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Heavy rains kill 18 in India, dozens feared trapped in landslides

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(Last Updated On: July 23, 2021)

At least 18 people have died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooding that submerged low lying areas and cut off hundreds of villages, authorities said on Friday.

Rivers in Maharashtra were flooded after authorities released water from dams made full after many parts on the west coast received more than 200 mm (8 inches) of rain in 24 hours and some parts received as high as 594 mm rainfall.

At least four people died after a building collapsed in the financial capital Mumbai, and another 14 were killed in four landslides in other parts of Maharashtra, state government officials said.

“Rescue operations are going on at various places in Satara, Raigad and Ratnagiri. Due to heavy rainfall and flooded rivers, we are struggling to move rescue machinery quickly,” said a state government official, who declined to be named.

Several dozen people were feared to have been trapped at landslides in Satara and Raigad districts, the official said.

In coastal districts, the Indian navy and army have been helping in rescue operation, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said.

Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places, another Maharashtra government official said.

Hundreds of villages and dozens of towns in the affected areas of Maharashtra were without electricity and drinking water, he said.

In neighbouring southern states of Karnataka and Telangana some rivers are overflowing, and authorities are monitoring the situation, government officials said.

Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year but they also deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall and are crucial for farmers.

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Finland, Sweden submit application to join NATO

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2022)

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday at allied headquarters, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and setting in motion an accession process that is expected to take only a few weeks.

Sweden and Finland were both neutral throughout the Cold War, and their decision to join NATO is one of the most significant changes in Europe’s security architecture for decades, reflecting a sweeping shift in public opinion in the Nordic region since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

“This is a historic moment, which we must seize,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at a short ceremony in which the Swedish and Finnish ambassadors to the alliance handed over their application letters, each in a white folder embossed with their national flag.

“I warmly welcome requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners, and your membership in NATO will increase our shared security,” Stoltenberg said. The alliance considers that the accession of Finland and Sweden would hugely strengthen it in the Baltic Sea.

Ratification of all 30 allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats say.

Turkey has surprised its allies in recent days by saying it had reservations about Finnish and Swedish membership. Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that he thought the issues could be resolved.

“We are determined to work through all issues and reach rapid conclusions,” Stoltenberg said, noting strong support from all other allies.

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Russia, Ukraine peace talks stall amid mutual recriminations

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2022)

Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stagnated, officials said on Tuesday, with both sides trading blame and Moscow indicating a return to talks may be difficult.

Russia accused Ukraine of hardening its stance and the West for bolstering the government in Kyiv, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that Washington, London and Brussels want to use Ukraine to their strategic advantage.

Lavrov said he believes no pace deal can be made if negotiators try to “transfer the dialogue” to focus on what the West had to say instead of the immediate situation in Ukraine. That rules out chances for progress in talks, he added.

“We always say that we are ready for negotiations … but we were given no other choice,” Lavrov said.

Ukraine and Russia have held intermittent peace talks since the end of February 2022, just days after Russia invaded its neighbour, but there has been little communication between them in recent weeks.

Also on Tuesday, Lavrov’s deputy Andrey Rudenko said Ukraine “has practically withdrawn from the negotiation process,” while Russian negotiator Leonid Slutsky, said talks are not being conducted in any format.

“The (U.S.) State Department should not try to create “conditions” through military assistance to Kyiv. Useless,” Slutsky said.

The United States is expected to approve a $40 billion package of military and economic aid for Ukraine this week, with overall supply of weapons and aid from the West significantly increasing in recent weeks.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak confirmed that talks are “on hold” as Russia is not willing to accept that it “will not achieve any goals” and that the war is no longer going according to the Kremlin’s rules.

“Russia does not demonstrate a key understanding of today’s processes in the world,” Podolyak said, according to Ukrainian media. “And its extremely negative role.”

President Vladimir Putin says Russian forces are on a special operation to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. The West and Kyiv call that a false pretext to invade.

Thousands have been killed and millions displaced by the war. It has also left Russia in the grip of tough Western sanctions, and has raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and NATO.

“We have had not 10 years, but 20 years since the West began to prepare tools, including the use of NATO and Ukraine to contain Russia since the late 90s. All these years we insisted on negotiations – we have been ignored,” Lavrov said.

“Now we will solve problems depending on how we see them. I will always emphasize: we are ready to solve humanitarian issues,” Lavrov said.

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Russia’s Lavrov says Finland, Sweden joining NATO makes ‘no big difference’

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(Last Updated On: May 17, 2022)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Finland and Sweden joining NATO would probably make “not much difference” as the two countries had long participated in the alliance’s military drills, Reuters reported.

“Finland and Sweden, as well as other neutral countries, have been participating in NATO military exercises for many years,” Lavrov said.

“NATO takes their territory into account when planning military advances to the East. So in this sense there is probably not much difference. Let’s see how their territory is used in practice in the North Atlantic alliance.”

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