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India digs deep to boost defences on crucial China frontier

India|: Atal Rohtang Tunnel: A tunnel nearing completion in the Indian Himalayas will slash by hours the time it takes troops to reach the Chinese border, part of an infrastructure blitz by New Delhi that is gathering pace since a bloody border clash. The nuclear-armed Asian giants blame each other for a brutal high-altitude battle in June that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unspecified number of Chinese casualties. See more Photos: New Swiss Alps tunnel set to transform Europe's rail links Pictures: India surpasses 5 million coronavirus cases India: Folk dancers in Ahmedabad rehearse ahead of Navaratri festival NEET medical entrance exam begins amid strict Covid-19 protocols in India Both have sent massive troop reinforcements, but India has also stepped up its activities behind the frontlines - belatedly so, analysts say. Its stepped-up infrastructure programme includes roads and bridges as well as high-altitude helipads and airstrips for civilian and military aircraft. The showpiece is a $400-million tunnel in Himachal Pradesh state, providing an all-weather route for military convoys to avoid a 50-kilometre trudge through mountain passes that are snow-bound in winter and subject to frequent landslides. This photograph taken on September 1, 2020, shows the north portal of the Atal Rohtang Tunnel in Teling village in Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh state. Image Credit: AFP From late this month, what used to be a four-hour, winding, high-altitude crossing will be cut to a 10-minute dash through the mountains in the state-of-the-art tunnel. “There have been times on the pass route when vehicles have broken down, causing traffic jams of even six to eight hour,” said Lieutenant-General Harpal Singh, head of India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO). “This tunnel and the other infrastructure plans change a lot for the troops,” he said. Engineering feat Labourers are working overtime to get the tunnel ready before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to open it later this month. Currently, essential items such as arms, ammunition and food have to be transported up in bulk before winter starts in an area where temperatures can plunge to minus 40 Celsius. In this photograph taken on September 1, 2020, project Chief Engineer KP Purushothaman (C), along with other officials, inspects a site at the south portal of the Atal Rohtang Tunnel, in Dhundi Village near Solang in Himachal Pradesh state. Image Credit: AFP Constructed at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres and stretching nine kilometres, the Atal Rohtang tunnel is also a feat of engineering. A decade in the making, freezing winter temperatures meant work could only take place from April to September. Workers wore special microchips to help locate them if they got trapped in an avalanche. Still, India’s efforts only belatedly mirror those of China, experts say. “Earlier administrations wasted two decades,” said Harsh Pant, from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi. “China, and its infrastructure, is much stronger today.” Training the locals Sanjay Kundu, the Himachal Pradesh police chief, has also proposed arming locals and training them to report possible Chinese spies and drone and helicopter sightings. “Ultimately, whether it is at the border or the hinterland, people need to be trained and they need to be trained in defending themselves,” he said. The government hopes it will reassure worried villagers. “In the last few weeks they’ve seen a lot more activity of fighter planes over the region,” said Lobsang Gyaltsen, an elected representative from a village around 30 kilometres from the border. “They often wonder if China is attacking,” Gyaltsen said. Tanks The BRO says it has built more strategic roads - most in the high-tension zone next to China - the last four years than in the previous decade and aims to complete 15 more key routes by the end of 2021. Labourers are upgrading a recently-completed 250-kilometre stretch parallel to the Chinese frontier that cuts journey times from Ladakh’s capital Leh from one week to less than a day. Significantly, by next month all bridges along the route will be able to support the weight of a 70-tonne T-90 tank on a trailer, or a truck carrying a surface-to-air missile, according to press reports. There are several strategic high-altitude tunnels as well as 125 bridges at different stages of planning in the states of Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim bordering Tibet and Xinjiang. Besides the strategic value, the improvements will also be life-changing for people who can be cut off from the rest of India for months in winter. This will boost the local economy and attract more people to the sparsely populated area, and so make it less prone to cross-border incursions by the Chinese, the government hopes.

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The show must go on: COVID-19-era Emmys are virtual - and live

TV|: Los Angeles: No red carpet, no star-studded audience and no "Game of Thrones" - this year's Emmys honoring the best in television promise to be radically different as producers scramble to create Hollywood's first major pandemic-era awards show. The coronavirus has turned Tinseltown upside down, bringing productions to a halt even as stay-at-home orders around the world send binge-watching through the roof. Now late night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel will host the 72nd Emmys live on Sunday from an empty theater in Los Angeles - which remains under strict lockdown - with winners beaming in from the safety of their homes due to Covid-19. Adding to the unpredictability on a night of firsts, 130-odd nominees who were sent cameras to hook up in their own living rooms have been encouraged to get creative with their speeches (and comfortable - A-listers are invited to trade gowns and tuxedos for pajamas). "Ratings have been flagging for award shows for years This is, if nothing else, an opportunity to mix things up, to do an award ceremony in a way unlike any other that's been done," said IndieWire TV awards editor Libby Hill. "Even if Sunday night is a complete disaster, it's at least going to be an interesting disaster. And that's really all you ask for in 2020." Capturing this year's somewhat anarchic zeitgeist, "Watchmen" leads the charge with a whopping 26 nominations, primarily in the limited series categories. The eerily prescient comic book adaptation that debuted last October confronts historic US racism, police violence and even mask-wearing. It also wowed critics and audiences alike. "'Watchmen' speaks so specifically in so many unprecedented ways to the moment in which we're living right now," said Hill. "I think people will probably get pretty tired of hearing Watchmen's name getting called it's as much of a lock as we have right now." 'Last chance' With HBO's record-breaking Emmys juggernaut "Game of Thrones" having finally mounted a dragon and soared off to Westeros, the awards in the drama series categories promise to be more fiercely contested this year. "It's a relief for HBO that they have 'Succession' hitting at the right time," said Deadline awards columnist Pete Hammond. The critically adored show about a powerful family's back-stabbing battle for control of a dynastic media empire won a writing Emmy in its first season, and has amassed 18 nominations this time. But it is tied with "Ozark," a dark money-laundering tale set in the American heartland from Netflix, which despite landing a record 160 nominations this year is still desperate to win its first major series Emmy. Lurking in the background are British royals saga "The Crown" and Star Wars tale "The Mandalorian," which boasts lavish Thrones-esque production values and has already scooped five Emmys in technical categories this week for newcomer Disney+. Comedy this year appears to be a toss-up between previous serial winner "The Marvelous Mrs Maisel" - Amazon's quirky tale of a 1950s housewife who becomes a standup comic - and "Schitt's Creek." The latter, a Canadian comedy about a privileged family forced to live in a rundown motel, failed to earn a single nomination in its first four years, but became a sleeper hit after airing on Netflix and signed off with a heartwarming final season. Emmy voters "know it's the show's last chance that's the one that's got big momentum," said Hammond. 'Crapshoot' Of the more than 100 acting nominations in the drama, comedy, limited series and television movie categories this year, more than a third of them went to black actors - a new record Aside from the awards themselves, the night will honor the career achievement of Tyler Perry. The African-American entertainment mogul has championed greater diversity in Hollywood, and this year paid funeral costs for black victims of police violence including George Floyd. The theme of tackling racism is expected to feature prominently throughout the night, while many stars in famously liberal Hollywood are likely to have a wary eye on President Donald Trump's re-election bid. And then of course there's the pandemic itself to address. With nominees given "unprecedented freedom" as they broadcast from locations of their choosing, winners' speeches on a night billed by Kimmel as "the Emmys meet Big Brother" are likely to have surprises in store. "It's a crapshoot," said Hammond. "That's the one thing you can't predict."