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In a first, Indian Haj pilgrims travel from Jeddah to Mecca by high-speed train

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Jeddah, May 26 (IANS) In a historic first, Indian Haj pilgrims, who arrived at the Jeddah airport on Sunday, travelled to Mecca by high-speed Haramain Train instead of buses.

The arrangement, which will make the journey of the pilgrims more comfortable, has been facilitated by India’s Consulate General in Jeddah in coordination with the concerned Saudi authorities.

The Ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia Suhel Ajaz Khan and Consul General Shahid Alam accompanied by Vice President of Saudi Arabian Railways, Al Harbi and other officials from Ministry of Haj and Ministry of Transport, escorted the Indian Haj pilgrims from Jeddah Airport to Mecca on first such journey on the High Speed Train on Sunday.

With the highest speed of the train being 300 km per hour, the journey will also reduce the travel time from Jeddah to Mecca considerably.

It is estimated that about 32,000 Indian Haj pilgrims will use the exclusive service this year.

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The Indian Haj Mission – the biggest operation of its kind handled by the Indian government outside the country’s borders, has closely coordinated logistics with the concerned Saudi authorities to make the new initiative a success.

–IANS

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India's Siddhesh Sakore named Land Hero by UN agency

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Bonn/New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Siddhesh Sakore, a farmer and the founder of AGRO RANGERS, from Maharashtra, has been named Land Hero by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

On the occasion of World Desertification and Drought Day, the UNCCD announced the names of 10 Land Heroes in a programme in Bonn, Germany, on Sunday.

Apart from Sakore, other Land Heroes are from Brazil, Costa Rica, Germany, Mali, Moldova, Morocco, the Philippines, the US, and Zimbabwe.

Belonging to a farmer family, Sakore has a graduation degree in mechanical engineering.

“I am passionate about natural farming and have technical expertise in waste management. In Vigyan Ashram, I developed several cost-effective mechanical devices to convert organic waste into compost. I have innovated several social innovations about solving real-life problems of society by using eco-friendly and cost-effective technology,” his website at WordPress reads.

“He is passionate about solving the problems of soil degradation on agricultural land. He is committed to empowering small and marginal farmers from his community through innovative agroforestry models,” UNCCD said in its citation.

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“Growing up in the farmer’s community, I witnessed the misery and poverty which seemed to be the inevitable fate of a farmer in Maharashtra,” Sakore said, adding that the combination of economic crisis and the use of toxic chemicals that lead to unsustainable farming methods, as well as the effects of climate change, form a heavy burden on farmers.

Addressing the programme, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said: “As the focus of this year’s World Day reminds us, we must be “United for Land”. Governments, businesses, academics, communities, and more must come together, and act. We know what we need to do: it’s set out clearly in the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. As we mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention, the world must dramatically pick up the pace of implementation; Build momentum towards UNCCD COP16 in Riyadh; And ensure young people are heard in the negotiations. Together, let’s sow the seeds for a thriving future — for nature and humanity.”

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Land degradation affects up to 40 per cent of the world’s land and nearly half the world’s population, UNCCD said, with the highest costs borne by those who can least afford it: indigenous communities, rural households, smallholder farmers, and especially youth and women. More than a billion young people who live in developing countries depend on land and natural resources.

Engaging youth in land restoration can create the estimated 600 million jobs needed in the next 15 years, contributing to both economic growth and environmental sustainability, it added.

President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said: “There is nothing more important, more basic, than good soil, safe food, and clean water. So let’s work together! And let’s bring in young people to make sure that our decisions today ensure their good future tomorrow.”

“The future of our land is the future of our planet. By 2050, 10 billion people will depend on this vital resource. Yet we are losing the equivalent of four football fields to land degradation every second,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary, UNCCD.

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–IANS

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Torrential rains prompt evacuations in China

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Beijing, June 16 (IANS) Torrential rains have forced the evacuation of 36,000 people in east China’s Fujian province, the provincial flood control office said on Sunday.

Days of heavy rains have wreaked havoc in many parts of Fujian, which has declared an emergency response to rainstorms, Xinhua news agency reported.

As of 8 p.m. on Saturday, the latest round of rains had affected 1,79,800 people and damaged 12,350 hectares of crops, causing a direct economic loss of 1.61 billion yuan (about $225 million), the office said.

From 6 a.m. on Saturday to 7 a.m. on Sunday, some hydrological stations in 11 rivers in Fujian had reported water levels between 0.07 and 3.65 metres above the warning level, the office added.

As of 7 a.m. on Sunday, water levels at seven hydrological stations had remained above the warning level.

Huang Zhigang, an expert with the Fujian Meteorological Service, urged people to be vigilant due to the risk of flooding in small and medium-sized rivers and the potential for waterlogging in both urban and rural areas.

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–IANS

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Ukraine summit declaration unlikely to be signed by all participants

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Vienna, June 16 (IANS/DPA) Not all participants at the Ukraine Peace Summit in Switzerland are expected to sign the final declaration, although more because of the wording than an actual lack of support, according to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

Diplomatic subtleties in the writing aside, the basic common position would not be affected, Nehammer said on Sunday on the sidelines of the event at the Burgenstock mountain hotel resort near Lucerne.

“That’s why I’m not so worried if not everyone signs now,” said the Chancellor.

The question of the scope of a follow-up conference was also still difficult to answer.

Before Russia also takes a seat at the negotiating table, another conference in a different format is conceivable, Nehammer added. “You have to see it as a process.”

The two-day conference of 92 states and eight international organisations was due to end on Sunday afternoon when the final declaration was also to be published.

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According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the conference, as such, brought significant progress.

Kuleba said that all countries that were not present were also aware of the impetus provided by the meeting.

Overall, the process that has been initiated is welcome, he added.

“We are on the right track,” he said.

Kuleba again stressed the need to support Ukraine militarily with the highest quality weapons possible.

According to him, the stronger Ukraine is, the more willing Moscow will be to negotiate peace.

Press conferences were planned at the end of the conference, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The event aimed to initiate a peace process in which Russia would also be involved in the long term. Officials from Moscow were not invited on this occasion and did not express a wish to attend.

–IANS/DPA

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Russian security forces kill prisoners to rescue employers taken hostage

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Moscow, June 16 (IANS/DPA) At least three prisoners in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, who took employees hostage during an escape bid on Sunday morning, were killed by security forces in a storming operation, officials said.

According to authorities, the men who tried to break out of the remand facility were accomplices of the Islamic State (IS).

During the storming operation, “the criminals were eliminated, the employees who were held hostage have been released and are safe,” the Russian penitentiary service told the state news agency TASS.

It was initially reported that six men tried to break out of the facility and took two guards hostage.

A video posted earlier by Russian media allegedly showed a hostage-taker who described himself and the other inmates as supporters of IS.

The escape bid began early on Sunday morning.

The prisoners reportedly broke through the barred window of their cell block and entered adjacent staff rooms, where they overwhelmed the head of operations and others.

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The men were said to have been armed with knives and other sharpened objects. In return for the release of the hostages, they were demanding firearms, an escape vehicle, and free passage.

The breakout was contained, and surveillance of inmates continued in other parts of the facility while police cordoned off traffic in the vicinity of the prison.

The authorities said they were investigating whether the escape attempt had been coordinated from outside.

Three hostage takers had been sentenced to 18 years in jail in December 2023 for plotting to blow up the Supreme Court building in Karachay-Cherkessia, southern Russia, TASS reported, citing the court verdict.

The residents of Russia’s predominantly Ingushetia had previously sworn an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State, according to the verdict. Their jail sentence had not yet taken effect.

–IANS/DPA

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Negotiations underway on sale of surplus renewable energy to India: Lankan President

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New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Sunday that negotiations are currently underway regarding the sale of surplus renewable energy to India.

“A feasibility study is currently being conducted on establishing a power line connection between Sri Lanka and India, with further discussions expected during the upcoming visit of the Indian Foreign Minister to Sri Lanka,” the Lankan President’s Media Division (PMD) said in a statement.

President Wickremesinghe also mentioned that a pre-feasibility study for a land connection between Sri Lanka and India has been completed, and a full feasibility study will be conducted soon.

The Lankan President was in New Delhi last week to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

During the visit, he also held discussions with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, who is expected to visit Colombo soon, to oversee the progress of development projects initiated in the country with Indian investments.

“The discussions also covered India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy. Minister Jaishankar highlighted plans for an industrial zone in Trincomalee, to be established by the Indian government, which will attract numerous Indian investors and potentially investors from other countries,” the PMD had said in a statement on June 10.

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–IANS

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