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Current Affairs 20th February 2024 for UPSC Prelims Exam

Protecting Red Sea Shipping


  • Despite theS.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect commercial traffic through the Red Sea, shippers have warned that the Houthi factor could compel the use of longer routes for several more months.
  • The European Union also launched a naval mission to protect Red Sea shipping from Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a U.S.-owned cargo vessel repeatedly came under fire in the region.

About Operation Prosperity Guardian

  • Goal: Counter Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the southern Red Sea.
  • Led by: US, under the Combined Task Force 153 (CTF 153).
  • Reason for escalation: Houthi attacks initially targeted ships supporting Hamas, but have expanded to include all merchant tankers in the Bab el-Mandeb strait.
  • Participants:
    • US: Three destroyers
    • UK: HMS Diamond
EU Red Sea Mission
  • Name: Aspides, which means “shield” in ancient Greek.
  • Goal: The goal of the mission is to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea from attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
  • Participants: The mission will involve at least four vessels from European Union member states. The German frigate “Hessen” is one of the ships that will be participating in the mission.
  • Other efforts: The EU’s mission is complementary to the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, which is also aimed at protecting shipping in the Red Sea from Houthi attacks.
  • Potential impact:
    • Increased security for merchant ships in the region.
    • Deterrence of future Houthi attacks.
    • Potential for longer shipping routes due to continued Houthi activity.
    • Increased shipping costs for exporters.
Protecting Red Sea Shipping
Image Credit: Britannica

What are the Ongoing Issues?

Disruptions to global shipping caused by Houthi attacks:

  • The Houthi rebels in Yemen have been launching attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November 2023, targeting both commercial and military vessels.
  • This has caused disruptions to global shipping lanes, as the Red Sea is a crucial waterway for trade between Asia, Europe, and Africa.
    • For instance, the Red Sea region is critical for 30% of global container traffic and 12% of global trade.
  • This could have ripple effects on other countries that rely on trade through the Red Sea.

Heightened geopolitical tensions in the region:

  • The Houthi attacks are part of a wider conflict in Yemen, which has been ongoing since 2015.
  • The recent escalation in attacks is linked to the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, with the Houthis claiming their actions are in support of the Palestinians.
  • This has increased tensions between Iran (which backs the Houthis) and Saudi Arabia (which leads a coalition supporting the Yemeni government).
  • The involvement of regional and international powers raises concerns about a wider conflict erupting in the already volatile Middle East.

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Northern Ireland– Political Deadlock

Context: After a pause in cooperation following the 2022 elections, the two leading parties in Northern Ireland have now formed a new government.

Background: Brexit and Northern Ireland’s Dilemma

  • Brexit Referendum: In 2016, the U.K. voted to leave the EU, triggering complex negotiations due to Northern Ireland (NI) sharing a border with EU member Ireland.
  • Good Friday Agreement: The 1998 agreement brought peace to NI and required the maintenance of an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
  • 2016 Aftermath: The U.K.’s decision to leave the EU necessitated a new approach to the NI border to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and the EU’s single market.
Current Affairs 20th February 2024 for UPSC Prelims Exam_5.1
Image Credit: WorldAtlas.com

The DUP’s Boycott and Political Stalemate

  • 2020 Withdrawal Agreement: The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) supported the U.K. government’s withdrawal but opposed the resulting trade border in the Irish Sea.
  • 2022 Stormont Elections: The DUP boycotted the government formation following the elections due to the trade border issue.

Deals Made to Address Trade and Governance

  • Windsor Framework: Introduced in 2023 to simplify trade between NI and Great Britain, distinguishing between goods staying in the U.K. and those going to the EU.
  • Command Paper Proposal: Eased trade procedures further by exempting 80% of goods from checks and creating an oversight body for NI’s market status.

Outcomes and Government Formation

  • Sinn Fein’s Victory: Sinn Fein won the most seats in the 2022 elections, advocating for Irish unity and signalling a shift in NI’s political landscape.
  • First Nationalist Prime Minister: Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Fein became NI’s first nationalist Prime Minister, with the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly as deputy.
  • DUP’s Return to Governance: Amidst economic pressures and demographic changes, the DUP returned to the government, needing to address the new realities.
What Is Windsor Framework?
The ‘Windsor Framework’ replaced the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Key Aspects Of the Framework

  • Green and Red Lane System:
    • Goods staying in Northern Ireland will use a green lane for minimal paperwork and checks.
    • Goods headed to the EU will use a red lane, requiring full customs checks.
  • Ease of Trade for British Goods:
    • British goods, particularly meat products, can be transported to Northern Ireland with less bureaucracy.
    • Online orders from Britain to Northern Ireland are simplified.
    • Medicines will be uniformly available across the UK, without additional barcode scanning.
  • Stormont Brake Provision:
    • The Northern Ireland Assembly can challenge new EU goods rules impacting the region.
    • Requires 30-member support from at least two different parties to initiate.
    • Enables the British government to veto such EU laws.

Northern Ireland Protocol

  • Purpose: Sets trade rules for Northern Ireland after Brexit.
  • Key Features:
    • EU Single Market: Keeps NI within the EU single market for goods.
    • Open Border: Maintains an open land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
    • Checks & Controls: Products arriving in NI from Great Britain undergo checks and controls.
  • Impact: Made trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland more complex.

Privilege Committee of Lok Sabha

Context: The Supreme Court halted the summons of the West Bengal Chief Secretary and other officers by a Lok Sabha Privilege committee investigating a BJP MP’s complaint of mistreatment.

About the Privilege Committee

  • Composition: The Lok Sabha’s Privileges Committee has 15 members nominated by the Speaker.
For Rajya Sabha
  • 10 members nominated by the Chairman (Vice President).
  • Deputy Chairperson heads the committee in Rajya Sabha.
  • Function: It investigates breaches of privilege of the House or its members upon referral.
  • Process:
    • Members can raise privilege questions with the Speaker’s consent.
    • The committee examines cases, hears testimonies, and reviews evidence.
    • There is no deadline for the committee to issue its report.
  • Recommendations: The committee makes recommendations at its discretion after review.
  • Punishments:
    • The respective Houses of Parliament decide on punishments.
    • Penalties can include suspension or expulsion from the House.
  • Past Incidents:
    • In 2005, 11 MPs were expelled for a cash-for-query scandal.
    • In 1978, Indira Gandhi was expelled following the Justice Shah Commission’s Emergency abuses report.
Parliamentary Privilege
  • Definition: Rights and immunities granted to Parliament and its members to perform their constitutional roles effectively.
  • Legal Basis:
    • The Constitution mandates that privileges be defined by Parliament.
    • Currently, no specific law exists; British parliamentary conventions apply.
  • Breach of Privilege:
    • Any act violating the privileges of MPs or Parliament.
    • Includes actions that ‘cast reflections’ on MPs, Parliament, or its committees.
    • Breaches can occur through media publications or public statements.

Use of AI in Scientific Discoveries and Healthcare

Context: The iOncology AI initiative, leveraging a supercomputer in Pune and the Charak I server at the National Cancer Institute campus in Jhajjar, represents a significant advancement in the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare and scientific discovery.

About iOncology AI Project

  • Goal: Develop an AI-powered platform (iOncology AI) to help oncologists select the most effective treatment for cancer patients based on their genetic makeup.

Key Features:

  • Data Collection: Stores patients’ blood tests, lab reports, scans, and medical history.
  • Accuracy: Trained on 1,500 breast and ovarian cancer cases, achieving 75% accuracy compared to clinician diagnosis.
  • Focus Cancers: Currently trained for breast and ovarian cancers, expanding to head and neck, colorectal, and blood cancers.
  • Confidentiality: Maintains patient privacy through individual logins and anonymized data analysis.


  • Improved Treatment Selection: Provides data-driven insights to guide oncologists in choosing the best treatment for each patient.
  • Personalised Medicine: Advances personalised medicine by considering individual genetic variations for targeted therapy.
  • Early Detection Potential: May contribute to earlier cancer detection through AI-assisted analysis of scans and reports.
  • Resource Optimization: Offers potential for effective treatment in resource-limited settings.
  • Data-Driven Research: Generates valuable data for developing prevention strategies and treatment protocols specific to the Indian population.

Future Scope:

  • Expand AI models to cover more cancer types and treatment modalities.
  • Integrate epigenetic data to understand how genes are regulated, further personalising treatment.
  • Validate and implement the platform in wider clinical settings.
AlphaFold 2
  • Lead by: John Jumper (Breakthrough Prize laureate) leads the AlphaFold2 project at Google DeepMind.
  • Objective: AlphaFold2 aims to bridge the vast knowledge gap between protein sequences and protein structures.
  • Capabilities:
    • Predicts protein 3D structures from amino acid sequences using AI.
    • Significantly speeds up the process of determining protein structures, which traditionally took years.
  • Impact on Science: Demonstrates the transformative effect AI can have on scientific research and discovery.
  • Development Goals:
    • To expand capabilities to predict interactions between proteins and other molecules like DNA and RNA.
    • Aims to predict the structure of all atoms present in the Protein Data Bank (PDB).

AI Cameras to monitor Elephants

Context: The Forest department has installed an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled surveillance camera system at Anakkulam, under the Mankulam forest division in Idukki, to provide imagery of herds of wild elephants.

More In News

  • The Mankulam forest division has implemented the project in association with the Government Engineering College, Idukki.
  • The Mankulam forest division is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Western Ghats in the State.

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