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NEWS IN BRIEF

THE FUTURE UNLEASHED: PAKISTAN LAUNCHES WORLD’S FIRST AI TV TALK SHOW

Pakistan emerged as the world’s leader in AI Technology by launching the world’s first AI Talk Show with the name “AI TALK”. The show is hosted by AI Anchor Dr. Kaiser and the show becomes very interesting when two foreign AIs and one Pakistani AI joins the show as a guest and analysts. Dr. Kaiser Rafiq who’s the CEO of Discover Pakistan HD Tv is a visionary leader with eyes on innovations and new technologies. It was his idea to develop his human-like AI with more than 700 facial and body movements with the cloning of his voice. The show was so real that most of the viewers thought there was no AI in the show but the show reached a climax when the real Dr. Kaiser the CEO of Discover Pakistan entered the show and talked to his own AI. A representative of Discover Pakistan stated that this will be a regular show now on Discover Pakistan and it will be a game changer for the media industry. He further stated that we are not going to replace human anchors with AI anchors but through this show, we want to prove to the world that AI’s are real and already here. We can use AI’s to increase our productivity and AI’s can be used to provide education and training at the friction of costs. “We would also like to use Artificial intelligence to promote tourism in Pakistan” said Dr. Kaiser Rafiq, CEO of Discover Pakistan HD TV.

IMF RAISES 2023 ECONOMIC OUTLOOK BUT WARNS OF SLOWING GLOBAL GROWTH

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) slightly upgraded its outlook for world growth this year, forecasting 3% growth in 2023 and 2024. This comes after resilient service sector activity in the first quarter and a strong labor market. However, growth is expected to slow, with weak growth among advanced economies contributing to this trend. Global inflation is now projected to increase by 6.8% this year, mainly due to subdued inflation in China. The IMF has raised the growth outlook for the US to 1.8% this year, but it is expected to slip to 1.0% next year as pandemic savings dry up. Much of the global growth is expected to come from emerging market and developing economies like India and China. Among G7 economies, Germany is the only one expected to contract this year, while the UK’s growth forecast has been lifted to 0.4%. Among EMDEs, India’s growth prospects have been raised to 6.1%, and Russia’s economy is now expected to grow by 1.5% this year.

RECORD GRAIN HARVEST EYED AS MARKET UNDER PRESSURE

The 2023-2024 season is expected to witness a record grain harvest worldwide, particularly in maize and rice production. The International Grain Council (IGC) predicts a total of 2.3 billion tonnes of grains (excluding rice), slightly higher than the previous season. Maize production has increased by 5.5 percent, reaching 1.2 billion tonnes, mainly due to expanded acreage in the United States and a record harvest in Brazil. Rice production, the primary grain consumed by people, is expected to rise by 2.5 percent, reaching 527 million tonnes. However, the wheat harvest is projected to be 784 million tonnes, slightly lower than last year due to a rise in consumption and concerns about geopolitical risks, including the war in Ukraine and low wheat stocks. Despite uncertainties, global demand for maize remains strong, driven by increased consumption for animal feed, particularly in Asia. Additionally, concerns about weather conditions, such as the El Nino phenomenon in Asia and geopolitical tensions, are influencing grain prices. Notably, India, the world’s top rice exporter, has banned non-basmati white rice exports to ensure domestic availability and control rising prices. Nevertheless, global rice stocks are relatively ample, providing some comfort amid rising food prices.

HUMANITARIAN AID IN NORTHWEST SYRIA IS DYING OUT

Russia’s recent veto on the UN mandate has left 4.1 million people in northwest Syria without life-saving humanitarian assistance and essential resources. The Bab Al-Hawa crossing, through which 85% of UN assistance used to transit, has been closed for two weeks, and not a single truck has been able to cross. The conflict zone, considered rebel-held territory, has civilians caught in the crossfire, with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russia launching attacks. The UN has been forced to use alternative crossings, but they are not as efficient as Bab Al-Hawa. Conditions set by Assad for aid provision are deemed unsafe and unworkable by the UN. Extreme heat and the 2023 earthquake have worsened the displacement crisis, with 2.9 million internally displaced people in the region. Some neighboring countries are forcibly and voluntarily sending Syrian refugees back to their homeland, but Amnesty International warns that no part of Syria is safe for returnees.

IRAN, PAKISTAN MILITARY CHIEFS MEET

General Asim Munir, Pakistan’s Army chief, traveled to Tehran to meet with Iran’s Army’s Chief of Staff, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, to talk about a wide range of topics of mutual interest, including the expansion of bilateral relations. The relationship between the two countries has been fraught because Iran has often been subjected to attacks from Pakistani militants. A statement said: “Military commanders on both sides agreed that terrorism was a common threat to the region in general and both countries in particular. They vowed to eradicate menace of terrorism in the border areas through intelligence sharing and effective actions against the terrorists’ networks, and explore avenues for enhancing cooperation in security domain.” Munir also met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amire Abdollahain and discussed the importance of bilateral relations for regional peace and stability.

TTP SAFE HAVENS IN AFGHANISTAN: COAS VOICES ANGER, VOWS FIRM ACTION

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Syed Asim Munir visited Quetta Garrison on Friday where he was briefed on recent terrorist attack in Zhob. According to a press statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) here, the COAS paid rich tribute to the Shuhada, visited the injured soldiers at CMH, Quetta, lauded their services to the nation and appreciated their resolve. The Armed Forces of Pakistan have serious concerns on the safe havens and liberty of action available to TTP in Afghanistan. It is expected that interim Afghan government would not allow the use of its soil to perpetrate terror against any country, in the real sense and in line with commitments made in Doha Agreement, the military’s media wing said. As per ISPR, the involvement of Afghan nationals in acts of terrorism in Pakistan is another important concern that needs to be addressed. Such attacks are intolerable and would elicit effective response from the Security Forces of Pakistan. Operations against terrorists would continue unabated and the Armed Forces shall not rest till the menace of terrorism is rooted out from the country. Earlier on arrival, the COAS was received by Commander Quetta Corps.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023.

FACING A CLIMATE CRISIS, NUCLEAR ENERGY CAN BE A VIABLE OPTION FOR PAKISTAN

By Summaiya Malik

Pakistan is still reeling from the record-breaking heatwaves that hit the subcontinent in April, leading to electricity and water shortages, crop damages, and deaths. The record temperatures are further evidence of the devastating impact climate change has already had on the subcontinent and are a forewarning of increasing climate-induced disasters in the years to come. Pakistan ranks 8th for the countries most impacted by climate change between 2000-2019, and much of South Asia is likely to bear disproportionate costs of global climate change. However, shifting to nuclear energy could help answer Pakistan’s climate woes. Although Pakistan’s carbon footprint is far less than other developed and developing nations, the impact that Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions has on Pakistan is devastating. The country can undertake changes to make its energy production more sustainable in the long-term. Currently, around 60 percent of Pakistan’s power comes from unsustainable thermal sources, which contribute to GHGs.1 Pakistan needs to work towards cleaner-energy sources and nuclear energy offers an opportunity. Boosting share of nuclear energy (a zero-emission source) in energy mix offers Pakistan bright prospects of an environment-friendly and equitable power-generation. In the long-term, Pakistan should look for ways to increase nuclear energy’s share in its power production to reduce the harmful impacts of climate change that it faces.

A MOVE TOWARDS NUCLEAR ENERGY

Pakistan’s energy sector relies heavily on fossil fuels, and its emissions are growing in correspondence to the usage of oil, gas, and coal, and the deepening climate crisis. Global warming places constraints on the efficiency of energy systems. As temperatures rise, there is a larger energy demand owing to an increased use of water- and air- cooling systems. Pakistan’s energy demand has gone from 40 Million Tons of Oil Equivalent (MTOE) to 84 MTOE over the last decade in sync with rising temperatures. Meeting energy demand will therefore require not only a clean but also an efficient energy source.

PROMOTIONS IN PAKISTAN ARMY: 32 BRIGADIERS ELEVATED TO RANK OF MAJOR GENERAL OUT OF THE 32, EIGHT OFFICERS BELONG TO THE ARMY MEDICAL CORPS

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Tuesday announced promotion of 32 brigadiers in the Pakistan Army to the rank of major general. The promotion, presided by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was held at the General Headquarters today, as mentioned in a statement released by the military’s media wing. The ISPR’s statement also shared names of the brigadiers who received promotion. Those promoted to the rank of major general include Brigadier Omer Naseem, Brigadier Syed Abbas Ali, Brigadier Muhammad Abbas, Brigadier Muhammad Shahid Abro, Brigadier Luqman Hafeez, Brigadier Mohammad Yasir Elahi, Brigadier Adeel Haider Minhas, Brigadier Syed Ali Raza, Brigadier Shahid Pervaiz, Brigadier Ahsan Waqas Kayani, Brigadier Azhar Yasin, Brigadier Qaisar Suleman, Brigadier Haroon Ishaq Raja, Brigadier Aamer Amin, Brigadier Haroon Hameed Chaudhary, Brigadier Waseem Iftikhar Cheema, Brigadier Muhammad Hussain, Brigadier Shoaib Bin Akram, Brigadier Kashif Khalil, Brigadier Kashif Abdullah, Brigadier Amjad Hanif, Brigadier Faisal Naseer, Brigadier Ahmad Kamal and Brigadier Saeed Ur Rehman Sarwar, said the statement. The ISPR further shared that those approved from Army Medical Corps include Brigadier Tufail Ahmad, Brigadier Rizwan Sadiq, Brigadier Ijaz Ahmad, Brigadier Nadeem Fazal, Brigadier Shoaib Ahmed, Brigadier Tahir Masood Ahmad, Brigadier Waseem Ahmad Khan and Brigadier Sohail Sabir.

PAKISTAN ALLOWS BARTER TRADE WITH IRAN, AFGHANISTAN, RUSSIA

Pakistan has authorized barter trade with Iran, Afghanistan and Russia  on specific goods, including petroleum and gas, to bypass Western sanctions on those countries and ease pressure on its declining foreign exchange reserves. The Ministry of Commerce said Friday that its order, the Business-to-Business Barter Trade Mechanism 2023, “shall come into force at once.” Pakistan, a country of about 230 million people, is scrambling to manage a balance of payments crisis and rein in skyrocketing inflation. This week, the country’s central bank reported that its foreign currency reserves had fallen to just over $4 billion, barely enough to cover one month’s imports. Inflation hit an unprecedented annual rate of nearly 38% last month, official data showed. The barter trade mechanism lists 26 commodities that Pakistani state and privately owned entities can export to Afghan, Iranian and Russian markets. In exchange, they can import crude oil, liquid natural gas, liquid propane gas, chemical products, fertilizers, fruits, wheat, industrial machinery and vegetables from the three countries. Although the United States has designated third-party sanctions on those buying Iranian oil, it might overlook a barter deal. Pakistan is set to receive its first shipment of Russian discounted crude oil later this month. Islamabad, which has shared few details on the deal with Moscow, has not clarified how payment would be made. State Minister for Petroleum Musadik Malik said Islamabad would buy only Russian crude oil, not refined products, under the deal, saying purchases could rise to 100,000 barrels per day if the first transaction goes smoothly. “The 100,000 tons of Russian oil will reach Pakistan by the end of the first week or at the beginning of the second [week] in June,” he told reporters last week. Last month, Pakistan and Iran jointly inaugurated the first of the six border markets the countries are building to enhance bilateral trade cooperation. The Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association complained last month that up to 35% of the diesel sold in the country had been smuggled from Iran. The countries share a nearly 900-kilometer border. Pakistan has fenced most of that frontier to deter illegal movement in either direction. Despite the fencing, regional traders and residents allege smuggling, particularly of petroleum products, is facilitated by Iranian and Pakistani border guards, charges officials in both countries reject. Pakistan’s bilateral trade with Afghanistan, especially the import of Afghan coal, has dramatically increased since the Taliban seized control of the landlocked neighboring country in August 2021. The two countries conduct trade mostly in cash while using a barter mechanism for certain goods. The hardline de facto Afghan authorities’ return to power prompted Western nations to terminate all economic assistance for the largely aid-dependent nation and impose banking sector sanctions, effectively blocking Afghanistan from conducting regular trade with other countries.

GWADAR SEA PORT TO BECOME ONE OF THE BEST IN THE WORLD

Shehbaz Sharif says true implementation of SIFC vision will bring in revolution in country n Visits Expo Centre in Gwadar, performs groundbreaking of several development projects n Says prosperity of Pakistan depends upon stability and mainstreaming of Balochistan n Regrets negative and sick mentality marred the situation in mineral-rich province. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif Thursday said that the concerted efforts and true implementation of the vision of the Special Investment Facilitation Council would usher in the revolution and guarantee the prosperity of 220 million people of Pakistan. “The SIFC (Special Investment Facilitation Council) is the biggest motivating engine and vision for Pakistan’s progress and prosperity. Nothing can impede our progress, if we follow this vision. This will bring in revolution,” the prime minister said addressing the inauguration ceremony of multiple development projects here. The prime minister unveiled the plaques to inaugurate Khuzdar-Panjgur transmission line; construction of a two-lane Khuzdar-Basima road; water supply and distribution scheme; 1.2MGD RO Desalination Pant; and initiation of Gwadar Port dredging. He broke ground for the rehabilitation and upgradation of Awaran-Naal and Awaran-Jhal Jaho roads; Khuzdar section of M8; Gwadar Safe City project; and the establishment of the University of Gwadar. He also unveiled the plaque marking the completion of airside infrastructure (runway, taxiway and apron) at New Gwadar International Airport. Lauding the vision and efforts of Chief of the Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir – also present at the ceremony – for the establishment of SIFC, the PM said a mechanism had been established to attract investment and put the country on the course of progress.

SENATE PASSES PAK ARMY (AMEND) BILL 2023

Bill proposes five-year jail for disclosing sensitive information about country’s security. The Senate on Thursday passed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill, 2023 that seeks up to five years in jail for anyone who discloses sensitive information pertaining to the security of the country or the Pakistan Army. The bill that seeks to amend the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 proposed that “anyone who discloses or causes to be disclosed any information, acquired in official capacity, which is or may be prejudicial to the security and interest of Pakistan or the armed forces of Pakistan, shall be … punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years”.

CHINA ROLLS OVER $2BN LOAN TO PAKISTAN

Finance minister Ishaq Dar said on Friday that China had rolled over a $2 billion loan that matured last week, providing relief during the nation’s acute balance of payment crisis. Locking in a rollover had been critical for Pakistan, where reserves have dipped to just four weeks’ worth of imports and talks over an IMF bailout tranche of $1.1 billion have hit a stalemate. “I am happy to confirm that this had been rolled over on March 23,” Dar told the Senate, referring to the maturity date. He said all concerned documentation had been completed. Neither the government in Beijing nor the Chinese central bank responded to requests for comment on the rollover. Dar’s comments were the first official announcement of the rollover after the loan matured. Dar did not give the new maturity date or other terms of the arrangement. A top finance ministry official told Reuters on Wednesday that a formal confirmation of the refinancing would be made after the process was completed. Islamabad has been negotiating with the IMF since early February for the release of $1.1 billion from a $6.5 billion bailout package agreed in 2019. One of the IMF’s conditions for the release of the tranche is assurance of external financing to fund Pakistan’s balance of payments. Longtime ally Beijing is the only help Islamabad has got so far, with refinancing of $1.8 billion credited last month to Pakistan’s central bank.

PAKISTAN WARNS INDIA AGAINST ANY MISADVENTURE

By Shafqat Ali

FO says Indian remarks reflect India’s hostility against its neighbours & Pakistan committed to regional peace & Kashmir internationally recognised dispute. Pakistan yesterday warned Indus against any misadventure saying it has the capability to defend itself against any aggression, as evidenced by its forceful response to India’s actions in February 2019. Speaking at a weekly news briefing here, Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zehra Baloch strongly condemned the provocative statement made by India’s Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh. The Indian media had quoted him saying that the Indian army will not hesitate to cross the Line of Control if necessary. Baloch termed these remarks as unwarranted and completely unacceptable, reflecting India’s hostility towards its neighbors, especially Pakistan. She urges India to exercise utmost caution, as their aggressive rhetoric posed a threat to regional peace and stability, further destabilizing the strategic environment in South Asia. “Pakistan commits to acting responsibly and contributing to efforts that promote peace, security, and stability in the region,” she said. The Spokesperson emphasized that Jammu and Kashmir was an internationally-recognized disputed territory, and New Delhi should focus on implementing relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Baloch said Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had an active agenda over the last several days. “The FM held important telephone conversations with a number of his counterparts and leaders of international organizations and institutions,” she added. She elaborated that the FM held talks with Foreign Minister of Iran, Dr. Hossien Amir Abdollahian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Türkiye, Hakan Fidan, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, Organization of Islamic Cooperation Secretary General, Hissein Brahmin Taha, and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell.

4 PAK FIRMS SIGN MOU FOR COLLABORATION WITH SAUDI ARAMCO FOR $10B GREEN REFINERY PROJECT

By Fawad Yousafzai

MoU also signed with Chinese firm to award EPC contract for refinery project at Gwadar Port. Four Pakistani state-owned oil and gas companies Thursday signed an MoU for collaboration with Saudi Aramco for executing $10 billion green refinery project at strategic Gwadar Port, paving way for commercial negotiation of the contract.  While fulfilling the preconditions of Saudi Arabia, an MoU was also signed with Chinese firm to award EPC contract for the refinery project Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL), Pakistan State Oil (PSO), Pakistan Petroleum Limited (PPL), and Government Holdings Private Limited (GHPL) have signed the MoU for collaboration through a joint investment strategy.

PAKISTAN, AUSTRALIA AGREE TO EXPAND MILITARY COOPERATION

Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC), General Sahir Shamshad Mirza, is on an official visit to Australia from July 24 to 28 July for Defence and Security Talks and 1.5 Track Security Dialogue. During the visit, the CJCSC met high-ranking civilian and military leadership including General Angus J. Campbell, Chief of Defence Forces Australia. In the meetings, both militaries agreed to further expand military-to-military cooperation, an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) news release said. In the meetings, both militaries agreed to further expand military-to-military cooperation. In February last year, General Campbell called on former army chief to discuss military-to-military cooperation, overall regional security situation and bilateral cooperation in various fields. Australia assures to facilitate further improvement in diplomatic cooperation at all levels and pledged to enhance military cooperation between the two forces, the communiqué added. The CJCSC also visited Royal Military College and addressed the participants of the Australian Defence College.

ARMED MILITIAS RULE MANIPUR AS INDIAN FORCES FAIL TO CONTROL CLASHES

‘It is state-sponsored ethnic cleansing against local residents’. Schoolboys turned militia fighters stare towards their enemies from their hilltop outpost, as the vigilante gunmen dig in for a long fight in India’s troubled Manipur state. Three months ago, 16-year-old Paominthang was a student from the farming Kuki people who dreamed of being a football star — now he is armed with a .303 rifle and says he is ready to kill rival Meitei community fighters if needed.   At least 120 people have been killed since May in armed clashes between the predominantly Hindu Meitei majority and the mainly Christian Kuki in the northeastern state. Many in Manipur believe the number could be higher. Paominthang, who gave only one name for fear of reprisal, said he abandoned his books after a Meitei mob attacked his family. “They burnt down my house — I had no other choice,” he told AFP, cradling his gun proudly and insisting he had no qualms about using it in defence.  “I will shoot,” he said. Conflict erupted from a mix of causes including competition for land and public jobs, with rights activists accusing local leaders of exacerbating ethnic divisions for political gain. They deny that, but months into the crisis, divisions are hardening into bitter cycles of revenge attacks that have included killings and the burning of homes, Christian churches and Hindu temples.

‘TTP LOOKING TO MERGE WITH AL QAEDA TO EXPAND INFLUENCE’

By Anwar Iqbal

The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) might be seeking a merger with Al Qaeda to create an umbrella organisation that shelters all militant groups operating in South Asia, warned a monitoring report submitted to the UN Security Council. “Some UN member states registered concern that TTP might provide an umbrella under which a range of foreign groups operate, or even coalesce, avoiding attempts at control by the Taliban,” the report added. The report, compiled by a UN committee that monitors terrorist activities across the globe, endorsed Pakistan’s complaint that the banned TTP has increased its influence in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. “One member state noted the possibility of Al Qaeda and TTP merging. It assessed Al Qaeda to be providing guidance to TTP for conducting increased attacks within Pakistan,” the report warned.

PAKISTAN CALLS FOR ACCOUNTABILITY OF ISRAEL FOR CRIMES IN PALESTINE

Pakistan has urged the UN Security Council to “fully and forcefully” implement its resolutions on the Middle East conflict that give the right of self-determination to Palestinian people. Addressing a meeting of the 15-member UNSC on Thursday, Ambassador Munir Akram strongly condemned the recent large-scale Israeli military’s operations in Jenin in the Occupied West Bank, and called for holding Israel accountable for its grave human rights violations and crimes in Occupied Palestine. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the killing of children, women, and men continues in Occupied Palestine with complete impunity. The rule of law can be upheld only if it is applied universally and consistently, without exceptions or double standards.” The envoy regretted that Security Council had not been able to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in Occupied Palestine. “It is also incumbent on all states to ensure that any impediment to the exercise of the right to self-determination by the Palestinian people is immediately terminated,” he said. The ambassador pointed out that on July 5 three special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council had stated that Israeli attacks against the Jenin refugee camp may constitute a war crime and had no justification under international law. “The impunity that Israel has enjoyed for its acts of violence over decades only fuels and intensifies the recurring cycle of violence.” The special rapporteurs had also called for Israel to be held accountable under the international law. “The continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the expulsion and evictions of Palestinians from their properties are illegal and grave violations of [Security] Council’s resolutions and international law, including humanitarian law,” the Pakistani envoy said. He emphasised that the international community cannot accept the fait accompli Israel is seeking to impose with the design to perpetuate its forcible occupation and destroy Palestinian nationhood.

ASIA-PACIFIC FACES DISASTER EMERGENCY, CLIMATE IMPACTS INTENSIFY

Asia and the Pacific region faces a disaster emergency, with risks surpassing resilience. It urgently needs to enhance its resilience to safeguard development gains from climate change impacts, Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2023 warned. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) report issued caution that without prompt action, a temperature increase of 1.5 and 2 degrees celsius will exceed resilience capabilities and endanger sustainable development. The projected scenario of 2-degree warming indicates annual losses of nearly $1 trillion or three per cent of regional GDP in disaster-related deaths and economic impacts. “As temperatures continue to rise, new disaster hotspots are emerging, and existing ones are intensifying. A disaster emergency is underway, and we must fundamentally transform our approach to building resilience,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UN-ESCAP Executive Director, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana. The two deadliest flooding events, in 2022, occurred in India and Pakistan, which alone accounted for almost 80pc of the total yearly mortality related to disasters. Flooding was also the disaster which affected the highest number of people in 2022, affecting 33 million people in Pakistan alone. In April and May 2022, an unprecedented, early, prolonged and dry heatwave affected large parts of North India and Pakistan. India recorded its warmest March on record, with an average maximum temperature of 33.1°C. This was 1.86°C above the long-term average. Pakistan also recorded its warmest March in 60 years. Current annual losses from disasters such as droughts, floods, heat waves, cyclones, and earthquakes are projected to rise, impacting productivity and exacerbating inequality. The Asia-Pacific region faces a significant intersection between disaster risks, income inequalities, and poverty, with the highest share of economic losses as a percentage of GDP, followed by Africa.

BANGLADESH OPPOSITION HOLDS PROTESTS TO PRESS FOR HASINA’S RESIGNATION

Tens of thousands of supporters of Bangladeshs main opposition party rallied in the capital on Friday to demand Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s resignation and call for general elections to be held under a caretaker government. The main opposition party, in disarray since its leader Khaleda Zia was jailed in 2018 on graft charges, has held bigger protest rallies in recent months, drawing thousands of supporters amid mounting anger over the cost of living. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been calling for Prime Minister Hasina to step down and for the next election, due in January 2024, to be held under a neutral caretaker government a demand her government has rejected.

CHINA SET TO UPGRADE TIES WITH GEORGIA TO STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP

China is set to elevate its relations with Georgia to one of strategic partnership, President Xi Jinping said on Friday, declaring “unwavering” resolve to deepen ties with the former Soviet republic. China has regarded Georgia as a good friend since they established diplomatic ties 31 years ago, Xi told Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on the sidelines of the Chengdu University Games in southwest China. “No matter how the international situation changes, China is unwavering in its determination to develop relations with Georgia,” Chinese state media quoted Xi as saying. “During your visit to China this time, the two sides will issue a joint statement announcing the establishment of a China-Georgia strategic partnership, raising the positioning of bilateral relations to a new level.” Georgia, like other former Soviet states Armenia and Azerbaijan, is on a strategic and sometimes volatile overland route between Europe and Asia, along which China aims to develop a “Belt and Road” network of trade and energy links. Georgia has had fraught relations with China’s ally Russia since the 1990s when Russia backed separatists in two Georgian regions. Russia recognised the breakaway regions as independent after fighting a war with Georgia in 2008. Days after Russian sent troops into Ukraine last year, Georgia applied for EU membership. Georgia has also sought to become a member of NATO.

BUNKERS, SNIPER RIFLES: DEEPENING SECTARIAN WAR IN INDIA DENTS MODI’S IMAGE

A one-mile stretch of a highway in the lush green foothills of India’s Manipur state has become the symbol of a vicious sectarian conflict that has killed over 180 people since May and severely dented the strongman image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The bitter fighting between the Meitei community and the Kuki tribals is in the remote northeast of the country but it has lasted for almost three months, a deep embarrassment for Modi as he prepares to host a summit of G20 leaders in September and contest a general election next year. There have been past tensions between the two groups, but violence erupted in early May after the state high court ordered the government to consider extending economic benefits reserved for the Kuki tribals to the Meiteis. Street protests spiralled into armed conflict and now, rival gunmen have dug into bunkers and outposts along the highway and in other places in Manipur, and regularly fire at each other with assault weapons, sniper rifles and pistols. The Meitei-dominated state police are seen as partisan while army troops have been ordered to keep the peace but not to disarm fighters. There is no sign of any early resolution. Historian and author Ramachandra Guha described the situation as “a mixture of anarchy and civil war and a complete breakdown of the state administration”. “It is a failure of the prime minister at a time of grave national crisis,” Guha added, speaking in a television interview. “Narendra Modi lives in a bubble of his own, he doesn’t like to be associated with bad news and somehow hopes he will ride it out.” The prime minister’s office and a state government spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. The Kukis, who are a third of the Meitei population, have borne a disproportionate brunt of the violence and make up two-thirds of the victims, according to new government data reviewed by Reuters this week. They have mostly fled to the hills, leaving the capital Imphal and the surrounding valley, areas dominated by the majority Meiteis. Much of the violence and killings have taken place in buffer zones near Manipur’s foothills where intense gun battles erupt regularly, security officials said. This week, when a Reuter’s team visited the Kuki village of Kangvai, just off the highway, volleys of gunshots could be heard from both sides. Jangminlun Touthang, 32, a Kuki fighter carrying a hunting rifle, was manning a post directly opposite the Meitei lines.

PAKISTAN POST RAISES LOCAL POSTAL RATES UP TO 150PC

By Aamir Yasin

Pakistan Post has increased domestic postal rates by 50 per cent and 150pc from August 1. According to a notification from the Ministry of Communication, rates for non-registered ordinary letters, envelops and aerogrammes have been increased from Rs20 to Rs30 for 20 grams, Rs38 to Rs60 for 50 grams, Rs50 to Rs75 for 100g, Rs75 to Rs120 for 250g, Rs100 to Rs150 for 500g, Rs200 to Rs300 per kilogram, and Rs250 to Rs380 for 2kg. Other than textbooks, which include pamphlets, journals, periodicals, sheets of music, maps, printed circulars, invitations, bills, greeting cards, and books other than textbooks, the rates will be increased from Rs2 to Rs5 per 100g. Parcel rates have also been increased as follows: 1kg increased from Rs100 to Rs150, 3kg from Rs175 to Rs270, 5kg from Rs250 to Rs380, 10kg from Rs375 to Rs570, 15kg from Rs500 to Rs750, 20kg from Rs625 to Rs940, 25kg from Rs750 to Rs1,130, and 30kg from Rs875 to Rs1,320.

AFRICAN LEADERS PRESS RUSSIA TO END KYIV WAR

African leaders pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to move ahead with their peace plan to end the Ukraine war and to renew a deal on the export of Ukrainian grain that Moscow tore up last week. While not directly critical of Russia, their interventions on the second day of a summit with Putin were more concerted and forceful than those that African countries have voiced until now. They served as reminders to the Kremlin leader of the depth of African concern at the consequences of the war, especially rising food prices. “This war must end. And it can only end on the basis of justice and reason,” African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat told Putin and African leaders in St Petersburg. “The disruptions of energy and grain supplies must end immediately. The grain deal must be extended for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, Africans in particular.” President Putin gave the African plan that floats a series of possible steps to defuse the conflict a polite but cool reception when African leaders had presented it to him last month. On Friday, he said Moscow respected the proposal and was ‘carefully’ studying it.

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