INDEPENDENT 2024-07-08 20:07:31


At least 11 killed after heavy rains trigger landslides in Nepal

At least 11 people died in the last 36 hours in Nepal after heavy rains triggered landslides and flash floods in the Himalayan country.

Heavy monsoon rainfall has prompted several flash floods and landslides in recent days, killing dozens of people and blocking key highways and roads.

Officials say apart from the 11 confirmed killed, eight pople were missing, who were either washed away in floods or buried in landslides.

At least 12 others were injured and were being treated in hospitals, police spokesperson Dan Bahadur Karki said.

“Rescue workers are trying to clear the landslides and open the roads,” Mr Karki told Reuters, adding heavy equipment was being used to clear debris.

Till now, a total of 55 incidents of flooding have been recorded in Nepal in less than a month, officials said.

At least 50 people across Nepal have died in landslides, floods and lightning strikes since mid-June when annual monsoon rains started.

Photos and videos from Kathmandu and other regions showed people wading through waist-deep water or residents using buckets to empty their houses.

Neighbouring India is also experiencing heavy rainfall across the country. The downpour in July put an end to a searing heatwave in northern India but also flooded the streets of Delhi earlier, with the parking roof of the international airport collapsing, killing one.

Severe rainfall has also caused flooding in the hilly northeastern parts of the country which were already battered by floods due the Cyclone Remal in May.

Continued rain is also increasing risks of further flooding as the Koshi river in Nepal, which causes deadly floods in the eastern Indian state of Bihar almost every year, was flowing above the danger level, a district official said.

“The flow of Koshi is rising and we have asked residents to remain alert about possible floods,” Bed Raj Phuyal, a senior official of Sunsari district where the river flows, told Reuters.

He said at 9am (3.15am GMT) water flow in Koshi river was more than double the normal.

Authorities said all 56 sluice gates of the Koshi Barrage had been opened to drain out water compared with about 10-12 during a normal situation.

Other rivers, such as Narayani, Rapti and Mahakali rivers in the west were also rising.

In hill-ringed Kathmandu, several rivers have overflown their banks, flooded roads and inundated many houses.

Hundreds of people die every year in landslides and flash floods that are common in mostly mountainous Nepal during the monsoon season which normally starts in mid-June and continues through mid-September.

In the northeastern Indian state of Assam, floods have killed dozens and displaced thousands of people in the past few days.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

How this Chinese shopping app took over the world but gave us the ick

If you have searched online for “cheap shoes” this year – or “cheap toys”, “cheap bowls”, “cheap clothes”, “cheap gadgets”, “cheap cushions” or “cheap suitcases” – then there is a strong chance that you have come across Temu. In less than two years, the e-commerce firm has grown from nothing to become the most downloaded app in the English-speaking world.

Temu’s push to the top of your Google results is the outcome of a hyper-aggressive marketing campaign, which has seen the brand appear in some of the most lucrative spots in existence. A 2024 Super Bowl ad urged viewers to “shop like a billionaire” through an app that promises to be an “everything store”.

Beyond the shoes, toys, clothing and fashion are products that most people are probably unaware even exist – and some products that probably do not actually need to exist.

There are shower caps for a single ear, bibs to catch beard trimmings and headlights for shoes. (There are nearly 40 million posts on TikTok related to “Weird items on Temu”.)

Countless items are listed for under £1 – from scissors to socks – with Temu reportedly operating at a loss of roughly $30 for every order currently placed on its site. These ultra-low prices and the ad blitz, which has cost more than $5bn since its launch in September 2022, are all aimed at achieving growth at a never before seen rate for an online retailer.

But it is not just the low prices and the multibillion-dollar ad blitz that has brought about Temu’s phenomenal rise. The app offers a whole new way to shop, combining the urgency of a gameshow with the peculiar allure of a daytime shopping channel. The app seeks to gamify the shopping experience, with lightning deals, countdown timers on sales and virtual spinning wheels for different discounts.

The experience it seeks to induce is similar to that of a “treasure hunt”, according to Shasha Wang, a senior lecturer at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, where Temu is also the most downloaded app. Dr Wang, who has studied Temu’s popularity, notes that its arrival came at a time of increasing economic hardship for consumers.

“Temu entered the market at a time when consumers were grappling with global inflation, leading them to seek ‘value’,” Dr Wang wrote in an article in September. “Unlike other e-commerce platforms that focus on functional benefits such as saving money, Temu caters to consumers’ emotional needs. It overlays the shopping experience with the idea of ‘shopping like a billionaire’ – which also aligns with its value-based strategy.”

Temu’s popularity in the UK and US, where it had more downloads than TikTok and Instagram combined last year, has left its rivals scrambling for ways to compete. Last month, Amazon reportedly called a private meeting to unveil a new discount shopping app that would connect Chinese suppliers directly with shoppers in the US – following the same model as Temu.

Amazon has not confirmed these reports, which first appeared on CNBC and The Information, with a spokesperson telling The Independent that the company is “exploring new ways to work with our selling partners to delight our customers with more selection, lower prices, and greater convenience”.

But Temu’s success has not come without controversy. Last November, an investigation by Which? alleged that illegal weapons such as folding knives and batons were appearing on the online marketplace at “extremely cheap” prices.

Three months later, a separate investigation from Which? warned that electric heaters sold on Temu could explode, cause electric shocks or start house fires.

“Problems with dangerous products are only going to get worse if new tech giants like Temu continue to be held to weaker standards than high street retailers,” said Sue Davies, head of consumer protection policy at Which?.

Temu has since removed the electrically unsafe heaters and claims to employ a “comprehensive approach to vetting the sellers and products” on its platform. A spokesperson told The Independent that it requires “essential documents, such as certifications, labels, testing reports, and registration records before allowing any listings to go live on the platform”.

For some, Temu provides a place in the market that no other retailer has filled – or even realised existed. For others, its arrival represents peak consumerism: the final death rattle of late-stage capitalism.

As one Reddit user wrote after viewing Temu’s Super Bowl ad: “It gives me ick for reasons I couldn’t explain… Also, as if any billionaire would ever TOUCH Temu’s stuff.”

Voters in Tokyo cast ballots to decide whether to re-elect incumbent conservative as city’s governor

Voters in Tokyo cast ballots Sunday to decide whether to re-elect conservative Yuriko Koike as governor of Japan’s influential capital for a third four-year term.

The vote was also seen as a test for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s governing party, which supports the incumbent, the first woman to lead the Tokyo city government.

Tokyo, a city of 13.5 million people with outsized political and cultural power and a budget equaling some nations, is one of Japan’s most influential political posts.

A record 55 candidates challenged Koike, and one of the top contenders was also a woman — a liberal-leaning former parliament member who uses only her first name, Renho, and was backed by opposition parties.

A win by Koike would be a relief for Kishia’s conservative governing party, which she has long been affiliated with. Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, unofficially backed her campaign.

Renho, running as an independent but supported by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, slammed Koike’s connection with Kishida’s party, which has been hit by a widespread slush fund scandal. A victory for Renho would be a major setback for Kishida’s chances in the governing party’s leadership vote in September.

While the two high-profile women gathered national attention, Shinji Ishimaru, a former mayor of Akitakata town in Hiroshima, was seen to have gained popularity among young voters.

The main issues in the campaign included measures for the economy, disaster resilience for Tokyo and low birth numbers. When Japan’s national fertility rate fell to a record low 1.2 per woman last year, Tokyo’s 0.99 rate was the lowest for the country.

Koike’s policies focused on providing subsidies for married parents expecting babies and those raising children. Renho called for increased support for young people to address their concerns about jobs and financial stability, arguing that would help improve prospects for marrying and having families.

Another focus of attention was a controversial redevelopment of Tokyo’s beloved park area, Jingu Gaien, which Koike approved but later faced criticisms over its lack of transparency and suspected environmental impact.

Koike, a stylish and media savvy former TV newscaster, was first elected to parliament in 1992 at age 40. She served in a number of key Cabinet posts, including environment and defense ministers, as part of the long-reining Liberal Democratic Party.

Renho, known for voicing sharp questions in parliament, was born to a Japanese mother and Taiwanese father and doesn’t use her family name. A former model and newscaster, she was elected to parliament in 2004 and served as administrative reform minister in the government led by the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan.

Indian preacher at centre of stampede deaths breaks his silence: ‘Deeply saddened’

An Indian preacher at the centre of 121 crowd crush deaths at a religious event in northern India has broken his silence as the main organiser of his prayer meeting surrendered to the police.

Surajpal Singh, a self-proclaimed godman known as “Bhola Baba” among his followers, said he was “deeply saddened” by the stampede incident.

“Please keep faith in the government and the administration. I have faith that anyone who created the chaos would not be spared,” he told ANI news agency.

On Tuesday, the preacher organised a satsang – a musical gathering where devotional songs are sung – in the Hathras city of northern Uttar Pradesh state, about 200km southeast of New Delhi.

By the evening, chaos broke out when his followers started chasing the vehicle the preacher was leaving in, leading to a stampede that killed 121 people. Most of those who died or were injured were women. A preliminary investigation found that thousands more than expected turned up at the event and as it got over, hundreds attempted to collect the soil the religious preacher had walked on before he left the venue.

Police said the number of people present at the venue was three times the permitted limit.

Authorities had permitted for 80,000 people to gather but around 250,000 people attended the event, according to the first information report (FIR) lodged by the police.

A case was registered against the event’s organisers but the police were unable to locate the preacher when they raided his Ram Kutir Charitable Trust in Mainpuri district.

“We did not find baba (spiritual guide) inside the campus,” police official Sunil Kumar told ANI.

Earlier, in a statement issued through his lawyer, AP Singh, the preacher blamed “some anti-social elements” for the crush.

Mr Singh claimed there was a “criminal conspiracy” against his client. He also denied reports that Mr Pal’s security guards sparked panic by pushing away people who tried to get his blessings.

“Totally false allegation,” the lawyer told the BBC. “Security staff always provide help to the followers.”

One organiser associated with the event had surrendered to the police. Devprakash Madhukar was named a key suspect in an initial report registered by police.

Mr Singh said Madhukar was the main organiser of the Hindu religious event. “He has surrendered from Delhi. We are not seeking an anticipatory bail,” Mr Singh told reporters. He denied any wrongdoing by the event’s organisers and said Mr Madhukar was getting medical treatment in a hospital after the stampede.

The tragedy has sparked outrage in India, and raised questions about lapses in safety measures in public gatherings.

Devastating images of stampede emerged in the aftermath of the incident, with dead bodies lined up and injured being rushed to hospital in trucks.

Mr Pal, 58, was born in a Dalit family in Uttar Pradesh’s Kasganj village. According to reports his followers are mainly from the formerly untouchable community.

Moderate reformist Masoud Pezeshkian wins Iran’s presidential race

After the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, Iranian politician Masoud Pezeshkian wrote that it was “unacceptable in the Islamic Republic to arrest a girl for her hijab and then hand over her dead body to her family”.

Days later, as nationwide protests and a bloody crackdown on all dissent took hold, he warned that those “insulting the supreme leader… will create nothing except long-lasting anger and hatred in the society”.

The stances taken by Mr Pezeshkian, now Iran’s 69-year-old president-elect, highlight the dualities of being a reformist politician within Iran’s Shia theocracy – always pushing for change but never radically challenging the system overseen by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s interior ministry said on Saturday: “By gaining a majority of the votes cast on Friday, Pezeshkian has become Iran’s next president.”

After Iran’s 28 June presidential election saw the lowest turnout in history, Mr Pezeshkian won 16.3 million votes against hardliner Saeed Jalili’s 13.5 million votes to clinch Friday’s run-off election. Mr Pezeshkian now must convince a public angered by years of economic pain and bloody crackdowns that he can make the changes he promised.

“We are losing our backing in the society, because of our behavior, high prices, our treatment of girls and because we censor the internet,” Mr Pezeshkian said at a televised debate on Monday night. “People are discontent with us because of our behaviour.”

Mr Pezeshkian has aligned himself with other moderate and reformist figures during his campaign to replace the late President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline protégé of Ayatollah Khamenei killed in a helicopter crash in May. His main advocate has been former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who reached Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that saw sanctions lifted in exchange for the atomic programme being drastically curtailed.

Iranians rushed into the streets in a carnival-like expression of hope that the deal would finally see their country enter the international community. But in 2018, then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, setting in motion a series of attacks across the wider Middle East. Iran now enriches uranium to near-weapons-grade levels while having a large enough stockpile to build several bombs if it chooses.

That, coupled with the bloody crackdown on dissent that followed nationwide protests over Amini’s death and the mandatory hijab, have fueled voters’ disenchantment. Mr Pezeshkian has offered comments suggesting he wants better relations with the West, a return to the atomic accord and less enforcement of the hijab law.

Mr Pezeshkian was born 29 September 1954 in Mahabad in northwestern Iran to an Azeri father and a Kurdish mother. He speaks Azeri and has long focused on the affairs of Iran’s vast minority ethnic groups. Like many, he served in the Iran-Iraq war, sending medical teams to the battlefront.

He became a heart surgeon and served as the head of the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences. However, personal tragedy shaped his life after a 1994 car crash killed his wife, Fatemeh Majidi, and a daughter. The doctor never remarried and raised his remaining two sons and a daughter alone.

Mr Pezeshkian entered politics first as the country’s deputy health minister and later as the health minister under the administration of reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

Almost immediately, he found himself involved in the struggle between hardliners and reformists, attending the autopsy of Zahra Kazemi, a freelance photographer who held both Canadian and Iranian citizenship. She was detained while taking pictures at a protest at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, was tortured and died in custody.

In 2006, Mr Pezeshkian was elected as a politician representing Tabriz. He later served as a deputy parliament speaker and backed reformist and moderate causes, though analysts often described him more as an “independent” than allied with the voting blocs. That independent label also has been embraced by Mr Pezeshkian in the campaign.

Yet Mr Pezeshkian at the same time honored Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, on one occasion wearing its uniform to parliament. He repeatedly criticized the United States and praised the guard for shooting down an American drone in 2019, saying it “delivered a strong punch in the mouth of the Americans and proved to them that our country will not surrender”.

In 2011, Mr Pezeshkian registered to run for president, but withdrew his candidacy. In 2021, he found himself and other prominent candidates barred from running by authorities, allowing an easy win for Raisi.

In this campaign, Mr Pezeshkian’s advocates have sought to contrast him against the “Taliban” policies of Mr Jalili. His campaign slogan is “For Iran”, a possible play on the popular song by the Grammy Award-winning Iranian singer-songwriter Shervin Hajipour called “Baraye,” or “For” in English. Hajipour has been sentenced to more than three years in prison over his anthem for the Amini protests.

Yet Mr Pezeshkian acknowledged the challenge ahead of him, particularly after the low turnout of the first round of voting.

“With all the noisy arguments between me and him, only 40 per cent (of eligible voters) voted,” Mr Pezeshkian said during his final televised debate with Mr Jalili on Tuesday. “Sixty per cent don’t accept us. So people have issues with us.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

Sister of Titan submersible victim ‘furious’ that he took his son

The sister of a billionaire businessman who died in last year’s Titan submersible disaster has said she is “furious” with her brother for bringing his teenage son with him.

Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son Suleman both lost their lives when the so-called $250,000-a-head Titanic tourist sub suffered a “catastrophic implosion” an hour and 45 minutes into its dive to the Titanic wreck.

The businessman had been “obsessed” with the disaster and his sister said at the time his son was “terrified” at the prospect of the dive, but wanted to please his father.

This claim has been refuted by his mother, Christine, who said the university student wanted to go to the Titanic.

Reflecting on the tragedy a year later, Shadaza’s older sister Amzeh told the New York Post: “I still wake up every morning and it hits me like a ton of bricks that they’re gone.

“There’s nowhere to share the grief, we just have to carry it inside us.”

The Pakistani father and son lost their lives alongside fellow “citizen explorer” British billionaire businessman Hamish Harding, 58, Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, and OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, 61.

Amzeh, who spent the anniversary of the tragedy with her immediate family in Amsterdam, said others including Christine and Shadaza’s daughter, Alina, had gathered to be together.

“I sent a message to my mother saying how are you, it’s the anniversary, and she informed me that the whole family were together because it’s so difficult to be alone,” Amzeh said.

Both Christine and Alina were on the Titan’s support vessel, the Polar Prince, when the submersible went missing.

This notably happened on Father’s Day, 16 June, and it is believed that this is why Christine gave her ticket to her son so he could mark the occasion with his father.

Amzeh said she was informed about the disaster by her husband after it took the support vessel hours after losing contact with Titan to report its disappearance to the coast guard.

“My first husband gave me a call – I had no idea whatsoever,” she said. “Then I started to realise, ‘Oh my God, they’ve gone on this and it’s gone missing.’”

She reflected on the last message she had received from her teenage nephew.

She added: “It started to kind of make sense that a couple [of] days before that, Suleman had sent me a short text saying, ‘I love you and I miss you’ and offered to come visit.”

Azmeh said she did not have the best relationship with her brother before his death and said she has been left “furious” by his actions with the submersible.

“My brother was passionate about the Titanic. So yeah, great, [he] got to do this. But Suleman, he’s 19,” she said.

“Obviously I miss my brother, my God, I would do anything to bring him back, but I guess the older sister in me is really, really furious with him for taking Sully,” she added, which was Suleman’s nickname.

Her son, Lehhaan, was incredibly close to his cousin and she said he has been profoundly affected by his death. She said he is so traumatised that he had a seizure when he recently attempted to take a boat trip in Greece.

The pair reportedly played video games together until the disaster last June.

“He was very close to Suleman – I think for a few moments he tapped into the fear that he must have felt,” she speculated.

“He just curled up on the floor of the boat and we were holding him in place and he was just shaking. Because it was just too close. It was just too close to the terror that we all know that Suleman must have held.”

Amzeh has now hit out at the company behind the disaster, OceanGate, and like many, has compared it to the Titanic itself.

She was also particularly critical of the company’s CEO, Mr Rush, who like the Titanic captain Edward Smith went down with his ship.

“It was just kind of pretty much just like the Titanic, wasn’t it? It was hubris or arrogance beyond measure,” she said.

“Thinking he [Mr Rush] was amazing. Compared to the ocean, the ocean is a natural force. It’s breathtaking. To have assumed we can take it on.

“I personally don’t get why someone would raise so much money to visit what is in essence a mass grave site. It should be left alone. It should be respected.

“It’s not tourism, it’s voyeurism.”

While the investigation into the disaster is still ongoing, it is thought the Titan’s experimental carbon fibre hull weakened on its repeat dives to the Titanic, culminating in its eventual catastrophic implosion.

It is believed the implosion happened so quickly that the men aboard the Titan would have died instantly and not experienced any pain.

Tesla cools interest in India as Elon Musk seems to focus on China

Tesla’s plan to make a splash in the Indian market appears to have hit a roadblock since Elon Musk abruptly postponed his visit to the country in April and dashed to China instead.

The electric carmaker’s executives have ceased contact with Indian officials, leading them to conclude that Musk does not intend to invest in the country in the near future, Bloomberg reported.

Tesla was reportedly looking at India, the world’s third-largest automobile market, as the next destination for growth.

The company put the plan on hold after the Indian government reportedly insisted that it produce cars locally, just as it does in China. The carmaker would have preferred importing vehicles initially to gauge demand.

Mr Musk had said Tesla would be in India “as soon as humanly possible” after a meeting with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to the US last year. “He really cares about India because he’s pushing us to make significant investments in India, which is something we intend to do. We are just trying to figure out the right timing,” Mr Musk said, calling himself a “fan of Mr Modi”.

“I am confident that Tesla will be in India and will do so as soon as humanly possible.”

The carmaker planned to invest $2 to $3bn and build a new factory in India, Reuters reported in April. Mr Musk was expected to announce the deal after meeting with Mr Modi in April.

But he cancelled the visit. He said “very heavy Tesla obligations require the visit to India be delayed, but I do very much look forward to visiting later this year”.

Just a week later, the mercurial billionaire made an unplanned visit to China.

The visit reportedly helped Tesla clear regulatory roadblocks related to the launch of self-driving software in the country, a crucial market for the company. Mr Musk met Chinese premier Li Qiang and Tesla’s Model 3 and Y vehicles passed the country’s data security requirements soon after.

Now that Tesla has cooled interest in India, officials told Bloomberg that they were looking to domestic car makers for boosting electric vehicle production. But Tesla would still be welcome to avail a new import tax policy if Mr Musk decided to re-engage, they said.

Tesla’s apparent ghosting of India comes just as its Model Y has been made available for government purchase in China, according to state news outlet Paper.cn.

The Model Y, a fully electric compact crossover SUV, has been included in a list of electric and hybrid vehicles that local governments can purchase for use as service cars.

India likely still remains on Mr Musk’s radar. He congratulated Mr Modi after his swearing-in as prime minister for the third time last month.

“Congratulations Narendra Modi on your victory in the world’s largest democratic elections! Looking forward to my companies doing exciting work in India,” he wrote on X.

Mr Modi responded saying “Indian youth, our demography, predictable policies and stable democratic polity will continue to provide the business environment for all our partners”.

India’s electric vehicle market is small but growing. It’s currently dominated by the local carmaker Tata.

Mr Modi’s government is targeting 30 per cent of new cars to be electric by 2030, up from about 2 per cent currently.

In recent years, Mr Musk has opposed India’s high import taxes on electric vehicles and lobbied for change. In March, India’s government introduced a new policy reducing import taxes from as high as 100 per cent to 15 per cent on certain models, provided the carmaker invests at least $500m and establishes a factory in the country.

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