GulfNews World

GulfNews World

Russians celebrate 60 years since Yuri Gagarin's spaceflight

Europe|: Moscow: Russians on Monday celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first manned flight to space carried out by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the Soviet hero remains one of the most admired figures in the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to travel to Engels, a city in the south of the country on the banks of the Volga river, to the site of the cosmonaut's landing where a memorial stands to honour the historic flight. The anniversary of the spaceflight is a "day of national pride" for Russia, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin in the Vostok 1 command capsule. Image Credit: AFP On April 12, 1961, Gagarin's Vostok spacecraft took off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union, as the 27-year-old cosmonaut exclaimed his iconic catchphrase "Let's go!". His flight lasted just 108 minutes, the time it took to complete one loop around the Earth, before returning to home soil. Image Credit: Seyyed de la Llata/Gulf News / Graphic News The legend of the man who rose from humble beginnings to become a Soviet hero lives on today and the day of Gagarin's flight is celebrated every year in Russia as Cosmonautics Day. His now rusty Vostok capsule is on display at Moscow's Museum of Cosmonautics where an exhibition dedicated to Gagarin is set to open on Tuesday. Visitors will be shown documents, photos and personal belongings of Gagarin, some dating back to his childhood and school years. "This is probably the only surname that everyone knows, from four-year-old children to people over 80," Vyacheslav Klimentov, historian and the museum's deputy director of research, told AFP. "I would say that Gagarin's feat, that saw a man go to space for the first time, bonds all Russians together," he added. National pride Gagarin's flight remains a source of national pride in Russia and a symbol of the Soviet Union's dominance in space during that era. Four years before Gagarin, the USSR had already become the first country to send into orbit a satellite, called Sputnik. Sixty years on, Russia continues to frequently send its cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS). On Friday, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, honouring the anniversary of Gagarin's flight, blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome with two Russians and a US astronaut on board. But the anniversary also comes at a difficult time for Russia's space industry, which has suffered a number of setbacks recently, from corruption scandals to an aborted take-off endangering a manned mission in 2018. In this file photo taken on April 12, 1961 The Vostok-1 spaceship blasts off on top of Rocket R-7 from the Baikonur space center with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on board for the first manned trip into space. Image Credit: AFP Russia's ageing Soyuz rockets are reliable and allow Moscow to remain relevant in the modern space industry, but the country is struggling to innovate and keep up with other key players. In a major blow, Russia last year lost its monopoly for manned ISS launches after reusable rockets from Elon Musk's Space X, carrying NASA astronauts, successfully docked at the space station. Together with reduced funding, this could mean hard times for Russia's space agency Roscosmos even though its chief Dmitry Rogozin continues to promise ambitious projects, including a mission to Venus and a station on the Moon.

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Prince Philip death: UK has lost 'grandfather of the nation', Prince Andrew says

Europe|: London: The death of Prince Philip has left a huge void for his wife Queen Elizabeth and Britain has lost its “grandfather”, his son Prince Andrew said on Sunday, as tributes poured in and the royals thanked the public for its support. Andrew joined his siblings Charles, Anne and Edward in saying they had taken strength from the outpouring of affection and would rally around their mother in her time of grief. “You know it’s going to happen but you are never really ready,” Anne said in a statement. Andrew called his father a “remarkable man” after he left a private church service in Windsor, near where Philip died on Friday aged 99. “It’s a great loss,” he said. “I think the way I would put it is we’ve lost almost the grandfather of the nation.” Prince Edward echoed that, saying: “He might have been our father, grandfather, father-in-law but he meant so much to so many other people”. Edward’s wife, Sophie, told well-wishers of Philip’s final moments. “It was right for him. It was so gentle. It was just like somebody took him by the hand and off he went,” she said. “Very, very peaceful. And that’s all you want for somebody isn’t it?” Andrew said of his 94-year-old mother that the queen was stoical in the face of a loss that she had described as “having left a huge void in her life”. Andrew has rarely been seen in public since he stepped down from official duties in 2019 over the controversy surrounding his association with the disgraced late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein. The prayers for Philip at the service in All Saints Chapel in Windsor Great Park west of London echoed church services across the country. At Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed for those who found that the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, as Philip was officially known, had left a “very great gap” in their lives. As part of eight days of national mourning, people gathered outside Windsor Castle and other royal palaces to leave flowers, while religious and political leaders expressed support for the queen, the world’s oldest and longest-reigning monarch. A note attached to a Royal Navy peak cap left amongst flowers at Windsor, a tribute to Philip’s service in the navy, read: “God bless you Sir, you were an example to us all.” Edward Elgar’s stirring Nimrod was played at the Canterbury Cathedral service, the piece of music that accompanies many British funerals and memorial services and is played annually at the Cenotaph in London to mark the National Service of Remembrance. A Greek prince, Philip married Elizabeth in 1947, five years before she ascended to the throne. He helped the monarchy modernise in the post-World War Two period and supported the queen through numerous crises over the years. His funeral will be held next Saturday, with long-established plans redrawn and scaled down because of COVID-19 restrictions. The prince will be given a ceremonial royal funeral rather than a state funeral. There will be no public processions, and it will be held entirely within the grounds of Windsor Castle and limited to 30 mourners. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not attend. Former British Prime Minister John Major, who was in office from 1990 to 1997 and who was guardian to Princes William and Harry after their mother Diana died, said he hoped the funeral would help reunite the family after it was rocked last month by an interview given by Harry and his wife Meghan to Oprah Winfrey. During the interview, Meghan said her pleas for help while she felt suicidal were ignored and that an unnamed member of the family had asked how dark their unborn child’s skin might be. Harry will return from the United States, where the couple now live, to attend the funeral while Meghan, who is pregnant with their second child, will not, on her doctor’s advice. “The friction that we are told has arisen is a friction better ended as speedily as possible,” Major said.

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COVID-19: England shops and pub gardens reopen in 'major step' to freedom

Europe|: London: England’s shops, hairdressers, gyms and pub gardens will reopen on Monday in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said was a “major step” towards freedom from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have been closed since early January when England entered a third lockdown to stem surging infections driven by the “Kent” variant of the virus. A vaccination campaign that has delivered a first shot to well over half of adults and lockdown measures have cut deaths by more than 95 per cent and cases by over 90 per cent from the January peak. Sunday’s seven deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID test is the lowest daily death toll by this measure since Sept 14. That progress would allow a staged easing of lockdown to proceed, Johnson said earlier this month, adding that he was looking forward to a pint in a pub garden. “I’m sure it will be a huge relief for those business owners who have been closed for so long, and for everyone else it’s a chance to get back to doing some of the things we love and have missed,” he said in a statement on Sunday. “I urge everyone to continue to behave responsibly and remember ‘hands, face, space and fresh air’ to suppress COVID as we push on with our vaccination programme.” With more than 127,000 fatalities, the United Kingdom has the fifth highest death toll in the world from COVID-19. Persuading people to return to some kind of normality and start spending again is key to Britain’s recovery after official data last month showed that 2020 was the worst year for its economy in more than three centuries. UK retailers, which have lost an estimated 27 billion pounds ($37 billion) in sales during lockdowns, are hoping pent-up demand will fuel a trading boom. Non-essential stores, such as home and fashion chains, will reopen in Wales as well as England on Monday, although those in Scotland need to wait until April 26 Pubs and restaurants will only be able to serve outdoors from Monday, although early rules requiring meals to be served with drinks and curfews have been scrapped. Indoor service will not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest.

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Post-COVID-19 era of hybrid work beckons in UK

Europe|: Nunhead: Consultant Rachel Watson enjoys being based at her home that looks onto the London skyline but misses the office vibe. She will soon get the best of both worlds as Britain's Covid lockdown eases. UK businesses are planning for a hybrid or flexible workplace, splitting time between home and offices when the latest restrictions are finally relaxed in June. Watson worked mostly in London's City finance district, for corporate procurement specialists Proxima, until the Covid-19 pandemic erupted one year ago and turned the area into a ghost town. The 34-year-old Scot now works for Proxima from the apartment she shares with pet beagle Kobe in the south London suburb of Nunhead, six miles (9.6 kilometres) from the office, with a window view of London's Shard skyscraper. "I do enjoy working from home in terms of having more of a work-life balance - being able to spend more time in my community, being able to switch off work and be in your home - and I don't miss the commuting so much," she told AFP from her living room desk. "But I do really enjoy the office and being surrounded by clients and having a real separation between where work is and where home is." She added: "I miss the social side... There's always been a lot going on. We had a really good office vibe before all of this." Hybrid working Surveys indicate that a hybrid or flexible working week, divided between home and office, will be popular among huge numbers of workers. Think-tank Demos found that 65 percent of Britain's working population was forced to switch to either working from home or pause their job. In an update after interviewing 20,000 adults in December, Demos added that 79 percent of people working from home wanted to continue doing so after the lockdown is lifted, either on a part-time or permanent basis. As Britain's vaccination drive quickens, many companies are making preparations to blend home and office working hours with the aim of boosting staff health, morale and productivity. Corporate giants including banking groups HSBC and Nationwide banks, accountants PwC and British Airways are among those eyeing a hybrid approach for office staff. HSBC on Wednesday offered more than 1,200 UK-based call centre employees the chance to work from home permanently. "A hybrid approach to working allows for a better work-life balance," Watson said. Proxima in September rolled out a flexible policy that allows employees to choose how and where they work going forward. 'Aberration' Most office staff followed government advice to work from home during lockdown, although many have struggled in cramped living conditions. US investment banks meanwhile do not appear overly keen on the future of teleworking. Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon labels remote working an "aberration" that does not suit its collaborative culture, while JP Morgan's Jamie Dimon argues it has had a negative effect on productivity. Franco-Russian banker Vladimir Olivier, 30, has returned to his London office for one day a week since February. Before the pandemic, the Societe Generale employee worked five days a week in the office, travelled a lot and met customers. "What I miss is the human contact. You don't do this job... to be locked up in your room all day behind a screen," he told AFP at his home in the eastern borough of Hackney. "I think that what sometimes makes work bearable or enjoyable is the interaction with colleagues and friends from the office." British finance minister Rishi Sunak has urged companies not to abandon offices altogether, amid concerns that retail and hospitality businesses in city centres could collapse as offices remain largely empty. Under the UK government's phased plan to reopen the economy, all social distancing rules will be lifted on June 21 - which could permit the reopening of offices. 'Rewards are clear' Companies though will reap the benefits of a more flexible approach to work, according to business lobby the Confederation of British Industry. "CBI surveys show more than three quarters of companies expect flexible working to remain commonplace," noted its director of people and skills Matthew Percival. "Yet there is a balance to be struck as firms move towards a hybrid model of working. "The rewards are clear; engaged and energised workforces contributing to rising productivity growth," he added. Keith Cuthbertson, finance professor at City University London, agreed. "For large areas of the economy, flexible working can benefit both employers and employee wellbeing - so something good will eventually result from the huge shock to the economy caused by the pandemic."

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Myanmar's post-coup civilian death toll climbs past 700

Asia|: Yangon: A security guard was wounded in a bomb blast outside a military-owned bank in Myanmar's second-biggest city Sunday morning, as the civilian death toll from the junta's brutal crackdown on dissent topped more than 700 at the weekend. The country has been in turmoil since the military removed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1. Myawaddy Bank's biggest branch in Mandalay was targeted on Sunday morning and a security guard was injured in the explosion, according to local media. There was a heavy security presence in the area following the blast. The bank is one of scores of military-controlled businesses that have faced boycott pressure since the coup, with many customers demanding to withdraw their savings. There has been heavy bloodletting in recent days. On Saturday a local monitoring group said security forces gunned down and killed 82 anti-coup protesters the previous day in the city of Bago, 65 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of Yangon. AFP-verified footage shot early Friday showed protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, as explosions were heard in the background. The United Nations office in Myanmar tweeted late Saturday that it was following the bloodshed in Bago, where it said medical treatment had been denied to the injured. Overall the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has verified 701 civilian deaths since the putsch. The junta has a far lower number: 248, according to a spokesman Friday. Despite the bloodshed, protesters continued to rally in parts of the country. University students and their professors marched through the streets of Mandalay and the city of Meiktila on Sunday morning, according to local media. Some carried stems of Eugenia flowers - a symbol of victory. In Yangon, protesters carried a banner that read: "We will get victory, we will win." Protesters there, as well as in the city of Monywa, took to writing political messages on leaves including "we must win" and calling for UN intervention to prevent further bloodshed. Across the country people have been urged to participate in a torchlight protest in their neighbourhoods after sunset on Sunday night. Death penalty returns Unrest also erupted Saturday in the northwestern town of Tamu, near the Indian border, where protesters fought back when soldiers tried to tear down makeshift barricades erected to block security forces. Two civilians were killed when soldiers started randomly shooting, said a local, with protesters retaliating by throwing a bomb that exploded and overturned a military truck, killing more than a dozen soldiers. "Some are in hiding - we are worried that our people will be hurt as a reprisal," the resident told AFP. The mounting bloodshed has also angered some of Myanmar's 20 or so armed ethnic groups, who control swathes of territory mostly in border regions. There were clashes Saturday in northern Shan state, as the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic rebel group, mounted a pre-dawn attack on a police station, said the TNLA's Brigadier General Tar Bhone Kyaw, who declined to give details. Local media reported more than a dozen police officers were killed, while the TNLA said the military retaliated with air strikes on its troops, killing at least one rebel soldier. State-run television reported in the evening that "terrorist armed groups" attacked the police station with heavy weaponry and set it on fire. Meanwhile, state media reported Friday that 19 people had been sentenced to death for robbery and murder by a military court, with 17 of them tried in absentia. They were arrested in Yangon's North Okkalapa township - one of six areas in the commercial hub currently under martial law, meaning anybody arrested there is tried by a military tribunal. Myanmar has long had the death penalty, but has not carried out an execution in more than 30 years, said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch. "It indicates the military are prepared to go back to a time when Myanmar was executing people," he said.

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Strong reaction against communal remark on Kerala couple’s viral dance video

India|: Kochi: A dance video showing two medical students of Thrissur Medical College — Janaki M Omkumar, a Hindu, and Naveen K Razak, a Muslim — went viral last week. The due danced to Boney M’s Rasputin in their college. Controversy ensued when an advocate on Facebook made communal, divisive comments about the dua, because of Razak’s religion. The advocate, Krishna Raj, compared the case to that of another girl, Nimisha, a Hindu girl from Kerala, who joined Daesh after marrying a Christian man who had converted to Islam and joined Daesh later. “Janaki & Naveen. Dance of two students from Thrissur Medical College has gone viral Students are Janaki Omkumar and Naveen K Razak. Something is fishy about this. Better if Janaki’s parents can be more cautious. Nimisha’s mother has shown us that u needn’t if you have taken proper care. Let’s pray for Janaki’s husband Omkumar and his wife,” Raj wrote on Facebook. On Friday evening, the college union came up with yet another video of more students dancing to the same music. The communal remark trigged a massive response, and support for the duo. On Friday evening, the college union came up with yet another video of more students dancing to the same music. The video was posted with hashtag #resisthate and captioned, “If your plan is to hate, then we have decided to resist”. The students’ union at the Cochin University of Science and Technology in Kochi, led by the CPM’s Students’ Federation of India, announced a dance challenge with cash prizes in solidarity with Janaki and Naveen. A member of the union, Abhinav Krishna, said, “We also borrowed the term ‘Entho oru panthikedu (there’s something fishy)’ from the lawyer’s comments for our dance challenge. We want to register our protest at those making such hateful comments to show that these have no place in Kerala.” The video of the medical students went viral last week, with many of the users sharing them on Instagram and other social media handles. Janaki and Naveen are part of the 25-member dance team at Thrissur Medical College. Their video was filmed by their friend Musthak Ali. They said that they were planning to do another fun reel soon and would like to dance with the other team members. Though Janaki and Naveen have posted several solo acts and some moves along with Viking members, none of them got such wide appreciation.

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Harry will attend Philip’s funeral, raising hope royal rift will heal

Europe|: London: Buckingham Palace said on Saturday that Prince Harry would be returning to Britain for Prince Philip’s funeral next weekend, setting in motion fevered speculation about whether the reunion would mend fences in the royal family or sow deeper discord. The visit, Harry’s first since stepping down as a senior royal last year, will force a meeting with his brother, Prince William, and father, Prince Charles, who Harry said in an explosive interview last month were trapped in an unhappy palace life. But Harry will travel without his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who palace officials said would remain at the couple’s California home on doctor’s orders because she is in the latter stages of pregnancy. For weeks, while the world awaited Oprah Winfrey’s interview last month with Harry and Meghan, the eyes of many Britons were fixed on the health of Philip, Harry’s grandfather, who had been hospitalised with a heart condition. Newspapers pictured Prince Charles in February leaving the bedside of Philip, his father — the son’s eyes bloodshot as he was driven away. Harry and Meghan were castigated for comments about leaving their royal roles that detractors saw as ill-mannered in light of Philip’s illness. “Have They No Respect?” the Daily Mail screamed. Brother against brother That period of national concern over Philip’s health lent the royal family sympathy during an unusual dust-up within the institution, one that pitted brother against brother as Harry, in the interview with Ms. Winfrey, accused his family of racism and emotional abandonment. With that conflict still raging, Philip’s death on Friday at age 99 opened a new and uncertain chapter in the turbulent life of the House of Windsor. Among the first acts of the post-Philip era was the announcement that Harry would attend his grandfather’s funeral, scheduled for April 17, a slimmed-down ceremony that palace officials said would be limited to 30 people. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain will not be among them: Wishing to avoid taking a family member’s seat, Johnson will not attend, his office said on Saturday. No question was more on the minds of royal watchers than whether Harry would make peace with his brother, Prince William, after a monthslong feud. Outside Buckingham Palace in London on Friday after Prince Philip’s death was announced. “Harry will come home, and a meeting between the brothers and perhaps, with luck, a reconciliation over their dead grandfather could be a possibility,” said Penny Junor, a royal historian. Or not. Out in public “It’s going to go one way or the other,” Junor said. “There’s a sort of war going on within the family, and being played out in public. It’s been everything the family doesn’t want.” The heating up of those tensions during Philip’s hospitalization created an awkward split screen, which defenders of Buckingham Palace used to attack Harry and Meghan for doing anything that could detract attention from the patriarch’s health. In her interview, Meghan referred to Philip’s illness after Ms. Winfrey had asked about regrets. She said she had awaked that very morning to a note saying that Philip had been hospitalised. Nevertheless, she and Harry offered a painful account of their life within “the Firm,” the family institution that Philip spent much of his life trying to preserve. Rebuffed They said members of the family had expressed concern about how dark the skin of the couple’s then-unborn child, Archie, would be. Meghan said her efforts to seek mental health treatment had been rebuffed by palace officials, who worried about potential damage to the monarchy. In their interview with Oprah Winfrey in California, Prince Harry and Meghan offered a painful account of their life within the royal family. The comments reverberated through Britain, touching off frank conversations about racism and the country’s colonial legacy. Philip’s own history of bigoted remarks was often cited as an example of anachronistic attitudes that were said to prevail within the family. So concerned was Harry about how the interview would affect Philip and Queen Elizabeth II that he got in touch with Winfrey shortly after it aired. “He wanted to make sure I knew, and if I had an opportunity to share it, that it was not his grandmother or grandfather that were part of those conversations,” she told CBS News, referring to the comments about Archie’s skin colour. Turmoil The interview hardly featured in the wall-to-wall coverage of Philip’s death on British news stations on Friday. And for some in the country, it was a time for leaving the royal turmoil of recent months behind them. “Obviously, there was so much scandal around the Meghan and Harry thing,” said Lottie Smith, 18, who heard about Philip’s death on a train ride into London on Friday and came to Buckingham Palace to pay her respects. “I think his passing will sort of leave that alone now.” Her friend Catherine Vellacott, 19, chimed in with the hope that it would “maybe unite the nation more.” That was how Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw it, too. He cast Philip’s death on Friday as a reminder of the glue that has kept Britain stuck to its monarchy for so long. “Like the expert carriage driver that he was,” Johnson said of Philip outside Downing Street, “he helped to steer the royal family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.” Even so, the biggest test of whether Philip’s death can reunify his warring family seems likely to come at his funeral. He will not lie in state Befitting Philip’s preference for avoiding undue fuss, as well as COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, he will not lie in state, a ceremony at which the public would have been allowed to view his coffin. The 30-person limit at his funeral, at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, was in keeping with government restrictions, forcing the paring back of a guest list that would normally have run to several hundred people. Palace officials said on Saturday that his coffin would be carried through the castle grounds in a Land Rover. Plans for the televised ceremony, approved by Philip several years ago, had been scaled down because of the pandemic, they said. The procession will be joined by members of the royal family, along with military personnel. On Saturday, gun salutes marking Philip’s death were fired from cities across the four nations of the United Kingdom and at sea, a tradition dating back centuries. In London, among the weapons fired were 13-pounder field guns from World War I, the same fired at the wedding of Philip and Queen Elizabeth II in 1947. Prince Charles spoke in Tetbury, England, on Saturday about the life of his father, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died on Friday at 99. “My dear papa was a very special person who I think, above all else, would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him,”″ Prince Charles said in the tribute, filmed from his home in Highgrove in southwestern England. During Philip’s service in the British Navy during World War II, he was credited with hatching a plan in 1943 that saved his crew members’ lives as they came under fire from German bombers. Red button As for Harry, he told James Corden, the talk show host, in late February of video chats with his grandfather and Archie during lockdown when Philip, instead of pressing the red button at the end of the call, would slam down the lid of the laptop. Travelers to England face mandatory self-isolation periods, although people can shorten them with private coronavirus testing. Harry’s representatives said that he would follow the protocols. Few elements of the fallout between Harry and the rest of his family have pained Britons as much as his strained relationship with William, with whom he was once said to have a very close bond. Prince Harry, left, with Prince William, his best man, before his wedding to Meghan Markle in 2018. “If there is a coming together at the funeral, and the boys, the brothers, can speak to one another and forgive and forget, then I think there’s some hope that Philip’s death may bring about an end to something that might otherwise have gone on for decades,” said Ms. Junor, the historian, who wrote “The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor.” “But that hasn’t happened yet, and it may not happen,” she said. “I certainly hope it does.” Royal commentators suspect that even as Philip stepped back from his busy public schedule in recent years, he continued to play an active role in big issues facing the family, Harry and Meghan’s departure among them. If the queen is Britain’s head of state, commentators say, Philip was head of the royal household. He was credited with giving television cameras an early peek at the family’s private life in the 1960s and introducing efficiencies at Buckingham Palace. Yet his stewardship of the royal household was not without difficulties. Known for cracking the whip, he wounded Charles, his oldest son, with frequent belittlements. And though Philip took it upon himself to steer the family through marital troubles, he was partly blamed for the palace’s seemingly grudging response to an outpouring of grief over the death of Charles’s wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in Paris in 1997.

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COVID-19: Pakistan records year's highest number of deaths in single day

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Pakistan’s death toll surged to 15,443 on Sunday as the country reported 114 deaths in the last twenty-four hours, the highest number of fatalities in a day during the current year. With no let-up in new cases, 5,050 in a day, COVID-19 infections have also soared to 721,018 in the country, reveals the National Command & Operation Centre (NCOC) data. Though the government has taken a number of steps like announcing two-day weekly ban on business and transport closing down schools and colleges in nine cities adversely hit by coronavirus, the virus situation is growing worse with each passing day. The positivity rate remained 10.96 per cent on Sunday while there were 73,875 active cases in the country. Restrictions extended The Pakistan government has decided to extend coronavirus restrictions until April 13, according to a statement released by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC). The NCOC also discussed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during Ramadan and issued guidelines to curb the spread of the virus. These guidelines include wearing of face masks, social distancing in the mosques and above all urging the elderly persons to offer prayers at their homes. The government of Punjab has closed down the Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) and surgery centres at major public health facilities across the province amid the third wave of COVID-19. As per details, the Punjab Health Department has closed public hospital OPDs and surgery centres in seven Covid-19 districts of Punjab for 10 days. The districts where the OPDs have been closed include Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujrat, Sialkot and Rawalpindi. Moreover, the provincial health department has cancelled all vacations of health workers. The decision to reopen OPDs will be taken after April 20. According to the health department of the province, everyday, 4,000 to 5,000 patients come to OPDs along with two to four attendants with each patient. New infections The province on Sunday reported 2,515 new infections of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, according to the NCOC. With these new cases, the province’s tally of cases stands at 248,438. Sixty-four deaths in the same period has taken the provincial death toll to 6,972. The coronavirus positivity rate in the province remained 13 per cent in contrast to 10.96 per cent in the country. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) 983 coronavirus cases were reported while 32 persons lost their lives to the virus. The provincial total number of cases is 98,301 while the death toll stands at 2,618. Meanwhile, Balochistan has recorded 63 cases, taking the provincial tally to 20,241 and the death toll has risen to 215 with two new deaths.

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Islamabad police introduces bicycle patrol unit

Pakistan|: Islamabad: Islamabad police have launched a Cycle Patrol Unit for monitoring and surveillance of markets, parks, jogging tracks and trails, streets and places where ordinary vehicles cannot pass. Inspector General of Police (IGP) Islamabad Qazi Jamilur Rehman inaugurated the cycling patrol unit and termed the initiative a citizen-friendly step. It aims at developing friendly relations with residents and means to give a prompt response to any incident of crime, emergency, he further said. Senior officials of the Islamabad police including DIG (Operations) Afzaal Ahmed Kousar, SSP (Operations) Dr Syed Mustafa Tanweer, SSP (Traffic) Farrukh Rasheed, SP (City Zone) Umar Khan and other police officers besides traders, cyclists of the city and notables were present on the occasion. Speaking on the occasion, the IGP said as a first step the patrolling squad would work in the area of Kohsar police station. Community-friendly initiative “The initiative aimed at approaching the community as police could do nothing without its support,” the IGP viewed. He said the police could control law and order, crime and other issues only with the support of people. ASP Kohsar Police Amna Baig is heading the cycling squad while police force will remain at the backup, he said. The 10-member patrolling squad—eight male and two female cops— is headed by a lady police officer of Islamabad and according to the SSP Dr Syed Mustafa Tanweer all the members of the patrolling unit are well-trained and will be equipped with necessary gadgets and tools to check and prevent any criminal activity. Before becoming functional, the police cycling squad received training by the local cyclists. The concept paper for this project was also written by the cycling associations, he said. Cyclists welcome ‘eco-friendly’ step According to the noted cyclist and founder of Islamabad’s Girls Cycling Squad (GCS) Samreen Khan he positive step by the Islamabad police will not only contribute to curbing street crime but it will also promote cycling among citizens, particularly women. Hopefully, apart from Kohsar Police limits, the other parts of Islamabad will also have such mobile cycling teams. This will also contribute to clean and green Pakistan by saving the environment from fuel emission. Cycling, she said is a healthy lifestyle. We have been engaged with the police personnel and welcome this eco-friendly initiative said Samreen Khan. To a query she said, it would be a great pleasure for GCS to conduct training or practice sessions for the beginners of the cycling patrol squad.

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China’s plans for Himalayan super dam stoke fears in India

India|: Beijing: China is planning a mega dam in Tibet able to produce triple the electricity generated by the Three Gorges - the world’s largest power station - stoking fears among environmentalists and in neighbouring India. The structure will span the Brahmaputra River before the waterway leaves the Himalayas and flows into India, straddling the world’s longest and deepest canyon at an altitude of more than 4,900 feet. The project in Tibet’s Medog County is expected to dwarf the record-breaking Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in central China, and is billed as able to produce 300 billion kilowatts of electricity each year. It is mentioned in China’s strategic 14th Five-Year Plan, unveiled in March at an annual rubber-stamp congress of the country’s top lawmakers. But the plan was short on details, a timeframe or budget. The river, known as the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibetan, is also home to two other projects far upstream, while six others are in the pipeline or under construction. The “super-dam” however is in a league of its own. Last October, the Tibet local government signed a “strategic cooperation agreement” with PowerChina, a public construction company specialising in hydroelectric projects. A month later the head of PowerChina, Yan Zhiyong, partially unveiled the project to the Communist Youth League, the youth wing of China’s ruling party. Enthusiastic about “the world’s richest region in terms of hydroelectric resources”, Yan explained that the dam would draw its power from the huge drop of the river at this particular section. ‘Really bad idea’ Beijing may justify the massive project as an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but it risks provoking strong opposition from environmentalists in the same way as the Three Gorges Dam, built between 1994 and 2012. The Three Gorges created a reservoir and displaced 1.4 million inhabitants upstream. “Building a dam the size of the super-dam is likely a really bad idea for many reasons,” said Brian Eyler, energy, water and sustainability program director at the Stimson Centre, a US think tank. Besides being known for seismic activity, the area also contains a unique biodiversity. The dam would block the migration of fish as well as sediment flow that enriches the soil during seasonal floods downstream, said Eyler. There are both ecological and political risks, noted Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha, an environmental policy specialist at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank linked to the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamshala, India. “We have a very rich Tibetan cultural heritage in those areas, and any dam construction would cause ecological destruction, submergence of parts of that region,” he told AFP. “Many local residents would be forced to leave their ancestral homes,” he said, adding that the project will encourage migration of Han Chinese workers that “gradually becomes a permanent settlement”. ‘Water wars’ New Delhi is also worried by the project. The Chinese Communist Party is effectively in a position to control the origins of much of South Asia’s water supply, analysts say. “Water wars are a key component of such warfare because they allow China to leverage its upstream Tibet-centred power over the most essential natural resource,” wrote political scientist Brahma Chellaney last month in the Times of India. The risks of seismic activity would also make it a “ticking water bomb” for residents downstream, he warned. In reaction to the dam idea, the Indian government has floated the prospect of building another dam on the Brahmaputra to shore up its own water reserves. “There is still much time to negotiate with China about the future of the super-dam and its impacts,” said Eyler. “A poor outcome would see India build a dam downstream.”

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Pakistan police say wanted militant killed in shootout

Pakistan|: Multan: Counterterrorism police killed one of Pakistan’s most wanted militants in a shootout in the garrison city of Rawalpindi overnight, a police official said Sunday. Officer Kashif Hussain said three of the militant’s accomplices escaped during the exchange of fire, leaving their weapons at the scene: two pistols, an assault rifle and ammunition. He identified the slain militant only as Niaz and said he also uses the alias Zeeshan. Hussain said Niaz was active with the Pakistani Taliban group Tehreek-e-Taliban in Punjab province in the Hazro area of the district of Attock. He said Niaz was also in league with banned militant organization Lashker-e-Jhangvi. Hussain said Niaz was wanted in connection with a number of attacks in the region that killed more than two dozen citizens and security officials. There was a $40,000 bounty on his head. According to Hussain, Niaz was involved in planning a 2015 suicide attack that killed then-home minister of Punjab province Shuja Khanzada, a high ranking police officer and others. Hussain said the counterterrorism department received intelligence that four militants on two motorcycles planned to attack secret service officers so checkpoints were set up on the road linking Attock with Rawalpindi. Late on Saturday, the targets were spotted approaching the Kheri Murat checkpoint. Hussain said they were asked to stop but instead the motorcyclists opened fire in an attempt to escape. The Pakistani Taliban have a presence in areas of Punjab province that border northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They also have made inroads in southern Punjab near southwestern Baluchistan province.

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Sindh government distributes kitchen gardening kits to the poor

Pakistan|: Karachi: The Sindh government has started distributing free kitchen gardening kits to the poor of the province to resolve the issues of hunger and economic deprivation. The beneficiaries of this scheme include poor women in the underdeveloped parts of the province. The kitchen gardening kits are being distributed through the Sindh Irrigated Agriculture Productivity Enhancement Project of the Sindh Agriculture Department. Around 1,500 such kits have been distributed among the farmers of District Tharparkar alone where poverty has been widespread due to harsh weather and desert-like terrain of the area. The inhabitants of other districts of Sindh have been given 4,700 such kits. A total of 10,100 kits will be provided all over the province under this initiative. Each kit comprises a spade, buckets, 200 litres water tank, water pipes, gardening trowel, vegetable seeds, and fertilizer for two growing seasons. All these items are being provided free of charge. The Sindh Agriculture Department has availed the services of different non-governmental organisations to conduct proper survey to know about the presence of landless and deserving peasants for the purpose. The beneficiaries of the project said that this timely initiative would go a long way in lessening their economic hardships that had become aggravated since last one year due to coronavirus pandemic. They said the articles contained in the gardening kits were all useful for them to utilise whatever piece of land available to them to grow vegetables for their own food requirements and also to sell them in the market. Sindh Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahoo hoped that the initiative would benefit thousands of families of the deserving farmers of the province. He said the initiative had been launched by the Agriculture Department as a method to tackle the problems of food shortage and economic imbalance in rural parts of the province. He said the Sindh government launched best policies to safeguard the socio-economic interests of the farmers.

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India’s new COVID-19 cases hit record again amid vaccination push

India|: New Delhi: New COVID-19 cases in India surged to a record of 152,879 on Sunday as the country battled a second wave of infections by pushing for faster vaccinations, with some states considering tougher restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. India leads the world in the daily average number of new infections reported, accounting for one in every six infections reported globally each day, according to a Reuters tally. Daily cases have set record highs six times this week, according to data from the federal health ministry. Deaths have also surged, with the federal health ministry reporting 839 fatalities on Sunday - the highest in over five months - as hospitals and crematoriums in some parts of the country grappled with the worsening situation. India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only Brazil and the United States. Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a four-day “Vaccination Festival” on Sunday to push more eligible Indians to get a COVID-19 shot. “During this time we have to move towards optimum utilisation of the country’s vaccination capacity,” Modi said in an open letter. The country has administered more than 100 million doses since the middle of January, the most after the United States and China. But several Indian states have complained of a vaccine shortage, despite immunisation being currently restricted to only about 400 million of India’s 1.35 billion people. The second surge in infections, which has spread much more rapidly than the first one that peaked in September, has forced many states to impose fresh curbs on activity. The administration in western Maharashtra state, which is home to the financial capital Mumbai and has the highest number of cases in the country, said it may impose additional measures beyond a weekend lockdown that will end early on Monday. “To break the COVID transmission chain, it is imperative that strict restrictions must be imposed for a certain period of time,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said late on Saturday. Authorities have blamed the resurgence of the virus mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks, even as massive election rallies and large religious gatherings have continued in recent weeks. Thousands of people thronged the banks of the Ganges in the northern city of Haridwar on Sunday for morning prayers during the Kumbh Mela - where up to five million are expected on certain days. Authorities have made it mandatory for all people entering the area to do COVID-19 tests. But many devotees on Sunday gathered by the riverside without masks, standing in densely-packed crowds.

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Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s Anti-Rape Ordinance 2020

Pakistan|Opinion|: In January 2018, the rape and murder of the six-year-old Zainab Ansari unleashed waves of grief, horror and anger across Pakistan. Reports of more rapes and murders of children continued to appear. The helpless pain and rage continued to simmer. In March 2020, the Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill was passed in the National Assembly. The September 2020 gang rape of a woman stranded on Sialkot-Lahore motorway shook Pakistan from its apathetic stance on sexual violence against women. The woman who was beaten and raped in front of her children became the tragic rallying sign for the imperativeness of steps for prevention of rape and certainty of punishment. In December 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s landmark bill for protection of rights of victims and survivors of sexual violence, sexual abuse and rape and the certainty of punishment titled the Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020 was approved by President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi. Also approved was an amendment in the Pakistan Penal Code, titled Criminal law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. The Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020, and Criminal law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, when implemented in their true letter and spirit, will be the game-changing legislation for dispensation of justice to all victims of sexual violence or rape. Barrister Maleeka Bokhari is the chairperson for the Special Committee on Implementation of the Anti-Rape (Investigation & Trial) Ordinance, 2020. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Member of National Assembly Barrister Maleeka Bokhari is known for her articulate and fiery defence of her government on prime time talk shows. What Bokhari, as visible in her tweets, is also known for is her constant stance of equality and equal opportunities for women. Bokhari since 2012 has given legal advice to her party. She is also part of the team of lawyers in some key PTI cases, including the Panama case, and the Judicial Commission on General Elections 2013. Bokhari says, “I am inspired by Imran Khan’s consistent stance on the rule of law, in particular, his stance of equal application of the law irrespective of social status and class.” As the Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Bokhari represents the Ministry of Law and Justice in parliament; her principal responsibility is to respond to all questions and legislative business in parliament. Bokhari in a question about her work says, “I was responsible for the passage of the Islamabad High Court Amendment Bill, and I was part of the team that got the FATF laws passed in September 2020. I have also been part of the team that drafted the Legal Aid and Justice Authority Act 2019, Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2019, and the Letters of Administration and Succession certificates Act 2019.” I asked Barrister Maleeka Bokhari a few questions: What was the principal impetus behind Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s realisation of the imperativeness of revisiting the anti-rape laws? Maleeka Bokhari: There are many reasons why the PTI government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to revisit the anti-rape laws. Firstly, there was a drastic increase in reported cases across the country in relation to sexual violence against children and women. The brutal rape and murder of Zainab, many other little children, cases of sexual abuse, rape and murder of children in Kasur, and the Motorway gang rape. That horrific incident highlighted the issue of sexual violence and rape of women across our country like never before. There was a realisation within the government ranks that conviction rates across the country were extremely low. Experiences of women who report rape are awfully horrific in terms of investigation, filing of a case, and a trial that takes extremely long. The prime minister was very concerned that steps must be taken to alter the existing laws. He instructed the law minister and the team at the Ministry of Law and Justice that we must come up with a law that ensures that conviction is certain, that women who report rape receive a victim-centred treatment, that cases do not take very long, and that we have special courts that try cases of rape and sexual violence. The entire idea of a new anti-rape ordinance originated from the prime minister who expressed his concern in his meetings with the law minister and the cabinet. Every time we interacted with him to discuss law reforms the anti-rape ordinance was on the top of his agenda. He gave us a week to draft a law that filled in all the lacunas and loopholes within the justice system that deterred women from coming forward or were an impediment in the way of ensuring women getting justice in cases of sexual violence. How was the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 formulated? Who comprised the committee that drafted the ordinance? Did you face any difficulty in having the ordinance passed? This ordinance was mainly drafted by the officials from the Ministry of Law and Justice. Federal Minister for Law and Justice Farogh Naseem headed the drafting committee. I was also part of the committee that drafted the ordinance. We had representation from the Minister of Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, and [SAPM] Shehzad Akbar. It was a collaboration of the Ministry of Law and Justice, Ministry of Human Rights, and Ministry of Interior. The vetting and the final drafting were done at the Ministry of Law and Justice. But it was Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision that guided us. Prime Minister Khan was insistent that Pakistan could no longer oversee a system in which victims of rape had no access to justice. In the conversations we had with him he was very clear about the necessity to change the law. It was untenable to him that females or children across our country get raped, and the cases could take years while the victims had no recourse to justice. For him it was literally something that could no longer take place in our country, something that required immediate intervention. The anti-rape ordinance is Prime Minister Khan’s idea. It is his vision, his motivation. And we were the team behind the formulation of his vision into a draft, into a bill. To transform the justice system for women and children who experience sexual violence or rape. What has been the role of the prime minister in pushing for the new anti-rape ordinance to become a law? The prime minster has played a very formative and a very important role in the passage of this ordinance. When the motorway gang rape incident took place there was a vehement debate in the country about the experiences of the survivors of sexual violence, and women and children who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Prime Minister Khan had clarity of thought on how the law was inadequate. That law didn’t provide a sufficient system of investigation, prosecution and trial for those who were victims of the heinous offence of sexual violence and rape. He had a very pivotal role because it was him who pushed the Ministry of Law and Justice to draft a legislation that filled in all the loopholes and lacunas that existed in the previous laws, and also ensured that the punishment for the heinous crime of rape was increased. How is the new ordinance different from the previous one on the process of investigation and punishment of rape? The new anti-rape ordinance is very different in its composition from the laws that were passed in 2016. Two important bills were passed by the PML-N government in 2016–the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015, and the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Amendment Bill) 2015. Those laws prescribed harsher sentences and a more advanced system of delivery in terms of rape investigation, trial and prosecution. But our anti-rape ordinance focuses on ensuring that firstly, we set up special courts for offences that involve sexual abuse against women and children, specifically rape. This ordinance abolishes the two-finger test, which is a very inhumane practice followed only in Pakistan across South Asia. We have clarified and written it down in the bill that the evidence obtained through the two-finger test will have no probative value in a case. This ordinance is more victim-centred as we have introduced elements like the provision for independent support advisers, which could be anyone from civil society–a psychologist, a doctor, an activist, a lawyer. These advisers will assist the victim in the process of getting justice in cases of rape and sexual violence. Lists of independent support advisers will be maintained at the district level, and the Ministry of Law and Justice is, as we speak, issuing a public call for volunteers to support us in this initiative. The new ordinance also ensures that the trial for offences listed in the ordinance are completed within four months, and that all appeals are completed within six months. There will be a speedy dispensation of justice. The time limit has been decreased. The ordinance also envisages special measures for victims of sexual violence, one of which is that the perpetrator of the crime will not be able to directly ask the victim any question. Also, the 164 statement that is made for the magistrate will only be recorded once. What we have realised is that females who are victims of sexual violence or rape have to make multiple visits to a court to record statements. That really deters them from coming forward because it is a horrific experience to repeatedly explain to different duty bearers as to what transpired. Now there will be just one 164 statement before the magistrate. We have also envisaged a new system of investigation in the anti-rape ordinance. We are setting up joint investigation teams. One police officer alone will not be responsible for the investigation of such a heinous crime, an entire team will assist the officer. We have also envisaged the concept of an anti-rape crisis cell, which will be an extremely important addition. These crisis cells headed by the deputy commissioner or the commissioner of an area will be established in government hospitals at district level across the country. And this is very different from what has been done before because we realise that the most important element in any sexual violence case is the medico-legal evidence. Also important is obtaining evidence and then preserving the evidence for the trial, and that too within time. That is because the admissibility of DNA evidence sort of diminishes with the passage of time, and if we don’t procure it within 72 hours the value attached to it can be quite insignificant. For this process, we will have a team comprising a medico-legal surgeon, police officers, and independent support advisers. The anti-rape crisis cell will also have a number of responsibilities: ensuring that the medico-legal examination is completed within six hours; an FIR is launched immediately; and investigation begins without any delay. Things that were not happening before will happen now because of a specially designated cell with duty bearers across various government departments that will work together to ensure that investigation is done in a better, more informed, and more victim-centred manner. Within this anti-rape ordinance, we have tried to ensure that any lacunas that existed in the previous laws are removed through our discussions with experts, gender activists, and people who have worked in this particular area. We are hopeful that once the law is fully implemented through the anti-rape law implementation committee that I head, experiences of women and girls across our country in relation to cases of sexual violence will be different. When do you expect the bill to turn into a law? There has been some delay in the National Assembly. The bill is currently in the Standing Committee for Law and Justice where it will be debated and reviewed. We are hoping that it will be passed from the Standing Committee and move to the National Assembly for passage, and then to the Senate. The PTI government will seek support from all political parties on this very important issue. I think it would not be wrong for us to expect that members of the opposition parties do not object to the passage of such an important legislation, a much needed one for women and children of Pakistan. We will reach out to the opposition parties to ensure that they vote for this very important national law in the interest of Pakistan. How will the anti-rape ordinance ensure the certainty of punishment for a rape convict? The Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was also promulgated with the anti-rape ordinance to make amendments in the Pakistan Penal Code altering certain things, including the definition of rape. It covers three things. Firstly, it has amended the definition of rape making it broader, including explanations in certain areas in line with the best international practices. Secondly, it introduces the punishment of chemical castration for repeat offenders. Thirdly, it includes sentences. The sentence for someone who commits a gang rape has increased. For rape life means the remainder of life not 14 years. The ordinance has been amended to be more sensitised, and to be more in line with what is happening across the globe. The previous definition was quite restrictive; this one encompasses different scenarios of how rape can be committed against a person. Recently, you tweeted about the formation of a committee. Who comprises the committee? In accordance with section 15 of the Ordinance an implementation committee has been formulated. I am the chairperson, and it comprises 42 members from different professions: Justice (Retd) Nasira Javed Iqbal; representatives of Ministry of Interior, Ministry of National Health Service Regulations and Coordination, and Ministry of Human Rights; representative of NADRA; representatives of National Forensic Science Agency, Punjab Forensic Science Agency, Sindh Forensic Science Agency, Balochistan Forensic Science Agency, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Forensic Science Agency; representatives of Punjab Home Department, Sindh Home Department, Balochistan Home Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home Department; representatives of Punjab Health Department, Sindh Health Department, Balochistan Health Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department; representatives of National Commission on the Status of Women, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, Balochistan Commission on the Status of Women, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commission on the Status of Women; Amna Baig (PSP); Fauzia Viqar (senior policy and gender adviser); anchorpersons Maria Memon and Fereeha Idris; Barristers Muhammad Ahmad Pansota ASC, Ambreen Malik , Advocate, Barrister Taimur Malik, advocate; Zahoor Ahmad (legislative adviser, M/O L&J); Sharafat Ali Chaudhary, advocate; Valerie Khan (Executive Director GDP); Dr Khadija Tahir (trauma specialist); Dr Summaiya Syed Tariq (Additional Police Surgeon); Nida Aly (Executive Director AJLAC); Nida Usman Chaudhary (Founder WIL); Abuzar Salman Khan Niazi (legal expert); Mehwish Muhib Kakakhel (Sindh Chapter Lead WIL); Hassan Mehmood (Deputy legislative adviser, M/O L&J); Barrister Ambreen Abbasi (consultant, representative of Ministry of Law and Justice; secretary committee). What are some of the key points of the PTI government’s anti-rape ordinance that would alleviate in some way the pain of reporting and demanding justice for the unimaginable trauma of rape for a victim/survivor? The issue of the abolition of the two-finger testing… You know, Mehr, this inhumane method of examination, this inhumane practise has existed in this country for decades. Even the anti-rape law that was passed in 2016 did not abolish this practice. All previous governments have failed to intervene in this method of examination, which the United Nations has declared as being unlawful, against all international norms and practices, and something that is inhumane. Practitioners across the globe are of the uniform view that the use of this practice is another form of rape after the victim has been subjected to rape. All previous governments, including that of PPP and PML-N, failed to abolish this test. It is the PTI government with its empathetic victim-centred approach towards surviors of sexual violence that is ensuring that this callous method of examination is abolished. The credit goes to Prime Minister Khan’s vision, and the Ministry of Law and Justice for ensuring that this practice is abolished under the law, and that no probative or evidential value is attached to it. Section 14 of the act identifies a very important issue. This is also one of those long-standing issues that have hugely impacted victims of rape and sexual violence across the courts of Pakistan. Experiences of women who have to go to a court multiple times have been narrated as horrific. Firstly, they have to face the accused or the perpetrator of the crime, who is later allowed to ask them questions. I think that for any victim of sexual violence this can be one of the most horrific and damaging experiences of their lives. When you have to face the perpetrator of a crime committed against you. Across the globe, victims of sexual violence have access to special measures. They are provided screens, which prevent the accused or the perpetrator of the crime from directly questioning them in order to prevent intimidation and harassment, and for the victim to feel safe when giving testimony. Now for the first time the PTI government has introduced section 14 in the anti-rape ordinance, which ensures that the victim is not being directly questioned by the accused or the perpetrator of the crime, and that all questions are asked through his counsel, or the presiding officer of the court. A big departure from previous practices, it is again evident of a compassionate victim-centred approach to ensure that a victim of rape or sexual violence has full access to justice. I think this speaks volumes about the commitment of the PTI government to ensure that in Pakistan victims of rape are treated in a humane manner, that their experience of going to a court is empathetic, and that they are not vilified. No previous government has ever ensured any of that. The clause 2 of section 13 of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance 2020 is a new inclusion. And one that is of huge importance: the character of a victim in a rape case. What were the factors behind its inclusion? I believe that the clause two of section 13 is of great significance. It states: “In respect of any scheduled offence, any evidence to show that a victim is generally of immoral character, shall be inadmissible.” The intention of the PTI government is to ensure that any evidence comprising a woman’s past history, her past relationships, her character, or any attempt to vilify her person, or to cast any aspersions or any doubt on her character, or to display that she may be immoral should never be admissible in a rape case with the intent to undermine her testimony. In essence, it says that a woman’s personal life, her personal decisions, what she wears, and what choices she makes have no bearing on the matter under the purview of the court in relation to the rape accusation or any accusation of a sexual offence made by the complainant. The PTI government taking a clear stance in relation to females who are victims of rape and sexual violence has stated that any attempt to declare through any evidence that a female is of immoral character shall mandatorily be inadmissible in such cases. I think it would go a long way in changing the justice system in support of victims of rape. It is of historic importance that the state, the sitting government, has tried to ensure that a woman’s actions, decisions, choices, and relationships should have no bearing on a rape or sexual offence trial being undertaken in any court across our country. I think there is no past precedent of any government undertaking such clear steps to ensure that women are not vilified in our country. That women are not deterred from going to court. And that women are not subjected to vilification, harassment or scrutiny of their personal choices in cases of rape and other sexual offences.

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UAE-based Lulu Group chairman Yousuf Ali’s helicopter makes emergency landing in Kerala

UAE|India|: A helicopter carrying M. A. Yusuff Ali, the chairman of UAE-headquartered multinational company Lulu Group, made an emergency landing in Kochi, the south Indian state of Kerala, on Sunday, according to Indian media reports. There were five people in the helicopter, including Yusuffali and his wife. All passengers are safe, but sustained minor injuries and have been taken to hospital, according to reports. The helicopter made a forced landing into a deserted land near the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean studies near Panagad. V Nandakumar, director of Marketing and Communications at Lulu, told Gulf News that Yusuffali, his wife Shabira and personal secretary Shahid P.K, along with the pilot and the co-pilot “are safe and stable after the pilot decided to make an emergency landing due to rainy weather.” “It was not a crash-landing as some local media have reported. Due to the rain, the pilot gauged that the helicopter cannot continue flying further and he opted for landing in a marshland considering the safety of the passengers and the residents in the area.” Nandakumar said the couple was on a personal trip ahead of Ramadan and were admitted to Lakeshore Hospital. On Friday, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, had conferred the Abu Dhabi Awards on Yusuffali and 11 others. He was recognised for his support of national initiatives and events in the UAE including sports, culture, charitable and community-based projects. His support of many campaigns, both nationally and internationally, have positively impacted many local communities, said a WAM report. - With inputs from Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter

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China mulls mixing COVID-19 vaccines to improve efficacy of jabs

Asia|: Beijing: China is considering the mixing of different COVID-19 vaccines to improve the relatively low efficacy of its existing options, a top health expert has told a conference. Authorities have to "consider ways to solve the issue that efficacy rates of existing vaccines are not high", Chinese media outlet The Paper reported, citing Gao Fu, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. China has administered around 161 million doses since vaccinations began last year - most people will require two shots - and aims to fully inoculate 40 percent of its 1.4 billion population by June. But many have been slow to sign up for jabs, with life largely back to normal within China's borders and domestic outbreaks under control. Gao has previously stressed the best way to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is vaccination, and said in a recent state media interview that China aims to vaccinate 70 percent to 80 percent of its population between the end of this year and mid-2022. At the conference in Chengdu on Saturday, Gao added that an option to overcome the efficacy problem is to alternate the use of vaccine doses that tap different technologies. This is an option that health experts outside China are studying as well. Gao said experts should not ignore mRNA vaccines just because there are already several coronavirus jabs in the country, urging for further development, The Paper reported. Currently, none of China's jabs conditionally approved for the market are mRNA vaccines, but products that use the technology include those by US pharma giant Pfizer and German start-up BioNTech, as well as by Moderna. China has four conditionally approved vaccines, whose published efficacy rates remain behind rival jabs by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have 95 percent and 94 percent rates respectively. China's Sinovac previously said trials in Brazil showed around 50 percent efficacy in preventing infection and 80 percent efficacy in preventing cases requiring medical intervention. Sinopharm's vaccines have efficacy rates of 79.34 percent and 72.51 percent respectively, while the overall efficacy for CanSino's stands at 65.28 percent after 28 days.