Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review

Special Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review
Pakistani commuters wait for their turn to fill vehicles at a gasoline station in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AFP/File)
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Updated 25 April 2022

Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review

Panic buying sees Pakistan face ‘artificial shortage’ of diesel ahead of IMF loan review
  • Islamabad has asked the world body to extend $6 billion pact, boost funding by $2 billion
  • Government expected to roll back popular fuel subsidies to meet lender’s demands

ISLAMABAD: Panic buying across Pakistan is fueling an “artificial shortage” of diesel, the Ministry of Energy said on Monday, as Islamabad is expected to roll back fuel price subsidies amid the government’s efforts to revive its $6 billion loan program from the International Monetary Fund.

Pakistan, facing economic challenges after a new government took over this month from ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, has asked the IMF to extend its loan program and increase the funding by an extra $2 billion to help ease difficulties in financing, the country’s Finance Minister Miftah Ismail has said.

The South Asian country has agreed to roll back subsidies to the oil and power sectors, the IMF said in a statement, ahead of a mission visit next month “to resume discussions” on the loan program, when officials are expected to thrash out details on the bailout package.

The likely increase in diesel prices has fueled a shortage across Pakistan, with farmers among those struggling to secure enough fuel as the country is in the peak of the wheat harvesting season. The Ministry of Energy said Pakistan has enough diesel supply.

“This is an artificial shortage as Pakistan has enough diesel reserves available to fulfill the demand,” Rabbiya Khalid, a spokesperson for the ministry, told Arab News.

“People should stop panic buying. There is absolutely no shortage of diesel in Pakistan.”

The shortage has also hit the country’s most populous Punjab province, where wheat harvesting has been delayed as a result.

“The diesel shortage is hurting the farmers and delaying the wheat harvesting,” Mian Muhammad Umair Masood from the Pakistani farmers’ association, Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, told Arab News.

Masood said the delay in wheat harvesting would impact the sowing of other crops, including cotton, maize and rice, and called on the government to continue the fuel subsidy to support the farmers.

“The oil shortage at this crucial time could lead to food insecurity in the country,” he said. “Diesel is mainly used in agriculture, and a fuel subsidy to farmers means additional crop yield and food security.”

The new government, promising populist measures, had kept fuel prices unchanged this month to provide relief to its citizens. But aid from the world lender appears critical as Pakistan grapples with Asia’s second-fastest inflation rate, and as its foreign exchange reserves fell to less than two months of import cover.

The IMF suspended its $6 billion loan to Pakistan in 2020, after Pakistan failed to meet its lending conditions. The plan was revived last year under tougher conditions agreed to by Khan’s administration, including raising oil prices and electricity tariffs, but the increases were rolled back in response to public anger over rising living costs.

Pakistan revises prices of petroleum products every 15 days, and the next revision is scheduled for April 30. It is expected that fuel prices would increase to fulfill the IMF’s demands.

Samiullah Tariq, head of research at Pakistan Kuwait Investment, said that sufficient stock of the diesel was available in the country, and the shortage was “temporary” as oil company dealers expected a price hike by the end of this month.

“The government should announce the revised oil prices as early as possible to end this artificial shortage,” Tariq told Arab News.

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Republican leader says debt cliff talks with Biden went well

Republican leader says debt cliff talks with Biden went well
Updated 8 sec ago

Republican leader says debt cliff talks with Biden went well

Republican leader says debt cliff talks with Biden went well
  • Republicans are threatening to block the usually rubber-stamp approval for raising the nation’s credit limit if Democrats don’t first agree to steep future budget cuts
  • The White House accuses the Republicans of taking the economy “hostage” in order to posture as fiscally responsible

WASHINGTON: The US took a small step back from the risk of a catastrophic debt default Wednesday after the new Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said talks with President Joe Biden went well — even if a deal has yet to be reached.
“The president and I tried to find a way that we can work together,” McCarthy told reporters after an approximately one-hour meeting with Biden at the White House. “I think at the end of the day, we can find common ground.”
McCarthy said that while it was a “good discussion,” he cautioned that there were “no agreements, no promises, except we will continue this conversation.”
The White House also sounded positive, saying in a statement that Biden and McCarty had “frank and straightforward” talks and “agreed to continue the conversation.”
At stake is the stability of the world’s biggest economy.
Republicans are threatening to block the usually rubber-stamp approval for raising the nation’s credit limit if Democrats don’t first agree to steep future budget cuts.
The White House, meanwhile, accuses the Republicans of taking the economy “hostage” in order to posture as fiscally responsible.
Fail to raise the debt ceiling by around June, the Treasury says, and the United States will be forced into default on its $31.4 trillion debt — a historic first that would leave the government unable to pay bills, undermine the US economy’s reputation, and likely panic investors.
McCarthy said Republicans and Democrats have about five months to talk before reaching the debt cliff, but “hopefully it doesn’t take that long.”
There have been other showdowns over the years when Republicans balked at allowing US debt to spiral ever higher. But on most occasions the dispute was quickly smoothed over, Congress extended the ceiling and the economy kept going without a hiccup.
This time, the political heat makes things far riskier.
Two years through his first term, Biden is widely expected to be on the cusp of announcing his bid for a second term in the 2024 election. And Republicans, who have just taken over control of the House, are eager to show their muscle.
Even if McCarthy is minded to show flexibility, his power in Congress depends almost entirely on the desires of a far-right group of Republicans who are more likely to play chicken, regardless of the global financial consequences.

The White House says it won’t allow the current debt ceiling to be part of any negotiation on future government spending because that $31.4 trillion is money already agreed to by Congress. In other words, refusal to raise the debt ceiling would be like refusing to pay an already existing credit card bill.
There could be room for negotiating on changes to future budgets.
McCarthy said he had told Biden that he was against defaulting on the existing debt but that he wanted to see cuts in future spending, because “the current path we’re on we cannot sustain.”
But when it gets down to brass tacks, it’s hard for either party to say where they can find significant reductions — unless they go into the usually politically untouchable Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or other government-subsidized health care.
Biden signalled he wanted to call McCarthy’s bluff by insisting that the Republicans lay out where exactly they’d make cuts. His bet is that the internal divisions in the party will burst into the open as more right-wing members demand cuts to popular spending programs.
“What are House Republicans hiding?” deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said.
In a memo Tuesday, Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, and Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, challenged McCarthy to publish a draft budget. The White House will issue its own on March 9, they said.
 


Gunman kills 1, wounds 2 in US metro rampage before passengers disarm him

Gunman kills 1, wounds 2 in US metro rampage before passengers disarm him
Updated 24 min 25 sec ago

Gunman kills 1, wounds 2 in US metro rampage before passengers disarm him

Gunman kills 1, wounds 2 in US metro rampage before passengers disarm him
  • Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., said the shootings highlight the need for serious gun control
  • “This is not a Metro-specific safety issue; it’s an American gun violence issue,” says Metro GM

WASHINGTON: A man “randomly” brandishing a firearm shot three people, killing one, in a Wednesday morning rampage in the nation’s capital that started on a city bus and ended in a Metro tunnel after passengers attacked and disarmed him.
Authorities were still piecing together the chaotic series of events that left two people with gunshot wounds to the leg and Metro employee Robert Cunningham shot dead. The shooter is in police custody and has not been publicly identified.
Metropolitan Police Department Executive Assistant Chief Ashan Benedict praised the “heroic actions of our citizens, our community, to disarm this shooter.”
But he added, “The fact that our citizens had to intervene with armed gunmen is disturbing to me.”
The violence began shortly after 9 a.m. when the man began brandishing a weapon and confronting passengers on a city bus in the southeast area of the city. The man pursued one of the passengers off the bus and shot them in the leg, Benedict said.
The man then went down the escalator of the nearby Potomac Avenue Metro stop, confronted someone who was buying a Metro pass and shot that person in the leg as well. Both victims were recovering in local hospitals.
The armed man then went down to the train platform and began confronting a woman there. Benedict characterized his behavior as deeply erratic, saying, “He’s walking around brandishing a firearm and just randomly engaging people in confrontation. He’s clearly agitated about something.”
At that point, Cunningham, a 64-year-old mechanic in Metro’s power department, tried to intervene and was killed by a gunshot. A statement from Paul Smedberg, chair of the Metro board, said Cunningham “acted with extreme bravery to help a customer who was being threatened by the shooter.”
The armed man then attempted to board a Metro train and was apparently confronted and disarmed by the passengers. He exited the train car and was taken into custody by police officers, who recovered his weapon on the train tracks, Benedict said.
Mayor Muriel Bowser said the shootings highlight the need for serious gun control. Bowser and the Police Department have recently endured intense public pressure after a city employee shot and killed a 13-year old boy who was part of a group of youth breaking into parked cars on his block. The resident was charged this week with second-degree murder.
“We’re focused on how we get guns out of our city,” Bowser said. “Whether it’s the Metro, it’s the street, it’s in individual homes, we know that we have guns that are creating tragedies in our city and in our nation.”
Metro General Manager Randy Clarke said his administration had recently beefed up security measures, including increased police patrols and video surveillance. But he said the morning’s incident was indicative of a wider issue beyond Metro security.
“This is not a Metro-specific safety issue; it’s an American gun violence issue,” Clarke said.

 


Discrimination against hijab-wearing Muslim women at all-time high, campaigners say

Discrimination against hijab-wearing Muslim women at all-time high, campaigners say
Updated 48 min 10 sec ago

Discrimination against hijab-wearing Muslim women at all-time high, campaigners say

Discrimination against hijab-wearing Muslim women at all-time high, campaigners say
  • The organizers of World Hijab Day, on Feb. 1, said many women face pressure to remove their head scarf to ‘show solidarity’ or make a political statement
  • ‘The theme for World Hijab Day 2023, #UnapologeticHijabi, is bolder and stronger than ever before: Muslim women unapologetically wearing the hijab proudly,’ WHD said

LONDON: “Hijabophobia” is at an all-time high “due to the current political climate,” as a result of which hijab-wearing Muslim women face increasing discrimination in everyday life, the organizers of World Hijab Day said on Wednesday.

“Muslim women are being pressured to remove their hijab to ‘show solidarity’ and make political statements, while parts of the world enact legislation that prevent hijabi women from participating in society,” WHD told Arab News.

It had called on women of all backgrounds to “take a stand against hijabophobia by donning a headscarf” on World Hijab Day, Feb. 1, to help raise awareness of the Muslim tradition and women’s rights.

“The theme for World Hijab Day 2023, #UnapologeticHijabi, is bolder and stronger than ever before: Muslim women unapologetically wearing the hijab proudly,” the organization said.

 

 

“Due to the current climate, Muslim women wearing the hijab are portrayed as oppressed, submissive and backward, and the hijab is used to justify discrimination and abuse against them.

“This can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy toward Muslim women, and can make it harder for these women to fully participate in society and access opportunities.”

WHD said women who choose to wear the headscarf, whether for reasons of modesty or religious observance, face challenges integrating into educational and workplace environments.

“In some cases, there may be religious discrimination, or a lack of understanding and acceptance of the hijab,” the organization said.

 

 

It added that “in schools, some hijabi students may face discrimination or harassment from classmates or teachers, or be barred from getting an education altogether; such is the case in Karnataka, India.”

This was a reference to a decision by the High Court of Karnataka in February last year that banned thousands of Muslim girls from wearing religious garments in school.

WHD also cited examples of discrimination it said hijab-wearing women face in the workplace, and bias during the hiring process.

“Experimental studies suggested that the chances of being hired, and so gainfully employed, were on average 40 percent lower among Muslim women wearing the hijab than they were among otherwise similar Muslim women not wearing the hijab, in the West.

 

 

“For example, a 2022 study found that in the Netherlands, almost 70 percent of job applications that included a photograph of an unveiled woman received a positive callback for jobs requiring high customer contact. But for applications with hijab-clad photographs, the positive rate was 35 percent.”

WHD, which was founded in 2013 in New York by Bangladeshi American woman Nazma Khan, said: “Muslim women in European countries are more likely subjected to hijabophobia in public spaces and the labor market.”

In particular it referred to a December 2020 study by US-based think tank the Pew Research Center, which found: “Women in 56 countries experienced social hostilities — that is, harassment from individuals or groups — due to clothing that was deemed to violate religious or secular dress norms, according to the sources analyzed for a recent Pew Research Center study of 198 nations.”

The study said that women were targeted for violating secular dress norms, including wearing a hijab or other religious garb, in 42 of 56 countries in which sources alleged that social harassment took place between 2016 and 2018.

 

 

However, WHD said: “While there are challenges to the integration of hijabi women in schools and the workplace, there have also been efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of hijabi women in these settings,” including World Hijab Day itself, which aims “to promote integration and acceptance of hijabi women in these settings.”

The organization, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, said it expected thousands of people in more than 150 countries to celebrate World Hijab Day 2023, including in the UK, Japan, Korea and Switzerland.

“Most notably, we see more and more non-Muslims taking part in wearing the hijab on Feb. 1,” It added. “Many of them share their experiences with us, which we believe helps others to learn more about the hijab.”

 

 

WHD said that efforts to raise awareness through its movement have helped to change views on the hijab around the world, with two-thirds of past participants reporting positive experiences that changed their views on wearing the headscarf.

This year, the organization added, it hoped to further raise awareness, grow its platform, increase the confidence of women who wear the hijab, and “welcome those with curiosity and misunderstandings to an open forum and place to ask questions.”

WHD is also a fundraising event and money raised this year will go toward creating diversity and inclusion workshops on Muslim culture for schools, to help foster a safe and healthy educational environment for Muslim students, the organization said.


Lost radioactive capsule found in Australian Outback after huge search

Lost radioactive capsule found in Australian Outback after huge search
Updated 02 February 2023

Lost radioactive capsule found in Australian Outback after huge search

Lost radioactive capsule found in Australian Outback after huge search
  • Lost in transit over two weeks ago, the button-sized silver capsule was found on the roadside in the state of Western Australia
  • The radioactive capsule was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed from a mine in the state’s remote Kimberley region

SYDNEY: Australian authorities on Wednesday found a radioactive capsule smaller than a coin that was lost in the vast Outback after nearly a week-long search involving around 100 people along a 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) stretch of highway, officials said.
The cesium-137 capsule lost in transit more than two weeks ago was discovered when a vehicle traveling at 70 km per hour (43 mph) equipped with specialist detection equipment picked up the radiation, according to officials from the state of Western Australia.
The search team then used portable detection equipment to find the capsule, which was located about 2 meters from the side of the road in a remote area far from any community, they added.
The radioactive capsule was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in the state’s remote Kimberley region. The gauge was being taken to a facility in the suburbs of state capital Perth — a distance further than the length of Great Britain.

Rio was willing to pay for the cost of the search if asked by the state government, iron ore division head Simon Trott told reporters.
“Of course the simple fact is this device should never have been lost,” he said. “We’re sorry that that has occurred and we’re sorry for the concern that that has caused within the Western Australian community.”
People had been told to stay at least five meters (16.5 feet) away if they spotted the capsule, because exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, driving past it was believed to be relatively low risk, akin to taking an X-ray.
’Needle in the haystack’
Western Australia’s Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said the find was an “extraordinary result” after a search involving the state’s emergency response department, defense authorities and radiation specialists.
“When you consider the scope of the search area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack,” he said.
A 20-meter exclusion zone has been set up around the capsule while defense force members verify it via a serial number.
It will then be placed in a lead container and stored overnight at a secure location in Newman, a mining town roughly 1,200 km (745 miles) north-west of Perth, before being taken to the state capital on Thursday. The silver capsule, 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long, contains cesium-137 which emits radiation equal to 10 X-rays per hour.

Illustration image showing the size of the silver capsule containing radioactive cesium-137 that went missing in Australia. (DFES photo via Reuters)


Officials said the capsule apparently fell off a truck during transport and landed on the side of the road, adding that it was unlikely there would be contamination in the area.
Seeking answers
Rio said in a statement that it would investigate whether the use of specialist contractors had been appropriate, having entrusted the gauge to SGS Australia and Centurion for packaging and transport respectively.
SGS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Centurion said in a statement it was seeking answers about how the capsule became dislodged during transport given the crate and pallet provided by SGS arrived in Perth in the same condition as at the start of the journey, and GPS data had shown no sudden changes in speed.
“From a freight and logistics perspective this indicates a routine journey, and the fact that the crate was not opened for a week until after delivery reinforces that view,” Centurion said.
Western Australia’s Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said there would be an investigation and prosecutions would be considered under state radiation safety laws from 1975.
The maximum penalty for failing to safely handle radioactive substances is A$1,000 and A$50 per day the offense continues, though the state government said on Wednesday it was considering a change to laws to allow for bigger penalties.
Officials said any change to penalties would not be retrospective.


Strong quake knocks out power, sends residents fleeing homes in southern Philippines

Strong quake knocks out power, sends residents fleeing homes in southern Philippines
Updated 01 February 2023

Strong quake knocks out power, sends residents fleeing homes in southern Philippines

Strong quake knocks out power, sends residents fleeing homes in southern Philippines
  • The quake was so strong in Montevista town of Davao de Oro province an and a witness said her house would collapse.

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines: A 6.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the southern Philippines on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, with local authorities warning of aftershocks and possible damage.
The shallow quake struck at 6:44 p.m. (1044 GMT), near Monkayo municipality in Davao de Oro province on Mindanao island.
Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones, but there were no immediate reports of major damage in the remote and mountainous gold mining region.
Monkayo police Staff Sergeant Harvey Asayas told AFP the quake was strong in the beginning but gradually weakened and stopped after 40 seconds.
“The authorities are now conducting patrols around to assess damage including the fire personnel and disaster officers,” Asayas said.
Police Corporal Edwin Mangigo, who is stationed at an outpost near Mount Diwata in Monkayo, said there had been no reports of casualties at local mining sites.
“We thought there was a landslide because our roof was shaking, we thought it was going to break,” Mangigo said.

Police Corporal Lucita Ambrocio, who is based in the nearby municipality of New Bataan, described the quake as “quick.”
“After 10 minutes, our colleagues went back to the building,” said Ambrocio, who raced outside with her colleagues when the police station started shaking.
“I checked the premises and I saw a small crack in the barracks.”
But in nearby Montevista municipality, Maricar Melgar said the quake was so strong she feared the building she was in would collapse.
“This was probably the strongest earthquake I experienced. My body is still shaking,” the 51-year-old told AFP.

In Tagum city, in Davao del Norte province, about 40 kilometers south west of the epicenter, residents also fled their homes and power was knocked out by the force of the quake.
“We were eating when (the house) began to shake — it was strong,” said Grace Jao, 40.
“We ran outside — we had to take safety measures. We did not see any damage inside the house when we got back.”
Quakes are a daily occurrence in the Philippines, which sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of intense seismic as well as volcanic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
Most are too weak to be felt by humans, but strong and destructive ones come at random with no technology available to predict when and where it will happen.
The nation’s civil defense office regularly holds drills simulating earthquake scenarios along active fault lines.
The last major quake was in October in the northern Philippines.
The 6.4-magnitude earthquake hit the mountain town of Dolores in Abra province, injuring several people, damaging buildings and cutting power to most of the region.
A 7.0-magnitude quake in mountainous Abra last July triggered landslides and ground fissures, killing 11 people and injuring several hundred.