US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
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In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs, the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar is seen in the southern Red Sea near the Bay Al-Mandab Strait leaking oil after an attack by Yemen's Houthi militia on Feb. 20, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
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In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs, the Belize-flagged bulk carrier Rubymar is seen in the southern Red Sea near the Bay Al-Mandab Strait leaking oil after an attack by Yemen's Houthi militia on Feb. 20, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Updated 24 February 2024
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US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels
  • The Belize-flagged Rubymar was damaged Sunday by a missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels
  • It was transporting 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, says Roy Khoury, the CEO of Blue Fleet CEO

WASHINGTON: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels is taking on water and has left a huge oil slick, in an environmental disaster that US Central Command said Friday could get worse.

Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in a Sunday missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury told AFP.
CENTCOM said the ship is anchored but slowly taking on water and has left an 18 mile oil slick.
“The M/V Rubymar was transporting over 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, which could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster,” it said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The ship’s operator said Thursday the ship could be towed to Djibouti this week.
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury had said there was “no risk for now, but always a possibility.”
The attack on the Rubymar represents the most significant damage yet to be inflicted on a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.
 


Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services

Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services
Updated 2 min 53 sec ago
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Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services

Pakistan holds by-polls in 21 constituencies amid partial suspension of cellular services
  • Polling is being held on seats vacated by candidates or in constituencies where election had been postponed in Feb.
  • Jailed ex-PM Khan’s party terms the mobile service shutdown ‘illegal, unconstitutional and a plan to rig the results’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is holding by-elections on 21 national and provincial seats today, Sunday, amid suspension of mobile phone networks in parts of Punjab and Balochistan provinces.

The by-polls are the first major electoral exercise since the Feb. 8 national election in Pakistan, which were marred by a nationwide mobile network outage and result delays, leading to accusations that the vote was rigged and drawing concern from rights groups and foreign governments.

Polling began at 8am and will continue till 5pm for five National Assembly seats, 12 Punjab Assembly seats, and two seats each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan assemblies. They were left vacant due to postponement of polls in Feb. or were vacated by lawmakers, who won multiple seats.

On Saturday, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which regulates Internet in the country, said the decision to keep cellular services suspended in specific districts of Punjab and Balochistan on April 21-22 was taken on the directions of the interior ministry.

“This decision has been taken to safeguard the integrity and security of the electoral process,” the regulator said in a statement on Saturday.

The by-polls are likely to witness a fierce competition between candidates backed by jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposition party and rival political groups.

Reacting to the PTA’s announcement on Saturday, the PTI said the suspension of mobile phone services in districts where by-polls were being held was “unconstitutional and illegal.”

“The Internet shutdown is unconstitutional, illegal and shameful, and a plan to rig the results,” it said, urging supporters to come out in large numbers to cast their votes to thwart these plans.

The federal government has authorized the deployment of civil armed forces and Pakistan Army to assist the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in peaceful conduct of by-polls.

In its code of conduct, the ECP said troops should not respond on their own to “an apparent irregularity” outside a polling station and bring the matter to the knowledge of the presiding officer for any necessary legal action.

The security forces were also directed not to “interfere in the counting process in any manner” and perform their duty outside the polling stations diligently, so that the counting process could be completed in a peaceful manner.


Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes

Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes
Updated 9 min 58 sec ago
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Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes

Pakistan revives ‘Safari Tourist Train’ to explore Potohar region’s scenic landscapes
  • Potohar plateau is located north of Pakistan’s Punjab province and west of the Azad Kashmir territory
  • Train’s purpose is to revive tourism and acquaint travelers with railways ancient heritage, says state media

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Railways kicked off the operations of the “Safari Tourist Train” on Sunday, which aims to explore the Potohar region’s scenic landscapes and explore the rich heritage of the country’s railway, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report. 

The Potohar plateau is located in the north of Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province and west of the Azad Kashmir area. The districts of Attock, Jhelum, Chakwal and Rawalpindi constitute the Potohar plateau. 

The train was first launched in February 2021 by then railways minister Azam Khan Swati but due to unexplained reasons, its operations were halted in 2022. 

“The Pakistan Railway is set to breathe new life into tourism with the revival of its iconic ‘Safari Tourist Train,’ in collaboration with private company PK-Unicorn,” APP said. 

The train’s operations commenced from Islamabad’s historic Golra Railway station at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. The train will traverse through Hasan Abdal, Attock, and Attock Khurd Railway stations, the APP said. 

The Pakistan Railways earlier said the tourist train’s purpose is to bolster tourism and acquaint travelers with the railway’s ancient heritage to promote tourism.

The train will pass through the imposing Margallah Hills and the Sangjani tunnel as well as the Chablal Bridge, Haro Bridge, Ghazi Borotha and Attock Khurd bridges, offering tourists a view of the beautiful Potohar landscape. 

Fares for the journey range from Rs 2,000 ($7.20) for the Economy class to Rs 4,500 ($16.20) for a Deluxe package inclusive of meals, the APP said. 


After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today

After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today
Updated 53 min 22 sec ago
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After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today

After emphatic win, Pakistan face New Zealand in third T20I today
  • Pakistan beat New Zealand by seven wickets on Saturday to go 1-0 up in five-match series
  • Fast bowlers Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir shared five wickets to restrict Kiwis to 90 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will lock horns with New Zealand in the third T20 match between the two sides today, Sunday, at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium as both prepare for the upcoming World Cup in June. 

Pakistan will head into the match confident after beating New Zealand convincingly on Saturday night by seven wickets. Pakistan’s fiery pace attack in the form of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir and Naseem Shah shared six wickets between themselves to bowl New Zealand out for a weak 90 within 19 overs. 

“The third T20 of five-match series between Pakistan and New Zealand will be played in Rawalpindi today,” the state-run Radio Pakistan said in a report. “The match will start at 7:30 in the evening.”

Pakistan’s Mohammad Rizwan became the fastest T20 batter to reach 3,000 T20I runs on Saturday after his match-winning knock of 45 against New Zealand. Rizwan achieved the milestone in just 79 innings, beating his skipper Babar Azam and former Indian captain Virat Kohli who achieved the feat in 81 innings. 

Pakistan were off to a shaky start in their run chase, losing the wickets of openers Saim Ayub and Azam cheaply. Ayub scored only four runs from two balls while Azam made 14 from 13 balls before he was stumped off a Michael Bracewell delivery. 

Rizwan and Irfan Khan held their nerves to ensure Pakistan chased the 91-run target in 12.1 overs. 

Afridi was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers, returning figures of 3/13 while Amir, making his comeback to the national squad after nearly four years, bowled impressively to finish at 2/13. Spinners Abrar Ahmed and Shadab Khan returned figures of 2/15 each while pacer Shah ended up with 1/27. 

Both teams are preparing for the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in June in the United States and the West Indies.

New Zealand are missing a host of their top players due to playing in the ongoing Indian Premier League, unavailability and injuries.

The remaining matches are in Rawalpindi on Sunday followed by the last two in Lahore on April 25 and 27.

Squads:

Pakistan — Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohmmad Amir, Muhammad Irfan Khan, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan and Zaman Khan

New Zealand — Michael Bracewell (captian), Tom Blundell, Mark Chapman, Josh Clarkson, Jacob Duffy, Dean Foxcroft, Ben Lister, Cole McConchie, Jimmy Neesham, Will O’Rourke, Tim Robinson, Ben Sears, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi and Zak Foulkes.


Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?
Updated 21 April 2024
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Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?

Biden avoids further Mideast spiral as Iran, Israel show restraint but for how long?
  • Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Iran and Syria this week caused little damage
  • Middle East remains a delicate situation for Biden as he gears up for re-election 

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran’s unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.
Iran’s public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.
The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.
Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.
But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.
“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we’re seeing voter appraisals of President Biden’s handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”
Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration’s backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.
The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as the House on Saturday approved $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, pushed the package forward after months of delay as he faced the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank. The legislation now awaits a vote in the Senate. The new money would provide a surge of weaponry to the front lines, giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.
Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.
But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to the US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Republicans have criticized Biden’s unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.
GOP critics have sought to connect Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”
Polling suggests Americans’ concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden’s pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.
About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.
Further, about 47 percent of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47 percent said the same about Trump.
Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.
Now, Biden finds himself dealing with the uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.
With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticizes the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.
After Israel’s carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides’ risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other’s territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”
Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It’s an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.
CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for “standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”
At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden’s concerns about Israel’s plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.
Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.
“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”


Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 

Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 
Updated 21 April 2024
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Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 

Pakistan beats India 2-1 in Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai 
  • Pakistan’s Shahzaib Rind beats India’s Rana Singh to seal the win 2-1 
  • Karate Combat hosts bouts between skilled fighters from various countriesHANK

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan edged India out 2-1 in the Karate Combat 45 competition in Dubai on Saturday night, with an “unstoppable” Shahzaib Rind convincingly beating India’s Rana Singh to seal the win. 

Karate Combat is a professional martial arts league featuring full-contact karate bouts. Karate Combat hosts events around the world, showcasing bouts between skilled fighters from different weight classes and countries. 

The match between the two countries was decided in the final round after Pakistan’s Rizwan Ali and India’s Himanshu Kaushik won the first and second competition of the match, respectively. 

“Shahzaib Rind is just unstoppable inside the pit!” Karate Combat wrote on social media platform X. “Pakistan beats India 2-1 with this victory.”

The competition began with Ali facing India’s Pawan Gupta. The bout was a one-sided one, with Ali knocking out Gupta soon earlier on and ending the match in Pakistan’s favor. 

India then leveled the match when its fighter Himanshu Kaushik overcame Pakistan’s Faizan Khan in the second fixture, making it 1-1 before Rind delivered decisive blows to Singh to seal the victory for Pakistan 2-1. 

The fixture between India and Pakistan was a much-awaited one, especially due to the pre-match hype between fighters of the two countries. 

At a pre-match news conference on Friday, Rind slapped Singh before both were separated by their team members. The video of the altercation went viral on social media.