World this week
Thousands of flights across the U.S. were cancelled or delayed after a system that offers safety information to pilots failed, and the government launched an investigation into the breakdown, which grounded some planes for hours. The Federal Aviation Administration said preliminary indications "traced the outage to a damaged database file." The breakdown showed how much American air travel depends on the computer system that generates alerts called NOTAMs - or Notice to Air Missions.
Before a plane takes off, pilots and airline dispatchers must review the notices, which include details about bad weather, runway closures or other temporary factors that could affect the flight. The system was once telephone-based but moved online years ago. It broke down late Tuesday (Jan. 10) and was not fixed until midmorning Wednesday. The FAA took the rare step of preventing any planes from taking off for a time, and the cascading chaos led to more than 1,300 flight cancellations and 9,000 delays by early evening on the East Coast.
Sri Lanka's central bank has urged China and India to agree to a write-down of their loans as soon as possible. The crisis-hit Indian Ocean state defaulted on its debt repayments and negotiated a $2.9bn (£2.4bn) bailout. But the International Monetary Fund will not release the cash until China and India first agree to reduce Sri Lanka's billions of dollars of debt. The governor of Sri Lanka's central bank, P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, said it was in the interest of all parties to act quickly.
"We don't want to be in this kind of situation for too long. That's not good for investor confidence in Sri Lanka," he told BBC Newsnight. Though inflation in the country has eased slightly since last year, food prices in Sri Lanka last month were still 65% higher than a year earlier. The World Food Programme estimates that 8 million Sri Lankans - more than a third of the population - are "food insecure".
Islam's annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia will return to pre-pandemic levels this year after restrictions saw the annual religious commemoration curtailed over concerns about the coronavirus, authorities say. The hajj, required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life, represents one of the world's largest gatherings of people. Before the pandemic, the pilgrimage drew millions each year to Islam's holy city of Mecca, home to the Kaaba that observant Muslims pray toward five times a day.
In 2019, over 2.4 million people took part in the pilgrimage. But in 2020, amid the lockdowns sparked by the pandemic, Saudi Arabia drastically curtailed the hajj with as few as 1,000 residents of Saudi Arabia permitted to take part. It was an unprecedented move unseen even during the 1918 flu epidemic that killed tens of millions worldwide. It wasn't immediately clear what health precautions would be taken for the hajj, which falls according to the lunar-based Islamic calendar this year at the end of June.
A suicide bomb attack outside the Afghan foreign ministry in Kabul caused heavy casualties. Police said at least five civilians had been killed but another Taliban official put the toll as high as 20. The local offshoot of the Islamic State group, known as Isis-K, claimed it carried out the attack. It comes after recent blasts targeting foreign interests. Several countries, including Turkey and China, have embassies in the area. It was the second major attack in Kabul in 2023 and drew condemnation from the international community.
The bomber tried, but failed to enter the ministry building itself, the Taliban said. The IS news outlet Aamaq said the attack coincided with a ministry training course for diplomats. The extremist group said in a statement that a "martyrdom-seeker" it identified as Kheiber al-Qandahari detonated his explosive vest amidst a gathering of ministry employees and guards as they left through the ministry's main gate.
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