New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital

New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said primary schools would be closed from Saturday until ‘the pollution situation improves.’ (Reuters)
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Updated 04 November 2022

New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital

New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital
  • On Friday, levels of the most dangerous PM2.5 particles were almost 25 times the daily maximum recommended by the WHO

NEW DELHI: Primary schools in India’s capital New Delhi will shut to protect children from the toxic smog choking the megacity of 20 million people, authorities said Friday.
Smoke from farmers burning crop stubble, vehicle exhaust and factory emissions combine every winter to blanket the capital in a deadly grey haze.
On Friday, levels of the most dangerous PM2.5 particles — so tiny they can enter the bloodstream — were almost 25 times the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization, according to monitoring firm IQAir.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, under fire from residents and political opponents for failing to address the crisis, said primary schools would be closed from Saturday until “the pollution situation improves.”
“No child should suffer in any way,” Kejriwal told reporters.
Delhi is frequently ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities. On Friday it again topped IQAir’s list of major cities with the worst air quality.
A Lancet study in 2020 attributed 1.67 million deaths to air pollution in India during the previous year, including almost 17,500 in the capital.
Authorities regularly announce different plans to reduce the pollution, for example by halting construction work, but to little effect.
Tens of thousands of farmers across north India set fire to their fields at the start of every winter to clear crop stubble from recently harvested rice paddies.
The practice is one of the key drivers of Delhi’s annual smog problem and persists despite efforts to persuade farmers to use different clearing methods.
Farm fire smoke accounted for a third of Delhi’s air pollution on Thursday, according to India’s air quality monitoring agency.
The problem is also a political flashpoint — with Delhi and the northern state of Punjab governed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
But Kejriwal called for an end to “blame games and finger-pointing” over responsibility for tackling the smog, after India’s environment minister lambasted the AAP for presiding over an increase in farm fires.
“It won’t help in finding solutions. We can blame them, and they can blame us, but that would lead to nothing,” he said.
“Farmers need solutions,” he added. “The day they get a solution, they will stop burning the stubble.”


Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi

Updated 13 sec ago

Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi

Widespread damage as tornado moves through Mississippi
  • Tornado continued sweeping northeast at 70 mph without weakening
  • The Storm Prediction Center warned the greatest threat of tornadoes would come in portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee
ROLLING FORK: A powerful tornado tore through rural Mississippi on Friday night, causing injuries, widespread damage and downing power lines as severe weather that produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states and prompted authorities to warn some in its path that they were in a “life-threatening situation.”
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado caused damage about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of Jackson, Mississippi. The rural towns of Silver City and Rolling Fork were reporting destruction as the tornado continued sweeping northeast at 70 mph without weakening, racing toward Alabama through towns including Winona and Amory into the night.
The National Weather Service issued an alert that didn’t mince words: “To protect your life, TAKE COVER NOW!“
“You are in a life-threatening situation,” it warned. “Flying debris may be deadly to those caught without shelter. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Considerable damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles is likely and complete destruction is possible.”
Cornel Knight said that he, his wife and their 3-year-old daughter were at a relative’s home in Rolling Fork when the tornado struck. He said the sky was dark but “you could see the direction from every transformer that blew.”
He said it was “eerily quiet” as that happened. Knight said he watched from a doorway until the tornado was, he estimated, less than a mile away. Then he told everyone in the house to take cover in a hallway. He said the tornado struck another relative’s home across a wide corn field from where he was. A wall in that home collapsed and trapped several people inside. As Knight spoke to AP by phone, he said he could see lights from emergency vehicles at the partially collapsed home.
Rolling Fork mayor Eldridge Walker told WLBT-TV he was unable to get out of his damaged home soon after the tornado hit because power lines were down. He said emergency responders were trying to take injured people to hospitals. He did not immediately know how many people had been hurt.
A former mayor of Rolling Fork, Fred Miller, told the television station a tornado blew the windows out of the back of his house.
Storm chaser Reed Timmer posted on Twitter that Rolling Fork was in immediate need of emergency personnel and that he was heading with injured residents of the town to a Vicksburg hospital.
The Sharkey-Issaquena Community Hospital on the west side of Rolling Fork was damaged, WAPT reported.
The Sharkey County Sheriff’s Office in Rolling Fork reported gas leaks and people trapped in piles of rubble, according to the Vicksburg News. Some law enforcement units were unaccounted for in Sharkey, according to the the newspaper.
Rolling Fork and the surrounding area has wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. More than a half-dozen shelters were opened in the state by emergency officials.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said in a Twitter post Friday night that search and rescue teams were active and that officials were sending more ambulances and emergency assets to those affected.
“Many in the MS Delta need your prayer and God’s protection tonight,” the post said. “Watch weather reports and stay cautious through the night, Mississippi!”
This was a supercell, the nasty type of storms that brew the deadliest tornado and most damaging hail in the United States, said University of Northern Illinois University meteorology professor Walker Ashley. What’s more this a night-time wet one which is “the worst kind,” he said.
Meteorologists saw a big tornado risk coming for the general region, not the specific area, as much as a week in advance, said Ashley, who was discussing it with his colleagues as early as March 17. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center put out a long-range alert for the area on March 19, he said.
Tornado experts like Ashley have been warning about increased risk exposure in the region because of people building more.
“You mix a particularly socioeconomically vulnerable landscape with a fast-moving, long-track nocturnal tornado, and, disaster will happen,” Ashley said in an email.
Earlier Friday a car was swept away and two passengers drowned in southwestern Missouri during torrential rains that were part of a severe weather system. Authorities said six young adults were in the vehicle that was swept away as the car tried to cross a bridge over a flooded creek in the town of Grovespring.
Four of the six made it out of the water. The body of Devon Holt, 20, of Grovespring, was found at 3:30 a.m., and the body of Alexander Roman-Ranelli, 19, of Springfield, was recovered about six hours later, Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Thomas Young said.
The driver told authorities that the rain made it difficult to see that water from a creek had covered the bridge, Young said.
Meanwhile, the search continued in another southwestern Missouri county for a woman who was missing after flash flooding from a small river washed a car off the road. The Logan Rogersville Fire Protection District said there was no sign of the woman. Two others who were in the car were rescued. Crews planned to use boats and have searchers walking along the riverbank.
When a woman’s SUV got swept up in rushing flood waters Friday morning near Granby, Missouri, Layton Hoyer made his way through icy-cold waters to rescue her.
Some parts of southern Missouri saw nearly 3 inches (8 centimeters) of rain Thursday night and into Friday morning as severe weather hit other areas. A suspected tornado touched down early Friday in north Texas.
Matt Elliott, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said the severe weather was expected across several states.
The Storm Prediction Center warned the greatest threat of tornadoes would come in portions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Storms with damaging winds and hail were forecast from eastern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma into parts of southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois.
More than 49,000 customers had lost power in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee as of Friday night, according to poweroutage.us.
In Texas, a suspected tornado struck about 5 a.m. in the southwest corner of Wise County, damaging homes and downing trees and power lines, said Cody Powell, the county’s emergency management coordinator. Powell said no injuries were reported.
The weather service had not confirmed a tornado, but damage to homes was also reported in neighboring Parker County, said meteorologist Matt Stalley.

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia
Updated 25 March 2023

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia

Putin ally proposing banning ICC in Russia
  • The ICC earlier issued arrest warrant against Russia's Vladimir Putin
  • Russian officials have cautioned against any attempt to arrest Putin

MOSCOW: Russia’s parliament speaker on Saturday proposed banning the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after the court issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the war crimes.
Vyacheslav Volodin, an ally of Putin’s, said that Russian legislation should be amended to prohibit any activity of the ICC in Russia and to punish any who gave “assistance and support” to the ICC.
“It is necessary to work out amendments to legislation prohibiting any activity of the ICC on the territory of our country,” Volodin said in a Telegram post.
Volodin said that the United States had legislated to prevent its citizens ever being tried by the Hague court and that Russia should continue that work.
Any assistance or support for the ICC inside Russia, he said, should be punishable under law.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant earlier this month accusing Putin of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine. It said there are reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility.
Russian officials have cautioned that any attempt to arrest Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since the last day of 1999, would amount to a declaration of war against the world’s largest nuclear power.
In its first warrant for Ukraine, the ICC called for Putin’s arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation since Feb. 24, 2022.
The Kremlin says the ICC arrest warrant is an outrageously partisan decision, but meaningless with respect to Russia. Russian officials deny war crimes in Ukraine and say the West has ignored what it says are Ukrainian war crimes.
Big powers such as Russia, the United States and China are not members of the ICC though 123 countries are state parties to the Rome Statute, including Britain, France, Germany and some former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan.
Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, although Kyiv granted it jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory. 


Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges
Updated 25 March 2023

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges

Trump rallying supporters in Waco ahead of possible charges

WACO, Texas: Staring down a possible indictment, a defiant Donald Trump is hoping to put on a show of force Saturday as he holds the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
The former president will gather with supporters at an airport in Waco, which will mark the 30th anniversary of the Waco massacre next month. In 1993, an attempted raid by law enforcement of a compound belonging to the Branch Davidians, a religious cult, resulted in a shootout that led to a 51-day siege, ending in a blaze that left dozens dead.
The rally comes as Trump has berated prosecutors, encouraged protests and raised the prospect of possible violence should he become the first former president in US history to face criminal charges. Some of his recent rhetoric has echoed language he used before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol by a mob of his supporters seeking to stop the transfer of power.
“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former President of the United States ... and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a Crime, when it is known by all that NO Crime has been committed, & also known that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our Country?” Trump wrote on his social media site early Friday.
Trump’s campaign insisted the location and timing of the event had nothing to do with the Waco siege or anniversary. Instead, a spokesperson said the site was chosen because it was conveniently situated near four of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas — Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio — and has the infrastructure to handle a sizable crowd.
“This is the ideal location to have as many supporters from across the state and in neighboring states attend this historic rally,” said Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung.
The city is part of McLennan County, which Trump won in 2020 by more than 23 points. The airport where the rally is being held is 17 miles from the Branch Davidian compound.
The rally had already been in the works before it became clear that a grand jury in New York was drawing closer to a possible indictment as it investigates hush money payments made to women who alleged sexual encounters with Trump during the height of his 2016 campaign. Trump has denied the women’s claims.
But the timing will give Trump an opportunity to demonstrate his continued popularity with the GOP base and to portray himself as the victim of a politically motivated “witch hunt” as he campaigns for a second term in the White House.
The grand jury investigating the hush money payment is expected to meet again Monday in New York.
Trump has spent weeks now railing against the investigation. In a move that seemed designed to preempt a formal announcement and to galvanize his loyal base, he claimed last Saturday that he would be arrested the following Tuesday. While that did not happen, Trump has used the days since to try to shape public perception, claiming, for instance, that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had plunged into “Total disarray,” though there was no evidence to suggest prosecutors were backing away from the case.
His efforts echoed a strategy the former president has used before, including during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Trump has also launched a series of increasingly personal attacks against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, calling him “a danger to our Country” who “should be removed immediately,” and using increasingly racist and dehumanizing rhetoric.
On Thursday, he sought to tie Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black district attorney, to George Soros, a liberal billionaire donor who doesn’t know Bragg and hasn’t donated directly to him. “A SOROS BACKED ANIMAL,” Trump wrote of Bragg, adding, “THIS IS NO LEGAL SYSTEM, THIS IS THE GESTAPO.” He also shared an article that juxtaposed a picture of Bragg with a photo of Trump swinging a baseball bat in Bragg’s direction.
The former president has also repeatedly involved violence. Last Saturday, he called on his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” And on Thursday, he bemoaned, “OUR COUNTRY IS BEING DESTROYED, AS THEY TELL US TO BE PEACEFUL!”
On Friday, a powdery substance was found with a threatening letter in a mailroom at Bragg’s offices, authorities said. Officials later determined the substance wasn’t dangerous.
Bragg’s office sent an internal email to staff last Saturday saying, “We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.” After the powder was discovered, Bragg sent another email to staffers telling them their safety was the top priority.
“We will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, which is what each of you does every single day,” he wrote Friday.
Even before the threatening letter was sent to Bragg’s office, Democrats warned that Trump’s remarks had the potential to incite violence.
“The twice-impeached former president’s rhetoric is reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible. It’s dangerous, and if he keeps it up he’s going to get someone killed,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said earlier Friday.
The Manhattan case focuses on a $130,000 payment that Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, made to porn actor Stormy Daniels as Trump was in the throes of the 2016 campaign. Trump later reimbursed Cohen and his company logged the reimbursements as a legal expense. Cohen has already served time in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress, among other crimes.
Trump is also facing an investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election as well as federal probes into his handling of classified documents and possible obstruction, as well as his efforts on Jan. 6.


US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border
Updated 25 March 2023

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border

US, Canada end loophole that let asylum-seekers cross border
  • The new policy says that asylum seekers without US or Canadian citizenship who are caught within 14 days of crossing anywhere along the 5,061-kilometer border will be sent back
  • Migrants have taken advantage of a quirk in a 2002 agreement between the US and Canada that says asylum seekers must apply in the first country they arrive in

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vermont: US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday announced a plan to close a loophole to an immigration agreement that has allowed thousands of asylum-seeking immigrants to move between the two countries along a back road linking New York state to the Canadian province of Quebec.
So many migrants since early 2017 have walked into Canada on Roxham Road outside Champlain, New York, that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police staffed a reception center to process them, less than five miles (8 kilometers) from the official border crossing.
Mounties have warned the migrants at the end of the narrow two-lane road bordered by forests and farm fields that they would be arrested if they crossed the border. But once on Canadian soil, they have been allowed to stay and pursue asylum cases that can take years to resolve.
The new policy says that asylum seekers without US or Canadian citizenship who are caught within 14 days of crossing anywhere along the 3,145-mile (5,061-kilometer) border will be sent back. That includes people walking on Roxham Road.
The deal was set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday — a quick implementation aimed at avoiding a surge of refugee claimants trying to cross, according to Canadian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deal in advance.
Some of the last migrants to make it through before the Biden-Trudeau announcement were about eight people in two families — one from Haiti, the other from Afghanistan — who arrived at the US end of Roxham Road just after dawn on Friday. Both said they took circuitous routes to get there.
Gerson Solay, 28, carried his daughter Bianca up to the border. He said he didn’t have the proper documents to remain in the United States. “That is why Canada is my last destination,” he said before he was taken into custody for processing.
It’s unclear how Roxham Road became a favorite route, but it’s just a taxi ride from where Interstate 87 approaches the Canadian border, and for southbound migrants, it’s a relatively short distance to New York City.

These migrants have taken advantage of a quirk in a 2002 agreement between the US and Canada that says asylum seekers must apply in the first country they arrive in. Migrants who go to an official Canadian crossing are returned to the US and told to apply there. But those who reach Canadian soil somewhere other than a port of entry — like the center near Roxham Road — are allowed to stay and request protection.
The agreement was immediately criticized by some who feel it could endanger the safety of asylum seekers by preventing them from getting needed support from both governments.
“We urge President Biden to strongly reconsider this deal and to work with Congress to restore access to asylum and support policies that recognize the dignity of all those arriving at our borders,” said Danilo Zak, associate director for policy and advocacy for the humanitarian group CWS, also known as Church World Services. The organization advocates for people across the world who have been forced from their homes.
The agreement comes as the US Border Patrol responds to a steep increase in illegal southbound crossings along the wide-open Canadian border. Nearly all happen in northern New York and Vermont along the stretch of border nearest Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal.
While the numbers are still tiny compared to the US-Mexico border, it’s happening so frequently now that the Border Patrol increased its staffing in the region and has begun releasing some migrants into Vermont with a future date to appear before immigration authorities.
As part of the deal, Canada also agreed to allow 15,000 migrants from the Western Hemisphere to seek asylum on a humanitarian basis over the course of the year.
Meanwhile, southbound migrants are straining US border officials.
US Border Patrol agents stopped migrants entering illegally from Canada 628 times in February, more than five times the same period a year earlier. Those numbers pale compared to migrants entering from Mexico – where they were stopped more than 220,000 times in December alone — but it is still a massive change in percentage terms.
In the Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, which stretches across New Hampshire, Vermont and a portion of upstate New York, agents stopped migrants 418 times in February, up more than 10 times from a year earlier. About half entering from Canada have been Mexicans, who can fly visa-free to Canada from Mexico.
About an hour south of the border, the police chief in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, population 6,000, alerted state officials that the Border Patrol had dropped off a vanload of immigrants with just a few minutes notice at the community’s welcome center. The same thing happened several times before within the last few weeks.
In a statement, US Customs and Border Protection said the migrants dropped off in St. Johnsbury had been apprehended along the border after entering the US without authorization, and were given a notice to appear for later immigration proceedings.
They were dropped off in St. Johnsbury because it has a station where migrants can take a bus to a larger city.
“In such circumstances, USBP works in tandem with local communities to ensure the safety of all parties— both community members and migrants— and to ensure stability in the community’s resources,” the statement said.
But local officials said they weren’t given time to prepare. State officials are now working to set up a system to provide migrants services they might require.
On Thursday, a Haitian couple and their children, boys aged 17 and 9 and a 15-year-old girl, were dropped off at the welcome center. The family, who did not want to give their names, wanted to take a bus to Miami.
They said they’d been in Canada for two months, but wouldn’t talk about what prompted them to keep moving.
They missed the Thursday bus that would allow them to connect to a bus to Boston, where they could catch another bus to Miami. A team of local volunteers spent the day getting them something to eat, finding them a place to stay the night and arranging for them to take the bus on Friday.
Police chief Tim Page said St. Johnsbury wants to help these migrants, but not on the fly.
“We need to get something down so we know what we are going to do when these families arrive,” he said. “We don’t have a system set yet, so when we do I am sure this will all go a little smoother.”
 


UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners
Updated 25 March 2023

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners

UN accuses Russia, Ukraine forces of ‘summary executions’ of prisoners
  • Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of mistreating prisoners of war since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded a year ago

KYIV: The United Nations said Friday it was “deeply concerned” by what it said were summary executions of prisoners of war by both Russian and Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.
The allegations come shortly after Kyiv accused Russian forces of killing a captured Ukrainian serviceman who was filmed saying “Glory to Ukraine” before being shot dead.
The head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said at a press conference in Kyiv on Friday that her organization had recently recorded killings by both sides.
“We are deeply concerned about (the) summary execution of up to 25 Russian prisoners of war and persons hors de combat by the Ukrainian armed forces, which we have documented,” Bogner said.
“This was often perpetrated immediately upon capture on the battlefield,” she said.
“While we are aware of ongoing investigations by Ukraine authorities into five cases involving 22 victims, we are not aware of any prosecution of the perpetrators,” she added.
Bogner also expressed “deep” concern over the alleged executions of 15 Ukrainian prisoners by Russian armed forces after their capture.
She said the Wagner mercenary group, which claims to be leading Russia’s assault for Bakhmut — the longest and bloodiest battle of the war — was responsible for 11 of those killings.
Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of mistreating prisoners of war since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded a year ago.
One UN report issued Friday claimed Ukrainian military personnel had subjected prisoners of war to death threats, mock executions or threats of sexual violence. Some beatings were “purely retaliatory,” it said.
“In some cases, officers beat POWs saying: ‘This is for Bucha,’” the mission reported detainees as saying, referring to a town near Kyiv where Russian forces were accused of widespread atrocities.
“Before questioning, they showed me an axe handle covered in blood as a warning,” the report quoted a Russian POW as saying.
“The questioning lasted for about an hour and they used electricity six times, whenever they thought I was lying,” the detainee said, according to the report.
Ukrainian POWs quoted said they were subjected to torture, sexual violence, a lack of food and water and denied medical attention that sometimes led to death.
They said they were tortured and ill-treated to extract information or as a form of punishment, the mission said.
Ukrainian prisoners reported being beaten with shovels, stabbed, subjected to electric shocks and strangled.
“Some of them lost their teeth or fingers, had their ribs, fingers or noses broken,” the report said.
“They did not just beat us, they broke us. They used their fists, legs, batons, tasers. There were POWs who had their arms or legs broken,” one man was quoted as saying.
The Ukrainian parliament’s human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets said on Friday that he was “surprised” by the allegations against Ukrainian troops and said he had not been informed of them in advance.
He said on Telegram that he wanted to “know the facts and the indisputable arguments on which the conclusions” of the UN report are based.