Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan as visa-free corridor reopens

Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan as visa-free corridor reopens
Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan, after crossing the India-Pakistan Wagah border, to attend the birth anniversary celebrations of Sikhism founder Guru Nanak. (AFP)
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Updated 18 November 2021

Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan as visa-free corridor reopens

Indian Sikh pilgrims arrive in Pakistan as visa-free corridor reopens
  • Indian authorities gave green light for pilgrims to cross border ahead of 552nd birth anniversary of Guru Nanak
  • Opening of Kartarpur corridor in 2019 marked first time Indian Sikh pilgrims could enter Pakistan without visa since 1947

NEW DELHI: Sikh pilgrims from India’s Punjab started to arrive in Pakistan’s Kartarpur through a visa-free corridor on Wednesday to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Much of Sikh heritage is located in Pakistan. When Pakistan was carved out of India at the end of British rule in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the Pakistani side of the border, while most of the region’s Sikhs remained on the other side.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur is of particular importance to the Sikh community as it was built in tribute to Guru Nanak, who established the town of Kartarpur in 1515. It is also his final resting place.

The Pakistani government in 2019 opened the Kartarpur corridor, connecting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib to the border with India and allowing Indian Sikhs to visit the site. The opening of the corridor marked the first time Indian Sikh pilgrims could enter Pakistan without a visa since 1947.

The corridor was closed in March 2020 following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. While Pakistan said it had reopened the passage in June 2020, Indian authorities gave the green light for pilgrims to cross the border from Wednesday, three days before the 552nd anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak.

“The opening of the corridor is the reflection of the wishes of the people of Punjab,” Sukhdeep Singh Bedi, a Sikh community leader, told Arab News. 

“This kind of exchange between people of both nations will help create a better atmosphere between India and Pakistan,” he said, adding that he hoped the Kartarpur corridor could become a “corridor for peace and create a better understanding between both nations.” 

Sukhwinder Agwan, caretaker of a Sikh temple in Shahida village in the Dera Baba Nanak Sahib area of Punjab, said he was looking forward to reaching Pakistan on Thursday.

“This is a great move by the Indian government, a move that we have been waiting for with bated breath,” he said. “I have applied for permission to visit, and hopefully by tomorrow I should be able to travel to Kartarpur.”

A week after Pakistan urged India to reopen the corridor from its side, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday allowed Sikh pilgrims from India to participate in Guru Nanak’s celebrations in Kartarpur, citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reverence for the founder of Sikhism.

Pakistan welcomed the reopening of the corridor, with its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi telling the media it “looks forward to welcoming Sikh pilgrims visiting Gurdwara Darbar Sahib through the Kartarpur corridor.” 

Indian Punjab’s chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi, said politicians from his state will themselves also travel to Pakistan on Thursday.

“The entire Cabinet will be part of the first jatha (group), which will visit and pay obeisance on Nov. 18,” he told reporters.

While under the present arrangement the Indian government will allow 250 people a day to visit Kartarpur, Sikh community members say there should be no restrictions. “It makes us happy that we will be able to visit Kartarpur again, but the government should be liberal in allowing people to visit the resting place of Guru Nanak,” Manmohan Singh, former chairman of the Punjab Agriculture Bank, told Arab News.

He added that he believes the decision to reopen the corridor has been taken to “win back the Sikh community.”

The move comes just months ahead of regional elections in the predominantly agricultural state of Punjab, where the majority Sikh community has been at loggerheads with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party over contentious farm laws passed in September 2020.

Punjab is seen as crucial in Indian politics and if the BJP loses the local poll, it may not succeed in the next general election.

“All political parties in Punjab have welcomed the reopening of the corridor and everyone is trying to take credit for the move, but I feel that this would not be the main issue in the Punjab election. What would matter most is the issue of farmers,” political analyst Prof. Ronki Ram of the University of Punjab told Arab News. 

“I don’t think farmers will be swayed by this gesture from the BJP,” he said. “Farmers would be happy if the farm laws are repealed.”

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23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19

23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19
Updated 47 min 41 sec ago

23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19

23 Australians on ship delivering aid to Tonga have COVID-19
  • Australian government working with Tongan authorities to keep the ship at sea
  • Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks

WELLINGTON: Nearly two dozen sailors on an Australian military ship going to deliver aid to Tonga have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday, raising fears they could bring COVID-19 to a Pacific nation that has so far managed to avoid any outbreaks.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said his government was working with Tongan authorities to keep the ship at sea and make sure there is no threat to Tonga’s 105,000 residents.
Tongan authorities have been wary that accepting international aid could usher in a bigger disaster than the huge eruption of an undersea volcano 10 days ago. The eruption triggered a tsunami that destroyed dozens of homes, and volcanic ash has tainted drinking water.
Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61 percent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.
Australian officials said 23 crew members were infected on the HMAS Adelaide, which left Brisbane on Friday.
“They need the aid desperately, but they don’t want the risk of COVID,” Dutton told Sky News. “We will work through all of that as quickly as we can.”
It’s the second aid shipment from Australia in which at least one crew member tested positive. A C-17 Globemaster military transport plane was earlier turned around midflight after somebody was diagnosed.
Meanwhile, a cable company official said Tonga’s main island could have its Internet service restored within two weeks, although it may take much longer to repair the connection to the smaller islands.
The single undersea fiber-optic cable which connects the Pacific nation to the outside world was severed after the eruption and tsunami.
That left most people unable to connect with loved ones abroad. For days, people couldn’t get through on their phones, by email, or through social media.
Since then, Tonga’s Digicel has been able to restore international call services to some areas by using satellite connections. Some people have been able to send emails or get limited Internet connectivity.
Samieula Fonua, who chairs the board at Tonga Cable Ltd., the state-owned company which owns the fiber-optic cable, said a repair ship had left from Papua New Guinea and was due to stop over in Samoa by Monday to pick up supplies. It should then arrive in Tonga by Feb. 1.
Fonua said the CS Reliance had a crew of about 60 aboard, including engineers, divers and medical staff. He said its equipment included a robot which could assess the cable on the seabed.
Fonua said preliminary estimates indicated the break in the cable was located about 37 kilometers offshore from the main island of Tongatapu. He said that all going well, the crew should be able to repair the cable by Feb. 8, restoring the Internet to about 80 percent of Tonga’s customers.
The cable runs from Tonga to Fiji, a distance of about 800 kilometers, and was first commissioned in 2013 at a cost of about $16 million. It was financed through grants from the World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank, and increased Tonga’s Internet capacity fivefold.
But like many small Pacific countries, Tonga relies heavily on a single cable to stay connected and has little in the way of a back-up plan. Three years ago, a cable break believed to have been caused by a ship dragging its anchor also led to weeks of disruptions.
A second, domestic fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga’s smaller islands to the main island could prove much more difficult to repair. Fonua said that cable runs near the undersea volcano which erupted and may have been severely damaged. It might need extensive repairs or even a replacement, he said.
Fonua said the focus was on fixing the main international cable, and they could deal with the domestic connections “at a later time.”
He said Tongans had been somewhat understanding of the communication disruptions caused by the disaster, which killed three people, destroyed dozens of homes and tainted water supplies with volcanic ash.
“People are calm. Coming out of a total blackout, just being able to call outside and send an email has settled them a bit,” Fonua said. “By the time they start getting more frustrated, I’m hoping we’ll have the cable connected by then.”


UK to lift travel test requirements for the vaccinated

Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP)
Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

UK to lift travel test requirements for the vaccinated

Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP)
  • Testing requirements are being lifted for vaccinated adults and all children under 18

LONDON: The British government announced Monday that it is scrapping coronavirus travel testing requirements for the vaccinated, news hailed by the travel industry as a big step back to normality.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “to show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the change would take effect Feb. 11, coinciding with a midterm holiday break for many schoolchildren.
“Border testing of vaccinated travelers has outlived its usefulness,” Shapps said. “Today we are setting Britain free.”
Tourism and travel firms that have been hammered by pandemic restrictions welcomed the move, which makes the UK one of the most open countries in the world for international travel.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of airline industry body Airlines UK, said it was “a landmark day.”
“Nearly two years since the initial COVID restrictions were introduced, today’s announcement brings international travel toward near-normality for the fully vaccinated, and at last into line with hospitality and the domestic economy,” he said.
Johan Lundgren, chief executive of budget airline easyJet, said “testing for travel should now firmly become a thing of the past.”
“It is clear travel restrictions did not materially slow the spread of omicron in the UK and so it is important that there are no more knee-jerk reactions to future variants,” he said.
Currently, travelers who have had at least two vaccine doses must take a rapid coronavirus test within two days of arriving in the UK Those who are unvaccinated face stricter testing and quarantine rules.
Testing requirements are being lifted for vaccinated adults and all children under 18. Britain is also easing rules for the unvaccinated, who will have to take coronavirus tests before and after traveling to Britain but will no longer face quarantine.
Johnson’s Conservative government is also lifting mask mandates and other restrictions this week, and is relying on vaccinations and widespread testing to keep the virus in check.
The UK government sets public health policy for England. The other parts of the UK — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — set their own health rules, but said they would adopt the same rules as England for international travel.
Coronavirus cases in Britain soared in December, driven by the extremely transmissible omicron variant, though hospitalizations and deaths have remained well below previous pandemic peaks.
Britain has seen over 154,000 deaths in the pandemic, the second-worst toll in Europe after Russia.
 


Webb telescope reaches final destination, a million miles from Earth

In this file photo released by NASA, engineering teams at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Mission Operations Center monitor progress as the observatory’s second primary mirror wing rotates into position. (AFP)
In this file photo released by NASA, engineering teams at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Mission Operations Center monitor progress as the observatory’s second primary mirror wing rotates into position. (AFP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Webb telescope reaches final destination, a million miles from Earth

In this file photo released by NASA, engineering teams at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Mission Operations Center monitor progress as the observatory’s second primary mirror wing rotates into position. (AFP)
  • The plan was intentional, because if Webb had gotten too much thrust from the rocket, it wouldn’t be able to turn around to fly back to Earth, as that would expose its optics to the Sun, overheating and destroying them

WASHINGTON: The James Webb Space Telescope has arrived at its cosmic parking spot a million miles away, bringing it a step closer to its mission to unravel the mysteries of the Universe, NASA said Monday.
At around 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time (1900 GMT), the observatory fired its thrusters for five minutes to reach the so-called second Lagrange point, or L2, where it will have access to nearly half the sky at any given moment.
The delicate burn added 3.6 miles per hour (1.6 meters per second) to Webb’s overall speed, just enough to bring it into a “halo” orbit around L2, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
“Webb, welcome home!” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement.
Webb will begin its science mission by summer, which includes using its high resolution infrared instruments to peer back in time 13.5 billion years to the first generation of galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.
At L2, it will stay in line with the Earth as it moves around the Sun, allowing Webb’s sunshield to protect its sensitive equipment from heat and light.
For the giant parasol to offer effective protection, it needs the Sun, Earth and Moon to all be in the same direction, with the cold side operating at -370 degrees Fahrenheit (-225 Celsius).
The thruster firing, known as an orbital burn, was the third such maneuver since Webb was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket on December 25.
The plan was intentional, because if Webb had gotten too much thrust from the rocket, it wouldn’t be able to turn around to fly back to Earth, as that would expose its optics to the Sun, overheating and destroying them.
It was therefore decided to slightly underburn the rocket firing and use the telescope’s own thrusters to make up the difference.
The burns went so well that Webb should easily be able to exceed its planned minimum life of five years, Keith Parrish Webb observatory commissioning manager told reporters on a call.
“Around 20 years, we think that’s probably a good ballpark, but we’re trying to refine that,” he said. It’s hypothetically possible, but not anticipated, that a future mission could go there and refuel it.
Webb, which is expected to cost NASA nearly $10 billion, is one of the most expensive scientific platforms ever built, comparable to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and its predecessor telescope, Hubble.

But while Hubble orbits the Earth, Webb will orbit in an area of space known as a Lagrange point, where the gravitational pull from the Sun and Earth will be balanced by the centrifugal force of the rotating system.
An object at one of these five points, first theorized by Italian French mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange, will remain stable and not fall into the gravity well of the Sun and Earth, requiring only a little fuel for adjustments.
Webb won’t sit precisely at L2, but rather go around it in a “halo” at a distance similar to that between the Earth and Moon, completing a cycle every six months.
This will allow the telescope to remain thermally stable and to generate power from its solar panels.
Previous missions to L2 include the European Space Agency’s Herschel and Planck observatories, and NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe.
Webb’s position will also allow continuous communications with Earth via the Deep Space Network — three large antennas in Australia, Spain and California.
Earlier this month, NASA completed the process of unfolding Webb’s massive golden mirror that will collect infrared signals from the first stars and galaxies that formed a few hundred million years after the Universe began expanding.
Visible and ultraviolet light emitted by the very first luminous objects has been stretched by the Universe’s expansion, and arrives today in the form of infrared, which Webb is equipped to detect with unprecedented clarity.
Its mission also includes the study of distant planets, known as exoplanets, to determine their origin, evolution and habitability.
Next steps include aligning the telescope’s optics and calibrating its scientific instruments. It is expected to transmit its first images back in June or July.


2 killed, dozens injured as 2 quakes shake southwest Haiti

A moto-taxi driver transports customers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP)
A moto-taxi driver transports customers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

2 killed, dozens injured as 2 quakes shake southwest Haiti

A moto-taxi driver transports customers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti: Two moderate earthquakes shook southwest Haiti on Monday, killing two people, injuring dozens of students and damaging hundreds of homes as it created panic in a region that was rocked by a powerful tremor that killed more than 2,000 last summer.
A magnitude 5.3 quake at 8:16 a.m. (1316 GMT) was followed by a magnitude 5.1 quake nearly an hour later. Both were centered on Haiti’s southern peninsula, west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, according to the US Geological Survey. It said both occurred about 10 kilometers (6 miles) below the surface.
Haiti’s civil protection agency said at least two people died and dozens of schoolchildren were injured, adding that 50 people between the ages of 15 and 23 were in a state of shock and taken to the hospital. Officials said 191 homes were destroyed and 591 were damaged in one region.
Yves Bossé, an elected official for the southern department of Nippes, told The Associated Press that one person died when the earthquake caused a landslide at a sand mine. He said homes were cracked and businesses shut down for the day.
“People are scared to go back into their homes,” he said.
Sylvera Guillame, director of Haiti’s civil protection agency for the country’s southern region, told AP that schools in the area closed and sent children home as a precaution.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry offered his condolences to the victims and said his administration would fully support those affected.
A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southwest Haiti on Aug. 14, killing more than 2,200 people and damaging or destroying some 137,500 homes.


Burkina Faso army deposes president in West Africa’s latest coup

Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, spokesman for the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, announces that the army has taken control of the country in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso January 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, spokesman for the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, announces that the army has taken control of the country in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso January 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2022

Burkina Faso army deposes president in West Africa’s latest coup

Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, spokesman for the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, announces that the army has taken control of the country in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso January 24, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • Kabore had been leading Burkina Faso since being elected in 2015 after a popular uprising ousted longtime strongman President Blaise Compaore

OUAGADOUGOU: Burkina Faso’s army said on Monday it had ousted President Roch Kabore, suspended the constitution, dissolved the government and the national assembly, and closed the country’s borders.
The announcement cited the deterioration of the security situation and what the army described as Kabore’s inability to unite the West African nation and effectively respond to challenges, which include an Islamist insurgency.
Signed by Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and read by another officer on state television, the announcement said the takeover had been carried out without violence and that those detained were at a secure location.
The statement was made in the name of a previously unheard-of entity, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration, or MPSR, its French-language acronym.
“MPSR, which includes all sections of the army, has decided to end President Kabore’s post today,” it said.
Kabore’s whereabouts were unknown on Monday, with conflicting accounts of his situation.
Army putsches have toppled governments over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died fighting rebels on the battlefield in the country’s north.
Landlocked Burkina Faso, one of West Africa’s poorest countries despite being a gold producer, has experienced numerous coups since independence from France in 1960.
The MPSR said it would propose a calendar for a return to constitutional order “within a reasonable time frame, after consultations with various sections of the nation.”
The US State Department on Monday said it was aware of reports that Kabore had been detained by the military and called for his release. It added that it was “too soon” to officially characterize developments in the West African country, when asked if Washington was undertaking a coup assessment.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms” in Burkina Faso and calls on the coup leaders to lay down their weapons, a UN spokesman said after the army statement.
The broadcast came after two days of confusion and fear in Ouagadougou, the capital, where shooting erupted at army camps on Sunday, with soldiers demanding more resources for their fight against Islamist militants.
Several hundred residents gathered in Ouagadougou’s central Place de la Nation to show their support for the coup.
“We are really happy. We have been out for two days to support the army,” said Ibrahim Zare. “We are behind them.”
Intense gunfire was heard in the area around Kabore’s residence overnight.
Earlier, Kabore’s party said he had survived an assassination attempt, but gave no details. It also said his personal residence had been sacked.

POPULAR SUPPORT
Several armored vehicles belonging to the presidential fleet could be seen near Kabore’s residence on Monday, riddled with bullets. One was spattered with blood.
Security sources gave conflicting accounts of Kabore’s situation, with some saying he was being detained by the coup organizers and others saying forces loyal to him had taken him to a secure location. Reuters could not independently verify his circumstances.
Islamist militants control swathes of Burkina Faso’s territory and have forced residents in some areas to abide by their harsh version of Islamic law, while the military’s struggle to quell the insurgency has drained scarce national resources.
Kabore had faced waves of protests in recent months amid frustration over killings of civilians and soldiers by militants, some of whom have links to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
Ouagadougou resident Eli Sawagogo said the coup had not come as a surprise to him.
“It was expected because the country has been in this situation for six years without a real solution to this terrorism,” he said. “If a coup is the solution, then it is welcome.”
Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said Kabore’s government had shown itself unable to tackle a range of problems.
“The coup, and apparent support for it, lays bare the inadequacies of Kabore’s government to address deep-seated problems with corruption, governance and civilian protection, which were all made exponentially worse by the armed Islamist threat,” she said.