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Australia to return ‘stolen’ art to India

India|: Sydney: Australia will return 14 artworks to India, including at least six believed to have been stolen or illegally exported, the National Gallery announced Thursday. The Canberra gallery identified the works - which include sculptures, photographs and a scroll - as either stolen, looted or of unknown origin. The collection is composed largely of “religious and cultural artefacts” worth a total of about US$2.2 million, including some dating back to the 12th century. Gallery director Nick Mitzevich told AFP the works were set to be returned to the Indian government within months. This undated handout picture released by the National Gallery of Australia shows the Arch for a Jain shrine and seated Jina from the Mount Abu region in Rajasthan, India from the 11th-12th century. Australia will return 14 artworks to India, including at least six believed to have been stolen or illegally exported. Image Credit: AFP “It’s a relief that they can be returned to the Indian people, and it’s a resolution for the National Gallery to close a very difficult chapter of our history,” he said. Thirteen of the works are connected to alleged trafficker Subhash Kapoor, a former Manhattan art dealer who was the subject of a massive US federal investigation known as Operation Hidden Idol. Kapoor, who is awaiting trial, denies all charges. The National Gallery of Australia has already returned several other works it acquired via Kapoor, including a US$5 million bronze statue of the Hindu deity Shiva that had been stolen from a Tamil Nadu temple. Mitzevich said it had introduced guidelines to assess any legal and ethical issues with works it holds, and was investigating three other sculptures from its Asia collection. “It’s very much a live issue with galleries around the world. And we want to make sure that we can resolve these issues in a timely manner,” he said. Many of the antiquities Kapoor dealt in dated back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when the Chola dynasty presided over a flourishing of Hindu art in Tamil Nadu. Since his arrest in 2011, the United States has also returned hundreds of artefacts.

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Double tax and bandits on the Pakistan-Afghan trade route

Pakistan|Business|: Chaman, Pakistan: The Taliban’s capture of a key Afghan-Pakistan border post has sent trucking costs soaring, with insurgents and government officials separately taxing traders, and bandits demanding bribes to allow safe passage of goods. Thousands of vehicles cross daily from Chaman in southwestern Pakistan to Spin Boldak on the other side, carrying goods destined for Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city. On the way back they usually ferry agricultural produce bound for Pakistan’s markets or ports. The bilateral trade - worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year if not more - ground to a halt earlier this month after the Taliban seized the dusty border town, but resumed this week with the insurgents seemingly firmly in charge. They have captured a vast swath of the country since early May after launching a series of offensives to capitalise on the final stages of the withdrawal of foreign troops. While they have not yet taken any provincial capitals, they have captured a string of key border posts - with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan - which provide vital revenue from customs duties on goods arriving in the landlocked country. “We loaded grapes in Kandahar and on the way we have been extorted at least three times,” trucker Hidayatullah Khan said at Chaman. “Sometimes they charge 3,000 rupees ($20), somewhere else 2,000 rupees, and in some other place 1,000 rupees,” he said. That was on top of the taxes he had to pay Taliban officials in Spin Boldak and Afghan government customs officials who have opened shop in Kandahar. Stranded people wait for the reopening of border crossing point in the Pakistan's border town of Chaman on July 16, 2021, following clashes between Afghan forces and Taliban fighters in Spin Boldak to retake the key border crossing with Pakistan. Image Credit: AFP Chaos and confusion Truckers interviewed in Chaman this week told of chaos and confusion on the Afghan side of the border. Imran Kakar, vice-president of the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce, gave one example of a truck carrying fabric from Karachi destined for Kandahar. The Taliban charged the driver 150,000 rupees (about $1,000) as duty in Spin Boldak, but when the vehicle reached Kandahar government officials were also waiting. “We had to pay even higher customs duties as they don’t acknowledge the payments made to Taliban,” said Kakar. The scenes were reminiscent of Afghanistan during its brutal civil war in the 1990s, when a patchwork of militias held stretches of key trade routes and extorted truckers and residents using the roads at will. Hundreds of trucks were lined up Wednesday on the Pakistan side of the border, waiting for permission to cross. On a dusty plain this week, with rugged hillocks as a backdrop, drivers and “spanner boy” apprentices tinkered with their vehicles ahead of the journey. While the distance is just 100 kilometres, the journey is fraught with danger. Vehicles and roads are poorly maintained in Afghanistan, police and army checkpoints routinely demand “tea money” or more from every driver, and bandits also lie in wait - either to steal goods or demand further payment for safe passage. There is also the risk they could be caught in crossfire during fighting between the Taliban and government forces. Still, traders and drivers say they have little option but to keep on trucking. “War has been going on, we know that, but we don’t have any other choice,” said Abdul Razzaq, a driver carrying hatchling chicks to Kandahar. “Transportation of goods is the only means for us to feed our families,” he told AFP.

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England scraps COVID-19 quarantine for fully vaccinated EU, US visitors

Europe|: London: England will allow fully vaccinated visitors from the European Union and United States to arrive without needing to quarantine from next week, in a huge and long-awaited boost for airlines and travel companies. Britain’s travel industry has criticised the government for being too slow to open up, saying it has squandered its lead in the global vaccine rollout and given the EU a headstart in attracting tourists. Now, from Aug. 2, travellers with US and EU-approved vaccines will not have to quarantine. Lifting the same requirement for fully vaccinated Britons returning from medium-risk countries in July helped to kickstart a travel recovery. The new rule applies to England, and devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales said they would follow suit. The UK government said international cruise sailings could also restart from England. Airlines, such as British Airways, and Britain’s biggest airport Heathrow, weighed down by cumulative pandemic losses of $4 billion, welcomed the move but said more was needed if the industry was to recover from the collapse in demand. Top of the list is a reopening of the UK-US travel corridor which is still affected by a ban on all non-US citizens who have been in Britain. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told LBC Radio earlier on Wednesday that he wanted US citizens to come to England “freely” and was discussing making changes. COVID-19 test Travellers also still have to take an expensive COVID-19 test before departure and shortly after arrival in England. BA Chief Executive Sean Doyle said the company’s trials had proved it could check travellers for vaccination status quickly and safely. “This step will allow us to reunite loved ones and get Global Britain back in business, giving the economy the vital boost it so badly needs,” he said in a statement. Changing the quarantine rules for the United States and EU will ease access to some of Britain’s biggest markets for visitor volumes. It will also help companies drum up business after the severe financial strain of 16 months of pandemic-linked restrictions. In response to the announcement, United Airlines said it would lay on extra flights to London. Shares in British Airways were up 3% while easyJet rose 4% and Wizz Air jumped 7%. Airlines make nearly all their profits during the summer season and easyJet had said this month that it was directing more flights to Europe where there is more demand. “It’s the right thing, it should be done, but like I said it is little bit too late,” easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren told LBC. The UK government has said it was keeping quarantine rules for travellers from France because of the presence of the Beta variant there, but French officials say the bulk of cases comes from the overseas island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Britain will review the status of travellers from France at the end of next week. French officials have complained about British travel restrictions for France since a last-minute decision to keep them beyond July 19. A lawmaker from President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party called Wednesday’s decision “absurd”. “Quarantine for the fully vaccinated from Lille but not Brussels; Paris but not Miami; Annecy but not Geneva; Montpellier but not Barcelona,” Alexandre Holroyd, whose constituents include French people living in Britain said on Twitter. “Vaccines work: give those who are protected against #covid their freedom back.”

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Disney to require masks again at Florida, California parks

Americas|: Walt Disney Co. is requiring masks to be worn indoors again at its Florida and California theme parks, as the resurgent coronavirus sets back America's push to return to life as normal. Disney, the world's largest theme-park operator, reopened its Florida resorts last year and its California parks in April. It and other resort operators lifted mask requirements for vaccinated guests at the start of the summer as inoculations rose nationally. Now, the more-infectious delta variant is driving a jump in cases at the same time vaccination rates have slowed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance this week to recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with rising cases levels. Starting Friday, all theme park visitors aged 2 and up will be required to wear masks in all indoor locations, regardless of vaccination status, Disney said in an emailed statement. The entertainment giant joins other companies reinstating mask mandates, including Apple Inc., which will require them at most of its U.S. stores for both customers and staff. Read more: Virus Surge Upends Plans for Getting Workers Back to Offices Google on Wednesday said that it will push back its official office return to mid-October and require workers at its campuses to get vaccinated. Lyft Inc. postponed its return date to February, while Twitter Inc. shut its recently reopened offices.

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18 Bihar officials sacked for corruption, assets under scanner

India|: Patna: The Bihar government has suspended 18 officials, including two from the Indian Police Service (IPS), for indulging in large-scale corruption. The action has been taken on the inquiry report of the Economic Offences Unit (EoU) of the state police department. The sacked officials were found to be allegedly not acting responsibly on illegal sand mining, storage and transportation and also assisting the illegal sand mafia. Illegal sand mining had been reported from six districts of south-central Bihar. The action comes barely a fortnight after they were removed from field posting for allegedly helping the sand mafia despite orders from the state government to put a stop to this. “They are being suspended with immediate effect looking at the serious nature of allegations against them,” said a home department order. The state government has also initiated departmental proceedings against these officials, apart from ordering investigation into their properties to know how much illegal property they have amassed in lieu of allowing illegal sand mining to the mafia. According to EoU sources, the sacked officials from the police, mining and Bihar Administrative Services had developed a close nexus with the sand mafia and were found to be in regular touch with them over phone as was evident from the analysis of their mobiles’ Call Detail Records (CDR). According to Mines and Geology Department minister Janak Ram, the illegal sand mining in Sone river which flows through many districts of the state has resulted in Rs70 billion annual loss to the state exchequer. Sand mining in Bihar has been banned since May 1 this year after the company which won mining rights for major quarries fled the scene citing huge losses. Soon the sand mafia got involved in illegal mining in the major riverine areas. The EoU which investigated the case also found use of sophisticated technology by the sand mafias to carry out illegal mining in the major rivers. The officials were stunned when during a recent crackdown, the police seized dozens of high-tech boats fitted with dredging equipment. On Monday night, the police arrested 42 people, mostly labourers, and seized 18 medium and big boats for illegal sand mining in Bhojpur district, a central Bihar district close to Patna. The seized boats were destroyed near the river bank. “They (sand mafias) are exploiting the natural resources mindlessly which is posing serious threat to the river beds, natural flow of water and river species,” Bhojpur district superintendent of police Vinay Tiwari said. The Ministry for Environment and Forests had in July 2019 raised the issue of illegally undertaking sand mining on the riverbeds of Sone river in Bhojpur district saying sand had been excavated at many places by digging up to 50 feet.

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Pakistan PM Imran Khan says remarks on ‘rape victims’ taken out of context

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has dismissed reports attributed to him that he held rape victims responsible for the crime committed against them. “I would never say such a stupid thing,” said Imran Khan in an interview with PBS NewsHour, a popular late night US news programme. “One who commits rape, solely and solely that person is responsible. So let’s be clear about that. No matter how provocative the woman is or whatever she wears, the person who commits rape is fully responsible. Never is the victim responsible,” said PM Khan while replying to a question of the interviewer Judy Woodruff. My comments were deliberately taken completely out of context, said the prime minister while referring to his interview last month with HBO Axios. “More than rape, there are child abuse cases which are going through the roof, so my comments were in that context,” explained Khan. “And I have to say because I know all the interviews I have given. Never would I say such a stupid thing where a person who is raped is somehow responsible. It is always the rapist that is responsible,” said PM Khan. Pakistani women treated with more respect To a question by Woodruff whether because of Islam he was not taking a stronger stance for women, the prime minister said it was absolutely untrue. “Islam gives dignity and respect to women,” he said, adding after traveling all over the world, he found that in the Muslim countries, women were treated with more respect. “In Pakistan, even in other Muslim countries I have seen, women are treated with far more respect and given more dignity,” said Khan. Last month, after an interview with HBO Axios’s Johnathan Swan, PM Imran Khan had come under fire for his remarks on the rising cases of sexual violence in Pakistan. The prime minister spoke on an array of issues during that interview, ranging from military bases; the Afghan peace process, and Pakistan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Legal wrangles hold up US vaccine donations to India

India|: New Delhi: Two months after India dropped local-trial rules for COVID-19 vaccines approved by developed countries, not a single dose has arrived as New Delhi dithers over legal protection sought by companies like Pfizer and Moderna. The United States has in recent weeks donated millions of vaccine doses to countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and South Korea. Supplies to India, however, are stuck pending conclusion of some “legal requirements”, according to the global COVAX vaccine platform through which such doses are routed. India’s drugs regulator gave emergency use authorisation to the Moderna vaccine in June, as the United States readied donations for India. Fellow US companies Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have not formally sought permission for the use of their shots in India. But India has not met requests for granting the manufacturers indemnity from lawsuits. India’s junior health minister told parliament on Tuesday that a team of officials had been formed to engage with the vaccine makers. “This team is in continuous dialogue with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to discuss and address various issues including the issue of indemnity,” Bharati Pravin Pawar said. Pfizer said it was in discussions with authorities to make its vaccine, developed with Germany’s BioNTech, available in India. It declined to share details of the negotiations, citing confidentiality. Moderna and J&J did not respond to requests for comment. India’s health and foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment on the indemnity issue. Vaccine alliance Gavi, which co-leads the COVAX facility, said legal protections for vaccine suppliers were mandatory. “All facility participants must have signed indemnity agreements with the manufacturers in question in order to receive doses through COVAX which would also be true for doses received via bilateral deals,” a Gavi spokesperson said in an email. India is heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII). Bharat Biotech - maker of India’s only approved home-grown shot - is struggling to boost supply. SII has already told the government that any indemnity for foreign vaccine companies should also apply to Indian producers. One government source said Moderna’s Indian partner Cipla had offered to bear some legal responsibilities for the vaccine’s use in the country, but that the proposal had been rejected by the US company. “The government cannot give indemnity to anyone,” the official said, declining be named as the discussions were private and no decisions had been finalised. “The government is saying domestic companies can give indemnity on behalf of their foreign partners.” Cipla declined to comment ahead of its financial results. India has administered 441 million total vaccine doses, the largest of any country after China. But only 10% of its adult population of about 944 million people has been inoculated with both doses, with 47% receiving at least one shot.

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US, India agree to expand multilateral security partnership

India|: New Delhi: The top diplomats of India and the United States pledged Wednesday to expand their multilateral security partnership, underscoring the deepening of ties between two countries concerned over China’s growing influence in the region. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar met in New Delhi and sought to strengthen a regional front against Beijing’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and their cooperation in Afghanistan. They also lauded each country’s help in fighting the coronavirus and said their vaccine partnership is an effort to end the pandemic. “There are few relationships in the world that are more vital than one between the US and India. We are the world’s two leading democracies and our diversity fuels our national strength,” Blinken said at a joint news conference. Washington has made no secret of the US desire for India’s help in isolating China. The two countries have steadily ramped up their military relationship and signed a string of defence deals. Quad alliance The US and India are part of the Quad regional alliance that also includes Japan and Australia and focuses on China’s growing economic and military strength. China has called the Quad an attempt to contain its ambitions. Blinken’s India visit comes just days after the No. 2 US diplomat, Wendy Sherman, was in China. Blinken said he and Jaishankar also discussed regional security issues including Afghanistan, where the US is expected to complete its military withdrawal in August. He called India’s contribution to the stability of Afghanistan “vital.” Blinken said there was no “military solution” to the conflict in Afghanistan and that the country would turn into a “pariah state” if the Taliban takes control by force. “We will continue to work together to sustain the gains of the Afghan people and support regional stability after the withdrawal of coalition forces from the country,” Blinken said. 'Stable Afghanistan' Jaishankar said the world wishes to see an “independent, sovereign, democratic and stable Afghanistan at peace with itself and with its neighbours,” and cautioned that the country’s “independence and sovereignty will only be ensured if it is free from malign influences.” New Delhi has often expressed concern that a Taliban takeover could lead to security threats against India. India has provided Afghan security forces with operational training and military equipment, even though it has had no troops on the ground. It has also provided more than $2 billion in development aid to Afghanistan. In June, India’s foreign ministry said it was in contact with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan to discuss its future. More recently, officials from the two countries have increased mutual visits. “New Delhi is clearly stepping up its game on the Afghanistan front,” said Micheal Kugelman of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Centre. “Its decision to engage more in regional diplomacy on Afghanistan signifies a desire to be more of a player than it has in the past.” In a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later Wednesday, Blinken discussed the pandemic, security and defence cooperation, including Quad, and “shared values and democratic principles,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. Earlier during his visit, Blinken spoke to civil society leaders and said fundamental freedoms and rule of law are “tenets of democracies” like the US and India. “We believe that all people deserve to have a voice in their government, to be treated with respect, no matter who they are,” Blinken said.

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Thailand builds COVID-19 hospital in Bangkok airport amid surge in cases

Asia|: Bangkok: Thai volunteers on Wednesday turned a cargo warehouse at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport into a 1,800-bed field hospital for COVID-19 patients with less severe symptoms, as the country deals with its biggest outbreak to date. The Southeast Asian nation reported a daily record of 16,533 new cases, plus 133 new deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total accumulated cases to 543,361 and 4,397 deaths. Workers drilled walls for toilet installations and set up beds and blankets. “This is a level 1+ field hospital where it can receive a large number of patients, who have less severe symptoms,” Rienthong Nanna, director of Mongkutwattana Hospital, told Reuters. “But if patients’ conditions deteriorate, they will be moved to our other field hospital called Pitak Rachan (Protect the King) Field Hospital,” he added. Rienthong, a retired major-general and an ultra-royalist leader, said the field hospital was not up and running yet as more preparations were needed. The number of infections will continue to climb and more field hospitals will be needed, he added. Rienthong and volunteers held a small ceremony on the occasion of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 69th birthday to unofficially inaugurate their third field hospital named “Tai Rom Prabaramee”, which means “under the glory of His Majesty”. The spike in COVID-19 cases in the capital has put pressure on the city’s health system and the government has faced public criticism over a slow rollout of vaccines. Thailand aims to inoculate 50 million people by the end of the year, but so far only 5.6% of its more than 66 million population are fully vaccinated, while 19.2% have received at least one dose.

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Pakistan: 2 killed as flooding hits parts of Islamabad

Pakistan|: Islamabad: A mother and her son were killed on Wednesday as several areas of Islamabad city were affected by urban flooding after heavy rainfall and cloudburst. Videos shared on social media showed cars in the E-11 neighbourhood being washed downstream amid a torrent of murky water after rainwater flooded the streets. At least 5 vehicles were damaged in the floods. Deputy Commissioner (DC) Islamabad Hamza Shafqaat urged the public to “cooperate and restrict unnecessary movements” as the city administration was busy clearing drains and roads in the affected areas. Army troops and rangers also joined the rescue efforts by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in the main areas as well as suburbs of Islamabad. Talking to Gulf News on Wednesday evening, DC Islamabad said that “all the flooded areas in Islamabad have been cleared now” after the administration spearheaded swift efforts since early morning. Recalling the incident, he said “a mother and her son sadly lost their lives in a private housing society when the rainwater flooded the basement within a minute after the collapse of the wall, however, we have launched an inquiry into the accident”. Some citizens claimed that the flooding in E-11 sector was due to “poor management” of private housing schemes with no emergency preparedness. Capital Development Authority (CDA) launched rescue efforts to clear floodwater in the major areas as well as suburbs of Islamabad. Image Credit: CDA PM asks NDMA to remain on high alert Reacting to the news of flooding, Prime Minister Imran Khan cautioned citizens to take “special care” during the heavy monsoon rains. He also directed National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and all emergency response services to stay “on high alert with ready and rapid emergency response actions.” Record rains Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) spokesman Dr Zaheer Babar told the media that in various parts of Islamabad record-breaking rains were witnessed in the suburbs of Saidpur village and Golra Sharif which received 128mm and 106mm rain respectively during the last 24 hours. “Islamabad and surrounding areas received a heavy downpour of monsoon rainfall during the morning hours from 0500 PST till 0630 PST” the Met Office said. Environmentalists said that urban flooding in Islamabad should serve as a warning for government departments to take swift action and prevent disaster as Pakistan is among countries most vulnerable to climate change. “Flooding due to unprecedented rainfall is due to climate change and it is happening around the globe but what makes Pakistan and other South Asian countries more vulnerable is the lack of preparation, mismanagement, encroachment on both sides of roads and absence of urban planning,” Maryam Shabbir Abbasi, an environmentalist at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Gulf News. “There is no proper system of waste management in Pakistan and the heap of garbage is thrown in the water channels (nullahs) made for the passage of rainwater. The result is what we are witnessing now in the form of urban flooding, destruction and deaths” she said. Last week, at least 15 people were killed and several injured during a spell of heavy rains in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

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Video: Panic as lion strays outside Nairobi National Park

Africa|: Nairobi: A lion caused panic on Wednesday after straying from its habitat in Nairobi National Park into a crowded neighbourhood during morning rush hour south of the Kenyan capital. The young male cat was spotted by panicked residents in a trench behind a concrete wall and some metal sheeting in Ongata Rongai, a residential area that borders the park. The Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) was called to intervene and dispatched rangers and veterinary staff to the scene, where a large crowd had gathered to peer at the animal. "The lion was successfully darted, immobilised and safely transferred to the veterinary facility for observation & collaring before being released back to the park," KWS said in a statement. Some were less than impressed by the unwelcome visitor. "The panic this lion caused was massive because even children delayed going to school and people to work," said Roselyn Wangare, a university student. Jackson Mwangi, a resident of Ongata Rongai, said KWS needed to tighten up security at the park. "At the end of the day it is our safety, the park is not secured well and that is why the animals keep straying," he said. The park is just seven kilometres (four miles) from the heart of Nairobi, and incidents of animals escaping the grassy plains and wandering into the chaotic metropolis of more than four million are not unheard of. In December 2019, a lion mauled a man to death just outside the park, while in March 2016 another cat was shot dead after attacking and injuring a nearby resident. Just a month before that, in February 2016, two lions spent a day wandering through Kibera, a densely packed city slum, before returning to the park, and days later more lions were spotted in town. The park is ringed by electric fencing in parts but is not entirely sealed off, enabling traditional migration by game in search of grazing. Endangered wildlife including lions, leopards, rhinos and buffalos graze in the iconic park against a backdrop of distant skyscrapers. The big cats are under growing pressure as one of Africa's fastest growing cities expands into ancient migration and hunting grounds. Conservationists say lions lived there before people in the area and are not escaping the park nor straying into human settlements, rather people have moved into the lions' habitat.

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Eighteen killed in India as truck slams into overcrowded bus

India|: Lucknow: At least 18 people were killed and 25 injured after a speeding truck rammed into an overcrowded double-decker bus in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh early on Wednesday, a local official said. The incident occurred on a highway near Barabanki in central Uttar Pradesh at around 12:45am, Barabanki Superintendent of Police (SP) Yamuna Prasad said. “The bus was overloaded and had about 150 passengers in it. It was hit by a truck on the highway,” Prasad said. At least 25 people were injured and sent to the state capital of Lucknow for treatment, he said. Media reports said a number of passengers were labourers and that the bus had broken down on the highway before the accident. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed condolences over the deaths on Twitter. The accident took place on the Lucknow-Ayodhya highway under Kotwali Ramsanehighat area. The private bus was carrying over 130 passengers to Bihar from Ludhiana in Punjab, they said. The axle of the bus broke and it was parked on the road when a speeding truck coming from behind hit it, the police said. Some passengers were standing or resting outside the bus and others were sitting inside while waiting for the axle to be repaired when the incident took place, they said. The victims, mostly labourers from Bihar, were returning home after sowing paddy in Punjab and Haryana, the police said. Police rushed to the spot after receiving information about the accident and the rescue operation was carried out with the help of local residents. The injured were rushed to a local hospital and from there those with serious injuries were referred to the trauma centre in Lucknow, Additional Director General of Police, Lucknow Zone, S N Sabat said. It was raining heavily when the accident took place and this posed some problems in the rescue operation, he said. In Lucknow, Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Awanish Awasthi said Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath about the accident and extended his condolences to the families of the deceased. The CM has also expressed his condolences and directed the district magistrate and the superintendent of police of Barabanki to provide the best medical care to the injured and make proper arrangements for taking other passengers of the bus to their destinations, Awasthi said. Narendra Modi has also announced an ex gratia of Rs200,000 each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the families of the deceased. The injured will be given Rs50,000 each. In a tweet, Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) president Mayawati also expressed grief over the deaths in the road accident. - with inputs from PTI