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Massive blaze erupts on Afghan-Iran border as fuel tankers explode

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Afghanistan— A fuel tanker truck exploded Saturday at the Islam Qala crossing in Afghanistan’s western Herat province on the Iranian border, injuring at least seven people and causing a massive fire that consumed more than 500 trucks carrying natural gas and fuel, according to Afghan officials and Iranian state media.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the blast. Wahid Qatali, Herat’s provincial governor, said Afghan first responders did not have the means to put out the fire and had requested support from Iran in the form of fire-fighting aircraft.

“For the time being, we can’t even talk about the casualties,” Qatali told The Associated Press.\

The intensity of the flames meant ambulances were having trouble reaching the wounded or getting close to the site of the blast, said Mohammad Rafiq Shirzy, spokesman for the regional hospital in Herat’s provincial capital, also named Herat.

Seven people injured by the fire have been admitted to the hospital so far, he said.

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency quoted truck drivers as saying more than 500 trucks carrying natural gas and fuel have been burnt so far.

Two explosions at the border crossing were powerful enough to be spotted from space by NASA satellites. One blast erupted around 1:10 p.m. Afghan time (08:40 GMT), the next around a half hour later at 1:42 p.m. local (09:12 GMT).

The fire continued to burn after nightfall, and forced Afghanistan to shut down its electrical supply from Iran, leaving Herat in the dark, said Wahidullah Tawhidi, spokesman for the Ministry of Power Supply.

The road between the city of Herat and Islam Qala is a dangerous stretch of highway that Afghans rarely travel at night for fear of attacks by criminal gangs. Taliban insurgents also travel freely in the area. Afghan security services had set up checkpoints and were assisting ambulances and emergency vehicles traveling to and from the border crossing.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that following the request from Herat’s governor, Iranian “rescue forces and fire fighters are underway to extinguish the fire inside Afghanistan,” according to Mohsen Nejat, director-general of crisis management in Iran’s Khorasan Razavi province.

The fire spread to the Dogharoon customs facilities on the Iranian side and first responders — including the fire department, the Iranian army and border forces — were assisting in extinguishing the blaze, according to Iranian state television. Trucks carrying natural gas and fuel were directed to leave the scene.

The Islam Qala border crossing is around 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the city of Herat. It is a major transit route between Afghanistan and Iran.

The United States allows Afghanistan to import fuel and oil from Iran as part of a special concession that exempts Kabul from sanctions against Iran. Satellite photos taken Saturday showed dozens of tankers parked at the border crossing before the explosion.

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Two Indian-Americans have been named as Biden’s domestic policy advisers

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New York: A day after US President Joe Biden joked that Indian-Americans were taking over the US, he appointed two of them as special assistants for advising him on domestic policies.

The White House on Friday released the announcement by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris appointing Chiraag Bains and Pronita Gupta to those positions on the Domestic Policy Council. Both of them had served in the administration of former President Barack Obama, when Biden was the Vice President.

Bains will deal with criminal justice while Gupta will deal with labour and workers.

The duo joins more than 20 Indian-Americans who have been appointed by Biden to senior positions in his administration. They will not require Senate confirmation as they will be on the President’s staff.

Bains worked in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, first as a prosecutor of civil rights crimes and then as senior counsel to the assistant attorney general.

He was one of the investigators and prosecutors in the federal case against the city of Ferguson for civil rights violations over the shooting of an African American teenager by a white police officer in 2014 that led to nationwide protests and riots.

He was recently the director of legal strategies at Demos, a national public policy organisation, where he led voting rights litigation. Before that, he was a senior fellow at the Harvard Law School and a clerk for a federal judge.

A key component of Biden’s election manifesto is criminal justice reform to ensure that minorities are not treated unfairly by laws and law enforcement agencies.

Gupta was the deputy director of the Labour Department’s Women’s Bureau in the Obama administration.

She was recently the director of job quality for the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Her previous jobs included stints as research director for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and for the Living Wage Campaign at the LA Alliance for a New Economy.

While congratulating Swati Mohan, the NASA engineer who guided the Mars rover Perseverance to a soft landing on the planet, Biden had said on Thursday, “Indian-descent Americans are taking over this country — you, my vice president, my speechwriter Vinay (Reddy). But I tell you what, thanks. You guys are incredible.”

On Wednesday, Biden had announced the appointment of a Pakistani American, Dilwar Syed, to be the deputy director of the Small Business Administration.

Biden has a track record of working with Indian-Americans and other Asians to promote their participation in US politics.

He is the co-founder with Shekhar Narasimhan of the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Victory Fund, which is a political action committee that encourages and helps Asian Americans to run in elections, besides raising funds and mobilising voters.

He is the president and CEO at Lumiata, an Artificial Intelligence company in the healthcare field.

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Roman Orthodox Church rejects demands for baptism changes after infant’s death

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The leadership of the Romanian Orthodox Church has decided not to change its ancient practice of full-immersion baptism of babies despite public outrage that followed the recent death of an infant during christening.

The denomination’s decision-making body, Holy Synod, has announced that the baptism ritual will remain and that it will only urge priests to be more careful when they perform the ritual, according to Radio Free Europe.

“We do not demand the [end] of the practice of baptism but its modification so [babies] are prevented from unnecessary and even absurd risks!” reads an online petition that had gathered over 65,500 names as of Saturday.

The petition, arguing that the tradition involves brutality and should be abolished, was launched by a teacher, Vladimir Dumitru, in response to the death of a 6-week-old baby on Feb. 1 after suffering cardiac arrest while being baptized in a church in the northern town of Suceava.

The priest, identified as Alexandru Mazarache, fully immersed the baby in the water three times in the baptismal font, DW reported earlier. The child first cried, then became still, then the infant’s lips turned blue. The baby was taken to a hospital, where he died a few hours later.

The priest is a suspect in the investigation on charges of involuntary manslaughter. His lawyer, Marcel Balatchi, was quoted as saying that the priest had “performed the ritual according to church canons.”

Romania’s ombudsman has suggested some health and safety measures to the church, including increasing the age of the child for baptism.

A spokesperson for the Orthodox Church, Vasile Banescu, earlier suggested the churches could sprinkle holy water over babies instead of immersing them.

“It is, without a doubt, a tragic case, a case that will have to be investigated. Let’s not imagine that a child can be put in water without covering his nose, mouth and ears,” Banescu told Antena 3. “There is a technique that an experienced priest always uses. This is how a baptism is celebrated with the utmost care.”

Teodosie Petrescu, the archbishop of Tomis in the country’s southeast, had rejected calls for babies to be sprinkled with water. He was quoted as saying earlier that the tradition of immersing a child three times during baptism has carried on for 2 millennia and will continue.

“There’s no way for the ritual to change. These canons of faith will be available for another 1,000 years. That is why we will not change. We’re not intimidated,” Petrescu said.

The archbishop added that babies should be immersed in cold water, which not only “sharpens” their spirituality, but is also suitable for their health.

Over 80% of Romanians are Orthodox Christians.
Sources:Christian Post

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