At least 31 people died and nine others were missing in flash floods and landslides set off by torrential rains that swamped a southern Philippine province overnight and trapped some residents on their roofs, officials said Friday. Most of the victims were swept away by rampaging floodwaters and drowned or were hit by debris-laden mudslides in three towns in hard-hit Maguindanao province, said Naguib Sinarimbo, the interior minister for a five-province Muslim autonomous region run by former guerrillas. “The amount of rainwater that came down overnight was unusually (heavy) and flowed down mountainsides and swelled rivers,” Sinarimbo told The Associated Press by telephone. “I hope the casualty numbers won't rise further but there are still a few communities we haven’t reached,” Sinarimbo said, adding the rains have eased since Friday morning, causing floods to start to recede in several towns. Sinarimbo said based on reports from mayors, governors and disaster-response officials, 26 died mostly by drowning in the neighboring coastal towns of Datu Odin Sinsuat and Datu Blah Sinsuat and five others died in Upi town, all in Maguindanao. Five people were missing in Datu Blah Sinsuat, according to the town’s mayor, Marshall Sinsuat, and Sinarimbo said four others were reported missing elsewhere. A rescue team was deployed to a tribal village called Kusiong at the foot of a mountain in Datu Odin Sinsuat to check on reports that floods and landslides also hit houses in the community, Sinarimbo said, adding there were no immediate reports of casualties. The unusually heavy rains that flooded several towns in Maguindanao and outlying provinces overnight in a mountainous region with marshy plains were caused by Tropical Storm Nalgae, which was expected to blow into the country’s eastern coast from the Pacific Ocean on Saturday morning, according to forecasters. Floodwaters rapidly rose in many low-lying villages, forcing some villagers to climb onto their roofs, where they were rescued by army troops, police and volunteers, Sinarimbo said. He added that many areas, which have not been flooded for years, like Cotabato city where he lives, were swamped overnight. “In one area in Upi only the attic of a school can be seen above the floodwater,” said disaster-response officer Nasrullah Imam, referring to a flood-engulfed town in Maguindanao. The wide rain bands of Nalgae, the 16th storm to hit the Philippine archipelago this year, enabled it to dump rains in the country’s south although the storm was blowing farther north, government forecaster Sam Duran said. About 5,000 people were protectively evacuated away from the path of the storm, which was not expected to strengthen into a typhoon as it approached land, government forecasters and other officials said. About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippine archipelago each year. It’s located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region along most of the Pacific Ocean rim where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the Southeast Asian nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.
As countries gathered in Scotland were crystallizing their pledges at last year's United Nations climate conference, India used its might to intervene. Along with China, India took issue with the draft deal's suggestion to “phase out” coal, preferring the wording, “phase down." After much back and forth and hurried discussions between leaders, Bhupendra Yadav, India’s minister for environment, forests, and climate change, read out the final version. It said that nations should work toward a “phase down” of coal power. The intervention was, for India's government, a success. Now the country is expected to exercise its influence yet again to look out for its own interests at the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Egypt, known as COP27. “India has always played a key role in climate negotiations and I think Egypt will be the same,” said Navroz Dubash, a lead author of various U.N. climate reports and a long-time observer of climate policy and governance. Indian leaders say the nation requires billions of dollars to enable its clean energy transition and will push for better financing for developing countries at the summit. India has made many of its carbon emission goals conditional on receiving this financial help. Being both a climate vulnerable as well as a high emitting country, experts say India occupies a unique position on the global climate policy negotiating table. About 80% of India’s population live in regions highly vulnerable to extreme disasters like severe flooding or heat waves, according to a 2021 study by the climate think-tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water based in New Delhi. Meanwhile, the nation is currently the world's third biggest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China and the U.S., according to latest estimates. A key issue for India at COP27 will be how to finance both adapting to climate change and limiting fossil fuel emissions, according to a senior Indian government official who will be involved in the negotiations. The official, from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, responded to written questions from The Associated Press. The official was not named, keeping in line with ministry protocols. India wants the $100 billion-a-year pledge of climate funds for developing countries, a promise made in 2009 that hasn’t yet been fulfilled despite being two years past its deadline, to be assessed, according to the official. Other questions around financing, such as what happens to climate funding in the long term, what contributions rich countries will make to poorer ones and how to make finance flows consistent with global temperature limit goals, also need to be addressed, they added. No other country will see a bigger increase in energy demand than India in the coming years, and it is estimated that the nation will need $223 billion to meet its 2030 clean energy targets. “India has made it adequately clear that it is the historical responsibility of rich countries to provide the necessary climate funding,” said the senior Indian government official. Historically, it is the U.S. and European nations that have contributed the most carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Estimates for how much it will cost to move to clean energy and industry practices globally and help vulnerable communities adapt vary, but are in the trillions of dollars. Leading up to COP27, India had announced its new climate plan saying the country will aim to achieve half of its energy requirements from non-fossil fuel-based energy sources by the year 2030. Currently, 42% of the country’s installed electricity capacity is from non-fossil fuel sources. “The investments in renewable energy, though on an upward trend, need significant scaling up. There is a funding gap. This gap needs to met by international climate public financing to attract investors in the renewable energy domain,” said the Indian government official. "The raised ambitions and new goals for tackling climate change could all be in vain if adequate financial support is not provided to developing countries.” Despite their ambitious climate plans, India is also investing more in coal, at least in the short-term. In the last two years alone, the Indian government has announced around $50 billion in forthcoming public and private investment in coal. Compensation for poor countries from rich, high-polluting nations for the destruction caused by climate change, known as “loss and damage” in climate negotiations will be a key agenda item for many developing countries, including India. According to the World Bank, 750 million people in South Asia have been affected by at least one natural disaster in the past two decades. These disasters are expected to become more frequent and intense, potentially creating immense loss and damage in the region. The NGO Germanwatch has ranked India seventh among countries most affected by extreme weather in 2019, noting that massive floods that year caused damage of around $10 billion, claiming 1,800 lives and displacing around 1.8 million people. "I think it’s a real challenge for India to position itself” on loss and damage, said Dubash, who's also a professor at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. “I think it would be an important moment for India to signal its allegiance with vulnerable countries,” Long term observers of climate diplomacy say India, like many other countries, is straddling climate goals and boosting standards of living. “There are some groups of countries which tend to think that all the financing for fossil fuels should be stopped and should be restricted. The problem with this, among other things, is that it ignores the efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals that many countries are making," said RR Rashmi, a distinguished fellow at The Energy Research Institute in New Delhi. He added that moving away from fossil fuels “has to be a country driven process. It is best left to them to decide which sectors to address first rather than addressing it globally.” Many observers say this year's conference will be "in-between COP," as many of the deadlines set for climate change goals have either passed or are not due until later years. This makes the conference "a good moment to push forward the issues that the developed world typically sideline, like loss and damage, climate finance and adaptation,” said Avantika Goswami, a climate policy researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi. For the most part, experts say India is keeping its cards close to its chest. India will have to balance “what the country is willing to put on the table in terms of pledges, policies, and commitments” and how much they are willing to spend, said Dubash. “So we (India) don’t want to do something that would lock ourselves into something costly unless there’s a promise of finance.”
Southeast Asian foreign ministers acknowledged Thursday that their efforts to bring peace to Myanmar haven't succeeded and agreed to increase their determination to end violence in the country, where a military takeover last year set off a crisis that threatens to destabilize the region. Recent events in Myanmar, including a military air strike on Sunday that reportedly killed as many as 80 members of the Kachin ethnic minority and the execution of political prisoners in July, have heightened worries among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At a special meeting on Myanmar in Jakarta, Indonesia, ASEAN foreign ministers said their efforts haven't achieved significant progress and called for “concrete, practical and time-bound actions” to strengthen the implementation of a five-point consensus the group reached in April last year on ways to seek peace. Read more: ‘Without accountability, political transition in Myanmar won’t fix Rohingya issue’ ASEAN, which includes Myanmar, has tried to play a peacemaking role since shortly after the country’s military seized power in February last year, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The five-point consensus calls for the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue among concerned parties, mediation by an ASEAN special envoy, provision of humanitarian aid and a visit to Myanmar by the special envoy to meet all concerned parties. Myanmar’s government initially agreed to the consensus but has made little effort to implement it, aside from seeking humanitarian aid and allowing ASEAN's envoy, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, to visit. But it refused to allow him to meet with Suu Kyi, who was arrested and is being tried on a variety of charges that critics say are contrived to sideline her from politics. In response, ASEAN has not allowed Myanmar’s leaders to participate in its official meetings, though working-level officials have joined some. “The meeting agreed that ASEAN should not be discouraged, but even more determined to help Myanmar to bring about a peaceful solution the soonest possible,” Prak Sokhonn, who chaired the meeting, said in a statement. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the ministers expressed their concern and disappointment, and in some cases frustration, with the lack of significant progress in the implementation of the consensus. “Instead of progressing, the situation was even said to be deteriorating and worsening,” she said. “The acts of violence once again must stop immediately,” Marsudi said. “Without a cessation of violence, there will be no conducive conditions for the resolution of this political crisis.” Read more: Locals in dread as firing inside Myanmar rocks Naikhongchhari A statement issued late Thursday night by Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said it “will not be bound by the outcomes of the meeting” because it was held by the other nine ASEAN countries without Myanmar’s attendance. It insisted that Myanmar’s military government has been implementing the five-point roadmap by cooperating with ASEAN’s special envoy, holding peace talks with ethnic rebel groups and providing humanitarian assistance. Thursday’s meeting came ahead of ASEAN’s annual summit on Nov. 11-13, where a top focus of the leaders will be the Myanmar crisis, which has threatened the group’s unity. ASEAN members traditionally avoid criticizing each other, and the violence unleashed by Myanmar’s military is widely seen as exposing the group’s powerlessness in dealing with a geopolitical and humanitarian emergency that could affect all of them. Growing numbers of refugees are fleeing Myanmar and seeking asylum throughout the region. The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said an estimated 70,000 have fled to neighboring countries since the military took power and urged Southeast Asian leaders to ensure their governments don’t force people back to Myanmar. “Rather than protecting asylum seekers from the junta’s violence and persecution, regional actors are forcing Myanmar refugees and other nationals back into harm’s way,” said Shayna Bauchner, a researcher for the group. Malaysian authorities reportedly have accelerated deportations to Myanmar, returning over 2,000 people since April without allowing the United Nations refugee agency to assess their asylum claims, while Thai authorities have pushed asylum seekers back across the Myanmar border without verifying their protection needs, Human Rights Watch said. ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea on Friday, Seoul officials said, as its rival South Korea was wrapping up an annual military drill that the North views as an invasion rehearsal. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement the missile flew toward North Korea’s eastern waters but gave no further details including how far the weapon flew. The launch, the latest in a series of weapons tests by North Korea in recent weeks, came on the final day of South Korea’s annual 12-day “Hoguk” field exercises, which also involved an unspecified number of U.S. troops this year. The South Korean and U.S. air forces plan to conduct a large-scale training next week. North Korea sees such regular drills by Seoul and Washington as practice for launching an attack on the North, though the allies say their exercises are defensive in nature. Friday’s launch came four days after the rival Koreas exchanged warning shots along their disputed western sea boundary, a scene of past bloodshed and naval battles. The launch also came after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman during a visit to Tokyo this week issued a warning over North Korea’s escalating provocations and reiterated that the U.S. would fully use its military capabilities, “including nuclear,” to defend its allies Japan and South Korea. There are also concerns that the North could up the ante in the coming weeks by conducting its first nuclear test since 2017. Rafael Grossi, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Thursday that a new nuclear test explosion by North Korea “would be yet another confirmation of a program which is moving full steam ahead in a way that is incredibly concerning.” He said the U.N. agency has been observing preparations for a new test, which would be the North’s seventh overall, but gave no indication of whether an atomic blast is imminent.
China has reportedly established dozens of “overseas police stations” in nations around the world that activists fear could be used to track and harass dissidents as part of Beijing’s crackdown on corruption. Information about the outposts underscored concerns about the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s influence over its citizens abroad, sometimes in ways deemed illegal by other countries, as well as the undermining of democratic institutions and the the theft of economic and political secrets by bodies affiliated with the one-party state. Spanish-based non-government group Safeguard Defenders published a report last month, called “110 Overseas. Chinese Transnational Policing Gone Wild,” that focused on the foreign stations. Laura Harth, a campaign director with the group, told The Associated Press that China has set up at least 54 overseas police service stations. “One of the aims of these campaigns, obviously, as it is to crack down on dissent, is to silence people,” Harth said. “So people are afraid. People that are being targeted, that have family members back in China, are afraid to speak out.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Thursday that Beijing wasn’t doing anything wrong. “Chinese public security authorities strictly observe the international law and fully respect the judicial sovereignty of other countries,” Mao said. The Dutch government said this week it was looking into whether two such police stations — one a virtual office in Amsterdam and the other at a physical address in Rotterdam — were established in the Netherlands. “We are investigating the activities of these so-called police centers. Once there is more clarity on the matter, we will decide on appropriate action,” the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement sent to the AP. “We have not been informed about these centers via diplomatic channels.” Another Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, described the foreign outposts identified by Safeguard Defenders as service stations for Chinese people who are abroad and in need of help with, for instance, renewing their driver’s licenses. Wang added that China also has cracked down on what he called transnational crimes but said the operation was conducted in line with international law. In its report, Safeguard Defenders reproduced Chinese media accounts about people suspected of alleged crimes in China being interrogated by video link from some of the locations in other countries that Beijing allegedly did not declare to other governments. In one instance, according to the group, a Chinese man accused of environmental crimes was persuaded in 2020 to return from Madrid to Qingtian, in Zhejiang province, where he turned himself in to authorities. Read: China's Xi urges military expansion as party congress gets underway Visits by The Associated Press to some of the locations identified by Safeguard Defenders in Rome, Madrid and Barcelona found, respectively, a massage parlor, the Spanish headquarters of an association of citizens from Qingtian and a firm providing legal translation services. There was no indication of police stations or other activity directly related to the Chinese government. A worker at the Barcelona translation company confirmed to the AP that a Fuzhou Police Overseas Service Station operated on the premises for a few weeks this year in a test-drive capacity. The employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists, the press, said the police service center offered document renewal services to Fuzhou citizens living in the Barcelona region who could not return to China due to pandemic travel restrictions and the high cost of flights. According to Safeguard Defenders, China claims 230,000 suspects of fraud were “persuaded to return” to China from April 2021 to July 2022. “These operations eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the international rule of law, and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods,” its report said. The European Union’s executive arm said Thursday it was up to member countries to investigate such allegations since it would be a matter of national sovereignty. A Hungarian opposition lawmaker claimed this month to have discovered two sites in Budapest where Chinese overseas police stations operated without the knowledge of the country’s Interior Ministry. The lawmaker, Marton Tompos, said one of the two locations in Hungary’s capital had a sign that said Qingtian Overseas Police Station. Tompos said he was unable to contact anyone affiliated with the sites and that when he visited again days later, the sign had been removed. The Hungarian Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to AP questions on the matter. Three informal Chinese police stations are operating in Portugal, Safeguard Defenders reported. Portuguese authorities did not immediately reply to AP questions about the claim. Read: China's Xi expected to get third five-year term A Portuguese TV report said one of the venues, located in an industrial complex in northern Portugal, appeared to be a car shop operated by a Chinese man. The man denied any connection with the Chinese government, though broadcaster S.I.C. Noticias showed him in a video promoting the Beijing Winter Olympics and said he heads a local association that helps Chinese immigrants. In Tanzania, both police and the Chinese Embassy have denied the presence of a Chinese-run police station in the country’s commercial hub and former capital, Dar es Salaam, after the BBC reported on it last week. “You are fabricating stories,” the embassy tweeted, calling the report an example of disinformation aimed at dividing China-Africa relations. A police spokesman sent the AP a copy of China’s denial in response to questions Thursday. In Lesotho, a kingdom in southern Africa, national police Senior Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli also denied the existence of any Chinese law enforcement activities. He said such operations would be illegal as any form of policing in Lesotho is conducted by local authorities. Over his decade in power, Chinese President Xi Jinping has pushed a relentless anti-corruption drive that has seen tens of millions of Communist Party cadres investigated and expanded overseas via a pair of campaigns known as Sky Net and Fox Hunt. Both are tasked with locating allegedly corrupt officials who have fled abroad and convincing them to return to China with their stolen state assets. Since China began opening up in the 1980s, corruption has been a major problem among those enjoying access to state funds and resources with few safeguards in place, and cash was often squirreled away abroad, particularly in the U.S. and other countries without extradition treaties with China.
Ministers and heads of national space agencies Wednesday endorsed the Jakarta Ministerial Declaration on Space Applications for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific at the close of a high-level meeting co-organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Indonesia. The Declaration shows the strong commitment of countries to using innovative space applications to address outstanding and emerging development challenges of persistent poverty, food security, threats to global health, and increasing vulnerability to disasters, climate change and environmental degradation. “Without a doubt, this Declaration will not only sustain the momentum of increasing integration of space and geospatial information applications in support of sustainable development but also reach countries in special situations to ensure that everyone in our region captures the benefits of space science, technology and its applications,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. Space applications provide multiple solutions for socioeconomic development. The cooperation between countries in the region has greatly broadened over the years, going beyond disaster response to all thematic priority areas for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Countries have implemented over 600 activities contributing to 156 out of the 188 actions identified in the 2018 Asia-Pacific Plan of Action on Space Applications for Sustainable Development. To this end, delegates at the fourth Ministerial Conference on Space Applications for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific agreed to accelerate Phase II of the Plan of Action under the guiding theme “Space+ for our Earth and Future,” comprising four core elements: leveraging innovative digital applications; engaging end users, including the private sector and youth; managing data and information more effectively; and enhancing partnerships with national, regional and global stakeholders. "Through the fourth Ministerial Conference, BRIN fully supports the Asia Pacific Action Plan on Space Applications for Sustainable Development (2018–2030) both in terms of research and innovation, as well as in terms of formulating policy recommendations related to the use of space," said Laksana Tri Handoko, Chair of the National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia (BRIN). At the Conference, ESCAP also launched its compendium on Geospatial Practices for Sustainable Development in South-East Asia 2022, which documents more than 60 good practices in the subregion. Alongside well-established space applications in drought monitoring and early warning, South-East Asian countries have diversified their use of space technology into areas such as spatial mapping of poverty, tracking of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and evidence-based accounting of land, renewable energy and other natural resources.
A woman in Indonesia's Jambi province was killed and swallowed whole by a python, according to local reports. Jahrah, a rubber-tapper reportedly in her 50s, had made her way to work at a rubber plantation on Sunday morning, reports BBC. She was reported missing after failing to return that night, and search parties sent out to find her. A day later villagers found a python with what appeared to be a large stomach. Locals later killed the snake and found her body inside. "The victim was found in the snake's stomach," Betara Jambi police chief AKP S Harefa told local media outlets, adding that her body appeared to be largely intact when it was found. He said the victim's husband had on Sunday night found some of her clothes and tools she had used at the rubber plantation, leading him to call on a search party. Read:Florida teen wins $10,000 by capturing 28 pythons After the snake - which was at least 5m (16ft) long - was spotted on Monday, villagers then caught and killed it to verify the victim's identity. "After they cut the belly apart, they found it was Jahrah inside," Mr Harefa told CNN Indoneisa. Though such incidents are rare, this is not the first time someone in Indonesia has been killed and eaten by a python. Two similar deaths were reported in the country between 2017 and 2018. Pythons swallow their food whole. Their jaws are connected by very flexible ligaments so they can stretch around large prey. One expert had earlier told the BBC that pythons typically eat rats and other animals, "but once they reach a certain size it's almost like they don't bother with rats anymore because the calories are not worth it". "In essence they can go as large as their prey goes," said Mary-Ruth Low, conservation & research officer for Wildlife Reserves Singapore. That can include animals as large as pigs or even cows.
The Chinese city of Shanghai started administering an inhalable COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday in what appears to be a world first. The vaccine, a mist that is sucked in through the mouth, is being offered for free as a booster dose for previously vaccinated people, according to an announcement on an official city social media account. Scientists hope that such “needle-free” vaccines will make vaccination more accessible in countries with fragile health systems because they are easier to administer. They also may persuade people who don’t like getting a shot in the arm to get inoculated. China wants more people to get booster shots before it relaxes strict pandemic restrictions that are holding back the economy and are increasingly out of sync with the rest of the world. As of mid-October, 90% of Chinese were fully vaccinated and 57% had received a booster shot. A video posted by an online Chinese state media outlet showed people at a community health center sticking the short nozzle of a translucent white cup into their mouths. The accompanying text said that after slowly inhaling, people hold their breath for five seconds, with the entire procedure completed in 20 seconds. “It was like drinking a cup of milk tea,” one Shanghai resident said in the video. “When I breathed it in, it tasted a bit sweet.” The effectiveness of non-needle vaccines has not been fully explored. Chinese regulators approved the inhalable one in September, but only as a booster shot after studies showed it triggered an immune system response in people who had previously received two shots of a different Chinese vaccine. A vaccine taken orally could fend off the virus before it reaches the rest of the respiratory system, though that would depend in part on the size of the droplets, one expert said. Larger droplets would train defenses in parts of the mouth and throat, while smaller ones would travel further into the body, said Dr. Vineeta Bal, an immunologist in India. The inhalable vaccine was developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics Inc. as an aerosol version of the company’s one-shot adenovirus vaccine, which uses a relatively harmless cold virus. The traditional one-shot vaccine has been approved for use in more than 10 markets including China, Hungary, Pakistan, Malaysia, Argentina and Mexico. The inhaled version has received a go-ahead for clinical trials in Malaysia, a Malaysian media report said last month. Regulators in India have approved a nasal vaccine, another needle-free approach, but it has yet to be rolled out. The vaccine, developed in the U.S. and licensed to Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech, is squirted in the nose. About a dozen nasal vaccines are being tested globally, according to the World Health Organization. China has relied on domestically developed vaccines, primarily two inactivated vaccines that have proven effective in preventing death and serious disease but less so than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at stopping the spread of the disease. Chinese authorities also have not mandated vaccination — entering an office building or other public places requires a negative COVID-19 test, not proof of vaccination. And the country’s strict “zero-COVID” approach means that only a small proportion of the population has been infected and built immunity that way, compared to other places. As a result, it’s unclear how widely COVID-19 would spread if restrictions were lifted. The ruling Communist Party has so far shown no sign of easing the “zero-COVID” policy, moving quickly to restrict travel and impose lockdowns when even just a few cases are discovered. Authorities on Wednesday ordered the lockdown of 900,000 people in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first detected in late 2019, for at least five days. In remote Qinghai province, the urban districts of Xining city have been locked down since last Friday. In Beijing, Universal Studios said it would close its hotels and attractions “to comply with pandemic prevention and control.” The city of more than 21 million people reported 19 new cases in the latest 24-hour period.
Veteran politician Mallikarjun Kharge on Tuesday became the first non-Gandhi in 24 years to take over the reins of India's main opposition Congress party. The 80-year-old was officially handed over the baton by interim president Sonia Gandhi at a function at Congress headquarters in the Indian capital this morning. Sonia was the Congress president for nearly 23 years, while his son Rahul Gandhi held the coveted post for one year. Addressing party leaders, Sonia said that she was "relieved" with Kharge taking over as Congress president. "I did my duty to the best of my ability. Today, I will be freed of this responsibility. A weight is off my shoulder. I feel a sense of relief," Sonia said. "This was a big responsibility. The responsibility is now on Mallikarjun Kharge," she said, adding that "the biggest challenge today was the crisis of democratic values in the country". Kharge was elected the Congress president on October 19. Considered close to the Gandhi family, he defeated a relatively young Shashi Tharoor, a former UN diplomat, by a huge margin. While Kharge is a staunch Gandhi family loyalist with 50 years of political experience, 66-year-old Tharoor is an articulate leader who joined the party in 2009 after nearly a 30-year stint in the UN. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist BJP swept to power in 2014, the Congress has witnessed a vertiginous decline. The Congress is now in power only in a handful of Indian states. Often blamed for the party's poor performance, Rahul has been reluctant to take over the reins of the party in the run-up to the general elections slated for 2024.
British Prime Minister-designate Rishi Sunak's father-in-law and Indian billionaire businessman NR Narayana Murthy has said he is confident that his son-in-law will do the best for the people of the UK. Sunak, 42, on Monday was elected as the new leader of the ruling Conservative Party and is all set to become Britain's first prime minister of Indian origin. "Congratulations to Rishi. We are proud of him and we wish him success. We are confident he will do his best for the people of the United Kingdom," Narayana Murthy, the founder of Indian software behemoth Infosys, told the local media. Sunak, the former British Chancellor, tied the knot with Narayana Murthy's daughter Akshata a leading fashion designer, in 2009. The couple, who met at Stanford University, has two daughters. Akshata and Sunak are one of the wealthiest couples in Britain, with a combined fortune of 730 million pounds. Akshata holds a 0.93% stake in Infosys, and her personal wealth hogged media limelight in the context of her claim of non-domiciled status in the UK.