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46 migrants found dead inside truck in US, human smuggling case suspected

SAN ANTONIO (Texas), June 28: Authorities found 46 migrants dead inside a tractor-trailer on Monday in San Antonio, Texas, the city's fire department said, in what appears to be one of the most deadly recent incidents of human smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The San Antonio Fire Department said 16 other people found inside the trailer were transported to the hospital for heat stroke and exhaustion, including four minors. Officials also said three people were in custody following the incident.

The truck was found next to railroad tracks in a remote area on the city's southern outskirts.

Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called the suffocation of the migrants in the truck the "tragedy in Texas" on Twitter and said the local consulate was en route to the scene, though the nationalities of the victims had not been confirmed.

There have been a record number of migrant crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months, which has sparked criticisms of the immigration policies of U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

Temperatures in San Antonio, which is about 160 miles (250 km) from the Mexican border, swelled to a high of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) on Monday with high humidity.

In July 2017, ten migrants died after being transported in a tractor-trailer that was discovered by San Antonio police in a Wal-Mart parking lot. The driver, James Matthew Bradley, Jr., was sentenced the following year to life in prison for his role in the smuggling operation.

Biden signs first significant US gun control law in decades

WASHINGTON, June 25: President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law the first significant federal bill on gun safety in decades, saying that while it falls short of what's really needed it will "save lives."

"While this bill doesn't do everything I want, it does include actions I've long called for that are going to save lives," he said at the White House before leaving for two major diplomatic summits in Europe.

The gun legislation includes enhanced background checks for younger buyers and federal cash for states introducing "red flag" laws that allow courts to temporarily remove weapons from those considered a threat.

Billions of dollars have been allocated to crack down on "straw purchasers" who buy firearms for people not allowed to own them, and to curb gun trafficking.

However, much tougher measures wanted by Biden and other Democrats did not make it in, including a ban on military style rifles often used by the lone gunmen who typically carrying out mass shootings. Also absent is a longtime push for mandatory background checks on all gun purchases.

Reeling off a list of notorious mass shootings, Biden said the message from victims "was 'do something..., for God's sake just do something.' Well today, we did."

Referring to political gridlock in a near evenly divided Congress, Biden said the new law, which had rare strong support from both Republicans and Democrats, was "monumental."

"When it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential," he said. "I know there's much more work to do and I'm never going to give up."

As he inked his signature on the document, Biden added again: "God willing, this is going to save a lot of lives."

Americans Have Right To Carry Guns In Public: US Supreme Court

WASHINGTON, June 23: The US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that Americans have a fundamental right to carry a handgun in public, a landmark decision with far-reaching implications for states and cities across the country struggling with a surge in gun violence.

The 6-3 decision strikes down a more than century-old New York law that required a person to prove they had a legitimate self-defense need, or "proper cause," to receive a permit to carry a handgun outside the home.

Several other states, including California, have similar laws -- and the court's ruling will curb their ability to restrict people from carrying guns in public.

Democratic President Joe Biden denounced the decision, saying it "contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all."

"We must do more as a society -- not less -- to protect our fellow Americans," Biden said. "I call on Americans across the country to make their voices heard on gun safety."

Despite a growing call for limits on firearms after two horrific mass shootings in May, the court sided with advocates who said the US Constitution guarantees the right to own and carry guns.

The ruling is the first by the court in a major Second Amendment case in over a decade, when it ruled in 2008 that Americans have a right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

It was a stunning victory for the National Rifle Association lobby group, which brought the case along with two New York men who had been denied gun permits.

"Today's ruling is a watershed win for good men and women all across America and is the result of a decades-long fight the NRA has led," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said in a statement.

"The right to self-defense and to defend your family and loved ones should not end at your home."

New York Governor Kathy Hochul called it a "dark day," while California's leader Gavin Newsom termed the decision "shameful."

"It is outrageous that at a moment of national reckoning on gun violence, the Supreme Court has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons," Hochul said.

"This is a dangerous decision from a court hell bent on pushing a radical ideological agenda and infringing on the rights of states to protect our citizens from being gunned down in our streets, schools, and churches," Newsom tweeted.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion and was joined by the other five conservatives on the nine-member court, three of whom were nominated by former Republican president Donald Trump.

Thomas said the New York law prevents "law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in public for self-defense."

"We conclude that the State's licensing regime violates the Constitution," Thomas said.

The ruling comes as the US Senate is considering a rare bipartisan bill that includes modest gun control measures.

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said the ruling "makes it all the more important for Congress to take actionable steps to protect our kids and communities from this nation's gun violence epidemic.

"In a nation of almost 400 million firearms, this Supreme Court decision is an invitation for more gun deaths and chaos in America's neighborhoods," he said.

On May 14, an 18-year-old used an AR-15-type assault rifle to kill 10 African Americans at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

Less than two weeks later 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, by another teen with the same type of high-powered, semi-automatic rifle.

In the decision, Justice Samuel Alito dismissed arguments that guns outside of homes lead to great violence, including when it comes to mass shootings.

"Why, for example, does the dissent think it is relevant to recount the mass shootings that have occurred in recent years?," he wrote.

The New York law said that to be given a permit to carry a firearm outside the home, a gun owner must clearly demonstrate that it is explicitly needed for self-defense.

Gun-rights advocates said that violated the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which says "the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

The three liberal justices on the Supreme Court dissented from the ruling.

"Many states have tried to address some of the dangers of gun violence," Justice Stephen Breyer said.

"The Court today severely burdens states' efforts to do so."

More than half of US states already allow permitless carry of firearms, most of them only doing so in the past decade.

The New York state law dated to 1913 and had stood based on the understanding that individual states had the right to regulate gun usage and ownership.

Over the past two decades more than 200 million guns have hit the US market, led by assault rifles and personal handguns, feeding a surge in murders, mass shootings and suicides.

US Federal Reserve raises interest rate by 75 bps; biggest hike since 1994

WASHINGTON, June 15: The US Federal Reserve has announced a three-quarter of a percentage point or a 75 bps hike in its target interest rate, in what is being seen as a move to curb the spiralling inflation.

The central bank, while announcing the rate hike, said it is "strongly committed" to returning inflation to two percent. It projected a slowing down of the country's economy in the months to come, and a likely increase in the rate of unemployment.

The 75 bps hike in key lending rate is the biggest since 1994, and was delivered after recent data showed little progress in its inflation battle.

The Fed officials flagged a faster path of increases in borrowing costs to come as well, more closely aligning monetary policy with a rapid shift this week in financial market views of what it will take to bring price pressures under control.

"Inflation remains elevated, reflecting supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic, higher energy prices and broader price pressures," the central bank's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement at the end of its latest two-day meeting in Washington.

The statement continued to cite the Ukraine war and China lockdown policies as sources of inflation.

The action raised the short-term federal funds rate to a range of 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent, and Fed officials at the median projected the rate increasing to 3.4 percent by the end of this year and to 3.8 percent in 2023 - a substantial shift from projections in March that saw the rate rising to 1.9 percent this year.

The stricter monetary policy was accompanied with a downgrade to the Fed's economic outlook, with the economy now seen slowing to a below-trend 1.7 percent rate of growth this year, unemployment rising to 3.7 percent by the end of this year, and continuing to rise to 4.1 percent through 2024.

While no policymaker projected an outright recession, the range of economic growth forecasts edged toward zero in 2023 and the federal funds rate was seen falling in 2024.

The projections are a break with recent Fed efforts to cast tighter monetary policy and inflation control as consistent with steady and low unemployment. The 4.1 percent jobless rate seen in 2024 is now slightly above the level Fed officials generally see as consistent with full employment.

Since March, when Fed officials projected they could raise rates and control inflation with the unemployment rate remaining around 3.5 percent, inflation has stubbornly remained at a 40-year high, with no sign of it reaching the peak Fed policymakers hoped would arrive this spring.

Even with the more aggressive interest rate measures taken on Wednesday, policymakers nevertheless see inflation as measured by the personal consumption expenditures price index at 5.2 percent through this year and slowing only gradually to 2.2 percent in 2024.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George was the only policymaker to dissent in Wednesday's decision in preference for a half-percentage-point hike.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell is scheduled to hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT) to elaborate on the latest policy meeting.

Inflation has become the most pressing economic issue for the Fed and begun to shape the political landscape as well, with household sentiment worsening amid rising food and gasoline prices.

China hardening positions along India border: US Defence Secretary

SINGAPORE, June 11: China has continued to harden its positions along the border with India, and countries in the region should have to face political intimidation by Beijing, US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin said Saturday.

The comments come just days after a top US Army general had said that China’s infrastructure development along the entire area opposite the border with India is alarming.

Speaking at the Shangri La Dialogue, a security conference organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore, where top Chinese leaders are also present, Austin said, “We are seeing Beijing continuing to harden its position along the border that it shares with India.”

He added that the “Indo-Pacific countries shouldn’t face political intimidation, economic coercion or harassment by maritime militias”.

“In the East China Sea, China is expanding its fishing fleet (which) is sparking tensions with its neighbors,” Austin said. In the South China Sea, China is using “outposts on man-made islands bristling with advanced weaponry to advance its illegal maritime claims.”

He added, “We are seeing (Chinese) vessels plunder the region’s provisions, operating illegally within the territorial waters of other Indo-Pacific countries.”

Speaking about India as a partner for the US in the region, Austin said, “We are also weaving closer ties with other partners. I’m especially thinking of India, the world’s largest democracy. We believe that its growing military capability and technological prowess can be a stabilising force in the region.”

Commenting on Beijing’s actions in the Indo-Pacific region, Austin mentioned, “We are seeing growing coercion from Beijing. We have witnessed a steady increase in provocative and destabilising military activity near Taiwan. We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.”

But, he said, China’s “moves threaten to undermine security, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. That’s crucial for this region, and it’s crucial for the wider world. Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn’t just a US interest. It’s a matter of international concern”.

Austin said that the US is working closely “with both our competitors and our friends to strengthen the guardrails against conflict”.

He specifically mentioned that it includes “fully open lines of communication with China’s defense leaders to ensure that we can avoid any miscalculations. These are deeply important conversations and the United States is fully committed to doing our part”.

Austin and China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe held a bilateral meeting on Friday on the sidelines of the event. Austin’s remarks come three days after General Charles A Flynn, Commanding General of the United States Army Pacific, said in Delhi on June 8 about infrastructure build up, “I believe that the activity level is eye-opening. I think some of the infrastructure that is being created in the Western Theatre Command is alarming.”

He added that “much like across all of their military arsenal, one has to ask the question, why? The question comes as to what are their intentions?” The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Western Theatre Command is responsible for the 3,488-km long border with India.

The next day China responded to Flynn’s comment by stating that he is fanning the fire. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in his press briefing that “some US officials have pointed fingers and sought to fan the flame and drive a wedge between the two countries”.

Calling it disgraceful, Zhao had said, “We hope the US could do more things that contribute to regional peace and stability.”

Covid-19 tests no longer needed for travel to US

WASHINGTON, June 10: The United States on Friday announced that Covid-19 tests would no longer be demanded for international travelers arriving by air, a major step in the country's gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz confirmed the news on Twitter, with US media saying the testing requirement would end this weekend after strong lobbying from the travel industry.

All passengers had needed to show a negative Covid viral test taken shortly before travel -- or proof of having recovered from the virus in the past 90 days -- before they boarded their flight.

Munoz said President Joe Biden's work on vaccines and treatments had been "critical" to easing the travel restrictions, and added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would continue to evaluate Covid data amid a recent rise in cases.

Last month, the United States crossed the threshold of one million Covid deaths, with Biden acknowledging the "unrelenting" pain of bereaved families, and urging Americans to remain vigilant.

America recorded its first Covid-19 death, on the West Coast, in early February 2020.

Many mask mandates have been lifted but the country has recently seen an uptick in the number of daily virus cases, largely due to new Omicron subvariants.

Chinese Infra Build-Up Near Ladakh Alarming: US General

New Delhi: Chinese activity near Ladakh is "eye-opening" and some of the infrastructure being created is alarming, a top US General has said.

General Charles A Flynn, Commanding General, US Army Pacific described it as "destabilizing and corrosive behaviour" by China as he talked about the Chinese infrastructure build-up across the Himalayan frontier.

"I believe that the activity level is eye-opening. I think some of the infrastructure that is being created in the Western Theatre Command is alarming. And so much, like across all of their military arsenal, one has to ask the question, why," the General, who oversees the Asia-Pacific region, told a select group of journalists.

General Flynn said China's "incremental and insidious path, and destabilising and corrosive behaviour" projected on to the region was "simply not helpful".

"I think it is worthy of us working together as a counterweight to some of those corrosive and corrupted behaviours that the Chinese [demonstrate]," said the General.

On Chinese military expansion in the Ladakh region, US General Charles A Flynn said, “One has to ask the question, ‘why?'”

India and the US are set to conduct high-altitude training missions at an altitude of between 9,000-10,000 feet in the Himalayas as part of the Yuddh Abhyas exercises this October. The location has not been specified. Indian forces will then train in similar extreme-cold weather conditions in Alaska.

The exercises are meant to be extremely high-level joint operations across the gamut of high-altitude warfare.

This includes new technology, Air Force assets, attack aviation, logistics, and information sharing on a real-time basis. "These are all invaluable opportunities that the Indian Army and the US Army can capitalise on," General Flynn said.

It was reported in January on satellite images that showed a Chinese bridge being constructed across the Pangong Lake, a key infrastructure build-up that has profound military implications for the Indian Army, which is heavily deployed in the region.

Further afield, the Chinese have significantly upgraded and expanded their airfields and road infrastructure, posing a direct threat to India across the Himalayan frontier.

Despite more than a dozen rounds of military talks, the Chinese have not withdrawn from several areas that they illegally occupy after breaching the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

Attacks On Minorities In India Throughout 2021: US State Department Report

WASHINGTON, June 2: The US State Department in its annual report to the Congress on international religious freedom has alleged that in India in 2021 attack on members of the minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year.

Released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department, the report gives its own perspective to the status and violations of religious freedom across the globe and have separate chapters on each of the countries.

India previously rejected the US religious freedom report, saying it sees no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of its citizens' constitutionally protected rights.

The India section of the report avoids giving any opinion on the status of religious minorities, but documents various aspects of it as appeared in the Indian press and the Indian government reports. It also liberally quotes the allegations of various non-profit organisations, and minority institutions on attacks on them, but most of the time is quite silent on the results of the investigations being undertaken by the officials, responses of the government.

"Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. These included incidents of 'cow vigilantism' against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef," said the India section of the report.

It does take note of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's statement that Hindus and Muslims in India had the same DNA and should not be differentiated by religion.

"In July, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, which is commonly considered to be the ideological parent to India's ruling party BJP, publicly stated that Hindus and Muslims in India had the same DNA and should not be differentiated by religion," the report said.

"There can never be any dominance of either Hindus or Muslims (in the country); there can only be the dominance of Indians," Bhagwat said, adding that members of the Muslim community should not be afraid that Islam is in danger in India. He also said that killing non-Hindus for cow slaughter was an act against Hinduism, the report said.

"Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on September 12 publicly stated that earlier governments in Uttar Pradesh had favoured Muslim constituents in benefits distribution," it said.

The report said that the police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism.

NGOs, including faith-based organisations, continued to criticise 2020 amendments passed to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organizations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements, it said.

The government continued to say the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country.

According to the media reports, FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs, including hundreds of faith-based organisations, lapsed after the government said the organisations did not apply for renewal in time. In addition, during the year the government suspended FCRA licenses of 179 NGOs, including some that were faith-based, the report said.

US to provide Kyiv with advanced rocket system Himars

WASHINGTON, June 1: As Russia continues its war on Ukraine, US president Joe Biden is set to provide Kyiv with advanced rocket systems that can strike with ‘precision’ at long-range Russian targets. The $700 million weapons package is likely to be unveiled on Wednesday.

According to officials, the weapons have Himars, high mobility artillery rocket systems that can hit targets that are as far away as 80 km (50 miles), reported a news agency.

The weapons package also includes ammunition, counterfire radars, a number of air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles, as well as anti-armour weapons.

The US recently had cleared an aid of around $54bn to Ukraine to help the war-torn nation rebuild the country.

Biden, in a New York Times op-ed published on Tuesday, said Russia's invasion of Ukraine will “end through diplomacy”. However, the US will provide “Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and ammunition that will enable them to more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine," he said.

While Ukraine has been asking allies for longer-range missile systems, Biden on Tuesday had said that he would “not send rocket systems to Ukraine that could hit targets well inside Russian territory”. So, Himars will not include a version able to reach some 186 miles (300 kilometres), out of fear that the Ukrainians would use it to hit deep inside Russia.

Ukraine has received extensive US military aid since Russia began its invasion on February 24. Thousands of people have been killed in the war-torn country due to Russia's constant shelling and bombing. Millions of people have also been displaced and were forced to leave Ukraine.

 

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