INDEPENDENT 2024-07-03 12:08:09


Indian Air Force rescues 13 fishermen as floods kill 16 people

The Indian Air Force on Tuesday rescued 13 stranded fishermen from a riverine island as floods and landslides triggered by heavy rains continued to batter India’s northeast.

At least 16 people have been killed over two weeks and more than 300,000 have been displaced from their submerged homes due to the torrential rains in the two northeastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

A military helicopter brought the fishermen to safety four days after being stranded on a small island on the flooded Brahmaputra – one of Asia’s largest rivers.

“A Mi-17 IV helicopter from AFS Mohanbari flew in challenging weather conditions and undertook rescue ops from a marshy piece of land,” the Indian Air Force said on X.

The fishermen were rescued from a sandbar area in the Dibrugarh district, the Assam state disaster management authority said.

The Brahmaputra River, which flows 1,280km across Assam state before running through Bangladesh, was among the 13 major rivers flowing above the danger level.

This year the incessant rainfall has made the river Brahmaputra, already known for its powerful, unpredictable flow, even more dangerous to live near or on one of the more than 2,000 island villages in the middle of it.

On Sunday, the air force rescued eight state disaster response force personnel and a revenue official after they got stuck during a relief operation.

The flood situation in Assam worsened over the weekend, affecting 640,000 people across 19 districts. The state is bracing for a deterioration in the situation as the Indian Meteorological Department forecasts moderate to heavy rain over the next four days.

At least 8,142 people have been moved to 72 relief shelters across the state, the state authorities said.

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said: “The next 3-4 days will be very critical for the state.” The national disaster response force (NDRF) and the army will be on standby to deal with any emergency, he said on Monday.

The animals at the famed Kaziranga National Park, home to some 2,500 one-horned rhinos, were moving to higher ground to escape the floods. Park rangers are monitoring their movements to ensure their safety, Mr Biswa Sarma added.

In neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh which borders China, landslides have wiped out several roads. Army troopers there rescued 70 students and teachers from a flooded school in Changlang district, police said.

Schools have been shut in the Itanagar district till 6 July, authorities said. The Assam Rifles were pressed into action to rescue around 500 stranded people from the flooded villages.

Similarly, heavy flooding in the states of Sikkim, Manipur and Meghalaya swept away roads and collapsed bridges.

So far, more than 80 people across six northeastern states have died since the end of May due to floods and mudslides brought on by the rains, according to official figures.

Disasters caused by landslides and floods are common in the country’s northeast region during the June-September monsoon season.

India, and Assam state in particular, is seen as one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to climate change because of more intense rain and floods, according to a 2021 report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a New Delhi-based climate think tank.

Woman, 24, dies on Qantas flight from Melbourne just before takeoff

A 24-year-old woman flying from Melbourne to Delhi on a Qantas flight died suddenly, reportedly from tuberculosis.

Manpreet Kaur was feeling unwell but boarded the flight on 20 June without any issue, her friends said. However, she collapsed and died before the plane departed.

Kaur, an aspiring chef, was travelling to see her family for the first time in four years.

She likely died of tuberculosis, an infectious disease that affects the lungs, the Herald Sun reported.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Manpreet Kaur,” a Qantas spokesperson said in a statement to The Independent.

The airline said that on 20 June, “a customer on our Melbourne to Delhi flight required medical attention shortly after boarding, prior to the aircraft pushing back from the gate”.

“Urgent assistance was provided by both crew and emergency services but sadly she passed away.”

On 1 July, Qantas became aware through media reports that Kaur may have had tuberculosis and contacted Australia’s National Incident Centre Operations seeking further information.

The health issue had not previously been disclosed to Qantas.

On 2 July, the Department of Health, Victoria, informed the company that they have begun limited contact tracing, and all those identified as having a potential risk would be screened.

The department said other people who were on the aircraft at the time would not undergo contact tracing, according to Qantas.

Meanwhile, friends and family remembered Kaur as a kind and honest person.

“Our dear friend Manpreet left us too soon, leaving a void in our lives that can never be filled,” Gurdip Grewal, a friend of Kaur, who also set up a GoFundMe fundraiser, wrote. “As we grieve her passing, we want to come together to honour her memory and support her family in their time of need.”

He reportedly told News Corp that Kaur had been feeling unwell for a while.

Victoria Police and Victoria Ambulance confirmed they attended to the emergency. Police are now preparing a report for the coroner and have confirmed that an investigation is underway.

Kaur moved to Australia in March 2020.

In February this year, a 63-year-old man died after coughing up “litres of blood” on a Lufthansa flight from Bangkok to Munich.

Australia first country to ban sale of vapes outside pharmacies

Australia has banned the sale of e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, outside of pharmacies in new regulations that came into force on Monday in a bid to curb vaping.

Under the new laws, vapes can be sold only in plain colours and packaging from 1 July. They can’t be locally manufactured or advertised.

The laws effectively ban the supply, manufacture, import, commercial possession or sale of vapes at any place other than a pharmacy. The ban applies even to vaping devices that don’t contain nicotine.

Australians must now produce a prescription to buy vapes and even then they cannot buy most flavours that are popular among younger users such as “bubble gum”.

“Therapeutic vaping products will be behind the counter, nicotine concentrations and dispensing quantities will be tightly controlled, they will have plain pharmaceutical-like packaging, and flavours will be restricted to tobacco, menthol and mint,” the Australian government said in a statement last week.

“Pharmacists will be required to check photo ID and, importantly, have a conversation with that person around the health harms of vaping.”

The new laws aim to revert vapes to their intended purpose as therapy for helping people quit smoking.

Mark Butler, the health minister, warned that convenience stores or tobacco shops caught selling vapes would be fined up to Australian $2m ($1.05m) and owners could be jailed for upto seven years.

“The best time to have done this was five years ago. The second-best time is right now,” the minister said.

Australia plans to set up a new government role called the Illicit Tobacco and E-cigarette Commissioner to curb black market sales of vapes.

The country will review the effectiveness of the new laws in three years.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia appeared displeased with the new laws as the body did not yet have any guidelines for dispensing “unregulated substances with no established therapeutic benefit”.

“When we don’t know the long-term effects of vapes on patient safety, how can a pharmacist make an informed decision?” the guild said in a statement last week.

About one in five 18-to-24-year-olds in Australia reported using vapes at least once, a survey found last year.

The new laws, the government said, seek to “protect young Australians and the broader community from the harms of recreational vaping”.

“Recreational vaping is a scourge. It is a public health menace, particularly for children and for young people,” Mr Butler said.

“A product that was presented as a therapeutic good that would help hardened smokers kick the habit finally, has actually been deployed by Big Tobacco as a tool to recruit a new generation to nicotine addiction.”

Car ploughs into crowd in Seoul killing at least nine people

At least nine people died and four others were injured after a car ploughed into pedestrians in the downtown area of the South Korean capital of Seoul.

The crash happened at an intersection near Seoul City Hall, a typically crowded metropolitan street, at around 9.27pm local time, police said.

A man believed to be 68 years old was driving the vehicle that ran into pedestrians waiting at a traffic stop, according to Yonhap news agency.

Police said the man, who was not named, has been arrested and will be investigated on allegations of accidental homicide.

The driver told investigators that his car accelerated abruptly and unintentionally.

His car would be sent to the country’s forensic agency for an examination, police said.

Of the nine fatalities, six died at the scene while three were rushed to a hospital with cardiac arrest and were pronounced dead by the hospital.

Visuals from the site of the crash showed a black sedan car that was heavily damaged being towed away. The guardrails on the side of the road were flattened to the ground.

Seoul police said the man was driving the car in the wrong direction and collided with two other vehicles before fatally crashing into pedestrians.

According to preliminary investigation, the crash was caused by unintended acceleration and the driver was not found under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxication in an initial examination.

South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol ordered the Interior Ministry to make “all-out” efforts to treat the victims of the crash.

Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon called it a “tragic incident” and ordered an investigation.

Arriving at the scene, Mr Oh issued directives to minimise further casualties and prepared measures for bereaved families.

He ordered to “take the victims to the hospital quickly and thoroughly identify the cause of the accident”.

According to reports, the man was a bus driver from Ansan, a city just south of Seoul and had around 40 years of driving experience.

In 2022, 35 per cent of all road deaths accounted for the deaths of pedestrians, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The road fatalities among pedestrians were highest among OECD countries but the report said the trend was on the decline in recent years.

The incident comes as another tragedy in South Korea just a week after 23 people were killed and many were injured in a fire at a lithium battery factory in Hwaseong city, a major industrial cluster about 90 minutes southwest of capital Seoul.

Tourists get into fight for best selfie spot on Mount Everest

Two couples were filmed fighting with each other at an observation deck in Tibet allegedly to secure the best selfie spot while attempting to climb Mount Everest.

The incident took place on 25 June after a tour guide asked the group to pose together on the viewing platform next to the Everest Elevation Measurement Monument for a photo.

Footage showed two couples, reportedly Chinese, arguing over who would get to stand where, reported Chinese-language site Toutitao.

According to the video, the two men are seen punching each other while they wrestle on the floor. One of the women can be seen trying to pull one of the men away, while the other woman joined in and started kicking one of the men.

Witnesses told local media that the couples disagreed on the best spot for the photo, and the argument escalated from a verbal spat to a brawl.

Shortly after, the Everest border police arrived at the scene and broke up the fight.

It was not immediately clear if any of the people involved in the fight were injured. All four were taken into custody.

Local media reported that an investigation is being conducted and the case will be considered keeping legal procedures in mind. An update will be provided to the public later.

China reopened access to Mount Everest for foreign climbers from its Tibetan side in April this year, marking the first opportunity since the pandemic. Annually, up to 300 permits are available for non-Chinese climbers.

In 2013, a British climber named Jonathan Griffith and his two colleagues were attacked by nearly 150 sherpas, who accused the climbers of kicking ice down at them and stepping over their ropes.

“It was very scary. As climbers we all get into very dangerous situations but this was the first time I really thought this was the end,” Griffith told the Daily Mail.

“We were told one of us would die that night and the rest would follow later.”

Earlier this year, Nepal announced a new set of rules for mountaineers in the Himalayas, including one ordering them to carry GPS trackers after a deadly year in which 18 people died on Everest and at least five bodies were left unrecovered on the mountain.

Jimmy Lai’s son urges foreign judges to quit Hong Kong

The son of media mogul Jimmy Lai has called on all foreign judges to leave Hong Kong’s judicial system, which he claimed pressures them to go along with Beijing’s clampdown on “pro-democracy protesters”.

Sebastien Lai has been advocating for the release of his 76-year-old father, who has been accused of colluding with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

If found guilty, the founder of the now defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, is facing possible life in prison.

His case has sparked an international outcry and is widely seen as a test of Hong Kong’s judicial independence. The trial, conducted by three judges designated under the national security law, began on 18 December, three years after Lai was arrested, and has been slower than expected.

Hong Kong has imprisoned more than 1,800 people “for their pro-democracy protesting”, Mr Lai said at the press club in Canberra, Australia, while rallying support for his father on the 27th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China.

Critics have claimed Hong Kong’s rule of law has been undermined by the security laws and the presence of foreign judges risks lending an air of legitimacy to them.

China has allowed non-permanent foreign judges to sit on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, even after taking it back in 1997, to enable continuity with British common law tradition, provide expertise to local lawyers and reassure businesses and financial markets.

Nearly half of foreign judges in Hong Kong have stepped down since China enacted the national security law in the wake of the 2019 protests in the city.

Four Australian judges are among seven overseas ones who remain.

Mr Lai said the judges who left Hong Kong were “voting with their feet”.

“By staying, you’re essentially saying there’s still some semblance of rule of law in this place that imprisons pro-democracy protesters,” Mr Lai said. “And that is not true, that is not true at all.”

He called on Australia’s government to join an international campaign to put pressure on Beijing to free his father.

A British judge who resigned from Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal in June said the city was “slowly becoming totalitarian”.

“Hong Kong, once a vibrant and politically diverse community, is slowly becoming a totalitarian state,” Jonathan Sumption wrote in the Financial Times.

“The rule of law is profoundly compromised in any area about which the government feels strongly.”

He had stayed on in the hope the presence of foreign judges would help sustain the rule of law, Mr Sumption said, but “I fear that this is no longer realistic”.

Mr Lai and his lawyers met Australian foreign minister Penny Wong on Monday.

“Australia is deeply concerned about Hong Kong’s widespread application of national security laws to repress civil society and prosecute journalists like Mr Jimmy Lai,” Ms Wong said in a social media post.

“The prosecution of Mr Lai, as a publisher, has had a chilling effect on free speech in Hong Kong,” she added.

“Consistent with UN Human Rights Committee recommendations, Australia calls on China to cease suppression of media freedoms and repeal the national security law.”

Jimmy Lai’s trial has been condemned by both the UK and the US as an “attempt to stop the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association”.

Cambodia jails environmental activists for plotting against government

At least 10 environmental activists have been jailed by a Cambodian court on charges of plotting against the government and insulting the king amid fear of crackdown on opposing voices.

The award-winning environmental group Mother Nature’s founder and a lawyer confirmed the arrests of the activists who have long campaigned against environmental destruction in Cambodia, especially in development projects causing deforestation, illegal sand mining, and corruption.

Of these, five defendants were arrested outside the court in Phnom Penh on Tuesday immediately after the verdict. These activists have been sentenced for up to eight years to 10 years by the court. Mother Nature called the case politically motivated.

Supporters of the jailed activists protested on Tuesday and held white placards reading, “Justice is dead”. The group’s lawyer, Sam Chomreun, confirmed the sentences for the 10 activists.

In recent months, Cambodia has seen growing concerns around freedom of expression under the new leadership of prime minister Hun Manet, who took over the administration last year from his father’s decade-long rule.

“This regime is not only disconnected from reality, it has also shown us how inhumane and cruel it can be towards those who dare to stand up for what is right,” said Alejandro Gonzales-Davidson, Mother Nature’s founder.

“However, this will not be in vain. Today, a new generation of activists has been created,” he said, reacting to the court order.

A Spanish national, Mr Gonzales-Davidson told Reuters he was one of three activists held guilty of infringing Cambodia’s lese majeste law and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Seven activists have received six-year jail terms for plotting against the government, added Mr Gonzales-Davidson, who was sentenced in absentia after having been deported from Cambodia almost a decade ago.

The Cambodian government has previously rejected the charges of trial being politically motivated and said it did not prosecute critics but only those who commit crimes.

Mr Gonzales-Davidson said the accusations of plotting against the state had not been clarified in court. However, three members were arrested after documenting suspected pollution run-off into the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh, the capital, in 2021.

The lese majeste charges relate to an internal Zoom meeting about political cartooning that was leaked.

International human rights groups monitoring the developments in Cambodia have warned that the Hun Manet administration is appearing intent on muzzling criticism of the government as it condemned the latest arrests.

“The verdict is devastating for the 10 activists, who face between six to eight years in prison for their efforts to protect Cambodia’s environment. It also sends an appalling message to Cambodia’s youth that the government will side with special interests over the environment every chance it gets,” the statement by the New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

It added that Cambodian prime minister Hun Manet, “like his father, former prime minister Hun Sen, has repeatedly ignored calls by United Nations experts to address the closing space for civil society and human rights defenders”.

“Development partners and others who invest in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment for Cambodia should call on the government to quash these verdicts and support genuine freedom of expression and association,” the human rights group said.

The previous Cambodian administration under Hun Sen saw the opposition all but dismantled, independent media shuttered and dozens of activists jailed.

Chinese teenager injured in ‘racially motivated’ attack in New Zealand

A Chinese teenager was injured in a “racially motivated” attack in New Zealand, the Chinese embassy said and urged Auckland police to investigate the incident.

The 16-year-old schoolboy was travelling by bus to Auckland City when he was attacked by a woman with a metal bar on Friday, police said on Monday.

Acting detective senior sergeant James Mapp said the “unprovoked assault” left the teenager with serious facial injuries.

The victim told the New Zealand Herald the woman started “verbally abusing me and then immediately started to physically abuse me”.

The teenager, who has been living in the country with his family for about seven years, was travelling to play basketball with his friends.

The woman yelled racial slurs at him and attacked him with a metal rod, the teenager said, adding that he lost three teeth and began bleeding from his mouth.

He said only one fellow passenger named Gleen Zhang, 75, intervened to stop the attack, RNZ reported.

The woman got off the bus at the next stop. Police suspect she’s a Maori woman in her 40s and they are on the lookout for her. It is not known why the woman attacked the teenager.

“The offender alighted from the bus prior to police arrival,” Mr Mapp said. “We understand the fear and concern events like this inflict on the community and we will continue to pursue every lead to hold this person to account.”

He said police have “no tolerance for this type of crime or intimidation”.

“We are also providing support to the victim and want to reassure the community that we are working hard to locate the person responsible.”

The attack on the bus came days after a Chinese activist carrying the Taiwanese flag was heckled by a group of people who were gathered to welcome Chinese premier Li Qiang.

Taiwan’s representative to New Zealand said they were “alarmed” and called for an investigation.

Mr Li arrived in Wellington on 13 June and pledged to renew China’s “traditional friendship” with New Zealand, suggesting opportunities to bolster trade, tourism and investment.

In June last year, a man wielding an axe entered three Chinese restaurants in Auckland and injured four people, local media reported at the time. He stormed into Zhangliang Malatang, Yues Dumpling Kitchen and Maya Hotpot and started randomly attacking people with an axe around 9 pm.

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