Iran: Death toll in floods rises to 76
Tehran: At least 76 people were killed while hundreds were left injured due to the recent flooding in Iran. Officials have warned that even though floodwaters are receding, flood alerts remain in place across a few provinces, according to Xinhua.
There is a possibility that flash floods could still affect the southeastern provinces of Fars, Hormozgan, Sistan, and Baluchestan as well as the northeastern regions of South Khorasan and Khorasan Razavi provinces, Ahad Vazifeh, an official with Iran’s Meteorological Organization, said.
Apart from this, Khuzestan may be hit with a fresh spell of rains, he added. 25 out of 31 provinces in Iran have been affected by floods since March 19, with thousands of people being displaced from their homes.
Times Square inundates with Sikh culture as thousands tie turban on Turban Day
New York: A sea of colours and tradition of the Sikh culture inundated Times Square, the crossroads of the world, as members of the community tied turbans to thousands of New Yorkers and tourists in an annual fixture aimed at spreading awareness about the Sikh identity. Sikh organisation ‘The Sikhs of New York’ organised the annual Turban Day on Saturday in association with the Consulate General of India in New York. This year’s Turban Day also marked the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev and the festival of Baisakhi.
Deputy Consul General of India in New York Shatrughna Sinha said the Consulate is commemorating the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak with Gurubani recital programmes. As part of the commemoration of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary as well as to mark Baisakhi, this year the Consulate associated with The Sikhs of NY on Turban Day, Sinha said. “This is a great environment and ambience and the crowd is fantastic,” Sinha said, sporting a blue turban as he took part in the commemoration. “There is no better way than this to raise awareness about Sikhism as well as propagating the message of universal brotherhood and humanity of Guru Nanak Dev ji,” he told PTI.
Turban Day was started in 2013 at Baruch College to promote and educate people about the Sikh religion and identity. Sikhs of New York co-founder Chanpreet Singh said in the seven years that Turban Day has been organised in the city, there has increasingly been awareness about Sikhism, not just through people who are getting turbans tied but by the thousands others on social media following the event. He said more than 38,000 turbans have been tied in the past seven years since the day started being organised in the city.
“Technically, by tying one turban we are educating 200 people who are following it on social media,” Singh said, adding that number of volunteers signing up for the event has increased multifold over the years. “We have people coming from California, Canada, Europe and some from India, especially planning their trip to the US around Turban Day,” he said. This year, the organisation also honoured Sikh personnel serving in the US Army and Navy. Singh said the organisation will continue in its endeavours such as Turban Day till “the day I walk on the streets and people don’t give me two looks,” noting that there is need to continue to spread awareness about the Sikh culture the organisation plans to take Turban Day to other cities across the US.
“The celebration was very special and important for us because we not only celebrated Turban Day, like every year, but this year it fell on Baisakhi Day and we are marking it with 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, our first Guru,” he said. Gabriella Vinetti and her friend Eri Banjahi from Argentina clicked selfies, donning their bright green and pink turbans. “We wore the turban in solidarity and in respect of another culture,” they said.
Last year, the Sikhs of New York had created a world record for tying thousands of turbans within a few hours on Turban Day. The organisation had won a certificate from the Guinness World Record for the “most turbans tied in 8 hours was achieved by Sikhs of NY (USA) in Times Square in New York, USA on April 7, 2018.” Every year, Turban Day brings together hundreds of volunteers from the the Sikh community who tie colourful turbans on New Yorkers, tourists and Americans from across the country visiting Times Square. While tying the turbans, they also talk about the Sikh heritage, identity and make those getting the turbans tied aware of the culture.
The event has been aimed at spreading awareness among Americans and other nationalities about the Sikh religion and its articles of faith, especially the turban, which has often been misconceived and misidentified, particularly in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks. The five-hour long event included cultural and musical performances by young children.
Nepal: 3 killed, 5 injured in plane crash in Lukla airport
Kathmandu: At least three people were killed when a small plane veered off the runway while taking off and hit two parked helicopters at Lukla airport in Nepal’s Everest region on Sunday, officials said. The incident occurred as the plane skidded off the runway while preparing to take off and hit helicopters parked at the Lukla-based helipad which is 30-50 metres from the runway, the Kathmandu Post reported. Co-pilot S Dhungana and Assistant Sub-Inspector Ram Bahadur Khadka, who was stationed at the helipad, were killed in the incident, Tribhuvan International Airport spokesperson Pratap Babu Tiwari was quoted as saying by the paper.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Rudra Bahadur Shrestha, who was injured in the incident and airlifted to Kathmandu, died while undergoing treatment at Grande Hospital, the paper said, citing hospital sources. Captain RB Rokaya who was flying the aircraft and Captain Chet Gurung of Manang Air, who was in the helicopter, were injured in the incident. They are receiving treatment at Grande Hospital and are said to be out of danger, it said. The uncontrolled aircraft had hit the helicopters of Manang Air and Shree Air.
Elon Musk makes big claims about Tesla Model 3 on Twitter
San Francisco: The body and drive unit of Electric Vehicle (EV)-maker Tesla’s Model 3 Sedan can last upto 1 million miles while the battery can last up to 500,000 miles, said company Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk. “Model 3 drive unit and body is designed like a commercial truck for a million mile life. Current battery modules should last 300k to 500k miles (1,500 cycles). Replacing modules (not pack) will only cost $5k to $7k,” Musk wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
The billionaire made this claim to his 25.7 million followers in context Model 3’s value being used in an autonomous ride-hailing fleet. “What he meant is that the vehicles would become revenue-generating assets as they integrate this autonomous ride-hailing fleet, which has been dubbed the ‘Tesla Network’,” Electrek reported. The value of the Model 3 on the Tesla Network would depend on how many miles it can put in it, which according to Musk is up to 1 million miles within two or three battery module replacements.
Even though Tesla would not replace a whole battery pack, the company is willing to offer battery module replacements for between $5,000 and $7,000. “Assuming that $5,000 to $7,000 for the battery modules means the cost for the Standard Range Plus and Long Range battery modules, it would mean a cost of roughly $100 per kWh at the battery module level, which makes sense,” the report added. “At a value of $1 per mile, we are talking about a potential of at least $300,000 in revenue before having to possibly replace the battery modules.”
The EV-maker recently announced big price cuts for its high-end Model S after shifting to online-only sales. The long-range Model S is now priced $83,000 down from $96,000 before savings. The huge price cut by the EV maker comes less than two months after it decided to stop manufacturing Model S with a 75kWh battery pack, opting instead to only sell versions with a 100kWh pack.
Kim Jong Un open to third Donald Trump summit: KCNA
Seoul: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump both backed Saturday a possible third summit between the two nations. Kim said he would wait until the end of the year “for the US to make a courageous decision” on another meeting, state media reported, after his most recent summit with Trump in Vietnam broke down and both sides left without agreement.
Trump backed the suggestion, pointing to the pair’s “excellent relationship”. “I agree with Kim Jong Un of North Korea that our personal relationship remains very good, perhaps the term excellent would be even more accurate, and that a third Summit would be good in that we fully understand where we each stand,” he said. Washington has blamed the February deadlock on the North’s demands for sanctions relief in return for limited nuclear disarmament, but Pyongyang said it had wanted only some of the measures eased. And Trump has hinted that the punitive measures could eventually come to an end.
“North Korea has tremendous potential for extraordinary growth, economic success and riches under the leadership of Chairman Kim,” the American president said in a tweet. “I look forward to the day, which could be soon, when Nuclear Weapons and Sanctions can be removed, and then watching North Korea become one of the most successful nations of the World!” In a speech to Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp parliament Friday, Kim said the Hanoi meeting had made him question whether Washington is “genuinely interested” in improving its relations with Pyongyang.
“We are willing to give another try if the US offers to have a third summit with the right attitude and mutually acceptable terms,” he said, according to a report by North Korean state media outlet KCNA. Kim added that his personal relationship with Trump remained strong, adding they could “write letters to each other” whenever they wanted. “We will wait with patience until the end of the year for the US to make a courageous decision,” Kim said.
Pentagon refuses Boeing tanker deliveries over quality issues
Washington: More bad news for US aviation giant Boeing the US Air Force said Tuesday it had halted for a second time the acceptance of new KC-46 tankers due to ongoing quality issues.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson revealed the March 23 decision — another setback in the already delayed air tanker program — during a budget hearing in Congress. ,”The Air Force again halted acceptance of new KC-46 tanker aircraft as we continue to work with Boeing to ensure that every aircraft delivered meets the highest quality and safety standards,” Wilson told the panel.
She said that Air Force inspectors had discovered “foreign object debris” in the new planes that should not have been there as well as other areas “where Boeing did not meet quality standards.” The problems were “unrelated to design or engineering specifications,” she noted. But it was the second time this year Boeing faced the same criticism. The Air Force took its first KC-46 in January, more than one year late. Currently they have seven KC-46 aircraft in service.
The Air Force plans to buy 179 KC-46s over the course of the program. Based on the airframe of the Boeing 767, the aerial refueller is to replace the Air Force’s aging line of KC-10 and KC-135 tankers, many of which were manufactured during the Cold War. The Air Force chose Boeing to build the tanker over Airbus in 2011 after a furious battle between the two companies over the massive contract.
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau expels ‘whistleblower’ MPs
Ottawa: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expelled two MPs from his party’s caucus after they accused him of meddling in a criminal case involving an influential company. Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott had already resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet citing their concerns over the SNC-Lavalin affair, the BBC reported.
Now they have been expelled from Trudeau’s Liberal Party, months before a general election. The SNC-Lavalin controversy has cast a shadow over Trudeau’s leadership. Andrew Scheer, the leader of the opposition Conservatives, said on Tuesday that the Prime Minister had betrayed justice by removing two corruption whistleblowers.
Trudeau repeatedly spoke about the breakdown of trust between Wilson-Raybould and Philpott and members of his staff.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau told the media shortly after informing his caucus. “If they can’t honestly say they have confidence in this team… then they cannot be part of this team.”
Philpott has been vocal about her concerns with the government, and gave an interview in a national magazine last month in which she said “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told”. Trudeau said his decision was sparked by the revelation that Wilson-Raybould had secretly recorded a conversation she had with Canada’s former top bureaucrat, which she released publicly on Friday.
Wilson-Raybould said the tapes backed up her claim that government officials inappropriately pressured her to shield SNC-Lavalin from prosecution. The Canadian firm is accused of bribing officials in Libya to win contracts under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
SNC-Lavalin has openly lobbied for an agreement that would allow it to avoid prosecution and instead face alternative penalties or measures, such as a fine. Wilson-Raybould said members of Trudeau’s inner circle pressured her to cut a deal, and when she did not, she was removed from her position as Justice Minister. Trudeau has repeatedly denied that there was any wrongdoing by him or his officials.
The political controversy, which has been dragging on for weeks, has caused Trudeau’s popularity drop sharply in opinion polls a few months before a general election. He said he is expelling the women from the caucus to put an end to infighting, which he had vowed to stop when he was elected in 2014.
LA officials call for boycott of Brunei-owned hotels
Los Angeles: Officials and LGBTQ leaders in California joined Tuesday a growing chorus of people calling for a boycott of Brunei-owned hotels in the Los Angeles area. The call to boycott the fabled Beverly Hills Hotel, once the playground of Hollywood celebrities, and Hotel Bel-Air came after the sultanate announced plans to implement the death penalty for gay sex and adultery.
“As a citywide elected official, I represent a diverse community of Angelenos, and I call on everyone to boycott the hotels owned by Brunei’s royal family,” LA Controller Ron Galperin said in a statement. “I will not set foot in these establishments so long as they are owned and controlled by a regime that is willing to kill LGBTQ people.
“While I feel bad for the many hard-working employees of these local hotels, no one should support or attend any events there while lives are on the line.” Los Angeles Council member Paul Koretz said people should shun both hotels even “if that means marring their reputation and fabled history.”
“The city of Los Angeles and the United States and world should place severe sanctions on Brunei for taking LGBTQ rights back to the Stone Age,” said Karina Samala, chair of the Transgender Advisory Council. “We are all human beings with a right to live in freedom.” British pop legend Elton John and American actor George Clooney have also called for a boycott of the hotels and other properties owned by the sultanate in Britain, France and Italy.
The new Islamic penal code, or Sharia law, which is to come into force in the tiny southeast Asian sultanate on Wednesday, has already drawn fierce criticism from rights groups and the United Nations. Brunei first announced the measures in 2013, but implementation has been delayed, in the face of opposition by rights groups, and as officials worked out the practical details.
The new law stipulates the death penalty for a number of offences, including rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insulting or defaming the Prophet Mohammed. It also introduces public flogging as punishment for abortion, as well as amputation for theft, and criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion besides Islam.
Since the new penal code was first announced in 2013, the who’s who of Hollywood have shunned the celebrated Beverly Hills Hotel painted in pink and green and once a favorite of celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor and The Beatles. Local news reports say the hotel has lost millions of dollars in business as a result of the long-running unofficial boycott.
Donald Trump team and China resume uphill effort to end trade rift
Washington: The Trump administration on Wednesday will resume negotiations with China toward ending a trade war that has deepened uncertainty for businesses and investors and dimmed the outlook for the global economy.
The two sides are to meet for the ninth time, with analysts expressing optimism that the world’s two biggest economies might be near some kind of agreement. Negotiators met in Beijing last week in talks that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described as “constructive.” Now, Vice Premier Liu He, a close confidante of President Xi Jinping, is leading a Chinese team to Washington.
“We have been encouraged by the tone of the negotiations,” Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters Tuesday. Brilliant estimated that the two sides are 90% of the way to an agreement but cautioned that “the last 10% is the hardest part, the trickiest part.”
At the heart of the dispute are the Trump administration’s allegations that China steals technology and coerces U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets – all part of Beijing’s zeal to overtake U.S. technological dominance. To pressure China, the United States has imposed tariffs on USD250 billion in Chinese goods. The Chinese have counterpunched by taxing USD 110 billion in U.S. imports.
Forecasters at the World Bank and International Monetary, among others, have downgraded their outlook for the global economy, partly because the U.S.-China rift is damaging trade and causing businesses to slow their investment until they know how the dispute will end.
Tensions have eased somewhat since President Donald Trump met Xi in Buenos Aires late last year and the administration ended up suspending its plans to raise tariffs on $200 billion of the Chinese imports to buy time for negotiations “We’re making headway,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said Tuesday, describing the talks as “a larger, grander discussion than anything we’ve ever had in U.S.-China relations.”
Analysts say two major sticking points, in particular, stand in the way of any agreement. First, Trump wants to preserve at least the 25% tariffs he has imposed on USD 50 billion in Chinese imports as a way to maintain leverage over Beijing. China wants those sanctions lifted.
Second, the two sides must develop a mechanism to ensure that China honors any commitments it makes in an agreement. The administration complains that China has repeatedly failed to keep promises it made in previous trade talks.
The Chinese are widely expected to agree to buy substantially more American products – likely including soybeans and natural gas – to help narrow the United States’ trade deficit in goods and services with China, which hit a record USD 379 billion last year.
America’s trade deficit with China has been a chronic complaint of Trump, although many economists say a bilateral trade gap is relatively insignificant. Congressional Democrats and others have warned Trump against reaching any agreement that settles for more U.S. exports to China without also requiring Beijing to adopt serious economic reforms.
“Stand firm” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. “Skip the political photo op and make good on your promise to stand up for American businesses and workers when China takes advantage.
Christopher Adams, a former China specialist at the Treasury Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative who is a senior adviser at the Covington & Burling law firm, added: “There has to be something substantive on the structural issues. Otherwise, the criticism will be severe.”
Whatever negotiators agree to, analysts say, they are unlikely to end the long-standing tensions between America’s mostly open, capitalist economy and a Chinese economy in which the Communist Party and the central government command the dominant role. Even with a deal, Adams said, “a lot of the underlying issues will still be with us unresolved because they’re rooted in fundamental differences between the US and Chinese systems.”
New Zealand shooters back gun control after Christchurch massacre
Wellington: New Zealand will crack down on firearms ownership this week after the Christchurch mosques massacre that claimed 50 lives and the Kiwi gun lobby, for the most part, is okay with that. In stark contrast to the United States, where even the most minor curbs on gun ownership meet ferocious opposition led by the National Rifle Association, New Zealand gun owners agree action is needed.
The March 15 rampage by a white supremacist gunman has been a shock to the collective system. “We want to support our government in any changes to prevent a terrorist attack from happening in New Zealand again,” Nicole McKee, secretary of the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government announced an immediate ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs) after the shooting and will put laws to parliament formalising its action on Tuesday. Finalising such legislation can often take months but Ardern says the matter is so urgent it will be done by April 11.
Further curbs potentially including a gun register, tighter vetting and stricter gun storage rules are set to be passed by the end of the year. In a move that would be unthinkable in the United States, one of New Zealand’s largest gun retailers, Hunting & Fishing, voluntarily stopped selling MSSAs and halted online firearms sales. “Such weapons of war have no place in our business — or our country,” chief executive Darren Jacobs said.
New Zealand has its own National Rifle Association, but since the shooting, it has been at pains to point out it is a small sporting organisation, not a wealthy political lobby group like its American counterpart. “Our members shoot with single-shot bolt action rifles at paper targets,” president Malcolm Dodson said. Another office holder has told media the New Zealand NRA is considering changing its name to avoid any association with the American body.
On the surface, New Zealand and the United States share many historical similarities, but they have a fundamentally different attitude towards firearms. Both are former British colonies that fought bitter wars against indigenous populations and forged an individualistic frontier mentality.
However, statistics highlight the difference. In 2016, New Zealand, with a population of about 4.7 million, had nine firearms-related homicides. In the United States, population approximately 327 million, there were 14,415, more than two hundred times the per capita rate as New Zealand. There are approximately 393 million guns in private hands in the United States, or 1.2 for every person, whereas New Zealand has about 1.5 million, or 0.3 per person.
The New Zealand government believes there are 13,500 MSSAs in the country, while estimates put the number in the US at 15 million. Philip Alpers, a gun policy researcher at the University of Sydney, said the crucial difference between New Zealand and the United States was the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.
Alperts, himself a Kiwi, said countries such as New Zealand viewed gun ownership as a privilege, while in America it was seen as an inalienable right. “We have a population who, when they travelled to America would get off the plane and be absolutely horrified to see people walking around with a gun,” he said, adding that safety was at the centre of New Zealand gun culture.
Journalist Dawn Picken covered scores of shooting deaths in the United States and once had bullets lodged in her bedroom when a random gunman opened fire on her apartment building in Spokane, Washington state. She said she had found a different mindset since moving to New Zealand in 2011.
“It was quite refreshing as an American to come here and hear Kiwis who own guns say ‘I don’t think they should be easy to get and it’s not my right, they should check I’m not predisposed to violence or going to go off the rails,” she said. However, like anywhere, New Zealand has a vocal fringe element. “Tyrant Prime Minister Kills Sports Shooting,” screams the headline on one prominent pro-gun website.
But former police minister Judith Collins had a blunt message for the US NRA and any other gun lobbyists who tried to inject themselves into New Zealand’s gun control debate: “Bugger off.” The difference in gun cultures has played out on social media since the Christchurch shooting.
When a right-wing US website tweeted that “armed government thugs” were carrying out door-to-door gun confiscations in New Zealand, dozens of Kiwis left mocking replies. “I had a self-saucing dessert in my pantry,” said one. “The cops came for it in the dead of night — apparently we aren’t allowed semi-automatic trifles.”