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23 dead in explosion at Punjab Cracker Factory

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CHANDIGARH: 23 people were killed and more than a dozen others injured, some of them seriously, when a powerful blast took place inside a three-storey firecracker factory in Batala town of Punjab on Wednesday afternoon. Located on the Samadh road, the illegal factory was being run in a residential area.

Some factory workers are still believed to be trapped inside the building rubble. “The immediate priority before the district administration was to rescue the people and to provide medical aid to the people who have been injured” Deputy Commissioner, Gurdaspur Vipul Ujjawal said. According to eyewitnesses, the blast took place around 3:30 and people came out of their homes when they heard a loud noise.

The blast was so powerful that it also damaged four nearby buildings which include a Gurudwara, a computer centre and a car garage. The explosion was heard kilometres away, local residents said. The explosion damaged vehicles parked nearby. Eyewitness Sukhraj Singh said one car landed in a drain because of the impact.

President Ram Nath Kovind expressed grief. “Saddened to learn about the loss of lives due to an explosion at a firecracker factory in Batala, Punjab,” he tweeted. Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too offered condolences. Gurdaspur MP Sunny Deol also said he was saddened by the tragedy.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh ordered a magisterial inquiry into the Batala firecracker factory blast. ADC (Batala) has been asked to conduct the inquiry into the tragic incident.

Captain Amarinder Singh also directed the Rural Development and Panchayats Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa to immediately rush to the spot to oversee the relief and rescue operations.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh announced an ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lac for the family of deceased and Rs. 50,000 for the seven severely injured, who were referred to the Amritsar Medical College. He also announced Rs. 25,000 for those who sustained minor injuries.

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Trump knew exactly what was going on: Giuliani aide

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Washington: An aide to Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, has said that the US President “knew exactly what was going on” regarding efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, it was reported on Thursday.

Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnass, who is facing separate criminal charges, made the comments in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday after letters, phone records, notes and flash drives were obtained from him earlier this week, the BBC said in a report.

Documents show that the Ukraine-born Parnas was in regular contact with Giuliani as well as Ukrainian officials, and suggests that the businessman was directly involved in trying to have Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky look into the Bidens.

In the interview, Parnas said Trump was “aware of all my movements”.

“I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the President. Why would President Zelensky’s inner circle or (Interior) Minister (Arsen) Avakov or all these people or (former) President (Petro) Poroshenko meet with me?

“Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that’s the secret that they’re trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work,” he added.

Parnas further said that the President was lying and knew that unless there was an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was a director of a Ukrainian gas company, military aid to Kiev would be withheld.

He also claimed that the investigation was about digging up dirt on Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, some of the materials obtained show Parnas and Giuliani discussing the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the then US ambassador to Ukraine, said the BBC report.

In Wednesday’s interview, Parnas claimed the only motivation to get Yovanovitch removed from her post was because she was in the way of the effort to get Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden.

Trump was impeached by the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives on December 18, 2019 and is accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The two articles of impeachment were sent to the Republican-majority Senate on Wednesday night, paving the way for the starting of a trial against the President.

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