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UNESCO expresses deep regret over Turkey decision to change status of historic Hagia Sophia

By Deepak Arora

ISTANBUL, July 10: As the Turkish President signed a decree on Friday converting the ancient Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque, the UN cultural agency (UNESCO) said that it "deeply regrets the decision" made "without prior discussion", having earlier in the day called on the State to abide by its “legal commitments and obligations” in accordance with it’s status as a museum, on the World Heritage List.

The majestic building was founded around 1,500 years ago as a cathedral and is widely regarded as the foremost example of Byzantine Christian architecture in the world. Following the rise of the Ottoman Empire, it became a mosque, but in 1934, was designated a secular museum, shared by Christians, Muslims and those of all faiths or none, alike.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed the decree following years of campaigning by a cultural association, and the decision earlier in the day by a Turkish court, handing control of the building over to the nation’s religious directorate, according to news reports, allowing it to reopen for worship as a mosque.

Reacting to the decision, Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, described the building as "an architectural masterpiece, and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue."

UNESCO said in a statement issued before the decree, that it had written to the Government and called for “dialogue” with the authorities, “before taking any decision that might impact the universal value of the site.”

Hagia Sophia, is part of the “Historic Areas of Istanbul”, and officially inscribed on the World Heritage List as a museum.

“This inscription entails a number of legal commitments and obligations. Thus, a State must ensure that no modification is made to the outstanding universal value of the property inscribed on its territory”, said the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

“Any modification requires prior notification by the State concerned to UNESCO and then, if necessary, examination by the World Heritage Committee.”

“Outstanding universal value” is the basis for the decision to inscribe any property on the World Heritage List, the statement continued.

“The texts adopted by the Committee specify that the ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul’ is inscribed notably for ‘its unique integration of architectural masterpieces reflecting the meeting of Europe and Asia over several centuries’ and because ‘Hagia Sophia became a model for an entire family of churches and later mosques, and the mosaics of the palaces and churches of Constantinople, influenced both Eastern and Western art’”.

The agency noted that in line with its designation, the Hagia Sophia “has a strong symbolic, historical and universal value.”

UNESCO called upon the Turkish authorities "to initiate dialogue without delay, in order to prevent any detrimental effect on the universal value of this exceptional heritage, the state of conservation of which will be examined by the World Heritage Committee at its next session."

“It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site’s moveable property, or the site’s management,” stressed Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. Such measures could constitute breaches of the rules derived from the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the agency warned.

Learn French, The language of the future - Anytime, Anywhere

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 21: Ambassador of France to India Emmanuel Lenain will share insights on the beauty of the French language, the employability potential of French-speaking candidates in a post-crisis world, and how technology has made French lessons accessible in a webinar titled "The COVID-19 opportunity: Learn French The language of the future - Anytime, Anywhere on July 22.

French is the language of the future. French is the 5th most spoken language in the world with more than 300 million speakers worldwide. By 2050, French is expected to be one of the most spoken languages in
the world, counting over 750 million speakers.

One of the six official languages of the United Nations as well as that of 29 independent countries across four continents, French is truly an international language with global influence.

The present public health situation has spawned a global economic crisis, including a challenging job market.

1. In a globalised world, a foreign language is an advantage not just for hospitality and tourism, but also scientific research, business, technology and international relations.

2. France today is the 7th largest investor in India with more than 1000 French enterprises hiring 3.5 lakh Indians. Learning French will give you an edge over other candidates otherwise possessing the same skill set who are applying for jobs in these companies.

3. If you are a student, a foreign language can not only help you to secure admissions in French universities, but also jobs in French companies thereafter. Did you know that with a B2 level in French, your tuition fee
is waived off at French State Universities? And that France welcomed 10 000 Indian students in 2019?

4. In the Alliance Française and French Institute networks, you learn through the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach i.e. French to French. So you don’t need to know another language such as English to learn French.

New ways of learning have emerged from the crisis. Digitalization erases physical presence in a classroom and becomes a significant advantage for aspiring students in smaller cities. Online classes save you time, energy and money that could be invested for other purposes. Even after the end of the lockdown, Alliance Française and the French Institute in Jaipur will continue offering online courses to students who still wish to learn French but cannot physically come to the classroom due to other commitments.

Describing this novel opportunity that has emerged from this health crisis, the Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said: “The 14 Alliances Françaises in India, along with the French Institute in Jaipur, have taken their classrooms online during the lockdown to enable their students to learn French from the comfort of their homes and turn a worrying crisis into a promising opportunity. ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ – that is our mantra to learn French. Prepare for your future, and expand your horizons. You don’t need to travel for the time being, for France is coming to you”.

Amarnath Yatra cancelled due to Covid-19

JAMMU, July 21: The annual Amarnath Yatra has been cancelled due to the continuous rise in Covid 19 cases across Jammu and Kashmir. Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board on Tuesday said the virtual darshan of one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimages devoted to lord Shiva will continue to be telecast live during the morning and evening prayers, which will continue at the shrine, located at a height of 13,000 feet from the sea level.

“Based upon the prevailing circumstances, the Board decided with heavy heart that it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year’s Shri Amarnathji Yatra and expressed its regret to announce the cancellation of Yatra 2020,” an official spokesman of the board said.

The spokesperson said that the traditional rituals shall be carried out at the shrine without any interruption

“The Board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees and to keep the religious sentiments alive, the Board shall continue the live telecast/ virtual darshan of the morning and evening Aarti,” the spokesman added.

The decision was taken at the 39th board meeting of SASB, attended by the lieutenant governor Girish Chandra Murmu as its chairman and other board members.

The board discussed the Supreme Court order dated 13.07.2020, which left the decision to conduct the Yatra to the administration after assessing the ground realities prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir.

The Board was informed that the arrangements were on track since February 2020, but due to the nationwide lockdown, the state executive committee of Jammu and Kashmir had decided to keep religious places closed for the public. These prohibitions continue till 31st July.

The Board further discussed that the pandemic has put the health administration system to its limit as a sharp spike in new Covid cases in July has put strain on the system. Health workers and security forces are also getting infected and the focus of the entire medical, civil and police administration was on containing the pandemic.

Their discussions underlined that diversion of resources for the Yatra will put immense strain on administration and will unnecessarily put the yatris at risk of catching Covid-19.

The board also took the views of the government into consideration. The government had reasoned against holding the Yatra this year in larger public interest.

The cancellation comes despite the administration making necessary arrangements for conducting a curtailed pilgrimage through a shorter Baltal track in Ganderbal district.

Various government departments and security agencies had also made all preparations to welcome the pilgrims.

Last year, the Amarnath Yatra was curtailed following intelligence inputs of terror threats and violence ahead of BJP led central government’s move of abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and in 2018, the pilgrimage was held for 60 days.

The Amarnath cave is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism and hundreds of thousands of devotees undertake the arduous annual pilgrimage in south Kashmir Himalayas.

Canadian Minister Mendicino announces changes to facilitate online learning for international students

By Deepak Arora

OTTAWA, July 14: International students make immense cultural and social contributions to Canada, and generate more than $21 billion in economic activity. Since the onset of the pandemic, Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has made a number of temporary policy changes to support and reassure international students and learning institutions.

As the fall season is fast approaching, the Minister has announced additional measures to support international students beginning a new program online this fall with a Canadian learning institution, if their institution is offering the program online, so that they can pursue
their education while ensuring everyone’s safety.

These changes will give students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel and health restrictions are eased in Canada and their own home countries. They mean that students will be eligible to work in Canada after graduation, even if they need to begin their studies online from overseas this fall.

The changes will continue Canada’s reputation as a premier destination for international students and demonstrate the importance of the international student program and the contributions international students make to Canada.

The new measures include

@ providing priority study-permit processing for students who have submitted a complete application online, to ensure that permits are processed as quickly as possible

@ allowing students to count the time spent pursuing their studies online abroad toward their eligibility for a post-graduation work permit, if they have submitted a study permit application and if at least 50% of their program is completed in Canada

@ providing reassurances to international students who cannot submit all of the documentation needed to complete processing of their applications, and who choose to pursue programs through distance learning, by implementing a temporary 2-stage approval process

The temporary process will allow applicants to count the time spent studying online abroad towards their post-graduation work permit once they receive an approval-in-principle, as long as they are able to satisfy all requirements and receive the full approval of their study permit
application at a later date.

As services begin to reopen, applicants will be required to submit remaining documents and receive an approved study permit before being allowed to travel to Canada.

This process is available to students starting a program in the fall semester who submit a study permit application before September 15, 2020. This measure will reassure students that they can enrol and begin their studies this fall online, even when they are not able to submit all required documentation due to pandemic-related closures.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a number of challenges worldwide, Canada’s whole-of-government approach is aimed at protecting the health of Canadians while minimizing the economic and social impact of restrictions. With these changes, it is expected that international students will continue contributing to the health and vitality of Canada and
the local communities where they study from coast to coast to coast.

It is important for prospective students to note that commencing their studies online from abroad following approval-in-principle of a study permit application is not a guarantee that they will receive a full approval of their study permit application, or be authorized to pursue
their studies in Canada. It is still possible that an applicant could receive a negative final decision on their study permit based on factors such as inadmissibility for criminality or security reasons, and the inability to predict how the COVID-19 situation and any associated
travel restrictions will evolve.

Marco E. L. Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said “The pandemic has had a significant impact on international students and the Canadian institutions and communities that host them. This is why we have implemented a series of measures to support them. We value the contribution of young people seeking a high-quality education in Canada, and we’re making every effort to minimize how current challenges
affect their plans and dreams for the future.”

It may be mentioned that in 2019, Canada hosted over 650,000 international students at the post-secondary education level.

More than 58,000 former international students have become Canadian permanent residents.

The temporary stages for approval are approval-in-principle and eligibility/admissibility:

o Applicants who pass the approval-in-principle stage—which includes showing that they have been accepted at a Canadian learning institution, have the available funds and are otherwise eligible for the study permit—will be notified of a first-step approval.

o Once the approval-in-principle is issued, applicants can begin studying online abroad and have that time count towards their post-graduation work permit, provided they meet other criteria and that they eventually receive full approval of their study permit.

o An applicant will receive final approval once they have met all eligibility and admissibility requirements, including submitting biometrics and necessary documents such as an immigration medical exam and a police certificate. Only once a final approval is received will an applicant be able to travel to Canada.

Amitabh Bachchan, son Abhishek test positive for Covid-19

MUMBAI, July 11: Actor Amitabh Bachchan and son Abhishek Bachchan have been admitted to a Mumbai hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus. The two actors confirmed the news of their diagnosis on Twitter, with Abhishek informing that they have ‘mild symptoms’.

“Earlier today both my father and I tested positive for COVID 19. Both of us having mild symptoms have been admitted to hospital. We have informed all the required authorities and our family and staff are all being tested. I request all to stay calm and not panic. Thank you,” Abhishek, 44, wrote.

According to sources, 77-year-old Amitabh is stable with minor breathing problems. Earlier in the evening, the senior actor tweeted, “I have tested CoviD positive .. shifted to Hospital .. hospital informing authorities .. family and staff undergone tests, results awaited .. All that have been in close proximity to me in the last 10 days are requested to please get themselves tested!”

According to sources at the hospital, Amitabh was experiencing breathlessness. On Saturday, around 10 pm, he was rushed to the hospital.

Amitabh was last seen in Shoojit Sircar’s comedy-drama Gulabo Sitabo alongside Ayushmann Khurrana, while Abhishek’s debut web series Breathe Into The Shadows released on an online video streaming platform on Friday.

Both Amitabh and Abhishek were tested at the hospital on Saturday through rapid antigen tests. The senior actor had been shooting from home and had shot for a couple of ads and apparently, even a promo for the next season of his TV quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and industrialist Anand Mahindra were among those who tweeted their wishes for Amitabh Bachchan. “We’re all cheering for you. And you have nothing to worry about. There’s a vaccine you possess—it’s code named the Big V—and it’s inbuilt & organic. Grows inside all those like you who are natural fighters,” Mahindra wrote.

Actors and other Bollywood colleagues have also tweeted their wishes for Amitabh and Abhishek’s quick recovery. Taapsee Pannu wrote, “And you shall be back to health n happiness soon! champ!” Sonu Sood wrote, “Get well soon sir.” “Sending you tons of love and best wishes ... please take care ... you ll be okay very soon!,” wrote Neha Dhupia.



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