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New Zealand welcomes back tourists as coronavirus pandemic rules eased

DHAKA: Whenever the call comes their way — which could happen several times a week — a group of snake rescuers in Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Chattogram immediately rush to save the reptiles. Formed in January 2020, Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh, or SRTB, have rescued about 2,000 snakes from across Chattogram. In the hilly region,…

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DHAKA: Whenever the call comes their way — which could happen several times a week — a group of snake rescuers in Bangladesh’s southeastern city of Chattogram immediately rush to save the reptiles. Formed in January 2020, Snake Rescue Team Bangladesh, or SRTB, have rescued about 2,000 snakes from across Chattogram. In the hilly region, located about 250 kilometers from the capital Dhaka, snake sightings are a common occurrence. The 19-member team is on a mission to raise awareness of the vital role that the reptiles play in the ecosystem. “Our aim is to create awareness over the importance of snakes for our biodiversity and the well-being of humans,” Farhadul Islam, 22, one of the five founding members of the team, told Arab News. It is estimated that more than 710,000 snake bite incidents take place annually in rural Bangladesh, according to a 2010 study published in the science and medicine journal PLOS. The prevalence of such incidents means that many people in Bangladesh often kill snakes, including non-venomous species, on sight. But Islam and his group, whose members have all been trained in rescuing snakes, are committed to changing the prevailing mindset. “Nowadays, our farmers are losing more crops due to rats on the field. But the losses would have been minimal if there were enough snakes in nature, as rats are natural food for the snakes,” Islam said. Snakes are also important for medical science, Islam added, as many antibiotics are prepared from snake venoms. The group, comprising mostly college students in their early 20s, have been rescuing snakes voluntarily. While in some cases people give them money for transportation, SRTB mostly self-fund the work, which also involves treating injured snakes. For some members, their passion for snakes started when they were much younger. While most children grew up fearing snakes, as a boy Siddiqur Rahman Rabbi spent hours learning about serpents to understand how to capture them. He used to believe that the act was a thing of magic, but later learned that it simply requires technique. “It took me five years to acquire the skill of capturing snakes,” Rabbi told Arab News, adding that he had watched a lot of television on the subject, including shows on Animal Planet and National Geographic, while also traveling to different parts of his hometown to learn from snake charmers. “Finally, I gathered some like-minded youths through social media from my city who also wanted snakes to be allowed to live,” the 25-year-old, a founding member of SRTB, said. “It’s a very risky job, because every moment you need to be watchful of the snake’s movements. When you lose attention for even a fraction of a second, it might take your life.” SRTB’s efforts have since been recognized by officials in the region, with the local wildlife protection department referring all snake rescue calls to the group, Islam said. In the last year, the group has rescued different snake species, from pythons to various types of cobras, using simple tools such as snake hooks and gloves in order to capture and later release them to the nearby forest reserve. Last October, SRTB rescued 22 baby black cobras from the home of a government official, Mohammad Belal Hossain, in the Hathazari region, about 50 kilometers from Chattogram. The effort took them three days. “It was a highly venomous snake and not very common in this area. But I noticed the snakes don’t harm people unless they are being attacked,” Hossain told Arab News. The experience showed Hossain that maintaining coexistence with the serpents “is very important to maintain the ecological balance in nature.” With limited resources and funds, the group remains bound to their hometown in Chattogram for the time being. But they believe that their work will have a ripple effect across the country. “I believe, with the passing of time, our work will spread across the country and people will understand the necessity of saving nature and the serpents,” Islam said.

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Russia ready to set up corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine — Ifax

More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble. KYIV/SLOVYANSK, Ukraine: Russian forces sought to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin eastern cities straddling a river as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial Donbas region where it has focused…

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More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble. KYIV/SLOVYANSK, Ukraine: Russian forces sought to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin eastern cities straddling a river as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow was seeking to destroy the industrial Donbas region where it has focused its attacks. Russia is attempting to seize the separatist-claimed Donbas’ two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front. Russian forces took control of three towns in the Donetsk region including Svitlodarsk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told an affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. All the remaining strength of the Russian army is now concentrated on this region,” Zelensky said in a late Tuesday address. “The occupiers want to destroy everything there.” Russia’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment out-of-hours. The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk, on the west bank, have become a pivotal battlefield. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them. “The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk,” said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, where the two cities are among the last territory held by Ukraine. Ukraine’s military said it had repelled nine Russian attacks on Tuesday in the Donbas where Moscow’s troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using aircraft, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles. Reuters could not immediately verify the information. In a sign of Ukrainian success elsewhere, authorities in its second-largest city, Kharkiv, re-opened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months under relentless bombardment. The re-opening came after Ukraine pushed Russian forces largely out of artillery range of the northern city, as they did from the capital, Kyiv, in March. WORLD WAR THREE? Three months into the invasion, Russia still has only limited gains to show for its worst military losses in decades, while much of Ukraine has suffered devastation in the biggest attack on a European state since 1945. More than 6.5 million people have fled abroad, uncounted thousands have been killed and cities have been reduced to rubble. The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of using food as a weapon. Billionaire financier George Soros, also speaking in Davos, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have marked the start of World War III. “The best and perhaps only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible,” he said. Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday lambasted President Vladimir Putin, casting the Kremlin chief as a doomed madman who was butchering the people of both Ukraine and Russia. “This is a stupid war which your Putin started,” Navalny told an appeals court in Moscow via video link from a corrective penal colony. “This war was built on lies.” Underlining the global tensions unleashed by the war, major US ally Japan scrambled jets on Tuesday after Russian and Chinese warplanes neared its airspace as US President Joe Biden visited Tokyo. Meanwhile, in a decision that could push Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver set to expire on Wednesday that enabled Russia to pay US bondholders. Russia had been allowed to keep paying interest and principal and avert default on its government debt. Russian lawmakers gave the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that have left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, a government online portal showed.  On Monday, Starbucks Corp. became the latest Western brand to announce it was pulling out of Russia, following a similar decision by McDonald’s. The hamburger chain’s trademark “Golden Arches” were lowered near Moscow on Monday. DRAWN OUT CONFLICT Senior Russian officials suggested in comments on Tuesday the war, which Russia calls a “special operation,” may be drawn-out. Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s security council, said Russia would fight as long as necessary to eradicate “Nazism” in Ukraine, a justification for the war that the West calls baseless. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was deliberately advancing slowly to avoid civilian casualties. Zelensky dismissed such statements as “absolutely unreal.” In Kharkiv, hundreds of people were living underground in trains and stations when the authorities asked them to make way on Tuesday. “Everyone is crazily scared, because there is still shelling,” said Nataliia Lopanska, who had lived in a metro train for most of the war. Russian shelling continued in the city and wider area, regional governor Oleh Sinehubov said. The Donbas fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after a siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians were killed. Petro Andryushchenko, an aide to Mariupol’s Ukrainian mayor now operating outside the city, said the dead were being found in the rubble. About 200 decomposing bodies were buried in debris in a basement of one high-rise building, he said. Residents had refused to collect them and Russian authorities had abandoned the site.  

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UK lawmakers criticize ‘absence’ of Afghan evacuation plan

BEIJING: Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region. The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities…

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BEIJING: Uyghurs have urged UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to avoid falling victim to a public relations stunt as her trip to China enters a delicate new phase on Tuesday with a visit to the remote Xinjiang region. The ruling Communist Party is accused of detaining over one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the far-western region as part of a years-long security crackdown the United States has labelled a “genocide.” China vehemently denies the allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.” Bachelet is expected to visit the Xinjiang cities Urumqi and Kashgar on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of a six-day tour. “I hope she can also ask the Chinese government for the whereabouts of my mother,” said Jevlan Shirememet, adding that he had not been able to contact her in four years. The Turkey-based 31-year-old — from the province’s northern reaches near the border with Kazakhstan — also said he hoped Bachelet would venture further than her itinerary. “I don’t know why she can’t visit these places,” he told AFP. Nursimangul Abdureshid — another Uyghur living in Turkey — was “not very hopeful that her trip can bring any change.” “I request them to visit victims like my family members, not the pre-prepared scenes by the Chinese government,” she told AFP. “If the UN team cannot have unlimited access in Xinjiang, I will not accept their so-called reports.” Regional capital Urumqi — population four million — houses major government bodies believed to have orchestrated the province-wide campaign China described as a crackdown on religious extremism. It is home to a sizeable Uyghur community and was the site of deadly ethnic clashes in 2009 as well as two terrorist attacks in 2014. Meanwhile, Kashgar — home to 700,000 people — lies in the Uyghur heartland of southern Xinjiang. An ancient Silk Road city, it has been a major target of Beijing’s crackdown, researchers and activists say, with authorities accused of smothering the cultural hub in a high-tech security blanket while bulldozing Uyghur homes and religious sites. The outskirts of both cities are pockmarked with what are believed to be detention camps, part of a sprawling network of recently built facilities stretching across the remote province. Campaigners have voiced concern that Chinese authorities will prevent Bachelet from conducting a thorough probe into alleged rights abuses and instead give her a stage-managed tour with limited access. The US has said it is “deeply concerned” that she had not secured guarantees on what she will see, adding that she was unlikely to get an “unmanipulated” picture of China’s rights situation. Speaking in Guangzhou where she met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday, Bachelet said she would be “discussing some very important issues and sensitive issues.” “I hope this will help us build confidence, and enable us to work together,” she added. Bachelet also gave assurances on her access to detention centers and rights defenders during a Monday virtual meeting with the heads of dozens of diplomatic missions in China, according to diplomatic sources in Beijing. Caroline Wilson, the UK’s Ambassador to China, was on the call and said she stressed “the importance of unfettered access to Xinjiang and private conversations with its people.” “There is no excuse for preventing UN representatives from completing their investigations,” Wilson wrote on Twitter. Bachelet’s office has also said she will meet with civil society organizations, business representatives and academics. In addition to mass detentions, Chinese authorities have waged a campaign of forced labor, coerced sterilization and the destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage in Xinjiang, researchers and campaigners say. Uyghurs overseas have staged rallies in recent weeks pressing Bachelet to visit relatives believed to be detained in Xinjiang.

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One man killed in Qatar Embassy, Paris prosecutor’s office confirms

Philippines’ Marcos Jr says discussed defense agreements, climate funding with US envoy MANILA: Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday he discussed the extension of a joint military agreement with an envoy of defense ally the United States, after meetings with senior diplomats of four countries. Ambassadors of Japan, India and South Korea and…

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Philippines’ Marcos Jr says discussed defense agreements, climate funding with US envoy MANILA: Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday he discussed the extension of a joint military agreement with an envoy of defense ally the United States, after meetings with senior diplomats of four countries. Ambassadors of Japan, India and South Korea and the US Chargé d’Affaires made courtesy calls on Monday to Marcos, the son and namesake of the notorious late dictator, following his landslide election victory this month. Marcos, 64, who take office late in June, said he discussed with the US envoy the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and how it would be redefined amid a changing regional landscape, plus funding for climate change mitigation. “We would welcome any assistance for the economy that we can get from the United States,” Marcos told a news conference. “Trade, not aid.” The VFA, which provides a legal framework by which US troops can operate on Philippine soil, was a bone of contention for incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who repeatedly threatened to scrap it. “Security concerns of course has always been a big part of our relationship with the United States,” Marcos said. India’s envoy to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran during a courtesy visit to president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (BBM Media Office) Analysts expect Marcos to pursue close China ties, which could complicate relations with former colonial power Washington, his military, and the Philippine public, with which the United States is popular. He last week spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted bilateral ties to “shift to a higher gear.” Marcos said he discussed aid projects with Japan’s ambassador, microfinance with India and with South Korea, information technology, regional security and the possible reactivation of a disused nuclear plant. South Korea ambassador Kim Inchul during a courtesy visit to president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (BBM Media Office) The plant was intended by his late father to be part of his economic modernization legacy, but was mothballed after his overthrow in a 1986 “people power” uprising, two years after completion. Marcos said he asked Arsenio Balisacan, the national anti-trust agency chief, to be economic planning minister, a role he held from 2012 to 2016 under an administration that was a rival to the influential Marcos family.

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