Australia’s decision to reject Qatar Airways’ request for more flights ‘very unfair’

Qatar Airways has branded a decision by Australian authorities not to allow it to run extra flights to and from the country as “very unfair.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Qatar Airways has branded a decision by Australian authorities not to allow it to run extra flights to and from the country as “very unfair.” (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 17 September 2023
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Australia’s decision to reject Qatar Airways’ request for more flights ‘very unfair’

Australia’s decision to reject Qatar Airways’ request for more flights ‘very unfair’
  • CEO cites airline’s service to Australian flyers during coronavirus pandemic
  • Local politicians, competition commission, rival carriers back Qatar Airways in bid to lower fares, generate income

LONDON: Qatar Airways has branded a decision by Australian authorities not to allow it to run extra flights to and from the country as “very unfair.”

The airline had sought to lay on 21 additional flights, but ministers rejected the proposals, citing national interest as one of the reasons.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al-Baker said he was surprised at the decision considering the flag carrier had continued to operate flights during the coronavirus pandemic while Australia’s national airline, Qantas, was grounded.

He noted that the Doha-headquartered airline become a vital link for Australians as a result. Throughout the pandemic, University of Sydney Prof. Rico Merkert even dubbed Qatar Airways Australia’s “de facto international airline.”

Al-Baker told CNN: “We found it to be very unfair for our legitimate request to be not granted, especially at a time when we were so supportive of Australia.

“We were repatriating their stranded citizens from around the world to and out of Australia, helping them receive medical supplies and spare parts et cetera during the COVID-19 period.

“The national carrier and its partners completely stopped operating in Australia. We were there for the people of Australia,” he said.

Alan Joyce, a former Qantas CEO, said permitting Qatar Airways the extra flights would “distort” the region’s aviation sector.

However, Bridget McKenzie, chair of the Australian Senate’s committee investigating the issue, said Transport Minister Catherine King had failed to provide details as to why Qatar Airways’ request had been denied, accusing Qantas and the government of having a “cosy, personal and political relationship.”

McKenzie’s committee was due to hold public hearings into the decision next week.

King recently said: “There is a public interest in not disclosing such discussions so the government’s negotiations over air services agreements with a range of countries can continue unimpeded.”

Speaking to CNN, Al-Baker added: “We can never influence a government decision, but the fact remains is that we were very surprised for getting these rights blocked or unapproved.”

Several industry players, including Virgin Australia, as well as Australian state politicians, and members of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, have backed Qatar Airways’ bid for more flights with a view to expanding Australia’s aviation industry.

The Guardian reported that some had suggested that doing so could bring down fares and generate as much as $1 billion in new revenue.


Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference

Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference
Updated 11 sec ago
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Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference

Afghan defense minister attends ‘very important’ Doha maritime conference
  • Afghanistan is a landlocked country with no naval forces
  • Afghan delegation joins over 60 other countries at the Doha event

Kabul: Afghanistan’s Taliban government said on Monday that its participation at the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference is “very important,” as it seeks to increase engagements with the international community.

The eighth edition of DIMDEX, which is organized by the Qatar Armed Forces and runs from March 4 to 6 at the Qatar National Convention Center, will be attended by official delegations from more than 60 countries, at least five of which are bringing their warships to visit the Hamad Port.

Despite being a landlocked country with no naval forces, the Afghan delegation is among the participating countries this year and is led by the Minister of National Defense Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid, who is accompanied by the Chief of Army Staff Mohammad Fasihuddin Fitrat.

“They are going to take part in the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition today … This conference and exhibition is very important for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, particularly for its engagements with the international community,” Suhail Shaheen, Taliban government spokesperson in Doha and permanent representative-designate to the UN, told Arab News on Monday.

“The invitation for the delegation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in this exhibition means that the world understands the reality of Afghanistan and accepts it … and wants to interact with the IEA … and I think this is part of the process of engagement.”

The Taliban seized power in August 2021 after two decades of war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans. With most nations having closed their embassies in Kabul following the group’s return to power, the new rulers remained officially unrecognized by any country.

The Taliban government has hosted several meetings with other countries in the hopes of improving ties and gaining formal recognition, including talks hosted by interim Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi in late January that were attended by officials from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia.

“They will also hold meetings with top Qatari officials and participants from other countries to discuss and have talks on various topics,” Shaheen said.

Though maritime security may not be top of the agenda for Taliban officials, the event in Qatar offers opportunities to interact with the wider international community on other issues, said Abdul Waheed Waheed, an international relations expert based in Kabul.

“Afghanistan may not have military products to showcase and does not have maritime security (concerns), but the Afghan delegates participation at the exhibition in Qatar can still achieve significant outcomes by leveraging the event for networking, diplomatic outcomes, investment attraction, promoting their own military assets, and fostering peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region,” Waheed told Arab News.

“The ongoing defense exhibition in Qatar provides a valuable platform for the Afghan delegation to engage with global defense stakeholders.”


As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability

As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability
Updated 04 March 2024
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As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability

As Biden prepares to address the nation, more than 6 in 10 US adults doubt his mental capability
  • Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president
  • Nearly 57 percent Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021

WASHINGTON: A poll finds that a growing share of US adults doubt that 81-year-old President Joe Biden has the memory and acuity for the job, turning his coming State of the Union address into something of a real-time audition for a second term.
Roughly 6 in 10 say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That’s a slight increase from January 2022, when about half of those polled expressed similar concerns.
By the same token, nearly 6 in 10 also say they lack confidence in the mental capability of former President Donald Trump, the 77-year-old Republican front-runner.
For many voters, this year’s election looks like a showdown for the world’s toughest job between two men who are well beyond the standard retirement age. The next president will probably need to steer through global conflicts, fix domestic emergencies and work with a dysfunctional Congress.
Biden is likely to address those challenges and more in his State of the Union address on Thursday as he tries to convince Americans that he deserves another term.
Going into the big event, just 38 percent of US adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, while 61 percent disapprove. Democrats (74 percent) are much likelier than independents (20 percent) and Republicans (6 percent) to favor his performance. But there’s broad discontent on the way Biden is handling a variety of issues, including the economy, immigration and foreign policy.
About 4 in 10 Americans approve of the way Biden is handling each of these issues: health care, climate change, abortion policy and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But people are less satisfied by Biden’s handling of immigration (29 percent), the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians (31 percent) and the economy (34 percent) — all of which are likely to come up in the speech before a joint session of Congress.
Nearly 6 in 10 (57 percent) Americans think the national economy is somewhat or much worse off than before Biden took office in 2021. Only 3 in 10 adults say it’s better under his leadership. Still, people are more optimistic about the state of their own bank accounts: 54 percent say their personal finances are good.
Many respondents to the survey were deeply pessimistic about their likely choices in November because of age and the risk of cognitive decline.
Paul Miller, himself 84, said Biden is just too old — and so is Trump.
“He doesn’t seem to have the mental whatever to be a president,” Miller said of Biden. He added that Trump is “too old, too, and half crazy.”
The retiree from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said he voted for Trump in 2020 but he wouldn’t do so again.
“I don’t think I’m going to vote for either one of them,” he said. “I hope somebody else is available.”
The president faces added pressure about his age after unflattering descriptions of him contained in a special counsel’s report that did not recommend criminal prosecution of Biden for his mishandling of classified records, unlike Trump who was indicted for keeping classified material in his Florida home. The report said that Biden’s memory was “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor” and had “significant limitations.”
Biden has tried to deflect concerns by joking about his age and taking jabs at Trump’s own gaffes. Yet the president’s age is a liability that has overshadowed his policy achievements on infrastructure, manufacturing and addressing climate change.
About one-third of Democrats said they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability in the new survey, up from 14 percent in January 2022. Only 40 percent of Democrats said they’re extremely or very confident in Biden’s mental abilities, with approximately 3 in 10 saying they’re “somewhat” confident.
And in a major risk for Biden, independents are much more likely to say that they lack confidence in his mental abilities (80 percent) compared with Trump’s (56 percent).
Republicans are generally more comfortable with Trump’s mental capabilities than Democrats are with Biden’s. In the survey, 59 percent of Republicans are extremely or very confident that Trump has the mental abilities to be president. An additional 20 percent are somewhat confident, and 20 percent are not very or not at all confident.
But if there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it’s that the other party’s likely nominee is not mentally up to the task. About 9 in 10 Republicans say Biden lacks the mental capability to serve as president, while a similar share of Democrats say that about Trump.
Part of Biden’s problem is that his policies have yet to break through the daily clutter of life.
Sharon Gallagher, 66, worries about inflation. She voted for Biden in 2020, but believes he has not done enough for the economy. She also feels Trump is a bit too quick to anger. The Sarasota, Florida, resident said she doesn’t have the bandwidth to really judge their policies.
“I don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know,” Gallagher said. “I have grandchildren living with me and I have children’s shows on all day.”
Justin Tjernlund, 40, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, said Biden “seems like he’s mostly still there,” but even if he was in decline he has “a whole army of people to help him do the job.” Trjenlund said he voted for Trump in 2020 and plans to do so again because the Republican is “interesting” and “refreshing.”
Still, because of both candidates’ ages, Greg Olivo, 62, said he plans to focus on Vice President Kamala Harris and whomever Trump, if he’s the nominee, picks for a running mate.
“Keep a close eye on the vice president,” said the machinist from Valley City, Ohio, who voted for Biden in 2020 and would do so again. “Because that person will probably be the president in four years, one way or another.”


Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket

Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket
Updated 04 March 2024
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Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket

Indian train drivers in crash that killed 14 were watching cricket
  • Fatal collision in Andhra Pradesh state took place in October as hosts India played England during World Cup 
  • The men were sacked for negligence after some 50 carriages barrelled on solo for close to two hours

New Delhi: The drivers of a train that missed a signal and plowed into another train, killing 14 people, were distracted because they were watching cricket on a phone, India’s railways minister said Monday.

The fatal collision in Andhra Pradesh state in October took place as hosts India played England during the one-day World Cup.

“The recent case in Andhra Pradesh happened because both the loco-pilot and co-pilot were distracted by the cricket match,” Minister of Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw said, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“Now we are installing systems which can detect any such distraction and make sure that the pilots (train drivers) and the assistant pilots are fully focused on running the train.”

Hundreds of millions of fans in cricket-crazy India tuned in to watch the live broadcast of the World Cup match, which the hosts won.

Separately, officials sacked the station master and three other employees after a runaway freight train traveled 70 kilometers (40 miles) without a driver last month, the Hindustan Times reported.

The men were removed from their posts for negligence after some 50 carriages barrelled on solo for close to two hours.

India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years, the worst in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar state, killing an estimated 800 people.

In June 2023, a three-train collision killed nearly 300 people in Odisha state.

In recent years India has been investing huge sums of money to upgrade the network with modern stations and electronic signalling systems.


Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist

Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist
Updated 04 March 2024
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Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist

Indian police detain three accused of raping Brazilian-Spanish tourist
  • Spanish couple said they were camped out in the open as they could not find hotels nearby 
  • Indian police are searching for four others who were allegedly part of the group that attacked couple

SAO PAULO/BENGALURU/BARCELONA: Indian police have detained three men and are searching for four others accused of attacking two tourists and gang-raping the woman, authorities and the couple said.

Police found the couple, who are Spanish citizens, around 11 p.m. local time (1730 GMT) on Friday on a roadside, looking like they had suffered a beating, Pitamber Singh Kherwar, superintendent of police in Dumka in eastern India, told reporters on Saturday.

He did not give details on the crime or identify the victims, adding the two people told authorities “their modesty had been outraged,” in an incident involving seven men.

The couple, who identified themselves as Vicente and Fernanda to Spanish TV channel Antena 3, said in a video interview on Saturday that the men raped Fernanda and hit Vicente repeatedly.

The couple said they had camped out near the site where they were attacked because they could not find hotels nearby.

“They raped me, they took turns while some watched and they stayed like that for about two hours,” Fernanda, who has joint Brazilian-Spanish nationality, said in the interview.

Earlier this weekend, the couple published a video describing what happened on their joint Instagram account, where they post images of their travels around the world by motorcycle to almost 200,000 followers. The video is no longer available.

In a new video, Vicente and Fernanda, who appears with bruises on her face, thanked their followers for the support.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry said on Sunday it was sending staff to the area and had been in touch with authorities, while its Brazilian counterpart said it had sought contact with the Brazilian citizen through its embassy in New Delhi and was available to give every assist applicable.

Kherwar, the superintendent of police in Dumka, said on Saturday one of the people detained had given the authorities names of other people involved. Kherwar added that a forensic science laboratory was helping in the case.
 


The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats

The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats
Updated 04 March 2024
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The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats

The US and South Korea begin large military drills to boost readiness against North’s threats
  • North Korea had no immediate response to the major annual drills it regards as a rehearsal for invasion

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea and the United States began large annual military exercises Monday to bolster their readiness against North Korean nuclear threats after the North raised animosities with an extension of missile tests and belligerent rhetoric earlier this year.
The South Korean and US forces began a computer-simulated command post training called the Freedom Shield exercise and a variety of field exercises for an 11-day run, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
North Korea had no immediate response to the major annual drills it regards as a rehearsal for invasion. The North has staged provocative weapons tests in the past in reaction to its adversaries’ joint drills.
South Korea’s military said last week that it would conduct 48 field exercises with the US forces this spring, twice the number conducted last year, and that they would involve live-firing, bombing, air assault and missile interception drills.
Since early 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 rounds of missile tests to modernize its arsenal as talks with the United States and South Korea have been stalled for an extended period. In response, the United States and South Korea have expanded their training exercises and increased the deployment of powerful USmilitary assets such as aircraft carriers and long-range nuclear-capable bombers.
This year, North Korea carried out six rounds of missile tests and barrage of artillery firing drills. Its leader Kim Jong Un also said North Korea would scrap its long-standing goal of peaceful unification with South Korea and take a more aggressive military posture along the disputed sea boundary with South Korea. He also vowed to “annihilate” South Korea and the United States if provoked, a threat that he had previously issued.
The North Korean steps raised worries that it might make provocations along the tense Korean sea and land borders. But experts say the prospect for a full-blown attack by North Korea is dim as the North knows its military is outmatched by US and South Korean forces.
North Korea’s moves to raise tensions are likely related to upcoming elections planned by its rivals: the US presidential election in November and South Korea’s parliament election in April. North Korea believes an advanced nuclear arsenal will increase its leverage in future diplomacy and it can win concessions like the easing of international sanctions, experts say.