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Bihar’s bicycle girl becomes brand ambassador for anti-drug abuse programme

India|: Patna: Bihar teenager Jyoti Kumari who cycled more than a thousand kilometres to carry her ailing father home during the nationwide Coronavirus-induced lockdown last year has been made the brand ambassador by the state government for an anti-drug abuse programme. The 15-year-old girl had cycled about 1,200 km with her father from Gurugram near Delhi to Darbhanga town in Bihar during nationwide lockdown when they faced near starvation after losing jobs and all modes of transport remained suspended. The state government has chosen the “real-life hero” to speed up its campaign against use of narcotic drugs and intoxicants by the young generation which has become a matter of serious concerns. Her job will be to visit schools and colleges and make the youths aware about the ill-effects of the drugs. Fighting adversity “We could not have found any better choice than this girl who displayed exemplary courage to fight adversity. The young generation should take a lesson from this girl who bravely fought all odds to extricate her family of troubles instead of surrendering before the problems,” Social Security director Daya Nidhan Pandey told the media on Sunday. Consumption of any forms drugs, the official added, not only destroys the person who gets addicted to them but also his family, and this girl could play a key role in creating awareness in the society. The official himself visited the girl’s home in Darbhanga district over the weekend to appoint her as the brand ambassador of the programme. He also handed her a cheque of Rs50,000, a tab and a track suit as a token of honour for her rare courage. The Grade nine schoolgirl will be spreading the central government’s National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction prepared by the federal Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The objective of the programme is to reduce adverse consequences of drug abuse through multi-pronged strategy. Jyoti has become an international sensation after she carried her injured father on her second-hand rickety cycle at the peak of summer in May last year, unmindful of her own troubles of carrying the weight of a person just double her weight, severe food scarcity on way and also cash crunch. “It was a very tough journey treading the deserted roads on cycle. I felt apprehensive most of the time while walking on the lonely streets but ignored these concerns as my first priority was to somehow reach home,” was how she told this correspondent when contacted on phone recently. No money for food She added, “We would have died of hunger had we stayed there any longer as we had no money to buy food or pay rent.” She left Gurugram on the night of May 8 and reached her home village Darbhanga after continuously cycling over seven days. According to the girl, she would mostly travel during night as it was cool and had less traffic. She also revealed they would sleep near the petrol pumps or at the places having sufficient lighting arrangements. Recently she got the cycling trail offer from the Cycling Federation of India for her rare feat and also signed a film based on her life. The movie will be a fictional version of what led to her ardous journey from Gurugram to her hometown in Bihar. Her brilliant tale even reached the outgoing US president Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump termed her story as the “beautiful feat of endurance and love”.

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Security on high alert in Islamabad ahead of Pakistan Democratic Movement rally

Pakistan|: Islamabad: The Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) in Islamabad have put security on high alert ahead of the opposition parties’ alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) protest rally scheduled for Tuesday, January 19, outside the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) building. The PDM, an 11-party opposition alliance, had announced earlier this month that it would hold a protest outside the ECP secretariat against delay and slow pace of the foreign funding case against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In order to review the security situation and to ensure order in the federal capital during the planned protest by the PDM, Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has called a meeting of high level officials of police and law-enforcement agencies. At the meeting the inspector generals of police of Islamabad, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Chief Commissioner Islamabad as well as senior officials from other law-enforcement agencies will brief about the security arrangements at the ECP and in the Red Zone of the federal capital. The ECP had approached the Islamabad administration through a letter to the chief commissioner, saying that the PDM should be allowed to protest only in a specific area adjacent to the Constitution Avenue, so that the working of the election supervisor was not affected. According to the Islamabad police, all necessary security measures will be taken to protect life and property of the people as the protest would be taking place in a sensitive area. In the meeting, security and monitoring of all the entrance and exit points to the federal capital will be reviewed and input from the allied departments like Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) will also be taken into consideration. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also directed his party workers and supporters to join the PMD’s rally to register strong protest to the ECP against the 7-year delay in conclusion of “an apparently simple case.” Party meeting On Saturday the main opposition party in the PDM, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) finalized its strategy for the rally and at a party meeting held at the PML-N Model Town office, it was decided that Marryam Nawaz daughter of Nawaz Sharif will lead a rally from Lahore through Motorway and join the Rawalpindi-based main rally of PML-N at some points. All the party MNAs, MPAs and ticket holders will reach Rawalpindi with their supporters in the shape of rallies to join Marryum Nawaz in Rawalpindi. Meanwhile, the ECP has issued guidelines for its officers and employees in connection with the PDM protest in a notification. According to the guidelines, all employees would be required to produce their office and the Computerized National Identity Cards (CNIC) cards with them on January 19 for security clearance to the Election Commission Secretariat.

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Biden ropes in 20 Indian-Americans in his administration, 17 at key White House positions

Americas|: Washington: US President-elect Joe Biden has nominated at least 20 Indian-Americans, including 13 women, to key positions in his incoming administration, a record for the small ethnic community that constitutes one per cent of America's population. As many as 17 of them, including Neera Tanden who has been nominated as the Director of Management and Budget, would be part of the Biden administration in the powerful White House complex. The January 20th inauguration, the 59th in all, where Biden, 78, would be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States is already historic in the making as for the first time ever a woman, Kamala Harris, would be sworn as the Vice-President of the country. Harris, 56, is also the first ever Indian-origin and African-American to be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States. It is also for the first time ever that so many Indian-Americans have been roped into a presidential administration ever before the inauguration. Biden, a Democrat, is still quite far away from filling all the positions in his administration. Topping the list is Tanden, who has been nominated as Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and Dr Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated as the US Surgeon General. Vanita Gupta has been nominated as Associate Attorney General Department of Justice, and on Saturday, Biden nominated former foreign service official Uzra Zeya as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. 'The dedication that the Indian-American community has shown to public service over the years has been recognised in a big way at the very start of this administration! I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority are women. Our community has truly arrived in serving the nation,' Indiaspora founder M R Rangaswami told PTI. Mala Adiga has been appointed as Policy Director to the future First Lady Dr Jill Biden and Garima Verma would be the Digital Director of the Office of the First Lady, while Sabrina Singh has been named as the White House Deputy Press Secretary. For the first time, the Indian-Americans nominated for Biden administration include two who trace their roots to Kashmir: Aisha Shah, who has been named as Partnership Manager at the White House Office of Digital Strategy and Sameera Fazili, who would occupy the key position of Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council (NEC) in the White House. White House National Economic Council also has another Indian-American, Bharat Ramamurti, as Deputy Director. Gautam Raghavan, who served at the White House in the previous Obama administration returns to the White House as Deputy Director in Office of Presidential Personnel. Among Biden's inner circle is his top confidant for years Vinay Reddy, who has been named as Director Speechwriting. Young Vedant Patel is all set to occupy a seat in the White House lower press, behind the briefing room, as Assistant Press Secretary to the President. He is only the third-ever Indian American to be part of the White House press shop. Three Indian-Americans have made their way to the crucial National Security Council of the White House, thus leaving a permanent imprint on the country's foreign policy and national security. They are Tarun Chhabra: Senior Director for Technology and National Security, Sumona Guha, Senior Director for South Asia, Shanthi Kalathil: Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights. Sonia Aggarwal has been named Senior Advisor for Climate Policy and Innovation in the Office of the Domestic Climate Policy at the White House and Vidur Sharma has been appointed as Policy Advisor for Testing for the White House COVID-19 Response Team. Two Indian-American women have been appointed to the Office of the White House Counsel: Neha Gupta as Associate Counsel and Reema Shah as Deputy Associate Counsel. Also, for the first time in any administration, the White House would have three other South Asians in key positions -- Pakistani-American Ali Zaidi as Deputy National Climate Advisor White House; Sri Lankan American Rohini Kosoglu as Domestic Policy Advisor to the Vice President and Bangladeshi-American Zayn Siddique: Senior Advisor to the White House Deputy Chief of Staff. During the campaign, Biden had indicated that he would rope in a large number of Indian-Americans. 'As President, I'll also continue to rely on Indian-American diaspora that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career,' Biden had said in his address to the Indian-American community during a virtual celebration of India's Independence Day on August 15, 2020. 'My constituents in Delaware, my staff in the Senate, the Obama-Biden administration, which had more Indian-Americans than any other administration in the history of this country and this campaign with Indian Americans at senior levels, which of course includes the top of the heap, our dear friend (Harris) who will be the first Indian-American vice president in the history of the United States of America,' Biden had said in his video address. Biden and Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States during a largely-virtual swearing-in ceremony on January 20. But it won't be a typical inauguration, for several reasons. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and fresh security concerns following a pro-Trump mob breaching the Capitol last week have combined to force some major changes to what is a historical American day.

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Britain invites G7 leaders to Cornish resort for June summit

Europe|: London: Britain announced plans to hold the first in-person meeting of the G7 for nearly two years in June, inviting the leaders of major developed economies to a picturesque seaside village to discuss rebuilding from the pandemic and climate change. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he wants to use Britain’s presidency of the G7 to forge a consensus that the global economy must recover from the COVID-19 crisis in a pro-free trade and sustainable way. “Coronavirus is doubtless the most destructive force we have seen for generations and the greatest test of the modern world order we have experienced,” he said in a statement. “It is only right that we approach the challenge of building back better by uniting with a spirit of openness to create a better future.” Britain has suffered badly during the health crisis, with the highest death toll in Europe of more than 88,000 people. Third wave But, while a third wave of the virus causes more than 1,000 deaths per day, the country is leading the way on vaccinations having been the first in the world to authorise their use, and hopes to have much of the population protected within months. Last year’s G7 meeting, due to be hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump, was cancelled due to the pandemic, meaning the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, the United States, Italy, Japan, the European Union and Canada have not met in person since the 2019 meeting in Biarritz, France. The Sunday Telegraph newspaper said the British government hoped the event would be the occasion for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s first trip to Europe after he becomes president on Jan. 20. Tiny resort “I don’t think he will visit anywhere else before the G7, except possibly Canada,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed British government source as saying. Johnson has also invited Australia, India and South Korea to attend. The summit will take place in the tiny resort of Carbis Bay in Cornwall, southwest England - an area now most famous for its beaches and surfing but also home to fishing fleets and once an important mining area. “Two hundred years ago Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution and this summer Cornwall will again be the nucleus of great global change and advancement,” Johnson said.

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UK aviation sector calls for urgent support amid travel curbs

Europe|Aviation|: London: The UK’s aviation sector needs urgent government support if it is to survive another lengthy period of travel restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections in the country, according to industry leaders. On Saturday, Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, urged the UK government to set out plans for how airports will survive financially during the crisis. “Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations,” Xinhua news agency quoted Dee as saying to the Guardian newspaper. “Airports are doing so while running on empty - there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future,” she said. “Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.” Heathrow Airport lost its status as Europe’s busiest airport as it recorded a loss of 1.5 billion pounds ($2.04 billion) in the first nine months of 2020 due to Covid-19. Passenger numbers between July and September 2020 were down by more than 84 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, leading the west London hub to be overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle as the busiest in Europe. Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents all UK registered airlines, said that if by Easter the restrictions are not lifted, the industry will be “in a really difficult place”. Easter is a Christian holiday which falls on April 4 this year. Paid back “Easter is a date that we have got in mind as to when we can start to have an aviation sector again because if we don’t start to bring in revenue to the sector, we are going to be in a really difficult place indeed because we have now had pretty much 12 months without any revenue coming in, which is just not sustainable and airlines are effectively staying in business by taking on billions of pounds of debt, which will need to be paid back,” Alderslade said. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain will close all travel corridors to the country from 4 a.m. on Monday in a bid to keep out new coronavirus variants. The new measure means that travellers entering the country must have proof of a negative Covid-19 test in previous 72 hours. Anyone arriving in Britain must quarantine for 10 days or they have the choice of doing an extra test on day five to shorten the isolation, Johnson said. England is currently under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK has so far reported a total of 3,325,642 coronavirus cases and 87,448 deaths.

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Gunmen assassinate two Afghan women judges in Kabul ambush

Asia|: Kabul: Gunmen shot dead two Afghan women judges working for the Supreme Court during an early morning ambush in the country's capital Sunday, officials said, as a wave of assassinations continues to rattle the nation. Violence has surged across Afghanistan in recent months despite ongoing peace talks between the Taliban and government - especially in Kabul, where a new trend of targeted killings aimed at high-profile figures has sown fear in the restive city. The latest attack comes just two days after the Pentagon announced it had cut troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500, the fewest in nearly two decades. The attack on the judges happened as they were driving to their office in a court vehicle, said Ahmad Fahim Qaweem, a spokesman for the Supreme Court. "Unfortunately, we have lost two women judges in today's attack. Their driver is wounded," Qaweem told AFP. There are more than 200 female judges working for the country's top court, the spokesman added. Kabul police confirmed the attack. Afghanistan's Supreme Court was a target in February 2017 when a suicide bomb ripped through a crowd of court employees, killing at least 20 and wounding 41. In recent months, several prominent Afghans - including politicians, journalists, activists, doctors and prosecutors - have been assassinated in often brazen daytime attacks in Kabul and other cities. Afghan officials have blamed the Taliban for the attacks, a charge the insurgent group has denied. Some of these killings have been claimed by the rival jihadist Islamic State group. Earlier this month the US military for the first time directly accused the Taliban of orchestrating the attacks. "The Taliban's campaign of unclaimed attacks and targeted killings of government officials, civil society leaders & journalists must... cease for peace to succeed," Colonel Sonny Leggett, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said on Twitter. The targeted killings have surged despite the Taliban and Afghan government engaging in peace talks in the Qatari capital of Doha. The Taliban carried out more than 18,000 attacks in 2020, Afghanistan's spy chief Ahmad Zia Siraj told lawmakers earlier this month. On Friday, the Pentagon announced it had cut troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 as part of its deal with the Taliban to withdraw all troops from the country by May 2021. That deal was struck in return for security guarantees from the insurgents and a commitment to peace talks with the Afghan government.

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Pfizer reassures Europe over deliveries of coronavirus vaccines as pandemic surges

Europe|: Paris: Pharma giant Pfizer tried to ease concerns in Europe about deliveries of its coronavirus vaccine as nations across the world doubled down on restrictions to fight the rampaging pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down, with infections surging past 94 million and more than two million deaths, and Europe among the hardest-hit parts of the world. Worries have grown that delays in the delivery of Pfizer-BioNTech shots could hamper a European vaccine rollout which has already faced heavy criticism across the continent. Work is ongoing at the Pfizer plant in Belgium to increase capacity, and the firm and its German partner BioNTech said Saturday it would allow them to “significantly” scale up vaccine production in the second quarter. Deliveries would be back to the original schedule to the EU from January 25, they pledged. Mass vaccinations Several Nordic and Baltic countries have described the situation as “unacceptable”, while Belgium’s vaccination strategy task force condemned a lack of consultation by Pfizer over the deliveries as “incomprehensible”. France, which crossed 70,000 Covid-19 deaths on the weekend, is set to begin a campaign to inoculate people over 75 from Monday. Russia plans to begin mass vaccinations the same day. Despite the rollout of vaccines, countries still have few options but to rely on movement and distancing restrictions to control the spread of the virus. Curbs will be tightened in Italy and Switzerland from Monday, while Britain will require testing of all international arrivals.

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India hails 'life saving' COVID-19 vaccine rollout

India|: New Delhi: India's COVID-19 vaccination drive had a successful start with more than 190,000 people receiving their first jabs and no one hospitalised for major side effects, the health ministry said, but reports emerged about concerns over the homegrown vaccine. Authorities have given emergency-use approval for two vaccines - Oxford-AstraZeneca and the homegrown "Covaxin", which has yet to complete its Phase 3 trials - and plans to immunise some 300 million people in the country of 1.3 billion by July. Frontline workers such as hospital staff, people over 50 and those deemed to be at high risk due to pre-existing medical conditions are on the shortlist to receive the vaccines. Also read COVID-19: Bharat Biotech to pay compensation if Covaxin causes side effects PM Narendra Modi launches India's vaccination drive against COVID-19 India’s new COVID-19 cases per million among lowest in the world: Government "We have got encouraging and satisfactory feedback results on the first day," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told his state counterparts on Saturday. "This vaccine will indeed be a 'Sanjeevani' (life saver)" in the fight against the virus, he added. The health ministry said "no case of post-vaccination hospitalisation" had been reported, although local media said a security guard at the country's top-ranked public hospital, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, had developed an allergic reaction shortly after getting his shot. A doctors' representative body at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi wrote a letter asking for the Oxford-AstraZeneca "Covishield" vaccine to be supplied instead of Covaxin to allay any fears. "The residents are a bit apprehensive about the lack of complete trial in case of Covaxin and might not participate in huge numbers thus defeating the purpose of vaccination," said the letter addressing the hospital's medical superintendent, seen by AFP. "We request you to vaccinate us with Covishield, which has completed all stages of trial before its rollout." Pathologist Arvind Ahuja told AFP at the hospital on Saturday that he shared some of the concerns. "I hope when the data comes out, it is good. Ideally, they should have waited for one month at least as then we would have known better about its efficacy," the 45-year-old said. Vaccine hesitancy has emerged as a major concern, with a recent survey of 18,000 people across India finding that 69 percent were in no rush to get a shot. Leading scientists and doctors have called on authorities to release efficacy data about Covaxin to boost confidence about the vaccine. Covaxin recipients on Saturday had to sign a consent form that stated its "clinical efficacy... is yet to be established". Officials had hoped to inoculate 300,000 people on Saturday but said glitches with an app used to coordinate and monitor the process meant not all potential recipients were alerted. India has the world's second-largest known caseload with more than 10.5 million coronavirus infections and over 152,000 deaths so far.