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India-Japan Ties Amid Covid More Relevant For Global Stability: Modi

AHMEDABAD, June 27: The Indo-Japanese friendship and partnership during the COVID-19 crisis is more relevant for global stability and prosperity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday and called for further strengthening of the ties between the two countries.

The PM was speaking after virtually inaugurating a Japanese Zen garden and Kaizen Academy set up at the premises of the Ahmedabad Management Association (AMA).

In his address via video conference, PM Modi said the opening of the Zen garden and the Kaizen Academy here "is a symbol of the spontaneity and modernity of relations between India and Japan".

"The current Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshihide Suga, is a very straight-forward person. PM Suga and I believe that during the time of this COVID-19 pandemic crisis, the Indo-Japanese friendship and our partnership has become even more relevant for global stability and prosperity. Today, when we are facing several global challenges, it is the need of the hour that our friendship and relationship get stronger day by day," Modi said.

He said efforts like setting up of the Kaizen Academy are a beautiful reflection of this relationship.

"We also have a strong belief in centuries-old cultural ties, and a common vision for future. Based on this, we have been continuously strengthening our special strategic and global partnership over the years. For this, we have also made a special arrangement of ''Japan Plus'' (team of officials to promote greater Japanese investments in India) in the PMO (Prime Minister''s Office)," he said.

''Zen-Kaizen'' at the AMA seeks to showcase several elements of Japanese art, culture, landscape and architecture.

It is a joint endeavour of the Japan Information and Study Centre at AMA and the Indo-Japan Friendship Association (IJFA), Gujarat, supported by the Hyogo International Association (HIA), Japan, a release earlier said.

Modi said this occasion of the launch of the Zen garden and Kaizen Academy is a "symbol of the spontaneity and modernity of India-Japan relations".

The PM said he is confident that this will further strengthen the relationship between India and Japan, bringing citizens of the two countries closer.

"I would like the Kaizen Academy to spread the work culture of Japan in India, and increase business interaction between the two countries. We also have to give new energy to the efforts already going on in this direction. I am sure our efforts will continue like this, and India and Japan will together reach new heights of development," he said.

Talking about former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, PM Modi said relations between the two countries gained a new impetus when Abe had visited Gujarat. He was very excited when the work of the (Mumbai-Ahmedabad) bullet train project started, the PM said.

"Even today, when I talk to him, he remembers his Gujarat tour," he said.

Modi also said India and Japan have been devoted to external progress and prosperity, as much as the importance given to internal peace and progress by the two countries.

He said the Japanese Zen garden is "a beautiful expression of this quest for peace, this simplicity."

Modi said the peace, ease and simplicity that the people of India have learnt through yoga and spirituality for centuries, they will see a glimpse of the same here. "What is ''Zen'' in Japan is ''dhyan'' (meditation) in India," he said.

"This is the meditation that Buddha gave to the world. And as far as the concept of ''Kaizen'' is concerned, it is a living proof of the strength of our intentions in the present, of our will to move forward continuously," he said.

Modi said he would like the Kaizen Academy to promote the work-culture of Japan in India, and increase business interactions between the two countries.

"We have to give new energy to the efforts that are already going in this direction, like the Indo-Japan student exchange programme between the Gujarat University and the Otemon Gakuin University of Osaka. This programme has been strengthening our relationship for over five decades. This can be further expanded. Such partnerships can be done between the two countries and also between institutions," he said.

Modi also talked about the relationship between Japan and Gujarat, and recalled that as the then chief minister of Gujarat, he had given special emphasis on Kaizen in the state, which was then used in administrative training, the state education education system as well as reforms in the health department.

He said after becoming the prime minister, he took the experience from Kaizen to Delhi and started it in the PMO and other departments of the central government.

"The affection of the people of Japan, their working style, their skills, their discipline, have always been influencing. And that's why whenever I said I wanted to create a mini-Japan in Gujarat, the main sentiment behind it was that whenever the people of Japan come to Gujarat, they should see the same warmth, the same belongingness," he said.

He said Japan joined as the partner country of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit since the very beginning, and even today, the largest delegation is from Japan.

"We are all satisfied to see the confidence that Japan has reposed in Gujarat, in the power of its people," Modi said.

He said more than 135 Japanese companies are working in Gujarat, in sectors including automobile, banking, construction, and pharma. These companies are also helping in imparting skill-development to the youth of Gujarat, he added.

Over 134 Die As Canada Sees Record 49.5 Degrees

VANCOUVER, June 30: Scores of deaths in Canada's Vancouver area are likely linked to a grueling heat wave, authorities said Tuesday, as the country recorded its highest ever temperature amid scorching conditions that extended to the US Pacific Northwest.

At least 134 people have died suddenly since Friday in the Vancouver area, according to figures released by the city police department and the Royal Canadian Mounted police.

The Vancouver Police Department alone said it had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since Friday, with the vast majority "related to the heat."

Canada set a new all-time high temperature record for a third day in a row Tuesday, reaching 121 degrees Fahrenheit (49.5 degrees Celsius) in Lytton, British Columbia, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Vancouver, the country's weather service, Environment Canada, reported.

"Vancouver has never experienced heat like this, and sadly dozens of people are dying because of it," police sergeant Steve Addison said.

Other local municipalities have said they too have responded to many sudden death calls, but have yet to release tolls.

Some Vancouver locals said they had never experienced such temperatures before.

"It's never this bad. I've never seen anything like this," said a Vancouver resident who only gave her name as Rosa.

"I hope it never becomes like this ever again. This is too much."

Others lamented that some residents were more vulnerable to the heat than others.

"I feel for those people whether they're the elderly demographic or people who live on the downtown eastside of Vancouver who don't have a cool spot to live or sleep," said river swimmer Graham Griedger.

Climate change is causing record-setting temperatures to become more frequent. Globally, the decade to 2019 was the hottest recorded, and the five hottest years have all occurred within the last five years.

The scorching heat stretching from the US state of Oregon to Canada's Arctic territories has been blamed on a high-pressure ridge trapping warm air in the region.

Temperatures in the US Pacific Northwest cities of Portland and Seattle reached levels not seen since record-keeping began in the 1940s: 115 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland and 108 in Seattle Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Vancouver on the Pacific coast has for several days recorded temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (or almost 20 degrees above seasonal norms).

The chief coroner for the province of British Columbia, which includes Vancouver, said that it had "experienced a significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory."

The service said in a statement it recorded 233 deaths between Friday and Monday, compared to 130 on average.

"We are in the midst of the hottest week British Columbians have ever experienced, and there are consequences to that, disastrous consequences for families and for communities," British Columbia Premier John Horgan told a news conference.

He urged "checking up on those people we know might be at risk, making sure we have cold compresses in the fridge or we're staying in the coolest part of our homes, and making sure that we're taking steps to get through this heat wave."

Environment Canada has issued alerts for British Columbia, Alberta, and parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, saying the "prolonged, dangerous and historic heat wave will persist through this week."

The heat wave has forced schools and Covid-19 vaccination centers to close in the Vancouver area, while officials set up temporary water fountains and misting stations on street corners.

Stores quickly sold out of portable air conditioners and fans, so several people without cooling at home and they hunkered down in their air conditioned cars or underground parking garages at night.

Cities across the western United States and Canada opened emergency cooling centers and outreach workers handed out bottles of water and hats.

The extreme heat, combined with intense drought, also created the perfect conditions for several fires to break out over the weekend, and one blaze on the California-Oregon border had already burned about 1,500 acres (600 hectares) by Monday morning.

"Dubai would be cooler than what we're seeing now," David Phillips, a senior climatologist for Environment Canada, told AFP on Monday.

Accept Covishield, Covaxin Or Face Mandatory Quarantine, India Tells EU

NEW DELHI, June 30: The European Union's reluctance in accepting Indian-made vaccines for its 'vaccination passport' has triggered a face-off with New Delhi.

Sources in the foreign ministry said India will begin a reciprocal policy when it comes to exemption from quarantine. This would mean that unless the European Union accepts Covishield and Covaxin certificates, their certificates will not be accepted in the country and people from EU will face mandatory quarantine upon arrival in India.

European Union has been told that Covishield and Covaxin must be notified in its digital Covid certificate, sources said.

Under the new "Green Pass" scheme, people vaccinated with Covishield are unlikely to be allowed to travel to the member states of European Union.

The EU countries accept only the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, which are Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen. But Covishield, which is the Indian version of AstraZeneca, is yet to get their clearance.

Asked about the discrepancy, Ugo Astuto, the European Union ambassador to India, said, "every approval process of vaccine must be conducted on its own merit".

Yesterday, Serum Institute sources said has applied for EU's nod for Covishield through its European partner, AstraZeneca. But European Medicines Agency said they have not received a request for the approval of Covishield.

On Tuesday, foreign minister S Jaishankar took up the issue of inclusion of Covishield in the Vaccination Passport with a top EU official. "Discussed vaccine production and access. Took up 'Covishield' authorisation for travel to Europe. Will be following up," Jaishankar tweeted.

So far, only those vaccinated with either of the four vaccines -- Comirnaty of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Vaxzervria by AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen – do not face travel restrictions.

Without the approval of the EMA, nations importing Covishield will face legal issues. Indigenously made Covaxin is awaiting approval from the WHO for emergency use authorization.

Trudeau Says Pope Francis Should Apologize On Canadian Soil

TORONTO, June 26: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday he has urged Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologize for church-run boarding schools where hundreds of unmarked graves have been found, and he said Canadians are “horrified and ashamed” by their government’s longtime policy of forcing Indigenous children to attend such schools.

Indigenous leaders said this week that 600 or more remains were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in the province of Saskatchewan. Last month, some 215 remains were reported at a similar school in British Columbia.

From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend state-funded Christian schools, most run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, in a campaign to assimilate them into Canadian society.

Indigenous leaders have called for Pope Francis to apologize — a demand echoed again Friday by Trudeau, who said the Pope should visit Canada to do it.

“I have spoken personally directly with His Holiness, Pope Francis, to impress upon him how important it is not just that he makes an apology but that he makes an apology to indigenous Canadians on Canadian soil” Trudeau said.

“I know that the Catholic church leadership is looking and very actively engaged in what next steps can be taken.”

Following that discovery of the British Colombia remains, Francis expressed his pain and pressed religious and political authorities to shed light on “this sad affair.” But he stopped short of a formal apology.

Don Bolen, archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan, posted a letter to the Cowessess First Nation on the archdiocese’s website this week in which he repeated an apology he said he made two years ago.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches, which earlier apologized for their roles in the abuse.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology in Parliament in 2008 and Canada offered billions of dollars in compensation as part of a lawsuit settlement between the government, churches and the approximately 90,000 surviving students.

The government has admitted that physical and sexual abuse was rampant in the schools, with students beaten for speaking their native languages. Thousands of children died there of disease and other causes, many never returned to their families.

“This was an incredibly harmful government policy that was Canada’s reality for many, many decades and Canadians today are horrified and ashamed of how our country behaved,” Trudeau said. “It was a policy that ripped kids from their homes, from their communities, from their culture and their language and forced assimilation upon them.”

Trudeau said many Canadians won’t be able to celebrate as the country marks its birthday on July 1.

“Canadians across the country are waking up to something that quite frankly that Indigenous communities have long known,” Trudeau said.

“The trauma of the past echoes very much today.”

Indigenous leaders have called the residential schools a system of “cultural genocide.”

A search with ground-penetrating radar at the Marieval school resulted in 751 ″hits,″ indicating that at least 600 bodies were buried in the area after accounting for a margin of error in the search technique, said Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation, whose lands today include the school.

Delorme said the search continues and the numbers will be verified in coming weeks.

He said the gravesite is believed to hold both children and adults, and perhaps people from outside the community who attended church there.

Delorme said that the individual graves had once been marked, but that the church at some point removed the markers.

Last month the remains of 215 children, some as young as 3, were found buried on the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia.

On Friday, the MIssionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which operated 48 residential schools in Saskatchewan and British Columbia, including those where the bodies were recently found, said it will disclose all historical documents it has.

It said in a statement that it already has worked to make the documents available through universities, archives and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but that the work is not complete because of provincial and national privacy laws.

A National Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued a report in 2015 that identified about 3,200 confirmed deaths at schools, but noted the schools did not record the cause of death in almost half of them. Many died of tuberculosis, an illness symptomatic of the deplorable living conditions.

In the United States, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced this week that the federal government is launching an investigation into its past oversight of Native American boarding schools there. She said it will review records to identify past schools, locate burial sites and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of students.

China deleted Covid data ‘gold mine’ in possible cover-up: Study

NEW YORK, June 24: China deleted early data on novel coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 in a possible attempt to conceal its existence and, therefore, impeding the investigation into its origins, a researcher has claimed in a new study. According to a scientific paper, over a dozen coronavirus test sequences that were taken during the early months of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic were removed from an international database used to track the virus' evolution.

"The fact that such an informative data set was deleted has implications beyond those gleaned directly from the recovered sequences. Samples from early outpatients in Wuhan are a gold mine for anyone seeking to understand the spread of the virus," the author said.

Jesse Bloom, a virologist and evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said in the report that he identified a data set containing Sars-CoV-2 sequences that had been deleted from the National Institutes of Health's Sequence Read Archive. For the study, Bloom recovered the deleted files from the Google Cloud and reconstructed partial sequences of 13 viruses from the initial outbreak.

The report suggests that the sequences from Huanan Seafood Market that were the focus of the joint report prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) and China are not “fully representative of the viruses in Wuhan early in the epidemic.” According to Bloom's research, Sars-Cov-2 was circulating in Wuhan before it was detected at local wet markets, including the Huanan Seafood Market.

“There is no plausible scientific reason for the deletion...It therefore seems likely the sequences were deleted to obscure their existence,” the report said.

“Particularly in light of the directive that labs destroy early samples...and multiple orders requiring approval of publications on [Covid-19], this suggests a less than wholehearted effort to trace early spread of the epidemic,” it added.

The report titled ‘Recovery of Deleted Deep Sequencing Data Sheds More Light on the Early Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 Epidemic’ has not been peer-reviewed yet and is available on a pre-print server.

In a statement on Wednesday, NIH confirmed that some of the earliest samples of coronavirus in China were removed from the international database where they were initially stored at the request of Chinese researchers. The researcher asked that the data be removed “to avoid version control issues”, saying the sequence information had been updated and was being submitted to another database, according to the US agency.

“Submitting investigators hold the rights to their data and can request withdrawal of the data,” the agency said. “NIH can’t speculate on motive beyond the investigator’s stated intentions.”

The mystery around the source of Covid-19 has further intensified after a series of revelations gave the lab-leak theory a fillip. Last week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said China will face 'isolation in the international community' if Beijing does not cooperate with a further probe into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

Countries Relying On Chinese Vaccines Reporting Covid Surge: Report

WASHINGTON, June 23: Countries like Mongolia, Seychelles and Bahrain had relied on the easily accessible Chinese COVID-19 vaccines to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bring back normalcy. These countries are now battling a surge in infections.

Examples from several countries suggest that the Chinese vaccines may not be very effective at preventing the spread of the virus, particularly the new variants, reported The New York Times (NYT).

In Seychelles, Chile, Bahrain and Mongolia, about 50 to 68 per cent of the populations have been fully inoculated with Chinese vaccines, outpacing the United States, according to Our World in Data, a data-tracking project. They are also among the top 10 countries with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks as recently as last week.

"If the vaccines are sufficiently good, we should not see this pattern," said Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong. "The Chinese have a responsibility to remedy this."

Amid uncertainty over how countries with relatively high inoculation rates are suffering new outbreaks, scientists have pointed out to relaxing of social controls and careless behaviour.

Israel, which has the second-highest vaccination rate in the world with shots from Pfizer after Seychelles, reports 4.95 new COVID-19 cases per million. On the other hand, Seychelles, which relied mostly on Sinopharm, that number is more than 716 cases per million.

China, as well as the more than 90 nations that have received the Chinese shots, may end up as a country that is fully vaccinated but partly protected from the virus, contending with rolling lockdowns, testing and limits on day-to-day life for months or years to come. Moreover, economies could remain held back, reported NYT.

Beijing saw its vaccine diplomacy as an opportunity to emerge from the pandemic as a more influential global power. China's top leader, Xi Jinping, pledged to deliver a Chinese shot that could be easily stored and transported to millions of people around the world.

Mongolia, relying on Chinese aid, quickly rolled out an inoculation program and eased restrictions, vaccinating 52 per cent of its population. However, it recorded 2,400 new infections on Sunday, quadrupling from a month before.

In a statement, China's Foreign Ministry said it did not see a link between the recent outbreaks and its vaccines. It cited the World Health Organization as saying that vaccination rates in certain countries had not reached sufficient levels to prevent outbreaks, and that countries needed to continue to maintain controls, according to NYT.

"Relevant reports and data also show that many countries that use Chinese-made vaccines have expressed that they are safe and reliable, and have played a good role in their epidemic prevention efforts," the ministry said.

While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates of more than 90 per cent, China's Sinopharm vaccine has an efficacy rate of 78.1 per cent and the Sinovac vaccine has an efficacy rate of 51 per cent.

Moreover, the Chinese companies have not released much clinical data to show how their vaccines work at preventing transmission. Data on breakthrough infections has not been made available, either, though a Sinovac study out of Chile showed that the vaccine was less effective than those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna at preventing infection among vaccinated individuals.

William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, said the efficacy rates of Chinese shots could be low enough "to sustain some transmission, as well as create illness of a substantial amount in the highly vaccinated population, even though it keeps people largely out of the hospital".

Despite the spike in cases, officials in both the Seychelles and Mongolia have defended Sinopharm, saying it is effective in preventing severe cases of the disease.

Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia, said that with all of the evidence, it would be reasonable to assume the Sinopharm vaccine had minimal effect on curbing transmission. He said that a major risk with the Chinese inoculation is that vaccinated people may have few or no symptoms and still spread the virus to others.

In Indonesia, where a new variant is spreading, more than 350 doctors and healthcare workers recently came down with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were the first two countries to approve the Sinopharm shot, even before late-stage clinical trial data was released. Since then, there have been extensive reports of vaccinated people falling ill in both countries, NYT reported.

Biden, Putin hold 'constuctive' summit

GENEVA, June 16: Russian President Vladimir Putin says he and US President Joe Biden agreed in a “constructive” summit to return ambassadors to their posts, lowering tensions and beginning consultations to replace the last remaining treaty between the two countries limiting nuclear weapons.

Putin said after the summit meeting Wednesday that there was “no hostility” during the talks that wrapped up more quickly than expected.

The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two presidents and each one’s top foreign aide.

When it was over, Putin had first crack at describing the results at a solo news conference, with Biden to follow with his own session with reporters.

The Russian president said there was an agreement between the leaders to return their ambassadors to their respective postings. Both countries had pulled back their top envoys to Washington and Moscow as relations chilled in recent months.

Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Putin said that the ambassadors were expected to return their posts in the coming days.

Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to begin consultations on cybersecurity issues, though he continued to deny US allegations that Russian government was responsible for a spate of recent high-profile hacks against business and government agencies in the United States and around the globe.

Biden and Putin plunged into the face-to-face talks Wednesday at a lush lakeside Swiss mansion, a highly anticipated summit at a time when both leaders say relations between their countries are at a low point.

As the two leaders appeared briefly before media at the start of the meeting, Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face to face.” Putin said he hoped the talks would be “productive.”

The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning — both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.

Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.”

The two leaders did shake hands — Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader — moments earlier when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.

China sends record 28 fighter jets toward Taiwan

TAIPEI, June 15: China flew a record 28 fighter jets toward the self-ruled island of Taiwan on Tuesday, the island's defense ministry said, the largest such display of force since Beijing began sending planes on a near daily basis last year.

Taiwan's air force deployed its combat air patrol forces in response and monitored the situation in the southwestern part of the island's air defense identification zone with its air defense systems, the Ministry of National Defense said.

The planes included various types of fighter jets including 14 J-16 and six J-11 planes, as well as bombers, the ministry said.

China's show of force comes after leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations issued a statement Sunday calling for a peaceful resolution of cross-Taiwan Strait issues and underscored the importance of peace and stability.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday said the G-7 was deliberately "interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

“China’s determination to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests is unwavering,” he said.

Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory. Taiwan has been self-ruled since then.

Since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, China has increased diplomatic and military pressure on the government over her refusal to agree to China’s insistence that the island be considered part of Chinese territory.

The vast majority of Taiwanese reject the prospect of political union with China under the “one country, two systems” framework used for Hong Kong.

Since last year, China has been flying fighter jets toward the island almost daily in what it calls a demonstration of its seriousness in defending its national sovereignty.

Previously, the largest such maneuver was in March, when China sent 25 fighter planes toward Taiwan.

Nato summit: leaders declare China presents security risk

BRUSSELS, June 14: Nato leaders have declared China presents a security risk at their annual summit in Brussels, the first time the traditionally Russia-focused military alliance has asserted it needs to respond to Beijing’s growing power.

The final communique, signed off by leaders of the 30-member alliance at the urging of the new US administration, said China’s “stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order”.

Nato also warned it was concerned about China’s “coercive policies” – an apparent reference to the repression of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang – the expansion of its nuclear arsenal and its “frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation”.

The language, notably stronger than the China remarks contained in the G7 statement agreed on Sunday, follows lobbying and pressure by the Biden administration, seeking to create a counterweight of democratic nations in response to Beijing’s growing economic and military might.

However, Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, insisted China was “not an adversary”, saying instead the emerging strategy was to address “the challenges” posed by Beijing, which will “soon be the biggest economy in the world” and “already has the second-largest defence budget, the biggest navy”.

At the beginning of the summit, Biden said there was a growing recognition that Nato faced new challenges. “We have Russia, which is acting in a way that is not consistent with what we had hoped, and we have China.”

Nato, founded in 1949 at the start of the cold war, was created to respond to the Soviet Union and more recently Russia, while Beijing rarely posed a serious security concern for its members.

China had never previously been mentioned in a Nato summit declaration, apart from a brief reference in 2019 to the “opportunities and challenges” the country posed for members of the western alliance – a time when Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was president.

On Sunday night, Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, promised Nato would increase its focus on Beijing, saying that China “will feature in the communique in a more robust way than we’ve ever seen before”.

Other countries have highlighted the importance of striking a balance. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, said as he arrived at the gathering: “I think when it comes to China, I don’t think anybody around the table today wants to descend into a new cold war.”

G7 leaders criticised Beijing over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.

China’s embassy in London said such mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States”. It added: “China’s reputation must not be slandered.”

Stoltenberg also said the alliance’s relationship with Russia was at “its lowest point since the end of the cold war”. He blamed Russia’s “aggressive actions” for the deterioration in relations at the start of a one-day summit attended by Biden for the first time since he took office.

Alliance members had hoped for a strong statement of support for Nato from Biden after several years in which Donald Trump dominated the summits, threatening to pull out of Nato in 2018 and storming home early in 2019.

“Nato is critically important for US interests in and of itself,” Biden said as he met Stoltenberg. The president described Nato’s article 5, under which an armed attack against one member is deemed an attack against them all, as “a sacred obligation”.

He added: “I want Nato to know America is there.”

The allies denounced Moscow’s “hybrid actions”, “widespread disinformation campaigns”, “malicious cyber activities”, and election interference directed against Nato members.

“Until Russia demonstrates compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities, there can be no return to ‘business as usual’,” the statement said. “We will continue to respond to the deteriorating security environment by enhancing our deterrence and defence posture.”

Alliance members agreed a new cybersecurity strategy in response, and will for the first time help each other out in the case of “cyber-attacks of significance”, mirroring Nato’s obligation of collective defence in the traditional military sphere, enshrined in article 5.

Benjamin Netanyahu Ousted, Naftali Bennett Is Israel's New PM

JERUSALEM, June 13: A motley alliance of Israeli parties on Sunday ousted Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's longest-serving prime minister, and formed a new government in a seismic shift in the country's turbulent politics.

Naftali Bennett, a right-wing Jewish nationalist and former tech millionaire, was to take over at the helm of the eight-party bloc, united only by their shared disdain for the hawkish right-wing leader known as Bibi.

Netanyahu, 71, in typically combative style, vowed shortly before his defeat that "if it's our destiny to be in the opposition, we'll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way".

Beloved as "King Bibi" by his right-wing supporters and condemned as the "crime minister" by his critics, Netanyahu has long been the dominant, and increasingly divisive, figure in Israeli politics.

But on Sunday, a vote in the Knesset legislature following weeks of intense political drama ended his government with a razor-thin majority of 60 to 59 in the 120-seat chamber.

In Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, Netanyahu's opponents broke out in cheers and launched into an evening of joyous celebrations, having rallied in recent days with "Bye bye Bibi" placards.

One of the demonstrators, Tal Surkis, 19, confessed to "mixed feelings" about the incoming change coalition, but said "it's something Israel needs".

Bennett, 49, in a Knesset speech before the vote, promised the new government, a coalition of ideologically divergent parties, "represents all of Israel".

He said the country, after four inconclusive elections in under two years, had been thrown "into a maelstrom of hatred and in-fighting".

"The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the population, to stop, to stop this madness", he said, to angry shouts of "liar" and "criminal" from right-wing opponents.

Netanyahu, who is battling corruption charges in an ongoing trial he dismisses as a conspiracy, has been the dominant Israeli politician of his generation, having also served a previous three-year term in the 1990s.

His supporters have hailed him as a strong defender of Israel who has been tough on arch foe Iran, but also struck a series of historic normalisation deals with several Arab nations last year.

Being ousted from the top job will leave Netanyahu more exposed to his legal woes, because it denies him the chance to push through parliament changes to basic laws that could give him immunity.

Bennett, a former defence minister under Netanyahu, vowed to keep Israel safe from Iran, promising that "Israel won't let Iran have nuclear weapons" -- a goal the Islamic republic denies pursuing.

Netanyahu, true to his reputation as Israel's "Mr Security", charged that "Iran is celebrating" the launch of what he charged would be a "dangerous" and weak left-wing government.

The diverse anti-Netanyahu bloc was cobbled together by the secular centrist Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter.

It spans the political spectrum, including three right-wing, two centrist and two left-wing parties, along with an Arab Islamic conservative party.

Lapid, 57, is to serve as foreign minister for the next two years before taking over from Bennett.

The improbable alliance emerged weeks after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, and following inter-communal violence in Israeli cities with significant Arab populations.

Netanyahu, who long ago earned a reputation as Israel's ultimate political survivor, in his final days in office tried to peel off defectors, hoping to deprive the nascent coalition of its wafer-thin legislative majority, to no avail.

He accused Bennett of "fraud" for siding with rivals, and angry rallies by the premier's Likud party supporters resulted in security being bolstered for some lawmakers.

Netanyahu's opponents accused him and his allies of stoking tensions in a "scorched-earth" campaign.

Netanyahu's bombastic remarks as he saw his grip on power slip drew parallels at home and abroad to former US president Donald Trump, who described his election loss last year as the result of a rigged vote.

Sunday's vote came at a time of heightened tensions in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which has grown more bitter in the Netanyahu years, in part due to the expansion of settlements considered illegal under international law in the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, right-wing anger has grown in Israel over last week's postponement of a controversial Jewish nationalist march through flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem.

The "March of the Flags" is now slated for Tuesday, and the agitation surrounding it could represent a key initial test for a new coalition government.

Gaza's rulers Hamas said that the political developments in Jerusalem wouldn't change its relationship with Israel.

"The form the Israeli government takes doesn't change the nature of our relationship," said the group's spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

"It's still a colonising and occupying power that we must resist."

G7 nations pledge over 1 bn Covid vaccine doses to poor nations: Johnson

CARBIS BAY, June 13: Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday marked the conclusion of the UK-hosted G7 Summit in Cornwall with the announcement that world leaders have pledged over 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the world's poorest countries by the end of next year.

Johnson declared the summit a success with pledges for “building back better and greener" from the pandemic and achieving the “greatest feat in medical history" of vaccinating the world at a press conference to mark the end of the three-day summit, attended by the leaders of US, Canada, France, Germany Italy, Japan, alongside Australia, South Africa and South Korea as guest nations, with India joining virtually.

“Leaders have pledged over 1 billion doses – either directly or through funding to COVAX – that includes 100 million from the UK, to the world’s poorest countries – which is another big step towards vaccinating the world," said Johnson.

He highlighted the special role of the UK-developed Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also being produced by the Serum Institute of India as Covishield.

“Today over half a billion people are safe because of the development and production of that vaccine (Oxford/AstraZeneca), funded by the UK government. And that number is rising every day. It is popular, of course, because it is being sold at cost to the world and it was designed for ease of use in mind," he said.

"And because of that act of generosity by AstraZeneca who, just to reiterate, are making zero profit on the production of that vaccine, millions more vaccines have been rolled out to the poorest countries in the world. In fact 96 per cent of the vaccines delivered by the COVAX distribution scheme have been Oxford/AZ," he added.

The UK Prime Minister, the host of the first major in-person summit since the pandemic hit last year, said the discussions which opened on Friday went far beyond defeating the pandemic as the world leaders looked towards a “great global recovery".

Some of the highlights he focussed on included preventing a pandemic like COVID-19 from happening again by establishing a Global Pandemic Radar, designed to spot new diseases before they get the chance to spread.

Boris Johnson also hailed a new Global Partnership for Education, an organisation working to make sure that every child in the world is given the chance of a proper education, reach half of its five-year fundraising goal, including a 430 million pound donation from the UK.

“I’m proud that G7 countries have agreed to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more reading by the end of primary school in the next five years, and the money we have raised this week is a fantastic start," said Johnson.

Finally, the UK PM focussed on the summit’s climate agenda, which dominated the final day of discussions on Sunday.

“Later this year, the UK will host the COP26 Summit, which will galvanise global action on fighting climate change and create a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren. G7 countries account for 20 per cent of global carbon emissions, and we were clear this weekend that action has to start with us," he said.

“And while it’s fantastic that every one of the G7 countries has pledged to wipe out our contributions to climate change, we need to make sure we’re achieving that as fast as we can and helping developing countries at the same time," he added.

The final communique issued at the end of the summit covers six broad areas of agreement between the G7 leaders – end the pandemic and prepare for the future; reinvigorate economies by advancing recovery plans; secure future prosperity by championing freer, fairer trade within a reformed trading system; protect the planet by supporting a green revolution; strengthen partnerships with others around the world; and embrace values by harnessing the power of democracy, freedom and equality.

G7 leaders call for probe into origins of COVID-19

CARBIS BAY, June 13: The G7 leaders on Sunday called for a "timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened" investigation into the origins of COVID-19, including, as recommended by the experts' report, in China.

In the Carbis Bay communique, the G7 leaders said, "Strengthening transparency and accountability, including reiterating our commitment to the full implementation of, and improved compliance with, the International Health Regulations 2005. This includes investigating, reporting and responding to outbreaks of unknown origin. We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts' report, in China."

The origin of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has remained a mystery even after over 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Wuhan city of China.

On Thursday, the United States and the United Kingdom extended their support to a "timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process."

Issuing the joint statement, Boris Johnson and Biden said they are determined to work together to overcome the current pandemic, which has reversed progress on improving the human condition, and to be better prepared in the future.

"We will work together to help increase global vaccine supply through investments in manufacturing of safe and effective vaccines and the materials needed to produce them. We will promote the timely availability of vaccines, key components and equipment by encouraging bilateral trade and investment and avoiding export restrictions or other supply chain disruption," the statement read.

The G7 summit began formally on Friday as the leaders of the world's most advanced economies gathered on the Cornish coast for the first time since the outbreak of global coronavirus pandemic.

The UK is the current G7 President. This is the 7th time UK is heading the G7. The theme selected by the UK for its G7 Presidency is 'Build Back Better' in a nod to global recovery efforts post-COVID-19 pandemic.

G7 leaders underscores importance of peace, stability across Taiwan Strait

CARBIS BAY, June 13: The leaders of the G7 countries on Sunday underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.

In its Carbis Bay Communique, the world leaders said, "We reiterate the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo Pacific, which is inclusive and based on the rule of law. We underscore the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues."

"We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions," it added.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

The leaders also pledged to promote shared values by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Xinjiang where Beijing is accused of committing serious human rights abuses against the Uyghur minority, and in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, while agreeing to consult on collective approaches on Beijing's practices to undermine the fair and transparent operation of the global economy.

"At the same time and in so doing, we will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law," the communique further read.

The G7 summit began formally on Friday as the leaders of the world's most advanced economies gathered on the Cornish coast for the first time since the outbreak of global coronavirus pandemic.

The UK is the current G7 President. This is the 7th time UK is heading the G7. The theme selected by the UK for its G7 Presidency is 'Build Back Better' in a nod to global recovery efforts post-COVID-19 pandemic. (ANI)

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One Earth One Health: Modi's Message To G7 Leaders Amid Pandemic

NEW DELHI, June 12: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has committed the country's support for "collective endeavours" to improve global health governance and emphasised the need for a "One Earth One Health" approach to this.

Speaking virtually at the first Outreach Session of the G7 Summit on Saturday, he expressed appreciation for its support, as well as that of some guest countries, during the second Covid wave in India, a government release said.

Over 2 lakh people died in India of Covid between January and May, during which the country faced an unprecedented crisis of resource shortage. The country received aid, including oxygen cylinders and regulators, from several countries like the US and Canada.

Modi's call to keep open supply chains for vaccine raw materials and components to help enhance vaccine production in countries like India received widespread support, the statement said.

The session, titled "Building Back Stronger - Health", focused on global recovery and strengthening the resilience against future pandemics.

The Prime Minister highlighted India's "whole of society" approach to fighting COVID-19, which involved synergising the efforts of the government, industry, and civil society. He also conveyed India's willingness to share its experience and expertise with other developing countries.

Calling for global unity, leadership, and solidarity to prevent future pandemics, he emphasised the special responsibility of democratic and transparent societies.

Modi will participate in the final day of the G7 Summit tomorrow and will speak in two sessions: Building Back Together and Building Back Greener. The UK holds the grouping's presidency and had invited India, Australia, South Africa, and South Korea to the summit.

India was invited to the 2019 summit, too, as a goodwill partner.

Japanese PM Suga refers to Taiwan as country, China hits back

TOKYO, June 11: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga referred to Taiwan as a country, drawing a sharp reaction from Beijing which regards the self-ruled island as its 'inalienable part'.

In his first one-on-one parliamentary debate with opposition leaders Wednesday, Suga, naming Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, said, "Such three countries have been imposing strong restrictions on privacy rights" to curb the novel coronavirus outbreak, Kyodo News reported.

Self-governed Taiwan is usually called a "region" in Japan.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Taipei, on the other hand, has countered the Chinese aggression by increasing strategic ties with democracies including the US, which has been repeatedly opposed by Beijing. China has threatened that "Taiwan's independence" means war.

Suga's reference came as Tokyo and Beijing have already been at odds over several issues, including a territorial dispute in the East China Sea and the crackdown on Hong Kong.

"China expresses strong dissatisfaction with Japan's erroneous remarks and has lodged a solemn protest against Japan," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Thursday.

"There is only one China in the world," Wang said, urging Japan to become more cautious in words and deeds on Taiwan affairs and to avoid sending wrong signals to the island's independence forces.

Suga's government has been strengthening its commitment to democratic Taiwan. Recently, Japan donated over 1.2 million COVID-19 doses to Taiwan, as the island faces a spike in COVID-19 cases.

China has also lambasted Japan for donating vaccines, labelling such a move as a "political performance".

At his summit in Washington in April, Suga with US President Joe Biden acknowledged "the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait." It marked the first time in 52 years that Japanese and U.S. leaders have mentioned Taiwan in a joint statement.

G7 leaders to call for new probe into origins of Coronavirus: Draft communique

CORNWALL, June 10: Leaders at the G7 Summit in UK will call for a new transparent investigation by the World Health Organization (WHO) into the origins of the Coronavirus while pledging one billion doses of vaccines for countries around the world, according to a leaked draft communiqué for the meeting.

The leaders of the G7 states – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – will gather in the British seaside resort of Cornwall during June 11-13 for the summit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was invited by the UK as a special guest but dropped plans to travel to Cornwall because of the pandemic, will virtually join G7 outreach sessions during June 12-13.

A draft communiqué said the G7 leaders will call for a “fresh, transparent, WHO-convened study” into the origins of the Coronavirus. This follows calls by several countries, including India and the US, for further studies to determine how Covid-19 spread last year.

“I think we have been very clear that we support the need for a follow-up to the WHO report on the origin of Covid-19 and for further studies and we have called for understanding and cooperation of all in this regard,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday, without directly naming China.

Biden says US to donate 500 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, urges global leaders to join

St Ives, June 10: President Joe Biden urged global leaders Thursday to join him in sharing coronavirus vaccines with struggling nations around the world after he promised the US would donate 500 million doses to help speed the pandemic’s end and bolster the strategic position of the world's wealthiest democracies.

Speaking in England before a summit of the Group of Seven world leaders, Biden announced the US commitment to vaccine sharing, which comes on top of 80 million doses he has already pledged by the end of the month. He argued it was in both America's interests and the world's to make vaccination widely and speedily available everywhere.

“We’re going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners," Biden said. He added that on Friday the G-7 nations would join the US in outlining their vaccine donation commitments.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in The Times of London newspaper that it was now time for wealthy countries to “shoulder their responsibilities” and “vaccinate the world.” His country has yet to send any doses abroad or announce a solid plan to share vaccines. Johnson indicated Britain had millions of doses in surplus stocks.

Great Granddaughter Of Mahatma Gandhi Sentenced To Seven Years Jail For Fraud And Forgery In South Africa

DURBAN, June 8:The great-granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Ashish Lata Ramgobin, an accused in a six-million rand fraud and forgery case, was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in jail by a South African court at Durban on Monday.

Ramgobin was the founder and executive director of the Participative Development Initiative at the NGO International Centre for Non-Violence.

The 56-year-old Ramgobin, who is the daughter of noted rights activists Ela Gandhi and late Mewa Ramgobind, was accused of defrauding businessman SR Maharaj after he advanced South African rand (R) 6.2 million to her for allegedly clearing import and Customs duties for a non-existent consignment from India.

According to Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Lata Ramgobin provided forged invoices and documents to convince potential investors that three containers of linen were being shipped in from India.

"She said she was experiencing financial difficulties to pay for import costs and customs and she needed the money to clear the goods at the harbour," NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara said on Monday.

"She advised him (Maharaj) that she needed R6.2 million. To convince him, she showed him what she claimed was a signed purchase order for the goods. Later that month, she sent him what seemed to be a NetCare invoice and delivery note as proof that the goods were delivered and payment was imminent," the spokesperson said.

France's Macron Slapped By Man He Tried To Shake Hands With

PARIS, June 8: A bystander slapped French President Emmanuel Macron across the face during a trip to southeast France on Tuesday on the second stop of a nation-wide tour.

Images on social media and broadcast on the BFM news channel showed Macron approach a barrier to greet a man who, instead of shaking hands, slapped the 43-year-old across the face.

Macron's bodyguards quickly intervened and two people were arrested afterwards, local officials said.

"The man who tried to slap the president and another individual are currently being questioned by the gendarmerie," the regional prefecture said in a statement.

The incident in the village of Tain-l'Hermitage in the Drome region represents a serious security breach and overshadows the start of Macron's tour which he said was designed to "take the country's pulse."

"Around 1:15 pm (1115 GMT), the president got back into his car after visiting a high school and came back out because onlookers were calling out to him," the prefecture said.

"He went to meet them and that's where the incident happened," it added.

The centrist is widely expected to seek re-election in next year's presidential elections and polls show him with a narrow lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Around a dozen stops had been planned over the next two months, with Macron keen to meet voters in person after more than a year of crisis management linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shortly before being slapped, Macron had been asked to comment on recent remarks from far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon who suggested at the weekend that next year's election would be manipulated.

"Democratic life needs calm and respect, from everyone, politicians as well as citizens," Macron said.

In July last year, Macron and his wife Brigitte were verbally abused by a group of protesters while taking an impromptu walk through the Tuileries gardens in central Paris.

"Politics can never be violence, verbal aggression, much less physical aggression," Prime Minister Jean Castex told parliament after the latest incident.

Macron has undertaken several other tours since his 2017 electoral triumph over the traditional parties of government on the left and right.

A 2018 trip to mark the centenary of the end of World War I is best remembered for the scenes of furious citizens booing and heckling France's youngest post-war leader.

It took place just as "yellow vest" protests were gathering momentum to denounce the government's policies and the head of state personally for his leadership style, which was criticised as aloof and arrogant.

Macron conducted another tour billed as a listening exercise in 2019 in the aftermath of those protests, which shook the country and saw him promise to change his way of governing.

Former Chinese policeman reveals chilling account of Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang province

LONDON, June 8: After a four-day hearing at a London-based tribunal on the treatment of Uyghurs, chilling testimony regarding torture of the Muslim minority has been revealed by a witness depicting blatant humans rights violation taking place in northwest China's Xinjiang province.

This testimony, by a former Chinese policeman, was part of a hearing held from June 4-7 under nine UK-based jurors of the "Uyghur Tribunal" which heard allegations regarding perpetrating serious crimes against the Uyghurs.

The former Chinese policeman -- now living in Germany -- gave his statement under the pseudonym Wang Leizhan on the last day of the hearing.

Recalling his days in Xinjiang in 2018, Leizhan said his job was mainly related to maintaining social order and national security. He also worked on investigating political and religious suspects, including Falun Gong and Islamist groups.

During the testimony, the former officer revealed that he learned about the "re-education or ideology transformation" camps, from a senior colleague who said that these re-education camps were aimed to make people with different ideologies, politically correct.'

"I also learned that the largest group locked in these re-education camps was the Uyghurs. These re-education camps have nothing to do with education or training, but they are about brainwashing the prisoners," he said.

During his time in Xinjiang, Leizhan learned that the Chinese government initiated a recruitment drive for individuals from mainland China who were ready to move to Xinjiang to work as police guards.

"Many of these individuals were used to man the many check posts that were created in Xinjiang. There were checkpoints at every 500 meters in the city but in the suburbs of Urumqi, these checkpoints were at every 200 meters. These police guards were also used to enforce censorship laws and arrest people," he said.

Divulging the details about the so-called re-education camps, Leizhan said he has witnessed Uyghurs being tortured.

"Uyghur prisoners were sometimes forced to kneel, punched, a plastic bag would be tied over their head in order to induce suffocation and the bag would only be removed when they begin struggling to breathe. Sometimes, their limbs were tied, and waterpipes were inserted in their mouth to force water into their lungs. This was done in order to force Uyghurs to reject their religion and to confess that they had committed the crimes they were accused of."

They were forced to sign confessions to admit that they are terrorists and also to "denounce" and provide a list of their relatives and friends as being terrorists, he added.

Speaking on the role of the Chinese government in the matter, the former policeman said, "I think such torture against Uyghurs took place because it was encouraged by central Chinese Government. This is because, according to Chinese government policy, Uyghurs are systematically and collectively defined as terrorists."

"Thus, severe repression and torture against Uyghurs are encouraged by the Chinese government, because Uyghurs are regarded as mistrusted and enemies. And many of my fellow police officers were ready to accept these explanations to repress the Uyghurs. This is because they believed that, even if an Uyghur had not yet committed any terrorist offenses, it was only a matter of time before they do."

The Uyghur Tribunal was launched in September last year. It is not affiliated with any government and the London tribunal's judgment is not binding.

The hearings were requested by the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, the US-funded Uyghur lobby group that wants greater autonomy for Xinjiang, to "investigate ongoing atrocities and possible genocide" in the far-west China region, South China Morning Post reported.

Dismissing the London-based panel, the Chinese Foreign Ministery spokesperson Wang Wenbin last week had said, "The so-called "Uyghur Tribunal" is neither legal nor credible. It is just another anti-China farce concocted by a few individuals."

Pakistan Express Trains Collision Kills At Least 43

ISLAMABAD, June 7: At least 43 people were killed and dozens injured Monday when a packed Pakistani inter-city train ploughed into another express that had derailed just minutes earlier, officials said.

Several people were trapped for hours in the mangled wreckage left by the collision near Daharki, in a remote part of rural Sindh province, before rescue workers with specialist equipment could reach them.

Huge crowds from nearby villages gathered around the carnage of the overturned Pakistan Railways carriages, with twisted and shredded metal scattered across the ground, along with piles of luggage.

The double accident happened around 3.30am (2230 GMT) when most of the 1,200 passengers aboard the two trains would have been dozing.

"We tumbled upon each other, but that was not so fatal," Akhtar Rajput, a passenger on the train that derailed, said.

"Then another train hit us from nowhere, and that hit us harder. When I regained my senses, I saw passengers lying around me, some were trying to get out of the coach."

"I was disoriented and trying to figure out what happened to us when the other train hit," said Shahid, another passenger.

The Millat Express was heading from Karachi to Lala Musa when it derailed, its carriages strewn over the tracks as the Sir Syed Express from Rawalpindi arrived minutes later in the opposite direction, smashing into it.

Most of the dead were pulled from the derailed train, officials said.

Umar Tufail, a senior Daharki police officer, said 43 people were killed and dozens injured.

A spokesman for Pakistan Railways put the toll at 33, but communications with the crash site were difficult because its remote location.

Russia Only Country Ready To Transfer Covid Vaccine Technology: Putin

ST. PETERSBURG, June 6: As Indian companies get ready to manufacture Russian-made Sputnik V anti-Covid vaccine to meet the staggering demand in the country, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said Russia is the only country in the world which is ready to transfer technology and to expand production abroad, and noted that the vaccine was being sold in 66 countries.

The remarks by the Russian president came a day after the officials in New Delhi said that Serum Institute of India has received a preliminary approval from the country's drug regulator for manufacturing of Sputnik V.

Already Indian pharma company, Dr Reddy's Laboratories, in April, 2021 received the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Russian vaccine. Also Panacea Biotec in collaboration with Russian sovereign wealth fund RDIF has begun the production of Sputnik V vaccine in India.

Rejecting allegations over Sputnik V vaccine's efficacy, the Russian president during a virtual interaction with senior editors of major international news agencies said that the delay in getting the vaccine registered in Europe was due to a "competitive struggle" and "commercial interests" there.

With China being blamed by some countries, especially the US, for the COVID-19 pandemic, Putin said too much has been said about the subject, and emphasised that the crisis should not be "politicised".

He was replying to a question on the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, US President Joe Biden announced that he had ordered further intelligence investigation into the origins of COVID-19 amidst allegations that coronavirus originated from a laboratory in China's Wuhan city with former US president Donal Trump calling for imposing a fine on the Asian country for the "death and destruction" it has caused.

"Too many things have already been said on this subject, so it seems to me that making more comments about this would be pointless. I don't think that I can say something new or intriguing," Putin said through a translator.

Noting that there was a competitive struggle against Sputnik V, Putin said, "in 66 countries, we are selling our vaccine, it is a huge market for us. I am pretty sure the allegations are due to commercial reasons but we are following humanitarian reasons."

Myanmar forces clash with villagers in delta region, media report 20 dead

YANGOON, June 6: Myanmar's security forces clashed with villagers armed with catapults and crossbows during a search for weapons in the Ayeyarwady river delta region on Saturday and local media reported as many as 20 people had been killed.

State television news said three "terrorists" had been killed and two arrested at the village of Hlayswe as security forces went to apprehend a man accused of plotting against the state.

A junta spokesman did not answer calls to request comment on the violence at the village in the Kyonpyaw township of Ayeyarwady Region. Reuters was unable to confirm the toll independently.

The army has struggled to impose control since it overthrew elected leader Aug San Suu Kyi after a decade of democratic reforms had opened up the once isolated state.

A meeting between junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and envoys from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Friday drew anger in parts of Myanmar on Saturday, with an ASEAN flag being set ablaze in the second city of Mandalay.

Clashes broke out before dawn on Saturday at Hlayswe, some 150 km (100 miles) northwest of the main city of Yangon, when soldiers said they had come to search for weapons, at least four local media outlets and a resident said.

"The people in the village only have crossbows and there are a lot of casualties on the people's side," said the resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

Khit Thit Media and the Delta News Agency said 20 civilians had been killed and more wounded. They said villagers had tried to fight back with catapults after soldiers assaulted residents in what they said was a search for arms.

MRTV state television said security forces had come under attack with compressed air guns and darts. After the shootout, the bodies of three attackers had been found, it said.

If confirmed, the toll given by the local media would be the highest in one day in nearly two months. Some 845 people had previously been killed by the army and police since the Feb. 1 coup, according to an activist group. The junta disputes that figure.

It was some of the worst violence since the coup in the Ayeyarwady region, an important rice growing area that has large populations of both the Bamar majority ethnic group, from which much of the army is drawn, and the Karen minority.

Since the coup, conflicts have flared in the borderlands where some two dozen ethnic armies have been waging insurgencies for decades. The junta has also been faced by daily protests and paralysing strikes.

The anti-junta Shwegu People's Defence Force said it had attacked a police station in northern Shwegu late on Friday together with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

In eastern Myanmar, the MBPDF (Mobye People's Defence Force) said it had clashed with the army on Friday and four "terrorist soldiers" had been killed.

Despite the turmoil, Myanmar's army has shown little sign of heeding calls from its opponents to relinquish its hold. This week, the junta received its first high-profile foreign visitors - the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the two ASEAN envoys.

An underground opposition government set up by opponents of the junta said after the envoys' visit on Friday it had lost faith in ASEAN's attempts to end the crisis - the main international effort to resolve it.

Protesters in Myanmar's second city of Mandalay burned an ASEAN flag on Saturday and accused the group of giving legitimacy to the junta. One placard said "ASEAN way just means standing by uselessly."

UK PM Calls On G7 To Vaccinate World By End Of 2022

LONDON, June 6: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday called for leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations to make a commitment to vaccinate the entire world against COVID-19 by the end of 2022 when they meet in Britain next week.

Johnson will host the first in-person summit in almost two years of G7 leaders - which follows a meeting of the group's finance ministers which wrapped up earlier in the day - and said he would seek a pledge to hit the global vaccination goal.

"Vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the single greatest feat in medical history," Johnson said in a statement. "I'm calling on my fellow G7 leaders to join us to end this terrible pandemic and pledge we will never allow the devastation wreaked by coronavirus to happen again."

The leaders of Germany, France, the United States, Italy, Japan, the European Union and Canada will join Johnson for the three-day summit in Cornwall, southwest England, which begins on Friday. It will be the first overseas trip for U.S. President Joe Biden since he took office in January.

While the richest nations have been vaccinating large numbers of their populations, many poorer countries have not had the same access to vaccines. And health experts have warned that unless more COVID-19 shots were donated, the virus will continue to spread and mutate.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in London for the finance ministers meeting, said it was urgent for the richest nations to promote vaccinations in poorer countries that could not afford to buy them.

She also repeated the U.S. position that patent rights should be removed for the vaccines, and said they were doing everything they could to address supply chain problems that were preventing a build-up of shots in other parts of the world.

Britain has ordered more than 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for its population of 67 million and says it will donate any shots it does not need.

G7 nations agree on global minimum tax of 15 per cent on mulinationals

LONDON, June 5: A group of the world's richest nations reached a landmark deal on Saturday to close cross-border tax loopholes used by some of the world's biggest companies.

The Group of Seven said it would back a minimum global corporation tax rate of at least 15%, and put in place measures to ensure taxes were paid in the countries where businesses operate.

"After years of discussion, G7 finance ministers have reached a historic agreement to reform the global tax system to make it fit for the global digital age," British finance minister Rishi Sunak told reporters.

The accord, which could form the basis of a global pact next month, is aimed at ending a decades-long "race to the bottom" in which countries have competed to attract corporate giants with ultra-low tax rates and exemptions.

That has in turn cost their public coffers hundreds of billions of dollars - a shortfall they now need to recoup all the more urgently to pay for the huge cost of propping up economies ravaged by the coronavirus crisis.

Ministers met face-to-face in London for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a copy of the final agreement, the G7 ministers said they would "commit to a global minimum tax of at least 15% on a country by country basis".

"We commit to reaching an equitable solution on the allocation of taxing rights, with market countries awarded taxing rights on at least 20% of profit exceeding a 10% margin for the largest and most profitable multinational enterprises," the text added.

The ministers also agreed to move towards making companies declare their environmental impact in a more standard way so investors can decided more easily whether to fund them, a key goal for Britain.

Rich nations have struggled for years to agree a way to raise more revenue from large multinationals such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, which often book profits in jurisdictions where they pay little or no tax.

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration gave the stalled talks fresh impetus by proposing a minimum global corporation tax rate of 15%, above the level in countries such as Ireland but below the lowest level in the G7.

Chinese warplane enters Taiwan air defence zone amid rising tensions in Taiwan Strait

TAPEI, June 5: In yet another intrusion by Beijing amid escalating tensions in Taiwan Strait, a Chinese warplane entered Taiwan's air defence identification zone (ADIZ).

A single People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Shaanxi Y-8 electronic warfare plane flew into the southwest corner of Taiwan's ADIZ on Thursday morning, according to the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense (MND). It was the first intrusion of this month.

A total of 29 Chinese planes were tracked in the identification zone in May, including 25 slow-flying turboprops, two fighter bombers, and two fighter jets, Taiwan News reported.

Since mid-September of last year, Beijing has stepped up its gray-zone tactics by regularly sending planes into Taiwan's ADIZ, with most instances occurring in the southwest corner of the zone and usually consisting of one to three slow-flying turboprop planes.

Over the past few months, Taiwan has reported incursion by Chinese warplanes into ADIZ almost daily.

Last month, Taiwanese premier Su Tseng-chang termed the incursion by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone (ADZ) as "unnecessary" and "thoughtless".

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Taipei, on the other hand, has countered the Chinese aggression by increasing strategic ties with democracies including the US, which has been repeatedly opposed by Beijing. China has threatened that "Taiwan's independence" means war.

Tensions in the Taiwan Strait are escalating. This focus on the strait comes after China ramped up political pressure and military threats against Taiwan, with almost daily incursions into Taipei's air defence identification zone.

The Taiwan Strait is a 180-kilometre-wide strait separating the island of Taiwan and continental Asia. It is one of the most heavily policed strips of water in the world, patrolled by both Chinese and Taiwanese navy and coastguard vessels.

The strait is in international waters, however, China claims Taiwan as its own territory and regards the US Navy's presence in the area as a show of support for the island's democratic government.

Wuhan lab leak possible origin of COVID-19, says Indian scientist couple

PUNE, June 5: An Indian scientist couple is working with netizens globally and has discovered some compelling evidence to support the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19) originated from a lab in Wuhan rather than a seafood market as China as widely informed.

Pune-based scientist couple, Dr. Rahul Bahulikar and Dr Monali Rahalkar said their theory that was initially dismissed as a conspiracy has again grabbed global attention after the US President Joe Biden ordered a probe into it.

Talking about their research, Dr Rahalkar said they do not know exactly if the virus had leaked but it is a strong hypothesis as our research point out towards a possible lab leak.

"We started our research in April 2020. We found that a relative of SARS-CoV-2, RATG13, a coronavirus was collected from a mineshaft in Mojiang of Yunnan province in South China by the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We also found out that the mineshaft was infested with bats and six miners hired to clean the fecal matter were infected with pneumonia-like illness," said Dr Rahalkar.

"Wuhan Institute of Virology and other labs in Wuhan are experimenting on the virus, and there is a suspicion that they did some changes in the genome of the virus, and it may be possible that the current virus was invented in the process," she added.

Dr Bahulikar informed that after they published their first pre-print, they were contacted by a Twitter user SEEKER, who is part of a group called DRASTIC who is working on a common goal to discover evidence to support the hypothesis of lab leak theory.

"SEEKER specialise in finding hidden research material. He shared a thesis in the Chinese language that described in detail the severe illness in miners. Their symptoms were very similar to that of COVID-19 infection. Their CT scans were also compared with the COVID parents and it was discovered that they were almost similar," said Dr Bahulikar.

Adding to Dr Bahulikar statement, Dr Rahalkar said the theory about COVID-19 spread from the Yunnan mineshaft does not stand because there are no cases in Yunnan.

"Other theory that virus was transmitted to someone from a bat and later spread through a market also does not have any proof. Also, the structure of the virus is such that it was ready to infect humans, and that indicates that it might have come from a lab," she said.

The scientists also alleged that World Health Organisation (WHO) has not done enough research to probe the possible lab leak theory.

"We are demanding a proper probe into the theory. We have written three letters to WHO, that were published in international publications. WHO has done very limited research on the theory that the virus may have leaked from a lab. Now, US President is also saying that the matter should be investigated within 90 days, and India has also supported the notion," Dr Rahalkar added.

Taiwan asks China to return power to the people

TAIPEI, June 4: Taiwan's people will never forget China's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Tiananmen Square 32 years ago and will stick with their faith in democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday.

Taiwan tends to use the Tiananmen Square anniversary to criticise China and urge it to face up to what it did, to Beijing's repeated annoyance. China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if necessary.

Friday marks 32 years since Chinese troops opened fire to end the student-led unrest in and around the square. Chinese authorities ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland.

Writing on her Facebook page, Tsai said Taiwan's people would not forget what had happened.

"I believe for all Taiwanese who are proud of their freedom and democracy, they will never forget about this day and will firmly stick with their faith, unshaken by challenges," she said.

"We will also not forget about the young people who sacrificed themselves on Tiananmen Square on this day 32 years ago, and that year after year, friends in Hong Kong who always mourn June 4 with candlelight."

Tsai pointed to the appropriateness of Friday being the same day 1.2 million COVID-19 vaccines will be arriving from Japan as a government donation.

"We are grateful for the timely assistance from partners who also uphold the values ​​of freedom and democracy, so that democratic Taiwan has more confidence in democracy."

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council on Thursday urged China to return power to the people and embark on real political reform rather than avoid facing up to the crackdown.

In a statement, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said the island's government was "smearing and attacking" China when it should be focused on fighting a spike in domestic COVID-19 cases.

"In the face of increasing coronavirus infections and death, this veil they are using to attack others is a bit too much."

Govt extends visa validity of foreigners stuck in India till August 31

NEW DELHI, June 4: Owing to Covid 19 restrictions on international commercial flights, the government on Friday extended visa validity of foreigners stuck in India since March last year to August 31, 2021. Earlier, these foreigners had to get their visa extended every month.

“In the light of non- resumption of normal commercial flight operations, it has been decided that the Indian visa or stay stipulation period of such foreign nationals stranded in India will be considered as deemed to be valid till 31.08.2021 on gratis basis without levy of any overstay penalty. These foreign nationals will not be required to submit any application to the FRRO/FRO concerned for extension of their visas,” a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

Officials said these foreigners may apply for an exit permission to the FRRO concerned as and when they get the opportunity to exit the country and the same would be granted without levy of any overstay penalty.

Due to non-availability of normal commercial flight operations on account of the pandemic since March 2020, a number of foreign nationals who came to India prior to March 2020 on valid Indian visas, had got stranded in the country.

Keeping in view the difficulties faced by such foreign nationals in getting their visas extended in India due to the lockdown, the MHA had earlier issued an order on June 29 last year extending their visas for 30 more days, to be counted from the date of resumption of normal international flight operations. However, since normal flight operations never resumed due to the pandemic, such foreign nationals have had to apply for extension of their visas or stay stipulation period on a monthly basis.

“The matter has now been reconsidered by the MHA and so the new order has been issued,” an official said.

Japan will defend Taiwan if China tries to use force, says ex-US official

WASHINGTON, June 3: Former US deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger has said that Japan would step up militarily to defend Taiwan if China moved to reunify the island with its mainland by force.

In a panel discussion on Tuesday with other top Trump administration officials, Pottinger said Japan first suggested a quadrilateral alliance with the US, India and Australia - now known as the "Quad" - as a defence strategy against China, according to South China Morning Post (SCMP).

"Some of the key pillars of our strategy in the Indo-Pacific region were ideas that we borrowed and adapted and shared and collaborated on with Japan," he said.

The ex-deputy NSA said that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had come up with the whole idea of a quadrilateral format in 2006 and 2007. "There's a saying in the Japanese military: 'Taiwan's defence is Japan's defence.' And, and I think that Japan will act accordingly," he said.

Pottinger, who is considered one of the key architects of the Trump administration's hardline China policies, made these remarks amid a series of incursions by Chinese warplanes into Taiwan's southwest air defence identification zone.

Meanwhile, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser Robert O'Brien offered somewhat supportive comments about the way Biden has taken negotiations with the Quad forward, SCMP reported.

Pompeo said that the leaders of the Quad countries were looking at the United States very clearly and could see that there was a time limit to an administration.

"I hope the next administration - they've said good things about this, they've applauded regularly, one of the few things they've given the Trump administration some credit for - I hope they'll seriously work to go build this out," he added.

On the other hand, O'Brien called Biden's approach to the alliance "positive". "The initial soundings from ... the Biden administration are very positive when it comes to the Quad and strengthening those relationships," O'Brien said. "I hope they follow through, and I wish them luck on that front and Godspeed in that endeavour because it's a very powerful group," he said.

Meanwhile, Pottinger denied that the Trump administration had badly strained US alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. "I've never seen an empirical fact produced to suggest that our alliances did anything other than strengthen over the course of the Trump administration," he said.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democracy of almost 24 million people located off the southeastern coast of mainland China, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Malaysia scrambles fighter jets to respond to major incursion of its airspace by 16 Chinese aircraft

KUALA LUMPUR, June 2: Malaysia scrambled fighter jets to respond to a major incursion of its airspace by 16 Chinese aircraft and called the incident a “serious threat” to its national sovereignty and flight safety.

The incident took place on Monday when, according to Malaysia’s Air Force, its radar picked up the group of Chinese aircraft near Malaysian-administered Luconia Shoals, a rich fishing ground in the disputed South China Sea, after which it moved nearly 110km off the coast of Sarawak on Borneo island.

Malaysia said its attempts to contact the aircraft failed, following which its air force sent the fighter planes to identify them.

Malaysia said the Chinese aircraft were flying between 23,000 and 27,000 feet (7,000 to 8,000m) – the height range that is typically used by commercial flights.

The Malaysian Air Force said that the Chinese aircraft did not contact the regional air traffic control despite being instructed several times.

Malaysia’s foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein said late on Tuesday that he would summon the Chinese ambassador to explain “this breach of the Malaysian airspace and sovereignty”.

“Malaysia’s stand is clear— having friendly diplomatic relations with any countries does not mean that we will compromise our national security,” said the minister in a statement.

However, the Chinese Embassy said its military planes didn’t violate Malaysia’s airspace and had exercised freedom of overflight in the area. It said they were carrying out routine flight training and didn’t target any country.

In a statement, the embassy said that during the training, the Chinese military aircraft strictly abided by the relevant international law and did not enter the territorial airspace of any other country.

The issue of alleged incursions by Chinese aircraft has become a common feature in the South China Sea. Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea as its own territory, resulting in disputes with several nations. The area is strategically important as it has some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

According to Malaysia, the Chinese coast guard and navy ships intruded into its waters in the South China Sea 89 times between 2016 and 2019. As a response, Malaysia filed six diplomatic protests to China, including one in 2017 in response to a Chinese note asserting its claim to the South Luconia Shoals.

Self-governed Taiwan, which China considers as an inseparable part of its territory, has also repeatedly claimed airspace incursions by Chinese fighter jets in recent months. In April, Taiwan said more than two dozen Chinese aircraft entered its air defence identification zone (ADIZ), describing it as the biggest incursion in a year.

Jaishankar Raises Need for Multipolar World At BRICS Meet

NEW DELHI, June 1: India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday highlighted the key principles guiding the five-nation grouping BRICS and referred to international law and the UN Charter that recognises the sovereign equality of all states, and respects their territorial integrity.

In his address at a virtual ministerial meeting of the BRICS, Jaishankar said desired change can be achieved only by conducting policies in accordance with these principles.

The meeting was attended by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and minister of international relations of South Africa Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor and Brazilian foreign minister Carlos Alberto Franco.

India hosted the meeting in its capacity as the chair of BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa).

In his opening remarks, Jaishankar said the BRICS has come a long way from the first time its foreign ministers met in New York in 2006 but the principles that guide the grouping remained consistent over the years.

“We strive for a fair, just, inclusive, equitable and representative multipolar international system. It is one based on international law and the UN Charter, that recognizes the sovereign equality of all States, and respects their territorial integrity while displaying mutual respect for interests and concerns of all," he said.

“It is only by conducting our policies in accordance with these principles that we can expect to bring about the change we desire," he added.

Jaishankar said the BRICS, has over the years evolved its unique model of engagement that is based on consensus and that its collective endeavour is also to ensure that global decision-making reflects contemporary realities.

“To this end, we have identified four key deliverables for our chairship — reform of the multilateral system, counter-terrorism cooperation, using digital and technological solutions to achieve SDGs, and enhancing people-to-people cooperation," he said.

“I am very happy to note that we have made substantial progress on each of these areas in the past five months with the continued cooperation and support of our partners," he added. The BRICS brings together five of the largest developing countries of the world, representing 41 per cent of the global population, 24 per cent of the global GDP and 16 per cent of the global trade.

In his comments, Wang expressed solidarity with India as it has been dealing with a severe second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “Let me begin by expressing my sympathy to India over the severe impact of the new wave of COVID-19 infections. In these trying times, China stands in solidarity with India and all BRICS countries," he said.

Wang said the BRICS now faces the profound and complex ramifications of the pandemic and changes unseen in a century. At the same time, he said opportunity may arise from the challenge. He also commended India for its efforts as BRICS chair to enhance cooperation among the member nations.

“Together we will take solid steps to deepen BRICS cooperation in political and security fields and lay a strong foundation for this year’s summit," he said.

In her remarks, Pandor talked about the proposal by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seeking a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines.

“South Africa and India submitted a proposal to the WTO for a temporary waiver of certain aspects of TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) to facilitate wider access to technologies needed to produce vaccines, for treatment and diagnostics," she said.

The minister said there is a need to address the global gap of vaccine access to realise the ambition of “none of us are safe until all of us are safe" and leave behind the pandemic.

In his comments, Lavrov also expressed Russia’s solidarity with India in its fight against the pandemic.

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