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Omicron sub-variant detected in Australia

Health authorities of Australia’s Victoria state confirmed that the Omicron sub-variant BA.2.12.1 has been traced in wastewater in Melbourne…reports Asian Lite News

The Victoria Health Department said authorities would now prioritize the sequencing of PCR samples from Covid-19 cases in the water catchment area to get a better understanding of the spread of the BA.2.12.1, reports Xinhua news agency.

“Early evidence suggests it is more transmissible than BA.2 but does not cause more severe disease.”

The BA.2.12.1 sub-variant is currently on the rise in the US, which makes up nearly 30 per cent of sequences identified nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and is also fast spreading through Europe.

Victoria reported 19 Covid deaths on Saturday along with 9,064 new cases, bringing the state’s overall active cases to 54,992.

There are 448 people hospitalised with Covid in the state, 30 of whom are in intensive care units.

The BA.2.12.1 detection came only a day after the first case of another Omicron sub-variant, BA.4, was found in the neighbouring state of New South Wales (NSW) in traveller from South Africa.

The sudden simultaneous arrival of the two virulent strains is already causing concern among medical experts such as epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia.

ALSO READ: Global Covid caseload tops 512.2 mn

“BA.2.12.1 now accounts for 25 percent of cases in the U.S. BA.4 is rapidly becoming the dominant strain in South Africa. Increasing case numbers will inevitably result in increased hospitalizations and more people with long-Covid. This is real and happening now,” Esterman tweeted.

Speaking to local media, Esterman said BA.4 “appears to escape the immune system a bit better than BA.2, so that means that people who’ve already been infected can be re-infected more easily, and people who are vaccinated can be infected more easily”.

“This comes just at the stage where we’re removing all our public health measures – that’s the bad news,” he said.

-Top News India News

Gen Manoj Pande Takes Charge As Indian Army Chief

General Manoj Pande on Saturday took over as the new Indian Army chief following the retirement of General Manoj Mukund Naravane after 42 years in service.

Gen Pande had serving as the Vice Chief before being appointed as Army Chief. He became the first officer from the Corps of Engineers to helm the force.

Born on May 6, 1962, Gen Pande was commissioned on December 24, 1982 in the Corps of Engineers (The Bombay Sappers) of the Indian Army.

During his long and distinguished service spanning over 39 years, he has served in a variety of Command, Staff and Instructional appointments.

The Command appointments of Gen Pande include Command of an Engineer Brigade in the Western Theatre, as part of Strike Corps and an Infantry Brigade along with Line-of-Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

Other important Command appointments include a Mountain Division in the high-altitude area of the Western Ladakh and Command of a Corps, deployed along the LAC and in Counter Insurgency Operations area of Eastern Command.

In the rank of Lt General, the officer has held important appointments including that of Commander-in-Chief of the Andaman & Nicobar Command and as the GOC-in-C of the Eastern Command at Kolkata before getting appointed as the Vice Chief of the Army Staff.

General Manoj Pande, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC takes over as the 29th Chief of Army Staff of Indian Army from General MM Naravane.

He is an alumnus of National Defence Academy and has undergone courses at Staff College, Camberley (UK), Army War College, Mhow and National Defence College, New Delhi.

For his illustrious service, Gen Pande has been conferred with Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal.

ALSO READ: Chinese hackers target India’s power grid near Ladakh: Report

India News Lite Blogs London News

Confluence organises Bharat Mahotsav in London

Bharat Mahotsav- Festival of One India was organised in London recently by the NGO  Confluence, curated by its founder Dr Smita Shrivastav & Dr Amitabh Shrivastav. Marking Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the event was organised in association with the India Business Group, Indian National Students Association (INSA), Sanskruti Centre for Cultural Excellence, Hindi Shiksha Parishad UK, Ecole Supérieure Robert De Sorbon, Applied Business Academy (ABA), Queen Mary Indian Society, Tatsat Chronicle and Mag Travels Pvt Ltd.

Lord Loomba addressing Bharat Mahotsav delegates

The festival included a business summit (Swadeshi Connect), a fashion show (Swadeshi Parade), exhibitions, a vibrant cultural programme, & felicitation ceremony (Bharat Gaurav Samman). The core objective was to celebrate amity, cultural exchange, felicitate people’s achievements and excellence, and promote trade, art, heritage, innovations, sustainable development, tourism, & women empowerment. More than thirty emissaries have been conferred Bharat Gaurav Samman Awards and five honorary Doctorates awarded on the occasion.

Hosted by Lord Loomba CBE at the House of Lords, the event had special Guests of Honour including J.C. Chaudhry (Chairman, Aakash Educational Services Limited), Jude Elie (Presidential Candidate for Haiti), Dame Dr Munni Irone (The Royal Queen Of Beverly Hills, Founder Of Art4Peace awards), Chris Eubank (famous Boxer) and Manoj Gaur (Gaursons India).

Dr Amitabh Shrivastav at Confluence event

Honourable Minister of State for Culture and External Affairs Smt. Meenakshi Lekhi has sent a video message on the occasion, in which she said “I am pleased to be part of ‘Bharat Mahotsav’ – Festival of One India in London to promote Indian culture, local Indian fashion, Handloom & tribal products on an international level and to provide a global platform to unsung talented artisans, weavers, and craftsmen of our country. Through this message, I’d also like to express my congratulations to all the recipients of the “Bharat Gaurav Samman Award” for Leadership & Excellence, their exceptional service to India and her people.”

Speaking on the occasion, Lord Loomba said, “The UK and India are the most powerful democracies, and Confluence’s initiative is a soft diplomacy in strengthening the ties between the two nations.”

The Shrivastavs, curators of Bharat Mahotsav said “The idea of Confluence initiated with the simple thought of bridging the gap between art, artisans & the commoner. Following the Make in India motto, Confluence aims to preserve and cherish the rich and ancient heritage of India. It is a privilege to be recognised by India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Culture”

The Business Meet and Swadeshi Parade took place at Applied Business Academy (ABA) in Docklands and had the designs of Rina Dhaka, Simran Ahuja and Smita Shrivastav, choreographed by Sandip Soparrkar. The cultural programme started with an impressive classical dance invocation by Dr Ragasudha Vinjamuri, followed by kids’ performances by Hindi Shiksha Parishad UK.

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Putin plans ‘all-out war’ on Ukraine ‘within days’

Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that Putin might use Russia’s victory day parade on May 9 to announce the mass mobilisation of his reserves for a final push in Ukraine, reports Asian Lite News

Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to declare an “all-out war” on Ukraine “within days” to enable Moscow to launch a general mobilisation of the population, according to Russian sources and Western officials.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what Putin called a “special military operation” to “demilitarise and de-nazify” Ukraine and barred the use of the word “war”, thinking it would be over in a few weeks, The Daily Mail reported.

However, army chiefs, frustrated that the invasion has now stretched into the third week, have called on the President to declare war which would enable a mass mobilisation of Russian troops and an escalation in the conflict.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that Putin might use Russia’s victory day parade on May 9 to announce the mass mobilisation of his reserves for a final push in Ukraine.

It comes as former NATO chief Richard Sherriff warned the West must “gear itself up” for a “worst case scenario” war with Russia in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: Twitter@KremlinRussia_E)

A Russian military source told the Telepgraph: “The military are outraged that the blitz on Kiev has failed. People in the army are seeking payback for failures of the past and they want to go further in Ukraine.”

Earlier this week, the Russian military was said to be furious that Putin had downsized the invasion of Ukraine and called for a new escalation of the conflict.

ALSO READ: China’s ‘low profile strategy’ in Russia-Ukraine war

-Top News China India News

Indian agency seizes Rs 5,551 cr assets of Xiaomi

The seized amount of Rs 5551.27 crore is lying in the bank accounts of Xiaomi Technology India Pvt Ltd, which started its operations in India in 2014 and started remitting the money in 2015, reports Asian Lite News

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has seized Rs 5551.27 crore of Xiaomi Technology India Pvt Ltd– a wholly-owned subsidiary of China-based Xiaomi group– under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) in connection with illegal remittances made by the firm in February this year, the agency said on Saturday.

The seized amount of Rs 5551.27 crore is lying in the bank accounts of Xiaomi Technology India Pvt Ltd, which started its operations in India in 2014 and started remitting the money in 2015.

The Company has remitted foreign currency equivalent to Rs 5551.27 crore to three foreign-based entities which include one Xiaomi group entity in the guise of Royalty, said the ED.

“Such huge amounts in the name of Royalties were remitted on the instructions of their Chinese parent group entities. The amount remitted to other two US-based unrelated entities were also for the ultimate benefit of the Xiaomi group entities,” said the ED.

Xiaomi India is a trader and distributor of mobile phones in India under the brand name MI. Xiaomi India procures the completely manufactured mobile sets and other products from the manufacturers in India.

“Xiaomi India has not availed any service from the three foreign-based entities to whom such amounts have been transferred. Under the cover of various unrelated documentary facade created amongst the group entities, the company remitted this amount in the guise of royalty abroad which constitutes a violation of Section 4 of the FEMA,” said the federal agency.

ED further added that Xiaomi India also provided misleading information to the banks while remitting the money abroad. (ANI)

ALSO READ: Be wary of China’s military sales in South Asia

-Top News China EU News

China’s ‘low profile strategy’ in Russia-Ukraine war

Although Beijing has extended firm diplomatic support to Russia during the Ukraine conflict, it appears unwilling to back Moscow in a whole-hearted manner to avert Western sanctions due to the fear of secondary sanctions.

In an effort to stem growing suspicions over its ties with the Kremlin, China was sending a delegation headed by Huo Yuzhen, China’s special representative to China-Central & Eastern Europe Cooperation, to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Poland in the coming days, reported Russian media council.

China’s support to Russia in opposition to the enlargement of NATO has given rise to concerns in the Eastern and Central European countries about the reliability of the Asian giant as a partner which can be counted on.

While on one hand, China was looking for heavy discounts on the purchase of Russian oil/oil products and gas, it was at the same time denying the supply of Russian oil to Asia through tankers, thus depriving Moscow of economic benefits.

It was also unwilling to route Russian payments through its financial system for fear of secondary sanctions and expressed an inability even to shift products of Russian processors deemed necessary for the Russian industry from Taiwan to China.

In order to expedite the freight movement, the first cross-border railway bridge between China and Russia was expected to be fully operational by August 2022, cutting the train journey from Heilongjiang to Moscow by 800 km and travel time by 10 hours. The Bridge would further facilitate China to the transport of coal, iron ore, timber, and mineral fertilizers from Russia, which was expected to boost cross-border trade.

Interestingly, Chinese customs data revealed (March 2022) an increase in trade with Russia by over 12 percent as compared to March 2021 as well as a rise in imports from Russia by 26 percent.

According to reports, China’s interest in the Russia-Ukraine conflict was purely economic, other indicators also suggest that the relationship between Beijing and Moscow was more than just numbers. A survey conducted between March 28 and April 5, 2022, by the ‘Carter Center China Focus’ on Chinese public opinion regarding Russia’s actions in Ukraine, reveals that the majority of China’s netizens feel that supporting Russia was in China’s best interest.

US President Joe Biden, when he was the vice president, with China’s President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing in 2011. (File Photo White House_IANS)

China’s Deputy permanent representative to the UN Dai Bin too stated that arms supplies to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia will not bring peace to Ukraine.

The whole world is currently paying for economic pressure on Russia, and the sanctions have led to a food crisis and rising energy prices.

On April 14, 2022, CIA Director William Burns, speaking at the Georgia Institute of Technology, termed Chinese President Xi Jinping ‘a silent partner in Putin’s aggression in Ukraine’ and pointed to the “immediate threat posed by renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine” as well as the “longer-term problem posed by China’s ambitious leadership”, calling it “the single most important geopolitical challenge” of the 21st century.

It seems that Beijing wants to have the best of both worlds; however, it must keep in mind that sailing simultaneously in two boats may lead to capsizing one, if not both of them.

China’s subtle isolation from Russia can be attributed to protecting its own interests as Beijing has recently come under international scrutiny, with a never-ending stream of US officials urging it to distance itself from Russia or suffer “consequences.”

Despite being asked to mediate a truce between Russia and Ukraine, and Beijing openly proclaiming its determination to do so, China appears to be choosing a low-profile strategy. (ANI)

ALSO READ: China seeks lifting of extra tariffs on goods to US

-Top News Asia News Saudi Arabia

5 Pakistanis arrested in Saudi for ‘insulting’ Shehbaz’s delegation

The spokesperson of the Madinah police said that the suspects have been referred to the competent authorities after completing the legal procedures.

Police arrested five Pakistani nationals for “abusing and insulting” members of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s delegation at the Masjid-e-Nabawi (PBUH) in Madinah, Saudi Arabia.

The spokesperson of the Madinah police said that the suspects have been referred to the competent authorities after completing the legal procedures, Geo TV reported citing Saudi Publication Saudi Gazette.

“Their actions contradict the sanctity of the place and impact the safety of visitors and worshipers,” said the spokesperson.

On Thursday, some protesters, allegedly belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), violated the sanctity of the Masjid-e-Nabawi by loudly chanting slogans against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s delegation.

Earlier in the day, the Director of Information at the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Islamabad confirmed the arrest of Pakistani nationals and said that an investigation has been launched into this matter, reported Geo TV.

A viral video has been circulating on social media platforms that showed hundreds of pilgrims raising “chor chor” [thieves] slogans upon seeing the delegation making their way to Masjid-e-Nabawi.

In a video, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and member of the National Assembly Shahzain Bugti were seen along with others.

According to the Pakistani newspaper, Aurangzeb indirectly blamed ousted Imran Khan for the protest.

“I will not name this person on this holy land because I do not want to use this land for politics. But they have destroyed the [Pakistani] society,” The Express Tribune quoted Aurangzeb as saying.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif meets with Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Photo: Twitter@PakPMO)

This comes as Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is on his maiden three-day official visit to Saudi Arabia. Dozens of officials and political leaders have accompanied the Pakistan Prime Minister on his visit to the Kingdom.

Taking to Twitter and sharing the video, a netizen wrote, “Proud Pakistanis, please be heartened by witnessing what a wonderful welcome our PM and his Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) gang of criminals got in Saudi Arabia.”

Another Twitter user, Muhammad Ibrahim Qazi said that Saudi Arabia citizens are calling out ousted PM Imran Khan. “Citizens of Saudi Arabia are calling out Ousted PM Imran Khan to have exported the moral obscenity to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. They are also condemning Pakistanis for violating the Kingdom’s laws,” Qazi said.

Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan’s 23rd Prime Minister on April 11 after his predecessor Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote. (ANI)

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Jack Dorsey is against permanent Twitter bans

“I don’t believe any permanent ban (with the exception of illegal activity) is right, or should be possible,” Jack Dorsey, the founder and former CEO of Twitter said, reports Asian Lite News

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Friday (local time) went on a tweetstorm in which he spoke about the microblogging site’s shortcomings, including a permanent ban on certain users on the platform.

Taking responsibility for every decision taken by the platform, he said, “I have tried taking a break from Twitter recently, but I must say the company has always tried to do its best given the information it had. Every decision we made was ultimately my responsibility. In the cases when we were wrong or went too far, we admitted it and worked to correct them.”

Reflecting on the platform’s shortcomings, he said it is important to get critical feedback. “Some things can be fixed immediately, and others require rethinking and reimplementing the entire system. It is important to me that we get critical feedback in all forms, but also important that we get the space and time to address it. All of that should be done publicly,” he said.

He further spoke about the user trust in Twitter and said that a transparent system, both in policy and operations, is the right way to earn trust.

“Whether it’s owned by a company or an open protocol doesn’t matter as much as deliberately deciding to be open about every decision and why it was made. It’s not easy to do, but it must happen,” he added.

Acknowledging his failure in correcting shortcomings, he said, “Doing this work means you’re in the arena. Nothing that is said now matters. What matters is how the service works and acts, and how quickly it learns and improves. My biggest failing was that quickness part. I’m confident that part at least is being addressed, and will be fixed.”

Noting that an individual or a company should not bear the brunt of flaws in service, Dorsey said that he does not believe in a permanent ban against certain users on Twitter. “It’s also crazy and wrong that individuals or companies bear this responsibility. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe any permanent ban (with the exception of illegal activity) is right, or should be possible. This is why we need a protocol that’s resilient to the layers above,” he said.

Notably, after Tesla Chief Elon Musk succeeded in his bid to take over Twitter, the former CEO of the microblogging site had dropped a series of tweets, suggesting that he supports the move.

Dorsey called Musk buying Twitter a step in the right direction for the website.

For those unaware, Dorsey, the maverick co-founder of Twitter, on November 29, 2021, had suddenly announced his resignation. Parag Agarwal, an IITian, who was CTO at Twitter, was named his replacement. (ANI)

ALSO READ: Twitter takeover: Parag Agarwal hits back at Musk

-Top News Arab News

Lebanon says it no longer capable of hosting Syrian refugees

Lebanese Labour Minister Mustafa Bayram said the situation has become unbearable, reports Asian Lite News

Crisis-hit Lebanon no longer has the ability to host Syrian refugees without assistance, Labour Minister Mustafa Bayram said.

“Lebanon can no longer bear this burden on its own, without any assistance,” Bayram was quoted as saying by the National News Agency while urging the UN to shoulder their responsibility.

Following a meeting of the ministerial committee on Syrian refugees, Bayram noted that Syrian refugees can receive cash assistance from the UN, as well as support for education, rent, hospitalisation, and heating, while Lebanese citizens have to pay for these services from their pockets without any form of assistance which is unfair for the locals, reports Xinhua news agency.

“The situation has become unbearable,” Bayram said.

Minister of Social Affairs Hector Hajjar said that he will brief the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the ministerial committee’s decisions.

Palestinian refugees take part in a protest in Tripoli, northern Lebanon. (Photo by Khalid/Xinhua/IANS)

Nearly 11 years since the revolution in Syria began and violence escalated, around 1.5 million refugees remain displaced in Lebanon accounting for nearly a quarter of Lebanon’s total population, the highest proportion of refugees anywhere in the world.

ALSO READ: Saudi, France ink deal to help Lebanon

-Top News Asia News

A new direction for Baloch insurgency

The attack raised questions about what motivated an educated, happily married, middle-class woman to blow herself up.

Shari Baloch, a 31-year-old mother of two, reportedly became the first woman to carry out a suicide bombing for the secular, ethnic Baloch rebels seeking independence for Pakistans largest and resource-rich province of Balochistan.

She killed three Chinese citizens and their Pakistani driver in front of the Confucius Institute in Karachi on April 26, RFE/RL reported.

The attack raised questions about what motivated an educated, happily married, middle-class woman to blow herself up. Many in Pakistan wonder whether the attack signifies a new direction for the two-decade-old Baloch insurgency that is locked in a violent stalemate with Islamabad, the report said.

Kiyya Baloch, an exiled journalist covering Balochistan, says the first attack by a female suicide bomber heralds the possibility of similar attacks in the future.

“It is a paradigm shift because until recently, the Baloch nationalists prided themselves in being secular and opposed to the kind of radicalization that results in extreme violent acts such as this one,” he said.

Kiyya Baloch says a wide-ranging Pakistani crackdown that has included military operations, forced disappearances, and even extrajudicial killings of the insurgency’s supporters fuels extreme desperation among those affected by the abduction or killing of their loved ones, RFE/RL reported.

“Both the state and the Baluch insurgents have adopted extreme positions,” he told RFE/RL.

“The state appears unwilling to give up its security-centric approach to Balochistan as it continues to prop up an artificial political leadership (in the region). On the other hand, the insurgents have been radicalised to an extent that they are now resorting to suicide bombings.”

Since 2000, Baloch rebel groups have been engaged in conflict with the Pakistani security forces in the vast southwestern province bordering Afghanistan and Iran and hemmed in by the Arabian Sea.

Islamabad blames the rebels for attacks on government forces, installations, immigrants, and labourers from the eastern Punjab Province and even pro-Islamabad Baluch figures.

Baloch nationalists and human rights watchdogs accuse Pakistani security forces of grave human rights violations by adopting harsh methods such as forced disappearances and killings to crush the insurgency.

Continuing violence during the past two decades has transformed the insurgency. It began as a tribal rebellion but has evolved into a handful of shadowy groups now attracting educated, middle-class Baloch professionals, the report said.

ALSO READ: Terror attacks denting Pakistan’s economic recovery