First Bangladeshi women blaze a trail to become firefighters

First Bangladeshi women blaze a trail to become firefighters
Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, right, visits Bangladesh’s first batch of female firefighters at a training center in Maripur near Dhaka on Dec. 7, 2023. (Fire Service and Civil Defense Directorate)
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Updated 12 December 2023
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First Bangladeshi women blaze a trail to become firefighters

First Bangladeshi women blaze a trail to become firefighters
  • Bangladesh Fire Service and Civil Defence hired 15 women last month
  • Fire department plans to increase recruitment of women in coming years

DHAKA: Women firefighters have joined the Bangladesh Fire Service for the first time in the organization’s history, breaking a taboo over female employment in traditionally male-dominated workplaces.

Out of nearly 3,000 applicants, 15 women were selected to train as firefighters, passing exams as well as physical screening. They are now undergoing the same seven-month exercise regime as their male counterparts at an FSCD center in Mirpur.

“There is no concession in terms of training. Starting from fire extinguishing, they will receive training in physical fitness, mental fitness and so on. They will be prepared to face every situation,” Mohammad Wahidul Islam, director of the FSCD Directorate, told Arab News.

While more women have been admitted to Bangladesh’s uniformed services over the past decade, until now they could not seek careers in the fire department.

“We started to include female personnel in our fire service department for the first time in history,” Islam said.

“This year, we recruited 15 female firefighters, and there are plans to recruit more in the coming years ... We believe this will strengthen the capabilities of our department.”

Maimuna Akter from Jhenaidah, southwestern Bangladesh, completed her higher secondary course in commerce this year, but social work has always appealed to her more as it was a path taken by her mother.

“My mother was a village health worker who dedicated herself to the people’s well-being. Seeing my mother, I decided to engage myself in some profession where I could serve people directly. The fire service department is such a platform where I can be relied on during emergency situations,” the 21-year-old said.

She faced discouragement from her local community for wanting to follow a traditionally male profession, but those closest to her have always had her back.

“My family was always very supportive. Today, I am here because of my mother’s support,” Akter said.

Bangladesh has a devastating record of industrial accidents, including factories catching fire with workers trapped inside. The victims are often women.

“Sometimes, women don’t feel comfortable being rescued by male firefighters. In such situations, I will do my best to rescue distressed women. My job is not only limited to fire extinguishing. Rescue is also an important part of my job,” said Priyanka Halder, a 22-year-old history student from Meherpur who also joined the fire service last month.

“I feel very proud that I joined as a female firefighter, and I consider it one of the best platforms to grow my career.”

She has been engaged in social work since childhood.

I worked as a campaigner against child marriage and for removing gender inequality. I always dreamt of dedicating myself to serving the nation in such a profession from where I can serve the people staying very close,” she said.

“During school, we used to recite the oath: ‘Almighty, please give me strength so that I can dedicate myself to serve the country.’ This line inspired me a lot.”


US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea

US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea
Updated 8 sec ago
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US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea

US renews warning it’s obligated to defend the Philippines after its new clash with China at sea
  • China and the Philippines blame each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal
  • Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 370km from the nearest Philippines coast
MANILA: The United States renewed a warning Tuesday that it’s obligated to defend its close treaty ally a day after Filipino navy personnel were injured and their supply boats damaged in one of the most serious confrontations between the Philippines and China in a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, officials said.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for instigating Monday’s hostilities in the Second Thomas Shoal, which has been occupied by a small Filipino navy contingent aboard a grounded warship that’s been closely watched by Chinese coast guard, navy and suspected militia ships in a yearslong territorial standoff. There is fear the disputes, long regarded as an Asian flashpoint, could escalate and pit the United States and China in a larger conflict.
US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed China’s actions with Philippine counterpart, Maria Theresa Lazaro, in a telephone call. Both agreed that China’s “dangerous actions threatened regional peace and stability,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
Campbell reaffirmed that the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which obligates Washington and Manila to help defend the other in major conflicts, “extends to armed attacks on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – anywhere in the South China Sea,” according to Miller.
A Philippine government task force overseeing the territorial disputes condemned what it said were “dangerous maneuvers, including ramming and towing,” which disrupted a routine effort to transport food, water and other supplies to the Filipinos manning the territorial outpost aboard the BRP Sierra Madre at the shoal.
“Despite the illegal, aggressive, and reckless actions by the Chinese maritime forces, our personnel showed restraint and professionalism, refrained from escalating the tension, and carried on with their mission,” the Philippine task force said without elaborating. “Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats in blatant violation of international law.”
The Chinese coast guard said the Philippines “is entirely responsible for this.” It said a Philippine vessel “ignored China’s repeated solemn warnings … and dangerously approached a Chinese vessel in normal navigation in an unprofessional manner, resulting in a collision.”
Two speedboats — attempting to deliver construction materials and other supplies to a military vessel stationed at the shoal — accompanied the supply ship, according to China’s Foreign Ministry, which described its coast guard’s maneuver as “professional, restrained, reasonable and lawful.”
Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said Monday night that his country’s armed forces would resist “China’s dangerous and reckless behavior,” which “contravenes their statements of good faith and decency.”
“We will exert our utmost in order to fulfill our sworn mandate to protect our territorial integrity, sovereignty, and sovereign rights,” Teodoro said. “It should now be clear to the international community that China’s actions are the true obstacles to peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Several incidents have happened in recent months near the shoal which lies less than 370 kilometers from the nearest Philippines coast and where it maintains the Sierra Madre, which had become encrusted with rust since it was deliberately grounded in 1999 but remains an actively commissioned military vessel, meaning an attack on it could be considered by the Philippines as an act of war.
China has increasingly become assertive in pressing its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, which has led to a rising number of direct conflicts with other countries in the region, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
A new law by China, which took effect Saturday, authorizes its coast guard to seize foreign ships “that illegally enter China’s territorial waters” and to detain foreign crews for up to 60 days. The law renewed a reference to 2021 legislation that says China’s coast guard can fire upon foreign ships if necessary.
At least three coastal governments with claims to the waters — the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan — have said they would not recognize the law. Malaysia and Brunei are also involved in the long-seething territorial disputes, which are regarded as a delicate fault line in the longstanding US-China rivalry in the region.

India to probe railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens

India to probe railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens
Updated 10 min 14 sec ago
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India to probe railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens

India to probe railway collision that killed nine, injured dozens
  • Death toll revised down to nine from 15 after Monday’s accident in the state of West Bengal
  • Freight train driver disregarded a signal, leading to the crash with the Kanchanjunga Express, which had halted near a railway station

KOLKATA, India: India will launch an investigation on Tuesday into a train collision that killed nine people in the state of West Bengal and injured more than 50, a day after a top railway official blamed the incident on driver error.

The death toll was revised down to nine from 15 after Monday’s accident, in which a freight train rammed into a passenger train heading for the state capital of Kolkata from the northeastern state of Tripura.

The investigation by India’s top railway safety official will start on Tuesday, Chetan Kumar Shrivastava, general manager of the Northeast Frontier railway, where the accident happened, told Reuters.

“The inquiry will involve eye-witness accounts, scrutiny of official documents and statements from railway officials, regarding signaling and other mandatory safety issues,” he added.

On Monday, India’s top railway official said the driver of the freight train, who was among the dead, disregarded a signal, leading to the crash with the Kanchanjunga Express, which had halted near a railway station in the district of Darjeeling.

There were 1,400 people aboard, a railway spokesperson said.

But media said an automatic signaling system had not been working from Monday morning, prompting authorities to advise train drivers to proceed slower than usual, in a process known as “paper signals.”

India’s opposition leaders criticized the railway safety record of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, attributing it to negligence.

The incident came a little over a year after about 288 people were killed in one of India’s worst rail crashes in the neighboring state of Odisha, caused by a signaling error.

State-run Indian Railways, notorious for overcrowding, is the world’s fourth largest train network, carrying 13 million people a day, along with nearly 1.5 billion tons of freight in 2022.

In remarks to media on Monday, top railway official Jaya Varma Sinha, who chairs India’s railway board, called for human error to be reduced, adding that an anti-collision system was being set up nationwide.

Partial services resumed on the affected tracks on Tuesday, with some trains diverted and others running slower than usual, railway officials said.


South Korea orders doctors to return to work amid prolonged strike

South Korea orders doctors to return to work amid prolonged strike
Updated 32 min 15 sec ago
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South Korea orders doctors to return to work amid prolonged strike

South Korea orders doctors to return to work amid prolonged strike
  • Around four percent of some 36,000 private clinics have notified the government of plans to be closed on Tuesday to take part in the protest
  • The government previously issued a return-to-work order to striking trainee doctors before withdrawing it earlier this month

SEOUL: The South Korean government issued a return-to-work order for private practitioners on Tuesday as more doctors including medical professors join the months-long strike to protest increasing medical school admissions.
Around four percent of some 36,000 private clinics have notified the government of plans to be closed on Tuesday to take part in the protest, Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong said.
“To minimize the medical gap, the return-to-work order will be issued at 9 a.m. today,” Cho told a briefing.
The government previously issued a return-to-work order to striking trainee doctors before withdrawing it earlier this month as an olive branch.
Under the law, doctors defying the return-to-work order can face suspension of their licenses or other legal repercussions.
President Yoon Suk Yeol said the doctors’ strike was “regretful and disappointing.”
“(The government) has no choice but to sternly deal with the illegal acts neglecting patients,” Yoon said during a cabinet meeting, while offering to work together if the doctors return to work.
The Korea Medical Association, a critic of the government’s reforms, was leading Tuesday’s strike. The group also staged a protest in Seoul on the same day, calling for reconsideration of increasing medical school admissions.
“The government should respect...all doctors in this land as life-saving experts, not slaves, and listen to their voices,” Association President Lim Hyun-taek said.
At least some 10,000 people showed up for the protest, according to a Reuters witness, with protesters wearing a makeshift hat saying: “Prevent medical collapse.”
According to a survey by local pollster nownsurvey conducted last week, nearly eight in 10 South Koreans oppose the doctors’ strike.
Some doctors and medical staff have openly criticized the collective action in response to the government’s push for an increase in medical school admissions to address the shortage of doctors in the country.
Others have argued that increasing the number of doctors alone will do little to shore up essential services and rural areas grappling with a deepening shortage of doctors.
More than half of medical professors at Seoul National University hospitals on Monday went on indefinite strike, the Yonhap news agency reported.


11 dead as boats carrying migrants from Pakistan, other countries sink off Italy’s shores

11 dead as boats carrying migrants from Pakistan, other countries sink off Italy’s shores
Updated 25 min 34 sec ago
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11 dead as boats carrying migrants from Pakistan, other countries sink off Italy’s shores

11 dead as boats carrying migrants from Pakistan, other countries sink off Italy’s shores
  •  Sixty reported missing in two migrant shipwrecks off Italy’s southern shores, officials say
  • UN refugee agency says boats carried migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria

ROME: Eleven people died and more than 60 were missing, including 26 children, following two migrant shipwrecks off Italy’s southern shores, aid groups, coast guard officials and UN agencies said on Monday.

German aid group RESQSHIP, which operates the Nadir rescue boat, said it picked up 51 people from a sinking wooden boat, including two who were unconscious, and found 10 bodies trapped in the lower deck of the vessel.
Survivors were handed over to the Italian coast guard and taken ashore on Monday morning, while the Nadir was making its way to the Italian island of Lampedusa, towing the wooden boat with the deceased, the charity said.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and UN children’s agency UNICEF said in a joint statement the boat had set off from Libya, carrying migrants from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The second shipwreck took place about 200 km (125 miles) east of the Italian region of Calabria, as a boat that had set off from Turkiye caught fire and overturned, the agencies said.
They said 64 people were missing at sea, while 11 were rescued and taken ashore by the Italian coast guard, along with the body of a woman.
Shakilla Mohammadi, a staffer of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity, said she heard from survivors that 66 people were unaccounted for, including at least 26 children, some only a few months old.
“Entire families from Afghanistan are presumed dead. They left from Turkiye eight days ago and had taken in water for three or four days. They told us they had no life vests and some vessels did not stop to help them,” she said in a statement.
The UN agencies said migrants from the second shipwreck came from Iran, Syria and Iraq.
The incidents confirmed the central Mediterranean’s reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes. According to UN data, more than 23,500 migrants have died or gone missing in its waters since 2014.
UN agencies called on EU governments to step up Mediterranean search and rescue efforts and expand legal and safe migration channels, so that migrants “are not forced to risk their lives at sea.”
Earlier this month 11 bodies were recovered from the sea off the coast of Libya, while last year another migrant boat that had set off from Turkiye smashed into rocks just off the town of Cutro in Calabria, killing at least 94 people.


Taiwan keeping watch after Chinese submarine surfaces in Taiwan Strait

Taiwan keeping watch after Chinese submarine surfaces in Taiwan Strait
Updated 18 June 2024
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Taiwan keeping watch after Chinese submarine surfaces in Taiwan Strait

Taiwan keeping watch after Chinese submarine surfaces in Taiwan Strait
  • The narrow strait that separates Taiwan from China is a frequent source of tension
  • Published pictures of the surfaced craft appears to be a nuclear-armed Jin class ballistic missile submarine

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense minister said on Tuesday that they have a “grasp” of the situation after pictures appeared online of a Chinese nuclear submarine surfacing in the sensitive Taiwan Strait near Taiwanese fishermen.
The narrow strait that separates Taiwan from China is a frequent source of tension. Taiwan reports Chinese warplanes and warships operating there on a daily basis, as Beijing seeks to assert its sovereignty claims against the democratically governed island.
Taiwanese media published the pictures of the surfaced craft, which appears to be a nuclear-armed Jin class ballistic missile submarine, taken by a Taiwanese fishing boat in the strait as dawn broke on Tuesday, about 200 km (125 miles) from Taiwan’s western coast.
Asked about the submarine, Taiwan Defense Minister Wellington Koo said they have a “grasp” of the intelligence situation, but declined to say how they were monitoring it or give details.
China’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nuclear-powered submarines can operate underwater for months at a time, and ballistic-missile boats’ secretive mission means they rarely surface.
A security source familiar with the situation said that the submarine was most likely returning to its home port in Qingdao from the South China Sea. The source said Tuesday’s incident might have been because it experienced a malfunction and was forced to surface.
The source spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
Military experts say the strategic waters off Taiwan’s southwestern shores, where the largely shallow Taiwan Strait descends in depth, provide submarines a location for an ambush, making it a hot spot for militaries including China, Taiwan and the United States.
Ballistic missile submarines are not designed to attack ships, but to launch ballistic missiles at targets on land.
Taiwan’s fleet of P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft are based at the Pingtung air base in southern Taiwan, giving easy access to the southern part of the strait.
Taiwan has complained in recent years that China has been using so-called grey zone warfare designed to exhaust a foe without resorting to open combat, such as flying surveillance balloons over the island.
“We must be fully alert to China’s continued military harassment and grey zone threats and must always understand China’s constant salami-slicing attempts to unilaterally change the status quo,” Koo said.
“We must be alert at all times, but not panic nor be apathetic, and calmly deal with the situation in the strait,” he added. “We won’t be the one provoking, and call on China not to be a troublemaker.”
Taiwan detected 20 Chinese military planes and seven vessels around the island in the past 24 hours, Taiwan’s defense ministry said in its daily report on Chinese military activities on Tuesday morning.