Climate Crises Drastically Increase Child Hunger, UK-Based Charity Says

Children made up nearly half of the people driven into hunger and malnutrition by extreme weather events in countries heavily impacted by the climate crisis in 2022, according to a UK-based charity.

Citing data by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC hunger monitoring system, Britain’s Save the Children said Tuesday that children made up 27 million of the 57 million “people pushed into crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse across 12 countries because of extreme weather events in 2022.”

“As climate-related weather events become more frequent and severe, we will see more drastic consequences on children’s lives,” said Gwen Hines, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children UK. “In 2022, 135% more children were pushed into hunger due to extreme weather events than the year before.”

Half of the 27 million affected children came from the most affected countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Save the Children highlighted Somalia as particularly vulnerable to climate crises, pointing to the country’s five consecutive failed rainy seasons and the recent impact of flooding that displaced 650,000 people, about half of which are children.

Save the Children also identified Pakistan, which last year saw floods affect some 33 million people, with half being children. A year after the flood, “2 million flood-affected children are acutely malnourished, with almost 600,000 children suffering from the deadliest form of malnutrition,” the charity said.

Save the Children also called on world leaders from high income nations ahead of the COP28, the United Nations climate summit, to address the climate crisis, by “providing funding for losses and damages and climate adaptation.”

“To truly protect children now and in the future, robust support for the new Loss and Damage Fund is non-negotiable,” Hines said. “At COP28, world leaders must listen to the demands of children and invite them to be part of proposing solutions.”

Save the Children also called on action from leaders to address the “acute food and nutrition insecurity such as conflict, inequality, and a lack of resilient health, nutrition and social protection systems.”

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse.

your ad here

Prominent Farming Area in Indian Kashmir Turns Into Garbage Mountain

The dumping yard in Achan area of Srinagar on the Indian side of Kashmir wreaks havoc for locals in the capital city. The area was known for farming and wetlands but today the heaps of garbage have obtained the height of a mountain. For VOA, Muheet Ul Islam has more from Srinagar in Indian administered Kashmir. (Camera and Produced by Wasim Nabi)

your ad here

Iran’s Raisi Not Coming to Turkey on Tuesday: Ankara

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will not be making a previously announced visit to Ankara on Tuesday, the Turkish presidency told AFP, without providing a reason.

The visit had been announced earlier this month by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the two leaders would focus on forging a joint response to the Israel-Hamas war.

“Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is coming to us on the 28th of the month,” Erdogan told reporters on board his flight back from a Nov. 11 regional summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

It was also announced by Turkey’s official state media and discussed heavily on Turkish television as late as Monday.

Erdogan spoke by phone with Raisi on Sunday, according to the Turkish presidency.

It was not immediately clear whether the visit had been canceled or postponed.

your ad here

Rescuers Reach Trapped Miners in India

Rescuers in India on Tuesday reached an area where 41 miners have been trapped for 17 days following the collapse of a road tunnel.

The next stage of the rescue effort involves a plan to pull the miners out on wheeled stretchers through nearly 60 meters of pipe.

The workers became trapped Nov. 12 when a landslide collapsed the tunnel they were working to construct in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

Rescue teams drilled by hand to get through the last section of blockage after setbacks with machine-drilling methods.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.


your ad here

Pakistan: Nationwide Polio Campaign Targets Over 4 Million Children

Pakistan launched a week-long nationwide polio vaccination campaign Monday, as the country remains one of only two around the world where the paralyzing virus still exists.

This year, so far, Pakistan has reported five cases of the highly infectious disease. The latest polio eradication campaign will target more than 4.4 million children across much of the country, as well as in Pakistani-administered Kashmir.  

The South Asian nation came close to eradicating polio in 2021 when it reported only one case of paralysis from the virus. However, last year the country saw a spike with 20 cases on the record. The virus generally spreads through the fecal matter of a carrier that has contaminated the water supply. 

Two of this year’s five cases were detected in the country’s most populous city Karachi in the southern province of Sindh. This came after the city recorded zero cases in the last two years.  

A spokesperson of the provincial Emergency Operation Center, Syed Nofil Naqvi, told VOA both cases are children from Afghan families settled in Pakistan for years.  

Naqvi blamed cross-border movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan for the disease. Afghanistan, the only other country fighting to eliminate the virus has reported six cases so far in 2023.  

“The environmental samples found across Pakistan are genetically linked to Afghanistan,” Naqvi said.  

To counter the spread of the virus through travelers, Naqvi said, polio teams vaccinate children at bus stops and other transit points.   

All of Pakistan’s remaining polio cases this year came from Bannu, a town in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Muhammad Zeeshan Khan, deputy coordinator for the provincial Emergency Operation Center, told VOA all three families had refused to vaccinate their children.   

“We tried a lot to convince them. One child’s family agreed to giving polio drops but the child had not received an [initial] injection [to build immunity]. This [refusal] is the reason that all three children succumbed to paralysis.” Khan said the families worried the vaccine might harm their children.  

Parents’ refusal to give the oral polio vaccine to their children is one of the primary reasons polio virus still exists in Pakistan.   

Polio workers and the security personnel protecting them frequently come under lethal attacks from parents and militants who see the vaccination drive as part of a foreign conspiracy to render Pakistani children impotent or to give them ingredients not permissible for Muslims to consume.

Provincial officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded more than 16,000 refusals in October. According to Khan, Peshawar, the provincial capital, recorded nearly 8000 refusals followed by Bannu, and North Waziristan where most of Pakistan’s polio cases were recorded last year.  

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded 14 incidents of violence against polio teams this year.   

To counter such misconceptions, authorities have been engaging local clerics and influencers, and running expensive TV and radio campaigns to convince parents to vaccinate their children.   

Still, other parents refuse and bargain for unmet civic needs. The National Emergency Operation Center’s plans for the latest campaign show several communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have refused to vaccinate their children until gas, roads or teachers are provided.  

“For us, the biggest concern is the child whose family has refused [to vaccinate],” said Khan.  

In any campaign cycle thousands of children are also “missed” because they are not home, or the family is unwilling to allow the vaccination team inside if a male member of the household is not present.  

Data shows over 13 percent of children in Quetta, Baluchistan’s provincial capital, missed getting the vaccine last time. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, nearly 1.2 percent of children or more than 90,000 were missed as well.  

However, Khan said many of the missed children get vaccinated as guests in whichever community they are temporarily present.   

In Quetta too, nearly half the children who were missed at one point were eventually covered, according to data.  

Still, in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that border Afghanistan the vaccination campaign will either be conducted later or postponed indefinitely, primarily due to security reasons.

As hundreds of thousands of polio workers and security personnel go door to door this week in areas facing a high risk of polio, Naqvi is hopeful Pakistan will get closer to eliminating the crippling disease.   

“We are using a positive way of giving the message,” Naqvi said. From posting signs that said “Caution! Your area has polio,” he said, we now say, “we can eliminate polio.”

your ad here

Rescuers in India Switch to Manual Digging to Extricate Workers From Collapsed Tunnel

Rescue teams will switch to digging by hand in an effort to extricate 41 construction workers trapped in a collapsed road tunnel in northern India for the past 16 days. 

Officials said Monday that workers will use a so-called “rat hole” mining technique to access the collapsed tunnel, digging a narrow passageway through the remaining rocks and debris to reach the men. 

“There is no other way left except the manual method and this is also the safe one through which we can reach the laborers,” former Lt. Gen Harpal Singh, who is at the site to provide technical assistance to the operation, said on Monday. “Our people are also taking care of the safety measures of those who will go inside for manual drilling. Safety is our priority.”

The tunnel, being built as part of a massive highway project in the northern state of Uttarakhand, caved in on November 12.

Efforts to reach the workers have hit repeated setbacks in the difficult Himalayan terrain, with sophisticated drilling equipment breaking down several times as it encountered rocks and boulders. 

The latest setback came on Friday when the drilling machine was damaged irreparably about 14 meters away from the tunnel.    

A team of Indian army engineers joined the rescue effort Monday, assisting other teams who had been already working on the site. They include international tunnel experts.

Work is also in progress to create an alternate escape route with workers drilling vertically from the top of the mountain toward the tunnel. 

“We have to drill around 86 meters to be done within four days, that is, by November 30th. Hopefully, there will be no further hurdles and the work will be completed on time,” Mahmood Ahmad, managing director of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited said on Sunday.

However drilling into the mountain poses higher risks, with geologists warning that it could destabilize the hilly terrain.

Plummeting temperatures and forecasts of hail, thunderstorms and rainy weather pose another challenge to the rescue teams.  

“Everyone has been trying,” Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami said on Monday. “We hope that the work is completed at the earliest.” 

Contact has been maintained with the 41 men since they were trapped, first via radio and then with a camera that was inserted last Tuesday through a 15 centimeter pipe that is being used to send hot meals and medicines to the trapped men. Oxygen is being supplied through a separate pipe.

Doctors and psychologists are on standby to ensure their physical and mental well-being of the mostly migrant workers, who had come to work on the project from some of India’s poorest states. Mobile phones have been sent in so that they can talk to their families as well as board games such as Ludo to help them stay occupied.

“They have electricity and a two kilometer passageway along which they can walk. This will help in ensuring their well-being. Counselors are constantly in touch with them. We are giving them what they need,” Syed Ata Hussain, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority told a press conference Monday.   

Authorities have not said what caused the partial collapse of the under-construction tunnel, which is part of an ambitious but controversial $ 1.5 billion highway project to improve access to important Hindu pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand. Reports say it happened due to a landslide. 

Several experts had opposed the “Char Dham” highway project saying that cutting of hillsides and felling of trees would disturb the geology of the Himalayas, the world’s youngest mountain chain, as well as pose a risk to communities living in the vicinity. 

“This is a region that has become increasingly prone to disasters such as landslides. So whatever we are building, we must take the fragility of the Himalayas into account,” Anjal Prakash, research director, Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business, told VOA. 

“There is a need for infrastructure but how do we plan, that is a conundrum. We need to ensure that the construction being done is environmentally benign and meets international standards for road safety. It looks to me as if some of these issues have been compromised in the present case.”

your ad here

Bangladesh Arrest Thousands in ‘Violent’ Crackdown: HRW

Bangladesh has launched a sweeping and violent crackdown on opposition parties to “eliminate competition” ahead of general elections, including arresting almost 10,000 activists, Human Rights Watch said Monday.


As well as the thousands arrested — many from the key Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — a staggering number also face charges.


According to the BNP, about half of its five million members “face politically motivated prosecution,” HRW said.


“The arrests, they are not leaving anyone behind, from senior level to the ground level,” one activist told HRW.


Prisons are now at more than double their capacity, the rights group said.


The South Asian nation of around 170 million people holds a general election on Jan.7, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina eyeing her fourth consecutive term in power.


“Bangladesh authorities are carrying out mass arrests of political opposition in a clear attempt to quash the opposition and eliminate competition ahead of the general elections,” HRW said.


New York-based HRW, who called it a “violent autocratic crackdown,” said at least 16 people have been killed since protests escalated in October, including two police officers.


More than 5,500 people have been injured.


There was no immediate response by the government to the HRW report, but authorities say that those arrested should face justice for a range of violent crimes.


‘Extrajudicial killings’


HRW based its report on multiple witness interviews, as well as analysis of videos and police reports.


It said it had found “evidence that security forces are responsible for using excessive force, mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.”


Bangladesh is one of the world’s largest garment exporters — accounting for around 85% of its $55 billion in annual exports — with many global brands purchasing clothes from its factories. 


“Diplomatic partners should make clear that the crackdown will jeopardize economic cooperation,” HRW said.


Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said credible elections could not be held under such conditions.


“A free election is impossible when the government stifles free expression and systematically incapacitates the opposition, critics, and activists through arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, harassment, and intimidation,” Bleckner said.


The BNP on Sunday said at least 16,625 members had been arrested since October.


They include most of its leadership, most notably the BNP’s de facto chief Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.


Prosecutors and lawyers said in the past two weeks at least 526 BNP officials and activists were convicted and sentenced, mostly in absentia, over what the party said were “trumped up” charges.

your ad here

Indian Rescuers Change Tactics to Reach 41 Trapped Tunnel Workers

Indian rescuers began drilling vertically Sunday from the top of a mountain under which 41 workers became trapped two weeks ago while working on a highway tunnel in the Himalayas, government officials said.

The men, construction workers from some of India’s poorest states, have been stuck in the 4.5-km (3-mile) tunnel being built in Uttarakhand state since it caved in early on Nov. 12. Authorities have said they are safe, with access to light, oxygen, food, water and medicines.

But rescuing them will take much longer than previously hoped as rescuers have switched to manual drilling following damage to the drilling machine, officials said Saturday.

Rescuers had hoped to finish the drilling late Thursday but had to suspend the operation after the platform on which the machine was placed was damaged.

Work resumed Friday evening only to be suspended soon afterward as the machine ran into a new obstacle, officials said, without elaborating.

Vertical drilling started Sunday and it will take about 100 hours, the officials said.

Initially, the rescue plan involved pushing a pipe wide enough to pull the trapped men out on wheeled stretchers.

The men have been getting cooked food via a lifeline pipe that was pushed through to ensure steady supplies of essential goods.

More than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, are at the site, talking to the men and monitoring their health. The fact that the tunnel is closed by the debris keeps the men warm.

They have been told to do light yoga exercises and walk around in the 2-kilometer tunnel space they have been confined to, and keep talking to each other.

Deepak Patil, one of the officers in charge of the rescue mission, told Reuters authorities had sent in two mobile phones and memory cards with Hindi films and electronic games.

Priyanka Chaturvedi, a spokesperson for one of India’s opposition parties, asked Sunday for an investigation into the accident and asked the government to ensure the safety of the men.

A member of a panel of experts investigating the disaster said Friday the tunnel does not have an emergency exit and was built through a geological fault.

your ad here

4 Employees of Germany’s Main Aid Agency Arrested in Afghanistan

Taliban authorities in Afghanistan arrested four local employees of Germany’s main government-owned aid agency, according to the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“I can confirm that the local employees of GIZ are in custody although we have not received any official information on why they are detained,” a ministry spokesperson told the Associated Press in a statement late Saturday.

“We are taking this situation very seriously and are working through all channels available to us to ensure that our colleagues are released,” she added.

The German Agency for International Cooperation, or GIZ, is owned by the German government. It operates in around 120 countries worldwide, offering projects and services in the areas of “economic development, employment promotion, energy and the environment, and peace and security,” according to the agency’s website.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from the country. Many foreign missions, including the German embassy in Kabul, closed their offices.

The Taliban initially promised a more moderate approach than during their previous rule from 1996 to 2001 but gradually reimposed their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia.

Girls were banned from education beyond the sixth grade and women were barred from working, studying, traveling without a male companion, and even going to parks or bathhouses and were forced to cover up from head to toe.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in September that human rights are in a state of collapse in Afghanistan more than two years following the Taliban’s return to power and stripped back institutional protections at all levels.

your ad here

Suicide Bombing Hits Military Convoy in NW Pakistan

A suicide bomber struck a Pakistani military convoy in a volatile northwestern region Sunday, wounding at least 11 soldiers.

Multiple official sources confirmed to VOA the attack occurred in Bannu, a garrison city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. They described the condition of at least three injured personnel as “critical.”

The army’s media wing did not immediately comment on the bombing.  

The anti-government Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, known to have close ties with neighboring Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Bannu and several adjoining Pakistani districts, including North Waziristan on the Afghan border, routinely experience militant attacks.

Pakistan alleges fugitive militants have intensified their violent campaign in the country from sanctuaries in Afghanistan since the Islamist Taliban reclaimed power there two years ago.

Officials say the violence has killed more than 2,300 Pakistanis, mostly security forces. The bloodshed has strained Islamabad’s relations with the de facto Afghan government in Kabul.

Most of the violence has been claimed by the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, an alliance of more than a dozen militant insurgent groups.

Pakistani officials say around 6,000 TTP members, including senior commanders, have taken refuge and operate freely out of Afghan soil to direct cross-border terrorism, charges Taliban authorities reject. 

your ad here

India’s LGBTQ Community Holds Pride March, Raises Concerns Over Country’s Restrictive Laws

Information in this report is confirmed by other sources and can be used with attribution to AP on websites and without attribution in broadcasts.  The Newscenter has no plans to match it. 



India’s LGBTQ+ Community Holds Pride March, Raises Concerns Over Country’s Restrictive Laws 


NEW DELHI (AP) — More than 2,000 people have danced, sang and cheered in a gay pride parade in India’s capital, while also raising their concerns over India’s restrictive laws. Dancing to drums and music, the participants Sunday carried rainbow flags, multicolored balloons and placards as they walked for more than two hours to the Jantar Mantar area near India’s Parliament. The annual event comes shortly after India’s top court refused to legalize same-sex marriages, which disappointed campaigners for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s most populous country. In 2018, India’s top court struck down a colonial-era law that had made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison and expanded constitutional rights for the gay community. 


NEW DELHI (AP) — More than 2,000 people took part in a gay pride event in New Delhi, waving rainbow flags and multicolored balloons as they celebrated sexual diversity in India but also raised concerns over the country’s restrictive laws.

Dancing to drums and music, the participants walked for more than two hours to the Jantar Mantar area near India’s Parliament. They held banners reading “Equality for all” and “Queer and proud.”

The annual event comes after India’s top court refused to legalize same-sex marriages in an October ruling that disappointed campaigners for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s most populous country.

“It’s not about marriage. It’s about equality. Everybody should have the same right because that’s what our constitution says,” said Noor Enayat, one of the volunteers organizing this year’s event.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench heard 21 petitions that sought to legalize same-sex marriage in India.

The justices called for steps to raise awareness among the public about LGBTQ+ identity and to establish hotlines and safe houses for those in the community who are facing violence. They also urged the state to make sure same-sex couples don’t face harassment or discrimination in accessing basic needs, like opening a joint bank account, but stopped short of granting legal recognition to same-sex unions.

Legal rights for LGBTQ+ people in India have been expanding over the past decade, mostly as a result of the Supreme Court’s intervention.

In 2018, the top court struck down a colonial-era law that had made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison and expanded constitutional rights for the gay community. The decision was seen as a historic victory for LGBTQ+ rights.

Despite this progress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government resisted the legal recognition of same-sex marriage and rejected several petitions in favor. Some religious groups, too, had opposed same-sex unions, saying they went against Indian culture.

Homosexuality has long carried a stigma in India’s traditional society, even though there has been a shift in attitudes toward same-sex couples in recent years. India now has openly gay celebrities and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

According to a Pew survey, acceptance of homosexuality in India increased by 22 percentage points to 37% between 2013 and 2019. But same-sex couples often face harassment in many Indian communities, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian.

your ad here

4 Dead, Dozens Injured in South India Stampede

At least four people were killed and dozens injured Saturday evening in a stampede at a university in southern India, local officials and media reported.

The stampede occurred at an outdoor auditorium in the Cochin University of Science and Technology, or CUSAT, in southwest Kerala state, where a concert had been planned.

In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, Kerala state Governor Arif Mohammed Khan said he was “deeply shocked and grieved to know about the sad demise of four students” at CUSAT. “Heartfelt condolences to their families. Prayers for speedy recovery of injured,” he added.

State Health Minister Veena George said in a statement that four people had been brought dead to the Kalamassery Medical College Hospital while four more were in critical condition, the PTI news agency reported, adding that over 60 people had been injured.

A local police official said that a crowd outside the auditorium had rushed to seek cover from a sudden downpour when a number of people slipped on some stairs and were subsequently trampled, according to PTI.

One of the deadliest stampedes in recent history occurred a decade ago in India, when at least 115 people were killed on the sidelines of a religious festival in central Madhya Pradesh state.

your ad here

10 Killed, 22 Injured in Pakistani Shopping Mall Blaze

A fire tore through a shopping mall in the southwestern Pakistani city of Karachi, killing at least 10 people and injuring 22 others, police and local officials said Saturday.

The multistory RJ Mall is in a commercial high-rise that also houses call centers and software firms.

The fire department dispatched eight fire trucks to the scene after being alerted at 6:30 a.m. Chief fire officer, Ishtiaq Ahmed Khan, said the fourth floor of the building was the most affected.

Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab Siddiqui said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the fire had been extinguished and a cooling process was underway.

He said that five of the 22 injured were in critical condition. “We are trying our best to do whatever it takes to save their lives and to provide them with whatever treatment that is required for saving their lives,” Siddiqui, who was at the scene, told reporters.

The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.

Karachi is the capital of southern Sindh province, where such incidents are common.

In April, a fire ripped through a garment factory, killing four firefighters. The building eventually collapsed.

In August 2021, at least 10 people were killed in a fire at a chemical factory in the same city. In the deadliest such incident, 260 people were killed after being trapped inside a garment factory when a fire broke out.

Earlier this week, city planners and engineers said they were sure that most structures in Karachi — residential, commercial and industrial — did not have fire prevention and firefighting systems, Pakistan’s largest English-speaking paper Dawn reported.

“They agreed that it was ‘criminal negligence’ on the part of regulatory bodies like the Sindh Building Control Authority that put the lives of millions of people in the metropolis at risk,” the report said.

your ad here

Digging to Rescue 41 Trapped Workers in India Halts after Machine Breaks

Attempts to reach 41 construction workers stuck in a collapsed tunnel in northern India for two weeks were again stymied Saturday.

Rescuers had been working by hand to remove debris after the drilling machine they were using broke down a day earlier while making its way through the debris of rock, stones and metal, but the operation was halted on Saturday.

Arnold Dix, an international expert assisting the rescue team at the accident site in Uttarakhand state, said it is unclear when the drilling will be able to start again.

“The machine is busted. It is irreparable,” he told reporters. “The mountain has once again resisted the auger (machine).”

The workers have been trapped since Nov. 12 when a landslide caused a portion of the 4.5-kilometer tunnel they were building to collapse about 200 meters from the entrance. The mountainous terrain in the area has proven to be a challenge for the drilling machine, which had earlier broken twice as rescue teams attempted to dig horizontally toward the trapped workers.

The machine stopped working after it had drilled about 2 meters of the last stretch of 12 meters of rock debris that would open a passage for the workers to come out from the tunnel.

Rescuers have inserted pipes into the dug-out channel and welded them together to serve as a passageway from where the men would be pulled out on wheeled stretchers. About 46 meters of pipe has been put in so far, according to Devendra Patwal, a disaster management officer.

Meanwhile, a new drilling machine used to dig vertically was brought to the accident site Saturday.

The vertical dig is seen as an alternative plan to reach the trapped men, and the rescuers have already created an access road to the top of the hill. However, rescue teams will need to dig 103 meters downward to reach the trapped workers — nearly double the distance of the horizontal shaft.

Authorities have supplied the trapped workers with hot meals made of rice and lentils through a 15-centimeter pipe after days when they survived on dry food sent through a narrower pipe. Oxygen is being supplied through a separate pipe, and more than a dozen doctors, including psychiatrists, have been at the accident site monitoring their health.

Most of the trapped workers are migrant laborers from across the country. Many of their families have traveled to the accident site, where they have camped out for days to get updates on the rescue effort and in hopes of seeing their relatives soon.

The tunnel the workers were building was designed as part of the Chardham all-weather road, which will connect various Hindu pilgrimage sites. Some experts say the project, a flagship initiative of the federal government, will exacerbate fragile conditions in the upper Himalayas, where several towns are built atop landslide debris.

Large numbers of pilgrims and tourists visit Uttarakhand’s many Hindu temples, with the number increasing over the years due to the continued construction of buildings and roadways.

your ad here

Bangladesh Prepping for ‘Unfair’ Election, Say Analysts, Opposition 

Although the national poll body of Bangladesh has announced parliamentary elections will be held on January 7, opposition parties, rights activists and political analysts are saying that the situation in the country is not suitable for elections at all.   

With a massive crackdown continuing against the opposition political parties, and party leaders and activists still being arbitrarily arrested across the country, the election cannot be free and fair, rights activists said.  

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is rapidly filling Bangladesh’s prisons with her opponents ahead of the general election in January. In just the last month, Human Rights Watch has documented cases of enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial killings and mass arbitrary arrest of the political opposition,” HRW senior Asia researcher Julia Bleckner told VOA.

“The ongoing systematic crackdown on opposition members, critics and human rights activists by Bangladesh security forces makes a free and fair election impossible,” she said.

The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) boycotted the 2014 general elections. In 2018, the general elections were marred by widespread allegations of vote rigging by Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL).

Since last year, the United States and other countries have urged the Hasina government to hold the next general election in a free and fair manner. In September, the U.S. announced that it had started “taking steps to impose visa restrictions” on Bangladeshi individuals who were found complicit in “undermining the democratic electoral process” in Bangladesh.

Following the announcement of the next general elections schedule, the BNP and its allies have continued to demand the resignation of Hasina. An anti-opposition crackdown by government security forces has led to hundreds of opposition leaders and activists being arrested every day.

Jails full of political prisoners

The country’s 68 prisons, with the capacity to house 42,700 inmates, are severely overcrowded. Bangladesh’s home minister put the figure at 77,200 in September.

Among the inmates, at least 25,000 are political prisoners from the BNP and its allies, a party statement said.

The government actually wants to keep the country’s largest opposition party away from the election, BNP Senior Joint Secretary-General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told VOA.

“The government has arrested almost all our senior leaders, including the BNP’s secretary-general [Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir] and thousands of party activists, after filing false cases against them, so that our party cannot utilize its full strength to participate in the election,” Rizvi said. “To avoid arrest, hundreds of thousands of BNP leaders and activists are in hiding, away from their homes. The condition for a free, fair and acceptable-to-all election does not exist in the country now.”

It’s “pointless” for the BNP to participate in the general election, Rizvi added.

Mohammad Faruk Hossain, spokesperson for the Dhaka metropolitan police, said that the accusation of filing false cases against the opposition was “baseless.”  

“After we receive reports of the BNP or other opposition parties being involved in some violent activities like cocktail bombing, attack[s] on police, et cetera, a primary investigation is conducted by the police,” he told VOA. “The police arrest and file cases against someone only if the allegation of the person being involved in a criminal incident is found to primarily true in our investigation.”

In recent days over 400 former lawmakers, senior leaders and activists from the BNP have been sentenced by courts. Among those sentenced were some prospective candidates, a BNP statement said.  

Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman of the Capital Punishment Justice Project, who has been documenting rights violations in Bangladesh for more than 15 years, said that Hasina “systematically uses” Bangladesh’s judiciary “as a tool to punish dissidents.”  

“The judiciary has been complying with the Hasina regime by convicting the main opposition political leaders en masse prior to the unilateral national election,” Ashrafuzzaman told VOA. “The judiciary, law enforcement agencies, intelligence units and the Election Commission are complementing each other to facilitate a sham election that the people of Bangladesh have already apparently rejected.”

Not a ‘genuine’ election

Bangladesh is going to hold yet another “one-sided” election, said Badiul Alam Majumdar, founder of Dhaka-based pro-democracy group Citizens for Good Governance.

“Election, by definition, involves an act of choosing by voters from alternative candidates, who are comparable, and the voters enjoy the freedom to choose,” Majumdar told VOA. “In Bangladesh’s election, we have two major, comparable brands — Awami League and BNP — and in the absence of one of these two, despite the participation of other fringe and king’s parties, the voters will be deprived of the opportunity to choose from worthy candidates in a one-sided election.

“Such an exercise, where who will win is almost predetermined, cannot be called a ‘genuine’ election.”

Ali Riaz, professor of political science at Illinois State University, said that a Bangladesh election excluding the major opposition parties and “engineered like the previous two general elections” would have serious consequences, “not only politically but also economically and diplomatically.”

“The 2024 election is heading to be the most consequential election in the history of the country,” Riaz told VOA. “How the election is conducted will determine which way the country will be heading – a de facto one-party state like Cambodia or reverse to the democratic path.”

The mass arrests of the BNP leaders and activists ahead of the election and the “conviction of them in unprecedented speed,” even in unfounded cases, have clearly shown that the “ruling party wants to hold an engineered election,” he said.

“The unilateral announcement of the election schedule by the Election Commission has added fuel to the fire,” Riaz added. “The EC is acting as a tool for implementing the ruling party’s design of the engineered election. Any way to have a meaningful election is now almost impossible.”

your ad here

Pakistan Firm on Exit Fee for Afghans Waiting for Asylum in West

Officials in Pakistan have defended charging fees on Afghan nationals leaving the country or waiting for Western-sponsored resettlements, saying the decision complies with local immigration laws.

The targeted community comprises tens of thousands of people who worked for the U.S.-led NATO military mission in Afghanistan and fled the country fearing reprisals after the then-insurgent Taliban seized power in August 2021.

A Pakistani immigration official confirmed Friday that each Afghan asylum-seeker waiting to depart to a third country would be charged more than $800 for overstaying their visas or not possessing documents to stay legally.

“The government is doing a big favor to them. Otherwise, they would have to pay such amount every week in penalties,” the official told VOA anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

U.S. officials have reported that about 25,000 Afghans could be eligible for relocation to the United States under a special immigration program. Britain has announced it would resettle more than 20,000 people from Afghanistan in the coming years.

Western embassies in Islamabad offering resettlement plans have reportedly decried the imposition of exit fees as an unprecedented move and raised it with Pakistani authorities through relevant United Nations agencies.

Thursday, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson rejected “inaccurate” media claims questioning the legality of the financial penalty or suggesting it is Afghan-specific.

“The fact is that under Pakistani laws, like the immigration laws in several countries, including the United Kingdom, there are fines and punishments for individuals who overstay their visas or are found to be in violation of immigration laws,” Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said at her weekly news conference in Islamabad.

“So, any fines that Pakistan has imposed or will impose will be in conformity with our laws,” she said.

The imposition of exit fees comes amid mass deportations of foreigners, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans illegally residing in Pakistan or overstaying their visas.

The crackdown has forced nearly 360,000 Afghans to return to their country of origin since mid-September, according to official data released Friday. Pakistani authorities have said those waiting for resettlement in the U.S. and other countries will not be deported to Afghanistan.

Pakistan has also repeatedly clarified that the 1.4 million legal Afghan refugees it hosts and more than 800,000 Afghan migrants registered by the Pakistani government in collaboration with the former Afghan government and the International Organization for Migration are not the subjects of the deportation plans.

The United Nations and partner agencies have repeatedly urged Islamabad to suspend its deportation plans, citing the onset of a harsh winter and the “worsening” Afghan humanitarian crisis.

Philippa Candler, representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in Pakistan, said Tuesday that “mass arrivals are adding to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where winter temperatures are already dipping to -4°C (24.8° F) in some locations.

“Many Afghan returnees are vulnerable, including women and children, who could lose their lives in a harsh winter if left without adequate shelter,” Candler said. 

your ad here

Indian Authorities Release Kashmiri Journalist Fahad Shah after 21 Months in Prison

Indian authorities have released a prominent Kashmir journalist on bail nearly two years after he was arrested on accusations of publishing “anti-national content” and “glorifying terrorism” in the disputed Himalayan region.

Fahad Shah, founder and editor of news portal The Kashmir Walla, was arrested in February 2022 under India’s sedition and anti-terror laws. He was released on Thursday after a court last week granted him bail, saying there was not enough evidence to try him for terrorism and quashed some of the charges.

The 21 months’ confinement of Shah, who is also a correspondent for U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor and other international outlets, highlighted the widening crackdown against journalists and freedom of expression in the contested region. The Indian government banned The Kashmir Walla earlier this year for undeclared reasons.

“What he and his colleagues at The Kashmir Walla actually did was to report widely and honestly about events in Kashmir, where journalists operate in an increasingly oppressive and hostile atmosphere,” Mark Sappenfield, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, wrote on Monday after Shah was granted bail.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, press freedoms in India have steadily shrunk since he was first elected in 2014.

At the time, the country was ranked 140th in the global press freedom index by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. This year, the watchdog has ranked India at 161 out of 180 nations — below the Philippines and Pakistan. The slide has nowhere been more glaring than in Kashmir.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world and the fighting has left tens of thousands of people dead.

Media has always been tightly controlled in India’s part. Arm twisting and fear have been extensively used to intimidate the press since 1989, when rebels began fighting Indian soldiers in a bid to establish an independent Kashmir or union with Pakistan. Pakistan controls Kashmir’s other part and the two countries fiercely claim the territory in full.

Kashmir’s diverse media flourished despite relentless pressure from Indian authorities and rebel groups. But their situation has gotten dramatically worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019, throwing Kashmir under a severe security and communication lockdown and the media in a black hole. A year later, the government’s new media policy sought to control the press more effectively to crack down on independent reporting.

Since then, dozens of people have been arrested, interrogated and investigated under harsh anti-terror laws as authorities began filing criminal cases against some journalists in a campaign that has been widely seen as criminalization of journalists in Kashmir. Several of them have been forced to reveal their sources, while others have been physically assaulted.

Authorities have pressed newspapers by chastising editors and starving them of advertisement funds, their main source of income, to chill aggressive reporting.

Fearing reprisals, local media has largely wilted under the pressure and most newspapers appear to have cooperated and self-censored stories, afraid to be branded anti-national by a government that equates criticism with secessionism.

The court in its judgment said that although getting bail under India’s anti-terror law was difficult, it could not be denied to Shah because he did not pose a “clear and present danger” to society if released.

“It would mean that any criticism of the central government can be described as a terrorist act because the honor of India is its incorporeal property,” the court said in its bail order. “Such a proposition would collide headlong with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19 of the constitution.”

Shah continues to face trial under other sections of the anti-terror law.

your ad here

Indian Rescuers Dig Final Meters to Free 41 Trapped Workers 

Ambulances were on standby Thursday as Indian rescuers dug through the final meters of debris separating them from 41 workers trapped in a collapsed road tunnel for nearly two weeks. 

Rescue teams have specially fitted stretchers with wheels, ready to pull the exhausted men out through 57 meters of steel pipe, once it is driven through the final section of the metric tons of earth, concrete and rubble blocking their escape. 

Emergency vehicles and a field hospital stood ready, preparing to receive the men who have been trapped since a portion of the under-construction tunnel in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand caved in 12 days ago. 

“We have done rehearsals on how to get people safely out,” National Disaster Response Force chief Atul Karwal told reporters Thursday. 

“The boys will go in first,” he said. “We have put wheels under the stretchers so that when we go in, we can get the people out one by one on the stretcher — we are prepared in every way.” 

‘Himalayan geology is the enemy’ 

But rescue efforts have been hit with repeated delays, including more debris falling, fears of further cave-ins and drilling machine breakdowns, as progress on Thursday was slowed by further mechanical problems. 

“The 10 to 12 meters remaining … we don’t know what can come up, but we are ready to handle it,” Karwal said, adding that the trapped men were “keeping up their morale.” 

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said the work was on a “war footing,” with a “team of doctors, ambulances, helicopters and a field hospital” set up. 

Syed Ata Hasnain, a senior National Disaster Management Authority official, refused to say when the men might be freed. 

“This is like battle,” the retired general told reporters. “You cannot put a timeline on it. In battle, you don’t know what the enemy is going to do. 

“Here, the land is your enemy. Himalayan geology is the enemy. … It is very challenging work.” 

Experts have warned about the impact of extensive construction in Uttarakhand, large parts of which are prone to landslides. 

“The rescuers and the workers stuck inside are at equal risk,” Hasnain added. 

Arnold Dix, president of the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association, told AFP that the fact that the men were safe was a gift. 

“Normally when I am responding to a rescue, there is some flooding or we’re running out of oxygen or something terrible is happening,” he said, noting the areas where the men were was stable. 

Prayers for safe release

There was much activity in the area, with worried relatives gathered outside the site. Nearby, a Hindu shrine has been erected, with a priest holding prayers for the safe rescue of the trapped men. 

“The day they will come out of the tunnel, it will be the biggest, happiest day for us,” said Chanchal Singh Bisht, 35, whose cousin Pushkar Singh Ary, 24, is trapped inside. 

In case the route through the main tunnel entrance does not work, rescuers also started blasting and drilling from the far end of the unfinished tunnel, nearly half a kilometer long. 

Preparations have also been made for a risky vertical shaft directly above.

The workers were seen alive for the first time on Tuesday, peering into the lens of an endoscopic camera sent by rescuers down a thin pipe through which air, food, water and electricity are being delivered. 

Though trapped, they have plenty of space, with the area inside 8.5 meters high and stretching about two kilometers in length. 

The tunnel is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s infrastructure project aimed at cutting travel times between some of the most popular Hindu sites in the country, as well as improving access to strategic areas bordering rival China.

your ad here

Disney Sets India Cricket Viewership Record for TV, Streaming During World Cup

Walt Disney said on Thursday its TV channels in India and digital streaming platform both set new viewership records in the recently concluded men’s cricket World Cup.

A record 518 million viewers from India watched matches during the 48-day event on TV, while Disney’s streaming app recorded a peak concurrent viewership of 59 million during the finals.

Disney’s disclosure comes as it competes aggressively with billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s JioCinema in the streaming sector.

In recent months, Ambani has sought to promote his platform by saying mobile streaming is the way to watch live matches, not TV.

On Thursday, Disney said 300 million users tuned into watch World Cup finals alone on TV, citing data from broadcast industry body BARC. “This becomes the most watched event in Indian television history,” said Sanjog Gupta, head of sports at Disney Star.

Disney is currently exploring options of finding a joint venture partner or even a sale of its India business.

The company has offered free streaming of World Cup cricket on smartphones via Hotstar, part of a strategy to boost advertising revenue and offset the impact of a subscriber exodus. JioCinema too have made cricket free to watch on phones.


Cricket-mad India hosted the 13th edition of the showpiece event Oct. 5-Nov. 19, where it lost to Australia’s national team in the final match.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has said that a record 1.25 million attended the matches from the stands during the World Cup this time.

Disney had bought digital and streaming rights to show the ICC tournaments in India from 2024 to 2027 by paying around $3 billion.

your ad here

Tens of Thousands of Protesters demand Restoration of Nepal’s Monarchy Clash With Police

Riot police used batons and tear gas to halt tens of thousands of supporters of Nepal’s former king who attempted to march to the center of the capital on Thursday to demand the restoration of the monarchy and the nation’s former status as a Hindu state.

The protesters, waving the national flag and chanting slogans supporting former King Gyanendra, gathered on the edge of Kathmandu and attempted to move toward the center of the city. Riot police blocked them, beating them with bamboo batons and firing tear gas and a water cannon. There were minor injuries on both sides.

Authorities had banned protests in key areas of the city prior to the rally.

“We love our king and country more than our lives. Bring back the monarchy. Abolish the republic,” the crowd chanted.

Supporters of the former king came to Kathmandu from all over the country to demand the return of the monarchy that was abolished in 2008. They accused the government and political parties of corruption and failed governance.

Weeks of street protests in 2006 forced then-King Gyanendra to abandon his authoritarian rule and introduce democracy.

Two years later, a newly elected parliament voted to abolish the monarchy and declared Nepal a republic with a president as head of state.

Since then, Gyanendra has been living as a private citizen with no power or state protection. He still has some support among the people but little chance of returning to power.

The demonstrators also demanded that Nepal be turned back into a Hindu state. The Himalayan nation was declared a secular state in 2007 by an interim constitution. 

your ad here