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Ireland, Czech Republic hit the polls on second day of EU voting

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Brussels, June 7 (IANS/DPA) Polls open in the Czech Republic and Ireland on Friday for the second day of voting in the continent-wide European Parliament elections, in which around 360 million people can cast their ballot over four days.

In Ireland, opposition party Sinn Fein wants to use the elections to galvanise support ahead of national polls anticipated in the coming year.

“Vote Sinn Fein on Friday as the first step towards a change of government,” party leader Mary Lou McDonald posted during the campaign trail on social media platform X.

“It’s time for new people with new solutions and new ideas at local government and European level. Change starts here,” McDonald added, aiming to tap into public dissatisfaction with public services and housing shortages.

There are 14 seats up for grabs for Ireland in the European Parliament elections, which are happening at the same time as elections for local office.

Public concern about increased numbers of asylum seekers in Ireland has seen a swell of independent candidates emerge, promising tougher immigration policies.

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The Czech Republic is holding elections across Friday and Saturday, with 21 seats to be won.

Opposition party ANO is polling at 23.1 per cent, narrowly ahead of the coalition government parties, and may win up to six seats, according to STEM, a Czech polling agency.

However, “the ANO movement is nowhere near the gains we are used to,” STEM analyst Martin Kratochvíl said, attributing this to the typically low Czech turnout – especially among the more eurosceptic opposition – in European Parliament elections.

Emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic with economic growth subdued, shocked by the war in Ukraine, struggling to cope with rising immigration and attempting to face the dangers posed by climate change, these elections are rife with uncertainty about the European Union’s future path.

It is also the first EU election since Britain became the only country ever to formally leave the bloc in 2020.

Netherlands was the first country to vote on Thursday, with Geert Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) in the spotlight, aiming to capitalise on a surge in support.

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While Wilders’ party made strong gains and was on track to have secured seven of the 31 Dutch seats in the European Parliament, up from just one, it was edged out by a centre-left Dutch political alliance which won eight seats, according to an exit poll from Thursday evening.

If forecasters’ predictions are correct, far-right parties will do better this time around than ever before, potentially affecting everything from EU migration and climate policy to the choice of the next European Commission president.

Italy, Latvia, Malta, and Slovakia are next to start voting on Saturday, with Italians voting across two days. In the rest of the EU, elections will be held on Sunday, June 9.

Once the votes are counted and politicians are elected to their seats in the European Parliament, the political parties will form into different pan-European groups.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) has been the largest such group for the last 25 years, though no group has ever had a parliamentary majority.

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The other current blocs are the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the liberal-centrist Renew, the environmentalist Greens, the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID), the less radical but nationalist right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the radical socialist group, The Left. There are also non-aligned parties and independents.

Once the results are in and the new parliament begins to take shape, EU leaders will gather for an informal summit to start the process of selecting the new commission president, the most powerful executive position in the EU.

Incumbent President Ursula von der Leyen is seeking a second term. To succeed, the German conservative politician first needs the backing of a qualified majority of EU leaders. Then, the European Parliament must approve her nomination by a majority vote.

In 2019, von der Leyen was approved by a margin of just nine votes. With the expected growth of far-right parties in parliament, she may face an even harder challenge holding on to her job this time.

–IANS/DPA

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Death toll in Kuwait building blaze climbs to 49 (2nd Ld)

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Kuwait City, June 12 (IANS/DPA) The death toll in a fire that erupted on Wednesday in a building housing workers in Kuwait has risen to 49, the Gulf country’s state news agency Kuna reported, citing the Interior Ministry.

Local media said the fire broke out in a six-floor building crammed with migrant workers in al-Mangaf area, south of the capital Kuwait City.

The blaze occurred while the workers were asleep and some residents had to jump from the building in an attempt to survive, Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas reported, citing witnesses.

Kuwait’s Emir Meshal Al Ahmad has ordered investigations to determine the cause of the blaze and bring to account those found responsible, Kuna said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasser Abu Salib said without elaborating that stringent measures would be taken against the building’s owners.

He added that the ministry was investigating the circumstances of the fire and identifying the victims.

Initially, officials had put the death toll at more than 35.

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Most fatalities were caused by smoke inhalation, according to a security official.

The Health Ministry earlier Wednesday said at least 43 people had been transferred to hospitals for treatment.

–IANS/DPA

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South Africa on high alert after five confirmed cases of monkeypox

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Johannesburg, June 12 (IANS) South Africa is on high alert following the outbreak of monkeypox in May, with five laboratory-confirmed cases including one death, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Wednesday.

Phaahla told the media that all five patients diagnosed with monkeypox, also known as Mpox, three from KwaZulu-Natal Province and two from Gauteng Province, were men between the ages of 30 and 39 with no history of travel. Two remain hospitalized, two have been discharged, and one died on Monday in a hospital in Johannesburg, reported Xinhua News Agency.

“All five cases were classified as severe cases as per the World Health Organization (WHO) definition requiring hospitalization. Since the beginning of 2024, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has received 12 Mpox test requests, with three testing positive. The other two cases were diagnosed by private laboratories,” said the minister. “Guidelines have been updated and shared widely across networks of healthcare workers using various platforms.”

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According to him, the outbreak response team, consisting of experts from various government sectors, the WHO, and other stakeholders, has embarked on contact tracing and case finding in the affected provinces of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

“We can disrupt the local transmission by supporting those diagnosed with this disease in taking their treatment to prevent infecting others. We can prevent avoidable deaths by cooperating with health officials when they conduct contact tracing and case finding,” Phaahla said, adding that they have held webinars about Mpox disease with more than 500 healthcare workers.

Fabian Ndenzako, a doctor with the WHO in South Africa, said they are working with the South African government to provide medicine for those infected with Mpox. A total of 10 doses of vaccine have been packaged in Geneva, Switzerland, and are awaiting paperwork to be processed and then shipped to South Africa.

The WHO defines an outbreak of monkeypox when two cases are confirmed. Ndenzako noted that since all five cases have no travel history, the country could be sitting on a high number of Mpox cases.

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Monkeypox is an infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Most people fully recover, but some get very sick. The virus can be transmitted to humans through physical contact with someone infectious, with contaminated materials, or with infected animals. Symptoms of monkeypox include an unexplained acute rash and back pain, swollen lymph nodes, acute onset of fever, headache, muscle and body aches, and low energy.

According to the WHO, from January 1, 2022, to May 31, 2024, a total of 97,208 laboratory-confirmed cases of monkeypox were reported, including 186 deaths from 117 countries. South Africa recorded five cases of monkeypox in 2022, with no cases reported in 2023.

–IANS

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Kuwait's Emir directs officials to find cause behind deadly fire incident

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Kuwait City, June 12 (IANS) Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Mishal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, has directed the country’s authorities to find the cause behind Wednesday’s tragic fire in a building in Kuwait City’s Mangaf area which has reportedly killed over 40 people, including many Indian workers.

The state-owned Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported that Kuwait’s ruler sent his condolences to the families of the victims of the unfortunate fire accident that resulted in the death and injury of dozens.

“His Highness directed officials to immediately follow up to determine the causes of the outbreak of this fire and hold those responsible for its occurrence accountable so that such an unfortunate incident is not repeated in the future,” the agency said, adding that the ruler shares the grief and pain of the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.

Meanwhile, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, Kirti Vardhan Singh, is leaving for Kuwait to oversee the assistance being provided to injured Indian nationals.

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“As directed by PM Narendra Modi, MoS for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh is urgently travelling to Kuwait to oversee assistance to those injured in the fire tragedy and to coordinate with local authorities for early repatriation of mortal remains of those who have died in this unfortunate incident,” said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Prime Minister Modi has also condoled the death of several people in the shocking fire incident that took place on Wednesday.

“The fire mishap in Kuwait City is saddening. My thoughts are with all those who lost their near and dear ones,” PM Modi posted on X.

“I pray that the injured recover at the earliest. The Indian Embassy in Kuwait is closely monitoring the situation and working with the authorities there to assist the affected,” he added.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar expressed deep shock over the incident, which he said has resulted in several deaths.

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“Deeply shocked by the news of the fire incident in Kuwait City. There are reportedly over 40 deaths and over 50 have been hospitalised. Our Ambassador has gone to the camp. We are awaiting further information,” Jaishankar said in a post on X.

“Deepest condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives. Wish early and full recovery to those who have been injured. Our Embassy will render the fullest assistance to all concerned in this regard,” he added.

Meanwhile, Adarsh Swaika, Ambassador of India to Kuwait, has already visited the hospitals in Kuwait City where several injured Indian workers have been admitted.

“Ambassador Adarsh Swaika visited the Mubarak Al-Kabeer Hospital, where 11 workers injured in today’s fire have been admitted. Ten of them are expected to be released today and one in hospital is reportedly stable. He met with patients still in hospital & assured them of the Embassy’s full support,” the Indian Embassy in Kuwait posted on X.

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Swaika also visited the fire incident site in Mangaf to ascertain the situation, assuring that the Indian Embassy is in constant touch with the relevant Kuwaiti law enforcement, fire service, and health authorities for necessary action and emergency medical care.

The Indian Embassy in Kuwait is operating an emergency helpline number (+965-65505246) in connection with the tragedy.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Health also released a statement on Wednesday afternoon that said, “The Ministry of Health has so far dealt with 43 cases through the accident departments in a number of hospitals, in a building fire incident in Mangaf, of which 4 cases arrived dead.”

–IANS

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MoS Kirti Vardhan Singh leaving for Kuwait to oversee assistance after tragic fire incident

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New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Minister of State for External Affairs, Kirti Vardhan Singh, is leaving for Kuwait after several Indian workers were feared dead in a tragic building fire in the Mangaf area of Kuwait City on Wednesday.

“As directed by PM Narendra Modi, MoS for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh is urgently travelling to Kuwait to oversee assistance to those injured in the fire tragedy and to coordinate with local authorities for early repatriation of mortal remains of those who died in this unfortunate incident,” said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Prime Minister Modi has also condoled the death of several people in the shocking fire incident that took place on Wednesday.

“The fire mishap in Kuwait City is saddening. My thoughts are with all those who lost their near and dear ones,” PM Modi posted on X.

“I pray that the injured recover at the earliest. The Indian Embassy in Kuwait is closely monitoring the situation and working with the authorities there to assist the affected,” he added.

ALSO READ:  EU, G7 leaders urge preventing escalation in Mideast

Earlier, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar expressed deep shock over the incident, which he said has resulted in several deaths.

“Deeply shocked by the news of the fire incident in Kuwait City. There are reportedly over 40 deaths and over 50 have been hospitalised. Our Ambassador has gone to the camp. We are awaiting further information,” Jaishankar said in a post on X.

“Deepest condolences to the families of those who tragically lost their lives. Wish early and full recovery to those who have been injured. Our Embassy will render the fullest assistance to all concerned in this regard,” he added.

Meanwhile, Adarsh Swaika, Ambassador of India to Kuwait, has already visited the hospitals in Kuwait City where several injured Indian workers have been admitted.

“Ambassador Adarsh Swaika visited the Mubarak Al-Kabeer Hospital, where 11 workers injured in today’s fire have been admitted. Ten of them are expected to be released today and one in hospital is reportedly stable. He met with patients still in hospital & assured them of the Embassy’s full support,” the Indian Embassy in Kuwait posted on X.

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Swaika also visited the fire incident site in Mangaf to ascertain the situation, assuring that the Indian Embassy is in constant touch with the relevant Kuwaiti law enforcement, fire service, and health authorities for necessary action and emergency medical care.

The Indian Embassy in Kuwait is operating an emergency helpline number (+965-65505246) in connection with the tragedy.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Health also released a statement on Wednesday afternoon that said, “The Ministry of Health has so far dealt with 43 cases through the accident departments in a number of hospitals, in a building fire incident in Mangaf, of which 4 cases arrived dead.”

–IANS

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Report highlights worsening human rights situation in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

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Peshawar, June 12 (IANS) A security report prepared by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province paints a suffering tale of public unrest, killings, terrorism, climate crisis, and health severity during the year 2023, calling on the government to take immediate and emergency steps for the protection of human rights and human lives in the region.

The report, released by HRCP KP chapter Vice Chairman Akbar Khan, revealed the worsening situation of the province during the past year with a major increase in terror attacks, loss of lives, killings, kidnappings, climate crisis, and challenging health conditions.

“More than 160 cops and over 70 military personnel were targeted in the province last year. Over 60 civilians and more than 170 militants were killed during 2023 in targeted operations,” said Akbar Khan.

“During 2023, at least 40 innocent lives were lost due to floods and storms. Eleven per cent of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has suffered severely from drug abuse,” he added.

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He also highlighted that gross human rights violations were witnessed during 2023, especially after the chaotic and violent protests by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters on May 9 last year when houses were raided and arrests were made.

“The basic rights of the citizens were blatantly violated after the May 9 violence through raids and arrests targeting the supporters of Imran Khan and PTI,” said Akbar Khan.

The report also highlighted the staggering number of out of school children in the province. As per the report, at least 4.7 million children were out of school, including at least 66 per cent girls.

The report revealed that physically challenged persons were still unable to access public places due to lack of wheelchair access, despite the court order to have special ramps at public places designated for physically challenged people.

The report also mentioned the first phase of the forced return of at least 1.7 million illegal Afghan refugees in Pakistan, stating that the authorities and law-enforcement agencies opted to use force to capture and send back illegal undocumented Afghan nationals.

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It said that major violations of human rights were practiced by the government during 2023, as authorities carried out raids and search operations in various areas to capture illegal Afghans, thus committing some serious violations of human rights.

“At least 212,000 Afghan nationals were forcibly sent back to their home country in 2023,” the report read.

–IANS

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