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Toxic Smog Forces Emergency Measures in New Delhi

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  • A poisonous smog in New Delhi, India has caused the government to declare a public health emergency, shutting down schools and halting construction projects.
  • As the city’s 20 million people battle respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes, the government has implemented vehicle restrictions that require people to alternate between days they can drive based on their license plate number.
  • The pollution, which has become a reoccurring problem for New Delhi this time of year, is caused by a combination of farmers burning crops mixed with vehicle emissions and pollution from firework displays celebrating the Hindu holiday Diwali.
  • As a result, many have criticized the government for not doing enough to deal with the pollution and argued that their proposals are only short-term fixes to a long-term problem.

Toxic Smog

Record levels of toxic smog have engulfed the Indian capital of New Delhi as government officials scramble to control the situation.

The poisonous smog, which the Delhi Chief Minister described as “unbearable pollution,” has taken over the city of more than 20 million people since late last week. 

It is not currently clear how high the pollution levels are.

Over the weekend, it was reported that the levels were literally off the charts, with some people reporting that most areas in the city showed an air quality index of 999 because the meters can not record above that.

That number is three times higher than the “hazardous” level on the global air quality index.

According to other sources, the levels of dangerous particulates were more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended safe daily maximum, which is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

Government Response

The Indian government responded on Friday by declaring a public health emergency, shutting down all primary schools, and halting construction projects for several days. 

The government also said it would distribute masks to five million children in the city.

People have been encouraged to stay inside as much as they can as reports of respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes continue.

On Sunday, flights were delayed and diverted due to the fact that pilots could not see through the smog. The smog has also caused traffic and car accidents.

Officials in New Delhi on Monday started restricting the use of private vehicles to try to help lift the pollution. 

Under those restrictions, people can only use their cars on alternating days: Cars with odd-number license plates can drive on odd dates and cars with even-numbered plates can drive on even-numbered dates. Anyone found violating the restrictions will face a fine.

According to reports, the restrictions will not apply on Sunday. Additionally, the seven million motorbikes and scooters registered in the city are exempt from the restrictions, as are those taking public transportation and cars carrying only women.

Yearly Occurrence

While the dangerous smog in New Delhi is certainly significant, it is not something new.

In fact, this kind of air pollution is something that has been happening in New Delhi annually in recent years around this time. It is caused by a combination of a few things that all come together in especially bad timing.

One of the main causes of pollution is crop fires. Every winter, farmers in the surrounding areas of New Delhi in northern India burn old crops to make room to grow new crops.

The smoke and fumes from that process then drift to the suburbs and city, where they mix with construction dust and car emissions.

To make matters worse, that already toxic combination then mixes with smoke from fireworks displays during the Hindu holiday Diwali, which also happens at this time of the year.

However, because so much of the pollution comes from the crop burning, many have criticized the vehicle alternation restrictions, arguing that it will ultimately not do much.

Leaders in New Delhi⁠— which in the past has been labeled the most polluted city in the world⁠— have said any efforts they have made to clear up pollution have been undone by farmers burning crops in nearby states, and largely blamed the farmers.

But others have noted that New Delhi frequently does not meet air quality guidelines even when it is not crop-burning and firework season, arguing that the capital has a major issue with traffic pollution.

According to scientists at India’s state-run weather monitor SAFAR, crop burning in nearby states only contributes to just over 40% of Delhi’s pollution.

Taking that data into account, it appears that not just the farmers are responsible, prompting accusations that the politicians are just trying to scapegoat them.

In fact, back in September, even before the recent pollution crisis, government officials had already announced that they would implement the alternating odd-even car rule in early November.

Those restrictions have also been applied before, most recently in 2016. 

Broader Problem

While the pollution crisis in Delhi right now is extreme, it is part of a much bigger problem for India as a whole.

In May 2018, a study by the World Health Organization found that out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, nine of them were in India.

As a result, many have called on the government to take more accountability and actually do something, arguing that short-term band-aid solutions are not going to change anything.

On Saturday, people in New Delhi protested the lack of government action outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence.

On Monday, India’s Supreme Court criticized both national and state governments for not doing anything to curb the pollution.

“This can’t go on,” the high court said in a report. “People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)

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First Person Charged Under Hong Kong National Security Law Found Guilty of Terrorism and Inciting Secession

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Dozens more are awaiting trial for breaking the controversial National Security Law, which is aimed at protecting Chinese sovereignty at the cost of basic freedoms within Hong Kong.


First Conviction Under National Security Law

The first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s extremely controversial National Security Law was found guilty of his crimes Tuesday morning.

A judge ruled that Tong Ying-kit was guilty of both terrorism and inciting secession after the 24-year-old failed to stop at a police checkpoint while on his motorcycle last July, which resulted in him eventually riding into police. At the same time, he was carrying a flag that said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”

According to Justice Esther Toh, that phrase alone was capable of inciting others to commit succession, she also that added that Tong understood that the flag had secessionist meaning in an effort to set aside doubts that Tong understood the flag’s inherent meaning.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director said,“The conviction of Tong Ying-kit is a significant and ominous moment for human rights in Hong Kong.”

“Today’s verdict underlines the sobering fact that expressing certain political opinions in the city is now officially a crime, potentially punishable by life in jail,” she added.

More Convictions Expected Sparking Fear Over Erosion of Rights

A long string of convictions will likely follow Tong’s, as over 100 people have been arrested under the ambiguous law that criminalizes many forms of freedom of expression under the guise of protecting Chinese sovereignty. Of those arrested, 60 are currently awaiting trial, including dozens of pro-democracy politicians who have been accused of subversiveness for their calls to block the government’s agenda in the legislature.

That has drawn particular concern among international critics who fear the precedent that will be set once it’s clear to politicians that failing to rubber-stamp the Communist Party’s agenda will result in prison terms.

It’s widely expected that as more people are found guilty, the few remaining protections of the city’s Basic Law, a British common law-inspired mini-constitution, will be completely eroded.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (BBC)

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Tunisian President Fires Prime Minister, Suspends Parliament Over Deadlock and COVID-19 Response

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President Kais Saied claims his actions are constitutional and have the support of the military, which has already blocked off government buildings. His opponents, however, call the move little more than a coup.


President Makes Massive Changes to Government

Tunisia’s government received a major shakeup after President Kais Saied fired the Prime Minister and froze parliament late Sunday.

The move, according to Saied, was meant to break years of parliamentary deadlock between Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and various political parties that have sturggled to find common ground. However, the timing comes just after a massive protest over how the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic turned violent earlier on Sunday.

Either way, the move risks sparking a confrontation between Saied —who is backed by the army — and various political parties that view his actions as a coup.

The President’s actions have proven cotnroversial. Despite that, he has widepsread support after being elected in 2019 on a platform to fight corrupt politicians.

After the announcement, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in support of his decision to dismiss the Prime Minister and parliament, with many cheering as he appeared among the crowd Sunday night.

In recent months, anger at the ruling government has only increased as many feel the ruling coalition, largely made up of the Islamist Ennahda (“Renaissance”) party, have been ineffective.

It’s a common belief in Tunisia that Ennahda’s rule, alongside its tenuous coalition, helped exacerbate problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the economy shrinking by 8% as tourism plummeted.

One of the President’s supporters told Reuters and other outlets during Sunday’s demonstration, “We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

He mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a strong presence in Egpyt after the Arab Spring, becuase Ennahda has longstanding relationship with the group, although it has sought to distance itself as a more moderate political group over the last few years.

Now, for their part, the ruling coalition has argued that Saied’s move is clearly unconstitutional. Rached Ghannouchi, leade of Ennahda and Parliamentary Speaker, said that he is “against gathering all powers in the hands of one person.” His position isn’t without supporters eithers. Both sides have already gathered throughout the capital and have thrown rocks at each other.

Legalities of Article 80

The question across many minds is whether or not Saied’s actions are actually constitutional.

He claims that under Article 80 of the constitution, he can fire the Prime Minister, suspend parliament for 30 days, and appoint a premier to rule — all of which is true.

However, in order to do that, the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Speaker need to be consulted; something Parliamentary Speaker Ghannouchi said was never done. It’s unclear what Mechichi’s position is as he’s stayed inside his home all day, though the army says he is not under any kind of arrest.

In addition to those requirements, a Constitutional Court needs to approve the move, and one hasn’t been set up. As the German Foregin Office put it on Monday morning, it seems like Saied is relying on “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution.”

International observers hope a solution will soon be made to keep what seems to be the last functional democracy to come from the Arab Spring from devolving into civil war or dictatorship.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (BBC)

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South Korean President Makes BTS Official Presidential Envoys

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The position is largely ceremonial but will be used by the government to help give a friendly and popular face to national and international initiatives spearheaded by Seoul.


Government Recognition

The K-pop band BTS will be adding to its list of global impacts this year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed its members as Presidential Envoys on Wednesday.

The role will include attending international conferences such as the United Nations General Assembly in September.

At these events, BTS will perform “various activities to promote international cooperation in solving global challenges, such as improving the environment, eliminating poverty and inequality, and respecting diversity,” according to Park Kyung-mee, a Blue House spokesperson.

The band has already appeared at U.N. conferences multiple times over the last few years.

Just last year, the group gave a message of hope and reassurance through the U.N. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior appearances at the U.N. have been either as part of U.N. organizations or as private citizens.

Wednesday’s appointment will make them official representatives of South Korea, although they won’t actually engage in any direct diplomacy and instead will be used to promote the country’s ongoing efforts in youth-related projects.

Longstanding Policy

BTS’ success, alongside prior and current K-pop groups, has remained a masterclass of soft diplomacy by the Korean government. For decades, the Korean government has cultivated promoting cultural aspects abroad in the hopes of generating more interest in the country. There are hopes that such efforts will encourage more tourism as well as an elevated image when consumers consider Korean-made products.

Such efforts, beyond cultivating K-pop and raising its stars as semi-official government symbols, also include helping fund Korean restaurants abroad as well as free Korean-language classes taught by Professors of some of Korea’s most prestigious schools.

The news comes as BTS’ newest single, “Permission to Dance,” quickly took the #1 spot on the Billboard top 100. BTS is also partnering with YouTube to promote a Permission to Dance challenge on YouTube Shorts that will begin tomorrow and end on August 4.

Fans will be encouraged to replicate dance moves from the music video, and the group’s favorite clips will be put into a compilation made by them.

See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (The Korea Times) (All Kpop)

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