INDEPENDENT 2024-07-09 12:10:09


Deadly flooding threatens rhinos in India’s Assam as six drown

Six rhinos are among at least 129 animals killed in severe flooding at one of India’s best-known wildlife reserves.

Devastating floods triggered by torrential rains over the past few weeks have led to growing concern for residents of Assam’s Kaziranga park, famous for its large population of rhinos.

Assam is battling its worst flooding since 2017, when more than 300 wild animals died at Kaziranga.

The greater one-horned rhinoceros, Rhinoceros unicornis, is found in just nine protected areas in Nepal and India, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In India, the species is listed under the “vulnerable” category.

In its annual “State of the Rhino” report released in September 2023, the International Rhino Foundation said the population of the greater one-horned rhino in India and Nepal had increased to more than 4,000.

There were only about 200 left in 1904.

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma shared a picture of a stranded rhino calf in the park and said he had “instructed its immediate rescue”.

The floods “have affected humans and animals alike”, he said, “and Team Assam is working round the clock to aid everyone”.

Rescue workers have saved 96 animals so far, News18 reported.

Assam, along with eastern India, is flooded almost every year as rains swell the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries.

But this year’s floods have been particularly severe, impacting over 2.1 million people across 28 districts of the state. At least 78 people have died.

The state’s disaster management agency said over 386,000 people were currently sheltering in 515 relief camps.

Although water levels in the Brahmaputra had fallen in recent days, the agency said, the flood situation was still severe.

The chief minister attributed the floods primarily to the breaching of eight embankments and heavy rains in the upstream state of Arunachal Pradesh. “No human intervention can stop it,” he said.

The Brahmaputra flows 1,280km through Assam before entering Bangladesh. It is one of 13 major rivers currently flowing above the danger level in northeast India.

Australian tourist town declares three-day curfew after violence

Australian police have imposed three nights of curfew on the popular tourist town of Alice Springs after a series of violent assaults and a brawl involving 80 people.

One of the alleged assaults targeted four off-duty officers who were walking home. It was not immediately known if the offenders identified them as police, Northern Territory police commissioner Michael Murphy told reporters.

The curfew would act as a “pressure-relief valve” and improve the safety of the community, said chief minister Eva Lawler.

“I love Alice Springs but the offending and behaviour we have seen over the last 96 hours will not be tolerated,” she said.

“We want to stamp out this poor behaviour,”  Ms Lawler told reporters. “The curfew will provide police extra powers to get on top of the situation.”

It was not a “political” decision, she said, and was made for the safety of the town’s residents.

Mr Murphy said the violence over the weekend contributed to “significant harm and civil disturbances” and was the reason for the decision to impose the curfew, which would be in place from 10pm to 6am.

“The intent of this declaration is to disrupt the behaviours associated with the harm we’re seeing in Alice Springs,” he said. “It applies to all classes of people, it will apply to adults and it will apply to youths.”

New laws introduced in May empower the police commissioner to impose a lockdown for three days – and then ask for the government for an extension – to control any violent incidents.

“If I believe an extension is required I will put that in writing, about the reasons why I think that should occur,” the police chief said.

A police officer was allegedly run down by a vehicle and suffered arm and leg fracture over the weekend.

A group of local officials was assaulted on Saturday when they tried to contain “large-scale disturbance” involving around 80 people.

“That subsequently led to the assault of four off-duty police who were walking home,” Mr Murphy said.

The officers, a man and three women, were attacked by a group of about 20 young men.

While one of the female officers was pulled to the ground and had her purse stolen, another was punched in the face and kicked before her mobile was stolen.

The officers reported the assault to police after returning to their accommodation.

In a separate incident, police charged a man in the alleged stabbing of a 42-year-old woman on Sunday.

Community leaders have long identified alcohol abuse as a major factor behind violence in the town.

The curfew would be enforced “in the confines between Anzac Hill, Schwarz Crescent, down to the hospital, from the Stuart Highway across to Leichhardt and Stott Terrace”, Mr Murphy said.

“Anybody into the zone can be engaged by police, and they can be asked to leave,” he said.

“Or alternatively, they can be asked to stay if there’s another disturbance and they need to be contained for their own safety. A failure to abide to a request by police can lead to an offence, and it can lead to an infringement notice or an arrest.”

People can still enter the designated area during curfew hours if they are fleeing domestic violence, visiting family, travelling to care for someone, going to work or going to fast food restaurants, said Mr Murphy.

Alice Springs was put under a two-week curfew in March after a mass brawl involving 150 people, but it was enforced for only those under 18 years of age.

Alice Springs, a remote town in Australia’s vast outback region some 2,000km northwest of Sydney, is the gateway to major tourist attractions, including the giant red sandstone monolith of Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock.

Around a fifth of the town’s population are Indigenous Australians, who have been marginalised since the continent was colonised by Britain in the late 18th century.

Additional reporting by agencies

12 dead and 18 missing in landslide at illegal gold mine in Indonesia

A dozen people were killed after heavy rainfall triggered a landslide at an illegal gold mine on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island on Sunday.

Five people had been rescued but 18 were still trapped in the mine in the remote Bone Bolango region of Gorontalo province, local authorities said on Monday.

Nearly 35 villagers were searching for grains of gold in a small traditional pit mine when the landslide hit and buried them, Afifuddin Ilahude, a spokesperson for Gorontalo’s search and rescue agency, said.

He said rescue work was “hampered by heavy rain and blocked roads covered with thick mud and debris”.

Indonesia’s disaster management agency said the landslide also damaged several houses and a bridge.

It warned of more rain in Gorontalo province on Monday and Tuesday and urged residents to stay vigilant.

“We have deployed 164 personnel from the national rescue team, police and military, to search for the missing people,” Heriyanto, head of the local rescue agency, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

He said rescue workers had to walk 20km to reach the landslide site as the roads were covered in thick mud and the rain wouldn’t relent.

“We will try to use an excavator once it’s possible,” Mr Heriyanto, identified by only his first name, said.

In May, flash floods and landslides sparked by torrential rain killed over 50 people in Indonesia’s West Sumatra province.

Additional reporting by agencies.

Iranian warship Sahand capsizes and sinks in port

A number of people have been injured after an Iranian warship capsized and sank during repairs at a port, according to the country’s state-run media.

The incident involved the Sahand, a 1,300-tonne naval frigate, and took place in Bandar Abbas, a southern port near the Strait of Hormuz.

A report in the IRNA news agency said the ship became unbalanced after taking on water while being repaired at the wharf.

“Several people sustained minor injuries in the incident and were taken to hospital,” IRNA said, citing the Iranian army’s news portal.

The navy said there was a possibility that the frigate could be “rebalanced” since the incident occurred in shallow water.

Social media images showed the Sahand tilted on its side.

Named after a northern Iranian mountain, the Sahand took six years to build and was launched into the Persian Gulf in December 2018.

The ship was equipped with surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft batteries, and advanced radar systems. Reports suggested that since its construction, the ship had been upgraded with new radar, medium-range air-defence missiles, and additional anti-ship missiles, potentially affecting its stability.

This is the third incident of an Iranian warship sinking in the past six years – the Damavand sank in the Caspian Sea in January 2018 after hitting a breakwater, and the Kharg sank in June 2021 following a fire in the Gulf of Oman.

Delhi air dust puts plane engines at ‘serious risk’ of wear and tear

Aircraft arriving at Delhi’s main airport swallow large quantities of dust, which may accumulate over time and put their engines at “serious” risk of wear and tear, a new study has warned.

The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests moving more flights at the Indira Gandhi International Airport to a night-time schedule to reduce engine dust ingestion by about a third.

“Dust and sand are dangerous to aircraft because dust melts to form glassy deposits on blades or hard mineral crusts inside engines. The crusts disrupt airflow and cause overheating resulting in accelerated engine wear,” Claire Ryder, the lead author of the study from the University of Reading in the UK, said.

“Although the amount of dust ingested per flight is not huge, the amounts quickly add up. A plane consuming five grams of dust per arrival and departure will eat 10kg of dust over 1,000 flights.”

Researchers analysed about two decades of satellite and atmospheric data to calculate the dust ingested by planes at some of the world’s busiest airports.

The study, to be published this week in the journal Natural Hazards, reveals that the largest quantities of dust are ingested by planes at airports close to the Sahara desert and in the Middle East and north India during dust storms.

“Atmospheric mineral dust aerosol constitutes a threat to aircraft engines from deterioration of internal components,” scientists warned.

Aircraft landing in Delhi during summer ingest the most dust, gathering an average of 6.6g per arrival and over 4g on departure, according to the study. This is followed by flights landing in Niger’s Niamey at 4.7g per arrival and in Dubai at 4.3g.

Researchers also found that aircraft tend to ingest more dust as they hover above these airports waiting for permission to land.

Waiting to land for 10-15 minutes at a one-kilometre altitude can lead to more dust ingestion than during the take-off and climb phases of a flight, researchers said.

At the Delhi airport during summer, holding at 1km altitude contributes 50 per cent of total dust ingestion, researchers found. Shifting flight landing at Delhi and Dubai to nighttime can reduce engine dust ingestion by nearly a third.

Researchers predict that climate change may lead to an even dustier world as temperatures rise and deserts expand.

But current climate models do not provide a consensus on this as dust emissions depend on several factors, including rainfall, soil moisture, surface wind patterns, and vegetation cover.

Why China is conducting military exercises in Belarus

The Chinese military has begun joint drills in Belarus that are being held over the next 11 days in Brest, close to the border with Nato state Poland.

The joint military exercises by two of Russia’s most important allies come after Belarus became the 10th member of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) during its 24th meeting of heads of council in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Belarus’s government said the drills “will allow … the laying of a foundation for further development of Belarusian-Chinese relations in the field of joint training of troops”.

China described it as “anti-terrorist training”, and said the drills were according to “an annual plan and consensus”.

This is the first time in six years that China has sent military personnel to Belarus for such exercises, with their last bilateral joint drills taking place in China. Both countries also participated in Russia’s Vostok multilateral exercise in August 2022.

Last August, China and Belarus agreed to conduct more joint military drills following a meeting between China’s then defence chief Li Shangfu and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.

Photos released by the Belarusian defence ministry showed China’s People’s Liberation Army troops arriving in Belarus on a Chinese Y-20 strategic transport aircraft.

Brest is located less than 5km (3.1 miles) from the border with Poland, a member state of both the EU and Nato and a significant ally of Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Brest is also only 50km away from Ukraine itself.

Martin Sebena, a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong who specialises in China-Europe relations, said the timing and location of the drills mean they are likely to be seen as further signalling of Chinese support for Russia and its allies in Europe.

He told the South China Morning Post: “The exercise will overlap with the Nato summit and takes place on the … border where Belarus for many months has ‘weaponised’ migrant flows to pressure Poland – and by extension, the EU and Nato.”

Nato’s summit is scheduled to be held in Washington between 9-11 July.

Mr Sebena said: “It adds two extra layers to the Polish perception. First, the Poles have been reducing train transport from China via the Malaszewicze hub [near Brest] in fears of it being used for tariff circumvention, while China has worked hard to increase train-based overland trade from western China to Europe – with this hub being basically the only place where those trains enter through the EU.

“Second, the Polish president has recently been warmly welcomed in China, and since the Poles will see this exercise as directed at them, hence questions are arising in Poland about how genuine the Chinese side was.”

Chinese state-run media said the country’s forces also took part in a military parade in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, last Wednesday, marking the 80th anniversary of Belarusian liberation.

“I believe that thanks to the efforts of both sides, China-Belarus relations will continue to demonstrate robust growth and make substantial progress,” Chinese president Xi Jinping said at the SCO summit in Astana where he also met with the Belarusian president.

Mr Lukashenko is one of Mr Putin’s most faithful allies, and the two have exchanged several visits even as many nations have shunned Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine, the most recent being a two-day trip by Mr Putin to Minsk last month.

Mr Lukashenko named a new military chief during the visit, signalling continued alignment with Russia. Major General Pavel Muraveyka, who was appointed as chief of Belarus’s General Staff and as first deputy defence minister, is known for publicly threatening neighbouring Nato members Poland and Lithuania.

Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus further solidifies their strategic partnership, with implications for regional security and Nato relations, experts say. In 2023, Russia moved some of its tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

“Muraveyko’s appointment is an open challenge to the West and a desire to show Putin Minsk’s complete loyalty and willingness to maintain a strategic partnership with Russia,” independent Belarusian analyst Valer Karbalevich told the Associated Press last month.

“The deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus does not leave Lukashenko a strategic choice, turns him into a hostage of the Kremlin and firmly binds Minsk to Moscow’s policies,” Mr Karbalevich said.

Mr Putin travelled to China in May for his second visit in just six months, reflecting closer alignment between the two nations amid increasing Western scrutiny and sanctions.

“The China-Russia relationship today is hard-earned, and the two sides need to cherish and nurture it,” Mr Xi told Mr Putin as the leaders met in Beijing. “China is willing to … jointly achieve the development and rejuvenation of our respective countries, and work together to uphold fairness and justice in the world.”

There are also increasing concerns that China may be considering providing military assistance to Russia, which US officials warn would have serious consequences.

Additional reporting by agencies

Justin Bieber performs at pre-wedding bash of Indian billionaire’s son

Another global start entertained guests at yet another pre-wedding celebration thrown by India’s richest family, and this time it was Justin Bieber.

Nita and Mukesh Ambani have been celebrating the upcoming wedding of their youngest son Anant with Radhika Merchant, daughter of a pharmaceutical baron, with a series of glitzy soirees.

The latest celebration – called sangeet, a pre-wedding ceremony marked by songs and dance – saw Justin Bieber perform for the couple’s friends and family on Saturday.

Bieber performed his 2015 hit song “Love Yourself” as well as his 2017 collaboration with DJ Khaled, “I’m The One”, at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai.

At the end of his performance, the singer brought the bride and groom onto the stage to congratulate and celebrate them.

The couple wore custom looks by Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla.

Afterwards, the singer flooded his Instagram with fun photos and videos from the billionaire heir and his bride’s pre-wedding celebration.

Bieber is rumoured to have been paid $10m for the private gig.

Anant Ambani is the youngest son of Mukesh Ambani, the CEO of Reliance Industries whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at around $120 billion, making him the 11th richest person in the world.

Reliance is a mega conglomerate with interests in oil, mining, refining, retail, telecom and entertainment.

Radhika Merchant is the daughter of Viren Merchant, the CEO of pharma company Encore Healthcare.

Both the bride and the groom work for their fathers’ companies.

The couple began celebrating their upcoming wedding in March when the Ambanis held a three-day ceremony called hastakshar, a traditional prenuptial event that symbolises their respective families’ commitment to each other, at their home in Jamnagar in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

The ceremony featured a performance by pop star Rihanna which reportedly cost the Ambanis $6.3m.

Another pre-wedding celebration in May had the Ambanis go on a Mediterranean cruise with 800 star guests.

The cruise sailed from Italy to the south of France and back, with American band Backstreet Boys and singer Katy Perry part of the entertainment hired for the celebration.

The cruise reportedly left residents and businesses in Portofino and Genoa fuming as the Italian cities were shut down and people kept awake by unruly guests.

The wedding of Radhika and Anant will take place in mid-July in India.

Israel ‘invoked controversial Hannibal Directive on 7 October’

The Israeli army invoked its controversial “Hannibal Directive” during the 7 October Hamas attack, according to a report, a measure that has the potential to increase risks to civilian lives.

The directive was created by the Israeli military in the 1980s as an operating procedure designed to prevent the kidnap of soldiers by whatever means necessary, even if that comes at the expense of the lives of civilian hostages.

It has previously been blamed for possible war crimes, encouraging excessive or indiscriminate fire, and was formally discontinued in 2016.

But the protocol was invoked at three military facilities attacked by Hamas last year, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, citing testimonies of army officers and soldiers.

Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel in the early hours of 7 October, reportedly killing 1,139 soldiers and civilians and taking more than 250 people hostage.

Israel has since killed nearly 38,000 Palestinians in a ground and air assault on Gaza, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry, and displaced almost 90 per cent of its 2.3 million population. UN officials say another 500 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s government recently approved the construction of another 5,300 Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

While Haaertz said its investigation could not confirm if and how many Israeli soldiers and civilians were struck by their own military under the Hannibal protocol, it said “the cumulative data indicates that many of the kidnapped people were at risk, exposed to Israeli gunfire, even if they were not the target”.

As the attack unfolded, the paper reported, the military ordered that “not a single vehicle can return to Gaza” while making decisions based on limited and unverified information.

The military was unaware of the extent of the kidnapping but knew that many people were involved, it added.

The testimonies of army officers suggested that the procedure was employed in a “widespread manner”, starting at 7.18am local time shortly after a barrage of rockets was fired at Israel.

The army’s divisional headquarters issued a “Hannibal at Erez” order and dispatched the unmanned assault drone “Zik” after an observation post at Yiftah reported a kidnapping at the Erez border crossing.

The Hannibal Directive was also deployed at the Re’im army base and the Nahal Oz outpost, Haaretz said.

“This did not prevent the kidnapping of seven of them or the killing of 15 other spotters as well as 38 other soldiers,” the paper added.

At 11.22am local time, the military issued another order not to allow any vehicle to return to Gaza despite being aware that they could be carrying kidnapped civilians or soldiers.

“There was no case in which a vehicle carrying kidnapped people was knowingly attacked but you couldn’t really know if there were any such people in a vehicle,” a source in the army’s Southern Command told the newspaper.

“I can’t say there was a clear instruction, but everyone knew what it meant to not let any vehicles return to Gaza.”

At 2pm, all Israeli forces were ordered not to exit border communities towards the west. “The instruction was meant to turn the area around the border fence into a killing zone, closing it off toward the west,” the source said.

In the evening, Brigadier General Barak Hiram, commander of the 99th division, ordered a tank to fire on a home in Kibbutz Be’eri where Hamas fighters were holding 14 Israelis hostage. All but one of them were killed.

A UN investigation last month found that the Israeli military killed at least 14 of its citizens during the 7 October attack.

The Israeli military had “begun conducting internal investigations of what transpired on 7 October and the preceding period”, a spokesperson told the newspaper.

“The aim of these investigations is to learn and to draw lessons which could be used in continuing the battle,” the spokesperson said.

“When these investigations are concluded, the results will be presented to the public with transparency.”

The Independent has contacted the IDF for comment.

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