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India temple replaces elephant with robot for rituals

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A temple in the southern Indian state of Kerala has introduced a mechanical elephant to conduct its rituals.

The initiative by authorities at Irinjadappilly Sree Krishna Temple in Thrissur district is part of their pledge to stop using live animals for any festivities.

The model was donated by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India and actress Parvathy Thiruvothu.

They hoped this would help in holding events “in a cruelty-free manner”.

Chained, saddled and decorated, elephants play an important part in temple festivals in Kerala – the state is home to about a fifth of the country’s roughly 2,500 captive elephants.

For years, animal welfare activists have flagged concerns about their treatment. The Centre for Research on Animal Rights last week wrote to the state’s chief minister about the increased mortality of the mammal, saying 138 captive elephants had died in Kerala between 2018 and 2023.

In a statement issued on Monday, PETA said the that subjecting live elephants to extreme loud noises during festivals was “cruel” and urged all temples in the state to switch to lifelike mechanical elephants.

“It’s high time we made stronger and more impactful strides towards stopping such abuse and letting animals have respectful and dignified lives,” the organisation added.

According to the Indian Express newspaper, the elephant model donated by PETA is 11 ft (3.3m) tall, weighs 800 kg (1763.7 lbs) and is made of an iron frame.

Temple priest Rajkumar Namboothiri told the Indian Express newspaper that authorities were happy to receive the mechanical elephant.

“We hope other temples will also think about replacing elephants with robotic elephants for their rituals,” Mr Namboothiri said.

(BBC News)

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Stonehenge orange powder paint removed

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The orange powder paint sprayed onto Britain’s most famous prehistoric structure, Stonehenge, by environmental protesters on Wednesday has been removed, leaving “no visible damage,” according to the organization that manages the site.“Thankfully, there appears to be no visible damage but that’s in no way saying there hasn’t been harm, from the very act of having to clean the stones to the distress caused to those for whom Stonehenge holds a spiritual significance,” said English Heritage chief executive Nick Merriman in a statement to CNN Thursday.

He confirmed that the site is open to the public and that summer solstice celebrations, which are expected to attract huge crowds, will go ahead as normal.

A video posted on X by Just Stop Oil on Wednesday showed two of the group’s activists spraying the landmark using fire extinguishers.

“The Just Stop Oil protestors demanded the incoming government sign up to a legally binding treaty to phase out fossil fuels by 2030,” the group posted on X.

The action took place around 12 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) at the ancient site near Salisbury in the southwest of England, Wiltshire Police said in a statement.

The two activists “were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, damaging an ancient monument and deterring a person from engaging in a lawful activity,” police said in a statement Thursday.

The pair have been released on bail pending further enquiries, police said.

The official Stonehenge X account described the incident as “extremely upsetting.”

“Orange powdered paint has been thrown at a number of the stones at Stonehenge. Obviously, this is extremely upsetting and our curators are investigating the extent of the damage,” the post said.

The protesters were a 21-year-old student from Oxford and a 73-year-old man from Birmingham, Just Stop Oil said in a press release.

In anticipation of people meeting at Stonehenge on Thursday to mark the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of sunlight, English Heritage published “conditions of entry.”

“Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is seen by many as a sacred place. We ask that all those attending respect it and those celebrating around it,” the website said.

Responding to the incident on X, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote: “Just Stop Oil are a disgrace.”

On Thursday, two more activists from the group caused a scene at London’s Stansted Airport after they sprayed orange paint on two private jets on the runway where Taylor Swift’s private jet is suspected to have landed.

The pop star is in London on her Eras world tour and is set to play three shows in London this weekend.

Just Stop Oil posted videos on their social media channels showing two activists breaking into the airfield, cutting into the fence and spraying orange paint on the aircraft.

The same group made headlines last month when two protesters smashed the glass protecting the Magna Carta, a famous British manuscript from the 13th century, at the British Museum in London.

Climate activists have been staging increasingly high-profile protests, many of which have involved attacking high-value artworks including the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”

(CNN)

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Putin arrives in North Korea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea to a red carpet welcome on Tuesday night.

The two-day visit marks the first for a Russian leader in the last 24 years. Putin’s only previous visit to Pyongyang was in July 2000, two months after his presidential inauguration.

Mr Putin was met off his plane by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and – flanked by a military guard of honour – the pair talked animatedly for several minutes.

In Pyongyang, the streets had been decorated with Putin’s portraits and the flags of Russia and North Korea.

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Priyanka Gandhi to finally make electoral debut

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Priyanka Gandhi, sister of India’s main opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, is set to contest her first election, ending decades of anticipation by her supporters.

Ms Gandhi is a descendant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, India’s most famous political dynasty, and her electoral debut will be closely watched.

The 52-year-old will contest the Wayanad seat in the southern Indian state of Kerala after her brother relinquishes it.

A win for Ms Gandhi would mean the presence of all three Gandhi family members in the Indian parliament.

Her mother Sonia Gandhi, former president of the Congress party, is an MP in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament.

Her brother Mr Gandhi won the recent parliamentary elections from both Wayanad and Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli seats.

Mr Gandhi, who has represented Wayanad as an MP since 2019, is giving it up as he can only retain one parliamentary seat under Indian law. On Monday, he thanked the people of Wayanad for their “love, affection and support”.

A date for the by-election is yet to be announced but Ms Gandhi says she is “not nervous at all”.

“I am very happy to be able to represent Wayanad and I will not let them feel his [Rahul Gandhi’s] absence,” she said on Monday. “I will work hard and I will try my best to make everyone happy and be a good representative.”

The by-election will mark the end of a decades-long wait by Congress supporters for Ms Gandhi’s involvement in electoral politics.

(BBC News)

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