India reports 264,202 new coronavirus infections in past 24 hours

India reports 264,202 new coronavirus infections in past 24 hours
Indian health workers collect swab samples from travellers at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus to test for the coronavirus before allowing them entry into Mumbai. (AP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

India reports 264,202 new coronavirus infections in past 24 hours

India reports 264,202 new coronavirus infections in past 24 hours
  • Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 315, with total mortalities now at 485,350

MUMBAI: India reported 264,202 new cases of the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, taking its total tally to 36.58 million, the federal health ministry said on Friday.
Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 315, with total mortalities now at 485,350, the ministry said.


Afghan refugees in Pakistan help keep honey business abuzz

Afghan refugees in Pakistan help keep honey business abuzz
Updated 8 sec ago

Afghan refugees in Pakistan help keep honey business abuzz

Afghan refugees in Pakistan help keep honey business abuzz
  • Afghan workers main force behind beekeeping in major honey exporting country Pakistan
  • First generation of beekeepers trained by UN refugee agency in 1980s

PESHAWAR: Four decades ago, when war broke out in Afghanistan, Nazak Mir and his family left their home to seek safety in neighboring Pakistan and soon began a new life as refugees.

When they crossed the border from Gardez in Paktia province to Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 1981, Mir arrived empty handed, but with a skill that in exile unexpectedly gave him a chance to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors as a beekeeper.

“Among other things, we left behind 54 beehive boxes that my elder uncle had kept for years. It was a family business before migration,” he told Arab News.

When the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, offered beekeeping training in the refugee camp where his family had taken shelter, he knew it would be lifechanging.

“I was one of the first people to sign up for the beekeeping training in 1983,” he said. “Today, I am the owner of 150 boxes.”

Besides setting in motion his own career as a businessman, Mir also became a mentor to thousands of other refugees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The hilly province bordering Afghanistan hosts nearly 800,000 Afghans who fled armed conflict in their country. They are now the main force behind beekeeping in Pakistan, a major exporter of honey.

The South Asian nation currently produces an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 tons of honey annually, and exports more than a fifth of it to Gulf countries, after the industry rebounded from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, according to All Pakistan Beekeepers, Exporters, and Honey Traders Association secretary-general, Sher Zaman Mohmand.

He told Arab News that the number of people involved in the sector, including other production activities than beekeeping, was around 1.6 million, and 95 percent of them lived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the climate and terrain are conducive to honey production.

“Of them, more than 60 percent are Afghan refugees,” he said.

Some of them, similar to Mir, have already introduced their children to the profession.

“Now, my son has started his own beekeeping business,” he said. But he expressed worries as to whether it would remain lucrative in the future.

Pakistan is one the nations most affected by disasters driven by the changing climate, and for the past few years has endured heightened heatwaves that have upended its natural ecosystems.

With challenges related to climate change and deforestation depriving bees of food, their populations have been decimated in recent years.

“Lack of food causes the bees to fight amongst each other,” Mir’s son, Farhadullah, said. “Hot and cold weather also affects their health and honey production.”

Erratic swings in weather patterns have also changed harvest times.

“Honey producing seasons are defined by different flowering seasons. Timely and enough rains often result in four or five honey producing seasons while drought years reduce the honey seasons to just two,” Mohmand said, adding that he felt the situation could be mitigated if the government introduced strict measures to curb deforestation.

Pakistan has been trying to reforest the country and launched an ambitious five-year tree-planting program, the 10-Billion Tree Tsunami, to counter the rising temperatures, flooding, droughts, and other extreme weather in the country that scientists link to climate change.

While more than 330 million trees have already been planted under the initiative, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mohmand said the push should extend to other provinces as well, especially around the sites of the $65 billion Beijing-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the largest infrastructure investment project in the country.

“The government could promote forestry, particularly along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor routes,” Mohmand said. “Plants like the Indian rosewood, acacia, and jujube can be grown in many areas, including on barren lands across the country.”


India's top court revokes ban on large prayer gatherings in mosque

India's top court revokes ban on large prayer gatherings in mosque
Updated 17 May 2022

India's top court revokes ban on large prayer gatherings in mosque

India's top court revokes ban on large prayer gatherings in mosque
  • Court order comes a day after a local court in Varanasi ruled Islamic gatherings there should be limited to 20 people
  • Leaders of India's Muslims view survey inside the mosque as attempts to undermine their rights to free worship and religious expression

NEW DELHI: India's Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a local order to ban large Muslim prayer gatherings in a high-profile mosque in north India after a survey team said it found relics of the Hindu god Shiva and other Hindu symbols there.
The top court in an interim order stated Muslims right to prayer should not be disturbed, and simultaneously the area where Hindu religious relics were said to be found should be protected.
The disagreement over rights to worship at the mosque follows a decades-long campaign by Hindu activists to show that key Muslim-built buildings in India sit atop older holy sites. A previous dispute 30 years ago led to fatal rioting.
The Supreme Court order comes a day after a local court in Varanasi - Hinduism's holiest city and the site of the historic Gyanvapi mosque - ruled Islamic gatherings there should be limited to 20 people.
The local court had ordered the survey of the mosque after five women sought permission to perform Hindu rituals in one part of it, saying a Hindu temple once stood on the site.
The Gyanvapi mosque, located in the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is one of several mosques in northern Uttar Pradesh that some Hindus believe was built on top of demolished Hindu temples.
Hardline Hindu groups tied to Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have stepped up demands to excavate inside some mosques and to permit searches in the Taj Mahal mausoleum.
Judges of the top court will continue hearing from Hindu and Muslim petitioners this week.
Leaders of India's 200 million Muslims view the survey inside the mosque as attempts to undermine their rights to free worship and religious expression, with the BJP's tacit agreement.
The BJP denies bias against minorities including Muslims, and says it wants progressive change that benefits all Indians.
In 2019, the Supreme Court allowed Hindus to build a temple at the site of the disputed 16th century Babri mosque that was demolished by Hindu crowds in 1992 who believed it was built where Hindu Lord Ram was born.
The demolition led to religious riots that killed nearly 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, across India.


EU warns UK against ‘not acceptable’ N. Ireland deal changes

EU warns UK against ‘not acceptable’ N. Ireland deal changes
Updated 17 May 2022

EU warns UK against ‘not acceptable’ N. Ireland deal changes

EU warns UK against ‘not acceptable’ N. Ireland deal changes
  • The announcement, made by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, "raises significant concerns," European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said
  • The statement did not outline what action Brussels was contemplating

BRUSSELS: The EU said Tuesday it “will need to respond with all measures at its disposal” if Britain goes ahead with unilateral changes to the part of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland.
The announcement, made by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, “raises significant concerns,” European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said in a statement.
“The (Northern Ireland) Protocol is an international agreement signed by the EU and the UK. Unilateral actions contradicting an international agreement are not acceptable,” he said.
The statement did not outline what action Brussels was contemplating, but analysts say possible options include legal action, punitive tariffs or even tearing up the entire EU-UK post-Brexit trade agreement.
Sefcovic pointed out that the protocol is “an integral part” of the Brexit deal, which was “the necessary foundation” to the later trade agreement.
He said that Brussels recognizes “the practical difficulties” in implementing the protocol and remains ready to negotiate “joint solutions within the framework” of the agreed text.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was part of Britain’s Brexit treaty agreed with the EU.
Both sides signed on to it as a way of ensuring no land border was erected between Britain’s province of Northern Ireland and neighboring Ireland, which remains in the EU.
That was to uphold the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that put an end to decades of conflict in Northern Ireland pitting UK government forces and loyalists against paramilitaries including the IRA seeking reunification with Ireland.
Unhappy with the fact that the protocol puts a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, angering British unionists, London has repeatedly argued it undermines the Good Friday Agreement.
The EU, though, says it is Britain’s approach that risks destabilising the agreement.


Child refugees face delays reaching UK as Ukraine crisis bites

Child refugees face delays reaching UK as Ukraine crisis bites
Updated 17 May 2022

Child refugees face delays reaching UK as Ukraine crisis bites

Child refugees face delays reaching UK as Ukraine crisis bites
  • A 14-year-old Afghan boy has been warned he may have to wait up to six months before he can join family in Britain
  • UK visa service says that it is “prioritizing Ukraine visa scheme applications,” which has meant that applicants from elsewhere will “experience some delays”

LONDON: Lone child refugees are facing doubled waiting times to join family members in Britain as resources have been redistributed to processing visas for Ukrainians, The Independent newspaper has revealed.

The service’s usual 12-week waiting period for visas has jumped to 24 weeks, with a 14-year-old Afghan boy being warned that he may need to wait up to six months to join his family in the UK.

The boy has been living in a refugee camp in eastern Europe after fleeing the war-torn country last year when the Taliban toppled the Western-backed administration. His brother is already in Britain, but the teenager has been warned he might face a much longer wait than expected before he can join him.

The Independent has seen emails from the UK’s visa service to the boy’s lawyers which says it is “prioritizing Ukraine visa scheme applications,” which has meant that applicants from elsewhere will “experience some delays in the processing of their application.”

It added: “We have therefore made the decision to temporarily amend our marriage and family service standard to 24 weeks, from our usual service standard for this route of 12 weeks.”

The change came into effect from May 11. The Home Office has not yet commented on the number of unaccompanied children who will be affected by it.

Beth Gardiner-Smith, chief executive at Safe Passage International, told the Independent it was “beyond frustrating” that children suffering in “precarious” situations in Europe were enduring extended waiting times.

She added: “We fear this delay in family reunion applications could cause some children we’re working with to lose faith in the process and attempt to make dangerous journeys instead to reach their family.”


Germany to boost military drills with Sweden, Finland amid NATO bid

Germany to boost military drills with Sweden, Finland amid NATO bid
Updated 17 May 2022

Germany to boost military drills with Sweden, Finland amid NATO bid

Germany to boost military drills with Sweden, Finland amid NATO bid
  • "We will intensify our military cooperation, especially in the Baltic Sea region and through joint exercises," Scholz said
  • Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson confirmed on Monday her country would apply to join NATO, a day after Finland

BERLIN: Germany will ramp up its military collaboration with Sweden and Finland as the two countries seek NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday.
“We will intensify our military cooperation, especially in the Baltic Sea region and through joint exercises,” Scholz said amid concern for the two candidates’ security during the transition period to NATO accession.
“It is already clear that our countries are bound together by an obligation to provide each other with all possible assistance and support for mutual protection” as members of the United Nations and the European Union, Scholz added.
“Both countries can always rely on our support, especially in this very special situation,” he said.
With Moscow pressing its assault in eastern border regions of Ukraine nearly three months into its invasion, Helsinki and Stockholm are poised to give up decades of military non-alignment over fears they could be next.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson confirmed on Monday her country would apply to join NATO, a day after Finland — which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia — said the same.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose war has sparked global outrage, said the move poses “no direct threat for us... but the expansion of military infrastructure to these territories will certainly provoke our response.”
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told a meeting of the alliance in Berlin on Sunday that it would “look into ways to provide security assurances including by increasing NATO presence in the region” during the transition period.
“Finland and Sweden are concerned about the interim period... we will try to speed up that process,” he said.