News, July 17th

‘Global sentiments towards COVID-19 shifts from fear to anger’

The people’s feelings towards COVID-19 around the world have shifted from fear to anger as the pandemic developed, say researchers.

The study, published in the journal JMIR Public Health & Surveillance, observed that tweets reflecting fear, while dominant at the start of the outbreak due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19, have tapered off over the course of the pandemic.

The findings also revealed that xenophobia was a common theme among anger-related tweets, which progressively increased, peaking on March 12 — a day after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

The anger then evolved to reflect feelings arising from isolation and social seclusion.

Accompanying this later shift is the emergence of tweets that show joy, which the researchers say suggested a sense of pride, gratitude, hope, and happiness.

Tweets that reflected sadness doubled, although they remain proportionally lower than the other emotions.

“Worldwide, strong negative sentiments of fear were detected in the early phases of a pandemic but by early April, these emotions have gradually been replaced by anger,” said study researcher May O. Lwin from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

“Our findings suggest that collective issues driven by emotions, such as shared experiences of the distress of the COVID-19 pandemic, including large scale social isolation and the loss of human lives, are developing,” Lwin added.

To identify trends in the expression of the four basic emotions — fear, anger, sadness and joy — and examine the narratives underlying those emotions, the research team first collected 20,325,929 tweets in English containing the keywords ‘Wuhan’, ‘corona’, ‘nCov’, and ‘covid’.

“Although the data looks at only public tweets surrounding the four selected keywords, the results are sufficient to start a conversation about possible issues arising from the pandemic at present,” said Lwin.

Upon analyzing the results, the team found that xenophobia was also reflected at the start of the pandemic when the disease was predominantly contained in China and Asia, as indicated by words such as ‘racist’ and ‘Chinese people’.

As the pandemic escalated, fears around shortages of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and medical supplies emerged, as suggested by words such as ‘test shortages’ and ‘uncounted’.

Anger then shifted to discourses around the isolation fatigue that can occur from social seclusion, indicated by words such as “stay home” and several swear words, the study said.

But tweets that were collected and analyzed from early April to mid-June also showed that these positive sentiments exceeded fear postings on social media, the study noted.

ASEAN Smart Cities Network convenes 3rd conference

Minister of Construction Pham Hong Ha chaired the 3rd conference of the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) on July 17, in the form of a video conference.

Ha affirmed that Vietnam has taken many specific actions since joining the network.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has approved the country’s smart city development plan for the 2018-2025 period and a vision to 2030, which identified three priority groups: smart urban planning, smart urban management, and smart urban utilities.

On the basis of interconnected databases, many urban areas in Vietnam, including Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City, have had initial success in providing smart utilities in education, health care, transportation, construction, and the environment; optimized urban development management; improved urban living standards; and created opportunities for human development, Ha said.

He emphasized that comprehensive urban development and management is done through improving decision-making capacity based on interconnected data systems and multidisciplinary coordination.

With the theme “Smart cities towards community identity and sustainable development for a cohesive and responsive ASEAN”, ANSC’s activities in 2020 aim to promote the active participation and cooperation of ASEAN member nations, agendas with the group’s partner countries, the participation of the private sector, and the maintenance and development of the ASCN dialogue.

The conference focused on discussing and approving a number of documents.

The 26 member cities of ASCN aim to build a medium-term vision and develop and implement an action plan each year in accordance with the situation in each country, towards promoting the unique identity of each city and each country, thus contributing to the common identity of the ASCN.

Member cities will update others on smart city development and share experiences in responding to COVID-19.

As the Chairman of the ASCN 2020, Vietnam will make every effort to push the overall development of the network and strive to accomplish its goals, Ha said.

If the COVID-19 pandemic is soon brought under control, Vietnam will hold the ASCN High-Level Forum later this year to discuss more deeply and comprehensively experiences and good practice in developing smart cities and promoting partnerships outside ASEAN, he added.

Australian homes teetering on cliff as waves lash coastline

A number of homes in Australia are now precariously teetering on the edge of a cliff following days of massive waves lashing into its coastline.

The scene unfolding Friday in Wamberal, north of Sydney, comes as a band of low pressure that swept through the region – generating two days of waves up to 38 feet — is expected to last into this weekend, according to Sky News.

“It’s like watching a disaster movie in slow-motion,” tweeted Mitchell Harley, a coastal researcher at the University of New South Wales.

Residents along Ocean View Drive in Wamberal, where most of the erosion has been happening, have been ordered to evacuate their homes.

The Terrigal Fire Station said in a Facebook post that it has been called to the scene “to attend to homes at significant risk of structural collapse due to beach erosion.”

“I’ve never seen the waves come in, to this extent,” a local homeowner was quoted by Sky News as telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Rolf Garda, an official with the State Emergency Service, also told the station that it was the worst erosion damage he’s seen in three decades and “there’s always been impact on that area, but for some reason, this event has taken away far more land than we expected.”

“A crane is on site putting in place large concrete blocks to try to slow the damage to residents along the stretch of coastline,” added a Facebook post from NSW Central Coast Incident Alerts.

Dump fuel-hungry AC units to cut years of emissions and save trillions: UN report

A wholesale switch to efficient, “climate-friendly” appliances could make a huge dent in environmentally harmful emissions, says a new UN report released on Friday.

Access to cooling is essential to maintaining healthy communities, helping to keep food fresh, and economies productive. It has added importance during the current pandemic, making lockdown bearable during periods of hot weather.

However, many air-conditioning units emit carbon dioxide, black carbon, and Hydrofluorocarbons (which have thousands of times the warming potential of carbon dioxide) and increasing demand for cooling is contributing significantly to climate change.

The Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report, from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), shows that up to 460 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly the amount produced over an eight-year period – could be cut over the next four decades by making air conditioners twice as efficient as they are now: by 2050, it would be possible to save the amount of electricity produced by all the coal-fired power stations in China and India in 2018, saving up to $2.9 trillion.

This action would make a significant contribution towards getting on track to limiting the overall global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is critical to minimizing the disastrous impacts of climate change, says the study.

Nations should seriously consider the move, as they plan their economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Inger Andersen, the Executive-Director of UNEP: “they have an opportunity to use their resources wisely to reduce climate change, protect nature and reduce risks of further pandemics. Efficient, climate-friendly cooling can help to achieve all of these goals”.

The report notes that countries already have several options at their disposal, to make this possible. Signatories to the Kigali amendment to the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, for example, have agreed to reduce the use of Hydrofluorocarbons. National Cooling Action Plans can accelerate the transition to climate friendly cooling and identify opportunities to make efficient cooling a way to meet their commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Other options available include implementing minimum energy performance standards, introducing building codes that ensure homes and offices are well insulated and require less cooling, and making temperature-controlled food supply chains more efficient and sustainable.

The peer-reviewed report was authored by a range of experts under the guidance of a 15-member steering committee co-chaired by Mexican chemist and Nobel laureate Mario Molina, who played a key role in discovering the Antarctic ozone hole, and Durwood Zaelke, an American pioneer of environmental law.

France to probe Abu Dhabi crown prince over torture allegations

French authorities are opening an investigation into accusations of complicity in acts of torture against the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, sources said on Friday.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the case told AFP that a French investigating magistrate had been mandated to take on the probe, which will notably look at acts allegedly committed in the war in Yemen.

An initial investigation had been opened in Oct 2019 against the prince, who is known as MBZ, after two complaints were filed when he came to Paris on an official visit in Nov 2018.

MBZ – a close ally of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – is seen as one of the most influential leaders in the region and has also built a tight alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron.

UAE forces have joined Saudi Arabia in the hugely controversial conflict in Yemen where the UAE-Saudi coalition is battling Huthi rebels in a war activists feared is mired in rights violations.

Six Yemenis had filed a complaint with a judge specializing in crimes against humanity in Paris.

“My clients welcome the opening of this probe and have great hope in French justice,” their lawyer Joseph Breham told AFP.

Their complaint focuses on alleged acts of torture committed in UAE-controlled detention centers on Yemeni territory.

It alleges that MBZ as commander in chief of UAE forces is likely to have provided the “means and orders for these violations to be carried out.”

Such accusations can be tried in France on the basis of universal jurisdiction which allows the courts to take on cases, even if the alleged crimes took place on foreign territory.

Yemen’s war has seen tens of thousands of people killed, an estimated four million displaced and 80 per cent of the country’s 29 million people dependent on aid for survival.

The war between the Iran-backed Huthis and pro-government troops escalated in March 2015 when the coalition intervened against the rebels who control large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa.

Pentagon report: Turkey sent up to 3,800 fighters to Libya

Turkey sent between 3,500 and 3,800 paid Syrian fighters to Libya over the first three months of the year, the U.S. Defense Department’s inspector general concluded in a new report, its first to detail Turkish deployments that helped change the course of Libya’s war.

The report comes as the conflict in oil-rich Libya has escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country. The U.S. military has grown increasingly concerned about Russia’s growing influence in Libya, where hundreds of Russian mercenaries backed a campaign to capture the capital, Tripoli, in the country’s west.

The quarterly report on counterterrorism operations in Africa by the Pentagon’s internal watchdog, published Thursday, says Turkey paid and offered citizenship to thousands of mercenaries fighting alongside Tripoli-based militias against troops of east Libya-based commander Khalifa Hifter.

Despite widespread reports of the fighters’ extremist links, the report says the U.S. military found no evidence to suggest the mercenaries were affiliated with the Islamic State extremist group or al-Qaida. It says they were “very likely” motivated by generous financial packages rather than ideology or politics.

The report covers only the first quarter of the year, until the end of March — two months before a string of Turkish-backed victories by the Tripoli forces drove Hifter’s self-styled army from the capital’s suburbs, its stronghold at Tarhuna and a key western airbase.

The reversal for Hifter and his foreign backers, including Egypt, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, trained the spotlight on Turkey’s deepening role in the proxy war.

The latest report says the Turkish deployments likely increased ahead of the Tripoli forces’ triumphs in late May. It cites the U.S. Africa Command as saying that 300 Turkish-supported Syrian rebels landed in Libya in early April. Turkey also deployed an “unknown number” of Turkish soldiers during the first months of the year, the inspector general adds.

To the consternation of regional rivals and NATO allies like France, Turkey is staking its hopes for greater leverage in the eastern Mediterranean on the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli. Ankara’s open military intervention stands in contrast to covert support from foreign backers on the other side of the conflict.

The inspector general had reported in its last quarterly review that Russia brought in hundreds of mercenaries to back Hifter’s months-long siege of Tripoli. A private Kremlin-linked military company known as the Wagner Group first introduced skilled snipers and armed drones last fall, inflicting “significant casualties” on Tripoli forces struggling to fend off Hifter’s assault, the report said.

This year, in response to Turkey’s new shipments of battle-hardened Syrians, Wagner increased its deployment of foreign fighters, also including Syrians, with estimates ranging from 800 to 2,500 mercenaries. Russia and the Syrian government agreed to send 300 to 400 former opposition rebels from the southwest village of Quneitra to Libya in exchange for a $1,000 per month salary and clemency from President Bashar Assad, the report added.

In May, the Pentagon accused Russia of sending at least 14 warplanes to a central Libyan airbase, which it claimed were repainted in Syria to hide their Russian origin. Earlier this week, it alleged Russian mercenaries planted land mines and other booby-trap explosives around Tripoli that have killed 52 people and wounded 96, including civilians and mine clearance workers, by U.N. estimates.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the U.S. military’s accusations Thursday, insisting “the Russian military is not involved in any processes in Libya in any way.”

The warring sides are mobilizing now around the edges of Sirte, a strategic gateway to Libya’s central and eastern oil crescent, where most of the country’s production of 1.2 million barrels a day flowed before Hifter-allied tribes choked off pipelines in January to protest unequal distribution of oil revenues to the long-neglected east.

Following Hifter’s retreat from Tripoli, his backers pushed for a cease-fire and proposed a political settlement. But Turkey refused to back down. The Tripoli government, eager to regain access to Hifter’s blockaded oil fields, has pledged to retake the coastal city, where longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi was born and then killed after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising.

Egypt, a bitter rival of Turkey that shares a porous desert border with Libya, has threatened to intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces try to seize Sirte. On Thursday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi hosted dozens of tribal leaders loyal to Hifter in Cairo, where he repeated that Egypt will “not stand idly by in the face of moves that pose a direct threat to security.”

On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back, criticizing Egyptian and Emirati support for Hifter.

Military tensions increased further this week after the collapse of a deal to end the blockade of Libyan oil fields, which has deprived the country of its most important economic resource and the National Oil Corporation of over $7 billion in revenue.

Oil has long been a key factor in the conflict, with militias and their foreign backers jockeying for control of Africa’s largest reserves.

On Friday, the National Oil Corporation warned that international powers were pulling the country toward an escalation likely to extend to the oil and gas facilities. A “large number” of Syrian, Sudanese, and Russian mercenaries are occupying oil installations, most recently Libya’s largest port of Es Sidra, the corporation said.

Unscrupulous Politics in Kerala

THE gold smuggling case in Kerala is being used by the Congress-led UDF and the BJP to tarnish the image of the LDF government and a joint effort to destabilize the government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

The Congress and the UDF have demanded the resignation of the chief minister and have launched a “struggle” to achieve the same. The BJP is also conducting protests with the same demand. The UDF had announced that it will move a no-confidence motion against the government in the assembly.

Smuggling of gold into Kerala from the Gulf countries has been a regular occurrence over the years. There was a spurt in gold smuggling after the Covid pandemic, when flights resumed and there was an increase in chartered flights to the state. Around Rs 100 crore worth of gold was seized by the Customs authorities in Kerala’s three airports in the past six months. But the contraband gold sought to be smuggled in through Thiruvananthapuram airport on June 30 was significant for the method adopted and the size of the consignment – it was through diplomatic baggage and weighed 30 kilograms.

The state police are not the investigating authority nor has it the power to file cases in such matters. It falls in the jurisdiction of the Customs department which is under the center. The state police can only have an ancillary role. That is why as soon as the ramifications of the case became known, the chief minister wrote to the prime minister asking for an effective investigation by any of the central agencies concerned, so that the whole chain of the smuggling operation from its source and the end beneficiaries can be found out and brought to book.

The center directed the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to take up the case. The Customs had, in the meanwhile, filed a case in which four persons were accused. One of the accused is a woman, Swapna Suresh, who was working as a contract employee in a project of a public sector institution of the IT department of the government. She had earlier been an employee of the UAE Consulate and Air India SATS.

When it became known that the IT secretary and principal secretary in the chief minister’s office, Sivasankar, was known to this accused person, he was removed from both the posts. A committee headed by the chief secretary was also set-up to enquire into the circumstances in which she got the job in the institution under the IT department. The chief minister has stated that based on the result of the enquiry, further action would be taken.

However, for the Congress and UDF leadership, the purported role of the principal secretary was sufficient to demand the resignation of the chief minister. The opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala, and the Congress leadership were getting increasingly frustrated with their inability to counter the popular approval of the way in which the LDF government has tackled the Covid pandemic. They went to absurd lengths to discredit the government’s steps to contain the infection and the precautionary measures put in place. But to no avail.

The gold smuggling case is, thus, being used to make an all-out effort to target the chief minister and the LDF government. In doing so, the Congress leadership is even ignoring the fact that one of the accused, Sandeep Nair, has links with the BJP. It is more intent on seeking to harness the Modi government in its fight against the LDF government. Not satisfied with the induction of the NIA as the investigating agency, it is demanding that the CBI and RAW be brought into the case. The Congress knows very well that the BJP government is misusing the central agencies for its political purposes and hopes that they will do so in this case too.

Meanwhile, three of the four, who were originally accused have been arrested and they have been remanded to NIA custody for interrogation. The fourth person, Faisal Fareed, who was behind the consignment sent from the UAE is still abroad. The police have also arrested three other persons in connection with the case. One of whom is a businessman, Rameez, who was implicated in an earlier gold smuggling case and is reported to be a relative of an important leader of the Indian Union Muslim League.

The last four weeks have seen a spurt in the Covid infection cases in the state. This came about after the influx of people returning from abroad and from other states in India; the rise in imported cases has now been followed by a steady increase in the cases due to local transmission. It is at such a juncture that the Congress and the BJP are out in the streets protesting. In many places, scores of protestors violating physical distancing norms have broken cordons and clashed with the police. This has led to widespread public disapproval due to fears of infection mounting. What the Congress and BJP are ending up doing is to provide a smokescreen to divert attention from the real culprits and the forces behind them.

The Congress party is proving its political and ideological bankruptcy in Kerala by adopting this disruptive stance. It has no qualms whatsoever in ganging up with the BJP to target the Left. It is also a sad commentary on the state of the party as a whole as the recent events in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan show. The BJP is going all-out to destabilize Congress state governments using money power and other unscrupulous methods. But the Congress party riven by factions and power-hungry leaders is facilitating the BJP’s nefarious designs.

In Kerala, this type of politics and power games will be met with a stinging rebuff from the people.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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