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US Defence Secy meets PM Modi, wants strategic ties for peace in Indo-Pacific

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US Defence Secretary Lloyd James Austin III met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and expressed America’s strong desire to further enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

India is the third stop for Austin during his three-nation visit—he went to Japan and South Korea—and the first overseas visit by the new US Defence Secretary after President Joe Biden took charge.

“Pleasure to meet US @SecDef Lloyd Austin today. Conveyed my best wishes to @POTUS @JoeBiden India and US are committed to our strategic partnership that is a force for global good,” PM Modi tweeted, along with a photo showing him and Mr Austin seated in front of the US and the national flag.

A PMO release said that the Prime Minister welcomed the warm and close relationship between the two countries, which is rooted in shared values of democracy, pluralism and commitment to a rules-based order.

PM Modi outlined his vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries and emphasised the important role of bilateral defence cooperation in India-US ties. He also requested Secretary Austin to convey his best wishes to President Joe Biden.

Secretary Austin reiterated the US government’s continued commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries. He also conveyed greetings of President Biden to the Prime Minister.

“Thrilled to be here in India. The breadth of cooperation between our two nations reflects the significance of our major defense partnership, as we work together to address the most pressing challenges facing the Indo-Pacific region,” Austin tweeted.

During talks between Austin and Indian officials, the issues that are likely to be discussed include ways to deepen India-US strategic relations, boosting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, China’s behaviour along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh, terrorism and the Afghan peace process.

India’s plan to buy some 30 armed Predator drones from the US for all the three services at an estimated $3 billion is expected to figure in the talks. The Predator-B drones made by US defence firm General Atomics can remain airborne for 35 hours and hunt targets at land and sea.

Also, the contentious issue of India’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems—which under US law can attract sanctions—is expected to be raised in his meeting with Indian officials. Washington has imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying that equipment.

Meanwhile, the US Defence Secretary was urged by a senior senator to convey Washington’s opposition to India’s proposed purchase of Russian air defence systems as he headed to New Delhi on Friday for talks aimed at deepening security ties.

The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, urged Austin to make clear to India officials the Biden administration’s opposition to the deal. “If India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and therefore sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA,” Menendez said in a letter to Austin, referring to the law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

“It will also limit India’s ability to work with the US on development and procurement of sensitive military technology. I expect you to make all of these challenges clear in conversations with your Indian counterparts,” he said.

Secretary Austin is on a three-day official visit to India. It is the first visit to the country by a top official of the Biden administration.

A PMO release said that the Prime Minister welcomed the warm and close relationship between the two countries, which is rooted in shared values of democracy, pluralism and commitment

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YOGI ADITYANATH TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19

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LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday.“I got tested for Covid-19 after showing some symptoms. The report is positive and I am in self-isolation and following all medical instructions. I am doing my work virtually. All the functions of the state government are running normally. Whoever came in my contact, please get their Covid test done,” Adityanath tweeted in Hindi.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister on Tuesday went into self-isolation after coming into contact with some officials who tested positive for Covid-19. Uttar Pradesh reported 18,021 new Covid-19 cases and 85 deaths on Tuesday. ANI

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AS DELHI SEES 17K CASES, HEALTH MINISTER SAYS ENOUGH HOSPITAL BEDS FOR PATIENTS

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As Delhi registered more than 17,000 fresh Covid-19 cases—another record high in the national capital—and almost double the 9,925 cases in Mumbai, Health Minister Satyendar Jain on Wednesday said that there are enough hospital beds available for coronavirus patients.

Speaking to the media, Jain said, “Currently we have 13,000 beds and there is no shortage of ventilators. Patients from Delhi and other states are being admitted.” Elaborating on the arrangements that have been made, the Health Minister said the Central government has provided 1,100 beds and talks are going on to add more hospital beds.

He said that 286 out of 5,525 Covid Care Centres are occupied in Delhi. To set up more centres, banquets halls and hotels will be included soon, he added. The Health Minister said that there is no slowdown in Covid cases, the numbers of coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing and appealed to people to stay home. “The numbers of hospital beds (for availability) is being revised twice a day on the Delhi Corona App,” he said adding that people should visit hospitals only after going through the app.

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NO COMPARISON BETWEEN MARKAZ AND KUMBH: UTTARAKHAND CM

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Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat on Tuesday said that there is no comparison between Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi and Kumbh in Haridwar as the former was held in a closed space while the latter is being held in a vast open area.

Briefing the mediapersons, Rawat said, “There is no comparison between Markaz and Kumbh. Markaz was in a closed hall. All the people slept in a single hall with close contacts. They shared blankets. On the contrary, there are 16 ghats in Kumbh. Not just Haridwar, Kumbh is spread from Rishikesh to Nilkanth. Devotees take bath in different ghats at different times.”

“The Akhadas also reach the ghats at different time slots. The peshwai of the Akhadas visit in a time-bound manner. Markaz was in a closed building but Kumbh is in a vast open area. Most importantly, Kumbh is at the bank of the River Ganga. Maa Ganga’s blessings are there in the flow. So, there should be no corona,” added the CM.

Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi is the headquarters of Tablighi Jamaat, a society of Sunni Islamic missionary movement. It caught national attention in March last year after the havoc Covid-19 infections caused among the people gathered in the building.

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GUJARAT STARTS NATION’S FIRST DRIVE-THROUGH RT-PCR TESTS

Abhijit Bhatt

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Drive-through RT-PCR tests have been started at the GMDC ground in Ahmedabad for the first time in the country from Wednesday, under a joint venture between the municipal corporation and Neuberg Supratech Laboratory. Sample collection was started in the morning to reduce the line of people wanting to get tested.

Those who come in car for the test first scan the QR code provided by the laboratory in their mobile phone. After mobile phone scanning and registering of all information, the car goes to a collection center inside. The suspect’s sample is taken by a person wearing a PPE kit without getting out of the car. From 8 a.m., about 50 vehicles arrived for the test. People returned with samples in just 5 minutes. About 10 collection centres have been set up by Neuberg Supratech Laboratory. In addition, walking test centers have also been set up, where people can get tested.

According to the director, Neuberg Supratech Laboratory, Dr Sandeep Shah, there were lines of people in the laboratory, so Dr Rajiv Gupta has arranged for drive-through RT-PCR tests to reduce the lines, for which an entire collection center has been set up with Sufalam software along with Neuberg Supratech Laboratory.

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TMC says EC acting on BJP’s instructions

Lists alleged instances of EC inaction against Modi-Shah.

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Raising questions over the functioning of the Election Commission during the ongoing West Bengal polls, a delegation of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Wednesday met Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and submitted a memorandum, listing several instances of “inaction” against BJP’s “violators” and “over action” against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The delegation was led by TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien, who especially flew to Delhi to register the party’s grievances before the poll panel. Kalyan Banerjee, Dr Santanu Sen and Pratima Mandal were also part of the visiting TMC delegation.

“Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are seeking votes in the name of caste and religion. The Election Commission has not taken any action against the duo. We have now come here to formally file complaint and ask for action against them,” said Banerjee while briefing reporters outside the EC headquarters. 

The memorandum submitted by the TMC leaders to the EC was divided into three parts, in which “illegality by EC” was highlighted in an orderly manner. The first part was inaction of the EC, wherein references to various “divisive speeches” made by PM Modi and Home Minister Shah were mentioned and the TMC emphasised how action was not taken against them despite their speeches being fit cases of poll code violations.

The second part spoke of “mild action” taken against mid-level BJP leaders, who flouted EC norms and that too after much hue and cry by the TMC. 

The third part spoke of strong action by the EC against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who, according to the TMC, only appealed to female voters to lodge protests against those who hinder them from casting votes.

“It is apparent that the EC is acting in a partisan manner, absolutely in favour of the BJP or on its instructions, that is pre announced by the BJP,” said the memorandum. Since the onset of elections in West Bengal, the TMC has been accusing the BJP of misusing central agencies such as ED, CBI, EC and paramilitary forces.

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RAJASTHAN ORDERS 6 PM TO 6 AM CURFEW STARTING FRIDAY

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JAIPUR: The Rajasthan government on Wednesday night announced a 12-hour daily curfew—from 6 pm to 6 am—starting Friday, across all cities, as part of a series of measures to combat a worrying spike in Covid cases. The curfew will be in effect till the end of the month.

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