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Lunar New Year rush starts in China after virus rules lifted

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Lunar New Year rush starts in China after virus rules lifted

Hairdresser Wang Lidan is making an emotional Lunar New Year journey from Beijing to her hometown in northeastern China — her first in three years after the government lifted its strict “zero-COVID” policy that kept millions of people at home and sparked protests.

The relaxation of restrictions let loose a wave of pent-up travel desire, particularly around China’s most important time for family gatherings. Referred to in China as the Spring Festival, it may be the only time of the year when urban workers return to their hometowns.

The Chinese government expects over 2.1 billion journeys to be made during a 40-day travel period around New Year’s Day, which falls on Sunday.

“The restrictions are lifted, which made me relaxed. So I think it’s time to go home,” Wang said before heading into Beijing Train Station for a trip to Heilongjiang province.

In December, China abruptly dropped near-daily coronavirus testing and QR code monitoring of residents after public frustration boiled over into protests in Shanghai and other cities. This month, it dropped most remaining restrictions, including the demand that travelers from overseas must go into lengthy and expensive quarantine.
 

Many local governments had also imposed their own quarantine on travelers from outside the area, and it was those that Wang said had deterred her from leaving Beijing.

“If there was an outbreak in Beijing, I would have to be quarantined in my hometown. And when I came back to Beijing, I would be quarantined again,” she said.

“I would miss the Spring Festival and delay my return to work if I was quarantined twice. So inconvenient!”

Hu Jinyuan, from the eastern province of Shandon, had managed to return home each year despite the hassles. He says he plans to continue with regular COVID-19 testing and other safety measures as infections surged and patients flooded hospitals following the lifting of restrictions.

“I do nucleic acid tests every now and then. When I arrive in my hometown, I will surely do a test as a way of self-protection. Otherwise I won’t know if I’m infected. If I’m infected, I will just isolate myself at home,” Hu said.

Wang Jingli said he decided to work through the holidays since his company would triple his overtime pay. With the COVID-19 restrictions canceled, his children and wife will visit him in Beijing from their hometown in Henan province.

“With the reopening, everyone is very happy about the Spring Festival because we can reunite with our families. But because of my work, I would spend my Spring Festival here in Beijing.”

While Lunar New Year has also become a popular time to travel overseas, airlines are still only gradually restarting international flights and government departments are just beginning to issue or renew travel documents.

Many countries have imposed testing requirements on travelers from China that the Foreign Ministry has protested, and worries remain about the spread of the virus in China since containment measures were lifted.

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Adani group’s market losses hit $100 bn as stocks sink after botched share sale

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Adani group's market losses hit $100 bn as stocks sink after botched share sale

India’s Adani group shares plunged on Thursday after the Gautam Adani-led conglomerate shelved a $2.5 billion share sale amid a turbulent market, bringing its cumulative market capitalisation losses to $100 billion since last week’s short-seller attack.

The withdrawal of Adani Enterprises’ (ADEL.NS) share sale marks a dramatic setback for Adani, the school dropout-turned-billionaire whose fortunes rose rapidly in recent years in line with the stock values of his businesses.

Adani on Wednesday called off the share sale as a stocks rout sparked by US short-seller Hindenburg’s criticisms deepened, despite the offer being fully subscribed on Tuesday. In the fallout of the short-seller’s attack, Adani has also lost his title as Asia’s richest man.

The group’s flagship firm – Adani Enterprises (ADEL.NS) – plunged 10% after opening higher on Thursday. Other group companies – Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (APSE.NS), Adani Total Gas (ADAG.NS), Adani Green Energy (ADNA.NS) and Adani Transmission (ADAI.NS) – fell 10% each, while Adani Power (ADAN.NS) and Adani Wilmar (ADAW.NS) dropped 5% each.

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The stocks tumble and shelving of the share sale mark an embarrassing turn of events for the billionaire who has forged partnerships with foreign players in his global expansion of businesses that stretch from ports to mining to cement.

Adani is now the world’s 16th richest, as per Forbes’ list, down from third rank last week.

India’s central bank has asked local banks for details of their exposure to the Adani group of companies, government and banking sources told Reuters on Thursday. CLSA estimates that Indian banks were exposed to about 40% of the 2 trillion rupees ($24.53 billion) of Adani group’s debt in the fiscal year to March 2022.

Earlier this week, the Adani group said it had the complete support of investors, but investor confidence has tapered in recent days.

Citigroup’s (CN) wealth unit has stopped extending margin loans to its clients against securities of Adani group, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Thursday. Citi declined to comment.

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Hindenburg’s report last week alleged an improper use of offshore tax havens and stock manipulation by the Adani group. It also raised concerns about high debt and the valuations of seven listed Adani companies.

The Adani group has denied the accusations, saying the short-seller’s allegation of stock manipulation has “no basis” and stems from an ignorance of Indian law. The group has always made the necessary regulatory disclosures, it added.

As shares plunged after the Hindenburg report, Adani managed to secure the share sale subscriptions on Tuesday even though the stock’s market price was below the issue’s offer price. But on Wednesday, stocks plunged again.

In a late night announcement on Wednesday, Adani said he was withdrawing the share sale as the company’s “stock price has fluctuated over the course of the day. Given these extraordinary circumstances, the company’s board felt that going ahead with the issue will not be morally correct.”

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‘I can’t be bullied’, says Sarwat Gilani to online trolls

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'I can't be bullied', says Sarwat Gilani to online trolls

In the entertainment industry, celebrities have often spoken out about the harmful effects of online trolling on their mental health. Following in the footsteps of Syeda Tuba, Saboor Aly, Anoushey Ashraf, and others, Sarwat Gilani has urged fans to be more understanding and to resist the urge to spread negativity online.

During an appearance on Frieha Altaf’s podcast, Gilani shared how celebrities can be impacted by negative comments and the complexities they face as a result. She emphasised the importance of focusing on positivity and speaking out against online hate.

Gilani compared the issue to the recent criticism faced by Prince Harry and Megan Markle, and expressed how virtual hate can be extremely damaging, leading to depression and insecurity. She personally stated that she refuses to be bullied and that just because someone has internet access and a keyboard, it does not give them the right to put others down.

“I am the bully, I can’t be bullied. I will be a bully to people who are bullying me, always. I’m never a bully with weak or meek people. I feel that just because you have an internet connection and a keyboard, it does not give you the entitlement to put people down,” she said.

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The “Churails” actor pointed out that it is a cultural issue to focus on the negative rather than highlighting the positive. She suggested that this behavior is a result of people not being happy in their own lives, and that they judge and bring others down to feel better about themselves.

Gilani also highlighted the lack of effort people put into their judgments and how this was evident during the promotion of her Cannes-winning film “Joyland”. She concluded by urging people to look within themselves and resist negativity, rather than spreading it.

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Israeli settler population in West Bank surpasses 500k

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Israel’s West Bank settler population now makes up more than half a million people, a pro-settler group said Thursday, crossing a major threshold. Settler leaders predicted even faster population growth under Israel’s new ultranationalist government.

The report, by WestBankJewishPopulationStats.com and based on official figures, showed the settler population grew to 502,991 as of Jan. 1, rising more than 2.5% in 12 months and nearly 16% over the last five years.

“We’ve reached a huge hallmark,” said Baruch Gordon, the director of the group and a resident of the Beit El settlement. “We’re here to stay.”

The milestone comes as Israel’s new government, made up of ultranationalist parties who oppose Palestinian statehood, has placed expanding settlements at the top of its priority list. Already the government has pledged to legalize wildcat outposts that have long enjoyed tacit government support and to ramp up approval and construction of settler homes around the West Bank.

“I think that in the coming years of this government there will be more building than there has been in the last 20 years of governments,” Gordon said.

Settlements have flourished under every Israeli government, including at the height of the peace process in the 1990s. Even Israel’s short-lived previous government, which included parties supporting Palestinian statehood along with those opposing it, continued to build settlements.

The report also comes as a new spasm of violence is shaking the region and days after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who pledged support for an independent Palestinian state. The settler population has continued to grow under the Biden administration, despite renewed American appeals to rein in construction following years of President Donald Trump’s hands-off approach.

The settler population report does not include annexed east Jerusalem, home to more than 200,000 settlers. The West Bank and east Jerusalem are together home to some 3 million Palestinians.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for an independent state.

Although Israel withdrew troops and several thousand settlers from Gaza in 2005, it has charged ahead with settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Dozens of settlements dot the territory, some as small as a few mobile homes and others sprawling cities, with malls and public transport of their own.

Much of the international community views the settlements as illegitimate and an obstacle to peace. The Palestinians see them as a land grab that undermines their chances to establish a viable, contiguous state.

“All settlements are illegal. There is no legitimacy for settlements or the presence of settlers in the Palestinian territories,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “The increase in the number of settlers is the result of Israeli government policies that do not believe in the two-state solution,” which would create an independent Palestinian state next to Israel.

Israel claims the West Bank is disputed territory, rather than occupied, saying that terminology denies the Jewish people’s historical presence in the land. It argues that the fate of settlements should be part of negotiations to bring about an end to the conflict.

Peace efforts have been moribund for nearly 15 years, while Israel continued to establish facts on the ground with more settlement construction and a Palestinian political rivalry complicated peacemaking.

The settlers and their many supporters in government view the West Bank as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people and are opposed to any partition.

Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank live under a two-tiered legal system that grants settlers special status and applies much of Israeli law to them including the right to vote in Israeli elections and the ability to access certain public services. Palestinians live under Israeli military rule and they do not enjoy the legal rights and protections afforded to settlers.

The open-ended military occupation has led three well-known human rights groups to conclude that Israel is committing the international crime of apartheid by systematically denying Palestinians equal rights. Israel rejects those accusations as an attack on its very existence as a Jewish-majority state and points to the achievements of its citizens of Palestinian origin to counter the argument.

The increasingly authoritarian and unpopular Palestinian Authority, established through agreements with Israel in the 1990s, administers parts of the West Bank, while the Islamic militant group Hamas controls Gaza, which is under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

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