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18 dead, over 200 missing in India glacier avalanche

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(Last Updated On: February 8, 2021)

Rescuers are searching for more than 200 people missing in the Indian Himalayas on Monday, including some trapped in a tunnel, after part of a glacier broke away, sending a torrent of water, rock and dust down a mountain valley, Reuters reported.

Sunday’s violent surge below Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest peak, swept away the small Rishiganga hydro electric project and damaged a bigger one further down the Dhauliganga river that is still being built. 

So far, 18 bodies have been recovered from the mountainsides, officials told Reuters.

Most of the missing were people working on the two projects, part of the many the government has been building deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand state as part of a development push, Reuters reported.

“As of now, around 203 people are missing,” state chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said, and the number was changing as more information about people caught up the deluge emerged from the remote area.

Videos on social media showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment and bringing down small bridges.

“Everything was swept away, people, cattle and trees,” Sangram Singh Rawat, a former village council member of Raini, the site closest to the Rishiganga project, told local media.

It was not immediately clear what caused the glacier burst on a bright Sunday morning. Experts said it had snowed heavily last week in the Nanda Devi area and it was possible that some of the snow started melting and may have led to an avalanche.

But a team of scientists were flown over the site on Monday to find out what exactly happened.

“It’s a very rare incident for a glacial burst to happen. Satellite and Google Earth images do not show a glacial lake near the region, but there’s a possibility that there may be a water pocket in the region,” said Mohd Farooq Azam, assistant professor, glaciology & hydrology at the Indian Institute of Technology in Indore.

According to Reuters, water pockets are lakes inside the glaciers, which may have erupted leading to this event. Environmental groups have blamed construction activity in the mountains.

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Iran rejects EU offer to host direct nuclear talks with US

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(Last Updated On: March 1, 2021)

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Sunday evening that “given the recent stances and measures taken by the US and three European countries, Iran does not consider the time appropriate for an informal meeting proposed by the European Coordinator of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” Iran’s state media outlet IRNA reported.

Khatibzadeh said no changes are visible in the US stance and behavior and that US President Joe Biden’s administration is still following the same “failed maximum pressure policy of the former president Donald Trump”.

The implementation of the commitments of all parties to the JCPOA is not a matter of negotiations and all negotiations were conducted five years ago, IRNA quoted him as saying.

According to IRNA, he said: “Iran will respond with action and react to hostile actions and behavior in the same way as it returns to its JCPOA obligations in accordance with the lifting of sanctions.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington had said it would attend the talks, which the EU had hoped to host in the coming days.

However, the Biden administration had refused to provide sanctions relief before face-to-face negotiations with Iran had taken place, the report read.

Diplomats reportedly told The Wall Street Journal that Iran’s rejection didn’t kill off all hopes of direct negotiations in coming months and that Tehran’s move might be an attempt to gain leverage in future talks.

The US patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is “not unlimited,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.

“Our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe, and the president has been clear on this … that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy,” Price said.

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Arrival of ‘sticky bombs’ in Indian Kashmir sets off alarm bells

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(Last Updated On: February 28, 2021)

Security forces battling a decades-long insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir have raised concerns about the recent arrival in the disputed region of small, magnetic bombs that have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan.

“Sticky bombs”, which can be attached to vehicles and detonated remotely, have been seized during raids in recent months in the federally administered region of Jammu and Kashmir, three senior security officials told Reuters.

“These are small IEDs and quite powerful,” said Kashmir Valley police chief Vijay Kumar, referring to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). 

“It will certainly impact the present security scenario as volume and frequency of vehicular movements of police and security forces are high in Kashmir Valley,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The Indian government flooded Kashmir, already one of the world’s most militarised regions, with more troops in August 2019, when it split the country’s only Muslim-majority state into two federally administered territories.

According to Reuters, the arrival of the sticky bombs in India-controlled Kashmir – including 15 seized in a February raid – raises concerns that an unnerving tactic attributed to the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan could be spreading to the India-Pakistan conflict.

Afghanistan in recent months has seen a series of sticky-bomb attacks targeting security forces, judges, government officials, civil society activists and journalists. The attacks – some as victims sat in traffic – have sown fear, while avoiding substantial civilian casualties.

Reuters reported that none of the devices seized in Kashmir was produced there, a senior security official said, suggesting they were being smuggled from Pakistan. “All of them have come via drone drops and tunnels,” he said.

Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan, which each claim all of the Himalayan region but rule only parts of it.

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US officially rejoins Paris climate pact

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2021)

The United States officially rejoined the Paris climate agreement on Friday.

The US State Department said in a statement on Friday that President Joe Biden signed the instrument to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement on January 20. 

Nearly 200 countries across the world have adopted the Paris pact, the landmark international accord to limit global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the US State Department, the Paris Agreement’s purpose is “both simple and expansive: to help us all avoid catastrophic planetary warming and to build resilience around the world to the impacts from climate change we already see.”

“Now, as momentous as our joining the Agreement was in 2016 — and as momentous as our rejoining is today — what we do in the coming weeks, months, and years is even more important,” the statement said.

“Climate change and science diplomacy can never again be “add-ons” in our foreign policy discussions. Addressing the real threats from climate change and listening to our scientists is at the center of our domestic and foreign policy priorities,” the statement read. 

“It is vital in our discussions of national security, migration, international health efforts, and in our economic diplomacy and trade talks.”

“We are reengaging the world on all fronts, including at the President’s April 22nd Leaders’ Climate Summit. And further out, we very much looking forward to working with the United Kingdom and other nations around the world to make COP26 a success,” the statement concluded.

Former US President Donald Trump in 2017 announced his intention to withdraw the US from the treaty and officially notified the United Nations in 2019.

The US officially left the agreement on November 4, 2020.

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