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TOKYO: Kuwait’s Minister of Education and Higher Education Dr Bader Al-Essa yesterday urged the international community to strive for a world with a healthy environment, more sustainable and free from pollution. At the plenary session in the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF) focusing on future perspective of addressing climate change through innovation, Dr Al-Essa stressed that replacing the use of gas and harmful chemicals with safer alternatives, is one step countries may take to improve on climate changes and reduce pollution.

“Many countries have responded to repeated calls for a healthy, sustainable environment and reducing the negative effects that industries impact on the climate. On the other hand, some countries contribute to environmental pollution, destruction of the climate and changes in the earth’s temperature, by allowing industries to continue with poor practices and protocols,” the minister, who heads the Kuwaiti delegation, pointed out.

“It is the duty of scientists, industry owners, policy makers and countries in general, to work towards a more healthy and sustainable environment by improving current policies, creating new tools and developing new technologies to that affect.” While confirming that all countries are held accountable at the legal, political and humanitarian levels to the current status of pollution and global warning, Dr Al-Essa underlined the bigger responsibilities of industrial nations towards the environmental issues, saying, “Industrial countries are required to be more stringent with enforcing the law to protect the environment and human health.”

Three Zero initiatives
The two-day conference gathers more than 1,000 researchers, business leaders, and policymakers from around the world to share a vision and establish partnerships for lasting global reduction in greenhouse gases through innovative low-carbon technologies. Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Chairman of the Bangladesh-based Yunus Centre, called for “three Zero initiatives-Zero poverty, Zero unemployment and Zero net emission-to attain the vision of sustainable development goals that improve human lives.

As an example of popularizing solar energy in Bangladesh, Yunus, renowned microfinance pioneer and founder of Grameen Bank, also said his non-profit energy company has successfully installed more than 1.6 million solar home systems in the country’s rural areas over the past 18 years. The Kuwaiti delegation includes Ambassador to Japan Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Higher Education Dr Hamed Al-Azemi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education Dr Haitham Al-Athari, Secretary General of the Private Universities Council Dr Habib Abul, Director General of the Applied Education and Training Dr Ahmad Al-Athari, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kuwait University Dr Firyal Bou-Rabee.
Based on a proposal by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Tokyo launched the ICEF last year to provide a global platform, where the world’s leading policy makers, business persons, and researchers can meet and cooperate with each other to address climate change through innovation. This year’s annual meeting is a critical opportunity to discuss innovative measures ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris due November, which will adopt a new international framework in tackling climate change. – KUNA

MUMBAI: An Indian living in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait is at ten times the risk of death, compared to an Indian living in the US, an IndiaSpend analysis has revealed. More than 7 million Indians live and work in the six oil-rich nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain), accounting for more than 60 percent of all global non-resident Indians (NRIs). Qatar has recently come under fire for poor conditions for many of around one million workers, including a large number of Indians, toiling at construction sites linked to the 2022 Soccer World Cup: 1,387 Indians workers have died in Qatar alone from 2010 to mid-2015.

The deaths of workers from India, and those from other countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, have been a matter of controversy, with some saying the toll could rise to 1,200 before any matches start. The Qatari government strongly denies that poor working conditions have anything to do with the death toll.

The Indian government appears to concur: In its response to a question in the Lok Sabha (House of the People), the government has said that most of the deaths in Qatar have been due to natural causes. Given that about 600,000 Indians live in Qatar, that is plausible. But is the death toll among Indians in Qatar unnaturally high? Indiaspend ran a check on the number of Indians living overseas, by country, and on the number of Indians who died in countries across the world between 2010 and 2013.

The check threw up some uncomfortable statistics:

* On an average, there are 53.6 deaths per 100,000 NRIs annually. However, this number conceals a sharp discrepancy. The average for the six GCC nations is 69.2 deaths, while the figure for rest of the world is 26.5 deaths, almost 60 percent lower.

* Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Kuwait report between 65 and 78 deaths per 100,000 Indian workers. Qatar actually fares much better than these four states.

* For the US and the UK, the toll is 80-90 percent less than these four states, meaning, an Indian citizen in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia has 10 times the risk of death compared to an NRI in the US. Indians living in US and UK work mostly in the financial and technology sectors, whereas Indians in the GCC often work in riskier jobs, such as construction. Secondly, Indians in US and UK also have access to better healthcare, given their relatively better incomes and the better medical infrastructure of these states.

The data also show that the death rate in Qatar per 100,000 Indians is half that of Saudi Arabia. Assuming that Indians in Qatar work in similar roles as Indians in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Oman, it is evident that a lot of lives can be saved through better working conditions and better medical attention. Qatar has probably come to the attention of Western media because it was awarded the 2022 Soccer World Cup and because of recent controversies linked to FIFA, the international soccer body-and, perhaps, that is the reason its standards are better than its neighbors. Similar publicity for other GCC nations could help improve the lives of expats in those countries.

SRINAGAR: The flags of Pakistan were raised here on Friday ahead of talks scheduled to be held between the national security advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan.

The flags were seen near Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta.

Kashmiri leader Shabbir Shah said the Indian government should review its rigid stand over the talks because its stand was very weak.

Mr Shah told the ANI news agency: “Discussions (between India and Pakistan) won’t make progress without the Kashmir issue.... It is not right to dictate the government of Pakistan that it should not meet the Hurriyat leaders. Government of India should reject this rigidness; their stand is very weak.”

He said the Kashmir issue was very important and if the Indian government wanted to discuss it with the Kashmiri leaders they were ready for a dialogue.

Meanwhile, the high court of Jammu and Kashmir quashed on Friday the detention under the Public Safety Act of Kashmiri leader Masarat Alam who was arrested for allegedly hoisting Pakistani flags and chanting anti-India slogans. 

Justice Hasnain Masoodi, who had earlier reserved his order on the petition filed by Mr Alam’s counsel, quashed the detention of the 45-year-old leader. 

Mr Alam was arrested on April 17 for allegedly raising Pakistani flags and chanting anti-India slogans during a rally organised by the Hurriyat Conference to welcome Syed Ali Shah Geelani from New Delhi. 

Police had registered a case against several leaders including Hurriyat Confe­rence chairman Geelani for activities like hoisting the Pakistani flag. 

 

LONDON: Eighteen migrants have been found stowing away in a lorry on a British motorway, police said yesterday. The migrants were found after the lorry was stopped Saturday by police on the M1 near Flamstead, north of London, 111 miles (178 kilometres) northwest of Folkestone, where Britain’s Eurotunnel cross-Channel terminal is located. The driver of the truck, a 40-year-old man from Poland, has been arrested on suspicion of assisting people entering the country unlawfully.

Officers were alerted by a member of the public who reported seeing suspicious activity on the lorry, Hertfordshire Police said. “Eighteen people who are believed to have entered the UK illegally on the lorry were taken into custody for their safety,” they added in a statement. Traffic police tweeted a picture of the migrants sitting on the ground next to a parked lorry loaded with cargo, apparently at a motorway service station.

A spike in the number of migrants trying to cross the Channel Tunnel from France to Britain has pushed the issue to the top of the political agenda. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned Sunday that living standards in Europe could not be sustained if “millions” of migrants from Africa arrived. “As long as the Europe Union’s laws are the way they are, many of them (migrants) will only have to set foot in Europe to be pretty confident that they will never be returned to their country of origin,” he told the BBC. “Now, that is not a sustainable situation because Europe can’t protect itself and preserve its standard of living and social structure if it has to absorb millions of migrants from Africa.” Britain is the sixth most popular country for asylum applications in the European Union, with 31,745 in 2014 compared to 202,645 for topranked Germany and 62,735 for fourth-placed France.

In a bid to tackle the issue, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is sending up to 100 extra guards to Calais on the French side and is helping to upgrade fences to try and keep migrants from gaining access to trains which carry trucks across the Channel.— AFP

YANGON: Monsoon rains have claimed the lives of hundreds of people across Asia, authorities said yesterday, as rescue workers scrambled to reach remote areas of India, Pakistan and Myanmar in the wake of flash floods and landslides. Authorities in India say more than 120 people have died across the country in recent days, while more than a million have been displaced by rains worsened by a cyclone that barreled through the Bay of Bengal last week. Yesterday rescuers resumed their search for villagers after downpours caused a landslide in remote northeastern Manipur, where an official said four bodies have been recovered from a hamlet buried by a collapsed hill. In neighboring Myanmar the belt of heavy seasonal rains-augmented by Cyclone Komen-have killed 46 people so far and affected more than 200,000 with much of the country languishing under rooftop-high floods.

Risings waters
The government there has focused relief and rescue efforts on four “national disaster-affected regions” in central and western Myanmar, where villagers have been forced to use canoes and makeshift rafts to escape the rising waters. Thousands of others are already in camps for the displaced including in Kalay, Sagaing Region, where residents told of unusually powerful flood waters swamping homes in hours. “We’ve lost all that we have. Our house is still under water,” Htay Shein, 62, told AFP from a temporary shelter in Kalay. “We have seen floods, but never anything like this before. This year is the worst.” An AFP photographer in the area said floodwaters remained stubbornly high yesterday, with many people making their way to safety in rafts cobbled together from old tyres, salvaged wood and large plastic bottles.

The United Nations warned swollen rivers threaten more areas of the country, adding it could be days before the true extent of the disaster emerges. “Logistics are extremely difficult. Assessment teams are having a hard time reaching affected areas,” said Pierre Peron, Myanmar spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Landslides in Chin state-south of Sagaing-have destroyed 700 homes in the state capital Hakha, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar. President Thein Sein has promised the government will do its “utmost” to provide relief, but said parts of Chin had been cut off from surrounding areas, the report added. Rains have also battered the western state of Rakhine which already hosts about 140,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims, who live in exposed coastal camps following deadly 2012 unrest between the minority group and Buddhists.

Poor infrastructure
The annual monsoon is a lifeline for farmers across the region but the rains and frequent powerful cyclones that usher them in can also prove deadly. Poor infrastructure and limited search and rescue capabilities routinely hamper relief efforts across the region, more so as roads, phone lines and electricity are knocked out by rising waters. India, which receives nearly 80 percent of its annual rainfall from June to September, sees tragedy strike every monsoon season. This year West Bengal has been hit hard with 48 people killed, according to state management minister Javed Ahmad Khan. “More than 1.8 million people in 5,600 villages have been affected by the flooding… nearly 1.1 million have been moved to camps,” Khan told AFP. “If there are no rains, the water level will come down in the next few days,” he added. Pakistan, which has suffered deadly floods around the same time every year since 2010 — when the country was struck by the worst inundations in its history- has seen 116 people die so far. Ahmed Kamal, spokesman for Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) told AFP that more than 850,000 people had been affected by this year’s floods. Dozens have also perished in Nepal and Vietnam following floods and landslides. In Vietnam toxic mudslides from flood-hit coal mines in the northern province of Quang Ninh, home to the UNESCO-listed Halong Bay tourist site, claimed the lives of two families and spewed coal into town centers. —AFP

LONDON: Investors seeking alternative assets are moving on from gold, whose failure to perform when its price was expected to rise and recent volatility as demonstrated by Monday’s price plunge are prompting them to seek returns and protection elsewhere. While the market’s bedrock of jewelry buyers and central banks has largely stayed intact, the wider investment universe long courted by banks and gold bugs is now once-bitten, twice shy.

Gold prices, becalmed since February after two years of losses, fell to their lowest in five years on Monday as heavy fund liquidation in Asian hours pushed prices down through key chart levels, triggering a wave of stop-loss selling. At its Monday low, it had erased half the gains from a 12-year bull rally that ran from 1999 to a record high near $2,000 an ounce in September 2011.

The slide was reminiscent of gold’s dramatic retreat in the second quarter of 2013, when prices fell nearly $200 in just two days in April, and another 11 percent in June. Since then, gold has largely underperformed even in the face of seemingly positive news. When concerns over Greece’s financial stability arose in the first half of 2010, gold rallied 13 percent. This year, as the prospect of Greece exiting the euro zone altogether hit markets, gold hardly moved. “There is an argument that gold hasn’t done a great job recently of protecting against financial market risks, and the US dollar has done a much better job,” Investec Asset Management portfolio manager George Cheveley said. “With the recovery in the US economy, this has led to a view that the dollar as a safe haven has re-emerged” at the expense of gold.

Data released last week showed hedge funds and money managers sharply reduced their expectation that gold contract prices on the US Comex market would rise, while holdings of the largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund fell to their lowest on Monday since September 2008. Gold’s recent retreat notwithstanding, in terms of its relative value to other assets, the metal is still looking overvalued. “If you look at how gold looks compared to oil or copper, or how it looks compared to US housing, for instance, none of these measures look particularly attractive for gold,” Barings’ director of asset allocation research, Christopher Mahon, said. “So not only do you have an environment that doesn’t work for gold-in other words, a fairly normal economic recoverybut the value isn’t there. It’s still relatively expensive compared to where it was in 2007, and it performs badly on days when you’d expect it to do well. None of it really adds up.”

Rate hike prospect
Potentially positive factors for gold have been outweighed this year by the prospect of the first U.S. interest rate hike in nearly a decade. Ultra-low rates helped push gold to record highs, but a rise in rates would make it less attractive to hold non-yielding bullion, while boosting the dollar. “We’re still in an environment where people are focusing on US interest rates,” Mitsui Precious Metals analyst David Jollie said. “There is definitely a search for yield, and commodities are just not in favor. That will limit the number of people who will come in.” Where once gold played a pivotal role, it now must compete for investors like any other asset. Gold historically was an integral part of the financial system, with the ‘gold standard’ pegging the value of a given currency to a set quantity of gold. The standard was steadily abandoned throughout the last century, and as European central banks sold their reserves throughout the 1990s, gold drifted towards 20-year lows.

The market turned around in 1999 after the central banks agreed to cap their sales, before surging during the financial crisis that kicked off in 2007. Prices jumped 30 percent that year, and averaged annual gains of 15 percent for the next five years. Gold attracted huge volumes of investment, which fund managers say saturated the market. Gold’s performance over the last five years has shown that it can sometimes fail to perform as either the steady store of value it proved to be in the 1990s, or as the appreciating asset it was in the 2000s. “Up until three years ago, gold as an investment asset came up in every client meeting,” Ashok Shah, investment director at London & Capital, said. “Now it only comes up with very longterm seasoned clients.” “A lot of clients have stopped doing long-term planning,” he added. “That has changed in favor of more illiquid investment ideas, typically private equity, real estate, in terms of farmland or commercial real estate. Gold has reduced its relevance even in long-term planning for a lot of people.” —Reuters

LONDON: Fragments of a Holy Quran manuscript found in a British university library are from one of the world’s oldest surviving copies of the Islamic text, and may even have been written by someone who knew Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), researchers said yesterday. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the parchment folios held by the University of Birmingham in central England were at least 1,370 years old, which would make them one of the earliest written forms of the Islamic holy book in existence. “They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam at the university.

Researchers said the manuscript consisted of two parchment leaves and contained parts of surahs (chapters) 18 to 20, and was written with ink in an early form of Arabic script known as Hijazi. The university said for years it had been mis-bound with leaves of a similar Quran manuscript which dated from the late seventh century. The radiocarbon dating, said to have a 95.4 percent accuracy, found the parchment dated from between 568 and 645. Muhammad (PBUH) lived between 570 and 632. They were spotted by an Italian academic, Alba Fedeli, while conducting research for her PhD.

Fedeli said the leaves are from the same codex as a manuscript kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, although that is currently dated a little later, to within 50 years of the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). “(These fragments) give us glimpses into potentially how…the Quran might have been used in this early period and how it might have been recorded,” said Sajjad Rizvi, Director of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. Thomas said the tests carried out on the parchment of the folios strongly suggested the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) or shortly afterwards. “The person who actually wrote it may well have known Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally,” Thomas told BBC TV.

The manuscript was part of the university’s collection of 3,000 Middle Eastern documents which was acquired in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in Iraq. His trips to acquire the manuscripts were funded by philanthropist Edward Cadbury, whose family made their fortune in chocolate, to raise the status of Birmingham as an intellectual centre for religious studies. “The parts of the Quran that are contained in those fragments are very similar indeed to the Quran as we have it today,” Thomas said. “So this tends to support the view that the Quran that we now have is more or less very close indeed to the Quran as it was brought together in the early years of Islam.” Muslim scholars said the discovery, along with similar recent finds and studies in Europe, would help academics piece together the development of the manuscript into its modern form. “The discovery of the written Quran dating back to the time of Muhammad (PBUH) may serve as an opportunity to make us reconsider the scholarly paradigm that Islamic culture is more oral-aural rather than visual,” said Hatsuki Aishima, a lecturer in Modern Islam at the University of Manchester.

The University of Birmingham said it would put the manuscript on public display in October, and Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, said he expected it to attract people from all over Britain. “When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes,” he told the BBC. Birmingham is also a center of Islam in Britain, with about 20 percent of the city describing themselves as adherents of the faith. The planned display for the manuscript in October could prove a boon to the local economy, with adherents already expressing an interest in traveling to the city to see a piece of history.

Whilst some manuscripts are major attractions elsewhere in the world, their appeal to visitors is determined more by the status of the person who is understood to have recorded them. “The problem with this particular fragment is that we don’t actually know where it comes from,” Rizvi said. However, he said that the fragments would be studied worldwide if, in line with the recent trend for such finds, digital images were published on the Internet, and that there was potential for other significant discoveries in Britain. “The catalogues of which were in collections in Britain are not complete in most cases. It’s quite possible we might find some further things – even in the British Library itself.” “This is indeed an exciting discovery,” said Muhammad Isa Waley, lead curator for Persian and Turkish manuscripts at the British Library in London. “We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs. “According to the classic accounts, it was under the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, that the Quranic text was compiled and edited in the order of surahs familiar today.” — Agencies

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