About –the stories of the world this week, 30 October to 5 November: endless war, un-covering women, not educating girls, a shooting, firing missiles, political comebacks – left & right, crowding tragedies, and a marriage of beauties.
The Russia-Ukraine War fires-on, with Russia pounding the Ukraine capital Kyiv and mostly hitting civilian targets, perhaps to break the steely resolve of the people. And Ukraine continues fighting back, in a war that seems to be ‘marching slowly into an unclear future’.
The protests in Iran, against the severe, restrictive Islamic Dress Code for Women, continue. Is it possible for Iran return to the more uncovered times of the Rule of the Shah of Iran when, some say, a woman was much more respected if she was not covered from head to toe? In the United States (US) more than 2,000 academics from universities across the country wrote to President Joe Biden urging him to do more to support the anti-government protesters. Many of these protesters are coming out of Iranian universities and schools, as young Iranians take to the streets and face off against Iran’s brutal security services.
In next-door Afghanistan, it’s 410 days since the Taliban banned teenage girls from school and continues to remain the only country in the world preventing girls from getting an education – for the singular reason that they are of the female gender. That’s outrageous: clothes can cover the body, but if your mind is clouded and cloaks your thinking, how do you uncover that? Meanwhile, Opium cultivation in Afghanistan has jumped 32% during this year 2022 despite the ruling Taliban’s ban on narcotics, according to an annual report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. What does one make of this?
Moving into Pakistan, ousted Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan survived a gun attack on his convoy while holding an anti-government protest in the eastern city of Wazirabad, Pakistan. He was shot in the leg, and seven other people were also hurt, and one killed, when a burst of gunfire hit the container-mounted platform-towed by a lorry- from which he was making a speech. Moments later the suspected shooter was wrestled to the ground by a bystander. And the shooter made a confession saying he acted alone and intended to kill Imran Khan. Khan was rushed to a hospital in Lahore and was declared to be safe and not in any life-threatening condition.
Recall former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a public rally in 2007. The chaos continues, but after a very long time Pakistan is seeing the emergence of a popular leader in Imran Khan. Could the powerful Pakistan Army, who fire the shots from behind, finally be tamed?
Swinging across to East Asia, North Korea thinks only missiles and nothing much else. And this week they went about launching a dozen of them – including an Intercontinental Missile that apparently failed. This comes at a time when the United States and South Korea are staging their largest-ever joint air drills, which North Korea has strongly criticised as ‘aggressive and provocative’. North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan – the first time it has done so in five years. And it fired some into the seas bordering South Korea, which actually crossed the delicate Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed maritime border between the Koreas. This time South Korea got its tail up and returned in kind, firing three missiles about the NLL. There is a slow fire brewing there.
Brazil: Lula’s Comeback – Left
Presidential Elections held in Brazil early this October were bitterly divisive and saw one of the most abrasive campaigns in recent times. And without an outright victory for any of the contesting candidates, it led to a run-off on 30th October to decide the winner.
Recall, Ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) secured 48.4% of the vote to incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro’s 43.2% and a third candidate Simone Tebet obtained 4.2%, in the Elections. The run-off became necessary as no candidate crossed the threshold of the mandatory ‘at least 50%’ of the vote.
This Sunday the run-off Election was held and Lula beat Bolsonaro by a razor-thin margin winning 50.90% of the votes, while the latter won 49.10%. This marks Brazil returned to left-wing politics.
It’s a stunning comeback for the lathe-machine-metal-worker-turned-politician Lula, who could not run in the last presidential election in 2018 because he was in jail and banned from standing for office. Lula was President of Brazil for two terms, from 2003 to 2006, and 2007 to 2011, where he led the country through a commodities boom that helped fund huge social welfare programs and lift millions out of poverty. Those were the times when BRICS was a famous term used for the five emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Lula left office with a 90% approval rating, but this record was tarnished by Brazil’s largest corruption probe, dubbed ‘Operation Car Wash’, which led to charges against hundreds of high-ranking politicians and businessmen across Latin America. Lula himself was convicted for corruption and money laundering in 2017, but a court threw out his conviction in March 2021, clearing the way for his political rebound. By the time, Lula had spent 580 days in jail.
“They tried to bury me alive, and here I am,” said the 77 years old Lula, kicking off his victory celebrations. He made the right noises of the importance of unity and moving Brazil upwards. However, his rival, Bolsonaro, has not unambiguously conceded defeat and could dampen Lula’s victory.
Israel: Bibi’s Comeback – Right
This week, if Brazil swung to the Left, balance in the World was restored by Israel swinging to the Right!
Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition headed to victory in Israel’s parliamentary elections-the 5th in less than 4 years. With his ongoing bribery and corruption trial running in the background the win may provide Netanyahu a means of staying out of jail. But he is not the Election’s biggest winner. That honour goes to Israel’s Religious Zionism party led by neo-Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who have moved from the fringes to the mainstream, winning 14 seats in the 120 member Knesset. He achieved what his hero, Meir Kahane – the assassinated extremist rabbi who was banned from Israeli electoral politics – only dreamed about. Ben-Gvir may become the minister of public security, in charge of the country’s police – as already demanded of Netanyahu. That means the hard right would have a guiding hand on the country’s internal security apparatus. “It’s time to be the landlords of this country again”, said Ben-Gvir when he sighted victory.
The coalition of Netanyahu’s Likud, the Jewish nationalist Religious Zionism/Jewish Power Bloc, Shas and United Torah Judaism would, on paper, be the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, winning 64 seats – a comfortable majority.
Current Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his allies won 51 seats. An Arab alliance called Hadash-Taal won 5 seats, and is unlikely to support either Netanyahu or Lapid to lead the country.
The final election results confirm that Bibi can now build a stable majority government with his ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, this will also end nearly four years of an unprecedented political stalemate.
South Korea: a Street too Narrow
Late last week and early this week we saw two absurd and avoidable man-made disasters which killed over 300 people who were just going about their lives in South Korea and in India.
In South Korea, during most weekends the narrow alleys of Itaewon, the neon-lit nightlife district in the capital Seoul, are busy with partygoers and tourists. Now it’s the site of one of the country’s worst disasters.
Last Saturday night, tens of thousands of people flooded into the area in central Seoul to celebrate Halloween, but panic erupted as the crowds swelled and surged into a narrow alley. It became hard to breathe in the crowd, which precipitated a stampede in which mostly young people became trapped and crushed, killing at least 151 people and injuring over 80 others. The casualties were young, mostly in their teens and early 20s. Among the 151 dead were 19 foreign nationals, with victims from Iran, Norway, China, Thailand, and Uzbekistan.
Saturday night marked the first Halloween since the country lifted various restrictions including that related to the pandemic – lending it particular significance for many eager participants in Seoul, as well as international visitors, foreign residents, and tourists.
Hotels and ticketed events in the neighbourhood had been booked solid in advance, and large crowds were expected. Itaewon in particular is popular among backpackers and international students.
It’s hard to pinpoint what might have triggered the crush, but authorities would have anticipated high numbers, before Saturday night. There is a responsibility on the part of the authorities to be monitoring crowd volume in real time, so they can sense the need to get people out. Standing out, is the failure by the Police to manage and control the surging crowds.
India: a Bridge too Old
In the 1600’s Morbi, in India’s present day Gujarat State, was founded as a princely state and rule by the Jadeja clan of Rajputs who bore the title ‘Thakur Sahib’ until the last ruler, Sir Waghji, gave himself the title ‘Maharaja’. It became a British protectorate in 1807, during British rule in India.
To reflect the progressive and scientific nature of the rulers of Morbi, Sir Waghji built a 1.25 metre wide 230 metre span suspension bridge across the Machchu River, which is similar to the Ram and Lakshman Jhulas across the Ganga in Uttarakhand. It used the latest technology available in Europe in those days, and material for the construction of the bridge was sourced from England.
The bridge served to connect the Darbargadh Palace and the Nazarbag Palace, which were the residences of the royal families. It was first inaugurated in 1879, by then British Governor of Mumbai. And was ‘kept alive’ as a heritage bridge, all these years, becoming a tourist spot to hang-out on.
The bridge was entrusted to a company called Oreva for operation and maintenance under a 15 years contract. In March, this year, it was closed to the public for renovation and reopened on the Gujarati New Year Day, celebrated on October 26.
A tragedy occurred late this Sunday when the heritage bridge collapsed packed with tourists and city residents at around 6.30 pm, killing about 135 people. Prima facie, the bridge gave away as too many people in the mid-section were trying to sway it from one side to the other. About 200 people were on the bridge, at the time of collapse. And it was actually meant to hold about 125 people at a time.
The Oreva Group is a company which once described itself as the ‘world’s largest clock manufacturing company’, before foraying into making lighting products, battery-operated bikes, home appliances and TV sets. With no background in ‘maintaining heritage bridges’ one wonders how they won the contract in the first place.
It’s also learnt that the bridge had not received a thumbs-up Fitness Certificate from the local Municipality, after completion of the renovation work.
One can see a clear failure to ‘understand the bridge’ and carefully regulate the people on the bridge, given its heritage nature. The investigation should be able to reveal the actual reasons.
Going back in time, in 1979 the Machchu-2 Dam across the same river collapsed sending a wall of water through the town of Morbi, killing more than 2000 people is one of the greatest dam-burst tragedies of all time.
The Machchu-2 Dam is an earthfill dam meant to serve as an irrigation scheme. Considering the long history of drought in Saurashtra region, the primary consideration at the time of design was water supply, not flood control. It consisted of a masonry spillway of 206 metres with 18 sluice gates across the river section and long earthen embankments on both sides. The failure was caused by excessive rain and massive flooding, leading to the disintegration of the earthen walls of the four kilometre long dam. The actual observed flow following the intense rainfall reached about three times above the flow the dam was designed for, resulting in its collapse. 762 metres of the left and 365 metres of the right embankment of the dam collapsed. Within 20 minutes the floods of 3.7 to 9.1 m height inundated the low-lying areas of Morbi industrial town located 5 km below the dam.
The Machchu-2 Dam failure is listed as one of the worst dam bursts in the Guinness Book of Records
There is a new power couple in Town: a tale of picture perfect love – literally.
A former Miss Argentina and a former Miss Puerto Rico shocked and awed fans by announcing their surprise marriage on Instagram. Mariana Varela and Fabiola Valentin met at the 2020 Miss Grand International Competition in Thailand, where they represented Argentina and Puerto Rico, respectively. After making it to the pageant Top 10, the two beauty queens remained close friends on social media and secretly dated.
The pair posted matching Instagram Reels showing moments from their relationship, including romantic walks on the beach, candid cuddles, champagne toasts, and a proposal with gold and silver balloons saying, “Marry me?”
The pair did just that and married on 28 October at the City Courthouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “After deciding to keep our relationship private, we opened the doors on a special day”, said the two beauties – in one frame!
More delightful and beautiful stories coming up in the weeks ahead. It’s alright to stay married to World Inthavaaram.