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Taj all set to welcome Trump

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Agra, Feb 17 (IANS) The dry and polluted river Yamuna at the rear of the Taj Mahal is the biggest concern for the Uttar Pradesh administration engaged in organising a grand welcome to US President Donald Trump, his wife Melania and delegation members who will arrive at the Kheria airport on February 24.

When Donald Trump visits the Taj Mahal, what would be the first likely question that he could ask — “Is the Taj yellowing due to pollution? Is this a river or a sewage drain?”

The senior officials are preparing to answer these questions to present a positive profile of the state and union government that claims to have addressed the twin problem of river pollution and air pollution.

Learning from past experience, especially the visit to the city by the then US President Bill Clinton, who is believed to have called Agra a “ghost city”, as the streets and the main Mall road were sealed and sanitized to present a deserted look, the district authorities have decided to line up students with flags on both sides of the road during the Trump visit.

At several points stages will be erected for local artistes to present cultural programmes.

US intelligence agency personnel alongwith senior state officials have already had a series of interactions. A senior official said more than 5,000 police personnel will line up the main VIP road from Kheria airport’s Ajit Nagar gate to the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal.

A policeman at every one metre is the plan. A major part of the main VIP road passes through the Agra Cantonment area. The military police will man this stretch of the road.

Houses and shops have been listed. Till Sunday evening credentials of more than 3,000 shops and houses had been checked. The municipal corporation of Agra has mobilized an army of ‘safai karamcharies’ and anti encroachment demolition squad comprising retired soldiers.

Over the last two days, the squad has been demolishing all ramps and encroachments on the Fatehabad road. Hoardings and sign boards have been removed causing anger and heart burns.

The ones at the recieving end of the sudden action have protested but nothing much has come of it due to the presence of security forces.

Road signals on the Mall Road have been repainted and statues on the roundabouts cleaned. Shops and houses are being white-washed. The colour is off white and cream to give a fresh ambience and also to take the sheen off the yellowing question on the Mughal mausoleum.

The state Horticulture Department is sprucing up trees lining the road and painting the tree guards.

A review meeting is scheduled on February 18, to be chaired by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who is leaving no stone unturned to present a dynamic image of the state.

A major cleanliness drive continues on the VIP road with hundreds of municipal workers removing garbage dumps.

The VVIP fleet will head from the airport to the hotel Amar Vilas close to the Taj Mahal. The presidential party will then take a ride on electric buses and battery operated golf carts.

The president is expected to return to New Delhi around 6.30 pm.

A five-tiered security system will be in operation, with deployment of over 800 commandos.

A senior district official said houses and shops along the way were being listed, alongwith hotels and guest houses. At 60 odd points there will be roof-top security.

The annual Taj Mahotsava at the Shilpgram will remain closed for a day.

After Eisenhower and Bill Clinton, Trump will be the third US President to visit the Taj Mahal, the 17th century monument of love.

India

India-Australia ready to share COVID-19 research efforts

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New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) As the number of COVID-19 patients has swelled past a million in just over three months across the globe, India and Australia on Monday agreed to share “collaborative research efforts” in the context of the health crisis.

Both the countries agreed on the “importance of bilateral experience sharing” amid the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis in a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Monday morning.

The two leaders discussed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the domestic response strategies being adopted by their respective governments. “They agreed on the importance of bilateral experience-sharing in the context of this health crisis, including through collaborative research efforts,” a Prime Minister’s Office statement said.

Modi conveyed that the government of India stands ready to provide necessary facilitation and support to any Australian citizens stranded in India due to travel restrictions. Morrison similarly assured that the Indian community in Australia, including Indian students, would continue to be valued as a vibrant part of Australian society, the statement said.

“Both leaders agreed to remain attentive to the wider significance of the India-Australia partnership, including in the Indo-Pacific region, even as they focus on solving the present health crisis.”

The talks took place between the two leaders when 109 deaths were reported in India with over 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases A total of 39 deaths and over 5,000 confirmed cases have been reported in Australia.

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Pope marks Holy Week alone for 1st time in history

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Vatican City, April 6 Pope Francis held the Palm Sunday mass alone in the St Peter’s Basilica here for the first time in history due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the rites to mark the beginning of Holy Week, an important religious festival in the Catholic calendar, were not held in the Vatican Square as usual and there was no congregation present at the ceremony, reports Efe news.

Instead millions of people followed the liturgy on the internet, radio and television amid widespread isolation measures imposed around the world due to the deadly outbreak.

The Pope said during his homily: “The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love.”

Only a small group of people were present with the pontiff for the service, respecting social distancing measures by maintaining a safe distance at all times.

The Vatican has been forced to adopt preventive measures since the emergence of the outbreak which has seen more than 1.2 million global infections and 66,500 deaths.

Italy has been one of the worst affected countries in the world with 128,948 confirmed cases and the highest number of deaths in the world at 15,887.

St Peter’s Square and Basilica in the Vatican City were closed to the public in March.

The Pope told people feeling lonely to cling to their faith in these difficult times.

“When we have our back to the wall, when we find ourselves at a dead end, with no light and no way of escape, when it seems that God himself is not responding, we should remember that we are not alone,” he said.

“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: �Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you’.”

The Pope will officiate at a mass on Maundy Thursday but without the traditional foot washing that he used to carry out at migrant shelters or in prisons.

Good Friday mass will be held inside the Basilica and there will be no faithful at the Easter Vigil on Saturday or at mass on Easter Sunday.

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CoronaVirus: US COVID-19 deaths surpass 9,000

Globally, the death toll is more than 59,100, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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New York, April 6 : The total number of deaths of COVID-19 in the United States topped 9,000 as of 1.30 p.m. Sunday local time (1730 GMT), according to the data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

A total of 9,132 people have died of the pandemic among 321,762 confirmed cases in the country, the CSSE said, reported Xinhua news agency.

The state of New York suffered most deaths in the country, which stood at 4,159. Among other hard-hit states, New Jersey reported 846 fatalities, Michigan recorded 540 deaths, and California reported 324 deaths, according to the CSSE data.

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