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After 6-Month Space Station Mission, 2 US and Russian Astronauts Return to Earth

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Sept 07, 2016: Two Russian and American astronaut returned to our planet at Kazakhstan in the wee hours of Wednesday. After completing work for 6 months on the International Space Station.

After spending 534 days in the space across four space stations American astronaut Jeff Williams became the U.S. record-holder for most time spent in orbit. Previously NASA astronaut Scott Kelly holds the record with 520 days in space. The world record is been set by  Russian Gennady Padalka who spent 879 days in space.

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Nasa quoted “Williams, along with Russian astronauts Alexy Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka landed their Russian-made Soyuz capsule in central Kazakhstan just after 7 a.m. local time Wednesday.” About three and a half hours prior to their landing the three men disembarked from the space station.

In a statement, NASA called Williams “instrumental in preparing the station for future arrival of U.S. commercial crew spacecraft.” Nasa quoted that “Williams had performed five space walks during his time at the space station, one of which included the installation of a docking station for the commercial flights.”

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Russian Anatoly Ivanishin took command after Williams left the space station.Ivanishin remained in the space station with American Kate Rubins and Japan’s Takuya Onishi.

“Vast gratitude toward my crewmates, ground teams, supporting friends, and family.” Along with a picture of the Earth’s outer atmosphere, Williams posted on Twitter that “I would certainly miss this view!” (VOA)

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Pakistan In U.S. Blacklist For Religious Freedom Violations

Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the United States over its treatment of Jehovah's Witnesses

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Pakistan, Religious Freedom
Members and supporters of the Muslim Student Organization (MSO) chant slogans during a protest after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Islamabad, Pakistan. VOA

The United States said Tuesday it has added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom, ramping up pressure over its treatment of minorities.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report, meaning the U.S. government is obliged to exert pressure to end freedom violations.

Pompeo a year earlier had placed Pakistan on a special watch list – a step short of the designation – in what had been seen as a U.S. tactic to press Islamabad into reforms.

Human rights advocates have long voiced worry about the treatment of minorities in Pakistan, including Shiites, Ahmadis and Christians.

Sikh, Religious Freedom
A Sikh pilgrim visits the shrine of their spiritual leader Guru Nanak Dev in Kartarpur, Pakistan. VOA

But the timing of the full designation may be jarring as it comes after Pakistan moved to resolve its most high-profile case, with the Supreme Court in October releasing Asia Bibi – a Christian woman on death row for eight years for blasphemy.

The government recently charged a hardline cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, with terrorism and sedition after he led violent protests against Bibi’s acquittal.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression,” he said.

Nine countries remained for another year on the list of Countries of Particular Concern – China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

pakistan,Sikh, Religious Freedom
Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, center, arrives along with her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, second left, brother Atal Yousafzai, left, and the principal of all-boys Swat Cadet College Guli Bagh, during her hometown visit, March 31, 2018. VOA

The United States removed one country from the list – Uzbekistan– but kept it on the watch list.

Pompeo also put on the watch list Russia, adding another item of contention to the relationship between the two powers.

Also Read: The Hindu Temple of Gulyana and Sikh Samadhi in Pakistan

Russia has increasingly drawn concern in the United States over its treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the heterodox Christian group known for proselytization.

Also on the watch list was the Comoros, the Indian Ocean archipelago that is almost exclusively Sunni Muslim. (VOA)