US official says Chinese President Xi Jinping ‘unwilling to accept Covid-19 vaccines’ despite protests

Protests in China over strict Covid restrictions. AP

Despite the difficulties China is facing with Covid-19, Chinese President Xi Jinping remains loath to accept Western vaccines, said US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on Saturday.

She added that while the recent demonstrations in the country do not pose a threat to Communist Party rule, they may have an impact on his personal standing.

While speaking at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California, Haines said that despite the social and economic impact of the novel virus, the Chinese leader is “unwilling to take a better vaccine from the West, and is instead relying on a vaccine in China that is just not nearly as effective against Omicron.”

Reuters quoted Haines as saying, “Seeing protests and the response to it is countering the narrative that he likes to put forward, which is that China is so much more effective at government.” She said that the US does not regard it as being a threat to stability at this point, or regime change, or anything like that, however, how it develops will be important to Xi’s standing.

Despite the fact that China’s daily Covid instances are close to all-time highs, several cities are trying to ease testing and quarantine requirements in response to Xi’s zero-Covid policy, which precipitated a severe economic slowdown and widespread dissent.

China has chosen to use domestically produced Covid vaccinations instead of any imported ones, which some studies have suggested may not be as effective. Therefore, researchers warn that loosening virus preventive methods could have significant consequences. China has not requested vaccines from the United States, the White House claimed earlier in the week.

Haines added that North Korea recognized that China was less likely to hold it responsible for what she called the “extraordinary” number of weapons tests conducted by Pyongyang this year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared this week that his nation aspires to have the most potent nuclear force in the world amid a record year for missile testing.

Admiral John Aquilino, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, stated on a subsequent panel that China had no motive to constrain any nation, including North Korea, that was causing issues for the US. Aquilino said of China, “I’d argue quite differently that it’s in their strategy to drive those problems.”

Although he acknowledged that China had significant influence over North Korea regarding its weapons tests, he expressed pessimism about Beijing doing anything constructive to settle the region.

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US designates China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia as ‘countries of particular concern’ for violating religious freedom

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. AP File

New Delhi: The United States on Friday designated China, Pakistan, Iran and Russia, among others, as “countries of particular concern” under the Religious Freedom Act over severe violations, but took no action against India.

“Around the world, governments and non-state actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday in a statement. “The United States will not stand by in the face of these abuses.”

Pakistan, however, was retained on the blacklist, since it already figured in last year’s list of all Countries of Particular Concern. Blinken also kept on the blacklist from last year other countries such as Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Washington would welcome a meeting with all governments to outline concrete steps for removal from the lists, the top US official added.

This year, Algeria, the Central African Republic, Comoros and Vietnam were placed on the watch list.

Several groups, including the Kremlin-aligned Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organisation active in Syria, Africa and Ukraine, were also designated as entities of particular concern by the US.

Violations of religious freedom “sow division, undermine economic security and threaten political stability and peace,” Blinken said.

The United States added Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to a blacklist on international religious freedom, paving the way for potential sanctions.

Cuba and Nicaragua were both newly designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” under the annual determinations, meaning that the two leftist Latin American states — already under US sanctions –could face further measures soon.

With inputs from agencies.

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4 December events: Know what happened on this day in the past

Representative image

Today is 4 December 2022, and we are just 27 days away from the end of the year. While this might sound like an ordinary date, our history says otherwise. If we dig a bit deeper, several significant events and happenings can be recalled from the past that took place exactly on today’s date.

From the birth anniversary of Surinamese politician Henck Arron to the abolition of Sati in India by the British government, let’s take a look at some major events that happened today:

4 December: Historical Events

1829 – British government abolished Sati in India

It was during the British regime in India that the ruling government abolished the practice of Sati in India, wherein widows were made to burn themselves alive on their husband’s funeral pyre. The practice was outlawed under the Bengal Sati Regulation Act on this day. Several Indian social reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy had campaigned in favour of abolishing sati.

1969 – Fred Hampton was killed

An active member of the Black Panthers and an American civil rights leader, Fred Hampton was shot dead during a public raid in Chicago on 4 December 1969. Following his death, members of the party as well as several Black activists, launched massive protests prompting greater scrutiny on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) methods to weaken the Black Panthers.

1970 – Rapper Jay-Z was born

On 4 December 1970, Shawn Corey Carter, professionally called Jay-Z, was born. Considered one of the most influential hip-hop artists in the 1990s and early 2000s, Jay-Z is an American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur.

1980 – Led Zeppelin disbanded

Approximately two months after their drummer John Bonham passed away, British rock band Led Zeppelin made the difficult decision of disbanding on 4 December 1980. The group came together later for several short one-off performances. Their popularity remains undiminished and they are still considered one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

1996 – Mars Pathfinder was launched

It was on this date when an unmanned space vehicle, Mars Pathfinder, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 4 December 1996. With an aim to explore the surface of Mars, the American robotic spacecraft landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars in 1997.

2000 – Surinamese politician Henck Arron passed away

Surinamese politician Henck Arron died at the age of 64. Arron who helped Suriname gain its independence (1975) from the Netherlands, also served as its Prime Minister from 1973 to 1980 before being overthrown by the military.

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Here’s why Japan is doubling its defence budget

Representative image. AFP

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has asked key ministers on Monday to secure enough funds to raise defence spending to two per cent of gross domestic product in five years.

During a meeting, PM Kishida asked Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada that the island country needs to urgently raise its defence budget by fiscal 2027.

The recent increase would add about $287 billion over the next five years, in comparison to its budget for the fiscal year that ends in March 2023 is $39.66 billion.

Why is Japan increasing its defence budget?

Japan is committing to increasing its defence budget for the long term due to its proximity to the Russian aggression, China’s increasing military activity in the region and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Earlier, while speaking in parliament on 29 November, Kishida hinted that building up the capability, in addition to improving missile defences, would send a message to those that threaten Japan. He said, “The basic idea (behind acquiring a counterstrike capability) is to enhance deterrence and further reduce the possibility of missile attacks.”

Japan has maintained a low profile on defence spending for decades, and has heavily remained dependent on the US. According to the local media, the country is seeking up to 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the US.

Additionally, amid threats to the homeland, the government plans to revise its national security strategy by the end of this year. The administration has also pledged to update the island country’s two other security documents that will cement its defence policy in the coming years.

The defence minister has said that the recent step comes considering the aspirations of NATO members. The island country typically used to spend nearly one per cent of its GDP on defence.

The declaration of increased defence spending also arises after many other military-related developments, such as authorising the export of military equipment and purchasing longer-ranged armaments.

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Watch: Kili Paul and sister Neema hop on to ‘Mera Dil Ye Pukare’ trend; recreate viral reel

Kili Paul and sister Neema hop on to ‘Mera Dil Ye Pukare’ trend

Ever since the video of a Pakistani woman dancing to the classic Bollywood song ‘Mera Dil Ye Pukare’ at a wedding went viral, the track has been trending on social media. Many have been trying to create their own versions, while some tried copying the woman’s steps in Instagram reels.

Social media users and influencers from every corner of the country recreated the clip and further shared their videos on the internet. With that said, now the trend has also reached overseas, with none other than the popular brother-sister duo of Kili Paul and Neema Paul giving it their own twist.

Taking to their Instagram handle, the famous Tanzanian influencers shared a video of themselves grooving to the song while they try to perfectly match their steps with the original video. As usual, Kili and Neema, dressed in their traditional outfits, impressed the viewers with their smooth moves.

Watch:

View this post on Instagram

A caption was also added to the post which reads, “Tried To Dance like That One Viral Girl.” As soon as it was shared, the video went viral immediately and is trending since then. Many also took to the comment section and shared reactions.

A user wrote, “Killing”, while another person commented, “Superb performance.” “Just go with the trend”, a third user wrote.

So far, the post has grabbed lakhs of views and further amassed over 1,70,000 likes. Notably, Kili and Neema Paul became viral after uploading a series of covers of Bollywood songs. This is not the first time when the two have given their own version of an Instagram trend.

Speaking about the Pakistan viral reel, the video popped up last month after a Pakistani girl named Ayesha gained popularity with her dance video from a wedding.

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Pakistan summons Afghan diplomat, condemns attack on envoy in Kabul

Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani survived an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul on Friday, drawing immediate condemnation and a demand for a probe from Islamabad. Nizamani was targeted by unidentified gunmen while taking a walk in the embassy compound. His guard was critically injured in the attack Image Courtesy Agencies

Islamabad: Pakistan has summoned Afghanistan’s Charge d’Affaires in Islamabad and conveyed to him its deep concern over the attack on the country’s Head of Mission in Kabul, it emerged on Saturday.

Ubaid-ur-Rehman Nizamani survived an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul on Friday, drawing immediate condemnation and a demand for a probe from Islamabad. Nizamani was targeted by unidentified gunmen while taking a walk in the embassy compound. His guard was critically injured in the attack.

The Pakistan Foreign Office said in a late-night statement that the Afghan diplomat was summoned on Friday evening and conveyed Pakistan’s grave concern over the serious incident in which, thankfully, the Head of Mission remained unhurt but the guard was seriously wounded.

The Charge d’Affaires was conveyed that security and protection of Pakistan’s diplomatic Missions and personnel was the responsibility of the Afghan Interim Government and that this incident was an extremely serious security lapse, it said.

Pakistan demanded that perpetrators of the attack must be apprehended and brought to justice urgently, an investigation be launched into the serious breach of security of the embassy premises, and that all necessary steps be taken to ensure the security of the diplomatic premises, officers and staff working in Pakistan’s Mission in Kabul and Consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, it said.

Terming the attack highly unfortunate, the Afghan Charge d’Affaires said that it was perpetrated by the common enemies of Pakistan and Afghanistan and has been condemned by the Afghan leadership in the strongest possible terms at the highest level.

He also informed that the security of the Pakistani diplomatic missions had already been beefed up and the Afghan authorities would leave no stone unturned in bringing the perpetrators of this dastardly act to justice.

Separately, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari received a call from Acting Foreign Minister of Interim Government of Afghanistan Amir Khan Muttaqi in the wake of the attack, the Foreign Office said.

Muttaqi strongly condemned the attack targeting Nizamani. Reiterating Afghanistan’s firm resolve to combat terrorism, he assured the foreign minister that the Afghan government will bring the perpetrators of this heinous attack to justice swiftly.

The Afghan government must prevent the terrorists from undermining relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Bilawal said, adding that Pakistan will be undeterred by such cowardly attacks.

The Foreign Office rejected reports of the withdrawal of diplomats from Kabul, saying there are no plans to close the embassy or withdraw diplomats from Kabul.

Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch while responding to a query at a briefing on Friday said Afghanistan would live up to the promise of not allowing its territory to be used for terrorist activities in other countries.

She said Minister of State Hina Rabbani Khar during her visit to Kabul raised key concerns and preferences of Pakistan and the two sides agreed to develop mechanisms for a follow-up on various issues.

The Afghan side has reassured that the Afghanistan territory will not be used for terrorism against Pakistan or any other country, she said.

Meanwhile, the US has condemned Friday’s attack on the Pakistani embassy in Afghanistan’s capital.

“The United States condemns the attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul targeting its head of mission, Ubaid Nizamani, a senior diplomat. We offer our sympathies and wish a quick recovery to those affected by the violence. The United States is deeply concerned by the attack on a foreign diplomat, and we call for a full and transparent investigation,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement on Friday.

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Japan, Britain and Italy to announce joint fighter project as early as next week

Representational image. Moneycontrol

Japan, Britain and Italy will announce a groundbreaking agreement to jointly develop a new advanced jet fighter, as early as next week, two sources with knowledge of the plan told Reuters.

It is the conclusion of ever-closer defence relations between Tokyo and London, which in turn give Britain a greater security role in Asia and provide Japan new security partners to assist it confront neighbouring China’s growing military power.

The news of the effort to combine the British-led Tempest jet fighter project with the Japanese F-X fighter programme in July was first reported by Reuters. It will be Japan’s first time working on a significant project involving defence equipment with nations other than the United States.

According to the sources, the announcement will come before Japan releases a new national security strategy and military procurement plan around mid-December.

That arms build-up, which could double the country’s defence budget to around 5 per cent of gross domestic product over the next five years, will pay for new weapons including long-range missiles designed to deter China from resorting to military action in and around the East China Sea.

Talks between Japan, Britain and Italy on the new jet fighter will be led by BAE Systems Plc and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and discussions will continue next year to iron out the project’s specifics, including work distribution and the designs of the variants each partner will use, according to the sources.

Itsunori Onodera, a former Japanese defence minister and prominent lawmaker, claimed in an interview last month that the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is also considering plans to loosen its military export laws so that the joint jet fighter may be exported.

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Laughing gas to be banned in the Netherlands: What harm can it cause?

The Dutch government has decided to ban nitrous oxide, popularly known as laughing gas, from January 2023. This comes amid growing concerns over the risks it poses to health and road safety.

The sale, import and possession of laughing gas will be banned in the Netherlands from 1 January 2023, as per media reports. However, it can continue to be used for medicinal purposes and in the food industry.

What is laughing gas and what are its side effects? Why is the Dutch government banning it? We explain.

What is laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide or laughing gas is a colourless and odourless substance that is non-flammable.

Also known as the happy gas, when inhaled it gives the user a light-headed, relaxed and euphoric feeling.

It is used in medical and dental procedures as a sedative to induce relaxation and reduce anxiety.

WebMD notes that nitrous oxide is a depressant and slows one’s body down. It can also cause mild hallucinations for some.

Those who inhale the gas may feel that their arms and legs are heavy, while also experiencing a tingling sensation in their limbs, as per WebMD.

Nitrous oxide is also used as a recreational drug – for its euphoric effect – by emptying into a bag or balloon and then inhaling, or directly putting it into the mouth.

It is also found in the silver chargers used to make whipped cream.

Side effects of laughing gas

While side effects can occur for those who consume the gas, most do not have adverse reactions or complications.

Mostly those who have inhaled a large quantity of the gas or took it too fast witness side effects, says Healthline website.

The common short-term effects include excessive sweating, shivering, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fatigue.

Some people might complain of allergic reactions after inhaling nitrous oxide. The symptoms of these reactions include fever, chills, wheezing and difficulty breathing, as per Healthline.

There are certain risks involved when nitrous oxide is used for recreational purposes such as lowering of blood pressure, fainting, and heart attack, among others.

As per WebMD, the prolonged use of the substance can lead to memory loss, depression, incontinence, psychosis, ringing in the ears, etc.

Healthline lists the signs of a possible overdose of the gas which comprises irritation in the nose, eyes, and throat, difficulty in breathing, choking or tightness in the chest, seizures, bluish lips, fingers and toes, psychosis or hallucinations as well as an increase in heart rate.

“Heavy regular use can also lead to a vitamin deficiency that can cause permanent nerve damage and lasting paralysis,” says BBC.

It is also dangerous to drive or operate machinery while under the effects of the laughing gas.

Why is it being banned in the Netherlands?

Announcing the ban, the Dutch state secretary for health, welfare and sport, Maarten Van Ooijen, said the recreational use of laughing gas posed “enormous health risks”, reports The Guardian.

It was also associated with “terrible” road accidents involving those who did not use the drug.

As per the road safety monitor TeamAlert, as many as 1,800 accidents across the Netherlands over the past three years have been caused due to the laughing gas, BBC reported.

“Almost two a day, figures that really shocked us,” Maartje Oosterink of TeamAlert was cited by AD newspaper earlier this month.

As per a police survey by the Dutch public broadcaster NOS conducted for a nearly three-year period until October 2021, 63 fatal traffic accidents were linked to gas. The offences committed by users of the drug included dangerous driving and driving without a licence, reports The Guardian.

The ban would authorise the police to act swiftly if they found anyone with nitrous oxide gas canisters in their vehicle, Justice minister Dilan Yeşilgöz said, as per BBC.

The laughing gas, sold in small metal canisters (which are emptied into balloons before inhaling), is not only being used by adults but also teenagers in the Netherlands.

The Trimbos Institute, which studies drugs and mental health, noted one in 50 Dutch adults used laughing gas in 2020, reported The Guardian.

The institute also warned of the spike in the use of the drug by 12- to 14-year-olds, who do not consider it a “real drug” and are unaware of its risks.

BBC reports that the popularity of nitrous oxide has increased among clubbers and festival-goers in the past few years, and it is mostly used along with other drugs like MDMA (ecstasy) or ketamine.

Over 37 per cent of Dutch party-goers – mainly youngsters – use laughing gas on a regular basis, BBC reported citing the Trimbos Institute.

Some experts have called for the January ban to be imposed sooner.

“The nitrous oxide ban should come into effect as soon as possible, rather yesterday than today,” Robert Riezebos, a cardiologist at the Greater Amsterdam city hospital, had told the newspaper Het Parool in May, as per The Guardian.

But not all have rallied behind the ban.

The Industry Association for Responsible Laughing Gas Suppliers admitted there was a problem, but contended that stringent rules would “work better than a ban”, reports The Guardian.

With inputs from agencies

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Will Pakistan PM decide who will remain army chief?

Islamabad: The Pakistan Army is the most powerful political force in the troubled South Asian nation. It has governed the country – both directly and indirectly – since the bloody Partition of erstwhile British India in 1947.

Both the better part of the last seven decades, the generals of the Pakistan Army have either ruled directly by imposing martial law or have done so in a more indirect by controlling the civilian governments.

All attempts by the civilian rulers to challenge the Pakistan Army’s meddling in government affairs have been dealt with in ruthless fashion. From Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the extremely popular Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his equally popular daughter Benazir Bhutto, the country has a sorry history of the military eliminating civilian leaders who oppose its diktat.

Imran Khan, who is another former prime minister just like the above mentioned personalities, is the latest popular leader to oppose the Pakistan Army. He almost met the same fate of his illustrious when he narrowly survived a gun attack with bullet injuries in his leg.

Now, in an ominious development for Pakistan’s political system, the military is set to become even more powerful. According to a News18 report, the government of Pakistan is reportedly considering amendments to the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 which will empower the prime minister to retain the army chief via a simple notification.

News18 quoted officials as saying that the amendment would propose to replace the word ‘reappointment’ with ‘retained’. Once the amendment is approved by the Cabinet Committee on Legislation, the prime minister will be able to retain the Pakistan Army chief without the approval of the country’s president.

The Cabinet Committee on Legislation was scheduled to meet on November 11. However, the meeting was later cancelled and a new date will be announced soon.

“All questions will be answered in two weeks. Everything will be clear after November 29. The process of appointment is simple and can be done in four to five days. We have a plan and will go by it,” defence minister Khawaja Asif had told the media earlier this week.

News18 quoted officials as saying that the defence ministry has asked the Pakistan Army top brass to move summary for the appointment of the next army chief. The Pakistan Army will send the names of five Lieutenant Generals who are top contenders to become the next chief of army staff to the defence ministry for consideration.

Lieutenant General Asim Munir is among the frontrunners to become the next chief of the Pakistan Army. However, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) president Asif Ali Zardari – a part of the ruling coalition – reportedly wants a six-month extension for current army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

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Delhi has become hub of child trafficking due to state govt’s apathy: NCPCR chief

New Delhi: The National Commission for Protection Child Rights chief Priyank Kanoongo has said that child trafficking in the national Capital has increased due to the “Delhi government’s negligence.”

In an interview with DD News, Kanoongo said, “placement agencies have become the biggest source of child trafficking.”

“Entire Eastern India is affected by trafficking and Delhi has become the hub,” he added.

“It’s the responsibility of the Delhi government to regulate these placement agencies,” Kanoongo said.

दिल्ली की राज्य सरकार की लापरवाही की वजह से दिल्ली बच्चों के तस्करों का गढ़ बन चुकी है। pic.twitter.com/2JtaPgDqVm

— प्रियंक कानूनगो Priyank Kanoongo (@KanoongoPriyank) November 16, 2022

According to NCRB data, Delhi recorded 509 human trafficking cases in 2021 with a 73.5 percent rise in cases when compared to the previous year.

The data showed that all the victims were rescued.

According to NCRB data, of the 509 trafficking victims, the majority were male and 143 females. Also, 437 victims of human trafficking in Delhi were below the age group of 18, including 100 girls. Only 72 adults were trafficked, including 43 females.

The NCRB data also showed that 174 persons have been arrested for human trafficking in 2021 and 13 were charge-sheeted while none have been convicted, acquitted, or discharged by the courts.

According to it, most of the trafficked people were for forced labour, while a few of them were for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and petty crimes, PTI reported.

With inputs from agencies

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