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Heeng farming picks up pace in Himachal post trials


Heeng farming picks up pace in Himachal post trials

Under the expansion programme, the State Agriculture department had planted heeng plants in Janjehli in Seraj in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh on 13 November.

After successful trials for growing heeng (asafoetida) in the tribal Lahaul Spiti district, the Himachal Pradesh government is now working to expand its farming to other areas where the temperature is suitable for its farming.

Under the expansion programme, the State Agriculture department had planted heeng plants in Janjehli in Seraj in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh on 13 November.

Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Director General Shekhar C Mande, State Agriculture Director Naresh Kumar Badhan, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) Palampur Director Sanjay Kumar along with other scientists were present on the occasion. State Agriculture Director Naresh Kumar Badhan said the areas of Mandi, Chamba, Lahaul Spiti and Kinnaur districts have temperatures suitable for the farming of asafoetida and saffron (kesar).

“The state government has decided to promote asafoetida and saffron farming under agriculture for prosperity scheme and has signed an MoU with IHBT Palampur for this,” he added.

Badhan said during demonstration plantation of heeng plantation in Janjehli, the farmers and officials were given information on various methods to pursue its farming to ensure success of these crops. “As these crops need adequate irrigation facilities, the officials have been directed to further strengthen the facilities in these areas. The state government has also made a provision of Rs 10 crore for farming of these crops and a target of bringing 302 hectares area under heeng farming in 5 years and 3.5 hectares area under saffron in 3 years, has been set,” he said. Badhan added the Agriculture department was making concerted efforts to fulfill these targets to improve the economy of farming communities and diversify crops.

India presently consumes 40 percent of total production of crop produced worldwide but doesn’t produce the spice which is most sought after in the country.




British PM Boris Johnson goes into isolation after a contact tested positive for Covid


British PM Boris Johnson goes into isolation after a contact tested positive for Covid

Global infections have soared past 54 million with more than 1.3 million deaths, and the worrying spikes have forced governments to reimpose deeply unpopular and economically devastating restrictions on movement and gatherings.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson went into isolation after a contact tested positive for the coronavirus, as a stay-at-home advisory came into effect for the United States’ third-biggest city on Monday.

Global infections have soared past 54 million with more than 1.3 million deaths, and the worrying spikes have forced governments to reimpose deeply unpopular and economically devastating restrictions on movement and gatherings.

Europe has been hit particularly hard by a second wave of the pandemic, with curbs reimposed — often in the face of protests — from Greece to Britain, where PM and Covid-19 survivor Johnson went into self-isolation after coming into contact with an MP who later tested positive for the virus.

“He will carry on working from Downing Street,” a spokesman said, adding that the prime minister, who spent three nights in intensive care during his April bout of Covid-19, did not have any symptoms.

Elsewhere on the continent, Germany warned that its anti-virus measures were likely to stay in place for several months.

In hard-hit France, health minister Olivier Veran warned that while strict containment measures had helped slow the virus, “we have not won against the virus yet”.

Concerns of a resurgence also remain in parts of the world that have largely brought their caseloads under control, such as in Australia, where a new cluster suddenly emerged in a city that had gone seven months without a major outbreak.

And in Hong Kong, the government further tightened restrictions from Monday on the number of people in bars and restaurants, to guard against a spike.

US reeling from surge

The United States, the worst-hit nation in the world, surpassed 11 million cases on Sunday, adding one million new infections in less than a week.

The staggering spikes have forced cities and states across the vast nation to implement new curbs to try and stop the spread of the disease, with a stay-at-home advisory coming into force on Monday in Chicago — the third-biggest US city.

New York City, the epicentre of the spring outbreak in the US, is also rushing to fend off a second wave with new restrictions on bars and restaurants.

President Donald Trump, already under fire for his pandemic response, has been blamed for further complicating efforts by refusing to concede and cooperate with Joe Biden’s transition team, denying the President-elect vital briefings by outgoing officials.

They are not even allowed to consult with the top government immunologist Anthony Fauci.

“Of course, it would be better” if such talks could begin, Fauci told CNN on Sunday, noting that the virus could kill tens of thousands more Americans by the time Biden takes office on January 20.

‘This winter will be hard’

Hopes for an end to the pandemic were boosted by trial results of a vaccine candidate by pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, which showed it was 90 percent effective.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s co-founder, told the BBC he was confident of a return to normal life next winter if uptake of the vaccine is strong.

“This winter will be hard” without any major impact from vaccinations, he predicted. But combined with a number of firms working to increase supply, “we could have a normal winter next (year)”.

But Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit), presenting a huge storage and distribution challenge even for the richest countries in the world.

Their rival Sanofi’s vaccine, however, will not need such extreme temperatures, the French drugmaker’s chief Olivier Bogillot said Sunday.

“Our vaccine will be like the ‘flu vaccine,” he told CNews. “You can keep it in your refrigerator.”

Sanofi’s vaccine candidate could begin Phase 3 trials soon, he added. Eleven candidates are already at that stage, and Bogillot said “one laboratory is not going to be able to supply the doses for the whole planet”.

“We will need to have several winners at the end of this race.”




‘Lie after lie after lie about election being stolen’: US TV networks pull plug on live coverage of Trump


‘Lie after lie after lie about election being stolen’: US TV networks pull plug on live coverage of Trump

The president spoke as late vote-counting in battleground states showed Democrat Joe Biden steadily closing in on victory. 

Several US TV networks late Thursday halted live coverage of Donald Trump’s first public appearance since election night after concluding that the president was spreading disinformation.

Trump unleashed a flood of incendiary and unsubstantiated claims in a 17-minute address, insisting that Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election from us.”

The president spoke as late vote-counting in battleground states showed Democrat Joe Biden steadily closing in on victory.

“OK, here we are again in the unusual position of not only interrupting the president of the United States but correcting the president of the United States,” said MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, as the network quickly ended its live coverage.

NBC and ABC News also pulled the plug on their live coverage of Trump.

“What a sad night for the United states of America to hear their president say that, to falsely accuse people of trying to steal the election,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper.

He described it as “lie after lie after lie about the election being stolen,” with no evidence, “just smears.”




4-week lockdown comes into force in England


4-week lockdown comes into force in England

The lockdown came into effect after MPs on Wednesday voted in its favour by 516 to 39, a majority of 477, the BBC reported.

Amid an ongoing second Covid-19 wave, a new four-week lockdown in England came into force on Thursday, under which people will have to stay at home, while non-essential shops, pubs and gyms will remain closed.

The lockdown came into effect after MPs on Wednesday voted in its favour by 516 to 39, a majority of 477, the BBC reported.

It will replace the three tiers of regional restrictions that were previously in place across England.

On December 2, MPs will again vote on the next steps needed to tackle the virus before the lockdown comes to an end.

Under the new rules, households are banned from mixing indoors or in private gardens, unless in a support bubble.

All non-essential retailers, leisure and entertainment venues will be shut, with pubs and restaurants will be closed except for takeaways.

In a warning, Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council, said that those responsible for the most “egregious” breaches of the rules would face stiff fines.

Unlike the first lockdown in March, schools, universities, and nurseries will remain open, and people will be able to meet another person who they do not live with in an outdoor public place such as a park or beach.

During a debate in the House of Commons before the vote, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the second lockdown was “not something any of us wanted to do” but “I am not prepared to take the risk with the lives of British people”, the BBC rpeorted.

“While it pains me to call for such restrictions on lives, liberty and business I have no doubt that these restrictions represent the best and safest path for our country,” he told MPs.

Johnson insisted the lockdown will expire automatically on December 2 and he hopes “very much” to “get this country going again” in the run up to Christmas.

On Thursday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak will address the House of Commons during which he will outline what economic support will be available to businesses and jobs during the lockdown.

On Wednesday, the UK reported 492 news coronavirus deaths, the highest daily figure since May 19, and 25,177 confirmed cases.

With the new tallies, the UK’s overall caseload and death toll stood at 1,102,305 and 47,832, respectively.




Gunmen opens fire at multiple locations across central Vienna; 2 dead


Gunmen opens fire at multiple locations across central Vienna; 2 dead

One of the gunmen was shot dead by police who said they were hunting for at least one more attacker still at large.

Gunmen opened fire at multiple locations across central Vienna on Monday, killing at least two people and wounding several more in what Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz described as a “repulsive terror attack”, with a huge manhunt under way for the assailants.

One of the gunmen was shot dead by police who said they were hunting for at least one more attacker still at large.

The attacks, in six locations including near a synagogue in the centre of town, were carried out by “several suspects armed with rifles”, police said.

Police said one person had died, with public broadcaster ORF stating the individual was a passer-by.

Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig told ORF that a second person had died of her injuries and that 15 people had been taken to hospital, seven of them seriously wounded.

Police stated earlier that an officer had also been hurt during the assaults.

The shooting began just hours before Austria was to re-impose a coronavirus lockdown, with people out in bars and restaurants enjoying a final night of relative freedom.

The attacks started at around 8 pm (1900 GMT) when the first gunshots were heard in the city’s centrally located first district.

In a press conference early Tuesday, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said: “According to what we currently know, there is at least one attacker who is still on the run.”

Speaking to ORF, Austrian leader Kurz had said that the attackers were “were very well equipped with automatic weapons” and had “prepared professionally”.

Earlier, he tweeted: “Our police will act decisively against the perpetrators of this repulsive terror attack,” adding that “we will never be intimidated by terrorism and we will fight this attack with all means”.

Kurz said that while police were concentrating on the anti-terror operation, the army would take over the security of major buildings in Vienna.

Nehammer urged Vienna residents to remain in their homes and keep away from all public places or public transport. He said that children would not be expected at school on Tuesday in Vienna.

Sirens and helicopters could be heard in the city centre as emergency services responded to the attack.

An AFP photographer said that large numbers of police were guarding an area near the city’s world-famous opera house.

The location of the initial shooting was close to a major synagogue.

The president of Vienna’s Jewish community Oskar Deutsch said that shots had been fired “in the immediate vicinity” of the Stadttempel synagogue, but added that it was currently unknown whether the temple itself had been the target of an attack.

He said that the synagogue and office buildings at the same address had been closed at the time of the attack.

– ‘Cowardly act’ –

“It sounded like firecrackers, then we realised it was shots,” said one eyewitness quoted by public broadcaster ORF.

A shooter had “shot wildly with an automatic weapon” before police arrived and opened fire, the witness added.

Austria had until now been spared the sort of major attacks that have hit other European countries.

President Emmanuel Macron of France, which has experienced two serious attacks in recent weeks, tweeted that “we French share the shock and sorrow of the Austrian people”.

“After France, it’s a friendly nation that has been attacked,” he added, referring to the killing on Thursday of three people by an attacker in the southern city of Nice and the beheading of a schoolteacher by a suspected Islamist outside Paris several days before.

EU Council chief Charles Michel tweeted that the bloc “strongly condemns this cowardly act”.

And Germany’s foreign ministry tweeted that the reports from Austria were “horrifying and disturbing”.

“We can’t give in to hatred that is aimed at dividing our societies,” the ministry added.

Czech police said they were conducting checks on the border with Austria.

“Police are carrying out random checks of vehicles and passengers on border crossings with Austria as a preventive measure in relation to the terror attack in Vienna,” Czech police tweeted.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also “strongly condemned” the shootings.

“There is no room for hatred and violence in our common European home,” he said on Twitter in Italian and German.




18 Trump rallies may have led to over 30,000 Covid cases, 700 deaths: Study


18 Trump rallies may have led to over 30,000 Covid cases, 700 deaths: Study

Reacting to a Twitter post on the study, Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden said “President Trump doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t even care about his own supporters.”

About 18 election rallies by US President Donald Trump are estimated to have lead to more than 30,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and likely led to more than 700 deaths, a new study by Stanford University researchers said, stressing that the communities where the Trump rallies took place “paid a high price in terms of disease and death.”

In the study titled “The Effects of Large Group Meetings on the Spread of COVID-19: The Case of Trump Rallies”, researchers concluded 18 rallies by Trump held between June 20 and September 22 “ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 incremental confirmed cases of COVID-19” and “likely led to more than 700 deaths”, which may not necessarily have been among attendees.

“Our analysis strongly supports the warnings and recommendations of public health officials concerning the risk of COVID-19 transmission at large group gatherings, particularly when the degree of compliance with guidelines concerning the use of masks and social distancing is low. The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death,” the researchers said in the study.

Reacting to a Twitter post on the study, Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden said “President Trump doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t even care about his own supporters.”

The study, released Friday, noted that more than 8.7 million Americans have contracted COVID-19, resulting in more than 225,000 deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that large in-person events, particularly in settings where participants do not wear masks or practice social distancing, pose a substantial risk of further contagion.

“There is reason to fear that such gatherings can serve as “superspreader events”, severely undermining efforts to control the pandemic,” it said.

Researchers said the purpose of the study is to shed light on these issues by studying the impact of election rallies held by Trump’s campaign between June 20 and September 30.

The researchers said Trump rallies have several “distinguishing features” that lend themselves to this inquiry, adding that attendees at Trump rallies numbered in the thousands and sometimes in the tens of thousands.

They noted that the rallies were not geographically ubiquitous and the degree of compliance with guidelines concerning the use of masks and social distancing was low “in part because the Trump campaign downplayed the risk of infection. This feature heightens the risk that a rally could become a “superspreader event.”

The researchers said that to capture the effects of subsequent contagion within the pertinent communities, their analysis encompasses up to 10 post-rally weeks for each event.

“Our method is based on a collection of regression models, one for each event, that capture the relationships between post-event outcomes and pre-event characteristics, including demographics and the trajectory of COVID-19 cases, in similar counties.”




‘Understand shock, but won’t accept violence’: France President Emmanuel Macron


‘Understand shock, but won’t accept violence’: France President Emmanuel Macron

Macron sparked protests in the Muslim world after the murder earlier this month of teacher Samuel Paty by saying France would never renounce its right to caricature.

President Emmanuel Macron said that he could understand if Muslims were shocked by cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, as French authorities on Saturday sought to ascertain if a young Tunisian suspected of killing three people in a knife rampage inside a Nice church had outside help.

France is on edge after the republication in early September of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed by the Charlie Hebdo weekly, which was followed by an attack outside its former offices, the beheading of a teacher and now the attack in Nice.

Macron sparked protests in the Muslim world after the murder earlier this month of teacher Samuel Paty — who had shown his class a cartoon of Mohammed — by saying France would never renounce its right to caricature.

But in an apparent bid to reach out to Muslims, Macron gave a long interview setting out his vision to Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera, seeking to strike a softer tone.

“I can understand that people could be shocked by the caricatures but I will never accept that violence can be justified,” he said.

“I consider it our duty to protect our freedoms and our rights,” he added in an extract of the interview to be broadcast from 1600 GMT.

‘Too early to say’

France is still reeling from the latest attack in Nice which Macron has already described as “Islamist” terror.

Brahim Issaoui, 21, only arrived in Europe from Tunisia last month and, according to prosecutors, killed the sexton, a Brazilian woman and a French woman in the attack in the Notre-Dame Basilica on Thursday morning.

The attacker cut the throat of Nadine Devillers, 60, and the sexton Vincent Loques, 55. A Brazilian mother, Simone Barreto Silva, who was stabbed several times, took refuge in a nearby restaurant but died of her wounds there.

Issaoui was shot by police multiple times and is currently in a grave condition in hospital. Investigators have been unable to question him and his precise motivations remain unclear.

“It is still too early to say if there were others complicit, what his motivations were in coming to France and when this idea took root in him,” said a source close to the inquiry who asked not to be named.

Investigators believe Issaoui arrived illegally in Europe on Italy’s Mediterranean island of Lampedusa on September 20. He then arrived at the mainland Italian port of Bari on October 9 before coming to Nice just one or two days before the attack.

French police are currently holding three people for questioning in the investigation, which is focusing on two telephones found on the suspect after the attack.

A first man, 47, was detained on Thursday evening after being seen next to the attacker on surveillance footage the day before the attack.

The second individual, suspected of contacting Issaoui the day before the attack, was held on Friday.

Police said Saturday a third man, aged 33, was arrested after being present when the home of the second suspect was raided.

Global threat to France

The attack came with France still in shock over the October 16 beheading of teacher Paty by a suspected Islamist radical from Russia’s region of Chechnya.

The teacher had shown a class a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed in the wake of the controversy generated by the reprinting by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo of the caricatures to mark the beginning of the trial of suspects over the massacre of its staff in January 2015.

Even before that attack, Macron had promised a tough new campaign against Islamist radicalism which had aroused controversy and condemnation from Muslims around the world.

Protests erupted Friday in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Mauritania and Lebanon, the latest in a string of mass rallies denouncing France.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Saturday “strongly condemned” Macron’s defence of the right to publish such cartoons.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that French citizens face a security risk “wherever they are” in the wake of the attack, saying alerts had been sent to all French nationals abroad.

In Issaoui’s hometown of Sfax in central Tunisia, his family told AFP they struggled to believe he had carried out the attack but relatives said he had turned to religion and isolated himself in the past two years.




‘Appalling and unacceptable’: Australian PM on female passengers’ physical examinations on 10 planes flying out of Doha


‘Appalling and unacceptable’: Australian PM on female passengers’ physical examinations on 10 planes flying out of Doha

Australia revealed Wednesday that female passengers on 10 planes flying out of Doha were forced to endure “appalling” physical examinations, as Qatar expressed regret for the distress caused to the women.

The Gulf emirate had already been facing a huge hit to its reputation after reports emerged that women were removed from a Sydney-bound Qatar Airways flight and forced to undergo vaginal inspections on October 2.

The searches were carried after a newborn baby had been abandoned at Doha airport. Qatar’s government said Wednesday in its first account of the events that the baby had been wrapped in plastic and left to die in a rubbish bin.

But Australia continued to pile pressure on Qatar, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne announcing that the number of planes targeted was much greater than a single flight.

She told a Senate committee that women on “10 aircraft in total” had been subject to the searches, including 18 women — including 13 Australians — on flight to Sydney.

AFP understands one French woman on the Sydney-bound plane was also among them.

Payne did not detail the destinations of the other flights, adding she was unaware if any Australian women were on those planes.

Payne had already described the incidents as “grossly disturbing” and “offensive”.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also weighed into the controversy on Wednesday, describing the treatment of the women as “appalling” and “unacceptable”.

“As a father of a daughter, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would, Australian or otherwise, would be subjected to that,” he said.

Qatar is a conservative Muslim monarchy, where sex and childbirth out of wedlock are punishable by jail.

Ahead of its hosting of football’s World Cup in 2022, it has struggled to reassure critics that its promises on women’s rights, labour relations and democracy are credible.

‘Distress’

Facing potentially devastating commercial and reputational damage, Qatar’s government released a statement Wednesday to explain its version of events while promising to ensure the future “safety, security and comfort” of passengers.

“While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveller caused by this action,” the statement.

Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al-Thani had ordered an investigation and the results would be shared with international partners, it added.

However, the statement did not specifically detail that women had been forcibly examined, only referring to a “search for the parents”.

The statement said the newborn baby was a girl and had been “concealed” in a plastic bag and buried under garbage in the bin.

“The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha,” it said.

Human Rights Watch called Wednesday for the airport incident to trigger much greater reforms to protect women.

“In Qatar and across the Gulf region, sexual relations outside of wedlock are criminalised, meaning a pregnant woman who is not married, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape, may end up facing arrest and prosecution,” the watchdog said in a statement.

“Qatar should prohibit forced gynaecological exams and investigate and bring to account any individuals who authorised any demeaning treatment. It should also decriminalise sex outside of wedlock.”

Qatar Airways is one of the few airlines that has maintained flights to Australia since the country closed its international border early in the pandemic and restricted the return of its own citizens.




Indian expats can now give UAE local address in passports


Indian expats can now give UAE local address in passports

Siddhartha Kumar Baraily, Consul, Passport and Attestation, at the Indian Consulate in Dubai said the Indian government had decided to allow its overseas citizens to add their local address in their country of residence mainly to aid those who do not have permanent or valid addresses in India.

Indian expats living in the UAE can now provide their local address abroad to be added in their passports.

Siddhartha Kumar Baraily, Consul, Passport and Attestation, at the Indian Consulate in Dubai said the Indian government had decided to allow its overseas citizens to add their local address in their country of residence mainly to aid those who do not have permanent or valid addresses in India.

“We understand that many people who have been staying in the UAE for a long time don’t have a valid address in India. They may add their local UAE address in their passports,” he said.

Change in address cannot be made in existing passports, the official clarified. Indian passport holders have to apply for a new passport in which the change in address can be made, Gulf news reported.

The facility can be availed by Indian expats living in both rented or self-owned accommodations. Those wishing to give their UAE address should provide certain documents as proof of residence at the time of applying for a new passport for changing the address from India to overseas.

Baraily said either the electricity and water bill (from Dewa/Sewa/Fewa) or rent agreement/title deed/tenancy contract will be accepted as proof of residence in the UAE. Changing their address may help applicants to get quick police verification from India at the time of passport renewal.

As first reported by Gulf News on Tuesday morning, police verification is now mandatory for the passport renewal of all Indian expats as per a change in the policy of India’s Ministry of External Affairs implemented since September.

However, the diplomat clarified that police verification of Indians abroad does not require verification of the address of the applicant.

“This (police verification) is just to verify the identity of the applicants as Indian citizens and that there are no criminal cases registered against them since the time of the last police verification done on them,” he explained.

The mission is, however, encouraging Indians without a valid address to change their address, whether in India or locally.




Russian FM self-isolating after coronavirus patient contact


Russian FM self-isolating after coronavirus patient contact

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who has the coronavirus, the Sputnik news agency reported, citing the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“Because of the contact with a person who has COVID-19, Sergei Lavrov will self-isolate. Visits and meetings that were planned will be postponed,” the ministry said, according to the report, Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday.

Lavrov is feeling well, it added.




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