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Nepalese climbers who reached K2 summit arrive safely back to camp

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A view of the camp as shared by Seven Summit Treks. — Photo courtesy Twitter/Seven Summit Treks

Nepali climbers who made history when they became the first to summit Pakistan’s K2 in winter a day earlier, have arrived safely back at base camp, officials said on Sunday.

The 10 climbers reached the top of the world’s second-highest mountain on Saturday, the last peak above 8,000 metres (26,000 feet) to be conquered in wintertime.

“All the 10 Nepali climbers arrived in the base camp this afternoon. They are in good health and relaxing,” Faizullah Firaq, a spokesperson for the Gilgit Baltistan government, told AFP.

One of the successful climbers, Nirmal Purja, who is also known as Nimsdai, posted on social media: “The full team are now back… All safe and sound… It has been an overwhelming journey.”

Thaneshwor Guragain from Seven Summit Treks, a leading mountaineering company behind one of the expeditions, said more climbers are still hoping to reach the top.

Unlike Mount Everest, which has been topped by thousands of climbers young and old, K2 is a much lonelier place. But this winter, dozens of adventurers converged on the mountain hoping to take the record.

K2 is known as the “Savage Mountain” because of its punishing conditions: winds can blow at more than 200 kilometres per hour (125 miles per hour), and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).

The descent can be just as dangerous as going up.

Saturday’s successful summit was overshadowed by the death of a Spanish climber from another team, Sergi Mingote, lower down the perilous peak.

His body was evacuated from base camp on Sunday to nearby Skardu city by an army helicopter, the Alpine Club of Pakistan’s Karrar Haidri told AFP.

Mingote was at an intermediate camp and fell on his way down to the base camp, injuring his leg, according to his team.

Purja said his team were “deeply saddened to hear that we have lost a friend” and added, “Rest in peace my brother!”

The 10 Nepali climbers had been spread across different expeditions at the start, but formed a new group in order to claim the summit in Nepal’s name, singing the national anthem as they reached the top.

Despite being famed for their climbing expertise, there has never before been a Nepali climber on the first winter ascent of a peak higher than 8,000 metres.

Pakistan felicitates team

Earlier, the government felicitated the team of Nepalese mountaineers for making history by reaching K2’s summit in winter.

Calling the expedition as “one of the most coveted achievements in mountaineering,” the Foreign Office spokesperson wished the climbers a safe return from the peak.

“Pakistan: The ultimate destination of mountaineering,” the spokesperson remarked on Twitter.

The history makers included Nirmal Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Geljen Sherpa, Pem Chiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Mingma G, Dawa Tenjin Sherpa, Kilu Pemba Sherpa and Sona Sherpa.

“The impossible is made possible! #K2winter — History made for mankind, history made for Nepal,” Nirmal Purja tweeted on Saturday.



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Your Monday Briefing

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When he begins his presidency this week, Joe Biden will inherit a collection of crises unlike any in generations — the coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil, racial strife and the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol. He plans to start his administration with dozens of executive directives in a 10-day blitz meant to signal a turning point for the U.S.

According to a memo from his incoming chief of staff, the new president will quickly order the following steps to immediately reverse President Trump’s most hotly contested policies:

  • Rescinding the travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries

  • Rejoining the Paris climate change accord

  • Ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border from Mexico

  • Extending pandemic-related limits on evictions and student loan payments; issuing a mask mandate for federal property and interstate travel

At the end of Trump’s tenure: A lucrative market for pardons is coming to a head, with some of Mr. Trump’s allies collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency.

Potential violence: The atmosphere was tense in Washington and at statehouses across the country over the weekend. In many states, military vehicles and police barricades lined the streets near government buildings and officials braced for the possible influx of pro-Trump protesters ahead of the inauguration on Wednesday. As of Sunday afternoon, there were no reports of violence, but law enforcement and National Guard troops remained on high alert.

The Russian opposition leader, who had been recovering in Germany since August from a near-deadly poisoning, was detained on Sunday night at passport control at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow.

The police also detained some of his supporters who had turned out to greet him at the airport.

Russia’s penitentiary service, which has said that Mr. Navalny was wanted for violating the terms of a prior suspended sentence, released a statement saying that he had been detained pending a court hearing.

Minutes before he was taken into custody, Mr. Navalny gave an impromptu statement to journalists in a transit area at a terminal. “I am not afraid,” he said. “I know that I am right. I know all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.”

Impact: His detention could set off protests and an international backlash. He has accused the Kremlin of trying to murder him in YouTube videos viewed more than 40 million times.

India’s rollout of coronavirus vaccines is one of the most ambitious and complex initiatives in its history. Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the vaccine drive, which started with health care workers, on Saturday during a live television address.

The campaign is unfolding in a country that has reported more than 10.5 million infections, the second-largest caseload after the U.S., and 152,274 deaths, the world’s third-highest tally.

The government had hoped to inoculate about 300,000 people on Saturday, but government data showed that 165,000 people received a shot. The plan is to give the vaccine to millions more health care and frontline workers by the spring.

The supply: Mr. Modi has pledged to inoculate 300 million health care and frontline workers, including police officers and, in some cases, teachers, by July. But the Indian government has purchased only 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and 5.5 million doses of one produced by Bharat Biotech in India.

Vaccines now: The more contagious variant of the virus, discovered in Britain and which has now been detected in more than 50 countries, adds to the urgency of mass vaccination campaigns.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

  • Organizers of the Australian Open tennis tournament are facing a rebellion after nearly four dozen players learned that they would have to observe a strict 14-day quarantine because passengers on their flights to Australia had tested positive for the coronavirus.

  • China’s latest outbreak has been traced to a salesman who appeared at a series of workshops in Jilin province and has been linked to 102 infections that have emerged in recent days. (Read more about China’s outbreak in our Back Story below.)

  • President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming chief of staff warned that the U.S. death toll from the virus will reach 500,000 by the end of February.

When Kamala Harris is sworn in this week, she will represent many firsts: First woman to be vice president. First Black woman. First woman of Indian descent.

And another milestone will be on display: her more expansive version of the American family.

Potential Merkel successor: Armin Laschet was chosen as the next leader of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party ahead of fall elections that will decide who succeeds her as chancellor. Analysts said that the party’s popularity might fizzle when it sinks in that Ms. Merkel is really leaving.

K2 milestone: A Nepali team reached the peak of the world’s second-highest mountain, a feat never before accomplished during winter. K2 rises 28,251 feet, second only to Mount Everest.

Uganda election: President Yoweri Museveni will begin a sixth five-year term after being declared the winner in voting that his rival, Bobi Wine, a 38-year-old rapper-turned-lawmaker, and independent international observers called unfair.

Luxury watch market: For the first time, China is the world’s largest importer of Swiss watches.

Phil Spector: One of the most influential and successful record producers in rock ’n’ roll died on Saturday at the age of 81. The cause was complications of Covid-19. Since 2009, he had been serving a prison sentence for the murder of a nightclub hostess he had taken to his home after a night of drinking in 2003.

What we’re reading: This Mainichi article on a “rent-a-person who does nothing” in Tokyo. It’s a reminder that a presence, sometimes, is all that is needed.

In Shanghai, Keith said, office buildings and apartment compounds are, once again, checking smartphone location tracking codes to ensure that residents haven’t traveled to hot spots. If someone has traveled to a risky area, that person must immediately report to the authorities and enter a home- or government-supervised quarantine.

“Mandatory immediate quarantine ordered by the government, in total isolation, of every symptomatic or asymptomatic person, plus all of their close contacts” has been China’s secret to containing the coronavirus, Keith said. “In some cases, they identify 800 close contacts per person, so their definition of a close contact is not very close at all.”

With the U.S. and Europe in the throes of another brutal surge, there has been a great deal of nationalistic sentiment in China, promoting the country’s approach to the virus. “There are definite worries about the latest outbreaks,” Keith said. “But I have found a quiet confidence among many people that China has beaten this problem before and can do so again.”


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Carole


Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is on a Republican lawmaker who voted to impeach President Trump.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Look forward to (five letters). You can find all of our puzzles here.
Yewande Komolafe and Eric Kim are joining The Times as cooking writers. Readers may remember Yewande’s 10 essential Nigerian recipes and Eric’s explanation of banchan, the small dishes that often accompany Korean meals.



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Pakistan,Turkey have similar interests and challenges: PAF Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan

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Photo: PAF

ISTANBUL: The chief of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan on  Friday said that Pakistan and Turkey “not only share common culture and faith but also have similar interests and challenges.”

He also said that Pakistan and Turkey are two countries, but they are one nation.

According to an official statement released by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), the Air Chief was addressing a meeting comprising board members of the Association of Justice Defenders and Strategic Studies Center (ASSAM) in Turkey.

The Air Chief said that Pakistan fully supports Turkey on Cyprus and other regional issues and also stands by Ankara in its war against terrorism.

The Air Chief also lauded Turkey’s support to Azerbaijan during the latter’s conflict with Armenia to liberate territories occupied for nearly 30 years. 

Referring to the regional situation in South Asia, the Air Chief said that India had been persistently rejecting Pakistan’s repeated and visible peace gestures and continued to sponsor its proxies in Afghanistan to destabilise Pakistan through terrorist activities. 

Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan further added that the ever-deteriorating situation in Kashmir and the plight of its people served as a big question mark for the global community, adding that it has been “unfortunate to see economic interests taking precedence over moral and ethical values.”

During his speech, he thanked the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the foreign minister, and the parliament speaker for their supportive statements on the issue of Kashmir at various international forums.

Expressing his views on the defence cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey, the Air Chief underscored the ever-increasing relationship between the two defence industries and termed the bilateral cooperation as “exemplary”.

He pointed out that the military cooperation must be “built on economic cooperation,” adding that joint projects, exercises, production, training, and technology sharing are leading areas of cooperation between the two countries. Moreover, the Air Chief stressed that in order to cope with contemporary challenges and common interests, both the countries needed to “further strengthen their defence cooperation.”

ASSAM is a think tank founded in Turkey to work for unity and welfare of Muslim countries. Meeting with ASSAM members was the concluding event of the Air Chief’s four-day official visit to Turkey.



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Islamabad police devise security plan for PDM protest outside ECP on January 19

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Photo: File

ISLAMABAD:  Islamabad police on Sunday said that it has devised a security plan for the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s demonstration outside of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on January 19.

As reported by Geo.tv, the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Operations will be supervising the security arrangements and more than 1,800 personnel will be deployed in the city for the purpose.

Per the plan, all those participating in the demonstration will have to park their cars in the general parking area of the Convention Centre, police said.

On Friday, Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed had said the government would not stop the PDM’s protest outside the election commission if “they abide by the law and Constitution.”

He said the Opposition could “practise its constitutional right” and the government would “not create any hurdle for its protest,” but emphasised that the “law would take its course if the Opposition tries to create unrest in the capital.”

PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on January 6 announced the movement will hold a demonstration in front of the ECP to protest the alleged delay in the decision on the foreign funding case against the ruling PTI.

The ECP scrutiny committee has been asked to check the official record of two US companies registered on PTI chairperson Imran Khan’s instructions in the foreign funding case.

Background of the case against PTI

Akbar S Babar, a founding member of the PTI, had filed a case against the Imran Khan-led party in November 2014 claiming in his petition that there were massive financial irregularities in the handling of foreign funding to the tune of nearly $3 million.

Following the petition, the PTI challenged the ECP orders in the IHC in 2017.

In the same year, the IHC sent back the case to the electoral body to review its jurisdiction once again. In the case, the high court had also declared Babar as a member of the ruling PTI.

Later, on May 8, 2017, an ECP bench stated that the body had complete jurisdiction over the case.

In March 2018, a scrutiny committee was formed to look into PTI’s foreign funding accounts to determine if there was any wrongdoing.

The PTI at multiple times has sought secrecy in the scrutiny and had also approached the ECP, in this regard. However, in October 2019, the ECP turned down the party’s request.

The PTI chief at multiple times has accused the ECP of working for the interests of the Opposition in the case.



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Three PIA officers under probe after KL plane seizure

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A PIA aircraft pictured up close on a runway. — AFP/File

Following the seizure of a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport two days ago, three officers of the airline are being probed.

The national carrier is investigating officers of the marketing, engineering and flight operations departments.

Records of the three departments are also being scrutinised.

Two days ago, PIA flight PK894 had reached Kuala Lumpur from Islamabad but was stopped by a court order for non-payment of lease.

The national carried had leased a Boeing 777 from Dublin-based AerCap in 2015.  According to Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar, the airline did not make payments in 2020 due to the coronavirus.

According to the interim injunction, PIA is restrained from moving two aircraft in its fleet — a Boeing 777- 200ER with serial number 32716 and a Boeing 777- 200ER with serial number 32717 — once they have landed or parked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport until a further hearing on the matter later this month.

Sources told Geo News that PIA had to bear more than Rs10 million for the return of passengers from Malaysia.

Apparently, the leased aircraft was sent abroad despite having 12 Boeing 777s available.

Air operations to and from Europe and the United Kingdom have been suspended for several months, and in the event of a case involving an aircraft, it is operated within the country.

Barrage of complaints after passengers return

On the other hand, upon arrival in Islamabad, the passengers that had been stranded in Kuala Lumpur lodged a number of complaints.

Of the passengers, 118 reached Islamabad airport aboard a foreign flight via Dubai earlier on Saturday night while 65 passengers reached Islamabad via Doha around 2:30am.

The passengers were reportedly not allowed to give statements to the media. Those that managed to do so alleged that PIA did not inform them about non-payment of the aircraft’s lease and instead said there were “technical difficulties”. They also claimed they were not given food or accommodation in a hotel till an alternative flight was arranged.

Moreover, several passengers said their luggage is still stuck in Kuala Lumpur.

This runs in contrast to statements from PIA on the day of the incident, whereby the airline said it would “look after” the disembarked passengers while an alternate flight is arranged.

‘CAA disapproves PIA’s attitude’

Sources said that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has expressed its displeasure with PIA’s “irresponsible attitude and maladministration,” claiming that PIA seemed to be “unaware of international civil aviation leasing laws.”

“When PIA knew that Boeing-777 was involved in a court case, why did it allow the aircraft to fly abroad?” the CAA has raised the question, per sources. “Wasn’t PIA aware of the fact that violating international civil aviation laws will embarrass the country?”

Case against PIA for non-payment of lease dues

According to sources, the leasing company had filed a case against PIA in a UK court in October 2020 for its failure to pay the leasing fee, worth about $14 million, which had been pending for a period of six months.

In response, the PIA had maintained that since the COVID-19 pandemic had seriously affected the aviation industry, there should be a reduction in the overhead charges.

In the meanwhile, the leasing company kept an eye on the activities of PIA, and as soon as it received the information of Flight 895’s scheduled landing in Malaysia, it appealed to the Malaysian court to seize the aircraft as per the international civil aviation leasing laws, sources added.

On the other hand, the national flag carrier has argued that the Malaysian court took a one-sided decision and that the court did not reach out to the airline for comment.



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Govt fails to provide BRT Peshawar passengers working bathrooms

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Photos of the dirty bathroom area posted on Twitter in September, a mere month after the project’s launch.

The BRT was inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan in Peshawar in August last year, but five months down the line, passengers have yet to be provided working bathrooms.

Empty bathroom stalls have turned into piles of rubbish due to lack of water and sanitation equipment in the bathrooms.

Moreover, the stalls are reportedly taken over by drug addicts after sundown.

Additionally, three commercial plazas were also to be built to increase the project’s revenue, which are still incomplete.

The Peshawar Development Authority director-general said that construction work was halted due to “problems with the contractors” and claimed it will be resumed in the next 20 to 25 days.

“The work on bathrooms and commercial plazas will be completed soon,” he said.



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Shibli Faraz asks Opposition to quit ‘hiding behind rallies’, submit records to ECP

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Minister for Information Shibli Faraz (L) gesturing to the “40,000 entries” submitted by PTI to the scrutiny committee of the Election Commmission of Pakistan, and Parliamentary Secretary for Railways Farrukh Habib, during a press conference in Islamabad, on January 17, 2021. — PID

Minister for Information Shibli Faraz on Sunday asked the Opposition parties to quit “hiding behind rallies” and submit details of their funding to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s scrutiny committee.

Faraz, addressing a press conference in Islamabad, said that the PTI has turned in all the information sought by the ECP pertaining to the party’s funding and now it is the Opposition parties’ turn.

The minister spoke about Pakistan Democratic Movement, the 11-party Opposition alliance which is due to stage a protest outside the Election Commission of Pakistan on January 19, and said that it is a “sorry attempt by them to attempt to repeat a pack of lies so much that it starts to seem like the truth”.

The Opposition has demanded that facts in the case be made public by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“The drama they have staged, [it must be realised], this is not about PTI, it is about all of us. And we have provided an authenticated, notorised record of all the information from our end.

“Now it is their duty to come tomorrow, instead of the day after and tell the people whether it is really us who are thieves who have provided all proof,” the minister said.

He said that after the Opposition parties’ performance over the last two-three months, the Pakistan Democratic Movement is “a thing of the past”.

“They must submit their record to the scrutiny committee instead of hiding behind rallies,” said Faraz.

‘PTI has turned in 40,000 entries’

The minister said that following orders by the Supreme Court, the PTI had provided all the details of the donations received by “party workers and sympathisers” during the 2018 election campaign.

He then proceeded to state that these entries are 40,000 in number with names, addresses, telephone numbers, ID card numbers — all notorised and authenticated.

The minster said that all transactions came “through proper banking channels and were deposited into PTI’s bank accounts”.

He said the details are available for reporters to see after the press conference.

Faraz noted that under the orders of the Supreme Court, and as has been the practice, after the election symbol is given to a party, it is bound to provide accounts for the past 5 years.

‘Now it is the Opposition’s turn’

“We have done [our due diligence] but now the matter has fallen to them (Opposition) to provide proof of their funding — PPP, PML-N and Maulana Fazlur Rehman — and the big expenditures they make with the help of vested interest groups.

“They do this so that when they come into power, they can facilitate these people in every illegal task […] such as sending money abroad or bringing money to Pakistan, or money laundering […] they never responded to the scrutiny committee about all this,” he said.

Faraz then read out a passage from a letter by the ECP in the case of Farrukh Habib vs PML-N.

“Though the committee has tried its level best to collect the relevant record, the respondent party was reluctant to submit the record asked for by the committee from time to time and the committee was constrained to adjourn the proceedings for provision of information as per the TORs (terms of reference).”

He explained that the ECP had asked the PML-N to provide the ID card numbers and other information of people who had made donations to the party. “But these people are not handing over any information.”

“Their approach has always been that instead of answering the questions put to them, they say “he is also a thief’,” Faraz said.

The minister said that the Opposition parties are all “playing a game of hypocrisy”, whether it is the Peoples Party or the N-League, or Maulana Fazlur Rehman — “who believes that a state without him is incomplete”.

He said that the parties had historically always acted out of their own interest in its dealings, “whether it is with the Securities and Exchange Commission, NAB (National Accountability Bureau) or FIA (Federal Investigation Agency)”.

“They never sought to serve the people. They proclaim they undertook so many developmental projects but they took commission from these very projects,” said the minister, adding that the Opposition parties have always viewed the law to be “different for them and different for the rest”.

“They have made an unsuccessful attempt to pressurise institutions,” he added.

‘Opposition parties themselves a product of foreign funding’

Parliamentary Secretary for Railways Farrukh Habib, taking over the briefing, questioned how it is that the PML-N and PPP are staging a protest outside the ECP.

He said that for the past four years, the two parties avoided submitting a record of their funding to the ECP scrutiny committee and the November 5 deadline has long since passed.

Habib said that “those who are speaking of the foreign funding case, are themselves are the product of foreign funding”.

He repeated Faraz’s statement that this scrutiny is not limited to the PTI but extends to all parties.

“We will not let these parties get away. They will have to provide answers,” the parliamentary secretary vowed.



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Nepali Team Says It Has Reached K2 Summit in a Wintertime First

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KATHMANDU, Nepal — A Nepali mountain-climbing team said Saturday that it had reached the peak of K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, a feat never before accomplished during winter.

“The impossible is made possible!” the team leader Nirmal Purja wrote on Facebook. “History made for mankind. History made for Nepal!”

Seven Summit Treks, an expedition company organizing the effort, said the 10 climbers had gotten to the peak on Saturday afternoon, conquering what it called “Savage Mountain” during the most dangerous climbing season.

Climbers say K2 is one of the toughest mountains to ascend even in more forgiving spring weather.

“Standing atop Mount K2 in winter is a historical and remarkable job,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, a former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. “Nepali climbers proved their mountaineering skills. It’s a proud moment.”

K2 rises 28,251 feet, second only to Mount Everest. Part of the Karakoram range in northern Pakistan, near China, K2 was considered to be the last of the world’s 14 tallest mountains to be climbed in winter.

It was tested this time by a team led by Mr. Purja, 37, who has set records before. In 2019, Mr. Purja reached the summit of each of the world’s 14 highest mountains in just over six months, a milestone for climbers.

Seven Summit Treks touted Saturday’s ascent as a landmark achievement and a testament to teamwork, but it also noted the risks still awaiting the climbers.

“It’s K2 and it’s winter, still many uncertain things may occur, we never know,” the company wrote. “Hope everyone descends to the base camp safely.”

The climbers, part of a larger team, have endured temperatures of minus-58 degrees during a journey that began in mid-December. They undertook the effort amid the coronavirus pandemic as well: Only those who had tested negative for Covid-19 were allowed to land in Pakistan and climb the mountain.

Climbers at the K2 base camp were thrilled by the ascent while acknowledging the risk that remains. “Here it is big excitement,” Lakpa Dendi Sherpa said in an interview from base camp. “We are praying for their safe descent.”

Mingma Sherpa, the chairman of Seven Summit Treks, said in an interview that the other climbers were waiting to scale the mountain after the first team fixed its rope to the summit. “But it’s not sure whether the weather permits them to climb.”





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Oil prices in need of further action, again

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Oil prices fall on weaker demand growth, surprise gain in US crude stocks


Millions in lockdown has naturally lead to a decline in oil demand
Image Credit: Pixabay

Oil prices have come under strong pressure last week as the number of new COVID-19 infections rose dramatically following a significant increase in the crude prices in the past few months on the back of bullish expectations with the roll out of coronavirus vaccine across the world.

Oil futures in New York tumbled 2.3 per cent on Friday as the dollar strengthened, and US consumer sentiment index came in lower than previously expected due to the resurgence in virus infections, which raised new concerns over an economic recovery. Oil prices last week hit an 11-month high above $57 a barrel this week, supported by OPEC+ supply restraint and a voluntary cut by Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, a number of cities in China, the largest importer of oil in the world, are reportedly bringing back lockdowns and other strict COVID-19 measures after the country on Friday reported the highest number of daily coronavirus cases in more than 10 months. Millions in lockdown has naturally lead to a decline in oil demand.

Moreover, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) reported on Thursday an increase in US shale oil production due to the recent rally in the price, which means more oil is being pumped in the market, reducing the price. A significant rebound in shale could hamper efforts by Opec and its allies to support the market.

Despite the pullback in oil futures, vaccine breakthroughs and Saudi Arabia’s decision to trim a million barrels per day from production in February and March are expected to support prices. The oil market is still strong and likely to remain in that position as analysts remain confident that investors’ appetite for commodities such as oil appears to be increasing rapidly following the recent price rally.

However, opposing factors- China’s declining demand, US sluggish economic data and the rise in COVID-19 cases and renewed lockdowns in Asia and Europe, will certainly lead to another pullback in prices unless Opec and non- Opec members work together to limit the supply to support the prices. Nobody is interested in seeing a 2020 like deterioration in the price.

Opec, with the support of OPEC+, through cooperation, succeeded in lifting the prices in 2020 following their fall to their lowest in 17 years- in April, Brent oil prices traded at less than $27 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) was at $23 per barrel. The market is currently in need of another round of agreed formula to prevent a steep decline in prices as the COVID-19 seems to put a lid on global demand in the first quarter of the year.



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IBCC says SSC and HSSC exams to be held in May-June

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An AFP representational image.

The Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSSC) examinations will be held in May and June 2021, the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) said on Sunday.

In a statement issued on Twitter, IBCC said that the examination will be held according to the existing pattern of the question paper. “Results will be announced before the end of August,” it added.

It was decided in the meeting of the IBCC steering committee, held on January 11, that the ideal date for SSC exams is May 24. 



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Punjab’s first STEM competition announced

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An AFP representational image.

LAHORE: First STEM  (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) competition has been announced by the Punjab School Education Department. 

Sharing details of the competition, the provincial department said students of elementary and high schools can submit one-minute videos on following themes to win the title of “Super Scientists”.

The themes are:

Viruses

Energy

Calculus

Astronomy

Area and volume

Environment

Agriculture

Physical science

The videos must be submitted via WhatsApp to the SDP of the respective districts before January 18, 2020.

“The competition is aimed at engaging students in marvels of practical & experimental science cultivating in improved cognitive abilities,” said Punjab Education Minister Dr Murad Raas. 



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Migrant Caravan, Now in Guatemala, Could Pose Early Test for Biden

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Thousands of migrants from Honduras have entered Guatemala and plan to continue north to the United States, potentially posing an early test of the immigration policies of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has pledged to ease the Trump administration’s restrictions on asylum.

After a few hundred people were able to push past the border police on Friday, thousands more followed into Guatemala on Saturday. Officials have said that between 7,000 and 9,000 people entered the country, many bypassing coronavirus checks.

The government of Guatemala said that it “regrets this violation of national sovereignty and calls on Central American governments to take actions to avoid putting their inhabitants, as well as the communities through which these people pass, at risk in the face of the pandemic.”

The migrants are expected to face continued obstacles along their route. The Guatemalan authorities set up checkpoints, blocked parts of the caravan not far from where it entered Guatemala and could begin returning some of the migrants home by bus, The Associated Press reported.

The Mexican authorities have posted additional troops and immigration officers along the country’s southern border in anticipation of the caravan.

“In our national territory, we have to guarantee orderly, safe and regular migration, with respect for human rights and humanitarian policies,” Francisco Garduño Yáñez, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said in a statement on Friday.

Members of the group told reporters they were driven to escape crime, poverty and homelessness exacerbated by the pandemic and two hurricanes late last year.

“We have nothing to feed to our children, and thousands of us were left sleeping on the streets,” Maria Jesus Paz, a mother of four children, told the Reuters news agency. She said her family had lost their home in the storms, forcing them to flee.

“This is why we make this decision, even though we know that the journey could cost us our lives,” she added.

The back-to-back hurricanes that hit Central America in November “destroyed livelihoods in a region that was already facing an economic crisis and where the incomes of thousands of families had already been seriously reduced due to the pandemic,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday.

The Trump administration made a series of deals with Mexico and Central American countries to bar migrants from reaching the United States. Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said on Saturday that Guatemala was continuing to enforce that agreement.

“Guatemala continues to support the regional alliance committed to safe, orderly, and legal migration and protect public health during the global pandemic,” Mr. Morgan said on Twitter. Guatemala’s immigration agency “is already returning caravan members to Honduras after they illegally entered Guatemala.”

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Biden has said he would move quickly to undo the tougher restrictions on asylum enacted by the Trump administration, which disqualified people who did not seek protection on their way to the United States and forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.

But last month, Mr. Biden, in an effort to avert a rush for the border, said such changes could not be put in place immediately after he takes office and that his administration would need “probably the next six months” to develop a more “humane policy” for processing migrants.

“It will get done and it will get done quickly, but it’s not going to be able to be done on Day 1,” Mr. Biden said.





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