Pakistan’s pandemic-hit cherry farmers hope for bumper season as restrictions lift

Pakistan’s pandemic-hit cherry farmers hope for bumper season as restrictions lift
A man picks cherries at Khashal Cherry Farm in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. (AN Photo)
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Updated 10 June 2021

Pakistan’s pandemic-hit cherry farmers hope for bumper season as restrictions lift

Pakistan’s pandemic-hit cherry farmers hope for bumper season as restrictions lift
  • Growers in country’s main cherry producing region saw revenues halved during last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns
  • Bans on tourism and transport services disrupted supply chains, led to job losses but more ‘normal’ season now predicted

GHANCHE: Cherry farmers in northern Pakistan whose takings withered during last year’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic lockdowns are hopeful of a trade revival this harvest season as virus restrictions, especially on travel, are lifted.

The picturesque mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan region, with its mild to cold climate, is the country’s main producer of the fruit.

According to Ghulamullah Saqib, deputy director of Gilgit-Baltistan’s agriculture department, the region last year harvested 6,000 metric tons of cherries with the industry annually generating around 600 million Pakistani rupees ($3.85 million).

But a ban on tourism and transport services, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, disrupted supply chains, led to many workers in the sector losing their jobs, and resulted in a 50 percent cut in revenues for some farmers.

However, the region’s cherry growers are hopeful this year will be better.

Mohammed Hussain, a Nagar-based farmer, said: “Now there is no ban on tourism and transport, we are very hopeful this year that all of our products will reach the market without any difficulties.”

Hazif ur Rehman, project director of the Khashal Cherry Farm in Gilgit-Baltistan’s easternmost district of Ghanche, said farmers only managed to sell half of their produce during the last harvest May and July cycle.

“Before the pandemic, we exported 800 to 1,000 tons of cherries to Gulf countries, including the UAE and Kuwait. We were badly affected by the pandemic as we had to reduce the labor force due to a ban on tourism and transport services last year.

“But with the tourism sector reopening we hope to sell all the produce this year,” he added.

Another cherry farmer, Mir Wazir Mir, from the Ghizer district, said Pakistan’s anti-virus measures early last year, including a restriction on interstate travel, had affected businesses in the tourism and agricultural sectors, and rendered nearly 80 percent of Gilgit-Baltistan’s labor force redundant.

“Before the COVID-19 outbreak, I would sell more than 60 tons of cherries to several parts of the country, including Islamabad and Lahore, at 150 rupees per kilogram.

“Now, I sell them for 60 rupees per kilogram after demand dropped due to the pandemic. I was unable to sell even two or three tons in the market, with tons of cherries wasted,” he added.

However, he hoped business would return to “normal” this year, and regional agriculture officials said they were confident the cherry trade would thrive again, and that the government would support farmers in ramping up production and creating jobs.

Muhammad Iqbal, an officer in Gilgit-Baltistan’s agriculture department, told Arab News: “COVID-19 has not only affected cherry farmers but other sectors too, and we are well aware of farmers’ grievances.”

He noted several initiatives undertaken by the department to help farmers, such as providing free cherry trees and distributing 150,000 saplings under the national Ten Billion Tree Tsunami program launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018.

The five-year tree-planting initiative aims to counter extreme weather conditions in Pakistan that scientists link to climate change.

“We will leave no stone unturned to help cherry farmers this year and will do our level best to provide training and technical support,” Iqbal said.


Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing

Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing
Updated 13 June 2021

Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing

Gas explosion in China kills 11, rescue operation ongoing
  • Rescue efforts were continuing, a statement by the government in Shiyan city said
BEIJING: At least 11 people were killed and 37 others seriously injured when a gas line explosion ripped through a residential compound in central China’s Hubei province on Sunday, local officials said.
Rescue efforts were continuing, a statement by the government in Shiyan city said, adding at least 144 people were pulled from a badly damaged market building.

As summit ends, G-7 urged to deliver on vaccines, climate

As summit ends, G-7 urged to deliver on vaccines, climate
Updated 13 June 2021

As summit ends, G-7 urged to deliver on vaccines, climate

As summit ends, G-7 urged to deliver on vaccines, climate
  • Uncertain how firm the group’s commitments will be on coronavirus vaccines
  • Leaders mingled with Queen Elizabeth II at a royal reception on their first evening

FALMOUTH, England: The Group of Seven leaders aim to end their first summit in two years with a punchy set of promises Sunday, including vaccinating the world against coronavirus, making huge corporations pay their fair share of taxes and tackling climate change with a blend of technology and money.
They want to show that international cooperation is back after the upheavals caused both by the pandemic and the unpredictability of former US President Donald Trump. And they want to convey that the club of wealthy democracies — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — is a better friend to poorer nations than authoritarian rivals such as China.
But it was uncertain how firm the group’s commitments will be on coronavirus vaccines, the economy and the environment when the leaders issue their final communique. Also unclear was whether all of the leaders would back the United States’ call to chastise China for repressing its Uyghur minority and other abuses.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the summit’s host, wanted the three-day meeting to fly the flag for a “Global Britain,” his government’s initiative to give the midsized country outsized influence when it comes to global problem-solving.
Brexit cast a shadow over that goal during the summit on the coast of southwest England. European Union leaders and US President Joe Biden voiced concerns about problems with new UK-EU trade rules that have heightened tensions in Northern Ireland.
But overall, the mood has been positive: The leaders smiled for the cameras on the beach at cliff-fringed Carbis Bay, a village and resort that became a traffic-clogged fortress for the meeting. The last G-7 summit was in France in 2019. The pandemic scuttled the planned 2020 event in the United States.
The leaders mingled with Queen Elizabeth II at a royal reception on their first evening, and were served steak and lobster at a beach barbecue on their second.
America’s allies were visibly relieved to have the US back as an engaged international player after the “America First” policy of the Trump administration.
“The United States is back, and democracies of the world are standing together,” Biden said as he arrived in the UK on the first foreign trip of his 5-month-old presidency. After the G-7 summit, the president is to have tea with the queen on Sunday, attend a NATO summit in Brussels on Monday and hold talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
At the G-7, Johnson described Biden as a “breath of fresh air.” French President Emmanuel Macron, after speaking one-to-one with Biden, said, “It’s great to have a US president part of the club and very willing to cooperate.”
The re-energized G-7 made ambitious declarations during their meetings about girls’ education, preventing future pandemics and using the finance system to fund green growth. Above all, they vowed to share vaccine doses with less well-off nations that urgently need them. Johnson said the group would pledge at least 1 billion doses, with half that coming from the United States and 100 million from Britain.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the vaccine pledge but said it’s not enough. To truly end the pandemic, he said, 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.
“We need more and we need them faster,” Tedros said.
Public health advocates said much more than just doses was needed, including money and logistical help to get shots into the arms of people in poorer countries.
“It’s not enough to just get vaccines flown into capitals,” said Lily Caprani, head of COVID-19 vaccines advocacy for UNICEF. “We can’t let them potentially go to waste or be at risk or be at risk of not being delivered. So it’s a real end-to-end solution that’s needed.”
The leaders’ final communique is expected to formally embrace placing a global minimum tax of at least 15 percent on large multinational companies to stop corporations from using tax havens to shift profits and to avoid taxes.


Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack
Updated 13 June 2021

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack

Canada pays final homage to Muslim family killed in terror attack
  • Canadian PM Trudeau called the killings a “terrorist attack” and vowed to clamp down on far-right groups and online hate
  • The four victims were killed by Nathaniel Veltman while they were out for an evening walk near their home in London, Ontario

LONDON, Canada: Several hundred people gathered in London, Ontario on Saturday to pay homage to a Muslim family deliberately mowed down by the driver of a pick-up truck, in an attack that has shocked Canadians and which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced as “terrorist.”
Four members of the Afzaal family — a man and his wife, their teenage daughter and his mother — were out for a walk in their London neighborhood Sunday when a 20-year-old man in a black pickup truck drove into them on purpose, according to authorities.
A fifth family member, a nine-year-old boy, was seriously injured.
On Saturday, hundreds of people filled a large parking lot and a football field next to the London Islamic center, where a private ceremony was held, to join in a public remembrance around the family’s four caskets, each covered with a Canadian flag.
“The very fact that their coffins are draped in the beautiful Canadian flag is a testimony of the fact that the entire Canadian nation stands with them,” Pakistan’s ambassador to Canada, Raza Bashir Tarar, told the crowd.
The ceremony, with brief remarks and prayers, was broadcast live on major Canadian networks.
“We are not alone in our grief,” said Ali Islam, an uncle of Madiha Salman, one of the victims. He stressed that the outpouring of support “has been the first step toward finding a way to heal.”
“We realized that our extended family was much larger than we could have ever imagined.”
Another speaker at the event, Sajid Ali Mohamed, noted that the attack on the Muslim family has been described as terrorism, instead of being blamed on mental illness.
“If it’s not a turning point, at least it’s a nudge in the right direction,” he said.

Pallbearers arrange the caskets at a funeral service for the terror attack victims in London, Ontario, on June 12, 2021. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press via AP)

The funeral cortege then headed to a cemetery — as people lined the route in a show of solidarity — for the private burial of Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15 and Salman’s mother Talat, 74.
Many people wore either green ribbons, in support of the Muslim community, or mauve ones, Yumna’s favorite color.The attack has badly shaken the Muslim community and other Canadians as well.
Numerous vigils and solemn commemorations have taken place across Canada in recent days.
On Friday, several thousand people joined in an ecumenical walk through the streets of London, which is home to some 30,000 Muslims.
Many bore posters reading “We are all human” or “Hate kills.”
People also paid homage Friday in Quebec City, where a January 2017 mosque shooting claimed six lives.
The latest attack has fueled debate about the prevalence of Islamophobia in Canada and, within the Muslim community heightened fears that outward signs of religious affiliation can make a person a target.
In an interview with the CBC network, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the attack had shocked people across Pakistan.
He called on the international community to take action against “hate websites which create hatred among human beings.”
“Some international leaders, or leaders in the Western countries, actually don’t understand this phenomenon,” he added in excerpts of the interview released ahead of its broadcast on Sunday.
Twenty-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, who has no criminal record and no known link to any extremist group, has been charged in the attack with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
Police say the attack was planned and motivated by hatred, and have not ruled out adding terrorism-related charges.
Trudeau has promised to step up the fight against extremist groups.
Following the attack, Canadian deputies adopted a nonbinding resolution, introduced by the left-leaning New Democratic Party, calling for a national summit on Islamophobia this summer — as many Canadian Muslim organizations have demanded.


Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large

Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large
Updated 13 June 2021

Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large

Shooting in Texas capital leaves 14 wounded; one suspect still at large
  • Two of the injured were in hospital in critical condition and the other 12 were in stable condition

TEXAS: Fourteen people were wounded after two men opened fire at each other in a busy entertainment district in downtown Austin, Texas early on Saturday, police said, adding that one of the suspected shooters remained at large.
Gunfire erupted at about 1:30 a.m. in the Sixth Street area, a popular nightlife destination in the state capital, Austin Police Department Interim Chief Joseph Chacon said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.
"This does appear to be an isolated incident between two parties," he said. "Most of the victims were innocent bystanders."
Police officers who were nearby rushed to the scene where they applied tourniquets and performed CPR on victims, Chacon said.
Two of the injured were in hospital in critical condition and the other 12 were in stable condition. There were no deaths, Chacon said.
The Austin Police Department said on Saturday evening that one suspect had been arrested with the help of the US Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, and that officers were continuing to follow up on leads to apprehend the remaining suspect.


Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison
Agnes Chow rose to prominence as a student leader in the now defunct Scholarism and Demosisto political groups, alongside other outspoken activists. (AP)
Updated 13 June 2021

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison

Hong Kong democracy activist Agnes Chow released from prison
  • Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was released from prison on Saturday after serving nearly seven months for her role in an unauthorized assembly during anti-government protests in the city in 2019.
The 24-year-old activist had been convicted together with her long-time activist colleague, Joshua Wong, for their involvement in an illegal rally near police headquarters in the Chinese-ruled city.
Wong remains in prison and the reason for Chow’s early release after being sentenced to 10 months in jail was not clear.
Some of her supporters wore black T-shirts and yellow masks and one held a yellow umbrella, a symbol of protests in the former British colony dating back to 2014.
Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage.

FASTFACTS

• Agnes Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of ‘colluding with foreign forces’ under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.

• Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had traveled to the country frequently before her arrest.

The three founded the democracy group Demosisto in 2016, which dissolved hours after Beijing passed a contentious national security law for the city last year amid fears it could be targeted under the legislation.
The law has stifled the pro-democracy movement and raised concern about prospects for the autonomy Hong Kong was promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when it was handed over to China in 1997.
Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.
Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had traveled to the country frequently before her arrest. She often posted on Twitter in Japanese.