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'All we have are Trump’s words': UN isn’t confirming elimination of IS chief al-Baghdadi

The US President’s statement on the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sounded confident, but the United Nations is still unable to confirm the death of the Islamic State leader for lack of proof, a high-ranking UN official has said.

The UN Monitoring Team on terrorist groups is going to put questions to the US and other involved parties to clarify the fate of al-Baghdadi, Edmund Fitton-Brown, a British diplomat who coordinates the team, told RIA Novosti news agency.

“All we have so far is the public announcement from the Americans, but it does seem like a very confident announcement. They seem very sure of themselves. They claim that they have verified it… So, I think that should be taken very seriously.”

However, Fitton-Brown pointed out that Washington “would be setting themselves up to a considerable embarrassment” if the report on the death of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) chief turns out to be false.

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The site of a suspected US-led operation against Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Barisha, Syria © AFP / Omar HAJ KADOUR

On Sunday, Trump went on air to announce that the US forces have eliminated al-Baghdadi in “a daring night-time raid” in northwest Syria, involving special forces and aviation assets. He said the terrorist’s body was mutilated and buried underground as he’d blown himself up in a tunnel leading from his hideout, insisting that a DNA test still verified that it was him.

Trump initially promised to release a video of the raid, but the Pentagon later said that it had disposed of al-Baghdadi’s remains at sea and have no plans to share any videos or photos.

Shortly after the address, Russia’s Defense Ministry doubted Trump’s words, saying that it didn’t record any US coalition airstrikes in the area when the raid was said to have been carried out. It also poured cold water on Trump’s claims that Russian forces had opened up the airspace under its control in Syria to American warplanes, so that they could reach al-Baghdadi’s compound.

This was an episode that called for restraint, as it is not the first time the death of Al Baghdadi has been announced, only to be later proven wrong. The Guardian had him paralyzed with a severe spinal injury after an airstrike in April 2015, Syrian state TV reported him dead in June 2017, Iranian TV said he was “definitely dead” and the Russians claimed as much again, all in the same month.

In July 2017 he was pronounced dead once more, then alive and then, to clear the matter up, a year later, he emerged from obscurity with a new propaganda video.

So, while Trump described watching the fugitive “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his death, why not just hold back a tick until we’re offered some more substantial information?

While we do not want to see the sort of televised barbarism that befell Muammar Ghaddafi or Saddam Hussein, some irrefutable proof, shared with the watching world, that the remains are those of Al Baghdadi, would be welcome.

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Sushma Swaraj, India's former foreign minister dies

Sushma Swaraj, one of India's best known politicians, has died.

Ms Swaraj, who served as foreign minister for five years, suffered a cardiac arrest on Tuesday, the Press Trust of India said.

She was a popular minister in Narendra Modi's first term as prime minister, but did not contest parliamentary elections earlier this year.

She became known for helping Indians stuck abroad by responding to them on Twitter.

Ms Swaraj, 67, had been suffering from poor health and had a kidney transplant in 2016.

She was cremated with full state honours in the capital Delhi. Senior leaders across political parties and BJP lawmakers, including Prime Minster Narendra Modi, attended the funeral.

The news of her death prompted an outpouring of grief and condolences both from fellow politicians and from Indians across the globe.

"A glorious chapter in Indian politics comes to an end," Mr Modi said on Twitter.

"India grieves the demise of a remarkable leader who devoted her life to public service and bettering lives of the poor. Sushma Swaraj Ji was one of her kind, who was a source of inspiration," he said.

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"Shocked & saddened to hear of the passing away of Sushma Ji," Sri Lanka's Minister of Finance and former Foreign Minister Mr. Mangala Samaraweera said.

"India has lost a great leader & SriLanka a dear friend," he added.

MS tweet

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US President Trump recalls Easter bombings in SL

US President Donald Trump has reportedly recalled the deadly bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday during a speech held on Monday (23) at a UN event on religious freedom.

He has said that in recent times, the world has witnessed devastating acts of violence in sacred places of worship and among those incidents, he dhad not, were attacks on Christian churches in Sri Lanka.

“In 2016, an 85-year-old Catholic priest was viciously killed while celebrating mass in Normandy, France. In the past year, the United States endured horrifying anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish Americans at synagogues in Pennsylvania and California. In March, Muslims praying with their families were sadistically murdered in New Zealand. On Easter Sunday this year, terrorists bombed Christian churches in Sri Lanka, killing hundreds of faithful worshippers,” he has said.

President Trump has called on every nation to increase the prosecution and punishment of crimes against religious communities.

“There can be no greater crime than that. This includes measures to prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics. Today, the Trump administration will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics,” Trump has added.

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Thailand: Multiple bomb blasts rock Bangkok

Six explosions, one near a famous skyscraper, have hit Bangkok as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended a regional security summit. Unconfirmed reports suggest that other devices were found across the city.

At least four people were injured on Friday when several small bombs went off in the Thai capital, Bangkok, during the morning rush hour, police said.

The explosions sounded as the city hosted a regional security meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with representatives from the United States, China and Russia.

Two men were reported arrested, though it is unclear what their connection to the bombings may be.

The men were detained after wires and ball bearings were found in an inactive device outside police headquarters. Thai authorities confirmed the discovery was linked to the attacks. However, later information available to DW showed the men had no discernable connection to the attack.

Police head Jakthip Chaijinda said the men originated from the Muslim-majority region bordering Malaysia which is in the midst of a 15 year insurgency that has resulted in nearly 7000 deaths.

However, the superintendent said it was "too early" to establish a distinct connection to the rebellion.

Pingpong bombs

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The Thai government has told the public not to panic following six small explosions in Bangkok

One blast hit the city's Suanluang district, a short distance from the international airport.

"Three people received slight injuries from shrapnel," local official Renu Suesattaya told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Suesattaya, director of the Suanluang region, said: "I received a report that they are pingpong bombs hidden in bushes by the road."

"Pingpong bombs" are called as such due to their size.

 Government and business districts hit

At least three other bombs detonated in the area around a government complex hosting several ministries on the northern side of the city.

Thai media reported two further blasts near a Skytrain station in the city's Silom business district, including one close to a famous downtown skyscraper.

Eyewitnesses said a security guard was hurt close to the 77-story King Power Mahanakhon building. Police cordoned off nearby streets and conducted a full search of the area.

There were unconfirmed reports of several other devices being found across the city. Police said one small explosive was recovered before it blew up.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-chaimmediately ordered an investigation into the blasts.

"I would like to condemn those causing a situation which destroys peace and damages the country's image. I have instructed officials to take care of public safety and those affected promptly," he said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts. Thailand has a long history of political violence linked to mass protests, coups and short-lived governments.

Bangkok was hit by a series of small bomb blasts in 2017 in opposition to Thailand's then-military junta. One man was jailed for planting a bomb that wounded 21 people at a hospital.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China's top diplomat Wang Yi are in the Thai capital on Friday to attend the regional security meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

 

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12 journalists killed in Mexico this year; the world's highest toll

This year, Mexico surpassed Syria to become the deadliest country for journalists, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Many consider that overall levels of violence and impunity in Mexico are the biggest problems facing Mexican journalists. But press advocates say the president's harsh rhetoric toward the media isn't helping the situation.

So far this year, 12 journalists have been killed, according to Mexico's National Human Rights Commission. Some press rights groups put the number even higher, according to their own reporting criteria.

This summer has been particularly brutal. In late August, 42-year-old Nevith Condés Jaramillo was found stabbed to death in Mexico state. Condés ran a news website there, was a past radio host and posted stories on Facebook and YouTube.

A month earlier, in just one week, three journalists were killed. Two in the southern state of Guerrero, the other in Veracruz.

Among the latest four reporters killed, two had reportedly sought help under Mexico's journalist protection program, which was created in 2012 to aid threatened reporters.

Sara Lidia Mendiola, who runs a legal advocacy organization for journalists called Propuesta Cívica, says the protection program is insufficient. "In the current climate of violence taking over the country, it isn't enough," she says.

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Twelve-year-old Jesús Ruiz grieves as he stands before the coffin containing the remains of his father, Mexican journalist Jorge Celestino Ruiz Vazquez, in Actopan, Veracruz, on Aug. 3. The Committee to Protect Journalists said Ruiz Vazquez was the third journalist killed in a single week in Mexico. Felix Marquez/AP


Homicide rates in Mexico have hit record levels, averaging nearly 100 a day from January through June, according to official data. Most are never solved.

"As long as there is not a credible fight against impunity these murders against journalists are not going to stop," Mendiola says. She says an estimated 99% of all journalist homicide cases go unpunished.

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to combat violence against journalists and all citizens when he came into office last December. But press advocates says he has made no progress and may be making the situation worse.

Every weekday at 7 a.m., López Obrador gives a news conference that can run over two hours. Occasionally the briefings turn into sparring matches between the president and journalists.

Last month, the president took exception to a question from a reporter with Proceso magazine and launched into a long response about the role of the media. "Proceso has not behaved well with us," López Obrador said.

The reporter Arturo Rodríguez interrupted the president to respond: "The role of the press is not to behave well with any one president, but to inform," he said.

The president often criticizes the media, calling it conservative, out of touch or fifí, slang for elite.

"Such language is very dangerous in a country where the press is so vulnerable," says Homero Campa, an editor at Proceso.

Campa says state and local officials now mimic the president, using the same rhetoric to attack the media. This is especially worrying, press advocates say, given that federal officials have found that journalist murders frequently involve local authorities.

López Obrador defends his tough stance, saying he is calling out sloppy journalists, bad actors and enemies. His Morena party in Congress is looking to reform the law to strengthen protections for journalists. The lead lawmaker in that effort declined NPR's repeated requests for an interview.

Sara Mendiola of Propuesta Cívica says new legislation would be a good step. "But we don't have a lot of hope that things are going to change, one law alone can't do it," she says. The president should change his tone, she adds, and that would help immensely.

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Dubai ruler's wife asks UK court for forced marriage protection order

The estranged wife of the ruler of Dubai has asked an English court for a forced marriage protection order relating to their children and a non-molestation order after the breakdown of the marriage.

Princess Haya of Jordan, 45, appeared in the family court division of the high court, central London, on Tuesday, for a preliminary hearing.

A forced marriage protection order aims to protect a person who has been or is being forced into marriage. Non-molestation orders can protect against violence or harassment by a partner, ex-partner or family member.

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Princess Haya, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, married Sheikh Mohammed in 2004. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who did not appear at the hearing, is arguing in the same proceedings for the return of the couple’s two children to Dubai. Princess Haya has applied for wardship of the children.

The case is being heard by Andrew McFarlane, the president of the high court’s family division.

The bare facts of the applications sought by the disputing parties can be reported after the Guardian, with the support of other media organisations, challenged restrictions imposed on the case.

This month in a highly unusual move after extensive international publicity, the couple issued a statement saying the proceedings were “concerned with the welfare of the two children of their marriage and do not concern divorce or finances”.

Before the breakdown of their marriage, Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya had been described as a perfect couple and often appeared together at international social events. Princess Haya, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is close to the British royal family and owns an £85m house near Kensington Palace. She married Sheikh Mohammed in 2004 and is his sixth wife.

Sheikh Mohammed, 70, is vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates as well as ruler of Dubai. The billionaire sheikh is also the founder of the successful Godolphin horse racing stable and last month received a trophy from the Queen after one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.

The princess was educated at private schools in the UK and studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University. She has served on the International Olympic Committee and has been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations world food programme.

The Emirati royal family has already been subjected to unwelcome publicity over the case of Princess Latifa, Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter. She allegedly escaped Dubai and was seized by commandos off the coast of India and returned to her home.

Emirati authorities rubbished allegations over Princess Latifa’s treatment and abduction as fiction, saying she was “vulnerable to exploitation” and had been kidnapped.

Princess Haya’s legal team includes Fiona Shackleton, who represented Prince Charles during his divorce from Princess Diana.

The sheikh’s team includes Helen Ward QC, of Stewarts Law, who has previously represented Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paloma Picasso, Guy Ritchie and Bernie Ecclestone.

(The Guardian)

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India-Pakistan crisis hots up as minister mocks Modi’s failed space mission attempt

India’s Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft reportedly lost contact after attempting to land on the Moon. The Chandrayaan-2 craft lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) just minutes before it was due to land of the Moon.

Following that failed landing attempt, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry ridiculed India.

Mr Chaudhry tweeted: “Please sleep. The toy landed in Mumbai instead of landing on the Moon.”

In another tweet, Mr Chaudhry suggested that Pakistan should not “waste money” on the mission.

He also added that the Indian Prime Minister should look to address poverty within his country.

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India-Pakistan: Mr Chaudhry hit out at the Indian Prime Minister (Image: GETTY)

Despite the failed space mission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the ISRO to be “courageous” in the wake of the mission.

He also stated: “There are ups and downs in life, the country is proud of you.”

The Indian Congress also tweeted out over ISRO’s moon mission.

They said: "The nation stands by the entire team of Isro as we wait in these tense times.

“Your hard work and commitment has made our nation proud."

The conflict between the states emerged following a series of skirmishes and airstrikes over the contested region of Kashmir in February.

Amid the airstrike, Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was captured and was taken prisoner before his eventual release on March 1.

Since then, relations between the two countries have remained incredibly tense.

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Syria war: 'World shrugs' as 103 civilians killed in 10 days

More than 100 people, including 26 children, have died in air strikes on hospitals, schools, markets and bakeries in north-west Syria in the past 10 days, a top UN official says.

Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet blamed the attacks in rebel-held areas on the government and its allies.

But the attacks were met with "apparent international indifference", she said.

Syria and its ally Russia have both denied targeting civilians in air strikes in the Idlib region.

Speaking to reporters, Ms Bachelet criticised the "failure of leadership by the world's most powerful nations".

The rising death toll in Idlib had been met with a "collective shrug" and the conflict had fallen off the international radar, while the UN Security Council was paralysed, she said.

She said the civilian targets were unlikely to have been accidental and warned that those carrying out the attacks could be charged with war crimes.

"Intentional attacks against civilians are war crimes, and those who have ordered them or carried them out are criminally responsible for their actions," Ms Bachelet said. What is happening in Syria?

Idlib province, along with the north of Hama province and western Aleppo province, is one of the last opposition strongholds in Syria after eight years of civil war.

It is supposedly covered by a truce brokered in September by Russia and opposition-backer Turkey that spared the 2.7 million civilians living there from a major government offensive.

Last week, the UN said more than 350 civilians had been killed and 330,000 forced to flee their homes since fighting escalated on 29 April.

But that figure has now been revised, adding 103 extra deaths in the past 10 days alone. The estimate for the number displaced stands at more than 400,000.

The government - which is backed by the Russian air force - said the increase in attacks was due to repeated truce violations by jihadists linked to al-Qaeda who dominate the opposition stronghold.

Russia has denied reports earlier this week that it carried out airstrikes on a market and residential areas which left at least 31 civilians dead.

(BBC)

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PM Imran warns of severe repercussions of ethnic cleansing in Kashmir

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday warned the international community that its silence on the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kashmir would lead to severe repercussions and reactions in the Muslim world.

The prime minister in a post on Twitter said, “In IoK, 12 days of curfew, presence of extra troops in an already heavily militarized occupied territory, sending in of RSS goons, complete communication blackout; with the example of Modi's earlier ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujarat.”

Will the world silently witness another Srebrenica-type massacre and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in IoK?, PM Imran asked.

The prime minister added, “I want to warn international community if it allows this to happen, it will have severe repercussions and reactions in the Muslim world setting off radicalisation and cycles of violence.”

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The prime minister's tweets come as the curfew and communication blackout entered its 12th day in the occupied valley.

The Indian authorities have been maintaining a strict clampdown in the valley since August 5, after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Hindu nationalist government abolished the Indian constitution's Article 370, which granted special status to occupied Kashmir.

The tensions mounted in the disputed valley with unprecedented numbers of Indian troops deployed in the region. Television, telephone and internet links have been suspended and the occupied territory remains cut off from the external world due to the communication blackout.

(Geo-TV)

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Boris Johnson is set to become UK Prime Minister

Boris Johnson - the former UK foreign minister and former mayor of London with a reputation for brashness, bombast, and bending the truth — has won the Conservative leadership contest, setting him up to be Britain’s new prime minister.

Which means the onetime face of Brexit will soon have the responsibility of steering the United Kingdom through its messy divorce with the European Union.

Johnson cruised through the Conservative leadership contest that began last month, his victory over his opponent, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, never really in doubt. Johnson entered the race as the clear frontrunner and easily got the backing of Conservative members of Parliament and the approximately 160,000 party voters — the 0.25 percent of Brits who ultimately got to choose the country’s next leader.

“We know the mantra of the campaign that has just gone by, in case you’ve forgotten it — you probably have. It is: deliver Brexit, unite the country, and defeat [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn,” Johnson said during his victory speech on Tuesday. “And that is what we’re going to do.”

But winning might have been the easy part. Johnson is expected to takes over as the prime minister on July 24 with the latest Brexit deadline just about three months away, on October 31. And besides a change in leadership — Theresa May out, Johnson in — not much else has shifted. The UK is still divided over how, or whether, to break up with the EU, and May’s original, unpopular deal is still the only one on offer from Brussels.

Johnson, a vocal proponent of Brexit, has said he will renegotiate May’s Brexit deal. The problem is that the EU has said it will not renegotiate, and Johnson’s plan to break the impasse primarily relies on ideas the EU has already rejected and the power of positive thinking.

Johnson has vowed that the UK will leave the European Union on October 31, though, with or without a deal. Time will tell whether that’s mostly campaign bluster or a real strategy, but Johnson has been much more willing to publicly stake out that position.

This hardline stance is at least part of the reason Johnson succeeded in his bid to become prime minister. The tortured EU-UK divorce has polarized the discourse around Brexit, hardening support among Brexit supporters to just break free from the EU at any cost. Parliament, however, remains largely opposed to leaving without a deal, and their objections could make governing as difficult — or more so — for Johnson as it was for May.

And one of the longstanding critiques of Johnson, the former mayor of London, is that he has a habit of making politically expedient promises. He’s said Britain’s political parties face “extinction” if they fail to deliver Brexit. How serious he is about delivering Brexit on October 31 will profoundly shape the future of Britain, and the entire European continent.

Who is Boris Johnson?

Johnson is a 55-year-old Conservative member of Parliament, former foreign minister, and former mayor of London. He’s a polarizing figure within British politics. His supporters embrace his bluntness and wit, controversial statements and all. His critics see him as an calculated self-aggrandizer with malleable political convictions.

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Then-London Mayor Boris Johnson got stuck on a zipline during BT London Live in Victoria Park on August 1, 2012. Getty Images

Johnson is among the most popular Conservative politicians in a party that isn’t too popular right now. He’s seen as gaffe-prone, from harmless flubs to more controversial racist, sexist, Islamophobic comments.

He was also one of the main figures who advocated for the UK to leave the EU during the 2016 referendum. Johnson remains an ardent Brexiteer, and he’s been a loud (if inconsistent) critic of May’s Brexit deal.

Johnson began his career as a journalist, the highlights of which include getting fired from the Times of London in 1988 for fabricating a quote and working as the Brussels correspondent, where his skeptical coverage of the EU helped fuel some of the EU backlash that would arrive in force during that 2016 referendum.

Johnson became a Conservative member of Parliament in 2001. In 2008, he mounted a bid to become the mayor of London, won in a stunning upset, and ultimately served two terms where he showed his love of publicity stunts and branding exercises.

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Typhoon Lekima: Death toll hits 49 in China

(AFP) - The death toll from Typhoon Lekima rose to 49 on Tuesday and 21 were still missing after the monster storm wreaked havoc on China's eastern coast, causing huge damage with strong gales and torrential rain.

Lekima hit the three Chinese provinces of Zhejiang, Shandong and Anhui over the weekend and forced more than a million residents to flee.

China's official news agency Xinhua said late Monday that at least 49 people are dead with dozens still missing.

Footage on state broadcaster CCTV showed flooded fields and streets, submerged vehicles, scattered debris and trees blown over as strong winds and rain pounded cities along the seaboard.

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Lekima, China's ninth typhoon of this year, made landfall early on Saturday in the eastern province of Zhejiang / Reuters.

Lekima made landfall in Zhejiang province on Saturday, which bore the brunt of the damage after the storm hit with winds of nearly 190 kilometres per hour (120 miles per hour) and pounded the coast with waves several metres in height.

Xinhua said the rainfall recorded this weekend in Shandong province was the largest since records began in 1952.

The natural disaster has inflicted economic losses of at least 26 billion yuan (US$3.7 billion), authorities said.

Rescue workers were shown on CCTV using boats and rope pulleys to carry out stranded residents over the weekend.

Thousands of flights were cancelled and train routes disrupted due to the typhoon, the state broadcaster reported, as Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities grounded planes.

Hundreds of tourist sites along the coast, including Shanghai Disneyland, were closed ahead of the storm.

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Chandrayaan-2: India attempts Moon mission launch on July 22

India will relaunch a mission to land a rover on the moon, in what would be a first for a nation that is trying to become a space superpower.

The Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Chandrayaan-2 moon mission will launch at 5:13 a.m. EDT (0913 GMT) on Monday from the agency's Satish Dhawan Space Center on the island of Sriharikota about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Chennai. The local time at liftoff will be 2:43 p.m. IST.

India initially tried to launch the Chandrayaan-2 mission Sunday (July 14) using its powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III-M1 rocket, but they called off the attempt due to a "technical snag" an hour before liftoff. The glitch was reportedly related to a helium pressurization system on the rocket's cryogenic stage, according to Spaceflight Now.

The Chandrayaan-2, which weighs 3.8 tons and carries 13 payloads, has three elements -- lunar orbiter, lander and rover, all developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

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Indian Space Research Organisation's Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft (bottom) and its Vikram lander (top) are prepared to be encapsulated by a payload fairing before being loaded on their Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III-M1 rocket for a July 2019 launch.
(Image credit: India Space Research Organisation)

It will travel for two months, before positioning itself in a circular orbit 62 miles (100km) above the moon's surface. From there, the lander -- named Vikram after the pioneer of the Indian space program Vikram Sarabhai -- will separate from the main vessel and gently land on the moon's surface near its South Pole.

A robotic rover named 'Pragyan' (meaning "wisdom") will then deploy and spend one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, collecting mineral and chemical samples from the moon's surface for remote scientific analysis.

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