Mexico struck by second earthquake, more than 200 killed

A massive earthquake reportedly hit Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, killing an estimated 216 people. The casualties were revised to 248 later as fresh reports arrived.The tremors shook Mexico City and the neighbouring states of Puebla, Mexico and Morelos. Scores of people were killed and left trapped beneath buildings, including a school that collapsed in the capital city.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 with its epicenter at a distance of 2.8 miles from San Juan Raboso and 34.1 miles in the southwest direction of Puebla. Just in the previous week, tremors of 8.1 magnitude had struck the southern coastline of Mexico leaving 90 dead in its wake. Soon after the quake was felt, thousands of soldiers, rescuers and civilians, many of whom were college students rushed to save people stuck in emergency situations, buried under heaps of the rubble. People ran onto the roads as buildings fell, glasses shattered and gas leaks left strange smells in the air. In several portions of the worst-hit parts, you could see the damage almost immediately as was in the case of the airport.
The date of this earthquake falls on the anniversary of another great disaster from the past. On September 19th, 1985 when another earthquake of 8.0 magnitude had hit Mexico killing 9,500 people in the vicinity of Mexico City. The quake had led the country to incorporate several preventive changes and mitigation measures.
President Enrique Pena Nieto issued a statement declaring that the country was facing another emergency on a national level.

Ex-Congress politician Shankersinh Vaghela announces Third Front for Gujarat

A former senior politician from Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela who left Congress in July announced the formation of a third front, Jan Vikalp, in the state for upcoming elections to the 182-member assembly.

Shankersinh Vaghela was seen as the architect responsible for plunging the Congress into disarray to block Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s Rajya Sabha election. Vaghela’s move to create an alternative party follows a similar narrative and may hurt the Congress.

The Jan Vikalp forum was launched by Vaghela’s supporters through an online media campaign and using outdoor hoardings. According to Times of India, Vaghela is likely to announce a political similar to that of a third front on Dussehra, September 30. 2017.

“People associated with Jan Vikalp were insistent in seeking my support, so I decided to support them. There will be several major political programmes in the coming days, which I will declare on Tuesday,” Vaghela stated, as reported by TOI.

Though Jan Vikalp has claimed to be an alternative to BJP and Congress, considering Vaghela opely supporting BJP in the Rajya Sabha and Presidential elections, the third front may end up hurting Congress prospects in the forthcoming assembly elections.

Eleven MLAs supporting Vaghela have joined the BJP and his son, Mahendrasinh Vaghela and one more former MLA may join the party during Navratri.

Sources: TOI, NDTV

Nepal conducts the last phase of crucial elections

Polls opened on September 18, 2017 in Mandesi-dominated region of Nepal which is close to the border of India for the final phase of the nation’s first local level election in twenty years. With this step Nepal has inched ahead to cement democracy while dealing with a political turmoil.

For this day’s election, voters from 136 local units of eight districts of Province 2 will elect 6627 representatives. According to India Today, authorities say that there 37,236 candidates competing for the elections.

More than 60,000 personnel have been deployed to make sure there are no security issues. As per PTI reports, the Election Commission said border points with India have been closed to avoid any challenges regarding security.

The government announced on February 20, 2017 that it plans to hold local polls on May 14, 2017. The Madhes-centric parties opposed this saying that the Constitution needs to be amended prior to the polls. After considering this argument, the election body then conducted the local elections in two phases in all provinces except for Province 2.

Elections in other provinces took place in May and June. The local elections are part of the final step of a peace deal which ended the decade long civil war in 2006 and paved a way for provincial as well as the general elections of this year.


India Today, Business Standard

Snapchat blocks Al Jazeera on its app in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has requested Snapchat to block access to Al Jazeera’s content within its country. Al Jazeera’s news articles and videos now cannot be viewed on the app’s Discover feature.

Saudi Arabia told Snap Incorporated, that the Al Jazeera Discover Publisher Channel violated local laws. Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel on Snapchat Discover had been available since May 2017.

On September 17, 2017 a Snapchat spokesperson in a statement said, “We make an effort to comply with local laws in the countries where we operate.”

Saudi Arabia has one of the largest users for Snapchat nearing eight million. While Al Jazeera is a state funded media company of Qatar, which has been the subject of a boycott by many of the Gulf countries. The boycott was incidentally led by Saudi Arabia. One of the specific complaints against Qatar to justify the boycott was the use of Al Jazeera by the country.

Wall Street Journal was the first to report on the decision to remove the channel. According to Wall Street Journal, ‘the conflict is the latest example of a technology company being pinned in the crosshairs of geopolitics as it navigates censorship of content on its platforms.’

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNBC


Catalan mayors disobey Spanish courts ahead of Independence vote

On September 16, 2017 more than 700 mayors from Catalonia assembled in Barcelona on Saturday to state their support for a planned independence referendum which Madrid has declared to be illegal.

The Catalan government has plans to hold a referendum for self-rule for the affluent north-eastern region on October 1, 2017. These plans have a strong opposition from the government which has challenged the vote in the Constitutional Court.

Despite warnings by Spanish prosecutors, the Catalan mayors met with Catalonia’s regional head Carles Puigdemont to show their defiance. The prosecutors had warned in the previous week that officials engaging in any preparations for the vote could be charged with abuse of office, civil disobedience and misuse of public funds.

On September 13, 2017 the Spanish prosecutors had summoned more than 700 Catalan mayors for questioning after they said that they would permit municipal spaces to be used for voting. If the mayors did not respond to the order, the police could arrest them as per the order.

Assembling in Barcelona’s downtown, the mayors gave speeches in front of hundreds of protesters waving pro-Independence flags, assuring continued support for the referendum.

Sources: Reuters, Euronews

Fearing for cybersecurity, US Govt bans Kaspersky firm

On September 12, 2017 the Trump administration told the US government and its agencies to ban Kaspersky Lab products from its networks due to concerns of the Moscow based cyber security firm being vulnerable to Kremlin’s influence.

The Trump administration also stated that using Kaspersky’s anti-virus products and software could put national security in jeopardy. After the US intelligence agencies described Russia as a threat in the cyber space and after an election year flooded with allegations of Moscow using the internet to affect the outcome of the Presidential elections, the Trump administration’s decision comes as a sharp reaction.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a directive ordering federal agencies to identify Kaspersky products on their systems within 30 daysand start to end their use within 90 days. This directive applies only to civilian government agencies and not the Pentagon, but American intelligence leaders have stated that the products are not used for military networks.

In a statement, Kaspersky Lab has rejected the allegations stating that its critics were misinterpreting Russian data sharing laws which only applied to communications services.

Sources: Deccan ChronicleFortune 

Cassini’s swan song

At 7:55 am, Eastern Time in the United States, planet Earth received the final signal from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft. After a twenty year mission, traveling two billion miles and having run out of fuel, Cassini took its final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. NASA dubbed the spacecraft’s free-fall as Cassini’s Grand Finale.

Cassini-Huygens’ remarkable journey over the years resulted in thrilling discoveries for the realm of space science especially of the planet Saturn itself, its moons, magnetosphere and its rings.

The spacecraft was named after two Italian astronomers – Giovanni Cassini who discovered Saturn and Christiaan Huygens who discovered Titan. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and ESA’s Huygens probe was the first unmanned mission sent to orbit the jewel of the solar system, Saturn and discover the planet closely. It was launched on October 15, 1997, and it took seven years to reach Saturn’s orbit. For the next thirteen years, Cassini sent fascinating information back to Earth about Saturn and its moons, which included the observation of the Great White Storm, Saturn’s hexagon, lakes on Titan and geysers on Enceladus.

The Cassini-Huygens mission did invite certain controversies. After all the arguments regarding contamination of other planets and the expenses incurred to send the probe, the fact remains that the spacecraft’s information helped scientists to understand the Saturnian system. It has collected and sent huge amounts of data that helped, still helps and will continue to help researchers and scientists to understand the Saturnian system and perhaps even other mysterious wonders of life outside Earth.

Not only did Cassini send information regarding Saturn having earth-like features, it also discovered seven new moons of the planet. It’s exploration of Titan resulted in scientists understanding how its atmosphere has a similar climate system and a water cycle. While exploring Enceladus, it detected water, carbon dioxide and various hydrocarbons that suggested the presence of a composition which could support life! It is Cassini’s observations and findings that have given scientists the chance to ponder over sustainable life outside Earth.

These are the reason why Cassini’s research matters. As Cassini plunges deep into Saturn’s atmosphere it carries more secrets that we may never know, but it has sent a treasure of information for scientists of today and tomorrow to study and understand other planetary systems. Even after the end of its primary mission, the little probe kept collecting and sending valuable information for many years that followed. Cassini’s descent may be its finale but its success is just the beginning for many more such space missions. The human spirit of adventure lives on, even if Cassini’s swan song is over.

Telegraph, NASA