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Toxic haze in Delhi after Diwali festival

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Residents of India’s capital, Delhi, woke up to smoky skies as air quality dropped after the festival of Diwali.

People in the city burst crackers late into Sunday night despite a ban on fireworks due to high pollution levels.

Delhi has been battling toxic air for weeks, with the government announcing an early winter break for schools in an effort to protect children.

The city has high pollution through the year due to factors including vehicular emissions and dust.

But the problem becomes worse in winter as farmers in neighbouring states burn crop stubble. Low wind speeds also trap pollutants – such as those produced by firecrackers – in the lower atmosphere, making it hard to breathe.

On Monday morning, according to the Sameer app – which provides hourly updates based on federal pollution control board data – the Air Quality Index (AQI) across 37 monitoring stations in Delhi was above 200, with several places recording readings above 350. The AQI measures the level of PM 2.5 – fine particulate matter that can clog lungs and cause a host of diseases – in the air.

Levels between 101 and 200 are considered moderate while those between 201 and 300 are categorised as poor. Anything over 300 is categorised as “very poor” and a figure higher than 500 is considered “severe”.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of pollution can cause discomfort and breathing difficulties to people.

India’s Supreme Court has banned the use of firecrackers during Diwali, only allowing “green crackers” or those with reduced emissions. The Delhi government has also banned firecrackers during Diwali for the past few years, but there is little enforcement of the rule.

The ban on fireworks has also developed political tones, with some arguing that it is an attempt to target Hindu festivals.

On Monday, Delhi’s environment minister Gopal Rai alleged that leaders from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which is in power nationally but in the opposition in Delhi – had “incited” people to light firecrackers.

“The bursting of firecrackers has increased pollution levels in Delhi. Not many people have burst firecrackers but it was done in some places in a targeted manner,” he said.

Leaders from the BJP had not officially responded to this.

The poor air quality on Monday came after rains on Friday morning led to a drop in pollution levels in Delhi over the weekend.

(BBC News)

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UK Parliament dissolved

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The British parliament was dissolved on Thursday, as the five-week campaign period begun leading up to the general election on July 4.

The election is expected to bring the Labour party back to power after 14 years of Conservative rule. As the clock struck one minute past midnight, all 650 seats of members of parliament (MPs) became vacant, marking the official commencement of the electoral process.a

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Australian scientists discover ancient ‘echidnapus’

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Scientists have discovered a bizarre creature dubbed the “echidnapus” which they believe roamed Australia in prehistoric times.

Fossilised pieces of the animal’s jaw bone were found in opal fields in northern New South Wales, alongside evidence of several other ancient and now extinct monotreme species.

Officially named Opalios splendens, the new species has been nicknamed for its resemblance to the platypus and echidna – which are the only egg-laying mammals in the world today.

The team behind the research say it indicates that Australia once had an “age of monotremes” – in which the incredibly rare order of animals were abundant and dominant.

“It’s like discovering a whole new civilisation,” lead author Professor Tim Flannery said.

The array of fossils were found about 25 years ago by palaeontologist Elizabeth Smith and her daughter Clytie while they were going through the discards of an opal mine.

They donated the specimens – estimated to be about 100 million years old – to the Australian Museum, where they sat forgotten in a drawer until about two years ago.

Prof Flannery, a mammalogist, says he stumbled across them and immediately knew they were from ancient monotremes.

Some of the bones belonged to the already-discovered Steropodon galmani, a shorter, stumpier and toothier ancestor of the platypus.

But the other fragments were unfamiliar. From them, Dr Flannery and his team discovered evidence of three species previously unknown to science, findings which were published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology on Monday.

The critters had combinations of features never seen before – in living or fossil monotremes, said Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute Professor Kris Helgen, who also worked on the paper.

“[The Opalios splendens’s] overall anatomy is probably quite like the platypus, but with features of the jaw and snout a bit more like an echidna,” Prof Helgen said.

All opal fossils are rare – monotreme ones even more so – but these specimens are “a revelation”, says Ms Smith.

They take the total number of monotreme species known to have once lived at Lightning Ridge – which was in ancient times a cold, wet forest bordering a vast inland sea – to six.

“They show the world that long before Australia became the land of pouched mammals, marsupials, this was a land of furry egg-layers – monotremes,” Ms Smith says.

“It seems that 100 million years ago, there were more monotremes at Lightning Ridge than anywhere else on earth, past or present.”

Other experts say it is too early to say whether Australia once hosted a multitude of monotremes and that further exploration is needed.

“It may have been at least as diverse as the later Australian marsupial fauna… but I would need more evidence,” Flinders University palaeontologist Rod Wells told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The study’s authors hope their paper will encourage more funding for more targeted digs in the region, to support their findings.

(BBC News)

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China appoints new vice minister to MFA

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Hua Chunying has been appointed as vice-minister of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to the China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Ms. Hua has been serving as spokeswoman of the Chinese MFA ministry since 2012.

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