At least 21 die trapped in cars during snowstorm in Pakistani resort town

Army troops take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree, some 45 km north of the capital of Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)
Army troops take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree, some 45 km north of the capital of Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)
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Updated 09 January 2022

At least 21 die trapped in cars during snowstorm in Pakistani resort town

Army troops take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree, some 45 km north of the capital of Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)
  • Motorists left stranded without food and water in freezing cold weather

ISLAMABAD: At least 21 people, including nine children, have died in freezing temperatures after being stuck in their vehicles in the Pakistani hill station of Murree, government and rescue officials said on Saturday, as travelers were stranded overnight on roads in a crisis that has trapped thousands.

Tens of thousands of people arrived in Murree over the past two days to see the snow, despite appeals by authorities to postpone plans because of bad weather and roadblocks.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department had predicted heavy snowfall in Murree and the Galiyat mountain region from Jan. 6 to Jan. 9.
On Saturday, the local administration declared Murree, 64 kilometers northeast of the capital Islamabad, “calamity hit,” with long lines of cars stuck in the resort town after a snowstorm making the roads impassable, stranding motorists without food and water in the freezing cold.
According to a list issued by the Rescue 1122 emergency service, 21 people died in the freezing weather, including nine children.
Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed grief and ordered an inquiry into the incident.
“Shocked and upset at the tragic deaths of tourists on the road to Murree,” he said in a tweet.

HIGLIGHT

According to a list issued by the Rescue 1122 emergency service, 21 people died in the freezing weather, including nine children.

“Unprecedented snowfall and a rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught the district administration unprepared. I have ordered an inquiry and strong regulations to ensure the prevention of such tragedies.”
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that it was the first time in about 20 years that so many people had flocked to the hill station.
“Between 16 and 19 people died in their vehicles,” he said in a video message. “Now we are allowing vehicles carrying blankets and food.”
The minister said that the Rawalpindi and Islamabad administrations and police were working to rescue the stranded, and that five army platoons, Rangers and Frontier Corps had also been called in.
The army announced on Saturday afternoon that it had established four camps in the area, a “control division” and rescue centers.
“Heavy machinery from the Murree army engineers division and Frontier Works Organization is working without any pause to assist people who are struck,” the army’s media wing said. “Troops are out in the field. Where machinery can’t reach, troops have been moved and they are clearing traffic and opening roads.”
On Friday evening, the Islamabad administration announced that it was closing roads leading to Murree for the rest of the weekend “in the public interest.”
For hours overnight and well after daybreak on Saturday, thousands of cars lined the snow-clogged roadway as drivers grew increasingly desperate and exasperated by what appeared to be a slow response by authorities.
Officials in Rawalpindi, which is adjacent to Islamabad, said on Saturday that more than 23,000 stranded vehicles had been evacuated from Murree.
“Around 1000 are still stranded. The district administration is working round the clock to evacuate the remaining vehicles safely,” the Deputy Commissioner’s Office in Rawalpindi said in a Twitter post on Saturday morning.
A strong westerly wind hit Pakistan’s western and northern regions earlier this week, bringing heavy rain and snowfall. It is forecast to remain until Sunday.

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Kremlin: Griner-Bout swap not sign of improving US-Russia relations

Kremlin: Griner-Bout swap not sign of improving US-Russia relations
Updated 9 sec ago

Kremlin: Griner-Bout swap not sign of improving US-Russia relations

Kremlin: Griner-Bout swap not sign of improving US-Russia relations
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov: relations between the two countries remained in a ‘sorry state’
The Kremlin said on Friday that the prisoner exchange deal to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for US basketball star Brittney Griner should not be seen as a step toward improving bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington, Russian state news agencies reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said relations between the two countries remained in a “sorry state,” the TASS news agency reported.

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb
Updated 09 December 2022

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb

Russian emergency services battling massive fire in Moscow suburb
  • Fire broke out at Mega Khimki shopping center
  • “arson” suspected as possible cause of blaze

 MOSCOW: Russian firefighters on Friday battled a massive blaze the size of a football pitch which broke out overnight in a shopping center in a Moscow suburb, emergency services said.
“In the Moscow region, firefighters are putting out a fire the size of 7,000 square meters (75,300 square feet),” Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations said on Telegram.
The fire broke out at the Mega Khimki shopping center in Moscow’s northern suburb of Khimki.
Russian news agencies quoted sources in emergency services saying “arson” was suspected as a possible cause of the blaze.
“Deliberate acts, as in arson, is being considered,” the Interfax news agency quoted a source as saying.
Videos on social media showed a huge fire, with people fleeing the burning building into a parking lot.
Mega Khimki, a large shopping and entertainment center, is about 7 kilometers from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. The fire is ongoing as of 9 am local time (0600 GMT).


Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis
Updated 09 December 2022

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis

Sri Lanka’s Parliament approves budget amid economic crisis

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Parliament approved a budget Thursday that includes reforms aimed at improving the country’s finances as it attempts to recover from its worst economic crisis.

The 5.82 trillion rupee ($15 billion) budget includes a 43 billion rupee ($117 million) relief package for those affected by the crisis.

The budget provides for a restructuring of state-owned enterprises, reduced subsidies for electricity, and tax increases to boost state revenue based on proposals by the International Monetary Fund under a preliminary $2.9 billion bailout plan.

Unsustainable government debt, a severe balance of payments crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essentials such as fuel, medicine and food, and soaring prices have caused severe hardships for most Sri Lankans. Many have lost their jobs because businesses have become unsustainable.

The government announced in April that it was suspending repayment of nearly $7 billion in foreign debt due this year. It has since entered a preliminary agreement with the IMF, which has agreed to provide $2.9 billion over four years depending on the willingness of Sri Lanka’s creditors to restructure their loans.

Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt exceeds $51 billion, of which $28 billion has to be repaid by 2027.

The economic meltdown triggered a political crisis in which thousands of protesters stormed the official residence of the president in July, forcing then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and later resign.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who succeeded Rajapaksa, has somewhat reduced the shortages of fuel and cooking gas, but power outages continue, along with shortages of imported medicines.


Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection
Updated 08 December 2022

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection

Frustration in Romania and Bulgaria after Schengen rejection
  • Now some observers warn that both countries face a rising tide of euroscepticism as they remain outside the coveted zone
  • At Giurgiu, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, a queue of trucks several kilometres begins forming from dawn

GIURGIU, Romania: After more than 10 years waiting to be admitted into the Schengen zone, Bulgaria and Romania were once more turned away after two EU countries vetoed their admission.
Now some observers warn that both countries face a rising tide of euroskepticism as they remain outside the coveted zone through which passport checks are not normally required.
Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca spoke of his “profound disappointment” after Austria blocked their admission.
In Bulgaria, President Rumen Radev regretted what he described as the “internal borders” he said were being put up with the European Union bloc.
Their failure to win admission to the Schengen’s vast zone of free movement means that the long lines at various border crossings will continue.
At Giurgiu, for example, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, a queue of trucks several kilometers begins forming from dawn.
Jaded long-haul drivers speaking to AFP in early December in Giurgiu, on the Romanian side, told of long hours waiting for the customs checks before they could enter Bulgaria.
Alexandru Birnea, 36, a long-haul driver for 13 years, said joining the Schengen zone would improve the lives of thousands of truckers.
“We would like to avoid losing all this time and therefore money in endless queues so that we can get back to our families more quickly,” he said.
But his pessimism about the outcome of the vote turned out to be well founded.
The European Commission has long expressed its wish for a widened Schengen zone.
But while tourist hotspot Croatia received the green light on Thursday, Romania and Bulgaria were left out in the cold.
Both countries joined the European Union back in 2007, before Croatia. Both countries met the technical criteria set out by Brussels.
But both countries were asked to make progress on judicial reform and anti-corruption efforts and were monitored for improvements.
When that process ended, both countries were hopeful that they had cleared the final hurdle. improvements.
But Austria hardened its stance, denouncing an influx of asylum seekers that it said could grow if the Schengen zone expanded.
“The migratory flows do not pass through Romania,” but mainly through Serbia, Romanian Interior Minister Lucian Bode argued.
He pointing to the nearly 140,000 migrants on the western Balkan route recorded by the European agency Frontex since January.
Prime Minister Ciuca said Austria’s refusal was based on “incorrect” figures.
But for political analyst Sergiu Miscoiu, Austria’s veto was more a reflection of internal political pressures, given the rise in polls of the far right there.
The Netherlands finally changed its position and gave Romania the green-light after long being opposed. But it maintained its concerns about “corruption and human rights” in Bulgaria.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week that he wanted to be assured that no-one could “cross the border with a 50-euro note.”
Bulgarian Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev rejected what he described as “insulting” remarks, especially given the “exceptional efforts” they had made to meet Brussels’ demands.
Bulgarian weekly magazine Capital commented: “We expect the impossible from the poorest and most corrupt country in the EU: don’t let migrants pass through (the country), but give asylum to every migrant who enters,” it remarked.
And analyst Miscoiu warned that a negative vote could “strengthen the euroskeptics, especially in Bulgaria, which has already had four elections in the past two years.”
Romanian president Klaus Iohannis also warned that rejection “might compromise European unity and cohesion, which we so need, especially in the current geopolitical context.”

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Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education

Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education
Updated 08 December 2022

Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education

Indonesia hosts first conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education
  • Meeting in Bali co-organized by the governments of Indonesia and Qatar
  • Indonesia has made Afghanistan one of its priority foreign aid commitments

JAKARTA: Indonesia hosted on Thursday the first international conference to garner support for Afghan women’s education.

Afghan girls and women have been facing growing uncertainty since the Taliban took control of the country last year, with an estimated 3 million secondary school girls kept out of school for more than a year.

The International Conference on Afghan Women’s Education was held in Bali, co-organized by the governments of Indonesia and Qatar — the first such meeting to take place since the Taliban takeover, gathering representatives of 38 countries, international organizations, NGOs and academics.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has made Afghanistan one of its priority foreign aid commitments, with assistance directed mostly to support women’s empowerment and education.

“We cannot choose to remain idle, we must do something,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a press conference.

“I firmly believe investing in women means investing in a brighter future, given the opportunity women can make a critical contribution to society.”

Marsudi said that creating conducive conditions for women’s participation in Afghan society was of critical importance, and urged participants to “encourage progress to establish an inclusive government that respects women’s rights” and “guarantee education for all.”

Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments have refused to recognize the Taliban and the aid-dependent Afghan economy has been in freefall following the suspension of billions of dollars in foreign aid.

As human rights violations against women and girls mounted steadily in the last year, restriction on women’s employment, in particular, was estimated to cost Afghanistan’s gross domestic product up to $1 billion, or about 5 percent, according to UN data.

The conference was a “good stepping stone,” Qatar’s assistant foreign minister, Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, told participants at the Bali meeting.

Indonesia and Qatar are working together on a scholarship program dedicated to Afghan people and planning to create economic opportunities through microloans. The two governments are also keen on facilitating policies that would connect the Afghan private sector to their international counterparts.

“One message for the international community: Education is a basic right for all ... and it’s important for myself and my colleagues as well — me as a Muslim woman — to confirm that this is not part of a faith; preventing women from their basic rights is not part of the faith,” Al-Khater said.

“It is our obligation as Muslim-majority countries to confront that and to say to any actors that this does not represent us, this does not represent the faith of Islam.”