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Iraq’s vast swamplands are the reputed home of the biblical Garden of Eden, but the waterways are drying out and becoming so clogged with waste their very existence is at risk, activists warn.

“For 6,000 or 7,000 years the inhabitants have protected the marshes,” said Raad Assadi, director of Chibayish Organization for Ecotourism, who this week began work on a boat to try to clear some of the worst areas of trash.

“But we have reached a stage where the marshes are threatened with extinction.”

The swamps, nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, are one of the world’s largest inland deltas.

The wetlands barely survived the wrath of dictator Saddam Hussein, who ordered they be drained in 1991 as punishment for communities protecting insurgents and to hunt them down.

But after Saddam was toppled, Iraq pledged to preserve the ecosystem and provide functional services to the marshland communities, and they were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016 both for their biodiversity and their ancient history.

Tourists have returned, but one of the main visible sources of pollution in the area are visitors who throw away their “plastic waste,” said Assadi.

After decades of brutal war, Iraq lacks structures for the collection and disposal of waste, and 70 percent of its industrial waste is dumped directly into rivers or the sea, according to data compiled by the UN and academics.

A team of 10 joins the boat, cruising the maze of narrow waterways to collect the piles of plastic bottles filling the channels, and erecting signs urging people to “respect our land,” and not to litter.

But it is far from the only threat: Iraq’s host of environmental problems, including drought and desertification, threaten access to water and livelihoods across the country.

The UN classifies Iraq “as the fifth most vulnerable country in the world” to climate change, having already witnessed record low rainfall and high temperatures in recent years.

The water level of the marsh is falling, a phenomenon accentuated by repeated droughts and by the dams built upstream of the two rivers, among Iraq’s upstream neighbors, Turkey and Iran.

“There is a threat to this ecosystem, which has significant biodiversity,” said French ambassador Eric Chevallier, at the launch on Thursday of the French-funded boat project.

Chevallier called for “much greater mobilization, Iraqi and international, to meet all the challenges” that a heating planet is causing.

A string of sandstorms in recent weeks have blanketed Iraq, with thousands needing medical care due to respiratory problems.

The Middle East has always been battered by dust and sandstorms, but they have become more frequent and intense in recent years.

The trend has been associated with overuse of river water, more dams, overgrazing and deforestation.

The rubbish collectors are not the only unusual team in the marshes: earlier this year, the Iraqi Green Climate Organization launched a veterinary ambulance to help farmers treat their water buffalo.

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India’s partition with Pakistan: A look at the history

Polarised by religion, friends and neighbors turned on each other. Hundreds of thousands were killed and millions displaced. The atrocities were horrific; pregnant women and infants were not spared.

That was the unexpected result of Britain’s haphazard plan to leave the subcontinent in 1947 after nearly three centuries and split it into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, itself carved into two regions more than 1,000 miles apart.

The partition, as the division came to be known, triggered one of the biggest migrations in history.

It would forever change the face and geopolitics of South Asia; almost 25 years later, for instance, Bangladesh was born from East Pakistan.

Some historians argue that partition would have been unnecessary had Britain granted self-rule earlier to India, where Hindus and Muslims had lived side by side for centuries.

But the idea of a separate state for British India’s Muslims had gained traction by the 1930s even though it was opposed by Mahatma Gandhi. A decade later, Britain was reeling from World War II and prepared to hand over power.

The demand for Pakistan, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the All-India Muslim League, contributed to one of the biggest Hindu-Muslim riots in India in August 1946, when at least 2,000 people were killed over five days in Calcutta (now Kolkata), then the capital of the province of Bengal.

Over the next few months more communal fighting followed, especially in Bengal and Punjab, another area with a large mixed population that also included Sikhs.

As India and Pakistan prepared for independence, Jinnah, set to be president of the Muslim-majority state, proclaimed a liberal Pakistan.

And on Aug 15, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, famously celebrated his nation’s independence and “tryst with destiny”. But trouble was already afoot.

Lord Louis Mountbatten, the recently appointed last viceroy of British India, had not yet revealed where the new borders, which created East and West Pakistan with India wedged between the two, would be. That would come two days later, on Aug 17.

Muslims left India for Pakistan, mostly heading west, while Hindus and Sikhs made the opposite journey.

As many as 20 million people fled. Both sides left devastation in their wake. Documentation is scarce, but hundreds of thousands, and as many as two million people, were killed. There are no tallies for how many were raped.

“It’s a really, really massive part of world history,” said Guneeta Singh Bhalla, founder of the 1947 Partition Archive, a decade-old oral history project. “It has really defined where we are culturally, sociologically, politically,” she said of South Asia.

Most Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis today were born a generation after partition. But its repercussions endure.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, skirmishing often over claims to Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. The liberal ideals espoused by the founders of both countries now appear to be forgotten to history.

 

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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Britney Spears’ ex-husband convicted of crashing her wedding

A man once briefly married to Britney Spears has been convicted of aggravated trespassing and battery after appearing uninvited at the pop star’s wedding in June.

Jason Alexander, 40, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanour counts in a California court, prosecutors in Ventura County said.

Spears married Sam Asghari at her home in Thousand Oaks, California, on 9 June. The wedding guests included Selena Gomez, Drew Barrymore, Paris Hilton and Madonna.

Alexander, a childhood friend of Spears to whom she was married for less than three days in 2004, appeared uninvited at the house before the ceremony while livestreaming on Instagram.

He entered the house and went up to the locked door of Spears’ bedroom while she was inside getting ready for the wedding, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing.

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Rare McLaren Elva flown in from US among supercars in photo shoot at the Padang

Adding to the shine on Sunday night (Aug 7) at the Padang were 38 supercars gathered for a colorful photo shoot under the city’s lights.

In the line-up were rare high-performance sports cars such as the Koenigsegg Agera RS Genesis, which can cover more than 127m a second, and the open-top McLaren Elva, which was specially flown in.

The Padang is the latest landmark chosen for the annual photo shoot organised by supercar enthusiast club Scuderia FSG, which marks its 11th anniversary this year. The club’s previous photo shoot destinations included a private hangar in Seletar Airbase and Pasir Panjang Power Station.

Scuderia FSG vice-president Kevin Lim, 41, said the photo shoot at the Padang was a special occasion for the club’s members, with it taking place so close to the nation’s 57th birthday.

“I think what struck me the most was the significance of the place, as well as how beautiful the backdrop looked,” he added.

The Padang, which was officially gazetted as Singapore’s 75th national monument on Tuesday, has been the site of countless historic events in the nation’s history.

The 4.3ha site, roughly the size of six football fields, was where the first National Day Parade had taken place in 1966.

Lim said: “The Padang is such an important place from a national perspective, so I’m glad we managed to take photos there.

“With the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix taking place next month, it also just seemed apt that we shot there.”

The Padang is part of the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore’s F1 race.

Apart from the McLaren Elva, three other McLaren supercars, the Sabre, Senna and Speedtail, were to have been flown in from the United States for the shoot, but were not included as they could not be released from the port in time.

Regardless, the number of cars still posed a challenge for Adrian Wong, 34, who took the photos.

He had to line up all the cars with only their headlights and the ambient light guiding him.

“But the end result was worth it,” said the commercial photographer.

 

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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