, including the ex-wife and daughter of former Talipao Mayor Tambrin Tulawie in 2018.

“His latest reported activity was the kidnapping of Filipino-American Rex Triplett in Sirawai, Zamboanga Sibugay, and Dr. Moreno in Jolo, in 2020,” Borgonia said, adding that Yadah also played a vital role in the kidnapping of five Indonesian nationals in Malaysia in January 2020.

“These are the kidnap victims rescued in Tawi-Tawi early this year,” Borgonia said.

Meanwhile, Al-Al Sawadjaan, according to Borgonio, was a bomb maker and had been in his early twenties.

“All the forces under JTF-Sulu are doubling their efforts to apprehend Mundi Sawadjaan. His brothers are now dead, and we are optimistic that he will also be neutralized,” Gonzales said.

“When that day comes, we can say that we have achieved total peace in the province. The local government and people here are one with us in this endeavor,” he added.

Operating troops seized an M653 carbine, a .45 caliber pistol, bomb components, and 15 mobile phones from Yadah’s house before detaining his wife, and rescuing their three children.

Since Jan. 2021, 121 ASG members have either been killed, captured or surrendered to government forces in Sulu, according to the military, out of which 18 were killed, 86 surrendered, and 17 were apprehended.

“Congratulations to the troops of JTF-Sulu and our partners for this successful operation,” Vinluan said, adding: “JTF-Sulu continuously implements its all-out campaign to eliminate the remaining ASG personalities in the province.”