Archive for January, 2019

17/01/2019

Meghalaya miners: Drone locates one body in flooded Indian mine

Divers use a pulley to enter a coal mine that collapsed in Ksan, in the northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, December 29, 2018.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe miners have been trapped since mid-December

Indian navy divers have found the body of a worker who was trapped with 14 others inside a flooded coal mine in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

The men had entered the illegal pit, known as a “rat hole”, on 13 December, and were trapped when floodwater from a nearby river poured in.

An underwater drone (ROV) first detected the body at a depth of 160ft (48m), the navy said.

The fate of the other trapped miners is unclear.

The navy added that the body would be brought out from the mine under the supervision of doctors.

The Indian Navy gave some details of the operation in a series of tweets early on Thursday.

Source: The BBC

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17/01/2019

Mysterious naked holy men a huge draw at India’s Kumbh Mela

PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – Ash-smeared and dreadlocked Naga sadhus or Hindu ascetics, naked except for rosary beads and garlands and smoking wooden pipes, are a huge draw at the world’s largest religious festival that began this week in India.

At the Kumbh Mela, or “festival of the pot”, held this year in Prayagraj in north India, organisers expect up to 150 million people to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.

The festival is one of the only opportunities to see the reclusive Naga sadhus, some of whom live in caves after taking a vow of celibacy and renouncing worldly possessions.

Their charge down to the waters to bathe at the opening of the Kumbh, many armed with tridents and swords, is one of the highlights of the festival.

“It is a confluence of all Naga sadhus at the meeting point of these holy rivers,” said Anandnad Saraswati, a Naga sadhu from Mathura, a holy city in north India.

“They meet each other, they interact with each other and they meditate and pray here at the holy confluence. They give their message to the people and they transform people.”

Most of the Nagas enter the orders in their early teens, leaving their friends and families to immerse themselves in meditation, yoga and religious rituals. It can take years to be conferred with the title of a Naga, they say.

“One has to live a life of celibacy for six years. After that the person is given the title of a great man and 12 years after that he is made a Naga,” said Digambar Kedar Giri, a Naga sadhu from Jaipur.

During the eight-week Kumbh, generally held every three years in one of four cities in India, the Nagas live in makeshift monasteries called Akhara erected on the eastern banks of the Ganges.

They spend their days meditating, smoking cannabis and receiving a stream of visitors who come to pay their respects.

“It feels surreal: all this time you have read about them. They are almost like fictional characters and then you meet them,” said a woman who gave her name as Pallavi, on a visit to the Akharas.

The Kumbh Mela has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons. In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, who share the Kumbhs as a result.

Source: Reuters

17/01/2019

‘One step ahead of Pak, giving them befitting reply’: Northern Army chief

Lt General Ranbir Singh said 2018 was a great year for the security forces as more than 250 terrorists had been killed, 54 were caught alive and another 4 had surrendered to them.

INDIA Updated: Jan 17, 2019 16:58 IST

Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Ravi Krishnan Khajuria
Hindustan Times, Jammu
lt general ranbir singh,pakistan ceasefire violation,kalai bridge
Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said that the Indian Army has been giving a befitting response to the Pakistani ceasefire violations.(HT Photo)

The Northern Army commander Lt Gen Ranbir Singh on Thursday said the Indian Army was one step ahead of Pakistan and was giving a befitting reply to every single ceasefire violation by the neighbouring country.

Talking to media after inaugurating a bridge at Kalai in Poonch district, General Singh said, “We are one step ahead of Pakistan and are giving befitting reply to them.”

“2018 has been a great year for the security forces, more than 250 terrorists were killed, 54 were caught alive, and 4 surrendered to the forces,” he said.

When asked about the increased ceasefire violation by Pakistani forces since January 1 this year and the elimination of five Pakistani soldiers by Indian forces in retaliation in the last few days, Gen Singh said the answer lies in the query itself.

On Thursday, Pakistani army again resorted to heavy firing in Jhangar, Laam, Pukherni and Peer Bhadreshwar areas of Rajouri district, prompting the Indian Army to retaliate in equal measure.

On Tuesday, Pakistan killed BSF’s assistant commandant in sniper firing on the international border in Hiranagar sector of Kathua district on Tuesday.

Notably, PM Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit the border district of Samba on February 3 to kick-start the BJP’s election campaign in the state.

Despite repeated calls for restraint and adherence to the 2003 ceasefire agreement to maintain peace and tranquility, Pakistani troops have been indulging in ceasefire violations including BAT attacks, sniper attacks and planting IEDs inside Indian territory to kill Indian personnel.

Meanwhile, General Ranbir Singh dedicated the Kalai Bridge to the country on Thursday. The bridge spans over the Suran River and connects Kalai area to Chandak area in Poonch district.

During the inauguration function, the Army Commander addressed the gathering of Army, GREF and local residents and said the Kalai bridge is an important milestone towards enhancing the road communication and for socio-economic development of the area.

The bridge is an important strategic asset as it will enhance the movement of military equipment and troops in a faster timeframe. The Indian Army and BRO has been working towards infrastructure development in the remote and far-flung areas of the state and have been improving road connectivity.

The bridge will reduce traffic congestion in the city and reduce the inconvenience caused to the people specially while moving towards Budha Amarnath Shrine in Mandi as it reduces the travelling time considerably.

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First Published: Jan 17, 2019 15:17 IST

Source: Hindustan Times

17/01/2019

China watchdog bans officials from close ties with liquor giant Moutai

BEIJING (Reuters) – The anti-graft watchdog in China’s southwestern Guizhou province on Thursday banned officials and their family members from taking part in operations or using their position to influence sales for liquor giant Kweichow Moutai Co Ltd.

Guizhou-based Moutai is the world’s largest alcohol firm by market cap, valued at around $110 billion (£85.32 billion), and sells the pungent liquor baijiu for more than $200 per 500 ml bottle.

The brand has close ties to Chinese politics and has largely weathered a crackdown on luxury spending under President Xi Jinping, who has called on Communist Party officials to be frugal, upright and disciplined.

Officials, their spouses and children are prohibited from taking part in the operations of Moutai, according to new rules posted online by the Guizhou Discipline Inspection Commission, the provincial anti-corruption watchdog.

Cadres are also banned from using the power and influence of their position to acquire Moutai business licenses for people they have a “special relationship” with, or to raise sales targets and help facilitate resales at a profit, the rules said.

Cadres should “educate and properly manage” relatives and those close to them to avoid breaking the new rules, the document said.

Officials who engage in any form of business-related interaction with the company have to be recorded in a new registry and failing to do so will trigger a “serious” investigation, the watchdog said.

Moutai’s baijiu liquor is often a lubricant at official banquets and business dinners, and it was once hailed as helping China’s Red Army survive the tortuous Long March in the 1930s.

The company in October posted its weakest quarterly profit since 2015, depressing its shares and raising concerns about the luxury liquor market.

Moutai on Jan. 2 announced a higher than expected sales target for 2019, leading analysts to predict sustained stable growth in the medium-and-long run.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; editing by Darren Schuettler

Source: Reuters

17/01/2019

Why are the Chinese buying fewer cars?

President Trump's Cadillac limousineImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fact that President Trump’s limousine is a Cadillac is said to have helped the US carmaker’s sales in China

If you’re selling Cadillacs in China, it helps that the US president is driven around in one.

Cao Chenyi, the boss of a Cadillac dealership near Shanghai, told me that customers know that Donald Trump’s presidential limousine is made by the US carmaker. He says they like the prestige.

But Mr Cao’s had a bad year. Demand dropped 30% in 2018. He’s had to shut five of the 11 dealerships his family business owned. Almost half, gone.

“The sales on every new vehicle is causing us to lose money. Basically the more we sell the more we lose,” he says.

Loss leaders are painful. Mr Cao has been forced to shift excess stock, and quickly. The red Cadillac he drove me around in is currently on sale at half price.

Cao Chenyi's Cadillac dealership near Shanghai
Image captionCao Chenyi’s family have had to close five of their dealerships – these customers did not make a purchase

Nationally, 2018 was a very hard year for the car industry in China, the world’s biggest car market.

Just over 22 million new cars were sold last year. But that’s a near 6% drop on 2017. The first fall in two decades.

Inside Mr Cao’s Cadillac showroom various models are side by side. An SUV at the back has a canoe on its roof rack.

I watched a group of three youngish men come in and sit down for the sales treatment. They didn’t buy.

They didn’t even have a good look inside the cars. Mr Cao thinks the main reason is a tax cut that has gone away.

“In 2018 the government cancelled the tax subsidy on car purchases, which was a shock to us,” he says.

This benefit has been gradually wound down. Others think a credit squeeze has caused the demand for cars to drop.

Cao Chenyi
Image captionCao Chenyi thinks that the end of a tax credit is the main reason behind falling car sales

After a decade of near doubling its debt – to almost 300% of China’s GDP – 2018 was the year that the government tried to deal with the aftermath of a credit crisis. That crisis was centred on peer-to-peer lending, known as P2P.

P2P lenders offer loans to individuals from a pool of funds supplied by other individuals and other businesses, thereby cutting out banks.

Cars and houses

Economist Andy Xie says the previously increasing national debt kept demand high, particularly in the property and car sectors.

“Now the property market has tipped over, and it’s affecting a lot of things,” he says.

So why is property so important?

“Auto sales are highly correlated to property sales,” Mr Xie says.

“When people buy property it seems they buy a car at the same time. So when the property market is not doing well the auto demand is down.”

A woman holding bundles of yuan notesImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe Chinese government is moving to reduce the country’s debt level

The collapse of many of the P2P lending platforms is thought to have had a significant impact on both house and car sales, because borrowed money was being used as down payments for both.

Mr Xie says the credit system “used to be lubricated by these guys” and suddenly that has stopped.

“They lent to people who could not pay back. [Borrowers] shifted their debt from one platform to another.”

He tells me he’s heard statistics suggesting one in four such borrowers “have no ability to pay back”.

Slowing economy

China’s car industry is also a key driver of industrial output and a barometer of consumer demand.

But growth in China’s economy is slowing, and the trade war with the US is starting to bite. Retail sales have slowed to a pace not seen for more than a decade.

A couple of hours away from the car dealership is a tiny hair salon, in the heart of Shanghai’s old west side.

Sun Qiang is the owner and haircutter-in-chief. For a few hours I sat and watched him deal with a handful of customers. First up were three women, two of whom had curlers in, and didn’t look happy to be there.

Sun Qiang
Image captionHairdresser Sun Qiang is saving money to pay for education and healthcare

He told me he’d cut my hair for 40 yuan ($6; £4.50). His place is at the bottom end of what you might call the barometer of China’s consumption.

But business isn’t dropping off. He is, though, a barber who also cuts women’s hair.

When it comes to cars he’d like a Chinese brand SUV. But it’s not likely any time soon. He doesn’t live that far from work and the buses are good. Plus he doesn’t want to borrow.

“I think some car dealers, they want to boost their sales, so they need such consumers who love to pay by loans,” he explains.

“But as a traditional Chinese person, I think we should only buy stuff that we can afford.”

Source: The BBC

17/01/2019

China’s first lunar leaf dies after Chang’e scientists forced to cut power to stop battery running low

  • Cotton seed that became first plant to come to life on the surface of the moon dies after being exposed to far side’s extreme temperatures
  • Lander did not carry any spare batteries, so power to biosphere had to be cut off
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 7:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2019, 7:48pm

China’s dream of a moon harvest has died young. Just two days after they announced that plant shoots had to come to life on the moon, the Chang’e team said a lack of battery capacity meant they had been forced to cut off the power supply that kept them alive.

The decision proved fatal for the cotton seeds that produced the “first leaf” on the moon after they were exposed to temperatures of 120 Celsius (250F) by day and minus 170 Celusis by night.

The extreme conditions on the far side of the moon also killed three other plant seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs that had been carried inside the lunar lander’s biosphere.

On Tuesday the team behind the mission announced the success of the first ever biology experiment to be conducted on the moon with the release of pictures of a sprouting cotton seed inside the biosphere.

The Chang’e probe, carrying the seeds and eggs in an airtight aluminium cylinder, touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3, but the team did not say when the seeds had started to germinate.

However, the researchers would have known that any success would prove fleeting.

The only battery available in the spacecraft, a solar cell, could not afford to keep the temperature inside the biosphere under control and the plants were doomed to die once the temperatures on the moon went beyond what life on Earth could endure.

“Because of the weight limit of the Chang’e launch, we were unable to bring a battery to the moon,” Liu Hanlong director of the experiment and vice-president of Chongqing University in southwest China, told Inkstone, a sister publication of the South China Morning Post.

It was not clear why additional batteries were not carried on the lander if the survival of the plants on the moon depended on battery-powered temperature control.

“Without temperature control, the plants and animals would not survive,” said Liu.

The mini ecosystem contained in the cylinder also included rapeseed and potato seeds, which had also sprouted, and these are certain to have met the same fate as the cotton sprout once the power went out.

It was not clear how long any of the seeds had survived.

The Chinese public, however, seemed far from discouraged by the news judging by the reaction on social media.

Despite comments expressing surprise at the lack of sufficient battery power to carry on the experiment, most posts on the social media network Weibo were overwhelmingly positive.

“What a pity, but we should not give up. We should keep trying,” wrote one Weibo user. “Eventually we will grow a complete plant [on the moon] in the future,” read another post.

Chinese researchers shared their optimism, saying the data they had obtained from the sprouting, however short, would provide them with valuable information onto how to grow crops under low-gravity, high-radiation conditions – an insight which might one day prove invaluable in sustaining a manned base in space or even on the surface of the moon.

“We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base,” Liu told a press conference on Tuesday.

Source: SCMP

17/01/2019

Beijing builds cybersecurity industrial park

BEIJING, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Beijing is building a national-level cybersecurity industrial park to boost the industry and tap into the potential of domestic tech companies.

Over 10 companies specialized in internet security have signed a contract to move into the park, which has two branches respectively in Haidian district and Tongzhou district, according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology.

Construction on the park started at the end of 2017. By 2020, the industrial output is expected to reach 100 billion yuan (about 14.5 billion U.S. dollars).

“We are actively advancing the project. Leading firms in cybersecurity from home and abroad will establish their headquarters in the park,” said Jiang Guangzhi, an official with the bureau.

As smart cities’ initiatives using information technology are rolling out in many cities in China, the demand for internet security infrastructure is high.

“The fact that many agencies and organizations are exploring digitization and information technology without sufficient security creates a lot of risks,” said Qi Xiangdong, a member of the Beijing municipal committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The committee is currently holding its annual session.

“Beijing is the center for political activity, culture, international exchange and technological innovation, but it is also a big target for cyber attacks,” said Qi.

The 360 Enterprise Security Group said it found security loopholes in over half of the one million websites in Beijing. On a daily basis, over 9.55 million malware are detected and blocked from PC users.

The global average of security spending in IT is about 3.7 percent of the total IT spending, but the Chinese average is only 1.1 percent, Qi said.

Insufficient investment in cybersecurity may lead to serious consequences, said Tong Liqiang, also a member of the committee and former director of the Beijing cyber information office.

“A full-fledged internet security shield is still not yet in place, but it is needed to service the development of the IT industry, tackle the security challenges and meet the public demand,” said Tong.

Source: Xinhua

17/01/2019

Russia, China enjoy confident progressive development of relations in all areas: Lavrov

MOSCOW, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — Russia and China enjoy a “very confident progressive development of relations in all areas,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

The two countries reached a record trade turnover in 2018 but this is not a limit, as Russia and China have ambitious plans discussed by President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping at various meetings, Lavrov said at his annual press conference.

According to China’s customs authority, trade turnover between China and Russia surged by 27.1 percent to a record high of 107.06 billion U.S. dollars last year.

The two governments have identified about 70 projects worth a total of more than 100 billion dollars in various fields, including nuclear energy, agriculture, transport and space cooperation, Lavrov said.

He specially mentioned the coordination of the Russian and Chinese global navigation systems GLONASS and BeiDou.

“So our prospects in trade, economic and investment areas are very, very significant,” the top Russian diplomat said.

Lavrov also praised the close cooperation and coordination between Moscow and Beijing in international affairs, including within BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the United Nations, as well as harmonizing the Eurasian Economic Union with the Belt and Road Initiative.

Russia and China have common approaches to resolving conflicts solely by political methods on the basis of international law and dialogue, including in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula, Lavrov said.

“The friendship between Russia and China is not aimed against anyone,” Lavrov stressed.

Russia and China are friends because they are neighbors, have many common interests, are strategic partners in international affairs and equally see the need to make the world more stable, more secure and more democratic, he added.

Source: Xinhua

17/01/2019

Xi orders efforts to promote social justice, ensure people’s wellbeing

CHINA-BEIJING-XI JINPING-CENTRAL CONFERENCE ON POLITICAL AND LEGAL WORK (CN)

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivers a speech at the central conference on political and legal work in Beijing, capital of China. The conference was held in Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

BEIJING, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) — President Xi Jinping has ordered efforts to promote modern social governance, push forward reforms and develop a better force in political and legal work.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the statement in a speech to the central conference on political and legal work held in Beijing Tuesday and Wednesday.

He instructed law enforcement and judicial agencies to enhance their revolutionary spirit, standardize their practices and improve competence.

Wang Huning, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and a member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, and Vice Premier Han Zheng, also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, attended the meeting.

Xi demanded more efforts to enhance law enforcement in key areas that matter to the immediate interests of the public so that they can be provided with cleaner air and water, safer food and faster traffic in a more harmonious society.

Xi underlined the need to improve the law-based social governance model under which Party committees exercise leadership, the government assumes responsibility, non-governmental actors provide assistance and the public gets involved. Thus, a social governance system based on collaboration, participation and common interests can be established, he said.

Xi stressed the principle of rule of law so that “law-abiding members of society can feel proud and elated, while lawbreakers shall find it difficult to move one step.”

Xi also spoke of the need to make more efforts on the development of crime prevention and control system, which is multifaceted and features IT application.

Describing mafia-like gangs as “the cancer of society”, Xi vowed to maintain high-handed pressure and continue to crack down on such crimes to achieve a three-year term target.

Xi urged law enforcement and judicial agencies to push for breakthrough development at a higher level and build a functional system that is optimized, coordinated and efficient.

On plans to improve the system of power checks and supervision, Xi said efforts should be focused on prominent problems that prompt the strongest public reaction and resolutely guard against slack law enforcement, miscarriage of justice, breaking the law while in charge of law enforcement and judicial corruption.

Xi called on law enforcement and judicial agencies to provide convenient, efficient, smart and targeted public services that are equitable and beneficial for all.

Efforts should be made to accelerate the establishment of legal service networks that can offer full services accessible at all times and for people from different regions, Xi noted.

Xi also stressed stepping up the building of a safety protection system to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the country’s overseas institutions and working staff.

Greater emphasis should be placed on strengthening competence of law enforcement and judicial officials, Xi said, urging Party organizations and leading officials at all levels to support judicial organs in exercising power in a law-based, independent and impartial way.

In his concluding remarks, Guo Shengkun, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and head of the Commission for the Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee, said it is a primary political task to study and implement the spirit of Xi’s speech.

Source: Xinhua

16/01/2019

India woman makes historic ascent of ‘banned’ sacred peak

Dhanya SanalImage copyrightDHANYA SANAL
Image captionDhanya Sanal was the first woman to scale the peak

An Indian woman has climbed a mountain, where only men were allowed until now for religious reasons.

Dhanya Sanal’s ascent to the summit of Agasthyakoodam in southern Kerala state came after a court ruling in November.

Local tribespeople oppose women climbing it because of a statue of a Hindu sage on top they say is celibate.

Ms Sanal, 38, told the BBC she had not been stopped by locals or protesters. Campaigners say it’s a victory in the fight to end gender discrimination.

Ms Sanal said she had been “ready to turn back” if tribespeople stopped her, but while she did encounter protesters, she said they had not prevented her from continuing her trek.

In November, the high court in Kerala ruled that women could trek to the 1,868m (6,128ft) peak. The court said that restrictions on trekking could not be based on gender after a women’s group petitioned the court.

The group welcomed Ms Sanal’s climb.

“We have moved one step ahead in ending gender discrimination in Kerala,” Divya Divakaran, one of its members, told the BBC.

Agasthyakoodam mountainImage copyrightSALI PALODE
Image captionAgasthyakoodam is the second highest peak in Kerala

Located within a biosphere reserve in India’s Western Ghats, Agasthyakoodam is the second highest peak in Kerala.

The high court rejected the claim made by tribespeople, who live at the foothills, that the verdict hurt their beliefs.

They had said they worshipped the sage, Agastya, and did not want women in the vicinity of his idol as that amounted to disrespecting his celibacy.

The terrain is steep and rocky and the trail is inside a thick forest. Trekkers often take two or three days to scale the peak.

“It is extremely tough terrain that demands extra physical fitness,” Ms Sanal told the Times of India newspaper.

She was the only woman in a group of 100 trekkers. The group was accompanied by two female forest officials.

Officials told the BBC that more than 100 women had registered for treks in the coming weeks.

A local offering prayer to the idol of sage AgastyaImage copyrightSALI PALODE
Image captionLocal tribespeople revere the sage whose idol is at the peak

Earlier this month, two women made history in Kerala by entering a prominent Hindu shrine, following months of protests against their entry.

The Sabarimala temple was historically closed to women of “menstruating age” – defined as between 10 and 50. Devotees believe that the deity is an avowed bachelor and the ban was in keeping with his wishes.

Hinduism regards menstruating women as unclean and bars them from participating in religious rituals.

The women’s entry to the shrine prompted massive protests across Kerala.

One of the two women is recovering in hospital after her mother-in-law allegedly attacked her for entering the temple.

Source: BBC

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