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Mecca Stampede, FARC Handshake, Exhumed Tsar

Mecca Stampede, FARC Handshake, Exhumed Tsar

MORE THAN 300 DEAD IN MECCA STAMPEDE

Photo: Omar Chatriwala

At least 310 people taking part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage were killed in a stampede Thursday morning in Mina, near the Islamic holy city of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, Al Jazeera quotes Saudi officials as saying. Thursday is the first day of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, and some 2 million people were set to take part in this year’s Hajj pilgrimage. With 450 reported injured, the number of victims could still rise significantly. Earlier this month, 118 people were killed and nearly 400 wounded when a crane collapsed over Mecca’s Grand Mosque.


DEADLY YEMEN MOSQUE BLAST

At least 25 people were killed and 30 wounded when two suicide bombers detonated at a Shia mosque run by Houthi rebels in Yemen’s capital Sanaa on Thursday. The explosions struck while worshippers were celebrating the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, according to witnesses and medical staff quoted by Reuters. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, but similar suicide bombings have been carried out by ISIS on Shia mosques in Sanaa in recent months.


1.1 BILLION

European Union leaders pledged at least $1.1 billion to help UN agencies handle the refugee crisis between the Middle East and Europe, the BBC reports. At a summit in Brussels on Wednesday, European heads of state also agreed on closer cooperation to stem the flow of refugees into the EU.


COLOMBIA, FARC VOW TO END WAR

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and rebel leader Timoleón Jiménez of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed Wednesday on a “deadline for peace,” promising to end the country’s half-century-long civil war within six months. The two men marked the accord with a historic handshake in Havana, Cuba, which has hosted the nearly three-year-old peace talks. Read more in our “Extra!” feature.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



VW SCANDAL KEEPS ROLLING

The German carmaker may name a news chief on Friday after the resignation of CEO Martin Winterkorn, as the fallout continues after revelations that Volkswagen manipulated emissions test with serious consequences for the environment.


PORTUGAL TO CROOKS: HANDS OFF GRANDPA

With a fast declining birthrate, Portugal is among the world’s oldest countries. That has apparently been a boon to criminals targeting vulnerable senior citizens. But now a new law increases sentences for crimes against people over 65. Read more from Diario de Noticias/Worldcrunch.


RUSSIA EXHUMES LAST TSAR AND WIFE

Russian investigators have exhumed the remains of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his wife, Alexandra, killed with their children and servants by revolutionary Bolsheviks in 1918. Samples were taken from the remains, buried at Saint Petersburg cathedral. This is part of a reopened probe to confirm the identity of remains found elsewhere and believed to belong to two children of the royal Romanov family, Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria, the Russian daily Kommersant reports.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

The conventional wisdom says a male teacher shortage is bad for society, and the surplus of women in education might work against boys. A new study confronts the myths, Fanny Jiménez reports for Die Welt. “Some education experts consider this so-called ‘feminization’ of the teaching profession a real concern. They believe boys might perform better were they to have more male teachers. When it comes to student performance, as a matter of fact, studies show that girls have overtaken boys. They tend to start school earlier, are less likely to have to repeat classes, and attend high school longer than boys.”

Read the full article, Does The Gender Of A Teacher Matter?


ON THIS DAY


Today marks the birthday of the brain behind Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, and Bert & Ernie. This â€" and more â€" in your 57-second shot of history.


TRAVEL SLOWER TO COMMUTE FASTER

Commuting in and around London could be faster if Tube trains travelled slower, a study published in the Royal Society Interface journal suggests. After establishing a mathematical study of transport, researchers found that if Tube journeys are too fast, compared to travelling by road, the overall congestion increases due to key locations outside the city center becoming bottlenecks. Their results showed that the London Underground would work best if its trains travelled at about 13 mph (21 km/h), which is 1.2 times faster than the average speed on roads. The current average speed is 21 mph (33 km/h).

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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