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US thwarts plot to kill Sikh separatist on American soil – report

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India designated Gurpatwant Singh Pannun a terrorist in 2020 (pic BBC)

The US has raised an alleged plot to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil at the “senior-most” levels with India, the White House says.

According to the Financial Times, the target was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US-Canada dual national. Pannun is a vocal advocate for an independent Sikh homeland and has been designated a terrorist by India.

The report comes weeks after Canada said India may have been behind the murder of another Sikh separatist.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources, that US authorities thwarted a conspiracy to kill Mr Pannun and have issued a warning to India over concerns it was involved in the plot.

The White House said Indian officials “expressed surprise and concern” when approached by the US about the allegations. “They stated that activity of this nature was not in their policy,” spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. “We understand the Indian government is further investigating this issue and will have more to say about it in the coming days.”

Ms Watson added that the US has “conveyed our expectations that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable”.

It is unclear whether the US protest to India resulted in the operation being called off, or whether it was disrupted by US authorities, the Financial Times reported.

Mr Pannun is the general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, an organisation based in the US that supports the broader Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent homeland for Sikhs in India.

In a statement to the BBC, Mr Pannun called the “foiled attempt” on his life “transnational terrorism which is a threat to the US sovereignty”. “I will let the U.S. government respond to this threat,” he said.

The Khalistan movement was at its peak in the 1980s in the Indian state of Punjab but it has lost steam over time. Politics in modern Punjab has shifted away from the movement and it is no longer a majority position.

But supporters in the Sikh diaspora have continued to advocate for a separate state, with calls for independence intensifying in recent years.

On Wednesday, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said that the US had “shared some inputs pertaining to the nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others”.  “India takes such inputs seriously since it impinges on our own national security interests as well,” spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.

The statement made no mention of  Pannun.

The Sikhs for Justice group was labelled an “unlawful association” by Indian authorities in 2019, and  Pannun was listed as an “individual terrorist” the following year.

Pannun most recently angered Indian officials with a video warning Sikhs not to fly on Air India on a day earlier this month because it could be “life threatening”.

India’s National Investigation Agency filed a case against him for those remarks this week.  Pannun has since said that he was referring to a boycott of the airline and not making a threat.

US officials reportedly shared details of the alleged plot to kill  Pannun with some of its allies after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in September the country was investigating “credible allegations” that Indian agents may have been involved in the death of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

The 45-year-old was shot and killed by two gunmen outside a Sikh temple in a Vancouver suburb on a June summer evening this year.

India has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder. Canadian authorities are still investigating his death.

Relations between Canada and India deteriorated sharply after Mr Trudeau’s allegation, with both countries expelling envoys in a tit-for-tat diplomatic row.

Canada has not publicly shared the evidence or intelligence that led it to believe India was involved.

(BBC)



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Intruder spills 60,000 litres of wine worth €2.5m at Spanish winery

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The intruder was reportedly familiar with the winery grounds (BBC)

A Spanish winery has suffered losses of more than €2.5 million (£2.1 million) after an unidentified intruder emptied 60,000 litres of wine.

A representative of the Cepa 21 winery told the BBC the wine spilled came from two of the winery’s most expensive varieties, Horcajo and Malabrigo.

He said the incident took place at about 03:30 local time (02:30 GMT) on Sunday and that the intruder was likely familiar with the winery grounds.

Police are investigating the case. In CCTV, a hooded person can be seen moving between tanks and rapidly opening them, causing their contents to spill on to the floor.

The Cepa 21 representative told the BBC that it was “very hard to open the tanks”, which include a security mechanism, without prior knowledge. Therefore, he said, it could be assumed that the intruder “is used to opening these tanks and is familiar with this kind of machinery”. He added: “This person was moving very smoothly across the winery grounds, even though it was dark and there was no light. “This must be a person who knows the grounds well.”

But he said it was too early to speculate on their identity and said there were no grounds to suspect current or former employees at this stage.The intruder opened five tanks, although only three were filled with wine.

Cepa 21 is located in Castrillo de Duero, a small village in north-western Spain. Horcajo wine retails for around £80 a bottle in the UK, while Malabrigo sells for £35.

(BBC)

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Nebraska zoo extracts 70 coins from white alligator’s stomach

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Thibodaux. a 36-year-old white alligator, had 70 coins removed from his stomach (BBC)

An alligator at a US zoo had to undergo surgery after veterinarians discovered 70 coins in the animal’s stomach.

The coins were found in a rare, 36-year-old leucistic alligator, which has translucent white skin and blue eyes.

Veterinarians identified “metal foreign objects in the stomach of an iconic resident” – Thibodaux.  The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska said patrons threw coins into the enclosure, which were eaten by the animal between cleanings.

He has recovered from the procedure and is back in his habitat.

The zoo urged visitors to avoid throwing “coins into any bodies of water at the zoo”, after the sizeable amount of change was pulled from the animal’s stomach.

All 10 alligators – including Thibodaux – participated in a routine examination which involved blood collection, radiographs and more. When zoo workers discovered the coins, they acted fast and performed surgery on Thursday, removing the coins from Thibodaux “before they caused any problems”.

“With the help of his training, Thibodaux was anesthetized and intubated to allow us to safely manage him during the procedure,” associate veterinarian Christina Ploog, who led the procedure, said in a statement.  “A plastic pipe was placed to protect his mouth and safely pass the tools used to access the coins, such as a camera that helped us guide the retrieval of these objects.”

The zoo said in a statement that X-ray imaging confirmed that the objects were successfully removed, adding that “Thibodaux recovered well from the procedure”. Taylor Yaw, director of animal health at the zoo, said the procedure is not “common”.

Ms Ploog told a local news outlet that people do not realise how coins can harm animals. She said not only could animals ingest the coins, but they could also contain dangerous chemicals.

The zoo answered one concerned person online who asked if the coins get swept up by the zoo. “We do routine cleanings in the habitats of this area and throughout the zoo,” the zoo wrote on Facebook. “In between cleanings is when our alligators still manage to get them before they are removed.”

(BBC)

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South Korean doctors strike in protest of plans to add more physicians

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Doctors staged rallies in Seoul last week protesting against the government's plan to bump up numbers (BBC)

South Korea’s government has ordered more than 1,000 junior doctors to return to work after many staged walk-outs in protest of plans to increase the number of doctors in the system.

More than 6,000 interns and residents had resigned on Monday, said officials.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-per-patient ratios among OECD countries so the government wants to add more medical school placements. But doctors oppose the prospect of greater competition, observers say.

South Korea has a highly privatised healthcare system where most procedures are tied to insurance payments, and more than 90% of hospitals are private.

Its doctors are among the best-paid in the world, with 2022 OECD data showing the average specialist at a public hospital receives nearly $200,000 (£159,000) a year; a salary far exceeding the national average pay.

But there are currently only 2.5 doctors per 1,000 people – the second lowest rate in the OECD group of nations after Mexico. “More doctors mean more competition and reduced income for them, that is why they are against the proposal to increase physician supply,” said Prof Soonman Kwon, a public health expert at Seoul National University.

Patients and health officials expressed concerns on Tuesday as reports emerged of doctors declining to come into hospitals across the country.

Junior doctors form a core contingent of staff in emergency wards, and local media reported that up to 37% of doctors could be affected at the biggest hospitals in Seoul.

The health ministry said 1,630 doctors had not shown up to work on Monday, amid a wider group of 6,415 who had submitted resignation letters. Organisers had pledged an all-out strike from Tuesday.

“We are deeply disappointed in the situation where trainee doctors are refusing to work,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo had told reporters earlier this week. He also warned that the government may resort to legal means to get doctors back to work.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo speaks during a press briefing
Minister Park has condemned the strike action by doctors (BBC)

 

Under the country’s Medical Services Act, authorities have the power to revoke a doctor’s practicing licence over an extended labour action which threatens the health care system. The country has attempted prosecutions before in relation to other doctor protests- which were later dropped.

“We earnestly ask the doctors to withdraw their decision to resign en masse,” Mr Park said.

The government has consistently condemned the doctors’ opposition. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo has said: “This is something that takes the lives and health of the people hostage”.

The extent of the strike’s impact so far is yet unclear, although officials had warned there could be delays to surgeries and gaps in care. Some hospitals have announced switching to contingency plans. The government has also fully expanded telehealth services.

The protests are similar to events in 2020, when up to 80% of junior doctors joined strikes against the government’s recruitment plans.

South Korean policy makers have tried for years to increase the number of trained doctors, as the country is dealing with a rapidly-ageing population which will put extra burden on the medical system. There’s a projected shortfall of 15,000 doctors by 2035.

The country also has critical gaps in care in remote areas, and in specialities such as paediatrics and obstetrics – which are seen as less lucrative fields compared to dermatology.

To combat this, President Yoon Suk-yeol has proposed adding 2,000 spots per year to medical schools – which currently take a cohort of just over 3,000 students every year – a rate that has not changed since 2006. It’s a policy very popular with the public – with local polls showing 70-80% of voters support it.

However the plan has been strongly opposed by the medical profession, with groups like the Korean Medical Association arguing an increase would be a strain on the money available under the national health insurance scheme.

The union has also argued that more doctors wouldn’t necessarily address the shortages in specific fields. It announced the strike action on Sunday after an emergency meeting with hospital representatives. While junior doctors are the first to strike there are fears that more across the profession will join too.

Doctors successfully staved off the government’s previous attempt to introduce more graduates in 2020. The government conceded at the time, partly due to the pressure of the Covid pandemic, commentators say.

“It is not easy to predict who will win this time,” said Prof Kwon. He noted that President Yoon “seems very determined” because the policy has provided a ratings-bump for an unpopular leader otherwise tarnished by some political scandals. “But a private sector dominated health system is quite vulnerable to physician strikes, i.e. it can be really shut down if doctors join full-scale strikes.”

(BBC)

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