The First Forum is an initiative that focuses on covering the latest happenings in a brief format. This is in lieu of the importance of knowledge about current happenings in this fast-changing world.
In the Fifty-Fourth Edition of The First Forum we would be covering the following topics:
1. Politics
2. Society and Culture 
3. Science and Technology

(By Ankita Punjani, Ayush Harlalka, and Divyansh Gupta)

Politics

Former Malaysian PM Najib sentenced 12 years jail, fined $50 million over 1MDB scandal
Malaysia’s former leader Najib Razak was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in jail in the first trial over a multi-billion-dollar scandal at state fund 1MDB that stretched to the Gulf states and Hollywood. In a case widely seen as a test of the nation’s resolve to stamp out corruption and which could have big political implications, high court judge Mohamad Nazlan Mohamad Ghazali sentenced Najib to 12 years and a fine of 210 million ringgit ($49 million) on a charge of abuse of power. Read MoreNajib also received additional 10 years in jail on each of three charges of criminal breach of trust and three charges of money laundering for illegally receiving nearly $10 million from SRC International, a former unit of the state fund. Najib held the Prime Ministers office from 2009 to 2018.

China seizes U.S. consulate in Chengdu
China took over the premises of the US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, after ordering the facility to be vacated in retaliation for China’s ouster last week from its consulate in Houston, Texas. The seizure capped a dramatic escalation in tensions between the world’s two biggest economies that began when employees at China’s Houston consulate were seen burning documents in a courtyard, hours before Beijing announced that it had been ordered to leave the facility. Read MoreThe US consulate in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, was closed with the American flag lowered and Chinese authorities entered the building from the front door. The Chengdu consulate opened in 1985 and had almost 200 employees, including 150 members of the locally hired staff.

China held its first virtual meet with Nepal, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi held a quadrilateral dialogue with his counterparts from Nepal, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to shape four-party cooperation to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, resume Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, maintain the stability of industrial supply chains and boost economic recovery. In the meet, China stressed on extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan and promoting the Trans-Himalayan three-dimensional connectivity network in Nepal. Read More Mr. Wang offered consensus in fighting the virus and assistance through vaccines that are being developed with Chinese expertise. He also proposed the idea of opening up fast channels and green channels for personnel and logistics movement amongst the four countries. China asked the other states to fully play their geographic advantages, strengthen connections amongst each other and maintain regional peace and stability. The four countries also pledged their support to the reconciliation process in Afghanistan

In a tit-for-tat move, China suspends Hong Kong’s extradition treaty with U.K, Canada and Australia
China halted Hong Kong’s extradition treaties as well as criminal justice cooperation agreements with Canada, Australia, and the U.K. in a tit-for-tat move. Earlier, all three states suspended their treaties with Hong Kong over the controversial national security law which China defends by marking it as a crucial step to restore order following violence in the name of pro-democracy protests. Read MoreChina accused the countries of politicizing judicial cooperation and interfering and commenting on its internal affairs with Hong Kong. China also accused the countries of unilaterally revoking their extradition treaties by the excuse of the national security law which hurts the basis of judicial cooperation. New Zealand has already suspended its treaty and the United States has warned that it is preparing for the same.


Society and Culture

Three New Mega Testing Facilities Launched in India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched three “high throughput” Covid-19 testing facilities at Kolkata, Mumbai and Noida, and said India is in a much better position than other countries in the fight against Covid-19. These labs will also reduce turn-around-time and exposure of lab personnel to infectious clinical materials. Read More Launched via a virtually launching ceremony, these hi-tech state-of-the-art testing facilities will boost the testing capacity by almost 10,000 daily tests in each of the three cities. These three testing facilities have been set up at ICMR-National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, Noida; ICMR-National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, Mumbai; and ICMR-National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata. These labs will not remain restricted to testing of coronavirus but will be expanded for testing of many other diseases including Hepatitis B & C, HIV, and dengue in the future

Sri Lanka starts cultural research on “Ravana’s aviation routes”
Sri Lanka’s aviation authority has said it will lead a cultural research project to study the mythological character Ravana’s “aviation routes”. In a recent notification in Sinhala, the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka has sought any relevant documents and literature from the public, asking them to contact to research the topic “King Ravana and the ancient domination of aerial routes now lost”. Read More While Sri Lanka’s tourism sector promotes the ‘Ramayana trail’ for visitors from India, one of Sri Lanka’s largest tourism markets, it is the epic’s antagonist, King Ravana, that the majority Sinhala-Buddhists hail, including a large number of Indians from the Southern region. Both socio-religious organizations in Sri Lanka and the state venerate and acknowledge Ravana as “the brave king” from the island nation. Sri Lanka had also named its first satellite, launched into orbit last June as ‘Ravana-1’.

UNICEF warns of severe malnutrition in additional 6.7 Million children due to coronavirus
According to UNICEF, the socio-economic consequences of Covid-19 would leave an additional 6.7 million children under the age of 5 on the verge of malnutrition around the world. According to an analysis published in The Lancet, 80% of these children would be from South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. It also said that wasting could increase by 14.3% just due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Read MoreAccording to UNICEF Executive Director, food insecurity and increasing household poverty along with disruption in essential nutrition services and supply chains have led to an increase in food cost. Malnutrition rates will go up as children’s diets have gone down. Before COVID-19, 47 million children were wasted in 2019 among which over 20 million are from India itself. The global number is expected to reach its maximum at almost 54 million post-pandemic.

India lodges protest with Pakistan over attempts to convert historic gurdwara into a mosque in Lahore
India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan High Commission on the reported incident to convert the historic Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan in Lahore into a mosque. According to Anurag Srivastava, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson, the gurdwara which has been claimed as the place of Masjid Shahid Ganj is the site of martyrdom of Bhai Taru Singh Ji at Naulakha Bazaar in Lahore. India has expressed its concerns on the safety, well-being, security, and protection of religious rights and the cultural heritage of Pakistan’s minority communities. Read MoreIndia has urged Pakistan to investigate and take measures as soon as possible. The gurdwara is the place where Bhai Taru Ji made supreme sacrifice back in 1745. It is considered to be a sacred place by the Sikh community. Several gurudwaras in Pakistan have either been occupied by locals or are in a dilapidated condition.

Science and Technology

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover Perseverance is ‘go’ for launch
NASA’s next Mars rover has been cleared for liftoff. Earlier this week, the $2.7 billion Mars 2020 Perseverance rover passed its launch readiness review, before its planned liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The nuclear-powered rover will then spend at least one Mars year exploring the 45 KM-wide Jezero, which harbored a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. Perseverance will hunt for signs of ancient Mars life, study the crater’s geology and collect and cache several dozen samples, among other tasks. Read MoreThose samples will be brought back to Earth, perhaps as early as 2031, by a joint NASA/European Space Agency campaign. Once the Mars material arrives, scientists around the world will scour it for signs of life and clues about the planet’s mysterious history. Perseverance will also demonstrate several new technologies on the Martian surface which if scaled up, could help future astronauts explore the Red Planet, a goal NASA wants to achieve in the 2030s. In addition, a 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) helicopter called Ingenuity will travel to Mars with Perseverance— the first rotorcraft launched in an alien world. Indian-Origin Girl, Vaneeza Rupani gave the name to NASA’s First Mars Helicopter.

COVID Lockdowns caused 50 percent global reduction in human-linked Earth vibrations, research shows
The lack of human activity during lockdown caused human-linked vibrations in the Earth to drop by an average of 50% between March and May 2020. This quiet period, likely caused by the total global effect of social distancing measures, closure of services and industry, and drops in tourism and travel is the longest and most pronounced quiet period of seismic noise in recorded history. Read MoreThe new research, led by the Royal Observatory of Belgium and five other institutions around the world including Imperial College London, showed that the dampening of ‘seismic noise’ caused by humans was more pronounced in more densely populated areas. The relative quietness allowed researchers to listen in to previously concealed earthquake signals and could help us differentiate between human and natural seismic noise more clearly than ever before. To gather the data, researchers looked at seismic data from a global network of 268 seismic stations in 117 countries and found significant noise reductions compared to before any lockdown at 185 of those stations. Beginning in China in late January 2020, and followed by Europe and the rest of the world in March to April 2020, researchers tracked the ‘wave’ of quieting between March and May as worldwide lockdown measures took hold. The largest drops in vibrations were seen in the most densely populated areas, like Singapore and New York City, but drops were also seen in remote areas like Germany’s the Black Forest and Rundu in Namibia.

U.S. and U.K. accuse Russia of testing an anti-satellite weapon
The U.S. and the U.K. accused Russia of test-firing an anti-satellite weapon-like projectile in space. Although the Russian defense ministry said that they were performing checks on space equipment using new technology and monitoring the condition, U.S. Space Command said that it has evidence that Russia conducted a test of an anti-satellite weapon on 15th July. Read MoreIt said that the Russian satellite Cosmos 2543 injected an object into orbit. It is the first time when the U.K. has made such an accusation. The head of the UK’s space directorate said that such actions reduce the peaceful use of space and risk causing debris on satellites and space systems. More than 100 nations including the U.K., the U.S., and Russia are part of a space treaty that stresses on exploration and use of outer space by all for pure and peaceful purposes.

Japanese Scientists pull 100 million-year-old microbes from beneath the sea
In a recent discovery, Japanese scientists revived microbes buried beneath the seafloor for over 100 million years and found them alive. According to them, the microbes immediately began to multiply when fed in the lab. These tiny organisms survived the South Pacific seabed with just enough oxygen and a lack of proper nutrients. Read MoreThey received oxygen that diffused to the seafloor from the surface of the ocean. These microbes are from the oldest samples ever taken and show how they do not have a constant lifespan. The samples are from a drilling expedition a decade ago in a site east of Australia which is considered to be dead because of a lack of nutrients for life to evolve. The discovery raises the “insane” possibility that microbes were slowing growing without dividing for eons.

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