Floods, landslides kill 116 in India and Nepal

Floods, landslides kill 116 in India and Nepal
Submerged cars are seen at a flooded hotel resort as extreme rainfall caused the Kosi River to overflow at the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, India, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 20 October 2021

Floods, landslides kill 116 in India and Nepal

Floods, landslides kill 116 in India and Nepal
  • In Uttarakhand in northern India, officials said 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing
  • Authorities ordered the closure of schools and banned all religious and tourist activities in the state

DEHRADUN: The death toll from days of flooding and landslides in India and Nepal crossed 100 on Wednesday, including several families swept away or crushed in their homes by avalanches of mud and rocks.
Experts say that they were victims of ever-more unpredictable and extreme weather across South Asia in recent years caused by climate change and exacerbated by deforestation, damming and excessive development.
In Uttarakhand in northern India, officials said 46 people had died in recent days with 11 missing.
At least 30 were killed in seven separate incidents in Uttarakhand’s Nainital region early Tuesday, after cloudbursts — an ultra-intense deluge of rain — triggered landslides and destroyed several structures.
Five of the dead were from a single family whose house was buried by a massive landslide, local official Pradeep Jain told AFP.
Authorities ordered the closure of schools and banned all religious and tourist activities in the state.
Television footage and social media videos showed residents wading through knee-deep water near Nainital lake, a tourist hotspot, and the Ganges bursting its banks in Rishikesh.
The floods almost swept away an elephant near the Corbett Tiger Reserve — home to 164 of the big cats and 600 elephants — but in a video that went viral, the animal managed to battle the strong currents and swim to safety.
Uttarakhand reported 178.4 mm rain in the first 18 days of October — almost 500 percent more than the average, the Hindustan Times reported citing Indian Meteorological Department data.
And the state’s Mukteshwar area reported 340.8 mm rainfall in the 24 hours until Tuesday morning, the most since the weather station was set up there in 1897, the newspaper said.
The Indian Meteorological Department forecast a “significant reduction” in rainfall in the state from Wednesday.
In Nepal, 31 were reported dead after days of heavy rains across the country.
Disaster management official Humkala Pandey said that 43 others were still missing.
“It’s still raining in many places... The death toll could go up further,” she added.
In the eastern district of Dhankuta, a landslide buried a house overnight, killing six people including three children.
Swelling rivers flooded homes in several districts, damaging roads and bridges and reportedly destroying crops.
Landslides are a regular danger in the Himalayan region, but experts say they are becoming more common as rains become increasingly erratic and glaciers melt.
Experts also blame deforestation and the construction of hydroelectric dams.
In February, a ferocious flash flood hurtled down a remote valley in Uttarakhand, killing around 200 people. At least 5,700 people perished there in 2013.
The state has reported over 7,750 extreme rainfall events and cloudbursts since 2015 — a majority of them in the last three years.
In Kerala state in southern India, the death toll reached 39 on Wednesday.
The coastal state has been battered by heavy rain since Friday and thousands have been moved to safer locations. More than 200 homes were destroyed and almost 1,400 damaged.
Kerala has also seen an increase in natural disasters, including in 2018 when nearly 500 people perished in the worst flooding in a century.
Environmentalists blame an increase in extreme weather in the warming Arabian Sea as well as excessive development in the Western Ghats mountain range.
After a brief respite, forecasters are warning of more heavy rain in the coming days with alerts issued in several places in Kerala.
Those killed over the weekend included six members of the same family after a landslide buried their house.
Shutters on at least three dams across the state were opened Tuesday including Idukki, one of Asia’s biggest, though State Electricity Board chairman B. Ashok said “there was no need to panic.”


French military facing growing protests in Sahel

French military facing growing protests in Sahel
Updated 51 sec ago

French military facing growing protests in Sahel

French military facing growing protests in Sahel
  • France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, has about 5,100 troops deployed across the region
  • Macron has promised that French troops will not operate in a country where Wagner paramilitaries are also active
BAMAKO: France’s military involvement in the Sahel is encountering growing opposition in the region, with protests that were once isolated to urban centers spreading to rural areas, fanned by social media and anger at insecurity.
Protesters in Burkina Faso and Niger in November hampered a large French military supply convoy traveling from Ivory Coast to Mali.
The trucks, escorted by local forces, took more than a week to get through Burkina Faso, and several people were injured during demonstrations in the northern town of Kaya.
In western Niger, two people were killed in unclear circumstances on Saturday when the convoy attempted to escape protesters.
France’s military has opened an investigation.
Experts say the affair appears to show that anti-French sentiment has spread in the Sahel, although the reasons for it are complex.
France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, has about 5,100 troops deployed across the region, helping to support countries where governments are weak and the armed forces poorly equipped.
The French military first intervened in 2013 to beat back an extremist insurgency in northern Mali.
But the rebels regrouped and two years later spilled over into Burkina Faso and Niger, two of the poorest countries in the world.
Village massacres, roadside bombs and ambushes have claimed thousands of lives and more than a million people have fled their homes.
The insurgency shows no signs of slowing. On Sunday, four Burkinabe soldiers were killed in the north of the country, bringing the toll from two weeks of raids by suspected extremists to at least 80.
A French diplomat, who declined to be named, said that many local people did not understand how extremists could make such gains when French troops are present.
The situation has contributed to conspiracy theories alleging French support for extremists, according to Bamako-based researcher Boubacar Haidara.
Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga recently accused France of training a “terrorist group” in the north of the country, in an interview with Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
The fact that such rhetoric “comes from an authority as high as the prime minister gives it credibility,” Haidara said.
Rumours proliferating on social media — which were also recounted by several protesters in Kaya — claimed the supply convoy was in fact carrying weapons for the extremists.
Yvan Guichaoua, a Sahel specialist at the University of Kent in England, told AFP that France is swimming in a “pool of hostility.”
The scale of the sentiment is difficult to measure, he noted, adding that it is nonetheless “imposing itself on the Sahel political space,” with governments forced to respond.
Not all are critical of France: Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum on Friday thanked the country for its military involvement.
A French government official, who requested anonymity, nonetheless told AFP that the situation is “worrying.”
“People are turning against those on the front line,” the official said.
Complicating the picture is French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to reduce France’s deployment in the Sahel.
He made the decision in June, after a military takeover in Mali in August 2020 that ousted the elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
But the announcement pushed Mali’s ruling military to consider hiring paramilitaries from Russian private-security firm Wagner to bridge the gap, which further raised tensions with France.
Macron has promised that French troops will not operate in a country where Wagner paramilitaries are also active.
However there are fears that a full French withdrawal would precipitate a collapse in Mali, with implications for the wider Sahel conflict — a unwelcome prospect just over four months from a French presidential election.
Anti-French sentiment has long been rife on social media in Mali. There are also periodic protests against France’s military in the country, where demonstrators fly Russian flags.
France has recently tried to respond to what it terms a Russian disinformation campaign back by erecting billboards in the capital Bamako bearing the slogan “we are together,” and issuing statements in the country’s dominant language Bambara.
A competition for loyalties is underway. “The Russians are reshuffling the deck,” said a high-ranking French army officer, who declined to be named.

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’
Updated 24 min 7 sec ago

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’

Ethiopia PM claims war gains, urges rebels to ‘surrender’
  • Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted some countries to urge their citizens to leave as soon as possible

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday urged Tigrayan rebels to surrender, claiming government forces were nearing victory just one week after he vowed to lead military operations at the front.
“The youth of Tigray is perishing like leaves. Knowing it is defeated, it is being led by one who does not have a clear vision or plan,” Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, said in comments aired on state media.
“It should surrender today to the Ethiopian National Defence Force, to the special forces, to the militias and to the people.”
Tuesday’s footage was the latest in a series of clips showing Abiy, in uniform with soldiers, in what appeared to be the northeastern region of Afar.
The area has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group tries to seize control of a critical highway that supplies the capital Addis Ababa.
On Sunday state media claimed the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, and Abiy said Tuesday such gains would be replicated to the west, in Amhara region.
“The enemy has been defeated. We scored an unthinkable victory with the eastern command in one day ... Now in the west we will repeat this victory,” he said.
The announcement last week that Abiy, a former lieutenant colonel in the military, would head to the battlefield came after the TPLF claimed to control Shewa Robit, a town just 220 km (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.
Fears of a rebel march on the capital have prompted the US, France, the UK and other countries to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, though Abiy’s government says TPLF gains are overstated and the city is secure.
A TPLF spokesman on Monday dismissed Abiy’s deployment as a “circus” involving “farcical war games.”
War broke out between the two sides in November 2020, with Abiy sending troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.
The fighting has killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million and driven hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions, according to UN estimates.
Diplomats led by Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, are trying to broker a ceasefire, though there has been little evident progress so far.


‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
Updated 30 November 2021

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
  • Around 7,000 people evacuated to Britain
  • Refugee describes ‘horrific’ airport scenes

LONDON: Prince William has told Afghan refugees who recently arrived in Britain that they were welcome in the country and praised their bravery after risking their lives working alongside British forces in Afghanistan.

The prince visited families housed in a hotel for refugees evacuated from Kabul this year.

He told families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved at short notice: “The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn't be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.”

The hotel, which is unnamed for security reasons, hosts around 175 refugees who are waiting on the government to find them long-term accommodation.

The prince was met with applause by the refugees on his arrival.

One Afghan, Hussain Saeedi Samangan, told the Daily Mail that he and his family’s escape from Kabul had been difficult, as were their initial experiences in their UK quarantine hotel, but said they felt very welcome in Yorkshire and were optimistic of a “bright, exciting future” in Britain.

Samangan added that he never believed Kabul would fall to the Taliban.

“It took everyone by surprise. You will have seen for yourself what it was like in the media. We had some very traumatic moments before the evacuation. But we were lucky to receive the help the British government were giving in getting us to the airport, compared to others who spent many hours at the gate. So we had a smoother path to get here.”

Asked by the prince whether he thought this generation of the Taliban would be different, he replied: “No. We know what the Taliban wants, we know they have not changed and that we couldn't trust them.”

Another Afghan, 33-year-old Kabul airport firefighter Haroom Shahab, told the royal that he and his family had to wait for 28 hours at the airport to move just 200 meters in order to get on a plane to the UK.

He described “horrific” scenes with thousands of people hurtling toward the runways, leaving the planes unable to land.

“They were running, they were desperate, in front of the oncoming aircraft. That was very hard for us,” he said. “We were trying to get out of the country because our lives have been torn to shreds. When we got to the UK we finally knew we would be safe. The Taliban are killing people without compassion, policemen and their families just gunned down. Anyone with a link to British or NATO forces or government.”

Shahab said he hoped to take up his old profession once again and become a firefighter in the UK.

Britain evacuated around 7,000 people from Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August and September this year. 

The government has pledged to continue to bring those who worked alongside British or NATO forces during the 20-year occupation into the UK from Afghanistan.


Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
Updated 30 November 2021

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
  • Passenger told that nobody else had spoken up because they were “scared because he is Muslim”
  • British Transport Police: We are aware of a social media video showing a hate incident on-board the District line

LONDON: Police are investigating video footage that emerged of a Muslim man being subjected to Islamophobic abuse on the London Underground.

The man was reciting verses from the Qur’an on Saturday when he was told by another passenger that “this is a Christian country” and his prayers were disrespecting him and others on the train.

Police are now investigating the incident, which was caught on camera, after the footage surfaced online. In the clip, no other passengers expressed any dissatisfaction with the man’s prayers.

The aggressor said: “You're not going to do it (recite the Qur’an) on public transport where I am sitting. You don't even have the decency to ask me if you can do it.”

The Muslim passenger replied: “I don’t need your permission.”

And the furious commuter then told him: “You need my permission to invade my privacy in my space.” 

The Muslim passenger responded: “You are over there and I’m over here,” to the man, who is seen sitting opposite him on the small carriage.

The man behind the camera was then told: “You have no respect for other people.” 

When the man, who was shouting, was told that nobody else on the train had a problem with his recital, the man said that the reason that nobody else was telling him to stop was that they were “too scared because you are a Muslim.”

Writing later on social media, the Muslim passenger said: “This passenger opposite me had an issue with me reading the Quran in a public space. Nobody seemed bothered but him to be frank.

“I told him to move if he was that pressed or to shut up, but he did neither. He just wanted me stop reading the Quran because he believes ‘we shouldn't be allowed to read our prayers on TfL.’”

He added: “I ignored him and continued my recitation, yet he went out of his way to follow me off the train and complain to London Underground.”

A British Transport Police spokesperson told MailOnline: “We are aware of a video posted on social media showing a hate incident on-board a District line Tube between Mile End and Monument stations. Officers are actively investigating this incident.”


German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 30 November 2021

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • First genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by Daesh, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”